Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 14

Cousin Hartmut Kegler’s Vacation Report

This is the second part of the guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).

Playing War Games

 According to the prevailing circumstances our games often took a war-like character. I still have the following events vividly in my memory:

– Within the wide boundaries of the estate was a horse pasture. There, the yearlings were kept and could roam wild and free. We had fun chasing these horses around a bit so they would gallop over the entire pasture. It so happened that my four or five-year-old brother Jürgen had run away from us and somehow wound up among the galloping herd. We older children watched and gasped in horror. But Jürgen took the terrifying moment in stride without blinking an eye and miraculously stayed out of harm’s way. For his bravery, we awarded him the ‘Iron Cross first-class’.

– The big hay barn was the place where we played paratroopers. The barn had two floors allowing us to jump from the upper nearly 5 m high floor into the soft hay below. I do not know any more whether everyone had the courage to jump but some dared to take the plunge and even performed a midair somersault.

The ‘Warriors’ at Gutfelde

–  The war games also had a sinister side which we children did not recognize as such. It showed how children at a very young age were already shaped by the dominating culture of the Nazi era. We launched a ‘campaign’ into the settlement of the Polish farm workers, which was adjacent to the park of the Gutfelde estate. There we captured Polish children about our own age and made them ‘prisoners’. We ‘deported’ them to the estate mansion and handed them over to Uncle Ernst. However, he read us the riot act and sternly informed us that one does not do such cruel things and sent the Polish boys and girls back to their village.

To be continued …

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 13

Cousin Hartmut Kegler’s Vacation Report

The following story is a guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).

My Memories of Gutfelde after more than Seventy Years

I gladly remember the wonderful vacations we were able to spend in the years of 1942 and 1943 during the murderous World War II at Gutfelde. Our aunt Erika Klopp, the sister of my father Bruno Kegler killed in action in 1940, and her husband Ernst Klopp were the caretakers and administrators of the Polish estate Gutfelde in the so-called Warthegau. They lived in a spacious mansion, behind which was a big beautiful park with a small pond. About the house, I still remember the large dining room and the estate office.

The Pond in the Park behind the Mansion

In the dining room, there was a long table. There we all, the four Klopp children and their parents and we three Kegler kids with our mother would sit to have lunch and dinner. Beforehand, the Polish domestic employee would diligently set the table. I remember her well because of what she said after one of us children had hidden a fork from the carefully laid-out cutlery. Quite shocked, she exclaimed in garbled German, “Where is forkie this?” We rascals were very much amused by her reaction. But the young Polish woman took our prank all in strides and was not even cross with us. When all had punctually taken their seats at the dinner table Uncle Ernst opened the mealtime with these somewhat irreverent words, “People eat, horses gorge. But today it will be the other way around. Enjoy your meal.” Not exactly a pious expression. According to the spirit of the times, the Klopps had left the church but described themselves as God-fearing.

Our holidays were filled with playing many games often bordering on extremely dangerous escapades.

To be continued …

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 12

Freedom from Fear at Gutfelde

Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in blue print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.

Another important aspect contributing to the sense of well-being and safety at Gutfelde was the lack of fear within this close-knit community. The Gestapo had almost unlimited control over Germany’s citizens in the more populated areas areas of the Reich. As reported in the posts on my aunt Tante Meta, a person could get into serious trouble simply by being denounced to the secret police for having made some derogatory remarks about any of the Nazi leaders, especially if the criticism was directed towards the Führer Adolf Hitler. Anyone having an axe to grind with a neighbour could pass on information. Even if, as it was the case regarding Aunt Meta’s husband, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence, the harrowing experience would stay with the accused for the rest of their life.

Gutfelde/Zlotniki 1912 Taken from a book on Manors in today’s Poland (very likely the oldest photo of Gutfelde in existence)

Out here in the far eastern corner of  Germany, the Ernst Klopp family and Polish staff lived and worked together in harmony, a situation actually frowned upon by the authorities. Sarcastic remarks and political jokes about the leaders of the Nazi regime, which elsewhere would have resulted in serious consequences, were quite common at Gutfelde. I recall three comments, which my mother had overheard at the large estate household and had passed onto me many years ago. I need to warn my readers the statements are somewhat crude.

Gutfelde – Zlotniki 1912

About Adolf Hitler at a time when it was clear to all that the war would be lost: “Our great Führer got us into this sh-t. No doubt, he will find ways to get us out of this mess.” About the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, who suffered from a clubfoot handicap. He delivered many speeches aimed at keeping up the morale of the German people: “Now comes Little Clubfoot’s fairy tale hour.” About the commander of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering. It is presented here in German, because the joke’s effect depends very much on the implied rhyming word, which is missing: “Hermann Goering sprach vor kurzem, man kann auch ohne Zwiebeln auskommen.”

What I recently heard about the use of jokes in the Nazi era seems to fit the picture I painted of the Klopp family at Gutfelde. As long as the jokes excluded the political system and its leaders, they were tolerated, even encouraged. Obviously, the people at Gutfelde had crossed the line of acceptability. But the liberating influence of all that bantering must have been tremendous.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 11

Visitors from Berlin

Summer 1941

Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in green print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.

Uncle Artur’s report about their summer vacation at Silberberg far away from the capital city in a  carefree rural setting was a joyful moment in time for the entire family. The Klopp children, Karl, Adolf, Erika, and Gerhard (I wasn’t born yet) and the visiting cousins Ingrid and Gerlinde had lots of fun exploring the fields and visiting the farm animals, the cows, horses and even a mule. They took an immediate liking to the three dogs, which added excitement and often real drama to their vacation in the country.

First Page of Artur’s Report on their Summer Vacation

Piekusch, the dachshund, Gerlinde’s favourite dog, managed to pry open the closet door in the middle of the night, pulled out a pillow stuffed with goose down, ripped it open and sent the feathers a-flying. Jumping high and chasing those elusive goose feathers were too much fun to enjoy all by himself. Yapping and howling he drove himself into a frenzy, waking up the entire family in the upstairs bedrooms who came rushing down to behold the spectacle. The event caused so much laughter and merriment that Piekusch got by with just a stern reprimand.

Watching the horses running wild and free on the nearby pasture was not without danger. One day a string of horses came galloping straight towards the children. It became frighteningly obvious the ferocious beasts would not bother to race around the children. In a split-second they leaped into the thicket of a bush, which saved them from being trampled to death.

Some other time the visitors from Berlin took a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to a village, where a wandering troop of performers offered some small town circus entertainment. Nobody was particularly worried as the carriage was gaining speed. As it turned out the coachman had fallen asleep and the horses had gone out of control. Luckily, the coachman woke up just in time to rein in the horses. Otherwise the horses would have dragged the carriage into the lake a mere hundred metres ahead of them.

Freshly caught carp from the pond frequently provided meat relished by all the guests and family members. Uncle Ernst always ready to crack a joke described a ten-pound carp as the venerable elder among the carp tribe.

My Father at the Main Entrance of the Gutfelde Manor 1941

In those days fridges were unheard of in the remote rural community in the land of the Warthe. But the cellar below the main floor was filled with ice. The children had free access to the barrel which contained an huge amount of pickles. Crunchy and tasty the pickles were a refreshing delight during the hot summer days. I could not leave “Uncle Artur’s” vacation report unpublished as insignificant as it may appear. For it gives the distinct impression of peace and happiness at a time of war and destruction in many parts of Germany and the world.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 10

The Golden Years (1941 – 1945)

A Few Words About The Title

Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in green print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.

You may be puzzled about the title I have chosen for this episode of my father’s life. After all, in many parts of the world people were suffering under the horrific impact of World War II. After the Nazi aerial attacks on southern England came the Allied bombing raids of German towns and cities. Tens of thousands of people perished in the firestorms. Innocent people suffered, starved and got murdered in the Nazi concentration camps. Millions of soldiers gave their lives, on the Allied side in defence of freedom, on the Axis side for the illusion of the questionable honour of dying a hero’s death for the fatherland. So why would I chose such a seemingly inappropriate title for a period when the winds of war brought horror, death and destruction to many parts of the world?

Dresden after the Devastating Bombing Raids

Because at that particular time for the Ernst Klopp family, their workers, friends and relatives, Gutfelde and the entire county of Dietfurt (Znin) was an oasis of peace and tranquillity. Relatives from the big cities under the threat of constant bombardment came flocking to Gutfelde to spend weeks, often months far away and out of reach of the deadly bombing raids. Food was nutritious and plentiful. Even as late as December 1944 the family could celebrate a traditional Christmas with gifts for both adults and children, plates filled with Pfeffernüsse, nuts and all sorts of delicious baked goodies.

Artur Thiess at age 72. East Berlin Rowing Club

The first visitors came from Berlin in the summer of 1941. At that time my father Ernst Klopp had just started his first major assignment on the Silberberg estate in the Wartheland. Artur Thiess was the husband of Else, the daughter of aunt Alma. Later on because of the huge age difference (I was not yet born in 1941) I called him Uncle Artur, even though technically speaking he was my cousin. Artur spent his summer vacation with his wife Else and his two daughter Ingrid and Gerlinde at Silberberg. He wrote a one page type-written report, which my mother had passed on to me and which I will publish next week.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) – Part 9

County Court Duties in Dietfurt (Znin)

Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in green print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.

At the time of my birth, my father as manager and inspector was in charge of the estates Silberberg, Oberhof and Gutfelde totalling an area of approximately 3000 ha. Although he must have been thankful to the authorities for landing him such challenging and prestigious position and therefore may have harboured a favourable disposition towards the Nazi regime, he always strove to keep his humanity in dealing with his fellow human beings, Germans and Poles alike. In particular, through his actions he distanced himself from the policy that forbade German citizens to fraternize with the defeated enemy. It is a great testimony to his moral independence from the dark and sinister sides of Nazi Germany that he allowed Polish men and women to live and work closely and cordially with the Klopp family at the Gutfelde residence and the agricultural headquarter for the region. He maintained an excellent working relationship with the former Polish estate manager Haluda, who after WW2 took over as director of the communist run state farm. From the stories I picked up from my mother I speculate that Father owed his survival to his reputation of treating fairly and equitably all the people who worked for the large estates under his directorship. Other inspectors notorious for their arrogance, cruelty and injustice in dealing with the Polish population were rounded up, lynched, hanged or shot in the closing months of the war. On a  Polish website with special focus on mansions, manors, and castles of Poland, I found an entire page devoted to Gutfelde – now an agricultural training center with orchards, wheat and corn under cultivation, 800 cows and 8000 pigs. The same page to my great surprise mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2! The mansion-like imposing building was built around 1880 in the late-classical style and consisted of a body with a higher wing and ground floor extensions. It has not changed much in the last seventy years.

Gutfelde/Zlotniki 2012

The estate secretary was Czeslawa Pruszewicz. Due to Nazi marriage restrictions regarding Poles, she could not call herself Gromowska until much later. My late brother Karl (1929 – 2019) added in a footnote the following comment, “She maintained through correspondence with Erika Klopp regular contact for more than 40 years and died in Rogowo in 1986. Her granddaughter still keeps up the connection with the Karl Klopp family in Detmold to this very day (1997). Ernst Klopp did not tell much about his experiences as an estate administrator. However, it is safe to assume that the descendants of his former Polish estate personnel have kept him in a favourable light.

The Dietfurt Hospital, where Peter Klopp was born

In the Dietfurt county hospital the last child, son Peter, was born on March 24, 1942. Contrary to family tradition and in comparison to his four older siblings, Peter for the time being remained unbaptized. It seems reasonable to assume that in view of Ernst’s positive attitude toward the system a certain alienation from the church institution may have played a major role in that decision.

Little Peter in Gutfelde

Even though Ernst Klopp was not a lawyer, he functioned never-the-less as a semi-independent within the county court system. In a sort of pseudo-independence acting in an honorary unsalaried function, he dealt with complaints among Nazi members against each other as well as with charges from outside the Nazi hierarchy against such individuals. In some individual instances, Ernst also dealt with cases of complaints coming from the Polish population. He was not a civil servant but was authorized to sign and authenticate documents such as marriage, birth and death certificates. He held his honorary position with the Dietfurt county system not on the basis of NS Party Membership, which he did not have, but rather on his reputation as a capable estate manager.