This is the third 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).
The Games we played in Gutfelde
In the pond of the park, we enjoyed going for a swim but also played ‘war’ on it. We scrounged up wash-bins and tubs, we used as our battleships and loaded them up with chunks of sod that were our ammunition. On these ships, we rowed around the pond and fired at each other with the clumps of grass and dirt. The ‘ships’ that had been hit often tipped over so that we were forced to swim with them ashore. However, we did not succeed rescuing a particularly valuable zinc tub, which sank in the deep water. Together we tried to retrieve the tub by diving but could not find it. Aunt Erika to whom we had to report the loss naturally was very angry with us and we were much ashamed of our misdeed. The tub most likely still lies today at the bottom of the pond.
We also played peaceful games. One of them was circus performances. In the park, there stood next to beautiful shrubbery a big old tree. There we presented our acrobatic showmanship. From the sturdy branch hung a swing, which we skillfully used for our performances. In addition, we did gymnastics exercises complete with headstands and rolls spiced up with oodles of clownery. Our mothers and other spectators generously provided applause and praise.
In Gutfelde, we had our own carousel. At the lower end of the estate building was a horse-operated gin. It consisted of a massive wood beam that was mounted on a large cogwheel, which in turn was connected to a shaft leading into the house. Its purpose was most likely to drive a generator inside the building. The beam was pulled by a horse, which trod around in a circle and was guided by the coachman. We children sat down on the beam and with great delight, we turned cozily round and round on this most unusual carousel.
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.
Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in blue print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.
Another important aspect contributing to the sense of well-being and safety at Gutfelde was the lack of fear within this close-knit community. The Gestapo had almost unlimited control over Germany’s citizens in the more populated areas areas of the Reich. As reported in the posts on my aunt Tante Meta, a person could get into serious trouble simply by being denounced to the secret police for having made some derogatory remarks about any of the Nazi leaders, especially if the criticism was directed towards the Führer Adolf Hitler. Anyone having an axe to grind with a neighbour could pass on information. Even if, as it was the case regarding Aunt Meta’s husband, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence, the harrowing experience would stay with the accused for the rest of their life.
Out here in the far eastern corner of Germany, the Ernst Klopp family and Polish staff lived and worked together in harmony, a situation actually frowned upon by the authorities. Sarcastic remarks and political jokes about the leaders of the Nazi regime, which elsewhere would have resulted in serious consequences, were quite common at Gutfelde. I recall three comments, which my mother had overheard at the large estate household and had passed onto me many years ago. I need to warn my readers the statements are somewhat crude.
About Adolf Hitler at a time when it was clear to all that the war would be lost: “Our great Führer got us into this sh-t. No doubt, he will find ways to get us out of this mess.” About the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, who suffered from a clubfoot handicap. He delivered many speeches aimed at keeping up the morale of the German people: “Now comes Little Clubfoot’s fairy tale hour.” About the commander of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering. It is presented here in German, because the joke’s effect depends very much on the implied rhyming word, which is missing: “Hermann Goering sprach vor kurzem, man kann auch ohne Zwiebeln auskommen.”
What I recently heard about the use of jokes in the Nazi era seems to fit the picture I painted of the Klopp family at Gutfelde. As long as the jokes excluded the political system and its leaders, they were tolerated, even encouraged. Obviously, the people at Gutfelde had crossed the line of acceptability. But the liberating influence of all that bantering must have been tremendous.
Please note that my thoughts on my father’s life appear in green print. What is shown in regular print is translated from my cousin’s book on the Klopp family.
At the time of my birth, my 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. He maintained an excellent working relationship with the former Polish estate manager Haluda, who after WW2 took over as director of the communist run state farm. 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 estates under his directorship. Other inspectors 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 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 mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2! The mansion-like imposing building was built around 1880 in the late-classical style and consisted of a body with a higher wing and ground floor extensions. It has not changed much in the last seventy years.
The estate secretary was Czeslawa Pruszewicz. Due to Nazi marriage restrictions regarding Poles, she could not call herself Gromowska until much later. My late brother Karl (1929 – 2019) added in a footnote the following comment, “She maintained through correspondence with Erika Klopp regular contact for more than 40 years and died in Rogowo in 1986. Her granddaughter still keeps up the connection with the Karl Klopp family in Detmold to this very day (1997). Ernst Klopp did not tell much about his experiences as an estate administrator. However, it is safe to assume that the descendants of his former Polish estate personnel have kept him in a favourable light.
In the Dietfurt county hospital the last child, son Peter, was born on March 24, 1942. Contrary to family tradition and in comparison to his four older siblings, Peter for the time being remained unbaptized. It seems reasonable to assume that in view of Ernst’s positive attitude toward the system a certain alienation from the church institution may have played a major role in that decision.
Even though Ernst Klopp was not a lawyer, he functioned never-the-less as a semi-independent within the county court system. In a sort of pseudo-independence acting in an honorary unsalaried function, he dealt with complaints among Nazi members against each other as well as with charges from outside the Nazi hierarchy against such individuals. In some individual instances, Ernst also dealt with cases of complaints coming from the Polish population. He was not a civil servant but was authorized to sign and authenticate documents such as marriage, birth and death certificates. He held his honorary position with the Dietfurt county system not on the basis of NS Party Membership, which he did not have, but rather on his reputation as a capable estate manager.