While I was translating parts from the family chronicles written by my cousin Eberhard Klopp, my main focus was on rendering an accurate translation. My personal interest in our family history and a deeply felt responsibility towards the Klopp branch and future descendants living in Canada provided me with the motivation and necessary persistence to delve into this laborious and time-consuming undertaking. With the exception of four aunts and my father Ernst Klopp, I did not get to know the other twelve children of my paternal grandparents Emma Christiane and Peter Friedrich Klopp.
While I was writing down the wealth of ancestral information of Eberhard Klopp’s book containing more than 200 pages in small print and then publishing it on my blog one uncle or aunt at a time, I gained deep insight into the causes of what makes a family function in harmony and of what makes it fall apart. Quite frankly, reading some of the stories shocked me so intensely that I hesitated for a long time to publish them online.
My readers, who read the story on my nephew Georg von Waldenfels, a Nazi SS officer, may understand as to why I was tempted to leave out this embarrassing chapter of our family history. In the 1930s many people were misled by the promises made by the Nazi propaganda for a more prosperous and stronger Germany after having suffered through the worst economic depression in German history. Actually, at least initially, their hopes and aspirations were being fulfilled. While millions of people had been struggling to make ends meet, every person willing to work was now gainfully employed and able to put bread and butter on the table. They had no idea that the Third Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years would lie in ruins so quickly and millions of soldiers and civilians would be sacrificed on the altar of an insane ideology.
It was painful for me to discover that the son of my aubt Anna von Waldenfels was an SS officer. However, what made this particular case even more shocking was that Georg von Waldenfels’ heart and soul was filled with an insatiable lust for power, glory and possessions, which even went beyond the allowable within the regime he was serving. In other words, he was an opportunist of the worst kind and would have been ‘successful’ in any other political system. He skillfully exploited every opportunity for his personal gain. For example, he attempted to acquire an estate worth millions of dollars in today’s real estate market, a large piece of property complete with a mansion, even a factory and many outbuildings that been confiscated by the state from a Jewish couple.
In spite of this blemish in our family history, I decided to publish it. What made my decision a bit easier was the fact that I had no personal connection with the son of my aunt Anna von Waldenfels. In all biographical endeavours one needs a certain emotional distance in order to preserve objectivity. Furthermore, so far my task had been to translate merely the relevant passages from my cousin’s book published in German with the somewhat long-winded title: “A Letter to the Descendants of the Klopp Family from Altenburg/Brome and Wolmirstedt.”
When I now turn my attention to the biography of Friedrich Ernst Klopp, it is important to be aware of the fact that emotional distance in describing objectively my father’s life is no longer possible. On the one hand, I continue to rely on Eberhard Klopp’s family chronicle for invaluable information. On the other hand, there are my very own personal impressions of my father that needed to be told in order to add some deeply felt love and respect for my father to an overly sober and matter-of-fact kind report by my cousin. To distinguish my insertions from the translation, I am going to use the italic font style whenever I feel the need to throw additional light on my father’s fascinating life story or fill some of the gaps left in the Klopp family chronicle.
My Father’s Childhood Years
Ernst was the sixteenth and last child of Friedrich and Emma Klopp. Within the short timespan from March till June 1900, four fateful events occurred in Wolmirstedt. In March the eldest son Friedrich (1875 – 1946) married Marie-Luise (née Weihe, 1880 – 1924), who was six months pregnant. At the end of May, Peter Friedrich Klopp (1852 – 1900) passed away. He was good-looking, handsome, slightly obese, and a giant of a man. He was generally of a cheerful disposition and was not disinclined to an occasional drink in the genial company of like-minded buddies every once in a while.
In the middle of May not long before my father’s birth, he was riding home from a hunting party. It appears that he often left direction and speed to the discretion of his well-trained horse. Maybe on this chilly night, he had had just one drink too many. Falling asleep on horseback is never a good idea, especially when you are in that cozy state of inebriation. Inevitably, he slipped off the saddle, and the horse trod home without him. Early next morning travellers found him lying half-conscious on the roadside. He was sober by now but suffered from a severe case of hypothermia. Soon after, he acquired a kidney infection, from which he was unable to recover. He died on the 26th of June 1900 at the age of 48.
At the beginning of June, the first child of the eldest son was born. Her name was Frieda (1900 – 1979). Finally, on June 28, 1900, the fatherless Ernst was born. Thus, Frieda and her uncle Ernst were of the same age. The two have never met again in later years.
These intersecting both joyful and painful events happened during those four months in the crowded conditions of the house in Wolmirstedt. The expulsion of the Klopp son Ferdinand (1879 – 1952) and his departure to the United States also occurred during the first half of 1900. All this wore down the family’s physical and psychological ability to cope. The acquisition of the mill Wehrmühle near Zieglitz by the forty-year-old widow appears almost like a desperate attempt to gain her freedom and independence from all these troubles at home.
My Father’s Childhood and Adolescent Years
Widow Emma moved to West Prussia to take up farming in 1903/04. Thus, Ernst spent his childhood and adolescent years with his remaining five siblings in Elsenau (Briesen County). There and in the neighbouring town of Schönsee, he attended the elementary school from 1906 to 1914. An agricultural apprenticeship followed during World War I. At the beginning of 1918, Ernst was called up for military service to receive basic military service at Kassel. Fortunately, he was not sent to the front. The war to end all war was over.
Ernst, now 19 years old, joined the Free Korps (Freikorps), which was fighting in the Baltic region against Bolshevik intruders. Probably the news reports in January 1919 about violence perpetrated by Polish insurgents prompted him to make himself available to this paramilitary organization. His main objective, however, was to acquire a settler’s parcel of land in Latvia and to make a living by farming it. This plan never materialized since Germany had lost political control over the entire development in the eastern section of the Reich.
To understand Ernst’s involvement within the historical context of the Germany’s military operations in the Baltic states, I provide a quote from Wikipedia: “The Freikorps had saved Latvia from capture by the Red Army in the spring of 1919. However, the Freikorps’ goal of creating a German dominated state in Courland and Livonia failed. Many of the German Freikorps members who served in the Baltic left Latvia with the belief that they had been “stabbed in the back” by the Weimar Republic, under President Friedrich Ebert. Hundreds of Baltic Freikorps soldiers had planned to settle in Latvia, and for those who had fought there, the land made a lasting impression, and many of them longed for the day that they could return there. The Baltic Freikorps characterized their struggle against the Reds as the “Drang nach Osten”, (the drive towards the East), and some Freikorps units returned to Germany and planned for the day of their return.”
In the early 1920s Ernst Klopp returned to the Berlin area. The only certain information we have from this time is that his sister Julia Steuer strongly advised him to throw away his gun. Carrying a weapon in those turbulent times would have put him into immediate danger.
My Father’s Involvement in the Freikorps
It is not certain in which year Ernst Klopp arrived in Berlin. He probably participated in the counter-revolutionary activities of the Freikorps deployments in the capital city. In January of 1919 street battles took place, as well as general strikes of all sorts, and at the beginning of March, a major attack of the Freikorps against the Berlin proletariate shook the nation. The Reich defence minister Notke issued the martial-law order, “Each person caught with weapons is to be shot immediately!” Ernst’s sister was indeed exercising a good portion of wisdom to tell her younger brother to throw away his gun.
BBC BiteSize provides the following historical background information: During 5 – 12 January 1919, 50,000 members of the post-World War One Communist Party, known as the Spartacists, rebelled in Berlin, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The government was saved when it armed bands of ex-soldiers, known as the Freikorps, who defeated the Spartacist rebels. In the aftermath, communist workers’ councils seized power all over Germany, and a Communist People’s Government took power in Bavaria. By May 1919 the Freikorps had crushed all of these uprisings.
At the mass demonstration against the treaty of Versailles in 1920, army and FreiKorps soldiers caused a bloodbath. In March of the same year, the FreiKorps supported the Kapp-Coup. One year later, the last armed Freikorps attacks took place during the communist general strikes in Central Germany. The extent of Ernst Klopp’s involvement in all of these events remains shrouded in darkness.
It is likely that a few years later, Ernst Klopp received assistance from his old Freikorps connections, which through work communities (Arbeitsgemeinschaften) and work camps (Arbeitslager) provided shelter and employment to the old comrades up to the years 1924/1925 and in some cases even later on Pomeranian and Mecklenburg estates.
Wedding Bells and Return to Agriculture
With assistance from his Freikorps organization, Ernst Klopp continued his training in agriculture. In 1923 we find him working in the Magdeburg area. From 1927 onward, he worked as administrator at Neuhof (former Pomerania) in the Schlochau County, at the estate of his sister Anna and brother-in-law Ludwig von Waldenfels.
In the fall of 1927 after the sale of the Neuhof property, Ernst found temporary employment at an estate in Quastenberg near Burg Stargard. [photo wiki]. In 1928, he moved into the family hotel of his sister Jula and and her husband Friedrich Steuer in Diensdorf at Lake Scharmützel.
In the same year on June 5, he married Erika Klara Else Kegler, who lived in Stolpmünde, Pomerania, 20 Willan Street. Erika Kegler (my mother) was born on March 24, 1899 in Grünewald, Neustettin County (Pomerania). She was the daughter of the Protestant pastor Carl Kegler (September 22, 1860 – June 15, 1919) and his wife Elisabeth Kegler ( August 13, 1868 ß September 14, 1948). Her forefathers had lived in villages around Obornik north of Posen (now Polish Poznan).
On March 6, 1929, Ernst and Erika,s eldest son wad born in Stolpmünde (now Polish Ustka) at the Baltic Sea. In the same year through his wife’s family connections, Ernst was able to link up with the Protestant Inner Mission and its institutions in Belgard, Pomerania (now Polish Bialogard). The complex together with a large-sized farming area stretched in northwestern direction on either side of the Köslin Stree on the road to Kolberg.
Gleichschaltung of the Belgard Institutions
The Belgard institutions of the Inner Mission were divided into three work areas: The Dr.-Klar-Foundation, the Johannis-House and the Ernst-Flos-Estate. In 1930, Ernst Klopp took over the agricultural part of the Ernst-Flos-Estate. For its operation, Ernst made use of orphans and young delinquents, agricultural apprentices of the town of Belgard, and asocial people, who were being drafted during harvest times. With this workforce at his disposal, Ernst was able to secure the food requirements for all the people under his care. In the home of the Dr.-Klar-Foundation these were mostly senior citizens and special needs persons and in the Johannis-House alcoholics and the incurable sick. For the delinquent youth and orphans there was mandatory school attendance.
Erika Klopp (my mother) in the role of a domestic administrator was in charge of the personell from the ‘Alcoholic Rescue Home’, the Johannis-House, who had beed assigned to the Ernst-Flos-Estate. After 1933, female members of the NS Work Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) and the operators of a pig farm for the NS Food Supply Service (Ernährungshilfswerk) were added to the growing enterprise.
Direktor Pascheke had been serving the Dr.-Klar-Foundation as House Father (Hausvater) since 1925. In 1933 or 1934, he was dismissed on account of alleged financial irregularities, an often used method by the Nazis to replace ‘undesirable’ individuals with more party-friendly people in their take-over of independently run institutions.
New Responsibilities and a Growing Family
Ernst Klopp followed Pascheke and took over the administration as director of the entire complex. His assistant director was Karl Paetsch. Ernst Klopp was heading the functions of the mission establishments self-responsibly until the fall of 1940. Since the ‘entire realm for the people’s food production was exclusively a national-socialist domain’, those in control over all aspects of administration converted the church-run training home into an establishment of the state, which was now under the jurisdiction of the provincial land association. During this decisive conversion to a state-controlled training centre, Ernst Klopp, as evidenced by keeping his director position, must have made a favourable impression.
In-between three more children were born: Adolf (1932 – 1989), Erika (1934), and Gerhard (1936). In these years, Ernst managed to have a painting of his parents Emma and P. F. W. Klopp done from an old no longer existing photo. The painting accompanied the family until 1945. In Belgrade also hung the framed message of brother Otto’s death, who was killed in Russia in 1915. On January 27, 1936, the entire family celebrated on Ernst-Flos-Estate the 80th birthday of mother and grandmother Emma Klopp (née Bauer). A photo of this eventful day still exists and is in the personal archives of Eberhard Klopp, the author of the Klopp Chronicles.
Three years before the family moved from Belgrade further east to West Prussia (re-occupied by the Nazi regime) Ernst Klopp had a house built on the Ernst-Flos-Estate property, in which the family lived until the fall of 1940. Finally, the family had their own home separate from the institutional buildings.
Brief Historical Background
Ernst Klopp in the Wartheland ( 1940 – 1945)
The partitions of Poland and Lithuania were three partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that took place toward the end of the 18th century and ended the existence of the state, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland and Lithuania for 123 years. The partitions were conducted by the Habsburg Monarchy, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire, which divided up the Commonwealth lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorial seizures and annexations.
My readers may remember that my grandmother Emma Klopp had settled in Elsenau, West Prussia not many years after her husband Peter Friedrich Klopp has died in 1900. Due to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, in 1920 she had to move west together with thousands of other dispossessed Germans. Also the area further south around the city of Posen (today Poznan) had to be returned to the newly created Polish State. That particular region was known as the Warthegau during the Nazi era and was named after the River Warthe. It was here in the area near Dietfurt (Znin) that my father Ernst Klopp received his assignment as director of three abandoned farms.
On 1 September 1939, without a formal declaration of war, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, using the pretext of the Gleiwitz incident, a provocation (one of many) staged by the Germans, who claimed that Polish troops attacked a post along the German-Polish border. During the following days and weeks the technically, logistically and numerically superior German forces rapidly advanced into the Polish territory. Secured by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet troops also invaded Poland on 17 September 1939. Before the end of the month, most of Poland was divided between the Germans and the Soviets.
New Beginning in the Wartheland
In September 1939 Ernst Klopp was drafted into the army and took part in the attack on Poland, which triggered the beginning of World War II. Within days Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany. In the fall of 1940 Ernst Klopp was released from military service to take on new civilian assignments. In October 1940 he took charge as an administrator of the recently incorporated agricultural estate Oberhof northeast of Posen (Poznan). The Polish owner’s name was Stanislaus Brodnicki and his inspector was Nowak. The estate’s size was 279 ha. In 1939 the building of the manor had already been in ruins. Ernst managed the farming area of this property until May 1941.
Subsequently he was assigned to administer until November 1941 the manor and lands of the former Polish Magnate Moszczenski in the village of Srebrna Gora/Siberberg (German) with a total agricultural area of 510 ha. Both estates now belonged to the newly created county of Dietfurt/Znin (Polish).
In November 1941 the German Agricultural Society (renamed in 1942 ‘Reich’s Society for Agricultural Purposes) installed Ernst Klopp as an administrator of the farming and forestry domains, which belonged to the former Polish Estate Zlotniki/Gutfelde (German) in the county of Dietfurt. The estate belonged till 1939 to Zdenek Czarlinski and comprised 365 ha of arable land.
To my greatest surprise I was able to find my father’s name and inspector Haladuda on a Polish website that deals with the history of Polish manors. Here is a brief excerpt from the article I found on the Internet and translated somewhat crudely by Google Translate:
The constant change of Polish and German ownership of Gutfelde is very noticeable in this short history of the manor.
County Court Duties in Dietfurt (Znin)
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Golden Years (1941 – 1945)
A Few Words About The Title
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?
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.
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.
Visitors from Berlin
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.
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.
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.
Freedom from Fear at Gutfelde
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Hunting Firearm
Finally, still vivid in my memory is another experience that was connected to a visit by my uncle Gerhard Kegler. [In January 1945, he was sentenced to death for disobeying Himmel’s insane order to defend the fortress and town of Landsberg, where thousands of innocent townspeople would have lost their lives. His story can be found here.] He was a colonel on the eastern front at that time and was on vacation in Gutfelde. One day, he asked me if I could shoot with a gun. Since I carried on my shirt the shooting badge of the German Youth Organization, I proudly answered yes. My problem, however, was that as a cub I had only been using a light pellet gun. But my uncle entrusted me with a heavy hunting firearm. At my uncle’s visit, I was eleven or twelve years old but went full of pride out into the field. Then I spied a riot of crows that were sitting on a high poplar tree. I loaded the gun, raised it, aimed and pulled the trigger. The recoil of the firearm and the loud bang almost knocked me over. The crows flew away. I had not hit any. Since then I have never touched a gun, and never needed to nor was I forced to use one.
The relationship of Uncle Ernst and Aunt Erika with the Polish personnel was, as I recall it, fair and respectful. I believe that they owe their successful escape from the Red Army to the proper treatment of the Polish personnel. The farmworkers prevented through their cooperative actions that Uncle Ernst was captured by the Soviet soldiers. Through a series of adventurous moves, he managed to safely make it to West Germany. [The actual tragic events that my cousin Hartmut Kegler did not know will be published on a later post.]
While at the fronts and the bombarded German cities, in concentration and POW camps innumerable people found a horrible death, we children enjoyed happy days during our vacation in Gutfelde. Much later I began to think about the darker sides of life. At any rate, I am thankful to Aunt Erika and Uncle Ernst for their hospitality and for giving us the freedom to romp around at our hearts’ content.
End of Hartmut Kegler’s childhood memories
Baby Peter Arrives at Gutfelde
At the time of my birth, 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.
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 estate under his directorship. Other administrators 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 a 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 also mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2!
The following are excerpts from my mother’s diary which she wrote from baby Peter’s perspective.
When I arrived with Mother at Gutfelde, I received a truly royal reception. My brother Karl, who attends a boarding school in Belgard (Bialogard), would see me a few months later at the beginning of his summer holidays. But the others including my proud father did everything to welcome the fifth child in the family. Flags were waving. Fir branches and a big welcome sign decorated the door to my very own room. Inside the sunny and warm room several pots with beautiful flowers created a cheerful atmosphere for the latest arrival in Gutfelde.
Father must have kindled my passion for music and my desire for writing. For he often spent time at my crib telling me long stories, singing with his deep beautiful voice or whistled many a lovely tune. His birthday was coming up. The entire family had prepared a wonderful celebration. For the first time the five children were together. Early in the morning of June 28th, Karl, Adolf, Eka and Gerhard entered the parental bedroom and presented to Father a bouquet of flowers and started off the day with cheerful ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes. Later when good friends of the family, the Döpelheuer couple, had arrived, Karl sat at the piano and played a few pieces to show what he had learned. For accompaniment, Father and Auntie Döpelheuer played on their violins with great enthusiasm. The trio created a really festive atmosphere.
Peter’s Second Year – Mother’s Day 1943
From My Mother’s Diary
Spring came early in 1943. I spent a lot of time outside exploring the world around me. I learned to stand up on my own and ventured to make my first stumbling steps. Jupp, the friendly family dog, was my steady companion and my best friend for a while. Unlike my older siblings I refused to take the bottle and from my first birthday on I proudly drank my milk from the cup. When people were watching, I did my best to entertain them and show off my newly acquired skills. With the good weather also came a stream of visitors to enjoy the peaceful environment and the hospitality they found at Gutfelde. These visits spread over a couple of months were quite enjoyable for hosts and guests alike, even though some stayed for as long as three weeks or even longer. On top of it all, Karl and Adolf came home for the Easter holidays. Karl had acquired a certain degree of stardom with his excellent performance at the Belgard High School and his rapid development of his piano playing skills. As always, when he was home, he was asked to demonstrate his progress at the family piano. This went over very well, especially as his music teacher was also present and accompanied him on Father’s violin.
Mother was honoured for the second time on Mother’s Day in Seebrück (Rogowo), a near-by town southwest of Gutfelde. With her five children, four of whom were male, she ranked very high among all the mothers in the region. Mother’s Day was a state supported festival, upon which a lot of emphasis was given to the meaning of motherhood mostly for ideological and mythical reasons based on ancient Teutonic folklore. Women in general were considered not weak, but very precious who had to be protected at all cost from any involvement in war activities. Germany was the only nation that did not employ women in the war effort in any shape or form. Young girls in colourful dresses presented flowers to the mothers. This year it was Father’s turn to make a speech to the assembly. What he was saying about motherhood and family came straight from the heart and with his genuine admiration for all mothers and especially for his beloved wife left a lasting impression on all those who were present.
Mother’s diary of the first 15 months of my life came to a sudden end, because she had simply reached the last page and did not want to start another booklet. If one considers that this diary with the many tiny photographs pasted into it and written in beautiful Sütterlin handwriting was from among all the other precious goods the only object that she managed to bring safely to West Germany, one must concede that we are dealing with a little miracle. The far greater miracle, the survival of the entire Klopp family in the closing days of World War II and afterwards, will be the subject of the next chapter.
Flight from the Red Army
The German management of Gutfelde under my father’s administration abruptly ended on the 12th and 13th of January 1945 with the family’s flight from the advancing Red Army. A few hours before, the attack began, which turned out to be the most massive offensive ever-recorded in international military history. Under the command of Marshal Schukow and Konjew the Soviet army groups conquered Warthegau and advanced within days all the way to Sagan, Silesia. Panic and chaos spread among the defending forces and the civilian population. The flight with as little baggage as possible succeeded in the direction of Landsberg in spite of bitter cold temperatures and icy, snowed-over roads, which were hopelessly overcrowded with people, horses and wagons.
There was an agreement between the NS leader (Ortsgruppenleiter) in Seebrück (Rogowo) and the German farmers including all administrators of the region to join together in order to escape in one single trek. My father found out that the party leaders and NS officials had secretively taken off to safety on their own. He became quite enraged over this lack of leadership on the part of the very people who through courage and fearless guidance were supposed to set an example. While the lonely three trek wagons (Klopp, Kegler, and Dwinger) were slowly heading west, my father on a fast one-horse buggy was racing from farm to farm to warn stragglers of the impending danger and say good-bye to his Polish friends.
The trek managed to get as far as Arnswalde (Choszczno), Pomerania, where the family found temporary shelter in the forestry Kühnemühle. As the place appeared safe at least for the time being, Father decided to stay there longer than warranted by the critical circumstances created by the Soviet armies advancing westwards at lightning speed. Precious time was being wasted with useless discussions and playing Doppelkopf. Perhaps a trace of unfounded hope that the enemy on the eastern front could still be thrown back through a heroic effort by the German troops lingered at the back of everybody’s mind and caused them to dawdle. Suddenly in early February Red Army soldiers arrived at the forestry and took Father as prisoner of war although he was no combatant and assigned him to hard labor in the Soviet Union. In a forced march he returned to Posen (Poznan), to the very region whence he had escaped. Then the Russians shipped him by train to the Donbas area, where somewhere between Charkow and Rostow on the River Don he had to work in the coal mines.
Ethnic Cleansing 1945 – 1948
Reparations in Kind
With the article below describing the topic of an open lecture hosted in 2010 by the prestigious Unviversity of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I am going to provide some background of the tragic events which engulfed the Ernst Klopp family in the 1945 to 1948 time period. My father was one of the over two million Germans who were deported to forced labour in the Soviet Union and our family was one of the 14 million ethnic Germans who were driven from their homes in the eastern provinces. Considering that more than 2 million Germans perished, I cannot help but declare that the survival of the entire family was a first-class miracle.
Recently during my family research, I read online the following announcement by the U of W and I quote:
Pursuant to the 1945 Nürnberg indictment and 1946 judgment the forced deportation of civilians for purposes of demographic manipulation and/or forced labour constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Several Nazi officials were found guilty of having perpetrated these crimes. At the same time as the Nuremberg Trials were conducted, more than 14 million Germans were expelled from their homes in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, East Brandenburg – territories that were part of the defeated German Reich, from Bohemia and Moravia, from Hungary and Yugoslavia. Nearly two million ethnic Germans were deported to forced labour in the Soviet Union as “reparations in kind”. The Statistisches Bundesamt in Wiesbaden and subsequent scientific demographers have estimated that more than two million ethnic Germans perished as a result of their expulsion, either as victims of lethal violence or as a consequence of exposure, hunger and disease. In his 1946 book entitled “Our Threatened Values” Victor Gollancz appealed to a general sense of justice and morality: “If the conscience of mankind ever again becomes sensitive, these expulsions will be remembered to the undying shame of all who committed or connived at them … The Germans were expelled, not just with an absence of over-nice consideration, but with the very maximum of brutality.” Alas, the expulsion of the Germans was given scant press coverage and was seldom discussed or even mentioned in history books. The first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso, in a statement to the German expellees assembled at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt am Main on 28 May 1995 stated: “I submit that if in the years following the Second World War the States had reflected more on the implications of the enforced flight and the expulsion of the Germans, today’s demographic catastrophes, particularly those referred to as ‘ethnic cleansing’, would, perhaps, not have occurred to the same extent.” Unfortunately there were no “lessons learned” from the expulsion of the Germans. In 1992 the UN General Assembly called the policy of Ethnic Cleansing in the former Yugoslavia “a form of genocide”. The ICJ and the ICTY similarly found that the massacre of Srebranica constituted genocide. How many massacres of ethnic Germans 1945-48 reached the threshold of genocide or crimes against humanity? Several professors of public international law have raised this issue and insisted that International Law and human rights law cannot be applied à la carte. The UN General Assembly has affirmed the right to truth. The German expellees and their descendants have at least this right.
Release from the Soviet Forced Labour Camp
As already mentioned earlier, my father Ernst Klopp and thousands of other German citizens were captured by Red Army soldiers and as a non-combatants were deported with full approval of the other Allied powers to forced-labour camps in the Soviet Union. At Wikipedia we read: “The capture and transfer of civilian ethnic Germans to the Soviet Union began as soon as countries with a German minority began to be overrun in 1944. Large numbers of civilians were taken from countries such as Romania, Yugoslavia, and from the eastern parts of Germany itself.”
At this tragic juncture, the Ernst Klopp family was scattered all over the eastern provinces of Germany. My mother was left to fend for herself. From Arnswalde she travelled north with four orphans, my brother Gerhard and me in search of the older sons Karl and Adolf to Belgard (today Polish Bialogard). There, they had attended the local high school and had boarded with family friends. But the 16-year and 14-year old brothers had already taken off to escape from the approaching Red Army. For the longest time, Mother did not know their whereabouts. Furthermore, my sister Erika attended school at Hirschberg, Silesia, where she stayed with uncle Bruno’s widow and her children Hartmut, Elisabeth, and Jürgen. Writing a cohesive account of all members of the family during the postwar years is very difficult and has to wait until I have concluded my father’s life story.
In the meantime Father had a major accident, while he was working in the coal mines in the Donbass region of the USSR. He received treatment for his head injury and would have been sent back to work, if he had not feigned continual headaches. Thus, he succeeded in getting an early release and was sent back to Germany. When he arrived at Uncle Günther’s place in Erfurt, he heard that the entire family had survived the war. He established contact with Mother and the children and in 1947 moved to Rohrdorf, a small village in Southern Germany between the River Danube and Lake Constance. There he found employment with the regional branch of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenberg forest administration. Eventually the entire Klopp family was reunited. Although now extremely poor, often hungry, and dispossessed, the family was finally together again and could attempt a new beginning.
My Mother’s Ordeal in Pomerania 1945 – 1947
While Father slaved away in a Soviet coal mine, Mother had to endure indescribable hardships. Escape across the River Oder, where the area was still in German hands, was no longer an option. The Russian troops were heading in that direction and there was heavy fighting. She was left behind at the forestry with my brother Gerhard and me and the four orphans, whom she had taken along during the arduous trek from Gutfelde. That she and thousands of other women from West Prussia and Pomerania did not despair, did not give up and did not fatalistically slip into a state of utter hopelessness gives me cause for great admiration. After the forestry building burned to the ground, Mother wandered around in search of food, shelter, and relative safety. Eventually she obtained permission from a commanding Russian officer to travel with us children to Belgard in the hope of finding my brothers Karl and Adolf. To her great disappointment she discovered that they had decided to leave school and town, when they had heard that the Red Army would be in Belgard within days.
While the town of Belgard remained relatively unscathed from the ravages of war, Mother had to suffer under the harassment and abuses of the new masters in town. In the secret treaty in 1940 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union Stalin had acquired control over the eastern parts of Poland and wanted to keep them in compensation for the stupendous losses in life and material during the German invasion of Russia. So he ordered the Poles to leave their homes and their farms and settle in the German provinces east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse.
Now in an ironic reversal of roles, the Poles were now the masters of former German farms and exercising control over the towns and cities. For the Germans, who wanted to stay or could not escape in time, it was now their turn to experience harassment and abuse. Mother refused to be forced into a role in which she would lose her dignity, especially, as it often occurred, if she felt that she was confronted with injustice. She knew about the century old animosity between the Russian and the Polish people. So whenever she felt that the Polish authorities had unfairly treated her, she would go straight to the Russian officer in charge of the district and complain about the incident. To her great satisfaction she received justice ironically from the hands of an enemy officer.
Apart from her inner strength that allowed her to show courage where others would have meekly knuckled under, one must also consider the fact that Russian officers had a heart for the plight of little children. One could dismiss this thought as stereotypical and sentimental bias, if what Mother had experienced in Belgard with the six children in her care had been an isolated case of kindness. But such tender feelings on the part of Russian soldier had been documented so frequently as to attest to their truth.
Report by Peter’s Sister Lavana (Erika}
The war came to an end with Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945. But nothing changed in Mother’s life for more than a year until early in the summer of 1946 when she was expelled along with millions of other Germans from her homeland. In a well-calculated program of ethnic cleansing all German nationals were forced to leave in order to make room for the Polish people who had been displaced in turn by the Russians in their eastern provinces. Thus, the Pomeranian lands that had once been settled and cultivated for a period of over 500 years by industrious German pioneers and farmers were put under permanent Polish administration and are now part of Poland.
By now I was a little over four years old. What I have been writing about myself, I had gleaned from Mother’s diary, from my second-generation cousin Eberhard Klopp, who did extensive research on the Klopp family going back some four hundred years, from Uncle Günther’s Kegler Chronicles and other sources. I am especially thankful and greatly indebted to my brothers Karl (died in 2019) and Gerhard and my sister for their personal accounts of their incredible ordeals. I decided to insert them here as documents of a tumultuous period and as a testimony to their inner strength and courage without which they would not have survived.
Report by my sister Erika who adopted a new name Lavana Kilborn in the early 1980s
My Journey from 1943 to 1947
In the summer of 1943, my mother and I left by train for Hirschberg, where relatives of mine resided. As we lived in the country, it was necessary for me to move in order to obtain proper schooling. My host-family consisted of my widowed aunt Johanna, her parents and three cousins of mine, one of them being a girl, named Elisabeth and two boys. After a few days my mother returned home.
I got along very well with my new family, in particular with Elisabeth, who was of the same age as myself. We sat side by side in school and became good friends. The beautiful city had a large swimming pool, surrounded by grass to sunbathe, play ball etc. On weekends the family would go hiking in the nearby mountains, where the source of the mighty Elbe River is located. The song “Oh du schönes Riesengebirge, wo die Elbe heimlich rinnt …” still makes me melancholic, when I sing it. We also skied on wooden skis. There were no lifts then, but how much fun it was. All these activities were new and exciting experiences for me.
In January of 1945 everything came to an abrupt halt. Refugees started pouring in from neighbouring provinces, fleeing from the encroaching Russian front. They were mostly old people, women and children. There was lots of speculation about how this all would develop, some people moved westward on their own, others stayed in the city, hoping that they may return some day. The evacuation order came in early February and trains were ready to take us to safety and by now we could hear the guns in the distance. My family hesitated, there were discussions, but finally common sense prevailed. And our little group left on the last train out; later on we learned that all Russian soldiers entered the city the following day. Our train compartment was very crowded, one toilet, a small hand basin with only cold water for all of us meant long line-ups throughout the day. Food and drink were provided for our journey. The winters in East Germany are very cold, the land covered in snow, not much for us kids to see. Twice the whistle blew, the train stopped and we were ordered to step outside and move away from the train and stand still. When the whistle blew again, we were to get back on the train immediately. These were brief episodes when Allied planes came and went quickly not interested in us at all as they had bigger fish in mind. However our last stop along the way was different, as we were now ordered not to leave the train. We were all wondering what this was all about. Soon it became apparent that Dresden, the beautiful city, had been bombed, the sky was aflame to tell the story. Later we learned that thousands of people had perished, many of them at the main train station. This was the reason for us to be rerouted a day later. Our Tante Margot survived, as they were in another part of Dresden.
Our little group eventually made it to Mark Brandenburg, a place so far untouched by the war. Our major problem was that we were always hungry. Us older kids left daily on food-begging trips. Thus we managed to survive. Often I went on my own. Once while crossing a forested area, I came across the body of a German officer, eyes and mouth open providing a feast for tiny creatures. Another episode was more frightening. Three German teens in uniform, not knowing that the war had ended, shot dead a Russian soldier on patrol. These kids were caught and executed in the courtyard of the farmhouse where we stayed. It was horrifying to hear those shots. Another experience stands out for me. As I was approaching a large farmhouse, the hausfrau saw me coming, yelling at me to leave or she would sic the dog on me. Scared I turned to run off, when a Russian soldier took me by the arm and motioned me to follow him into the root cellar. Here the farmers kept their food. From the shelves the soldier took bread, cheese, a piece of bacon and handed me the goodies, which I put into my bag. I was out of there in no time never to come back to that place again.
Eventually my host family was able to contact an uncle of mine in Erfurt. He and his wife took me in and my life began to normalize again. I loved the family, the school and the beautiful city. However, I often wondered where my parents and siblings might be. My mother and the two youngest brothers were finally located. In the meantime the two older brothers also arrived in Erfurt.
[Here I must insert a paragraph gleaned from the City of Erfurt website which throws some additional light on the miracle of survival of my brother and sister who lived for a while in that city in Thuringia: “How close Erfurt escaped such an inferno as the city of Dresden had suffered in February, however, no one suspected, right to the top of the Nazi officials. In view of the relocation of armaments factories, Reich authorities and the military to Thuringia, the British in particular pressed for a massive bombing of the Erfurt traffic junction. The attack was initially scheduled for April 2nd and was then postponed twice. On April 4, the Royal Air Force was to launch a double attack on Erfurt and Nordhausen. 376 bombers were standing on the tarmac that morning alone for Erfurt. While the city in the southern Harz had to lament thousands of victims and the total destruction of its old town a few hours later, Erfurt remained unscathed. What happened? The US ground forces under General George S. Patton were at this time already moving towards Erfurt from Gotha, so that the Americans were afraid of bombs being dropped on their own soldiers and literally stopped the British at the last minute.” I searched for the location of the street where my uncle lived and found that is was located very close to the city centre and the railway station. It would have meant certain death for my uncle, aunt and Erika and Adolf].
And it was decided that Adolf and I were to join Mother in southwest Germany. The necessary papers arrived and we were on our way. The train took us close to the border and we walked the rest of the way. Two Russian border guards saw us coming and questioned us. After studying our valid papers allowing us to pass, they just tore them up. We were stunned at such injustice, after all we were 15 (Adolf) and 13 years old myself. The soldiers shooed us off, one of them pointing at his gun, in case we had any ideas of returning. We left seeking shelter behind a haystack and began to weigh our options on what to do next. Adolf wanted to return to Erfurt, but I would have none of it. I picked up my stuff carefully avoiding the guardhouse. Now a steady rain had begun. Soon I heard my brother’s footsteps behind me and I was much relieved. I don’t remember how long we walked. It seemed like a long time. By the time we got to a small railway station, we were exhausted, yet very much relieved that we were in the West. Two French border guards approached us demanding to see our papers, – no wonder, we looked like runaways. Adolf handled the situation quite well and we were allowed to board the train.
In Nuremberg we found the Red Cross Refugee Camp, where we received food and shelter. As we were out of money, discussing our next move, a woman interrupted us handing Adolf a bill that would cover our train fare to Meßkirch. Several kilometres more on foot and we arrived in Rohrdorf. What a relief for all of us to join our mother and the two youngest brothers again after such a long separation!
Report Written by Peter’s Brother Karl (1929 – 2019)
How was it possible that parents and children were going to flee from different places? Father Ernst Klopp had been ordered from our original residence in the Pomeranian county of Belgard into the Land of the Warthe to hand over expropriated Polish estates to Baltic Germans, who had been resettled primarily from Latvia. My brother Adolf and I were boarding with a family in Belgard to attend a secondary school. From there began on March 3rd, 1945 the flight into a westerly direction.
To what degree do memories committed to paper reflect the truth? This document limits itself to the presentation of direct impressions and experiences and sparsely delves into explanations. Therefore it avoids them unless absolutely necessary.
Due to the regrettable loss of a diary that I had kept since my early childhood days, most likely lost in a hay barn on the trek to the West, it is impossible for the sequence of events to be authentic.
Also subsequent inserts of military and historical value, or attempts of this nature were unproductive. The Wehrmacht reports, which one can read in the archives, and the historical works by authors based on the former – as far as they could be controlled by personal, absolutely authentic facts – lagged behind the events and even jumped ahead of them.
Memories of the Flight (March 1945)
The Incredible Journey
On March 3rd at 6 o’clock in the evening ‘Tank Alert’ rang out in Belgard. Why did the defence and party headquarters choose the evening to evacuate the civilian population? The family Meißner-Kulmann, two women, five little girls and the Klopp brothers moved under the howling sounds of sirens and the wild perpetual ringing of our church to the designated area, where transportation facilities were supposed to be ready, which was not the case. Without any further discussions the group marched in the direction to the exit road leading to Kolberg in order to reach the coast. Halfway there we stopped in the middle of the night for shelter in the village of Leikow. Some luggage was in the handcart, on which also the children were sitting. Soon we realized that the family did not want to go farther. I was sent back the following evening to Belgard on a bicycle that I had been pushing to get a briefcase with documents belonging to one of their grown-up boys out of the house at the Schidlitz. In us grew the decision to separate from the family, who attempted to stop us by saying, “Fine Hitler boys you are!” I should mention that the march of the trek led us past familiar native places of our early childhood, which slid by in the dark night like shapeless outlines. We recognized how close the front line was by the fire in the village of Lülfitz, which was located north of the Kolberg road, which led in a westerly direction to the coast. In that direction stood also a train recognizable by the stream of sparks: Certainly the railroad line had already been cut.
I always liked to tell that early on my birthday I still got a cake – whether Frau Meißner had baked it in the simple quarters in Leikow or in her own oven in Belgard, I did not find out. March 6th was the day of separation from my room and board mother, who later had walked back to her house in Belgard with her daughters and grandchildren.
Halfway on the road to Kolberg we saw my classmate Ulrich Schulz (Uschu), with whom I had committed many a prank. He was wearing a bandage around his head. We exchanged a few words, but I have forgotten, what he had said about his injury. In the late afternoon of my birthday we arrived in Kolberg. We had entered the city without any problems. Earlier it had been declared a fortress and since then was considered (also according to army reports) surrounded. We hurried to the harbour, which we also knew very well and the seashore, because we had often traveled with the family or alone to this summer resort at the sea. There also existed relatives and a friendly family. The pictures of the German Baltic seaport of 1945 are well known through TV programs. We too saw the line-ups at the ships. We did not take long to think. We decided to march along the coastline. The great bridge at the Persante river was still intact and so we tried to get to the southern part (Maikuhle) of the city, where the friendly Pascheke family lived, who however had already fled. The city of Kolberg was already being fired at by artillery. The Soviets began the encirclement and assault of this also historically important place.
Once in a while we had a chance to travel a short distance on military vehicles. Since we had only our schoolbags filled with provisions on us, we were able to quickly climb on board. How nervous some people became, shall be demonstrated by the following example. A woman accused us of having stolen her suitcase filled with valuables. At a beach section we examined a boat that had been pulled up onto the shore as to its sea worthiness, but were quickly distracted by other things. Rides and marches changed according to the situation and opportunity. Finally we were forced to continue on land and a short time later even in an easterly direction. Thus, it happened that we saw a location twice: once on the march back and then again in the planned direction to the Oder estuary. The explanation for this is that the front lines were moving back and forth, often there were even wandering army pockets.
On such march in darkness and blowing snow we saw at the roadside an abandoned hearse. Since we were very tired, we simply lay down on the seats to catch a few winks. Whether it was instinct or battle noise, we left the protective shelter and went into the next village and asked the Pomeranian farmer to stay overnight. He did not want to let us into the barn saying, “You will set it on fire!” He offered us the pigsty and so we spent the remainder of the night right next to the box that housed a well-fed sow. We gave her our empty sardine cans, which she was licking and chewing all the time. When we came by the farm the next day on our way west to the Oder estuary, it was engulfed in flames. Now the farmer had lost everything! An hour later we saw the hearse. It had been totally torn to pieces by gunshot.
Only once did we get to know the Soviet air force. A ‘Rata’, an awkward looking, slow airplane, was shooting at the trek on the road leading to the West. Near us a woman lost her infant, whom she carried on her arm. We quickly looked for cover to evade further attacks. Once we had a chance to hitch a ride on a hauling truck, which pulled a huge artillery gun. At close range we could observe how the battery moved into position at dusk. We stayed nearby in order not miss a possible ride later on. Then it became clear what was going to happen: a tank attack in the immediate vicinity. I still remember the howling of the tank engines and the noise of the chains. In the flashes of the gun barrels I could watch the gunner load, how he slid the big, heavy shell into the barrel, stopped his ears, waited for the recoil, then picked up the next shell, about three or five times. To the right in the background I saw exploding tanks. The gun towers all-aflame flew up and to the side. The remaining tanks turned and withdrew into the night. Later on I found out that night aiming devices were in existence. I also have been contemplating, as to why I can still visualize so vividly this scene. It was the unshakable calm of the gunner and steadiness of his movements: industrial work at the machine, prepared by ‘Refa’. We were not fast enough; the battery with its three or four artillery guns had disappeared during the night.
In one of the next days and nights we stayed in a more westerly located village. I observed a group of our soldiers, who were giving someone a lecture. One asked, “Where do you have your gun, Frenchman?” One needs to know that very many western Europeans under German occupation volunteered to be enlisted in their own units to fight against Bolshevism. The fear of being overrun from the East since the revolution in Russia was great. Almost all countries east of Germany developed into authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, Germany of course also and even more so. Thus, French people entered the German army. The scenario makes me ask: Was it German arrogance or realistic assessment of the French fighting spirit?
A short time later at the same spot we listened, as a battle at close range developed with the Soviet infantry. When tracer bullets were shot over our heads, we threw ourselves behind a manure pile, and we could see now close to our left and right the trails of light flashing by. The Russians were shouting “Hurrä”; in the counter offensive it was responded to with Hurrah. A German soldier lost his nerves. For several he was dancing with his gun in his arm from one leg onto the other. Much later, sitting in relative safety in the train, I retold my observation to another refugee. Thereupon a sergeant severely reprimanded me, “One does not talk about these things in such detail.” The aforementioned attack therefore was repulsed. My brother and I were looking for better cover in a trench. An officer brandishing his pistol startled us and asked us to identify ourselves. He was a so-called hero-nabber (Heldenklau), whose job was to get after cowards and deserters or simply to bring the scattered bunch of his soldiers together again.
The military operations were pushing us again to the coast. Coming out of the dunes we saw an endless tapeworm of people moving west, military personnel as well as civilians, whom we joined. Soon we saw on the left the ruins of a church in the dunes. The village of Hoff lay ahead, a distance of 15 km to the eastern branch of the Oder river, the Dievenow. My grandmother had a picture of these ruins hanging in the hallway, which I had always looked at with great respect. I had spent the first two grades of my schooling in Stolpmünde. Now I saw the remainder of the church that had been destroyed by storm tides in previous centuries under such circumstances before my eyes.
We soon found out that the Russians were pushing hard directly to the coastline. Shots were coming out of the dunes aimed at the passers-by. German soldiers went into position and repulsed the attack, which would possibly have cut us off. Here is one impressive detail: A soldier was getting ready on the dune in the direction of the pine forest. An overly daring Russian fighter was hit and fell down and remained hanging in the lower branches. He wanted to get an overview of the scenario from the treetop.
I do not know why someone would throw bicycles into the sea. Anyway we got two of them out of the water, loaded our light luggage and moved ahead this way a lot faster. Near the water’s edge the sand was firm; only over the tidal inlets we had to lift our vehicles. The bikes were available to us for many more kilometres, until we caught in Neubrandenburg a train to Erfurt.
From the place, where we found the bikes, we soon reached the village of Dievenow located on either side of the arm of the Oder River, from which it got its name. On the east bank we had a major delay, because there was no bridge, but a ferry instead, which connected the ends of the old highway of the Reich I65 and which was no longer operational. The army had set up a pontoon service, which, when we arrived, was exclusively available for the troops. They consoled us civilians with the evening hours. We looked at the village. There were beautiful villas located near the beach like in so many resorts at the coast. We went into abandoned houses in search for food. The provisions we had with us had been exhausted. Where we had stayed overnight we had begged for food or often filled our stomachs at the military field kitchens. It was awkward that we had neither a tin bowl nor a spoon with us. Once we ate out of a steel helmet, the inner lining of which we had removed. In the houses of Dievenow we found very little, at most canned fruit.
In this beautiful place I should have received my paramilitary training. They were sending the male Hitler-Youth to so-called training camps, from which they were directly transferred to the troops. During our journey I always had the draft notice readily available in my pocket, but had no intention to look around and locate the camp to report for military duty.
Finally they let us two bicyclists onto a pontoon, some of which were ferrying constantly back and forth.. Now one could already hear heavy artillery fire close by. Shells hitting the water indicated that the Soviets intentionally were going to disrupt the withdrawal movements.
Much relieved we pedalled onward in a westerly direction, needed no longer to divert our march into forests and fields, but rode on decent roads. There were also organized centres of provisions through field kitchens. Also the military operations were less noticeable in the rural areas. The city of Wollin, a day’s march from Swinemünde, was only captured on May 4, 1945. We reached Swinemünde, the next city from Dievenow, already on March 12th, a date of horror in my memory.
We soon arrived at the small beach resort town of Misdroy, twelve km before Swinemünde on the main road to Stettin. We had more often heard the thunder of big guns from the direction of the Baltic Sea. The German navy, which not only carried the masses of refugees primarily from the East Prussia to safety, but was also actively engaged with its long range guns in support of the battle on land, and was shooting no-go areas against the enemy to safeguard endangered front lines. What we heard on March 12th, let the ground at a wide range shake and doors bang open and shut. The Americans and British had fooled the antiaircraft authorities by not flying in a straight line to the town of Swinemünde, but then for one hour intensively bombarded the relatively small town area. The bombing raid resulted in 23,000 dead. They rest on the German side on the Golm, a cemetery of an area of one square km. Swinemünde is Polish today.
When we arrived at the town on the evening after the attack, where we had wanted to stay overnight, visibility was almost zero, the stench horrific, most certainly the smell of corpses. How we got over the relatively wide arm of the River Oder, by the name of Swine, I cannot recall. On account of the smoke I was unable to see.
In the middle of the night we reached Ahlbeck and found some rest in a vacation guesthouse, where a compassionate woman with a little son took us in. For the first time in ten days we slept in a real bed. Only now we began to discuss to which destination we should proceed. There were relatives, whose addresses we had in our heads due to a very active correspondence, in Freiburg and Erfurt. The latter was closer. Therefore, we decided to pedal on in a southeastern direction. Since we had neither maps nor compass, we did not choose the direct way, kept on pedalling six more days all the way to Neubrandenburg, where we became sick and tired of biking. We needed a rest, because the most recent journey went over the Pomeranian ridges, over hills and through valleys and into our bones.
We used a savings account booklet filled with entries from our saved pocket money to buy train tickets to Erfurt and pay for the shipping of the bikes. The savings account organization had made life easier for the refugees with the set-up of a generous transaction policy. It was a strange feeling to sit in a train, where to be sure there was incredible crowdedness, to be able to watch the landscape, to read the names of the cities of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, of Brandenburg, and then of Saxony-Anhalt, places whose names until now had been unknown to me or about which I had a different perception.
Once in a while the train stopped in a hollow to await a bomber formation. Often enough low flying aircraft attacked trains or blocked the route in order to target troop transports. A friendly place-name sign ‘Wolmirstedt’ indicated to us that we were passing through the birthplace of our father Ernst Klopp. Slowly we were approaching Thuringia, where Uncle Günther and Aunt Lucie lived. It was an unknown place to us. A long trip in our childhood, especially during the war, was out of the question. Then came the giant railroad station that destroyed all small town Pomeranian perceptions, then the walk to the probable town section, the search in the long street with the name Nonnenrain and the confusion about the house number, 70 instead of 17. Aunt Lucie was speechless. Of course, she could not answer our first question about the whereabouts of our parents. That we looked like dirty pigs must have affected her rather badly as it would have anybody else. At mealtime there was information on the conditions in the city, above all on the almost daily aerial attacks and on the air raid shelters. Besides the American front was approaching from the west.
At first we did not heed the warnings of the aerial attacks, until a powerful explosion of a bomb taught us otherwise. Uncle Günther, who was at the time hospitalized due to health issues going back to WW1, was sent home, and we met again, himself looking quite worried. With the arrival in Erfurt the flight had come to an end, and the thread to our homeland and to the parents was totally cut off. What came next was completely different. End of Karl’s report
A New Beginning in Southern Germany
In June 1947, Ernst Klopp established himself anew in Rohrdorf , a small village near Meßkirch in Southern Germany. After finding employment as a forestry worker of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenbergischen Forestry Administration located at Donaueschingen with a branch office in Meßkirch, he was able to reunite with his wife Erika and children. Adolf and Erika (see my sister’s report in an earlier chapter) joined them after a two- years interim with Uncle Günther in Erfurt.
Karl, the eldest son, was the last one to join the Ernst Klopp family. The von Waldenfels couple, having to flee from their Panwitz property, had settled at their newly acquired estate Pentenried near Munich. In February 1948, they took the 19 year-old Karl into their care and provided food and shelter for about a year. After an agricultural apprenticeship in Nellenburg near Stockach, Karl was finally able to join his family.
Rohrdorf consists of a long drawn-out assembly of farms and houses divided into a lower and an upper village. In the upper village we find the places where most of the social activities took place in the late 40s. There were at least two inns, a grocery store, a branch of the Credit Union, a dairy operation on the road to Meßkirch, an elementary school and the catholic St. Peter and Paul church. Our family lived in the lower village in the upstairs portion of a house, which my siblings called the ‘poor house’. Its primitive tight living quarters were a far cry from the spacious and luxurious estate in Gutfelde. Being the youngest child, I felt nothing of the stress that the other family members experienced during these difficult times of the postwar era.
The Ös Farm
Then suddenly in the summer of 1950 an opportunity presented itself to Ernst Klopp. An elderly farmer by the short name of Ös decided to retire and leased his farm house and a few parcels of land not more than 6 ha in size to my father on credit. By comparison to the 3,000 ha Ernst had administered in Gutfelde, the total of arable land available for farming was minuscule. The house was adequate and a vast improvement over the upstairs dwelling of the ‘poor house’. It came with a large barn with a hay loft, a sufficient quantity of farm implements, a fair-sized kitchen, the ubiquitous manure pile in front of the kitchen window and an outhouse. The only luxury item that I recall was the large tile stove (Kachelofen in German) providing warmth and a cozy ambience for the entire dwelling. Many of my sweet childhood memories are going back to the Ös farm, as we often irreverently called it.
So here my father Ernst Klopp tried with little prospect of success to pick up his life-long dream again to running a farm under his very own management. Having no capital to spend on much needed supplies, he heavily depended on loans, which created a heavy financial burden. He must have counted on the help from my older siblings for turning the farming operation into a successful venture.
Soon after his high school graduation Karl left home to study economics at the university of Braunschweig. Adolf, my second eldest brother, barely 18 years old found work at the Bizerba Factory in Meßkirch. Since that time in the early 1950s the Bizerba Company GMBH has developed into a world leader in weighing technologies for industry and trade. Adolf had to contribute most of the money he earned in order to keep this fledgling farming operation financially afloat. Three years later, Adolf was getting tired to support what in his opinion was a hopeless enterprise. Together with another refugee son by the name of Waldemar Klein he immigrated to Canada. Soon thereafter, my sister Erika also left home to take up nurses’ training in the City of Hamburg. In 1954, Gerhard managed to get an apprenticeship placement in a prestigious institute of technology in Switzerland.
Signs of Disintegration
The only child left in 1954 with his parents Ernst und Erika Klopp was the 12-year old Peter. With no family workers left on the farm that produced little more than a few eggs from the henhouse and milk from a goat or two, my father’s health being on rapid decline, there remained scant hope for a successful farming operation and inevitably Father’s dream came to a sudden end. All the Ernst Klopp children eventually emigrated and settled in Western Canada.
Four years after the lease agreement with retired farmer Ös came into effect, my father gave up and burdened with a heavy debt load became officially unemployed. He moved into a tiny house at the bottom of the hill where he was often bed-ridden suffering from intense backaches for long stretches of time. In the meantime, my mother found employment as a housekeeper and cook at the Hohenzollern Castle at Sigmaringen. In the meantime, carpenter master Stoll and his wife in Meßkirch took care of little Peter in the role of foster parents, while he was attending the local high school.
So after what had begun with a miraculous escape from death and destruction in their home province Pomerania and a promise of fetching a few morsels of the former happiness, the glue that once held the family together loosened and showed definite signs of disintegration.
The Writing on the Wall
Who can read the signs, when the fabric of family unity begins to unravel, when the glue that once held the clan together breaks loose under the load of stressful times, when the magnetic poles of each individual member are too much alike and reverse the forces of attraction? It is easy to answer such questions as we are looking back more than sixty years into past events. But at the time when the eldest son left the house, it appeared perfectly normal. After all, grown-up children with a few exceptions have always abandoned their nests to assert their independence and eventually have a family of their own. Yet, with hindsight we can probe a little deeper below the appearance of normalcy. Why would Adolf, the second oldest son, choose to immigrate to Canada, which turned out like the promised land, which however he did not know at the time he made the decision to emigrate? Or was it not rather the desire to escape his financial obligation to support the little farm in Rohrdorf with his meagre income? And why would Gerhard, the second youngest son, follow in Adolf’s footsteps if not for the same reasons. But most importantly, we children had no clue about the strain that the failed farming venture exerted on our parents. Ernst Klopp, once responsible as manager and director for a 3000 ha farming operation, utterly failed in turning the puny farmstead into a profitable venture. The psychological blow to my father must have been devastating.
In 1954, Father in search for meaningful employment moved to Haren at the Ems River in Northwest Germany. He worked in the office of the weaving factory of his nephew Georg von Waldenfels. The manufacturing plant was primarily producing cloth which was in high demand at the time. The newly created West German army (Bundeswehr) turned out to be a lucrative market for the son of Anna von Waldenfels. Unfortunately, Ernst Klopp and his meddlesome employer’s mother-in-law did not get along very well. The friction often resulted in unpleasant scenes, which wore him out and caused him to leave in 1957.
In the meantime, my mother Erika Klopp had taken on a supervisory position in the kitchen facility of a senior citizen home in the town of Rudersberg northeast of Stuttgart. Her sister Maria Kegler, an elementary school teacher at the small village of Brünen near the city of Wesel took the 12-year old Peter under her wings. From there, he took the bus to attended the all-boys high school in Wesel, a city that ten years after the war had still many parts lying in ruins.
Rebuilding the city in the mid 1950s was in full in swing and the pressure of the extreme housing shortage was beginning to ease. Through some fortuitous connections, aunt Maria, also endearingly called Mieze, was able to find an apartment. An invitation went out to her sister Erika in Rudersberg to run her household in exchange for free roam and board for her and her your nephew Peter. So it happened that in 1955, while Father was still doing office work at the cloth factory in the Ems Country, Peter’s mother finally found a place she could call her home again.
Separation and Divorce
Peter remembers the year, when his father came to live with my mother for a while in Wesel and writes: Great was my joy, when Father arrived. After two years of living only with Mother and Aunt Mieze this was a welcome change for me. What I didn’t know at the time was that my parents were drifting apart due to circumstances beyond their control. Mother having no employable skills had allowed herself to be bound completely to Aunt Mieze’s generous arrangement by taking over the housekeeping duties in exchange for room and board, all expenses for herself and me. Father suffering from periodic back pains and other health issues could no longer find meaningful employment. His former administrative talents in agriculture were not in demand, especially not in the city of Wesel. Mother expected him to take up any employment. Even sweeping the streets or working for the sanitation department would have been all right in her eyes, she once confided to me. So as time went on, Father was facing a dilemma, either to continue to depend on Aunt Mieze’s charitable hospitality or to seek work completely out of line with his agricultural expertise.
But while he stayed with us, half a year or more, he did his best to create a sense of togetherness between himself and me, a kind of late bonding between father and son. He took great interest in my studies at the high school. He had heard of my difficulties in Latin and devised a motivational scheme to help me with grammar and vocabulary, which he himself had never learned. He also noticed that if I did get into trouble at school or at home it was primarily due to the fact that I, often wrapped up in my dream world, lost track of time. His plan, which I immediately embraced with great enthusiasm, was that I should earn my very first watch by studying Latin with him. For every exercise from my text-book, for every successfully completed vocabulary drill, for each translation into Latin he awarded me one point and recorded it meticulously with date and type of work into a little writing booklet. Once I had obtained the grand total of 500 points, he would give me the promised brand-new watch. When he left, I was not only the proud owner of a watch, but also more importantly my marks in Latin had soared to the second highest level one could get on the report cards. Moreover, I had accumulated so much knowledge that I was coasting along for four more high school years before slipping back to the more common satisfactory standing. It was also during Father’s short stay that he taught me how to play chess. His legacy was not only that I had developed a lasting passion for the ancient language of the Romans and the royal game of chess, but also that I harbour only the fondest memories of my father. Little did I know that I was not going to see him again for six long years.
Father feeling useless and totally dependent left our apartment one day, perhaps with the decision never to come back. Not long after his departure, my mother being prodded to act by Uncle Günther initiated divorce proceedings. She must have felt very secure with her sister providing the means for a comfortable living. So to accelerate the rather lengthy process of divorce prevalent in the German bureaucracy, she waived all her rights for support and governmental assistance programs associated with her marriage with Ernst Klopp. This turned out to be a grave error in judgment. Later down the road after an initial period of pleasant living, after her sister Maria passed away, she became virtually penniless and had to spend the rest of her life in a senior citizen home run by the welfare department.
Peter Visits his Dad
Children in general are flexible and adaptable in dealing with the pain of separation and divorce their parents create, as long as they can live in a sheltered and loving environment with their remaining parent. So although I was initially missing my dad, I did not find it too disturbing that I was going through a major part of my teenage years without him. Now more than fifty years after my parents’ divorce, looking back, I find it outrageous that it took more than five years to see my father again.
How Father met his second wife is shrouded in darkness. I could have asked him on my first visit about the circumstances under which the two met and came to know each other. And later on, when my father had passed away, his wife would have gladly given me a lot of information about it if I had only cared enough at the time to ask her. I was simply not interested. I had more important things to do than to dig into my father’s past. Having missed quite a few opportunities to find out an important part of my father’s life, I can only conjecture that he may have known Erna Krämer from the ‘golden’ years in Gutfelde, where so many people flocked during the war to seek refuge from the never ending bombing raids of the German cities.
Finally, as a twenty-year old young man during the summer holidays in 1962, I hopped on my used Miele moped and drove from Wesel to Michelbach, which is now part of the municipality of Schotten. At a maximum speed of 50 km/h, it took me all day to reach the scenic hill country around the Vogelsberg region. Father and Erna gave me a warm welcome alleviating immediately all fear that my dad might have turned into a stranger. I had departed from Wesel with these somber feelings, which had been building up due in part to our long separation, but also due to Mother’s bitter and regretful remarks that she had sometimes made about the divorce. So it was a great relief to be greeted so cordially and be welcomed as son and friend into their cozy old farmhouse. Here then I was going to spend the next six weeks, would become reacquainted with a rural environment slightly reminiscent of Rohrdorf, would get to know Father more closely through our philosophical and historical discussions, would begin to like his wife, would be introduced to her friends and relatives in the village, would taste her hearty meals albeit a little too rich in fat, in short I was here to relax and feel completely at home in an atmosphere of genuine friendliness and camaraderie.
Right from the beginning of my visit, Erna, Father’s second wife, and I got along very well. Her cheerful and lively disposition did not allow me to lose myself in gloomy moods, as I was occasionally prone to do, especially during prolonged periods of idleness and aimlessness. Even though I was reluctant to admit it, I could even see that Erna was the right person for Father. She was the sunshine that had brought lightness and contentment to his sunset years. From her radiated a contagious joyous spirit that created the in-peace-with-the-world atmosphere so conducive to Father’s healing process from a torturous past, from which he only now began to recover. I do not remember him as a man broken in body and spirit, as my distant cousin Eberhard Klopp described him in his book of the Klopp Family History.
Erna also had a moped of the same make and the same 49 cc class as mine, on which she would travel down the steep hill into the town of Schotten to buy the few things she needed for the small household in Michelbach. When you have company, one always seems to find the time to show off the beauty surrounding one’s home turf. Without visitors, one tends to delay and leave such outings for another day. Erna was no exception. Now she was eager to travel with me to the nearby-forested hills, up to the scenic Nature Park around Mount Vogelsberg, down winding country roads into the lush verdant valleys neatly tucked in between minor mountain ranges. There was no better form of transportation than our two Miele mopeds. With a lunch pack clamped to the rear luggage rack, we were ready to dart off into the magnificent Hessian landscape. A little overweight for these light machines, Father gladly stayed behind, looking after a few chores still to be done on this mini-farm with just a few goats to feed and milk. Just as we were revving up the engines, Father came to the road to congenially shout over the noise, “Have a good trip!” Too soon, my vacations came to an end. Thanks to our weekly excursions into the hill country, I had acquired a solid geographical knowledge of the region. As I was internally preparing myself to leave the Rhineland for good after graduation, I had already created a new base to drop in as son and stepson, a place I could truly call home.
After supper, we three would sit in the living room leisurely sipping homemade apple cider in the long summer evenings. We would talk until it was time to go to bed. More accurately speaking, it was Erna who did most of the talking. She certainly had the gift of the gab. With the unerring memory for minutest details spiced up with colourful expressions and peppered with her village’s melodious dialect, she was the born storyteller. I will never forget how she described the chaotic scene of the German Reichstag of the roaring twenties. She and her friends were sitting in the same living room forty years earlier and acted out the ugly political debates they had heard over the radio. They did this with such exuberance, with so much mock yelling and screaming that the poor cats terrified by the brouhaha created by the inflammatory speeches sought refuge under the sofa and added to the parliamentary cacophony with much hissing and growling.
More Children Visiting Father
With my first visit to see Father after such a long gap inconceivable in the light of today’s custody laws that require visiting rights at regular intervals, I accomplished much more than just reconnecting with him. The ice had been broken. Other family members now were eager to come in a spirit of reconciliation that was shared even by Mother, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Near the end of my holidays, my brother Adolf dropped in for a visit. He had returned from Canada to Germany temporarily to learn a trade in an apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company at Hanau. He eventually acquired a journeyman ticket as a trained machinist that would – so he was hoping – land him a good-paying job upon his return to Canada. Adolf, endowed with a witty sense of humour and an extroverted personality, was the life of the party no matter where he went. In formal or informal gatherings, in a suit or jeans, with academics or factory workers, he was the born entertainer who made people cheer up when they were depressed and got things rolling when they appeared to be stuck. Everybody liked him. There was just one problem with this gregarious, likeable brother of mine. He seemed to be shy, yes, even afraid of unmarried women, who might take too much of a liking to him, pursue him with the full force of passion and lock him up in the golden cage he called marriage.
Then my sister Erika dropped in for a brief visit. When she heard that I had been going out dancing with a girl from the village, she contemptuously commented on her in Father’s presence, “Ho! Ho! Going out with a peasant duffer! (Bauerntrampel in German)” By now, I had become quite accustomed to the unpredictable outpourings of her sharp tongue. Her caustic and biting remarks at Mother’s place in Wesel had been edged forever into my memory. However, Father was livid. Having respected all his life the hard, honest work of the farmers from whom we receive our daily bread, he was deeply insulted by that derogatory remark. He gave her a severe dressing-down for displaying unjustified disdain for such an honourable class of people. Never since my early childhood days, when he had read me the riot act for stealing eggs from Mother’s henhouse, had I seen Father so angry. If I did not know the meaning of holy wrath, I knew it now.
Erna’s house was at least half a century old, and the electrical wiring was outdated and no longer in compliance with the latest electrical code. It required that all circuits be correctly grounded. It made me feel good that I was not just there to enjoy a relaxing summer visit but also to make myself useful. Father had bought the three-prong wire, and I installed it and connected it to the junction boxes, outlets and switches. I showed some reluctance to take the twenty marks Father wanted to pay for my work. He lectured me somewhat like this, “Listen, Peter, if someone offers you money, not dishonest money, mind you, but money earned for work you did, do not hesitate to accept it. For you not only cheat yourself out of the reward that is rightfully yours, but you also insult the generosity of the giver.” To such a powerful argument, I had nothing to reply to and took the twenty marks.
Philosophizing at Father’s Bedside
When Father’s back pains hurt too much, he stayed in bed for most of the day. Adolf and I were sitting at his bedside to keep him company. Then Father and I would often talk about the great empires of the past and the lessons one might learn from the causes of their decline. I really warmed up to this topic as I had recently taken a keen interest in the Roman Empire’s history. We concluded that if one allows foreign religious and ethnic elements to dominate the nation’s cultural core, it will sooner or later lose its identity. Its values and moral fibre will undergo first decline and then total collapse. Germany, according to Father, has not learned her lessons and was headed in the same direction. Pointing to the record player on the night table, he remarked, “The record is turning. The needle is progressing in its groove. But in the end, it will be starting all over again. symbolizing the eternal recurrent of the same in world history.” Adolf feeling a little left out in this highfalutin talk, said he would buy himself a couple of history books to study up on the things he had missed in school.
Before the end of my vacation in Michelbach, I gave Erna my moped. The engine of her better-looking moped had utterly broken down. Adolf, the skilful mechanic and jack-of-all-trades, took the working motor out of mine and installed it into Erna’s moped. As a reward for my generosity, Adolf drove me in his Volkswagen beetle back home to Wesel, where he would spend a few days to visit with Mother and Aunt Mieze. In this joyful summer of 1962, I saw Father for the last time alive. I am so glad that I did. How great would have been the loss if I had missed this golden opportunity to see him!
At the time of Father’s sudden and unexpected passing, death had given me in quick succession several reminders of our transitory life here on earth. In the fall of 1964, I was serving in the signal corps of the German Nato Forces in Bavaria. On November 22 at the Maxhof army barracks, I listened to the American Forces Network (AFN Munich). The DJ suddenly interrupted the Country and Western music and, after a short pause, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later that night, AFN reported that he had died of his gunshot wounds. I was shocked by the news of this tragedy, as I had taken a liking to this great man for his courage to force the Soviet Union to remove their missiles out of Cuba. I liked the way he had publicly committed himself to the security of West Berlin. His famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ will remain with me for as long as I live. Then, in January, our staff sergeant Wohl had a fatal accident when his VW beetle collided with a public transit bus on an icy hillside road in Feldafing. Three comrades and I accepted the sad task of becoming his pallbearers. I will never forget the widow’s heart-rending sobbing in the front pew when the officiating priest addressed her with a few consoling words. A couple of weeks later, almost if death intended to remind me again of its presence, I lent sixty marks to a friend so he could buy a train ticket to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Then, on February 26, an order came for me to see the captain for an important message. A little puzzled and worried about this unusual event, I went to the captain’s office. After I sat down, he informed me with genuine regret that my father had died of a massive heart attack on the night of February 25. The officer granted me a five-day compassionate leave, effective immediately. Numbed by this horrific message, I could not respond with a single word. The captain, deliberately ignoring military protocol, shook hands with me and spoke kind words of condolences.
Only a small number of family members, aunt Meta and Anna, Erna’s relatives and friends attended the funeral in Michelbach. I wrote and dedicated a poem in German to my dad, my best friend and helper. The poem ended with a line in Latin:
Viventium, non mortuorum misereor.
I feel sorry for the living, not the dead.
If Father were still living today, he would proudly look at his many descendants: five children, eleven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Perhaps one day, some of them will be interested in the fascinating story of their wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather Ernst Klopp. I hope that they will read it one day and get to know the roots of the Klopp branch of their family.