Our Uncle and his Profile
Charts II a & b – II
by Peter Klopp
In the first part of the report on my uncle’s life, I will focus on the profile that he had written about himself in his Kegler Family Chronicle. In subsequent posts, I will publish a few of my own ‘memory fragments’. They will show how the threads of our lives intersected on many occasions. Being together with him at his home in Watzenborn during my army years enhanced my sense of belonging to the Kegler-Klopp family. Uncle Günther definitely deserves the title ‘Chief of the Kegler Clan’, by which he was known among family members.
Günther was born on October 1, 1894, in Grünewald, county of Neustettin (Szczecinek). He married Lucie Kegler (1898-1968) in Elsterberg on June 21, 1925. He attended the elementary school in his hometown from 1900 to 1906. Then for his high school education, he joined the military academy first at Plön near the Baltic Sea from 1907 to 1912, then at Großlichter-Felde southwest of Berlin from 1912 to 1914. As a cadet at the beginning of World War I, he was assigned to Infantry Regiment 149 at Schneidemühl (now Pila, Poland ). From 1914 to 1917 he served with Infantry Regiment 14 (Graf Schwerin) at many battlefields in Western and Eastern Europe.
In January of 1915, he advanced to the rank of lieutenant and in 1916 he became commander of an M.G.K. (machine gun company). As such he participated in various theatres of war, such as Flanders, Russia, Carpathian regions, Galicia, and back to the western front in France at Verdun, Aisne and Champagne.
In May of 1917, he was seriously wounded. Actually, according to a story not mentioned in his profile, he was already in a military hearse among many dead soldiers, when fortunately someone discovered that he was still alive. After a long stay at a hospital he finally recovered from his wounds, but having lost a kidney he was no longer fit for continuing his military service.
In 1919 Günther Kegler returned to civilian life after serving in the Imperial German Army during World War I. There were two reasons for that. Having sustained severe injuries and having lost one kidney in the battles on the Western Front in 1917, he was considered unfit for active duty. However, he could have easily performed any sort of interior office functions. But following the decrees of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army had to be reduced to 100,000 men.
So from 1919 to 1921, he took up an agricultural training program at the estate farm of Neuhütten at Bublitz, Pomerania (now Polish Bobolice). Since he was also knowledgeable in bookkeeping and accounting, he soon switched over to more lucrative employment and worked as a senior accountant at various large estates in the county of Sangerhausen about 50 km west of Halle. His income allowed him to save enough money to have a small house built in 1934, which sold next to nothing when he left the German Democratic Republic in 1956.
In 1938 he was ordered by the army to join and was assigned to work in the recruiting centre of the reserve in Erfurt. He started out as major and quickly climbed up the ranks serving at centres in Erfurt, Kassel and Eisenach. Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) he arrived in France on April 1, 1944, at St. Brieuc, Bretagne and Niort. He was primarily involved in the planning of effective defence strategies. Two months after D-Day he was responsible for the orderly withdrawal of Indian troops, Russian volunteers, railway workers, nurses etc. away from the battlefields.
Here I must digress and point out to a little known fact (perhaps suppressed out of embarrassment for the victors) that troops from India, Russia and volunteers from many Nazi-occupied nations were fighting on the German side. See also the report of my brother Karl in Chapter 6 of the P. and G. Klopp Story, in which he wrote about young men from all over Europe willing to fight communism, which in their eyes was the greater evil. However, when I read about Indian troops as being part of the German army, I was in a state of disbelief and decided to check out the story on Wikipedia. And this is what I found and I quote,
The Indian Legion (Indische Legion), officially the Free India Legion (Legion Freies Indien) or Infantry Regiment 950 and later the Indian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen-SS (Indische Freiwilligen Legion der Waffen-SS), was a military unit raised during World War II in Nazi Germany. Intended to serve as a liberation force for British-ruled India, it was made up of Indian prisoners of war and expatriates in Europe. Because of its origins in the Indian independence movement, it was known also as the “Tiger Legion”, and the “Azad Hind Fauj”. Initially raised as part of the German army, it was part of the Waffen-SS from August 1944. Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose initiated the legion’s formation, as part of his efforts to win India’s independence by waging war against Britain, when he came to Berlin in 1941 seeking German aid. The initial recruits in 1941 were volunteers from the Indian students resident in Germany at the time, and a handful of the Indian prisoners of war who had been captured during the North Africa Campaign. It would later draw a larger number of Indian prisoners of war as volunteers.
In the BBC news of September 23, 2004, we read the following:
In the closing stages of World War II, as Allied and French resistance forces were driving Hitler’s now demoralized forces from France, three senior German officers defected.
Now, 17 years early, the BBC’s Document programme has been given special access to this secret file. The information they gave British intelligence was considered so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to be released until the year 2021.
It reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler – an astonishing tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule in India, known as the Raj.
The story the German officers told their interrogators began in Berlin on 3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived in the German capital.
Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler’s help in pushing the British out of India.
He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered
Lieutenant Barwant Singh
Six months later, with the help of the German foreign ministry, he had set up what he called “The Free India Centre”, from where he published leaflets, wrote speeches and organized broadcasts in support of his cause.
By the end of 1941, Hitler’s regime officially recognized his provisional “Free India Government” in exile, and even agreed to help Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause. It was to be called “The Free India Legion”.
Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.
He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel in North Africa.
Since all this was top-secret at the time my uncle just mentioned in passing the presence of Indian troops in his family chronicle in 1975, this would have been explosive news, if it had found its way into the international press.
The Boys and the Old Men – Cannon Fodder
January to May 1945
On September 19, 1944, Günther Kegler became a leader of the military registration offices at Sangerhausen and Querfurt, Thuringia, about an hour’s drive northeast of Gotha, Biene’s place of birth.
As he could clearly see the imminent collapse of his beloved country on the horizon, he did everything in his power to save what was in his mind the only resource left after Germany’s defeat. To spare young boys from the draft was foremost on his mind. After January 1945 even the diehards of the regime could see the writing on the wall. But instead of preparing for a quick surrender, which would have saved tens of thousands of lives, they obstinately clung to the glimmer of hope for the final victory. Goebbels’ relentless propaganda machine fuelled a patriotic fervour, especially among boys. Men capable of carrying a rifle or an antitank weapon were to be conscripted.
The leader of the NS district Querfurt started to meddle in Lieutenant-Colonel Kegler’s realm of authority and insisted that 16-year old boys be included in the draft procedures. They were to fill the gaps of the dwindling forces of the war machine. Against this directive, Günther Kegler put up as much resistance as was in his power. But the constant pressure and harassment from above wore him out. Then he heard about Himmler’s horrific order of his court-martialled brother General-Lieutenant Gerhard Kegler being demoted to a private and slated to be executed after the final victory. Günther Kegler broke down under the burden of these fateful events and was admitted to a sanatorium at Erfurt on April 1, 1945. He stayed until May 31, 1945, and recovered sufficiently to allow him to return to his family at Nonnenrain Street, Erfurt.
Unfortunately, his ordeal was far from over. By prior arrangement between the US and the Soviet Union, the American occupation forces withdrew from Thuringia and handed over the administration of the province to the Russians. Arrests, interrogations mostly conducted at night, the closing of savings accounts and all sorts of other chicanery followed in quick succession. As my uncle stated in his family chronicle, it was the fate of countless other German officers in the Soviet Occupation Zone.
Struggling Through the Postwar Era
From June 1946 to April 1975
In June 1946 former Lieutenant-Colonel Günther Kegler had the humiliating experience of two long years of unemployment, which in all likelihood was forced upon him by the new Soviet rulers of East Germany. On rare occasions, he was able to hire himself out privately as a common labourer or as a helper in all kinds of pest control in and around Erfurt. During this time, as reported in Chapter 6 in the P. and G. Klopp Story, his nephews Karl and Adolf and later his niece Erika quite unexpectedly arrived at his doorstep. The Klopp children had no idea of the whereabouts of their parents. It was a miracle that the entire Ernst Klopp family was reunited in 1948 in the small village of Rohrdorf in Southern Germany.
Finally, in March 1947, Günther Kegler found employment at his son-in-law’s beverage plant in Erfurt and in 1950 within the same company became its bookkeeper. Thus, he could make use of his skills in accounting, which he had practiced between the two World Wars. On April 28, 1955, he fled with his wife Lucie to West Germany leaving behind all his furniture and other bulky belongings. Fortunately, he found immediate employment at the newly established beverage company that was owned by his son-in-law A. Lotz, who also had fled from East Germany. In 1956 his status as a refugee from the GDR was officially recognized. In the same year, he was able to retire with a pension that at last provided a comfortable standard of living for the rest of his life.
However, his plan was not to live out the remaining years in meaningless idleness. On the contrary, he helped many people with advice on legal issues, accounting problems, and above all, he gave assistance in their struggle with the notoriously slow bureaucracy of the West German government offices. In 1962 he invited his sisters Maria and Erika to join him and share a beautiful rental house in Pohlheim (former Watzenborn-Steinberg). That’s where his wife Lucie after a lengthy illness passed away in 1968. My uncle spent the next decade with his second wife Elfriede in their seniors’ apartment in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe.
I remember Uncle Günther as a dear friend, who was also a fun-loving individual. He enjoyed a good beer and passionately played the German card game ‘Doppelkopf’. In our correspondence, we exchanged all kinds of humorous tales, while I was a soldier in the West German Armed Forces. He held the family together in a spirit of giving and outstanding hospitality. He truly deserved the prestigious title ‘Chief of the Kegler-Clan. Long after I immigrated to Canada, he sent me in keeping with his admirable Prussian sense of duty documents, which he had carefully arranged by date and importance. With the help of these papers, I was able to draw some forty years later a small pension for my military service in Germany. Every month I buy two cases of beer with that money. And when I drink the refreshing brew, I often think of my dear old uncle in Germany.
Elfriede Kegler née Grempler
Chart II a – II
Once Günther and his second wife were comfortably settled in their Seniors’ apartment in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, they were truly riding into the sunset on a joyful note. But before I get into their adventures and travels of their golden years, we need to have a brief look of Elfriede’s family background.
Elfriede Kegler (née Grempler, widowed Diesselhorst) graduated from the all-girls Sangerhausen High School in 1919 and received her training in her father’s pharmacy. Then in 1921 she worked for six months as a druggist’s helper in Halberstadt. After father’s sudden death she sought and found employment as payroll bookkeeper at the stoneware plant in Wallhausen. For a complete understanding of the difficulties, she experienced my uncle described the following scenario that most Germans faced after World War I: End of the Imperial Reich, merciless Treaty of Versailles, revolts, bloody unrest, political murders, hunger and misery, unemployment by millions of people, total devaluation of the money, which occurred from 1919 to 1923, first at a crawling pace, then crashing down like an avalanche, change of paper money from thousands to billions of Reichsmark bills, money earned today was worthless in only a few days, the black market flourished with all its evil social repercussions, a dance on the volcano!
Now we get the picture of Elfriede’s task as a bookkeeper in the stoneware plant of around 250 employees. If she had access to a modern-day computer, it would have certainly crashed under a load of zillions of zeros that needed to be crunched every single day. It was a severe strain on her brain, which caused her to have nightmares.
In 1927 she married the pharmacist Otto Diesselhorst of Hanover. Within a few years the two managed to pay off the debt of the pharmacy. It was during this time that a life-long friendship developed between the Kegler and the Diesselhorst couples.
The Golden Years
After Elfriede Diesselhorst’s husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, widow Elfriede continued to work as a pharmacist’s helper until 1963. She then moved back to Sangerhausen.
On June 1, 1970, Günther and Elfriede, having both lost their spouses, married in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim) and moved into the aforementioned Seniors’ apartment complex in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe. In spite of the many blows that fate had dealt her during her childhood and later years, she never lost her innate cheerfulness and thus brought much joy into my uncle’s life.
Adventurous and still youthful in spirit they often travelled abroad, taking in the sights of cultural centres in Europe. They journeyed to Athens and visited the Acropolis. Along with Günther’s sisters and brother Gerhard they ventured in a family excursion to the Mediterranean Sea in Southern France.
A highlight in their sunset years must have been their trip overseas to the distant ‘tribe’ of the Klopp-Kegler Clan in Canada. In the early 70’s they visited their nephews Gerhard and me and our families in Calgary and Consort, Alberta. Like having been on a military inspection tour, he could accurately report back to the entire family on both sides of the Atlantic that ‘All is well on the Western Front’. With such visits, which included family members of Uncle Bruno’s descendants behind the Iron Curtain, he greatly contributed to a deep sense of family in spite of huge distances and political boundaries.
Günther Kegler was a true patriot who dearly loved his fatherland. Historians made many attempts to trace back the causes of the two World Wars. By doing so they put the blame on Prussia. This German state with its military might was the driving force behind Germany’s first unification after the French-German War in 1871. To single out Prussia as being the root cause for the great wars of the 20th century is a gross oversimplification of history. It totally ignores the injustice done by the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed through its harsh economic measures incredible hardships on the German population. Thus, it created among millions of unemployed workers a fertile breeding ground for the radical ideas promoted by the Nazis, which were swept to power in 1933. There is a lesson to be learned. Social injustice leads to widespread unrest and turmoil, which is often taken advantage of by demagogues, who will gain control with their promises to bring prosperity and set things right.
My uncle was deeply troubled by the prevailing historical claims in postwar Germany. They made the ideals of Prussia responsible for all the misery and horror of the two World Wars. When I immigrated to Canada in 1965, he gave me a postcard with a picture of a Prussian cadet and on the backside, he typed a little poem, which I will attempt to translate into English.
They served their king for honour
and did not much ask for money.
To live as a model to follow – so it was taught in the army –
was more important than to die as hero in battle.
When one day the last Prussians have passed away;
One will remember them.
Stones will no longer be thrown at them:
The stones could shatter the Western glass house.
With these lines, I conclude my report on my uncle. Looking at our present-day world one might detect in them a sombre warning, a prophecy perhaps we wish not to come true.
Lucie Kegler by Peter Klopp (II a – II)
We show our kindness in different ways. I remember Aunt Lucie as that someone special who would take the time to listen to me. At the time I met her I was still in high school. On our walks, I would tell her little stories, jokes, and humorous puzzles, some of which I passed on 50 years later to our grandson Mateo. (One puzzle was about catching a crocodile equipped only with an old newspaper, an empty matchbox, a telescope and a pair of tweezers.) When you are a teenager, you are craving the most for acceptance and recognition. Aunt Lucie’s laughter in response to my stories, her genuine interest in what I had to say, her humorous deportment, helped bridge the generation gap and were balm to my soul.
I also remember her as an avid card player in the traditional German card game Doppelkopf, in which I often participated later during my military service at the German NATO forces. When she was taking a little bit too much time thinking about which card to play, her husband Uncle Günther would tease her about being too slow with his pet phrase, “Spiel Karte, Stück Holz, oder Eisenbahnschiene!”, which meant “Play a card, piece of wood, or railroad track!” Taking all this bantering in stride, she would good-naturedly respond in her strong Saxonian dialect, “I can take as much time as I want. And you can practice patience, while I am thinking!”
Among friends and family members Aunt Lucie was also known as an anti-germ freak. I was told that she would wipe every doorknob and handle with a disinfectant when guests were passing through her house. She had to put up with a barrage of nasty remarks about her fears of disease-carrying bugs lurking on all surfaces, which could come into contact with human hands. She stuck to her convictions, which while a bit exaggerated have proven her right in the light of our present-day wash-your-hands campaign.
Aunt Lucie was able to lend a personal touch to the kitchen and dining room by painting ornamental designs onto unfinished chests, benches and chairs. The flowery motifs were drawn from what she remembered from her childhood experiences in the Erzgebirge, where she grew up, a mountainous region near the Czech border famous for its many arts and crafts shops.
When Biene and I saw her for the last time on our visit from Canada in 1968, she impressed me with her keen interest in our new homeland Canada. I had brought her a little gift, a small replica of a totem pole. Even though she was bedridden and gravely ill, she wanted me to translate into German the lengthy description of the mythological creatures on the miniature pole. These are some of the things I remember about my fascinating Aunt Lucie.