The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Günther Kegler, Chief of the Kegler-Clan (Part IV)

1

Günther Kegler Struggling Through the Postwar Era

From June 1946 to April 1975

Charts II a & b – II

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 laborer 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 Eka (Lavana) 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 Rohrdorf in Southern Germany.

Erfurt Cathedral and Severi Church - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Erfurt Cathedral and Severi Church – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

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.

The Rental House in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim)

The Rental House in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim)

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 Marie 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 will write about Elfriede in another post.

65

New Year’s Eve Party 1963 – Helga Kegler, Uncle Günther, and Eka (Lavana)

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 emigrated 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.

Günther Kegler, Chief of the Kegler-Clan (Part I)

Our Uncle and his Profile (1894 – 1986)

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.

From left to right: Erika Klopp, Lucie, Günther and Marie Kegler

From left to right: Erika Klopp, Lucie, Günther and Marie Kegler

Günther was born 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 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 battle fields in Western and Eastern Europe.

In January of 1915 he advanced to the rank of lieutenant  and in 1916 he became commander of a M.G.K. (machine gun company). As such he participated in various theaters 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.

To be continued …

The P. and G. Klopp Story

0

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.

Marie Kegler, Stalwart of Christian Faith – Part II

Aunt Marie (Tante Mieze)

In a previous post I described how Marie Kegler got to look after me for an entire year in 1954. That was the year when she resumed work as teacher at the Elementary School in Brünen. She had found modest accommodation at a miller’s farmhouse. You can read more about it in greater detail in an upcoming chapter of the P. and G. Klopp Story.

Marie Kegler on the Balcony of our Wesel Apartment

Marie Kegler on the Balcony of our Wesel Apartment

In 1955 she managed to land a teaching position in the nearby city of Wesel on the River Rhine. At a time, when there was a great housing shortage in the bombed-out city, she located a two-bedroom apartment. At last, Mother, who had become Tante Mieze’s housekeeper in exchange for room and board, was able to reconnect with me. Marie Kegler retired in 1957 and in 1962 the two sisters accepted my uncle’s invitation to share a rental house in Watzenborn-Steinberg. The new place turned out to be a veritable beehive of relatives and friends dropping in for a taste of the pleasant hospitality, which Uncle Günther, Chief of the Kegler Clan and avid Doppelkopf player, his wife Aunt Lucie, Aunt Marie, and my mother were tirelessly offering to their guests. I have the fondest memories of my frequent weekend visits during my army years. Aunt Mieze as during the time in Wesel continued to provide spiritual leadership by daily reading from a devotional booklet and saying grace and thanks to God at breakfast, lunch and dinner time.

Pretending to Play the Guitar

Trying out my  Guitar

Alas, Aunt Lucie passed away after a lengthy illness. When Uncle Günther remarried and moved with his new wife Aunt Friedel to Kassel, a very happy period of family togetherness came to a sudden end. Tante Mieze could not afford to pay the rent. Even if she had had the means, the house in Watzenborn was too large for just two people. So they moved to Bad Ems in the beautiful Lahn Valley, where they lived in Haus Abendfrieden (House Evening Peace) for another six years. In 1980, Tante Mieze became very ill. The Senior Citizen Home, where they stayed, had no intensive care facilities. Thus, they had to move to Gladenbach close to the picturesque medieval city of Marburg. Shortly after Tante Mieze had been taken by ambulance to the Old Folks Home, she died at the age of 89.

Südfrankreich 1965 Gerhard Margit Günther Lucie Erika Johanna Mieze

Günther, Gerhard, Mother, Johanna. Margot, Lucie, Marie Kegler in Southern France

Deeply steeped in the Christian faith, she led a life that in my view was exemplary. When she saw other people in need, she was always ready to help.Thankfully I will always remember her kindness to invite Mother to join her in Wesel. With her financial help I was able to finish my German High School diploma. without which my teaching career in Canada would have been unthinkable. After we emigrated to Canada, she kept mailing devotional booklets to her niece and nephews in the hope to provide some spiritual guidance. I must admit I did not take the time to read them. My brother Gerry too was not too interested either and irreverently called them flyswatters (Fliegenklappen).

In the world we live in we appraise a person’s success in life by standards, such as wealth, status, popularity, etc. God on the other hand looks at the motives and favors the purity of the heart. Aunt Marie’s actions always spoke louder than words. Love and compassion for her fellow human beings were the guiding principles throughout her entire life.

The P. and G. Klopp Story

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Chapter 6

Flight and New Beginning

 

Trek of Fugitives

Trek of Fugitives January 1945

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.  William S. Burrows

 

           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.

Arnswalde 1930

Arnswalde 1930

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 coalmines.

AnordnungThe decree  above states that the German population is not allowed to have their hands in their pockets nor to gather in groups of more than two people. Persons  who act against this regulation  face the death penalty or will be deported to a labor camp.

      In the following weeks and months, 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 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.

Through Snow and Ice

Through Snow and Ice towards the Baltic Sea

         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 she was expelled along with tens of thousands 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.

         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 and Gerhard (Gerry) and my sister Eka (Lavana) 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.

To be continued …

Getting to Know our Family through Pictures

Chart II a + b, II

From left to right you see copies of messages sent in 1967 by my mother Erika Klopp, Aunt Maria Kegler, Aunt Lucie and Uncle Günther Kegler in Watzenborn-Steinberg across the Iron Curtain to Edda in the former German Democratic Republic. The quotes containing words of wisdom in German and the poems are typical and characteristic of the entire Kegler clan.

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