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.
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? 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.