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 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 due to 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 pedalling 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, over hills and through valleys and into our 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 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.
At first we did not heed the warnings of the aerial attacks, until a 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
Please note: Justin’s great-great-grandparents are my grandparents Carl and Elisabeth Kegler. Inspired by an account of my uncle’s (Günther Kegler) near death experience on the battle field in WW1, he wrote this highly creative piece and gave me his kind permission to publish it as a guest post in the Klopp Family Blog.
Kindred Time Travel Narrative
A deafening explosion burst nearby, sending a fountain of soil all around me. I fell to the floor, knocking the air out of my lungs. As I rolled over and gasped for air, another shell exploded near the trenches not too far away from me. Paralysed for a second, my mind started whirring through the countless questions that arose from my situation: Where am I? How did I get here? Am I going to die?
Yet, I had nowhere near enough time to think as a round of bullets caused me to dive into a trench. Spitting out dirt, I looked up through the smoky air to see a face looking down at me.
“Who are you?”
A young man in his early 20s wearing a military uniform peered down at me. I coughed, preparing to answer him, when I realised that I had just understood what seemed to be perfect German.
“What- what year is it?” I managed to sputter out, the words finding themselves without me having to attempt to translate.
“1917- what’s going on?” the German man shouted, confused. I would have answered him, but my mind was going through a thousand thoughts at once. I felt myself falling to the floor, but before I hit the ground, I was gone.
Gasping for air, I shot up to find myself half-asleep at my kitchen table, head buried in an old family tree. I picked myself up cautiously, half-expecting to find myself back on the Western front. I blinked once or twice, taking a moment to assess my situation. My experience felt surreal, but too lifelike to be a dream. Rubbing my eyes, I was still feeling remnants of the smoke and dirt that filled the air of the battlefield. World War I… Germany… Slowly things began to click into place. I turned towards the record of my family’s history and began to flip through the pages of information feverishly, looking for a clue as to where I had just been. Pouring through the text, I skimmed for any clue related to what I had just witnessed. Finally, something caught my eye.
It was a distant relative, Gunther Kegler. He had been born in Germany in 1894, and had joined the army at the beginning of WWI. In 1916, he became the commander of a machine gun company and traveled around Europe, fighting in many different battles for the Imperial German Army. Next to the description I found an aged picture. The man was much older than the boy I had seen in the trenches, but his face was familiar.
As I gently touched the photograph, I began to slip away again. I found myself back on the battlefield. Quickly, I threw myself to the ground expecting hails of bullets, but this time, none came. The battle must be over, I thought as I pulled myself up relieved. I began to look around the large expanse of land that had been home to the violence and human misery I had briefly witnessed before.
Trying to find my only link to this place, I scanned the scene for Gunther. As I looked around the battlefield, my eyes found large large craters from shells, and extensive networks of trenches carved like scars into the ground. My gaze came to rest on a large military truck. It was filled with corpses, a gruesome image. But my expression froze with surprise when I saw Gunther lying in the hearse. I rushed over. This didn’t make sense, Gunther didn’t die in this battle! What was going on?
“Gunther!” I shouted loudly. I ran over to the edge of the truck. He was lying still, and it looked like he had been very badly injured.
“Gunther!” I called again desperately. Had history changed itself? Was it my fault?
Gunther coughed gently. He was still alive! I pulled him out of the truck and glanced around worriedly. Nobody seemed to be around. Straining myself, I lifted him onto my back, barely able to stand under his weight. I began to slowly lumber over to the camp in the distance.
After struggling forward slowly for what felt like hours, I made it to the tents. Looking around frantically, I saw wounded soldiers slowly shuffling into a hospital tent. Pulling Gunther towards them quickly, I called out for help.
Weary eyes turned to face me, but I was already gone.
Works consulted: “The Kegler Tree.” The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project, klopp-family.com/our-family/the-kegler-tree/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.
Gerhard Kegler – ein militärischer und ziviler Held
Beitrag von Dietrich Kegler
Die militärische Laufbahn meines Vaters ist hinreichend bekannt und verschiedentlich nachzulesen, nicht zuletzt im Internet, wo die Generale der Wehrmacht ausführlich vorgestellt werden. Bekannt wurde Generalmajor Kegler in Deutschland vor allem durch die Ereignisse am Ende des Krieges, als er in hoffnungsloser Situation die Stadt Landsberg (ehemals in der Neumark gelegen, heute polnisch) auf Befehl Himmlers verteidigen sollte, der sich die Befehlskompetenz der 9. Armee anmaßte, die eigentlich dem Kommandeur der Armee, General Busse, zustand. Wie man weiß, weigerte sich mein Vater, diesen unsinnigen Befehl auszuführen, wurde sofort zum Kriegsgericht nach Torgau bestellt und dort in einem Schnellverfahren zum Tod durch Erschießen verurteilt.
Nur dem Untersuchungsrichter Freiherr von Dörnberg ist es zu verdanken, dass mein Vater überlebte. Er wurde zum Schützen degradiert und als einfacher Soldat wieder an die Ostfront geschickt, die sich bereits an der Oder befand. Dort, unweit von Frankfurt/Oder, wurde er verwundet und in einem langen und sehr beschwerlichen, immer wieder aus der Luft beschossenen Bahntransport nach Eutin in Schleswig-Holstein gebracht. Da hatte sich die ursprünglich kleine Wunde (ein Granatsplitter in der linken Schulter) derartig verschlechtert, dass der linke Arm abgenommen werden musste. Mein Vater blieb noch eine kurze Zeit der Rekonvaleszenz in Eutin und wurde dann aus englischer Gefangenschaft noch 1945 nach Gießen entlassen, wo unsere Familie im Jahre 1947 wieder zusammenfand.
Da die Bundesrepublik sich noch lange auf das von Himmler befohlene Urteil des Kriegsgerichts (Degradierung vom Generalmajor zum Schützen) berief und meinem Vater die ihm zustehende Pension verweigerte, bedurfte es erst einer großen Pressekampagne, um die Behörde zu bewegen, das Urteil aufzuheben, was schließlich durch den Bundespräsidenten geschah. Dann konnte mein Vater seine Pension erhalten.
Die große Pressekampagne zeitigte noch eine andere positive Folge. Freunde und Bekannte, die in den Wirren des Kriegsendes, durch Flucht, Ausbombung usw. überallhin verschlagen worden waren, wurden aufmerksam und nahmen Kontakt zu unseren Eltern auf. Ich erinnere mich an viele Besuche ehemaliger Freunde, Kameraden oder Untergebener meines Vaters. Und immer hörten wir großes Lob und große Anerkennung, wenn diese Menschen von den Ereignissen erzählten, die sie zusammen mit meinem Vater erlebt hatten.
Die tapfere und verantwortungsvolle Handlungsweise meines Vaters bei Landsberg ist nicht das einzige Ereignis dieser Art. Immer wieder wagte er, Vorgesetzte zu kritisieren, wenn sie unsinnige Befehle gaben. Dafür wurde er mitunter durch Versetzungen bestraft.
Umsichtiges Handeln in schwierigen Situationen berichtet auch schon die Regimentsgeschichte des Westpreußischen Infanterieregiments 149, dem mein Vater im Ersten Weltkrieg angehörte. Eine dieser Aktionen war die nächtliche Aushebung eines französischen Doppelpostens bei Reims in der Champagne, die dem Regiment wertvolle Informationen lieferte und, wie ausdrücklich betont wird, größere Verluste ersparte. Mein Vater hat uns auf einer Frankreichreise in den sechziger Jahren die Stelle gezeigt, wo er mit ein paar freiwilligen Leuten die Franzosen nachts überraschte, gefangen nahm und hinter die deutschen Linien brachte, wo man sie verhören konnte.
Soweit der militärische Teil im Leben meines Vaters. Aber das Leben ging ja nach dem überstandenen Krieg in Gießen weiter und gewährte meinen Eltern nach der ersten harten und entbehrungsreichen Zeit auch noch schöne Jahre.
Unsere Mutter hatte ebenfalls seit Kriegsbeginn Schweres durchgemacht. Aus München, wo das Leben durch die Luftangriffe immer unsicherer wurde, zog sie mit uns Kindern in den Warthegau. Von dort musste sie sich mit Jutta und mir wie Millionen anderer Menschen auf die wochenlange winterliche Flucht begeben. Wir fuhren zunächst in einem Planwagen mit polnischem Kutscher durch das winterliche Westpreußen, bis der Pole irgendwo in Pommern umkehrte. Ein Offizier nahm uns mit seinem Fahrzeugkonvoi bis nach Berlin mit, von dort ging es in überfüllten Zügen nach Dresden zu meiner Großmutter. Helga und Nati waren vorher schon nach Augustusburg (bei Chemnitz) gebracht worden. Bevor wir aber dort sein konnten, erlebten wir die drei verheerenden Bombenangriffe, an die ich mich lebhaft erinnere.
Im Sommer 1947 verließen wir die sowjetische Besatzungszone und gingen bei Philippstal an der Werra schwarz über die grüne Grenze, wobei uns die ortskundige Tante Lucie half. Unsere Familie fand nun in Gießen wieder zusammen. Wir wohnten zunächst in zwei Zimmern der Bergschenke, einem Hotel und Restaurant, das ursprünglich zum Kruppschen Bergbaubetrieb gehörte. Vater hatte in der Bergschenke eine vorläufige Bleibe gefunden und die Aufgabe eines Hausmeisters und Betreuers der dort wohnenden Studenten übernommen. Diese Studenten waren zumeist bereits Kriegsteilnehmer gewesen und studierten an der Universität Gießen Tiermedizin. Als Familie Stolcke, Onkel Werner, Tante Anni und ihre drei Kinder, nach Argentinien auswanderte, konnten wir aus der Bergschenke in die relativ komfortable „Baracke“ auf dem Bergschenkengelände umziehen, die sie bewohnt hatten.
Die Lebenssituation war in dieser Zeit zwischen Kriegsende und Währungsreform (1948) bekanntlich äußerst prekär. Als Vater uns in jenem Sommer 1947 in Gießen erwartete, sammelte er in einer ehemaligen Munitionskiste eine Menge von Lebensmitteln, die er sich vom Mund abgespart hatte, um seiner Familie einen guten Empfang zu bereiten. Das ist eine Tatsache, die ich selbst nicht bezeugen kann, Helga mir aber erzählte.
Besser wurde die Situation erst, als Vater die Stelle eines Stadtjugendpflegers der Stadt Gießen übernehmen konnte. In dieser Zeit, Anfang der fünfziger Jahre, erfolgte auch seine Rehabilitierung, wodurch sich unsere Lebenssituation entscheidend verbesserte.
Das Leben mit der Einarmigkeit verlangt sehr viel Geduld und Geschicklichkeit. Durch Geduld zeichnete sich unser Vater gewiss nicht aus, aber er war sehr geschickt bei allen Verrichtungen, wozu ein Mensch normalerweise beide Arme braucht. Und der Stolz über die relative Unabhängigkeit und Selbständigkeit, die Vater sich trotz der Einarmigkeit erworben hatte, kam zum Beispiel in einem Reim zum Ausdruck, den Helga und Nati zum 50. Geburtstag unseres Vaters in einem Gratulationsgedicht formulierten. Sie legten ihrem Vater folgende Worte in den Mund, die er sicherlich in „Prosa“ geäußert hatte: „Was ich mit einer Hand kann richten, macht Ihr mit zweien stets zunichten.“ Vater brauchte nur zu wenigen Handlungen im Alltag Hilfe, so etwa zum Schnüren der Schuhe. Aber Rasieren, Schlips binden, Schreibarbeiten usw. erledigte er ohne Hilfe, auch Autofahren in Fahrzeugen, die dafür nicht besonders präpariert waren. In den Wagen mit Schaltgetriebe, die er zuerst fuhr, musste er zum Schalten das Steuer loslassen. Er fuhr sicher, aber ich erinnere mich, dass mir als Mitfahrer immer etwas mulmig wurde, wenn er schaltete.
In der einsam am Waldrand gelegenen Baracke hatte der General natürlich auch an mögliche Einbrecher gedacht. Die Fenster waren sehr niedrig und stellten kein Hindernis für kriminelle Besucher dar. Vater hatte einen kurzen dicken Knüppel an seinem Bett und sagte mir, als wir uns einmal über die “militärische Lage“ der Baracke unterhielten, dass er hart zuschlagen würde, wenn ein Bursche es wagen sollte, einzusteigen.
Und als Held zeigte sich unser Vater später wieder einmal, als die Eltern in Leihgestern (Am Hasenpfad) wohnten. In einer Sommernacht schlief er allein in seinem Zimmer im ersten Stock. Die Balkontür stand offen, es war eine warme Nacht. Vater wird durch ein Geräusch geweckt und sieht von seinem Lager aus, wie sich ein Einbrecher, der über den Balkon in das Zimmer gekommen war, am Kleiderständer an der Jackentasche des schlafenden Generals zu schaffen macht und sie untersucht. Vater erkennt sie Situation sofort und brüllt ihn noch im Bett liegend an, worauf der Dieb sofort das Weite sucht. Die Reaktion unseres Vaters ist erstaunlich und bewundernswert, denn aus dem Schlaf direkt zum Angriff überzugehen, erfordert Mut, und in schlaftrunkenem Zustand ist man normalerweise moralisch nicht gerade stark.
Die Krankheit, die ihn dann im Jahre 1986 auf das Krankenbett warf, hat er tapfer ertragen. In dieser Zeit war auch unsere Mutter kränklich und pflegebedürftig. Unsere Eltern waren nun auf Hilfe angewiesen, die ihnen vor allem Helga treu und fürsorglich zukommen ließ. Mittlerweile lebten sie in einem kleinen Haus am Alten Friedhof in Gießen.
Der ältere Bruder meines Vaters, Onkel Günter, mein Patenonkel, war schon im Januar desselben Jahres verstorben, und Vater hat ihn noch bis zum Juli 1986 überlebt. Vaters langjähriger Freund, Horst Schubring, ebenfalls Hinterpommer, den er in den ersten schweren Gießener Jahren zufällig kennengelernt hatte – damals Gemeindepfarrer in Wieseck, dann Propst von Oberhessen – begleitete unseren Vater auf dem letzten Gang. Sein Grab, das einige Jahre später auch unsere Mutter und in jüngster Zeit unsere Schwester Renate aufnahm, liegt auf dem Neuen Friedhof in Gießen.
Ein tapferer Mann, dessen Leben im Pfarrhaus von Hinterpommern begonnen hatte, der in den Kadettencorps von Plön und Berlin seine Erziehung zum Offizier erhalten und zwei Kriege und große Belastungen durchlitten hatte und der nach allen Katastrophen noch viele friedliche und gute Jahre erleben durfte, war an sein Ende gekommen.
Chief Günther Kegler provides some much needed distraction
The stupendous outpour of pent-up emotions alleviated the anger and the pain. I began to enjoy the almost daily outings with my friend Gauke. But in spite of the pleasant distractions the visits to the pubs provided by the excellent beer, wholesome food, Bavarian music in the background, and the pretty waitresses in their traditional dirndls, I could not push the troubling specter of my lost love out of my mind. I had asked her for a farewell letter or card to end amiably what had started amiably. Two months had passed. The silence became unbearable. So against my own conviction like a moth attracted to the flame of a burning candle I wrote her another letter from home before Christmas, in which I reiterated how much I appreciated her supportive letters during the hard days of my basic training, Then all of a sudden as if triggered by the emotionally cry of despair on the last pages of my novella, I let the proverbial cat out of the bag, “… Add to that the devastating fantasy, which produced during our correspondence the strangest imaginary flowers. At times I saw you – please don’t be alarmed, dear Biene – in my arms, then at my side travel to Canada, study with me in Marburg or Berlin, and in the more distant, but all the more brighter future spend a life with you through joy and sorrow. Allthese fantasies essentially destroyed our relationship…”
Again I urged her to reply, even if she had no desire to write, just one more time. Before I sealed the envelope, I inserted a short story, which I had especially written for her. I hoped that it would in allegorical terms evoke the tender feelings we had once felt for one another. I did not mention the novella, which as an unedited rough copy I did not yet consider complete. Within three days and just in time for Christmas a miracle occurred. The letter that I no longer expected, but had hoped for arrived. And what it contained surpassed all my expectations. Instead of a farewell message, she wrote that my story about little Irwin had moved her to tears, but more importantly that she had once entertained similar thoughts and dreamed similar dreams about the two of us living a life time together. Even though she too had also allowed her fantasy to go too far and expressed doubts about the fickle nature of dreams, which often do not bring the fulfillment one had longed for. She placed her trust in the mysterious force called Fate that one day things would work out between the two of us. The way she was wording her sentences I sensed that she had gone through some troublesome times during that long period of silence in our correspondence. Some way or another the anguish was connected to her fiancé Henk, whose father had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Nevertheless the news that our friendship at least at the correspondence level had been restored gave me a big boost.
I participated eagerly in the preparations for the New Year’s family party planned by the ‘chief’ of the Kegler clan, Uncle Günther. In the large vestibule of the basement suite we set up a bar, which we dubbed the Flamingo Bar. The good uncle had it well stocked with choice wine and beer as well as nonalcoholic drinks for this festive occasion. We decorated the wall with pictures, photos and old movie posters. I even contributed my painting of the 21st century space woman now looking down on a happy party crowd. Happy and diverse indeed was the crowd ringing in the New Year, young and old celebrating in perfect harmony, Uncle Günther, Aunt Lucie, Mother and Aunt Mieze, Adolf, Eka (Lavana), my cousins Helga and Jutta, two young ladies, the daughters of a pastor’s couple, whose names I can no longer recall, and my humble self. My tape recorder provided the background music for the party, and whenever there was a call for a dance I cranked up the volume and switched the music to a livelier beat.
At midnight we raised and clinked our champagne glasses wishing each other a Happy New Year. With Biene’s letter tucked away in my suit pocket I looked with confidence into the future. I felt that 1964 was going to be a great year for me. However, if I had read Goethe’s autobiographical novel ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ and understood how I, like Werther, was also entangled in a love triangle, I would have been less optimistic. The frayed thread on which our love was hanging was ready to snap any time. Whether I would have shot a bullet through my brain on a night watch in the army, if Biene had married Henk, was doubtful. Eventually I would have found and married another girl. But the oppressive awareness of having lost my first love would have lingered on my consciousness for the rest of my life.
The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.
George S. Patton Jr.
The train wound its way through the picturesque Lahn valley to my destination in Koblenz, where I was to receive my basic army training. I had celebrated my 21st birthday in the new home that Mother, Aunt Mieze, Uncle Günther, Aunt Lucie were renting in Watzenborn-Steinberg. After the traditional coffee and cake party we played several rounds of our favorite card game ‘Doppelkopf’ in the evening.
Aunt Mieze was not fond of playing cards, so I had become a valuable game partner now and for all future occasions when I came for a visit. My aunt would rather sit a good distance apart from the noisy bunch in an easy chair and read a book. Often she would fall asleep in spite of the racket we made around the card table. Then the book she was reading would slip out her hands and fall on the wooden floor with a loud thud. Mother suggested to her to go to bed. However, she rather wanted to have the feeling of being part of the family than to give in to nature’s urgent call to sleep. Now on my way to the barracks I had the train compartment all to myself and while passing by ancient castles on the hillsides above the lazily meandering river below I had time to contemplate about the military service that I was about to render to my country. I was now of age, had the right to vote, could do things on my own, I was free, and yet, as I was approaching the city of Koblenz, I felt that I was not. I had simply traded one set of responsibilities for another. And I wondered whether that would always be that way.
In the early afternoon of April 1st I walked through the barracks gate carrying my suitcase with the few personal belongings we were allowed to bring during the training period. After I identified myself to the guards on duty as one of the new recruits, I proceeded to the building, where I was told I would find further instructions on the bulletin board located on the ground floor. There were about a dozen buildings all in the nondescript shape of rectangular boxes placed around a huge yard that served as the ‘playground’ for the military practice and drill sessions. The entire area was almost devoid of people. The previous generation of soldiers had been successfully ‘calved’ and been transferred for further training to the three major technical companies of the Signal Corps located in the city. Expecting the place to be brimming with activity where there was none gave me an eerie feeling as if I had erred perhaps on the start-up date or worse had fallen victim to a nasty April Fool’s trick. When I looked through the names list of some 120 men, I found it somewhat reassuring that Klopp was indeed on the roster. I even had a rank, which I shared with the other newcomers. From now on until I had advanced to the rank of a private, I would be Fu Peter Klopp, Fu not standing for a four-letter word, but rather more appropriately for ‘Funker’ (radio operator). I was assigned to Room 203, which meant Room 3 on the second floor in the three-story building. The extremely wide staircase surprised me and I wondered about the waste of space until I discovered that there was a method to the madness of the architect’s design of the overly generous width of the staircase and of the hallways. How else during an alarm could 120 soldiers rush out of the building in the required three minutes?
I was the first to enter Room 203. Although later on I had sometimes regrets about my eagerness to report for duty, my early arrival had the advantage that I could pick and choose the best location for my bed and closet. The room was definitely not set up for comfort. In the middle of the austere room stood a long table, around which 15 chairs were placed. Five bunks with three beds each were pushed against the walls. Each soldier would have for his personal belongings, army clothes and equipment a lockable wooden closet. The placement of these lockers was such that they formed a partial visual barrier between some of the bunks, thus granting a modicum of privacy. I chose the bottom bed of the bunk nearest to the left window and the closest locker for easy access. I was happy about my choice. The window would provide fresh air and the bottom bed would to some modest degree protect me from the disgusting bodily fumes permeating the entire room, especially after the soldiers returned from the local pubs, where low quality beer was being served.
I opened up the closet and stowed away my clothes, toiletry items, Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and a few other books, which I intended to read during the weekends, during which we were not allowed to leave the barracks. There was plenty of room left. The empty shelves were waiting to be filled with army garb from the quartermaster on the very next day. When my belongings were neatly put away in the closet, I locked it securely with a padlock. It was considered just as great a crime to tempt your fellow soldier with an unlocked closet, as it was to steal from it. I put a pocketbook on the pillow of my spartan bed as a sign that I had claimed it as my own. Then I went outside and enjoyed sitting on the retaining wall of large circular pond in the late afternoon sun watching as the other recruits came trickling in at first, then eventually swelling to a human flood, as the deadline of the arrival time was rapidly approaching. Today we were still civilians. Tomorrow we would be soldiers wearing uniforms (derived from Latin ‘una forma’, meaning one form, one shape), individuals still on the inside, but a gray mass of young men pressed into the same mold of dress code, rules, military routines and activities. With the total uniformity of regulated daily life came the assault on our individuality with its profound effect on character and soul. Life in the army became the crucible, in which our character was put to the test, and for me, even though very painful at times, the process brought about refinement, which prepared me well for the many challenges further down the road in my personal life.
Günther Kegler was a true patriot who dearly loved his fatherland. Historians made many attempts to trace back the causes of the two World Wars. By doing so they put the blame on Prussia. This German state with its military might was the driving force behind Germany’s first unification after the French-German War in 1871. To single out Prussia as being the root cause for the great wars of the 20th century is a gross oversimplification of history. It totally ignores the injustice done by the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed through its harsh economic measures incredible hardships on the German population. Thus, it created among millions of unemployed workers a fertile breeding ground for the radical ideas promoted by the Nazis, which were swept to power in 1933. There is a lesson to be learned. Social injustice leads to widespread unrest and turmoil, which is often taken advantage of by demagogues, who will gain control with their promises to bring prosperity and set things right.
My uncle was deeply troubled by the prevailing historical claims in postwar Germany. They made the ideals of Prussia responsible for all the misery and horror of the two World Wars. When I immigrated to Canada in 1965, he gave me a postcard with a picture of a Prussian cadet and on the backside he typed a little poem, which I will attempt to translate into English.
They served their king for honor
and did not much ask for money.
To live as model to follow – so it was taught in the army –
was more important than to die as hero in battle.
When one day the last Prussians have passed away;
One will remember them.
Stones will no longer be thrown at them:
The stones could shatter the Western glass house.
With these lines I conclude my report on my uncle. Looking at our present day world one might detect in them a somber warning, a prophecy perhaps we wish not to come true.