The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

William Laux – His Art, His Castle and a Tower of Bats – Part I

William Laux

By Yvette Brend – Arrow Lakes News December 14, 1988

From the Archives of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society

Photos by Peter Klopp

Bill Laux plans nothing.

Forester, Batik artist and sculptor, he builds his talents like he builds his “castle”, ad­ding walls, arched windows and wood stoves to every room. He prefers not to finish.

“When you put the roof on, that’s as high as it’s going to go, and that’s a sad day,” he said. Visitors pass a “Beware of Bats” sign entering Laux’s property, and may no­tice a strange gnome perched on his chimney. Up the hill, overlooking Arrow Lakes stands his strangest, most imposing creation. Laux be­gan his pet architectural pro­ject in 1969. It symbolizes his entire life.

The 'Castle' that would never be finished

The ‘Castle’ that would never be finished – 1977

He has varied interest from the daring architecture of Huntertwasser, and copies of Col. R.T. Lowery’s witty edi­torials to the tiny brown bats that live under the eaves of his “castle.”

Laux has an English de­gree from the University of Wisconsin, with some chemis­try and science background.

“I took English because it gave me the most freedom,” said Laux, “as long as you took one English course, you could take anything else you wanted.”

He worked as a forester in California before moving to Canada, when the U.S. Feder­al government expropriated his property for a park re­serve. He changed countries and then professions. Laux and his wife Adele, bought 100 acres in Fauquier, where he began a batik studio. Laux had no prior artistic experien­ce, but his chemistry back­ground fostered his inventive skills with dyes for fabric.

Batik Purchased by Gertrud Klopp - 1977

Batik Purchased by Gertrud Klopp – 1977

“I got involved in batik be­cause I was broke – the great­est motivation in the world,” laughed Bill.

The Lauxs moved to B.C. because they loved the valley, and land was very cheap in the interior during the 1960’s.

When B.C. Hydro bought the flood rights to seven acres of Laux’s property he was cautious. Part of his neighbor Logan Bumpus’ land and Laux’s foreshore was flooded. Laux was compensated with a generator to restore his pow­er. He was not disheartened by this event at all, saying it was good luck to be discon­nected from B.C. Hydro. Lo­gan Bumpus never regained his power. [They do have power now.]

Adele, Bill’s wife, died sud­denly in 1967 from blood poi­soning, leaving him alone in Fauquier.

Batik was very stylish in the 1970’s and artists began to gather at Laux’s in the summer to learn the art of waxing and dyeing fabric.

Bill joined with other art­ists to form Vaki studios – a Tarahumara Mexican Indian word meaning “homestead”.

Batik Purchased by Gertrud Klopp - 1977

Batik Purchased by Gertrud Klopp – 1977

When Vaki studios started booming it supported five full time artists, who worked dur­ing the winter and sold on the road two months of the year.

Laux said it took some time before he felt confident as a designer, he excelled at the chemical mixing of dyes and created new dyes for different effects.

He taught Batik techni­ques to students until 1975, but now he prefers to create.

Batik is a form of artwork using waxes and dyes to em­boss a pattern on a natural fabric – usually high quality cotton.

A negative design is drawn on the fabric with wax resist of different consistencies, then dipped into a dye one co­lor at a time, using yellow first, then ruby red, tur­quoise-blue to black, and slowly a design is built.

Originally Batik was sold as yardage for clothing. Batikers created a design and made a yard of it for sewing into garments. For this rea­son many Batik artists had problems as the process was recognized only as craftwork. Crafts have a use; art is creat­ed solely for aesthetic value.

Once completed, a batik is identical front and back. Silk screening – the process or printing fabric with oil based ink – does not produce this ef­fect. Hung in a window, in front of a light source, the ba­tik acts like a stained glass window, casting colored light.

“There’s no way to dupli­cate a batik, except going through the process again,” said Bill.

Different waxes used on the fabrics creates varied ef­fects, a brittle wax creates more of a “crackle” or cracked texture, smoother wax gives an even color. Ba­tiks were in fashion in the 1920’s, and again in the 1960’s, “Oh they’ll come in fa­shion again. ’ ’ said Laux.

Vaki studios sold at least 80 batiks a year, in British Columbia and along the west coast of the U.S. They pro­duced Westcoast Indian de­signs, Mexican Indian patterns, Oriental and floral pat­terns. The artists worked on each other’s ideas, making the operation a co-op studio. Vaki Studios designed an Owl Lo­go for the Calgary Inn. The Inn only bought one batik of the design, fearing the $90 art work would be damaged if placed in the rooms.

“I would recommend this to anybody, when you go into a hotel, with those awful pic­tures on the wall, put them under the bed, and I mean leave them there, ” he said emphatically, “ After a while management may get the hint – It’s visual pollution, but no­body says anything.”

“We couldn’t make enough bullfighter stuff in Calgary,” Bill speculated that many rich Calgarians holiday in Mexico, and admired the Mexican styles of their work.

Indian designs were also popular. Art studio refused to handle genuine Indian artists, and their skills remained in tourist booths – carving totem poles and soapstone.

Some of the titles of his pieces were Toro, Witness Tree, Constipated Owl, and Lovers or Madonna and Child.

Through the growth of his studio, Bill also began work on his “castle” in 1968 with fellow artist, gone architect, Lynne Gilroy. “Those happy days are gone. A lot of art outlets in B.C. have gone bankrupt and can’t make it anymore,” laughed Laux. “If I were to hit the California market now, I’d sell them life sized sculptures of their astrological signs.”

So Laux began to spend more time with his pre­packaging dye and tool busi­ness and his architectural pro­ject. He still does some cus­tom work for commercial in­teriors, such as hotel lobbies and other public buildings.

“When you’re in the art business you have to keep changing. Tastes change.”

Someone gave him the idea of sculpting with steel wool and cement, so he built a strange gnome, which perches on his chimney. After seeing his chimney ornament, a resi­dent of Fauquier commis­sioned him to create a meteor­ite-like chimney pot, and two customers, in Seattle and Wenatchee Washington, have also ordered custom sculp­tures.

Four of his life-sized struc­tures will also be placed on his turret, one for each chimney. He has rigged a pulley system to hoist the heavy pieces into position.

Bill Laux working without a Plan - 1977

Bill Laux working without a Plan – 1977

Laux’s castle can be viewed from his small two le­vel cabin and studio, lower on the property. The ominous structure faces the lake with turrets, endless chimneys and white-framed windows.

“We didn’t draw any plans, we just let it keep growing,” said Bill.

Entering the house, a gey­ser spurts water on its left – perhaps for a fountain? Bill prefers to leave it to the ima­gination.

The house has three main levels and countless smaller rooms on varying levels. The main turret has three levels, one planned as Laux’s bed­room, with a small hatch door on the floor to close off the world.

Laux said he learned “rude carpentry” from his experi­ence as a forester and experi­mented from there.

Two of the chimney statues are in place. They are naked females, one with flowing gol­den hair. The third, a nude In­dian with spear is almost fini­shed, and the fourth is still in Laux’s imagination.

From the turret another chimney topped by an ab­stract chimney pot, made of old dishes, mirrors and brown clay, can be viewed.

The tower also presents a seemingly endless view of the Arrow Lakes. “The higher we

went, the better the view got,” he said.

Downstairs, past veran­das and window frames hand sculpted with Poly filler, the basement floor is heated by a huge log burning stove, and contains Laux mini sawmill he uses to cut the lumber for building. The bathroom and kitchen should be finished by next year, when Laux may move in.

Bill picked up a tiny bat, dead from exposure, on his or­nate windowsill, and gently examined it.

“I don’t plan, I never have planned, because when I plan something, I always change it.”

Memory Fragments – Part II

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Kientzheim. Alsace, June 1940

by local resident Theresa Held-Schmitt

Kientzheim, Alsace, France - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Kientzheim, Alsace, France – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

“I was 10 years old at the time. Germany’s attack on France lasted only a few weeks. France was ready to surrender. June 18, 1940 was a sunny day. A company of German infantry was approaching the village on bicycles. Although they could see no French soldier far and wide nor hear any shots, the commander, Sergeant Bruno Kegler, let his unit wait at the village outskirts and went alone into the village. He wanted to find out, whether the quiet scene was perhaps a trap. He stopped at our house, which was close to the graveyard wall, and asked, if he could have a look from the attic window. He wanted a better view onto the surrounding area. I was just a little girl and accompanied the German soldier to the attic. There he was attentively looking out of the window. I stood next to him. Suddenly a shot rang out. He touched his head and said, ‘I have been hit’. Then he collapsed onto the floor. When my mother alarmed by my screaming entered the attic, Bruno Kegler was already dead.

Bruno Kegler Giving Instructions to his Troop

Bruno Kegler Giving Instructions to his Troop the Day before he Died

He was the only dead German soldier at the invasion of our region and all the inhabitants of Kientzheim were of the same opinion. An overly zealous German soldier mistook him for an enemy and shot one of his own troops (in modern terminology he was killed by ‘friendly fire’).”

Jürgen Kegler continues, “When I returned home from my bicycle tour, I reported what I had experienced. My uncles reproached me for not letting my mother in the belief that my father had died for ‘Führer, country and his people’, as it was written in the letter from the regiment’s commander. But she took the news in stride. She even was thankful for it. she knew that the notifications were all worded the same way, and that the circumstances of death were, however, always different.

The two Sons Hartmut and Jürgen Kegler Visiting his Grave

The two Sons Hartmut and Jürgen Kegler Visiting his Grave

I was thinking by myself how his early death had perhaps saved him from greater trouble in the war. There was also the possibility that out of disappointment with the system he may have sought contact  with the Resistance Movement against Hitler’s regime and could have ended up in the torture chambers of the Gestapo. Is it not true that disillusioned idealists most often have to face the most radical consequences?”

Memory Fragments

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Tribute to our Father and Grandfather Bruno Kegler

by Jürgen Kegler and Anke Schubert – Chart II a – II & III

Bruno Kegler with his Family 1940

Bruno Kegler with his Family 1940

When the war broke out in September 1939, Bruno considered it his duty to participate in Germany’s struggle to shape her destiny. He enlisted in the army. At that time he was an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism and proud to be a member of the Party with a fairly low membership number. He took part in the campaign against Poland. However, upon his return he was totally depressed and disgusted about what he had experienced.  He said to his wife Johanna that the Party was nothing but a criminal bunch of rabble (Sauhaufen). With his illusions about a better world destroyed, he had to go back to the front lines.

Bruno Kegler

Bruno Kegler

To describe what happened next, it is best to let his youngest son Jürgen Kegler continue. In 1956 he made a bicycle tour with a friend through Western Europe . Their goal was to explore Belgium, Holland, Great Britain and France. He wrote:

Vosges Mountains - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Vosges Mountains – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

“The journey back home went over Paris in the direction of the Vosges Mountains. By the way, we slept in the open air, ate little,  and experienced much. On a map I discovered the little village of Kientzheim. I wondered if it was possible to locate my father’s grave site. I found it marked by a simple wooden cross and a tin tag, which every soldier had to wear on his body. It was a strange feeling to read my father’s name in an unfamiliar region of a foreign country . It was like something very much alive rising from the ground, quite a mystifying feeling. While I was squatting down at the grave site, a woman approached me and asked if I was a relative of the German soldier. When I had introduced myself as the youngest son of Bruno Kegler, she began to tell me the following story.

To be continued on the next post …

A Walk Through Wolmirstedt, Where Ernst Klopp Was Born (Written in German)

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Bericht über Wolmirstedt und die Klopp’s

von Dieter Barge – Chart II a – IV

Also Chart I – I & II

Als ich in Peter’s Bericht über die Klopp’s das Bild der Seilerei Friedrich Klopp in Wolmirstedt gesehen habe, interessierte mich sehr, wo das wohl war.
Edda und ich lebten doch selbst von 1980 bis 1990 dort.
Ich hatte ein Buch von Otto Zeitke und habe mir noch 2 weitere Bücher antiquarisch besorgt, diese hat Otto Zeitke gemeinsam mit Erhard Jahn geschrieben. Die Beiden haben sich als Heimatforscher sehr verdient gemacht, Otto Zeitke ist 1924 geboren und versteht es gut, die Berichte der älteren Leute interessant wiederzugeben. Erhard Jahn ist um einiges jünger und hat in Wolmirstedt ein Ingenieurbüro für Architektur.

Im ersten Buch “Das alte Wolmirstedt” fand ich dann vermeintlich die Seilerei Klopp !
Um sicherzugehen, habe ich bei Erhard Jahn angerufen, habe ihn nach Klopp’s gefragt und da kam sofort die Frage zur Seilerei Klopp zurück. Ich habe ihm einiges erzählt und ihn gebeten, mal das Bild in einer Mail zu betrachten und meine Vermutung zu bestätigen.
Das hat er auch getan und mir bestätigt, daß das Gebäude links neben der Druckerei Grenzau die alte Seilerei Klopp ist. Beide Gebäude befinden sich in der Friedensstraße, das ist der neue Name für den nördlichen Teil der ehemaligen Magdeburger Straße Er kannte auch das Bild von der Seilerei schon. Daneben ein aktuelles Bild von Herrn Jahn mit dem ehemaligen Seilereigebäude in der Mitte.

Ich stelle hier ein Google-Earth-Bild mit der Friedensstraße ein:

7 Bild Google-Earth

Herr Jahn hat mir auch erlaubt, Bilder aus den Büchern im Blog zu benutzen und erzählte, dass Anfang der 90-er Jahre ein etwa 60-jähriger Klopp bei ihm in Wolmirstedt war, nach Durchsicht seiner Aufzeichnungen fand er heraus, dass dies Eberhard Klopp war, also der Klopp, der das Buch:

“Ein Brief an die Nachfahren der Familie Klopp aus Altendorf/Brome und Wolmirstedt”
Teil 1   400 Lebensläufe zwischen 1590 und 1990
1997 Verlag Trier

geschrieben hat. Herr Jahn stand mit Eberhard Klopp an der Hindenburg- bzw. Magdeburger Brücke und dieser hat mit der Hand auf die Stelle gezeigt, wo von 1900-1912 die “Seilerbahn” der Klopp’s war. Inzwischen weiß ich, daß Eberhard der Großcousin von Peter Klopp ist.

Aus den 3 Büchern habe ich einen kleinen Abriß zur Geschichte von Wolmirstedt gemacht:

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Das kleine Städtchen Wolmirstedt, 14 km nördlich von Magdeburg gelegen, wurde erstmals 1009 urkundlich erwähnt.
Wahrscheinlich während der Völkerwanderung bildete sich eine geschlossene Siedlung, die “Walmerstidi” genannt wurde, diese befand sich am Zusammenfluss von Ohre und Elbe und bildete unter “Karl dem Großen” einen östlichen Grenzort des großen Frankenreiches.
Am Ende des 13.Jahrhunderts änderte die Elbe ihren Lauf in Richtung Osten, heute mündet die Ohre bei Rogätz in die Elbe.
Im 30-jährigen Krieg wurde Wolmirstedt 1642 völlig zerstört, 1642 fand eine öffentliche Hexenverbrennung statt!
Einen Aufschwung gab es für den Ort nach der Besetzung 1807 durch die Truppen von Napoleon. Die Leibeigenschaft wurde abgeschafft, es gab mehr Freiheiten für Handel und Gewerbe und weniger Privilegien für den Adel!
1890 hatte Wolmirstedt 3868 Einwohner, nicht mitgezählt wurden die 50 Beschäftigten auf dem Junkerhof.
Die Magdeburger Straße, dort wo sich die Seilerei Friedrich Klopp befand, wurde 1365 noch als “Steinweg” benannt, sie war eine wichtige Durchgangsstraße von Magdeburg nach Norden. Die Passage über die Magdeburger Brücke der Ohre muss “sehr riskant” gewesen sein. Ein Fuhrwerk benötigte damals einen ganzen Tag, um nach Magdeburg und zurückzukommen.
1667 wurde die Torakzise (Wegezoll) eingeführt, das “Magdeburger Tor” wurde errichtet, 1812 wurde die Torakzise abgeschafft.
In der Straße siedelten sich Kaufleute, Handwerker, Fabrikanten, Handwerksmeister, ein Apotheker, ein Schmied und ein Kantor an. Die Straße war “420 Schritte” lang und endete am alten Rathaus, einem Renaissance-Bau.
1925 lebten 170 Familien in der Straße.
Die “Magdeburger Brücke” hieß zeitweise “Hindenburgbrücke”.
Markante Gebäude waren das Polizeiamt, die Buchdruckerei Grenzau, die den “Allgemeinen Anzeiger” herausgab (daneben die Seilerei Klopp), “Schau’s Hotel”, die Gaststätte “Schwarzer Adler” (1971 abgerissen), die Alte Schmiede, das Fachwerkhaus des Schlossermeisters Jänicke, die “Wildemanns Gaststätte und Pension”.
Einer von Wolmirstedt’s Originalen war der Wirt des “Schwarzen Adler’s, Kurt Güssefeld.
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Der heute über 90 Jahre alte Otto Zeitke ist ein toller Erzähler vom alten Wolmirstedt und seinen Bewohnern, da gibt es viele interessante Dinge zu lesen:

-Er berichtet, dass der Wirt einmal plötzlich sagte “Das kann’s doch nicht geben, wie der Schinder die Braunen hetzt”, dann lief er zum Fenster, sah auf die Straße, , schüttelte den Kopf und brummte unverständliche Flüche gegen den
Kutscher”.
-Auf dem Hof des Rathauses gab es den Karzer, das Gefängnis. Die Frau vom Polizisten Meier betreute und versorgte die Knastbrüder, der Volksmund sagte zu den Insassen, sie sind im “Cafe Meier”.

Ich habe mit Otto Zeitke lange nett telefoniert, er wirkt noch sehr jugendlich und berichtete mir, dass er die Kanuten in Wolmirstedt organisierte, er ist auch der Meinung, dass die Seilerbahn der Klopp’s am Ufer der Ohre gelegen haben muss.

Am 11.3.2015 war ich mit Edda in Wolmirstedt, wir haben die Friedensstraße von der Ohrebrücke bis zum alten Rathaus abgewandert und Fotos gemacht.

Ich stelle nun einige der Bilder neben den alten Aufnahmen aus den genannten Büchern ein. Den Anfang macht das Bild von Eberhard Klopp, das mir Herr Jahn freundlicherweise auch geschickt hat. Ich habe rot eingezeichnet, wo sich vermutlich die Seilbahn Klopp befand.

Vom ehemaligen Magdeburger Tor ging es dann aufwärts nach Wolmirstedt hinein.

Der nächste Abschnitt beginnt mit der Ecke “Schwarzen Adler”, führt am Haus der Seilerei Klopp und dem Polizeigebäude vorbei bis zum ehemaligen “Schau’s Hotel”.

Nun geht es im nördlichen Teil der Straße bis zum alten Rathaus.

Zum Schluß noch 4 sehr schöne alte Fotos aus dem alten Wolmirstedt.

The P. and G. Klopp Story

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Conclusion of Chapter 6

Chart I – III

My very first memory goes back to the tumultuous time, when Mother, my brother Gerhard (Gerry) and I were on a train crammed with refugees. I do not remember any specific details, such as the name of the railroad station, where we must have stopped, the town, the time of the day, etc. What I do remember is that I was standing at the edge of the platform with hundreds of people frantically milling about. I do not know why I was standing there in a strange, noisy station surrounded by strange, noisy people. Then quite unexpectedly the train began to move ever so slowly at first. Panic stricken I looked around and searched in vain for Mother. In agony I cried out for her. While the train on its way out of the station was gradually picking up speed, the fear of being left behind, the feeling of complete, utter abandonment struck me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly I felt being lifted up from behind and passed through the open compartment window into my mother’s arms. This traumatic event left such a vivid impression on me that even though it was devoid of concrete details the inner experience was so real that I have not forgotten it to this very day.

Expulsion from the Eastern Provinces - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Expulsion from the Eastern Provinces – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

We arrived in Schleswig-Holstein at one of the many refugee camps set up for the thousands of displaced people from the eastern provinces. But it was only a temporary stay. The authorities urged the newcomers, after they had recovered a little from the ordeals of their long journey, to move on to areas in Southern Germany, which had been less affected by destruction and would more readily have accommodation available for us. So Mother, Gerhard and I traveled into the French occupied zone to Freiburg, where my father’s sister, Aunt Meta, lived with her husband Professor Vincent Mülbert. On a stopover in Offenbach, Baden-Würthenberg, Mother made arrangements for me to be baptized. I often pondered later in my adult life on the reasons why it had taken more than four years to receive my baptism, one of the essential sacraments in a Christian’s life. I see an important lesson for all of us, who have grown up in the rapidly changing era of modern Western civilization with its great emphasis on materialism. The root of evil is not money itself, but, as the Bible states so clearly, it is the love of money. It is the desire to find happiness in the acquisition of material things. Looking back at Gutfelde with this critical perspective in mind, I cannot help, but observe a drifting from the true faith, in which Mother had been nurtured in her father’s home, away to a faith-like trust in the security offered by material possessions. We lived in a mansion that did not belong to us. Father was a good administrator of the lands and fields of dispossessed Polish farmers. Yes, he was kind and helpful to all the people working under his authority. But it does not detract from the rightful charge that the farmland was worked in a system that heavily relied on a master-servant relationship in order to make it work. With the collapse of the Third Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years and the loss of our beloved Gutfelde came the sober realization that their little ‘paradise’ in the east had been nothing but a pipe-dream, a house not built on rock, but on the shifting sands of man’s earthly aspirations.

Freiburg City Center 1944 - Photo Credit: City Archive

Freiburg City Center 1944 – Photo Credit: City Archive

We received a warm reception at my aunt’s place in Freiburg, a city with a population of over 100,000 inhabitants before the war. By the end of the Second World War 80% of the city lay in ruins. An air raid as late as November 27th, 1944 made 9,000 out of 30,000 apartments uninhabitable, killed 2,000 people and all that was left of the city center was the cathedral. The Münster of Freiburg was built across a span of several centuries and exhibited a range of architecture from late Romanesque to Late Gothic and even a tad of Rococo. Its single tower with a lacy spire was the first of its kind. The building remained mostly unchanged since its completion in 1513. Miraculously, unlike so many great cathedrals and churches in Germany, it was not entirely destroyed during the severe Allied bombing of Freiburg and its ensuing firestorm, although the whole area around it was reduced to rubble. The city fathers had expected an aerial attack, even though strictly speaking Freiburg was a non-industrial town and practically useless as a military target. So they put their heads together to find a way to save the cathedral from destruction. My aunt told me, when I came to visit her later as a ten year old, that they had fir trees attached to the pinnacles and other high points of the cathedral so that like Christmas trees they would with their bright green colors of hope alert the pilots to the city’s urgent plea to spare the 500 year old precious piece of architecture. I could not verify the story, but I too found it amazing that everything else in a large diameter around the building was completely flattened by the Allied aerial attack, but the church itself had remained virtually unscathed.

Coal-mining Spoil Tips along the Kalmius River

Coal-mining Spoil Tips along the Kalmius River – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the meantime Father had a major accident, while he was working in the coalmines in the Donbas 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, we were together and could attempt a new beginning.

St. Peter and Paul Church Rohrdorf - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

St. Peter and Paul Church Rohrdorf – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

There were indeed very few refugee families who were fortunate enough not to have lost any family members during the horrible expulsion from their eastern home provinces. Volumes have been written on the topic of the greatest mass migration in modern Western history. I will relate only the bare facts as they pertain to my own family. Father belonged to that segment of civilian population that was deported in large numbers to the Soviet Union to do as it was called ‘reparations labor’. The German Red Cross estimated that 233,000 German civilians were deported to the USSR, where 45% were reported either missing or dead. As to Mother’s expulsion from the eastern provinces, the numbers are truly mind-boggling. The movement of Germans involved a total of at least 12 million people. Official sources, like the German Federal Archives, estimate that at least three million people perished in their flight from the Red Army, in labor camps, through starvation and disease, through murder in retaliation and revenge for atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war years. I mention these gruesome statistics only to emphasize the great miracle of the survival of the Ernst Klopp family amid all the odds stacked against them.

The P. and G. Klopp Story – Chart I – III

Karl’s Report: Our Flight March 1945

Foreword

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. We 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.

Images – March 1945

Memories of the Flight

On March 3rd at 6 o’clock in the evening ‘Tank Alert’ rang out in Belgard. Why did the defense 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.

The Long Trek West

The Long Trek West

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 bastion and since then was considered (also according to army reports) surrounded. We hurried to the harbor, 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.

Kolberg March 1945

Kolberg March 1945

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.

Lighthouse Kolberg Today

Lighthouse Kolberg Today – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

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 loading gunner, 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, i.e. 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.

t34_76c

Russian T-34 Tank

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 to 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. Also western peoples had similar ideas. Thus, French people entered the German army. The scenario makes me ask: Was it German arrogance or realistic assessment of the French fighting spirit?

Volkssturm

Old People Recruited to Fight – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

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 Hurra. A German soldier lost his nerves. Minutes long 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 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.

... and also Children

… but also Children

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 on 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 kilometers, 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. At 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 – beautiful villas located near the beach like 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 pedaled 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 centers 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 4th, 1945. We reached Swinemünde, the next city from Dievenow, already on March 12th, a date of horror in my memory.

Modern Swinemünde - Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Modern Swinemünde – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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 a 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 as a result of 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 pedaling 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, i.e. through hills and valleys and into the 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 not 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.

Erfurt after a Bombing Raid

Erfurt after a Bombing Raid – Photo Credit: TLZ.de

At first we did not heed the warnings of the aerial attacks, until the 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

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