The war came to an end with Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945. But nothing changed in Mother’s life for more than a year until early in the summer of 1946 when she was expelled along with millions of other Germans from her homeland. In a well-calculated program of ethnic cleansing all German nationals were forced to leave in order to make room for the Polish people who had been displaced in turn by the Russians in their eastern provinces. Thus, the Pomeranian lands that had once been settled and cultivated for a period of over 500 years by industrious German pioneers and farmers were put under permanent Polish administration and are now part of Poland.
By now I was a little over four years old. What I have been writing about myself, I had gleaned from Mother’s diary, from my second-generation cousin Eberhard Klopp, who did extensive research on the Klopp family going back some four hundred years, from Uncle Günther’s Kegler Chronicles and other sources. I am especially thankful and greatly indebted to my brothers Karl (died in 2019) and Gerhard and my sister for their personal accounts of their incredible ordeals. I decided to insert them here as documents of a tumultuous period and as a testimony to their inner strength and courage without which they would not have survived.
Report by my sister Erika who adopted a new name Lavana Kilborn in the early 1980s
My Journey from 1943 to 1947
In the summer of 1943, my mother and I left by train for Hirschberg, where relatives of mine resided. As we lived in the country, it was necessary for me to move in order to obtain proper schooling. My host-family consisted of my widowed aunt Johanna, her parents and three cousins of mine, one of them being a girl, named Elisabeth and two boys. After a few days my mother returned home.
I got along very well with my new family, in particular with Elisabeth, who was of the same age as myself. We sat side by side in school and became good friends. The beautiful city had a large swimming pool, surrounded by grass to sunbathe, play ball etc. On weekends the family would go hiking in the nearby mountains, where the source of the mighty Elbe River is located. The song “Oh du schönes Riesengebirge, wo die Elbe heimlich rinnt …” still makes me melancholic, when I sing it. We also skied on wooden skis. There were no lifts then, but how much fun it was. All these activities were new and exciting experiences for me.
As already mentioned earlier, my father Ernst Klopp and thousands of other German citizens were captured by Red Army soldiers and as a non-combatants were deported with full approval of the other Allied powers to forced-labour camps in the Soviet Union. At Wikipedia we read: “The capture and transfer of civilian ethnic Germans to the Soviet Union began as soon as countries with a German minority began to be overrun in 1944. Large numbers of civilians were taken from countries such as Romania, Yugoslavia, and from the eastern parts of Germany itself.”
At this tragic juncture, the Ernst Klopp family was scattered all over the eastern provinces of Germany. My mother was left to fend for herself. From Arnswalde she travelled north with four orphans, my brother Gerhard and me in search of the older sons Karl and Adolf to Belgard (today Polish Bialogard). There, they had attended the local high school and had boarded with family friends. But the 16-year and 14-year old brothers had already taken off to escape from the approaching Red Army. For the longest time, Mother did not know their whereabouts. Furthermore, my sister Erika attended school at Hirschberg, Silesia, where she stayed with uncle Bruno’s widow and her children Hartmut, Elisabeth, and Jürgen. Writing a cohesive account of all members of the family during the postwar years is very difficult and has to wait until I have concluded my father’s life story.
In the meantime Father had a major accident, while he was working in the coal mines in the Donbass region of the USSR. He received treatment for his head injury and would have been sent back to work, if he had not feigned continual headaches. Thus, he succeeded in getting an early release and was sent back to Germany. When he arrived at Uncle Günther’s place in Erfurt, he heard that the entire family had survived the war. He established contact with Mother and the children and in 1947 moved to Rohrdorf, a small village in Southern Germany between the River Danube and Lake Constance. There he found employment with the regional branch of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenberg forest administration. Eventually the entire Klopp family was reunited. Although now extremely poor, often hungry, and dispossessed, the family was finally together again and could attempt a new beginning.
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.
At the time of my birth, Father as manager and inspector was in charge of the estates Silberberg, Oberhof and Gutfelde totalling an area of approximately 3000 ha. Although he must have been thankful to the authorities for landing him such challenging and prestigious position and therefore may have harboured a favourable disposition towards the Nazi regime, he always strove to keep his humanity in dealing with his fellow human beings, Germans and Poles alike. In particular, through his actions he distanced himself from the policy that forbade German citizens to fraternize with the defeated enemy. It is a great testimony to his moral independence from the dark and sinister sides of Nazi Germany that he allowed Polish men and women to live and work closely and cordially with the Klopp family at the Gutfelde residence and the agricultural headquarter for the region.
From the stories I picked up from my mother I speculate that Father owed his survival to his reputation of treating fairly and equitably all the people who worked for the large estate under his directorship. Other administrators notorious for their arrogance, cruelty and injustice in dealing with the Polish population were rounded up, lynched, hanged or shot in the closing months of the war. On a Polish website with a special focus on mansions, manors, and castles of Poland, I found an entire page devoted to Gutfelde – now an agricultural training center with orchards, wheat and corn under cultivation, 800 cows and 8000 pigs. The same page to my great surprise also mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2!
The following are excerpts from my mother’s diary which she wrote from baby Peter’s perspective.
When I arrived with Mother at Gutfelde, I received a truly royal reception. My brother Karl, who attends a boarding school in Belgard (Bialogard), would see me a few months later at the beginning of his summer holidays. But the others including my proud father did everything to welcome the fifth child in the family. Flags were waving. Fir branches and a big welcome sign decorated the door to my very own room. Inside the sunny and warm room several pots with beautiful flowers created a cheerful atmosphere for the latest arrival in Gutfelde.
Father must have kindled my passion for music and my desire for writing. For he often spent time at my crib telling me long stories, singing with his deep beautiful voice or whistled many a lovely tune. His birthday was coming up. The entire family had prepared a wonderful celebration. For the first time the five children were together. Early in the morning of June 28th, Karl, Adolf, Eka and Gerhard entered the parental bedroom and presented to Father a bouquet of flowers and started off the day with cheerful ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes. Later when good friends of the family, the Döpelheuer couple, had arrived, Karl sat at the piano and played a few pieces to show what he had learned. For accompaniment, Father and Auntie Döpelheuer played on their violins with great enthusiasm. The trio created a really festive atmosphere.
This is the second part of the guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).
Playing War Games
According to the prevailing circumstances our games often took a war-like character. I still have the following events vividly in my memory:
– Within the wide boundaries of the estate was a horse pasture. There, the yearlings were kept and could roam wild and free. We had fun chasing these horses around a bit so they would gallop over the entire pasture. It so happened that my four or five-year-old brother Jürgen had run away from us and somehow wound up among the galloping herd. We older children watched and gasped in horror. But Jürgen took the terrifying moment in stride without blinking an eye and miraculously stayed out of harm’s way. For his bravery, we awarded him the ‘Iron Cross first-class’.
– The big hay barn was the place where we played paratroopers. The barn had two floors allowing us to jump from the upper nearly 5 m high floor into the soft hay below. I do not know any more whether everyone had the courage to jump but some dared to take the plunge and even performed a midair somersault.
– The war games also had a sinister side which we children did not recognize as such. It showed how children at a very young age were already shaped by the dominating culture of the Nazi era. We launched a ‘campaign’ into the settlement of the Polish farm workers, which was adjacent to the park of the Gutfelde estate. There we captured Polish children about our own age and made them ‘prisoners’. We ‘deported’ them to the estate mansion and handed them over to Uncle Ernst. However, he read us the riot act and sternly informed us that one does not do such cruel things and sent the Polish boys and girls back to their village.
The following story is a guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).
My Memories of Gutfelde after more than Seventy Years
I gladly remember the wonderful vacations we were able to spend in the years of 1942 and 1943 during the murderous World War II at Gutfelde. Our aunt Erika Klopp, the sister of my father Bruno Kegler killed in action in 1940, and her husband Ernst Klopp were the caretakers and administrators of the Polish estate Gutfelde in the so-called Warthegau. They lived in a spacious mansion, behind which was a big beautiful park with a small pond. About the house, I still remember the large dining room and the estate office.
In the dining room, there was a long table. There we all, the four Klopp children and their parents and we three Kegler kids with our mother would sit to have lunch and dinner. Beforehand, the Polish domestic employee would diligently set the table. I remember her well because of what she said after one of us children had hidden a fork from the carefully laid-out cutlery. Quite shocked, she exclaimed in garbled German, “Where is forkie this?” We rascals were very much amused by her reaction. But the young Polish woman took our prank all in strides and was not even cross with us. When all had punctually taken their seats at the dinner table Uncle Ernst opened the mealtime with these somewhat irreverent words, “People eat, horses gorge. But today it will be the other way around. Enjoy your meal.” Not exactly a pious expression. According to the spirit of the times, the Klopps had left the church but described themselves as God-fearing.
Our holidays were filled with playing many games often bordering on extremely dangerous escapades.