Chapters I to VI


Chapter I

The Monster

“My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”  Charles Dickens

There lives an evil spirit in us all. It puts fetters on your feet and shackles on your thoughts. It impedes good deeds and wastes precious time, not minutes, hours, or days, but years, decades, even en entire life span. Many have learned to master it, but I am not one of them. For me, it is a monster of titanic strength and insidious cunning. As long as I can remember, I have been struggling with this maleficent force that has been leering at my weaknesses and taunting me from within. Yes, I do admit, I often succumbed to it, but also successfully put up resistance against its crafty attempts to lure me into the swamp of idleness when vigorous action was required. That monster is commonly known as procrastination. It has been working hard to thwart my plan to write a family history.
The project had been on the back burner for almost fifty years. Before we got married, Biene and I decided to prepare an outline of the history of our two families. To keep things simple, we wanted to retrace our roots only as far back as our grandparents. We immediately went to work. Biene asked her mother and other close relatives for information on her family background, while I contacted Uncle Günther, a retired army officer, who was also very interested in the history of the Kegler family, my mother’s branch of the family tree. At first Biene and I were very excited about what we felt would develop into a joyful and rewarding project. It was like creating a symbolic union of our families before becoming husband and wife. However, procrastination reared its ugly head, threw all kinds of obstacles into our path, erected seemingly insurmountable walls, and slyly whispered into our ears, “Postpone, delay, sleep on it. Give it up, it’s too difficult, it can’t be done.”
Indeed the task of just going back two generations proved to be extremely difficult. There were no problems on my mother’s side (Erika Klopp). Uncle Günther had done a thorough job in compiling all data with the usual vital statistics starting with my mother’s parents Carl and Elisabeth Kegler, then giving an account of their six children, three boys and three girls. Four of them married and had children. In the two booklets that he duplicated for his nephews and nieces he went with his descriptions as far back as to the great-grand parents. For each person in the Kegler Clan, my uncle wrote a one-page curriculum vitae with a list of dates as well as of their accomplishments. But on my father’s side (Ernst Klopp) a bewildering picture emerged that was far too sketchy and complex for me, the twenty-two year old young man, to tackle. My grandfather, Peter Friedrich Wilhelm Klopp and his wife Emma had all together sixteen children, of whom my father Ernst was the youngest. Personally I knew only four aunts who were still alive, when the research of our roots began: Alma and Jula in Berlin, and Anna and Meta in Freiburg located at the southwest corner of Germany. Following several massive heart attacks, my father died on February 25th, 1964 in Michelbach, where he was buried. Giving in to the delaying tactics of procrastination, I did not write to those remaining aunts, until they too had passed away and had taken their knowledge with them into the grave.
While I was serving as soldier in the German NATO Forces from 1963 to 1965, Biene and her twin brother Walter were still attending high school and lived with their parents in Velbert near Essen. Biene did not fare much better in her family research. While she made much progress in gathering data about many of her relatives, her efforts to gain detailed information about her sister Elsbeth were completely stymied. Biene’s mother (Elisabeth Panknin) did not wish to share any particulars about her first-born daughter except that she hinted at some tragic event in the distant past. A veil of a secrecy hung over the unwritten story of Biene’s sister, who lived in Gotha in the former German Democratic Republic. So the obstacles that confronted us in our family research appeared insurmountable to us, and the project began to fizzle out and was put on the back burner for almost five decades. You see, there were more important things for us to do, such as getting married, attending university, finding work, and above all raising a family. Five boys were born almost with  the precision of an arithmetic progression: Robert (1967), Richard (1969), Anthony (1972), Michael (1974), and Stefan breaking the progression by being born six years later. Providing for their basic needs, food, shelter, education and love, took up all of our energy and time. In short, writing a family history was totally out of the question. But when Stefan left home for his IT training in Calgary, Alberta and I finally retired from my teaching profession in 2001, I thought that now was time to get back to my family research.
However, procrastination threw new obstacles onto the path, which I now thought to be wide open and leading directly to the final goal. It reminded me that I still had so many other important things to do. Its threatening voice from within was loud and clear, “Plant and tend the garden in the spring, mow the lawn at least once a week, don’t forget the garden needs weeding, you must also harvest what you planted in the spring, go huckleberry picking with Biene, in the fall you must gather and split firewood for the long winter months, repair broken-down household appliances, shovel snow from December to February, etc., etc….” I noticed that it was using the stick to intimidate me with that endless array of chores. There was also the softer voice of temptation, “These are your golden years, Peter, enjoy them, catch and live the moment, Carpe Diem! why burden yourself with the past. Participate in the simple pleasures of life, while you still can. Remember, your project was doomed a long time ago, because you lost all your living sources with the death of your aunts, uncles and parents.”
So another twelve years slipped by. The list of activities that filled my days to the brim grew more plentiful with each passing year. When friends and family asked me how I was enjoying my retirement, I replied, “My days aren’t long enough to accommodate all the things I want to do!” On second thought, I should have said more accurately, “My days aren’t long enough to accommodate all the things I should be doing!”

procrastinator

Chapter II

The Plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish.  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

One day while cleaning up the closet in our spare bedroom, I came across half a dozen boxes overflowing with photos, documents and letters. Although some items, especially those bundled together and secured with elastic bands, were in a fairly recognizable chronological order, most were in a state of extreme disarray. Having endeavored to bring order to chaotic situations throughout my thirty years of teaching, I immediately felt the need to peruse, sort, and arrange this long forgotten wealth of family information. A formidable task lay before me. What could I do, when I had already filled my waking hours with must-do activities? To prioritize is the name of the game. Oh, how I hate this word, even though it is derived from my beloved ancient language Latin! Something ‘prior’ is something that comes before else. It became obvious to me that sorting hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures and papers would be very time-consuming and would be strictly an indoor activity for the long, dreary winter months, when my only outdoor jobs would be splitting and stacking firewood, shovelling snow and knocking off sheets of ice off the roof.

The task of sorting was just the beginning. To my dismay I soon discovered that there was much more to be done than putting the photos into their correct chronological order. I had to separate the goats from the sheep. Many photos were of poor photographic quality or had doubles. Most had no description written on the backside. By comparing them with photos, I was able to determine at least the approximate dates of when they had been taken. Also identification of the people proved often to be very difficult, if not down right impossible. In order to provide easy access to the documents, post cards, letters, photos, audio and video files, I felt the need for a comprehensive data base that could be saved on DVD or better still on an external hard-drive. So after I had completed all the sorting and culling one year at a time, I had to scan where possible the ordered material and transfer the digital files to the external drive with the gigantic storage capacity of one TB, just in case my Dell laptop should ever crash.

All in all my very reliable Epson scanner had cranked out about 600 files or so, when I came across bundles of letters that Biene and I had written each other from 1962 to 1966. Naturally, they too had to be sorted so that the reader could truly experience the full extent of a most unusual and fascinating love story. Quite a few letters in the four-year period were left undated. So if I wanted them all to be in the right sequence, I had to actually read each and every letter to derive from its content its exact place in the novel sized bulk of our entire correspondence. As I was reading the first couple of letters, I encountered lines that expressed thoughts and feelings of love, joy and pain oh so vividly, passionately and authentically and radiating so much warmth, I felt that I had found a precious treasure that had been hidden for so long in the chaotic junkyard of our physical belongings. Eagerly I continued reading even those letters that were correctly dated. A flood of thoughts and feelings were racing through my entire being. I recognized that I had rediscovered in my heart a much greater treasure than just the letters spread out before me, a treasure that had lain for the so many years deeply buried in my heart under the clutter of the necessities of everyday life. I had found and experienced all over again the first love I had felt for Biene. The warm glow of the remaining ember, so it seemed to me, received suddenly and unexpectedly a fresh breeze of ethereal oxygen that set my heart on fire. Almost like being under a spell, I kept reading, threw overboard my so carefully scheduled routines of the day, even skipped my afternoon nap and kept going with tears occasionally welling up from the intensity of my emotional experience, not being ashamed of my tears, but joyfully seeking to delve deeper and deeper into the caverns glittering in the light of inner discovery.

In the days that followed I conceived a plan that would finally put an end to Monster P’s delaying tactics. I decided to modify the original project of writing the history of the Klopp and Panknin families in such way that all the major obstacles would be swept aside. True, all the people that would have been able to provide me with names, dates and other data of close and distant relatives had passed away and with their deaths I lost forever the sources of information essential for such an undertaking. But who would truly be interested, except the odd genealogy researcher, in the long lists of names, in the perusal of seemingly endless dates of births, weddings and deaths? What pleasure, I asked myself, is there in the sterile details about Aunt X and Uncle Y, who bequeathed to posterity nothing except their boring vital statistics. On the other hand, I believe, as long as Biene and I live, there is an amazing story to be told, the story of our lives, the story of our parents, the story of our brothers and sisters, the story of our children and grand-children, and the story of all the people we encountered during the course of almost seven decades, in short the story of every person who contributed to make our lives more colorful and meaningful. Looking at the photos, perusing old documents, listening to voices from audio files, watching digitized old Super 8 movies and more recent video clips, reading heart-felt letters, I noticed how these items from the past were jogging my memory creating vivid images in my mind and recreating a plethora of long forgotten experiences. It was during these moments of intense re-awakening of my own past that I came to realize that the present is aimless and will wander off into all directions without a firm link to one’s past. Just as in geometry we need at least two points to determine a line, so our lives to be meaningful need to have a conscious awareness of the connection between past and present. Such awareness will then also grant an individual vision for a purposeful future. Based on the reflections sparked by my archival activities, I decided on a plan of writing a story that I knew best, the story of Peter and Gertrud Klopp, a story that would combine three major strands: my memoirs, my autobiography and a family history with an emphasis on only true and interesting episodes with a minimum of vital statistics.

Letters 62-66
Letters and Cards Waiting to be Sorted

 

Chapter III

On Memory and Truth

Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin. Barbara Kingsolver

            Biene and I once witnessed an accident while driving to Vernon over the icy highway on a cold December morning. The car ahead of us showed some extremely erratic behavior and seemed to be out of control as we saw it slipping and sliding on a curvy downhill stretch. A few seconds later, it had collided with an oncoming pick-up truck. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. The truck driver and his pregnant wife emerged unharmed from their vehicle, while the owner of the small passenger car was frantically running around, often looking down over the edge of the ravine on the other side of the road, as if he had lost something during the accident. He did not seem to care much about the occupants of the truck that he just had run into and kept shouting anxiously, “Lucy, Lucy, where are you?”

          A few months later, a police officer knocked at our door and presented me with a subpoena to make myself available as a witness at the Vernon Court House. Memory is defined as the mental capacity of retaining and reviving impressions or of recalling previous experiences. My particular memory of the accident on the Monashee was very accurate, and I assumed that it revealed the truth and nothing but the truth. However, when the Crown prosecutor quizzed me on the details, I realized that logical thinking had filled the gaps created by the bizarre behaviour displayed by the man who had caused the collision. I did not know that the concern for a little dog could be more important to anyone than the well-being of one’s fellow human beings, especially if you were responsible for causing their harm and grief. My logic demanded that the man was calling his female companion who might have been thrown out of the vehicle and might have been severely injured. I am mentioning this incident to increase awareness at the very start of my project that things are not always what they appear to be and to be aware of the potential flaw in the relationship between memory and logic. Distorting reality as a result of this flaw then becomes a major problem for anyone attempting to describe personal experiences of the past.

          There are two kinds of memories. The first one is very much in line with the typical dictionary meaning, it is the one that retains and recalls a sequence of events. The other one is extremely subjective because it has to do with feelings of anxiety, contentment, happiness, sadness, depression, trauma etc. associated with the chain of events in the outside world. As time passes, it is possible that one aspect will almost completely fade away, while the other one remains vivid and strong allowing us to relate one type in accurate detail, but not the other. I feel that both play an important role in the creation of a story, which at least in part will be an autobiography.

          Another aspect in the discussion of memory is the human tendency to present oneself in the best possible light. Based on their research of the human psyche, psychologists assert that our perception of the world is being modified by our value system, religious beliefs, biases and prejudices, and past experiences, just to mention a few. The desire to live in harmony with oneself has often a warping effect on what is stored in our memory and also tends to distort our perception of the world around us.

          Our human nature often entices us to share with others experiences that have made a deep impression on us. Of course, we wish to present them in glowing colors leaving out details that detract from the beauty of the story and adding what may not be necessarily true, but serves to embellish the tale. We have all heard about the fisherman whose catch became bigger and bigger with each additional recounting of an incredible fishing trip. What really intrigues me is the fact that if we tell a story often enough, it takes on a reality of its own. At the end we love our story, even though it is a tall tale, so much that we begin to believe ourselves that it actually happened exactly as we described it.

          So what at first appeared to be a rather large, but simple chronicler’s task turned out to be a bumpy road with nasty pitfalls lurking at every turn of the way. To avoid getting trapped in a quagmire, a lot of questions needed to be answered, before I even started. How much is too much? Does the story become burdened with trivial and uninteresting material? And equally important, how much is too little? Put differently, do I omit something that is essential for the understanding of the family members and myself? Or would I be so timid and cowardly as to turn into a dishonest writer by cutting from the narrative that which ought to be included out of fear to present others and myself in an unfavorable light? With these introductory remarks, I have already granted a glimpse into my way of thinking, and in that sense the autobiography has already begun.

Chapter IV

My Parents

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”

Henry Ward Beecher

          When I was born on March 24th, 1942 in Dietfurt (Znin) in the Reichsgau Wartheland, the superpowers of the world were at war with one another. Nazi Germany was in control of most of Western Europe. Hitler had not learned from Napoleon’s defeat in 1812 and invaded Russia in June 1941. Driven by his megalomania he thought himself to be the greatest military genius of all times and planned to conquer, subdue and rule over more territory than Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Napoleon put together. With Japan’s aerial strike and attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the winds of war had invaded the Pacific Ocean and had suddenly engulfed the entire world. Yet, at the time of my birth, my family living in this remote corner of the Reich enjoyed a semblance of peace and security. The entire region was out of reach from the Allied bombers, which began with ever increasing intensity to terrorize the populace of the larger cities of Western and Central Germany. It was at Gutfelde near the small town of Dietfurt, where my father Ernst had recently been transferred to take over the administration of three large farming estates.

Emma Klopp (Bauer)
Emma Klopp (Bauer)

          Friedrich Ernst Klopp was born on June 28th, 1900 in Wolmirstedt, a town in Saxony-Anhalt 14 km north of Magdeburg. His mother Emma Klopp neé Bauer gave birth to her 16th child on their 25th wedding anniversary. For this reason, my father was often referred to by family members as the ‘silver boy’. Today we look with absolute amazement at grandmother Emma. She raised all her children, who were born in quick succession, often not more than one year apart. Owing my very existence to her, I would like to emphasize without any attempt to moralize – I am merely stating the facts – that had the liberal attitude and practice of abortion of today been in vogue in the 19th century, I would not be here to enjoy life, experience love, have a wonderful wife and family, five sons and grand-children. It is a sad reflection on our society that values the welfare of pets and animals more than that of emerging human life. While I sympathize with the concern that people have over cases of neglect and cruelty to animals, I find it appalling that there is silence over the killing of human life in our hospitals whose main purpose and mission should be to preserve life and not to destroy it.

Klopp's Rope Making
Klopp’s Rope Making

As to my grandfather Peter Friedrich Klopp, he was the proud owner, operator and salesperson of a small rope making manufacturing plant. He was good-looking, handsome, slightly obese, but a giant of a man. He was generally of a cheerful disposition and was not disinclined to a good occasional drink in genial like-minded company every once in a while. In the middle of May not long before my father’s birth he was riding home from a hunting party. It appears that he often left direction and speed to the discretion of his well-trained horse. Maybe on this chilly night he had had just one drink too many. Falling asleep on horseback is never a good idea, especially when you are in that cozy state of inebriation. Inevitably, he slipped off the saddle, and the horse trod home without him. Early next morning travelers found him lying half conscious on the roadside. He was sober by now, but suffered from a severe case of hypothermia. Soon after, he acquired a kidney infection, from which he was unable to recover. He died on the 26th of June at the age of 48. My grandmother Emma, now a widow with at least six underage children still to care for, managed to overcome the new hardships with her indomitable spirit and a practical sense for survival. At age 44, she acquired a mill, managed and operated it for a couple of years, raised the remaining children including little Ernst and lived until 1941, when she passed away at the ripe age of 85.

Celebrating Emma's 80th Birthday in Belgard 1936
Celebrating Emma’s 80th Birthday in Belgard 1936

          My father spent his childhood years in Elsenau, county district Briesen (Wąbrzeżno), West Prussia and attended the elementary school in the neighboring town of Schönsee (Kowalewo Pomorskie), where he also entered an agricultural apprenticeship. At the beginning of 1918 he was drafted into the army. When he had finished his basic training, he was fortunate that the Great War to end all wars had ended with Germany’s defeat. He, therefore, did not have to face combat action like millions of young men before him, who died a senseless death in an even more senseless war. Shortly after, at Germany’s eastern border region, he joined a volunteer army unit (Freikorps) whose main objective was to prevent Bolshevik raids and their attempts to infiltrate into the newly formed Baltic States. My father’s main aim, however, was to acquire land in Latvia and settle there. I detect in his endeavor to seek freedom, independence, and happiness in a country outside Germany’s territorial borders a desire to break from the traditional mold and the narrow confines of a ravaged country with very little hope for a bright economic future. I further notice a character trait that he must have passed on to his children. Why else would four of the five children immigrate to Canada, the land of great promise to tens of thousands of immigrants from all over the world?

          Due to the economic restrictions and political restraints placed upon the defeated nation by the Treaty of Versailles, my father’s dream to carve out for himself a prosperous homesteading existence in a Baltic state did not pan out as planned. However, with his agricultural training and background he worked his way up to become an administrator in a number of state and church estates. In 1928 he moved into the family hotel owned and run by his sister Julia in Diensdorf at Lake Scharmützel some 60 km southeast of Berlin. In the same year, on June 5th, he married my mother, Erika Klara Else Kegler, who lived at the time in Stolpmünde, Pomerania, at the Baltic Sea. Through my mother’s family’s connections, he was able to take on his first major assignment, the management of large tracts of farmland in Belgard, Pomerania. These domains included the raising of pigs and provided enough food to nourish all the people living in the three divisions which until 1940 were part of the Evangelical Inner Mission: the Dr. Klar-Stiftung, a care home for the elderly, the Johannis-Haus for the incurably ill and alcoholics, and finally the Ernst-Flos Hof for orphans and delinquent youth. How challenging this position must have been for my father to oversee the daily routines of all three institutions on top of his responsibility for the smooth and productive operation of the farming part of his assignment! When these facilities were taken over by the NS state, Ernst Klopp was able to retain his position as estate administrator and director. Between 1929 and 1936 four children were born into the now prosperous Klopp family: Karl (1929), Adolf (1932), Erika (1934) and Gerhard (1936).

My Father 1927
My Father 1927

          In September 1939, my father was drafted into the army and served as common soldier during the invasion of Poland, which sparked off WW2, after Great Britain and France in support of Poland declared war on Germany. Ernst Klopp was almost forty years old and was badly needed as director and administrator in the agricultural domains in the regained eastern territories of the former Imperial Germany. Consequently, he was released from active army duty to take care of agricultural business in one of the occupied districts of Warthegau. He was put in charge of the estates near Dietfurt (Znin), Gutfelde, the seat of administration and residence for the family, Oberhof and Silberberg. All three centers still exist today and have been turned into state sponsored prosperous cooperatives with many farm workers living comfortably in newly built houses.

X253
Carl and Elisabeth Kegler

  On March 24th, 1899, my mother Erika was born as the fifth child into the Kegler family of two sisters and three brothers in Grünewald, Pomerania. Her father Carl, born in 1860, had studied theology in Greifswald, Berlin and Halle. In 1891 he received a call to the rural parish Grünewald, with which other protestant churches in the neighboring villages were affiliated. The distances between the pastor’s home parish and the other rural communities were considerable. Carl had to use horse and buggy or a bicycle to provide services and to make sure that the Word of God was preached there too. If there was a salary at all for pastors in those days, it did not suffice for food, shelter and other expenses. However, with the parsonage also came a farm complete with land, barns, sheds, stables, cows, pigs, poultry and horses. Thus, Carl Kegler until his early death in 1919 provided not only spiritual leadership, but as a farmer’s son became a welcome source of help and know-how to his parishioners in agricultural matters as well. He was a friend among friends and acquaintances. With his faithful heart, vivacious temperament, joie de vivre, cheerful humor, readiness for action, comprehensive knowledge, and his entire upright character, he became to many a dear and precious friend. He preached God’s Word in truth and with a sincere heart always mindful of Jesus’ saying: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” However, he did not tire the congregation with long theological dissertations. Rather he connected the Word with land, fields, crops, and farm animals, concepts that his parishioners understood only too well. At home and among friends he enjoyed telling a good story or even cracking a few jokes. I do not know what my mother told me actually happened or not. But if it is just a legend that she delighted in passing on to me, it throws some additional light on my grandfather and his wonderful sense of humor.

The Parsonage in Grünewald
The Parsonage in Grünewald

“The congregation of a small Lutheran church in Transpomerania was singing the closing hymn, ‘Now thank we all our God’. A little old lady suffering from a severe case of hearing impairment participated in the singing with that shrill loud voice so peculiar to old deaf women. When the congregation had finished the last verse and the church organ had played the lost note, there was a brief moment of silence. Then the little old lady on the last pew continued singing using the same tune to the amazement of all people present: ‘One may also, if one so wishes, omit the last verse of this hymn’.

Church in Grünewald
Church in Grünewald

          For the pastor and his wife Elisabeth née Mass it was not an easy beginning. When Bruno Kegler was born in 1901, there were six mouths to feed in the rural parsonage of Grünewald. In addition, Elisabeth’s parents and their two unmarried daughters resided there bringing the total number of household members up to twelve. Elisabeth was a great mother, grandmother, parish mother, champion of friendships and social networks, and fine leader of an ever-growing household. During the holidays the children brought their friends home with them. Nothing was too much for the energetic pastor’s wife. One of her sons, Uncle Günther, described her so lovingly with a quote from ancient sources of wisdom from India:

          “Where mothers keep watch,

          the gods can rest and sleep!”

          After Carl’s death, Grandmother moved to Stolpmünde, one of the finest sea resorts on the Baltic Sea in Pomerania and stayed there for a quarter of a century with her daughter Maria (Aunt Mieze) taking care of the family members who would come for visits mostly in the summer. That all came to a sudden end, when they had to flee from the Red Army in 1945. She found shelter at her son’s residence (Uncle Günther) in Thuringia, where she passed away after a lengthy illness in 1948.

          Mother grew up with her sisters and brothers in the parsonage of Grünewald. Their house, even though it was already quite old at the time when the new pastor’s family moved in, was still standing, when she was visiting it on her journey to her lost homeland in 1975. A lot of childhood memories were being rekindled at the sight of her former home. It was by now unfortunately in a dilapidated state. In her travel report she described the house and yard so well that I need to summarize it here. After all, this is the place, where my grandparents, mothers, uncles and aunts have spent a major part of their lives!

          Nothing was left of the yard that used to be like pure paradise for the Kegler children. In the backyard Mother experienced the same disappointment. A large section was fenced in and used by neighbors. The barn was much smaller now, but was a little spruced up with new stables. The vegetable and flower garden, the currant and gooseberry bushes and the many apple trees were all gone. The beloved huge pear tree that once produced such an abundant crop was dead and bare. But her memory brought back to her this wonderful tree. The picking seemed endless. They had to gather the pears from the ground, until the last one had been shaken off the tree. For a little while Mother was standing there and gazed in her mind at the no longer existing meadows, on which they secretly horsed around quite willing to take chances in dealing with ‘Uncle Yellow’ (That was the name for the cane). She was also thinking of the mysterious narrow footpaths, where she was running with her youngest brother Bruno. The trees were like people to them. They buried notes under many a root. These were addressed to all kinds of spirits. Only Bruno and she knew, who Aunt Oak and Uncle Birch were. They carved runes onto tree bark and let their imagination run wild, until the scornful teasing of the older brothers brought them back to reality…

          But back to the parsonage! Grandfather’s bench and place of relaxation were gone; a few pretty flowers decorated the front yard on one side; the hedge had also disappeared. The huge spruce tree was nowhere to be seen. It was indeed a dreary and desolate site. Through the back porch they entered into a somewhat modern kitchen with no door (they used to have a double door) that was connected to her father’s office and study now serving as a dining room. From the hallway one could walk into the living room, where at Christmas a huge, nicely decorated Christmas tree used to bring joy into the young hearts with all those old-fashioned wax candles. There, once so many years ago had stood Mother’s plush furniture, a beautiful carpet, but also the big black piano. Only our parents and visitors had access to this room except at Christmas time, when the Kegler children usually wild and rambunctious were at their best behavior. Then a festive spirit reigned, and the aroma of freshly baked Pfeffernüsse cookies permeated the entire home. Through the door from the living room you would come to the large reception hall. Here the whole family would gather and sit on beautiful old wicker chairs around the long expandable table for breakfast, lunch and supper. A door led directly to the kitchen, whence the food was brought in. On a large stove, where the fire never went out, all the cooking took place. There was also an old oven heated with coal or wood that served to bake cakes and to roast meat. Large tiled wood stoves provided warmth in every room. On cold days delicious baked apples were often roasting in the oven. Through another door one could enter into the old living room, where a giant expandable table and chairs stood. The children would often play games here, such as the Old Maid (Schwarzer Peter) card game and the all time favorite Pochspiel. There was a well-worn sofa, which the children were allowed to use to their greatest delight for their rough and tumble games. They respected, however, the dignity of the two armchairs, on which our parents and grandfather occasionally were sitting. Between the cupboard and the tiled stove was the corner that belonged to Fiffi, the ‘pedigreed’ adorable terrier with in-house privileges. Her claim to fame was that she once raised a piglet by suckling the little runt that mother sow had rejected. Next-door was the parental bedroom, in which always stood the baby crib for the youngest in the family. Upstairs under the gable were two bedrooms, one for the three brothers and the other for the three sisters, with chambers for linen, clothes and ironing utensils in-between. In the nearby church, in which my mother had been baptized and confirmed, nothing much has changed except that it now serves as a Catholic place of worship. After more than a century God’s Word is still being preached from the very same pulpit, from which my grandfather proclaimed the Good News to his congregation and to the three Lilies as he so endearingly called his daughters.

The Three 'Lilies'
The Three ‘Lilies’

          Mother attended the elementary school in her home village Grünewald until 1909. Helen Rabenstein née Dahlke described the school house in a publication from 1971: ‘old, beloved school house, timber-framed, overgrown with wild roses, shadowed by four poplars, and those huge willows, which separated the school yard from the school pond. The oldest among us will remember all this well, and also the climbing frame we naturally had there. Even then three teachers strove for the education of the children of Grünewald, Altmühl, Steinburg and the numerous additions. They were head teacher Dahlke, second teacher Wolff, and, yearly changing, a young teacher preparing for his or her exam. The teacher family Dahlke continued to live in Grünewald until 1945, and had many members as teachers there, and some taught in other towns in the vicinity. There is one famous descendant of this family: the well-known actor Paul Victor Ernst (1904-1984), whose parents were both born in Grünewald.’

My Mother at Age 27
My Mother at Age 27

          Then Mother attended the high school for girls (Lyceum) in Neustettin, the administrative center of the county. She returned home to help in the household during the Great War. From 1919 to 1927, she worked in various households in Berlin, on estates in Pomerania, Kolberg, and in Danzig-Oliva (now Gdansk). I recall my mother joking about one of her employers, a very old, but rich widower, who would have liked to marry her, the pretty woman in her mid twenties. On those rare occasions, when inspired by a glass of wine or a shot of schnapps she was in the mood for it, she would share such stories with me. In turn, I felt encouraged to tease and ask her, “Where would those five fine children be, if you had given in to the temptation of wealth and become the wife of a geriatric, who was way past his physical prime?” Instead she waited for Mr. Right to come along and married my father Ernst on June 6, 1928. Their wedding took place in the Baltic resort town of Stolpmünde, Pomerania.

Chapter V

Gutfelde (Zlotniki)

 

Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more. Robin Hobb

 

At the time of my birth, Father as manager and inspector was in charge of the estates Silberberg, Oberhof and Gutfelde totaling 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 harbored a favorable 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.

Family Photo 1941
Family Photo – The Klopp Children from Right to Left: Karl, Adolf, Gerhard and Eka

My three brothers Karl, Adolf and Gerhard and my sister Eka (short form of Erika) (now Lavana) were all born in Pomerania, whereas I began my life’s journey in the town of Dietfurt (Znin), Warthegau. There I spent the first eight days with four other babies in a warm hospital room. There were also two Polish babies born in the same county hospital. Later on in my early childhood I had to take quite a bit of good-natured teasing with made-up stories of a nurse who had accidentally placed a Polish baby into my crib, while I was being examined in another room.

First Page of Mother's Diary
First Page of Mother’s Diary about her Fifth Child Peter

When I arrived with Mother at Gutfelde, I received a truly royal reception. Karl, who attended 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 was. Inside the sunny and warm room several pots with beautiful flowers created a cheerful atmosphere for the latest arrival in Gutfelde.

12
Mother with Eka and Gerhard in front of Gutfelde Mansion

According to Mother’s diary, I had quite a normal development. Breast-feeding, sleeping, messing up diapers and the need to change them in quick succession were the only noteworthy highlights of the day. When I had grown a bit older, I began to entertain the family with my smiles and giggles. One day after Mother had taken my dirty diapers off and given me a thorough sponge bath, I was allowed to wiggle freely on the soft mattress of my crib. Eka, driven by intense curiosity, leaned over to inspect me a little more closely. Just then, whether it was the result of the excitement over my newfound freedom or simply nature’s urgent need to relieve myself, I gave her a good squirt on the nose. Everybody including two visiting aunts had a good laugh except Eka, who ran into the bathroom to wipe her face dry from the inglorious shot from the unusual squirt gun of mine.

10
Mother and Peter

There is one incidence that gave Mother a real scare. I believe that no matter how many children a woman might have, her heart will always be with the youngest child. When the weather was sunny and warm and the birds were singing in the nearby trees, I often spent time outside on a blanket under Mother’s watchful eyes. I was delighted to see my siblings play in the sandbox or romp around in the huge backyard of the Klopp mansion. But when it was a little cooler, I still needed to be exposed to the fresh and wholesome air and to toughen up, as the German mothers were fond of doing at that time. So I was put into the baby carriage at a sunny location, and my six-year-old brother Gerhard (Gerry) was supposed to keep an eye on me in case I woke up from my nap. If the job had been assigned to thirteen-year-old brother Karl, then the accident that so frightened Mother could have been prevented. A child of Kindergarten age can hardly be expected to keep a vigilant watch over his baby brother, who was sound asleep and securely wrapped in woolen blankets. Gerhard must have found something more interesting to do and did not know yet the rule about the eternal recurrent of the same. In this case babies that fall asleep will surely wake up again to make their presence known. And so it happened. I woke up. My diapers were still dry. Hunger pangs had not yet set in to bother me. Happy, I was ready to explore the interior of the fancy, roofed baby carriage. Soon I started to vigorously move my arms and legs. The springs of my little buggy made me feel like being gently rocked in a cradle. However, the force of the springs was sufficient to set the wheels in motion, first very slowly, then faster and faster down the sloping lawn in the direction of the nearby pond, where the carriage landed with a loud splash in the deep water. Mother’s watchful eyes had noticed the dreadful scene. Her horror, however, did not paralyze her motherly instinct. She came racing down the stone stairs, then over the lawn straight to me and rescued me from the grave danger that I was not even aware of. What followed was not fair, but perfectly understandable considering her terrified and angry state of mind. For his negligence in his duty to watch over me, Mother gave him a good hard spanking that he did not forget for a long, long time.

6
Mother Posing on a Harvested Rye Field

At the end of June I had grown into a feisty, likable character bringing joy into everybody’s heart with my entertaining giggles. Indeed I had a lot to be happy about. By now, I received already a real dinner, first spinach, then mashed strawberries and Mother’s own milk for dessert. Occasionally she would give me a portion of semolina porridge with juice, and I had carrot juice every day. What a wonderful life!

17

 Now Karl came home from his boarding school in Belgard for the summer holidays. He happened to greet me, when I was at my very best behavior. I had woken up from a very good sleep, just had my favorite meal and presented to my oldest brother the sweetest smile I could muster. He was so delighted that he stood in front of my crib for a long time, while I was laughing at him, babbling endless stories while gazing at him with wondering eyes. At last Karl was allowed to pick me up and to hold me in his arms. He even granted me a little brotherly kiss.

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 (Lavana) 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. After Adolf’s birthday on July 14th, our family increased to twelve with Aunt Johanna’s visit with her three children Hartmut, Elisabeth and Jürgen. It is not hard to imagine the sense of excitement they brought with all the games they could play now and the inevitable roughhousing with the boys outnumbering the girls six to two.

7

I remember a story that Karl and Adolf used to tell reminiscing about their childhood adventures. As I had already mentioned, Gutfelde was an oasis of peace and security until the very end of the war that attracted relatives to seek at least temporary relief from the horrific threats of the bombing raids over all major German cities. So it was not unusual to have up to a dozen children spending their summer holidays at the Klopp family. My cousin Hartmut Kegler submitted the following report entitled, ‘My Memories of Gutfelde after 70 Years’:

Adolf, Gerhard and Karl
Adolf, Gerhard and Karl

“I gladly remember the wonderful holidays, which we could spend in the years 1942 and 1943 during the murderous Second World War in Gutfelde. Our aunt Erika Klopp, my father’s sister – Bruno Kegler had already died in action 1n 1940 -, and her husband Ernst Klopp managed in trusteeship in the so-called Warthegau a Polish estate. They lived in a spacious manor, behind which was a large, beautiful park with a little pond. In my memory I can still see the large dining room and the office. In the dining room was a large table, at which we all, the four Klopps and their parents and we three Keglers with our mother Johanna Kegler were seated for lunch and supper. Before the Polish maid had conscientiously set the table. I recall her with the statement she made, after one of us children had taken the fork from the carefully laid out cutlery. She exclaimed in a scared voice, “Where is forkie?” We scoundrels poked fun at her hackneyed German. But the young Polish lady was not angry with us. When all persons had punctually taken their seats, Uncle Ernst opened the meal with the words, “Man eats, the animal gorges itself, but today let it be the other way around. Enjoy your meal!” Not a very pious saying, for the Klopps according to the spirit of the times had left the church, but described themselves as ‘God-fearing’.

Mother and Peter
Mother and Peter

Our holidays were filled with many games and partly with reckless adventures. My siblings Elisabeth and Jürgen as well as the Klopps, Karl, Adolf, Erika and little Peter (just watching) participated in them. Following the prevailing circumstances our games were primarily of a warlike character. The events that I am describing below are still vivid in my memory:

Bordering on the spacious manor was a pasture for young horses that were freely roaming about. We had quite some fun chasing these horses to make them galloping over the pasture. Once it so happened that my four or five-year old kid brother Jürgen had run away from us and suddenly appeared in the midst of the galloping horses. We older children held our breath in terror, but Jürgen without batting an eye let the horses race by and did not come into harm’s way. For his bravery we honored him with the first class iron cross.

The large barn was the place, where we played paratroopers. The barn had two floors so that we could jump from the upper about five-meter high floor onto the one below. I don’t know exactly, if all had enough guts to jump, but some dared it nevertheless and even did saltos.

The war game had its evil sides, something we children were not aware of. It showed how current political conditions could leave a mark on early youth. We organized an ‘invasion’ into the settlement of Polish rural workers next to the manor. There we took ‘prisoners’ from among the Polish children of our age, whom we marched off to the manor to hand them over to Uncle Ernst. But he dragged us over the coals telling us sternly that one did not do such things and sent the Polish boys and girls back to their village.

13
Eka Holding her little brother Peter

In the pond of the park we loved to go bathing, but also played our war games on it. We procured tubs and washbasins, which we used as naval ships, and loaded them up with ammunition, which consisted of clods of dirt and grass. With these ships we rowed around in the pond and fired these clods at each other. The ships that were hit often turned over, and we had to quickly swim with the tubs ashore. However, with one of the especially precious tin tubs we did not succeed in rescuing the naval ship, which sank to the bottom of the pond. In a combined effort we tried to dive for the tub, but could not locate it. Aunt Erika, to whom we had to report this loss, was of course very angry, and we felt ashamed. As far as I know, the tub still rests at the bottom of that pond.

Duel between two Warriors
Duel between two Warriors

But we also played peaceful games. One of these was ‘circus performances’. In the park stood beside other beautiful shrubbery a large, old tree, where we presented our acrobatic pieces. On a big branch hung swings, onto which we held fast. In addition there was gymnastics with headstand and rolls, as well as all sorts of clowneries. Our mothers and other spectators gave cheerful applause and praise.

Bild Gutfelde 29
Uncle Gerhard, Aunt Margot and Aunt Johanna, Mother holding Peter

Finally I remember one event that happened in connection with Uncle Gerhard’s visit. He was at that time colonel at the eastern front and was on vacation. One day he asked me, if I could handle a rifle. Since I already was in possession of the shooting badge of the German Youth Group (Jungvolk), I proudly said yes. My problem was that as a cub I had only shot with a light air gun, my uncle however entrusted me with a heavy hunting rifle. I was then only eleven or twelve years old, but proudly marched with the rifle onto the field. There I spotted a murder of crows sitting on the poplar trees. Well, I got the firearm ready and raised it up, aimed and shot. The recoil of the gun and the loud bang almost knocked me over. All the crows flew off, for I had hit none. Since then I have never touched a rifle, did not need to, nor was forced to touch one.

The relationship of Uncle Ernst and Aunt Erika to the Polish personnel was fair and respectful. They reaped the reward for their decent treatment of the Polish employees during the German occupation of Poland later towards the end of the war. Aunt Erika maintained long after the war a friendly correspondence with the educated and conscientious secretary. Nothing of the known and understandable hatred of the Poles elsewhere against the Germans was according to my knowledge noticeable in Gutfelde.

While at the front lines and in the bombed German cities, in concentration camps and POW camps innumerable people died daily, we children spent happy holidays in occupied Poland. I started only much later to think about it. At any rate I am thankful to Aunt Erika and Uncle Ernst that we could enjoy their hospitality and play there to our heart’s content.” Here ends Hartmut’s report on his childhood memories, which I somewhat abbreviated without altering the essence of his story.

From Mother's Diary
From Mother’s Diary

In the last week of August I gave Mother another scare when I came down with my first illness, an especially severe case of intestinal catarrh. She had to change diapers constantly. The diarrhea just did not want to go away. Mother was really worried by now. She immediately stopped giving me milk, cooked a sort of rice porridge sweetened with saccharin and gave me three times daily crushed carbon tablets. That seemed to help. After three days I had recovered and was my usual cheerful self again relieving Mother from the stress of worry and sleepless nights. Now I was ready again to entertain the never ending stream of visiting relatives with my laughter, smiles and beaming eyes: Karl back from high school to help with the harvest during the fall break, grandmother Elisabeth and Aunt Mieze (Maria) from Stolpmünde, and many, many more. Shortly before Christmas the measles were going around among the Klopp children, but to Mother’s great relief I did not get them, even though I had also shown some of the symptoms, a few of those scary red spots on my skin. But in the end we could all enjoy the Christmas season. Although we were now into the fourth year of the war, there were still plenty of gifts for everyone under the beautifully decorated tree. I was only interested in the baby rattle Grandmother had given to me for Christmas. There I had something concrete in my little hands that I could touch, handle, and make noise with. Karl was playing piano and the others were reciting poetry for the family. At year’s end I was proud to be able to stand up in my crib, showed off my first tooth, ate well, was toilet trained, and best of all I was happy to grow up in such a wonderful family.

Aunt Alma from Berlin
Aunt Alma from Berlin

In the New Year Karl and Adolf left Gutfelde to continue their education in Belgard. With Eka and Gerhard also away to attend a local elementary school during the day, it became very quiet around our house. But Mother still had me and I made sure with my increasing demands for food and attention that she would not get bored. We had a brief cold snap and the temperature plunged to minus 20. Nevertheless, Mother felt that even in this frigid air I must be outside and ‘toughen up’. Janina, the young Polish assistant in the Klopp household, who had taken a real liking to me, took me often for a quick stroll in my baby carriage. In the evening, when it was time for me to go to bed, friends would drop in to spend a few hours in the comfort and cozy atmosphere of the Klopp residence. Invariably discussion would turn to politics and, of course, to the war that was raging and after the surrender of the 6th Army at Stalingrad was no longer progressing in Germany’s favor. Out here, far away from police-informers and free from the fear of being denounced to the Gestapo, they voiced their opinion on the gloomy prospects of the war and even dared to make sarcastic remarks like: ‘The Führer (Hitler) has gotten us into this crappy hole, he will also take us out of it again.’ As for me, the world was still intact. I enjoyed the triple benefit of good food, shelter, and love. On that solid basis of early childhood nurturing I was being prepared to withstand the traumatic events that were to follow later with the major offensive of the Red Army in January 1945. But for the time being, even for the grown-ups with their depressing views it was still safe to live in our corner of the world. When the noisy discussion abated a little, someone suggested playing a round of Doppelkopf, the second most popular German card game. Forgetting their worries at least for a few hours, Father, Mother and her guests played the game of a long family tradition. They had a few drinks for good cheer, smoked a cigarette or two and were having a good time, while I was dreaming about my next wintry outing with Janina.

Peter in his Pram
Peter in his Pram

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: Grandmother Elisabeth and Aunt Mieze ((Maria) again from Stolpmünde (Ustka), Aunt Alma from Berlin, Aunt Margot (wife of Uncle Gerhard, General-Lieutenant in the German army) with her three children Helga, Nati and Dieter, and finally my cousin Arthur Thiess from Berlin and his three daughters Ingrid, Gerlinde and Anje. 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.

Gerhard Holding his Kid Brother
Gerhard Holding his Kid Brother

Mother was honored for the second time, since I was born, 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. Apart from the fact that Mother’s Day was a state supported festival, upon which a lot of emphasis was given to the meaning of motherhood mostly for ideological reasons – I would say for mythical reasons from ancient Teutonic folklore as well – women in general were considered not weak, but precious entities that 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 colorful 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 left a lasting impression on all those who were present.

Peter and his Friend Jupp
Peter and his Friend Jupp

Mother’s diary of the first 15 months of my life came to an unexpected 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 2 and afterwards, will be the subject of the next chapter.

Peter Sitting on Gutfelde Staircase
Peter Sitting on Gutfelde Staircase

 

Chapter VI

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.

Report by Gerhard (Gerry) Klopp

1942 -1944 Gutfelde

A safe heaven for family and friends from threats of enemy bombings and other calamities

Refugees 1945
Refugees Fleeing from the Advancing Red Army 1945

Recall Karl’s visits. December 1944. We sat in a “bunker” that Karl built from scrap lumber and card board. He posted a picture of Rommel and told me about all his victories. We now know how Rommel died and why. Around Christmas time the family set around a small table with a small squeaky radio listening to Hitler’s last big gamble on the western front. The Battle of the Bulge. German tank units had smashed through the Ardennes forest and were headed to the coast cutting off all allied supply lines. Victory was our fearless leader’s Christmas gift to us. Karl: ”Mensch Pose. Wir gewinnen den Krieg”.

Again. We know how that went. Karl quickly rounded up boys and girls and organized war games, which would replicate those German victories and more to come. In order to keep up the high moral he instituted a system of executing deserters and cowards. To facilitate this he needed an example of what happened to such bad Germans. He convinced me to become an actor and become the first to be shot. He used an older army rifle and some carbide explosive to scare forced onlookers to witness my execution. As told, the bang occurred, I dropped to the ground. Onlookers ran screaming into the house. End of my acting career.

Recall a party our father put on for a group of volunteers from the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. They were eager to fight for Germany against the communist menace. They sang German war songs and enjoyed their good times. Likely their last one as well.

Christmas 1944 was still a lavish one. Huge tables set with gifts and all sorts of chocolate and cakes. Last of the good times. Shortly after, frantic packing and loading of wagons. Had no idea what this was all about. Thought this was great fun or some other entertainment. Father as ordered or expected by our glorious leader stayed behind. On the urging of our Polish friends advising: ”We know you, others do not” did he load up his one horse-drawn four-seater wagon. Beautifully decorated and with pneumatic tires. On his way to find us, he picked up 3 recently orphaned children by the side of the road. Their father was killed in the war and their mother shortly before the order came to flee to the west. Our mother now had 5 children to care for. Seemingly endless rows of wagons. Some motorized soon to be abandoned by the side of the road or simply broken down during very severe weather and road conditions. Not sure if we made 29 km a day. Food and fresh water often impossible to get. First some babies died to be buried by their mothers by the roadside in the snow. The sick and elderly soon followed. We were lucky. Our horseman and driver was experienced and knew the countryside well and most drivable side roads.

Mother and Children
Mother and Children

Father must have discussed that with him as he did meet up with us at a remote country location. Some days later we ended up at a large farm overrun with refugees from all over. Dead tired, I fell asleep in a haystack. Next morning as I awoke I realized that I was separated from all my family. Seemingly hundreds of people were running around looking for toilettes, water, food or a way to get moving west. I was terrified and lost. It was here in all the confusion Father appeared. Our good Polish friend and driver of our wagon urged us on as the presence of Russian tanks was heard all around us. Our next stop was at a remote small farm owned by a local forester. The owner Mr. Novac discussed what to do. Novac suggested to remain at his place together and to outwait the war. Still east of the Oder River, our chances of making it across alive were slim. Our good Polish horseman and wagon commander Wurblewski, likely spelled wrong, insisted on living in his own quarters. A small house on a top of a hill. We stayed with our family in the forester’s home.

Situated at the bottom of a small valley. At night we heard gunfire. Did not make much of it, as it was now a common occurrence. Early next morning an exited and distraught Wurblewski knocked on our door holding his beautiful huge fur coat, his prize possession, up for us to see. A large hole in the middle of the coat. Clearly, a gun shell had smashed through the house barely missing the sleeping man. Father had to reassure him that we all are very happy that our chief navigator is still alive. On another day Russian soldiers with horse-drawn wagons showed up. They were confused and lost. They asked a Polish speaking elderly farm employee for directions. A boy about my age, possibly a relative of the farm woman was talking to the Russians. He hopped on the wagon and they departed in a hurry. Not knowing what it was about, I ran after the wagon hoping to go along for the ride. A Russian sitting on a bench facing backwards raised his gun and pointed it straight at me. Heard a click. I froze. Just stood there. He put his gun down and sternly waved pointing to the farmhouse. I ran as fast as an Olympic runner. Not certain if just another rumor. Very common under the circumstances. The boy was never seen again. Heard later that the boy led the Russians into an ambush. All were killed. German soldiers often separated from their units continued to harass the Russians behind the front lines. Some would visit our farm at night in search of food and other supplies. Few days later more Russians arrived. They ordered us out at gunpoint.

Being Brutally Resettled 1946
Being Brutally Resettled 1946

Burnt the complex down. We were once again homeless, cold and had nowhere to go. Not certain how we got to the next village intact. Our mother forever worried what may have happened to her two sons in Belgard. A city where they were boarding with friends in order to attend schools not available near Gutfelde. Her only daughter Erika was boarding with relatives in Silesia. Mother packed us up and took a train though Russian occupied territory to Belgard. The three orphans father had added to our family were still with us. The Meisner family, where both Karl and Adolf were boarding took us gladly in. But the reason for our journey was to be reunited with Karl and Adolf. They had left some time earlier to avoid the Russians advancing on Belgard. Their Odyssey is described with Karl’s report. Hope to remain in Belgard to await final outcome of the war ended when the Russian administration decided to deport us west. First to a camp in Stettin. They made us walk miles through snow-covered trails. Any luggage we could no longer carry was simply thrown away. We were then shipped in boxcars to a refugee camp in Schleswig-Holstein.

Report by Lavana Kilborn

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.

Refugees Waiting for the Last Train at Breslau
Refugees Waiting for the Last Train at Breslau

In January of 1945 everything came to an abrupt halt. Refugees started pouring in from neighboring provinces, fleeing from the encroaching Russian front. They were mostly old people, women and children. There was lots of speculation about how this all would develop, some people moved westward on their own, others stayed in the city, hoping that they may return some day. The evacuation order came in early February and trains were ready to take us to safety and by now we could hear the guns in the distance. My family hesitated, there were discussions, but finally common sense prevailed. And our little group left on the last train out; later on we learned that all Russian soldiers entered the city the following day. Our train compartment was very crowded, one toilet, a small hand basin with only cold water for all of us meant long line-ups throughout the day. Food and drink were provided for our journey. The winters in East Germany are very cold, the land covered in snow, not much for us kids to see. Twice the whistle blew, the train stopped and we were ordered to step outside and move away from the train and stand still. When the whistle blew again, we were to get back on the train immediately. These were brief episodes when Allied planes came and went quickly not interested in us at all as they had bigger fish in mind. However our last stop along the way was different, as we were now ordered not to leave the train. We were all wondering what this was all about. Soon it became apparent that Dresden, the beautiful city, had been bombed, the sky was aflame to tell the story. Later we learned that thousands of people had perished, many of them at the main train station. This was the reason for us to be rerouted a day later. Our Tante Margot survived, as they were in another part of Dresden.

Dresden - Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-Z0309-310
Dresden – Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-Z0309-310

Our little group eventually made it to Mark Brandenburg, a place so far untouched by the war. Our major problem was that we were always hungry. Us older kids left daily on food-begging trips. Thus we managed to survive. Often I went on my own. Once while crossing a forested area, I came across the body of a German officer, eyes and mouth open providing a feast to tiny creatures. Another episode was more frightening. Three German teens in uniform, not knowing that the war had ended, shot dead a Russian soldier on patrol. These kids were caught and executed in the courtyard of the farmhouse where we stayed. It was horrifying to hear those shots. Another experience stands out for me. As I was approaching a large farmhouse, the hausfrau saw me coming, yelling at me to leave or she would sic the dog on me. Scared I turned to run off, when a Russian soldier took me by the arm and motioned to follow him into the root cellar. Here the farmers kept their food. From the shelves the soldier took bread, cheese, a piece of bacon and handed me the goodies, which I put into my bag. I was out of there in no time never to come back to that place again.

Railway Station Erfurt
Railway Station Erfurt – Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

Eventually my host family was able to contact an uncle of mine in Erfurt. He and his wife took me in and my life began to normalize again. I loved the family, the school and the beautiful city. However, I often wondered where my parents and siblings might be. My mother and the two youngest brothers were finally located. In the meantime the two older brothers also arrived in Erfurt. And it was decided that Adolf and I were to join Mother in southwest Germany. The necessary papers arrived and we were on our way. The train took us close to the border and we walked the rest of the way. Two Russian border guards saw us coming and questioned us. After studying our valid papers allowing us to pass, they just tore them up. We were stunned at such injustice, after all we were 15 (Adolf) and 13 years old myself. The soldiers shooed us off, one of them pointing at his gun, in case we had any ideas of returning. We left seeking shelter behind a haystack and began to weigh our options on what to do next. Adolf wanted to return to Erfurt, but I would have none of it. I picked up my stuff carefully avoiding the guardhouse. Now a steady rain had begun. Soon I heard my brother’s footsteps behind me and I was much relieved. I don’t remember how long we walked. It seemed like a long time. By the time we got to a small railway station, we were exhausted, yet very much relieved that we were in the West. Two French border guards approached us demanding to see our papers, – no wonder, we looked like runaways. Adolf handled the situation quite well and we were allowed to board the train,

Nuernberg_Burg_Panorama_PtGUI
Nuremberg Castle – Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

In Nuremberg we found the Red Cross Refugee Camp, where we received food and shelter. As we were out of money, discussing our next move, a woman interrupted us handing Adolf a bill that would cover our train fare to Meßkirch. Several kilometers more on foot and we arrived in Rohrdorf. What a relief for all of us to join our mother and the two youngest brothers again after such a long separation!

Karl’s Report: Our Flight March 1945

Foreword

How was it possible that parents and children were going to flee from different places? Father Ernst Klopp had been ordered from our original residence in the Pomeranian county of Belgard into the Land of the Warthe to hand over expropriated Polish estates to Baltic Germans, who had been resettled primarily from Latvia. We were boarding with a family in Belgard to attend a secondary school. From there began on March 3rd, 1945 the flight into a westerly direction.

To what degree do memories committed to paper reflect the truth? This document limits itself to the presentation of direct impressions and experiences and sparsely delves into explanations. Therefore it avoids them unless absolutely necessary.

Due to the regrettable loss of a diary that I had kept since my early childhood days, most likely lost in a hay barn on the trek to the West, it is impossible for the sequence of events to be authentic.

Also subsequent inserts of military and historical value, or attempts of this nature were unproductive. The Wehrmacht reports, which one can read in the archives, and the historical works by authors based on the former – as far as they could be controlled by personal, absolutely authentic facts – lagged behind the events and even jumped ahead of them.

Images – March 1945

Memories of the Flight

On March 3rd at 6 o’clock in the evening ‘Tank Alert’ rang out in Belgard. Why did the defense and party headquarters choose the evening to evacuate the civilian population? The family Meißner-Kulmann, two women, five little girls and the Klopp brothers moved under the howling sounds of sirens and the wild perpetual ringing of our church to the designated area, where transportation facilities were supposed to be ready, which was not the case. Without any further discussions the group marched in the direction to the exit road leading to Kolberg in order to reach the coast. Halfway there we stopped in the middle of the night for shelter in the village of Leikow. Some luggage was in the handcart, on which also the children were sitting. Soon we realized that the family did not want to go farther. I was sent back the following evening to Belgard on a bicycle that I had been pushing to get a briefcase with documents belonging to one of their grown-up boys out of the house at the Schidlitz. In us grew the decision to separate from the family, who attempted to stop us by saying, “Fine Hitler boys you are!” I should mention that the march of the trek led us past familiar native places of our early childhood, which slid by in the dark night like shapeless outlines. We recognized how close the front line was by the fire in the village of Lülfitz, which was located north of the Kolberg road, which led in a westerly direction to the coast. In that direction stood also a train recognizable by the stream of sparks: Certainly the railroad line had already been cut.

I always liked to tell that early on my birthday I still got a cake – whether Frau Meißner had baked it in the simple quarters in Leikow or in her own oven in Belgard, I did not find out. March 6th was the day of separation from my room and board mother, who later had walked back to her house in Belgard with her daughters and grandchildren.

The Long Trek West
The Long Trek West

Halfway on the road to Kolberg we saw my classmate Ulrich Schulz (Uschu), with whom I had committed many a prank. He was wearing a bandage around his head. We exchanged a few words, but I have forgotten, what he had said about his injury. In the late afternoon of my birthday we arrived in Kolberg. We had entered the city without any problems. Earlier it had been declared a bastion and since then was considered (also according to army reports) surrounded. We hurried to the harbor, which we also knew very well and the seashore, because we had often traveled with the family or alone to this summer resort at the sea. There also existed relatives and a friendly family. The pictures of the German Baltic seaport of 1945 are well known through TV programs. We too saw the line-ups at the ships. We did not take long to think. We decided to march along the coastline. The great bridge at the Persante river was still intact and so we tried to get to the southern part (Maikuhle) of the city, where the friendly Pascheke family lived, who however had already fled. The city of Kolberg was already being fired at by artillery. The Soviets began the encirclement and assault of this also historically important place.

Kolberg March 1945
Kolberg March 1945

Once in a while we had a chance to travel a short distance on military vehicles. Since we had only our schoolbags filled with provisions on us, we were able to quickly climb on board. How nervous some people became, shall be demonstrated by the following example. A woman accused us of having stolen her suitcase filled with valuables. At a beach section we examined a boat that had been pulled up onto the shore as to its sea worthiness, but were quickly distracted by other things. Rides and marches changed according to the situation and opportunity. Finally we were forced to continue on land and a short time later even in an easterly direction. Thus, it happened that we saw a location twice: once on the march back and then again in the planned direction to the Oder estuary. The explanation for this is that the front lines were moving back and forth, often there were even wandering army pockets.

Lighthouse Kolberg Today
Lighthouse Kolberg Today – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

On such march in darkness and blowing snow we saw at the roadside an abandoned hearse. Since we were very tired, we simply lay down on the seats to catch a few winks. Whether it was instinct or battle noise, we left the protective shelter and went into the next village and asked the Pomeranian farmer to stay overnight. He did not want to let us into the barn saying, “You will set it on fire!” He offered us the pigsty and so we spent the remainder of the night right next to the box that housed a well-fed sow. We gave her our empty sardine cans, which she was licking and chewing all the time. When we came by the farm the next day on our way west to the Oder estuary, it was engulfed in flames. Now the farmer had lost everything! An hour later we saw the hearse. It had been totally torn to pieces by gunshot.

Only once did we get to know the Soviet air force. A ‘Rata’, an awkward looking, slow airplane, was shooting at the trek on the road leading to the West. Near us a woman lost her infant, whom she carried on her arm. We quickly looked for cover to evade further attacks. Once we had a chance to hitch a ride on a hauling truck, which pulled a huge artillery gun. At close range we could observe how the battery moved into position at dusk. We stayed nearby in order not miss a possible ride later on. Then it became clear what was going to happen: a tank attack in the immediate vicinity. I still remember the howling of the tank engines and the noise of the chains. In the flashes of the gun barrels I could watch the loading gunner, how he slid the big, heavy shell into the barrel, stopped his ears, waited for the recoil, then picked up the next shell, about three or five times. To the right in the background I saw exploding tanks, i.e. the gun towers all-aflame flew up and to the side. The remaining tanks turned and withdrew into the night. Later on I found out that night aiming devices were in existence. I also have been contemplating, as to why I can still visualize so vividly this scene. It was the unshakable calm of the gunner and steadiness of his movements: industrial work at the machine, prepared by ‘Refa’. We were not fast enough; the battery with its three or four artillery guns had disappeared during the night.

t34_76c
Russian T-34 Tank

In one of the next days and nights we stayed in a more westerly located village. I observed a group of our soldiers, who were giving to someone a lecture. One asked, “Where do you have your gun, Frenchman?” One needs to know that very many western Europeans under German occupation volunteered to be enlisted in their own units to fight against Bolshevism. The fear of being overrun from the East since the revolution in Russia was great. Almost all countries east of Germany developed into authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, Germany of course also and even more so. Also western peoples had similar ideas. Thus, French people entered the German army. The scenario makes me ask: Was it German arrogance or realistic assessment of the French fighting spirit?

Volkssturm
Old People Recruited to Fight – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

A short time later at the same spot we listened, as a battle at close range developed with the Soviet infantry. When tracer bullets were shot over our heads, we threw ourselves behind a manure pile, and we could see now close to our left and right the trails of light flashing by. The Russians were shouting “Hurrä”; in the counter offensive it was responded to with Hurra. A German soldier lost his nerves. Minutes long he was dancing with his gun in his arm from one leg onto the other. Much later, sitting in relative safety in the train, I retold my observation to another refugee. Thereupon a sergeant severely reprimanded me; one does talk about these things in such detail. The aforementioned attack therefore was repulsed. My brother and I were looking for better cover in a trench. An officer brandishing his pistol startled us and asked us to identify ourselves. He was a so-called hero-nabber (Heldenklau), whose job was to get after cowards and deserters or simply to bring the scattered bunch of his soldiers together again.

... and also Children
… but also Children

The military operations were pushing us again to the coast. Coming out of the dunes we saw an endless tapeworm of people moving west – military personnel as well as civilians, whom we joined, Soon we saw on the left the ruins of a church in the dunes. The village of Hoff lay ahead, a distance of 15 km to the eastern branch of the Oder river, the Dievenow. My grandmother had a picture of these ruins hanging in the hallway, which I had always looked at with great respect. I had spent the first two grades on my schooling in Stolpmünde. Now I saw the remainder of the church that had been destroyed by storm tides in previous centuries under such circumstances before my eyes.

We soon found out that the Russians were pushing hard directly to the coastline. Shots were coming out of the dunes aimed at the passers-by. German soldiers went into position and repulsed the attack, which would possibly have cut us off. Here is one impressive detail: A soldier was getting ready on the dune in the direction of the pine forest. An overly daring Russian fighter was hit and fell down and remained hanging in the lower branches. He wanted to get an overview of the scenario from the treetop.

I do not know why someone would throw bicycles into the sea. Anyway we got two of them out of the water, loaded our light luggage and moved ahead this way a lot faster. Near the water’s edge the sand was firm; only over the tidal inlets we had to lift our vehicles. The bikes were available to us for many more kilometers, until we caught in Neubrandenburg a train to Erfurt.

From the place, where we found the bikes, we soon reached the village of Dievenow located on either side of the arm of the Oder River, from which it got its name. At the east bank we had a major delay, because there was no bridge, but a ferry instead, which connected the ends of the old highway of the Reich I65 and which was no longer operational. The army had set up a pontoon service, which, when we arrived, was exclusively available for the troops. They consoled us civilians with the evening hours. We looked at the village – beautiful villas located near the beach like so many resorts at the coast. We went into abandoned houses in search for food. The provisions we had with us had been exhausted. Where we had stayed overnight we had begged for food or often filled our stomachs at the military field kitchens. It was awkward that we had neither a tin bowl nor a spoon with us. Once we ate out of a steel helmet, the inner lining of which we had removed. In the houses of Dievenow we found very little, at most canned fruit.

In this beautiful place I should have received my paramilitary training. They were sending the male Hitler-Youth to so-called training camps, from which they were directly transferred to the troops. During our journey I always had the draft notice readily available in my pocket, but had no intention to look around and locate the camp to report for military duty.

Finally they let us two bicyclists onto a pontoon, some of which were ferrying constantly back and forth.. Now one could already hear heavy artillery fire close by. Shells hitting the water indicated that the Soviets intentionally were going to disrupt the withdrawal movements.

Much relieved we pedaled onward in a westerly direction, needed no longer to divert our march into forests and fields, but rode on decent roads. There were also organized centers of provisions through field kitchens. Also the military operations were less noticeable in the rural areas. The city of Wollin, a day’s march from Swinemünde, was only captured on May 4th, 1945. We reached Swinemünde, the next city from Dievenow, already on March 12th, a date of horror in my memory.

Modern Swinemünde - Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Modern Swinemünde – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

We soon arrived at the small beach resort town of Misdroy, twelve km before Swinemünde on the main road to Stettin. We had more often heard the thunder of big guns from the direction of the Baltic Sea. The German navy, which not only carried the masses of refugees primarily from the East Prussia to safety, but was also actively engaged with its long range guns in support of the battle on land, and was shooting no-go areas against the enemy to safeguard endangered front lines. What we heard on March 12th, let the ground at a wide range shake and doors bang open and shut. The Americans and British had fooled the antiaircraft authorities by not flying in a straight line to the town of Swinemünde, but then for one hour intensively bombarded the relatively small town area. The bombing raid resulted in 23,000 dead. They rest on the German side on the Golm, a cemetery of an area of one square km. Swinemünde is Polish today.

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 a 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 as a result of 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 pedaling 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, i.e. through hills and valleys and into the 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 not 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.

Erfurt after a Bombing Raid
Erfurt after a Bombing Raid – Photo Credit: TLZ.de

At first we did not heed the warnings of the aerial attacks, until the 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

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.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I started reading this and got hooked. What a fascinating account of your life. You have inspired me to start a story oriented version of our tree, when time permits, not that it would compare to what you went through. I should be thankful for my quiet and boring life. I will be back another day to read the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You may have already discovered that I created a separate page for the P. and G. Klopp story. That makes sure that the story does not vanish among the older posts. I strongly recommend that you do something like that for your blog. It allows your readers to read your story in chronological order. I am happy to see that you like my blog. Feel free to write more comments in the future. After all we have a common goal: to write the history of our families. Thank so much for taking the time!

      Like

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