My father, Dr. Otto Bruck, was a witness to the rise of National Socialism from the window of his dental office in Tiegenhof, located at Markstrasse 8, later renamed “Adolf Hitler Strasse 8.” Readers will recall my father’s 1934 picture of the office building where be lived and worked, festooned with Nazi bunting and flagging. (Figure 1) But, already, the previous year, specifically, on May 1, 1933, my father photographed a regiment of “Brownshirts,” marching down Schlosserstrasse, carrying Nazi flags, framed by the “Kreishaus” (courthouse) on one side, the previously discussed Dutch-style timbered home on the other, and buildings draped with Nazi flags. (Figure 2)
Again, a year later to the day, on May 1, 1934, my father documented a parade of veterans and Brownshirts following the same path down Schlosserstrasse led by Stahlhalm (“Steel Helmet”) members, a veterans organization that arose after the German defeat of WWI. It was eventually in 1934 that members of the Stahlhalm were incorporated into the Sturmabteilung or “SA,” the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. Interestingly, the march this particular year had an almost “festive” atmosphere to it as a carriage with an oversized Stobbe Machandel bottle was paraded down the street; Machandel or elderberry whiskey was originally produced in Tiegenhof by the firm of Peter Stobbe. (Figure 3)
The following year, on April 5, 1935, Field Marshall Hermann Göring visited and participated in the march through Tiegenhof. (Figure 4) Once again, my father was a witness to a historic event that ultimately would lead to a cataclysmic genocide. The day prior, on April 4, 1935, Hermann Göring had visited Danzig in an attempt to influence the April 7th parliamentary elections in favor of Nazi candidates. The visit to Tiegenhof the next day was merely an extension of this campaign to influence the Free State’s parliamentary elections. In the photos that my father took on April 5th there can be seen a banner which in German reads “Danzig ist Deutsch wenn es nationalsozialistisch ist,” translated as “Danzig is German when it is National Socialist.” It appears that along with everyday citizens of Tiegenhof and surrounding communities, members of the Hitler Youth, known in German as Hitler-Jugend, also lined the street in large number. (Figure 5)
Throughout his life, my father, Otto Bruck, was an active sportsman, with his greatest passion being tennis. He played actively as a youth in Ratibor, and, after moving to Berlin, to begin his dental studies, he joined the “E. V. B. Schwarz-Weiss” tennis club in Berlin-Schoeneberg (a future Blog post will deal with an interesting piece of tennis memorabilia my father saved from his time as a member of this club). After receiving his dental diploma in 1930, my father moved to Danzig where he apprenticed as a dentist in Danzig and a few other places in the Free State of Danzig. Finally, in April 1932, my father moved to Tiegenhof to establish his own dental practice. Throughout this period, until his departure from Tiegenhof in mid-1937, my father played tennis competitively. My father’s remaining personal effects include newspaper clippings and trophies attesting to his accomplishments on the tennis court.
By November 1932, my father had applied for and met the physical qualifications for acceptance to the “V.F.B. Tiegenhof, Baltischer Sportverband (Baltic Sports Federation).” (Figure 1) It appears the members socialized, recreated, and met regularly at a place called the “Club Ruschau” in Petershagen (today: Zelichowo, Poland), just outside Tiegenhof (today: Nowy Dwor Gdanski, Poland); my father took numerous photos there. (Figures 2, 3) Judging from the pictures, it was located along the Tiege River (today: Tuga).
Since I can personally attest to the fact that many buildings from the German period still exist today in Nowy Dwor Gdanski, one day I asked Marek Opitz, Director of the “Muzeum Zulawskie” and President of the “Klub Nowodworski,” whether he knew about the Club Ruschau and the buildings that once formed the Club. Whereas Marek knew what purpose and which buildings remained from the German period, until he examined my father’s photos of the Club Ruschau, he had not known of its existence. It was logical to conclude, given the widespread destruction that was wrought on Tiegenhof and Petershagen towards the end of WWII, that all remaining traces of the Club Ruschau had been erased. Therefore, I expected nothing more to come from this avenue of investigation.
Several weeks passed, when much to my surprise, Marek contacted me to tell me he had re-located one of the buildings that had comprised the Club Ruschau, now privately-owned; he included aerial and ground-level pictures of the property and structure as it appears today, and sure-enough, its location was along the Tiege River. Marek indicated his intention to take my wife and me to visit the location during our upcoming visit. And, indeed, in May 2012, Marek arranged with the current property-owner to give us a tour of the structure and land that had once made up the Club Ruschau. Given all the time my father spent here, augmented by the fact that my father’s days in Tiegenhof were unquestionably the happiest in his life, it thrilled me beyond measure to walk, if only for a short time, in the same place he’d trodden and enter the same door and touch the same doorknob he’d handled 75 years earlier. (Figure 4) This was literally like traveling by time-machine.
Members of the Club Ruschau included some of my father’s closest network of friends, specifically, the President, Dr. Schumanski, and Vice-President, Dr. H. Holst, as well as companions recognizable in various photos as Herbert Kloss and Kastret Romanowski. (Figure 5) Again, using the membership list in the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten,” I attempted to contact people with similar surnames, but, unlike the success I garnered with descendants of Idschi and Suse Epp, I have to date been unable to learn the fate of any of these people. Peter and Lolo Lau confirmed that Dr. Holst moved to Danzig from Tiegenhof, and was a teacher in Lolo’s gymnasium. Given the political realities of the 1930’s and what little my father told me about his social circle of friends from Tiegenhof, it is safe to assume that those friends that were not themselves Jewish gradually or abruptly distanced themselves from my father in the interest of self-preservation.
I have already informed the reader that one particularly useful item among my father’s remaining personal effects is his “1932 Pocket Calendar” in which he recorded the anniversaries and birthdays associated with family, friends and acquaintances, and in a few instances even noted the names and phone numbers of business associates. The Pocket Calendar itself was for a business called “Rudolf Witt,” located in Danzig on what was then “Langgasse 48-49,” which sold fine paper and gift articles. (Figure 1)
Almost all the names are written in Sutterlin, the bizarre saw-tooth script previously discussed that was widely used in Prussia between 1915 and 1941; towards the front of the Pocket Calendar there are even a few lines of “shorthand,” or “stenography,” which I am still trying to decode. With the help of German relatives, I was able to decipher all the names, although in a few instances these reveal only given names. I became interested in learning about my father’s circle of friends and acquaintances and determining whether I could match up photos with each of the names, or find other evidence of how they might have interacted with my father. I was remarkably successful in this endeavor.
In his 1932 Pocket Calendar, my father recorded names and names by specific dates, along with the names and phone numbers of a few friends and business associates. Below are scans of the pages with the names and events shown, my interpretation as to who or what is recorded, and pictures, where available of the people in question.
DATES AND NAMES
January 13th, “Linchen Regehr” (Figure 2). Linchen Regehr was the wife of Heinrich “Heinz” Regehr, Director of the Deutsches Bank in Tiegenhof.
February 17th, “Gerhard Hoppe Geb.(=Geburtstag (birthday))” (Figure 3). February 17th was the birthday of Gerhard Hoppe, dentist and good friend of my father living in Neuteich, Free State of Danzig. (Figure 4)
February 19th, “Kurt Lau Geb.” (Figure 3) February 19, 1892 was the birthday of Kurt Lau, my father’s good friend and father of Juergen “Peter” Lau to which an entire Blog post has already been devoted. (Figure 5)
March 3rd, “Mutter Geb. (mother’s birthday)” (Figure 6) Else Bruck, née Berliner was my father’s mother born on March 3, 1873 in Ratibor, Germany. (Figure 7)
March 8th, “Heinz Geb.” (Figure 6) March 8, 1905 was the birthday of one of my father’s first cousins, Heinz Loewenstein, born in Danzig and living there while my father lived in Tiegenhof. (Figure 8)
March 28th, “Vater (father)” (Figure 9) Felix Bruck, born on March 28, 1864 in Ratibor, Germany, was my father’s father. (Figure 10)
April 9th, “nach Tiegenhof gekommen” (Figure 11) April 9, 1932 is the day my father first drove to Tiegenhof to begin his career there as a dentist.
April 16th, “Geburstag” (Figure 11) My father himself was born on April 16, 1907 in Ratibor, Germany.
April 20th, “Dr. Kurt Schlenger” (Figure 12) April 20, 1909 was the birthday of Dr. Kurt Schlenger, one of the sons of Otto Schlenger, owner & operator of Tiegenhof’s “Dampfmahlmuhle.” Dr. Schlenger was a musician & musicologist who professionally arranged many classical pieces of music, mostly for wind instruments. Otto Schlenger’s grand-daughter scanned a page from her grandfather’s address book (Figure 13), showing that Kurt lived in Koenigsberg, East Prussia (today: Kaliningrad, Russia). My third cousin uncovered Kurt Schlenger’s Ph.D. dissertation which included a curriculum vitae (Figure 14), translated as: “I, Kurt Hans Otto Schlenger, was born in Tiegenhof on 20 April 1909 as son of the mill owners Otto Schlenger and his wife Martha born Ruhnau.” A member of the Schlenger family even provided me a picture of Dr. Kurt Schlenger (Figure 15).
April 20th, “Susanne” (Figure 12) My father’s sister, Susanne Mueller, née Bruck, was born on April 20, 1904 in Ratibor, Germany and perished in Auschwitz in 1942. (Figure 16) An entire blog post will be devoted to her in the future.
May 31st, “Idschi Epp Geb.” (Figure 17) May 31, 1893 was the birthday of my father’s good friend, Idschi Epp. (Figure 18)
June 10th, “Suschen” (Figure 19) Suse Epp, sister of Idschi Epp, was born on June 10, 1877, and was also a friend of my father. (Figure 20)
June 10th, “Werner Meifert” (Figure 19) According to Danzig Address Books, Werner was a “Gerichtsreferent” (Court Speaker), later a “Gerichtsassessor” (Court Assessor), although after 1936 he is no longer listed. Likely a Jewish friend of my father who fled or was killed.
June 12th, “Hanni” (Figure 19) Hanni Wagner was the sister or possible wife of father’s once-good friend, Hans “Mochum” Wagner, and June 12th was likely her birthday. (Figure 21)
June 13th, “Dicken und Hedsch Schlenger” (Figure 19) Alfred & Hedwig “Hedsch” Schlenger were owners of Tiegenhof’s “Dampfmahlmuehle,” and June 13th was Hedsch’s birthday. (Figure 22)
June 23rd, “Todestag v. Vater (death of father)” (Figure 23) My father’s father, Felix Bruck, died on June 23, 1927 in Berlin (Felix Bruck’s Death Certificate). (Figure 24)
July 26th, “Heinz Stumer” (Figure 25) According to 1931 & 1933 Danzig Address Books, Herr Stumer was a “Zahnarzt” or dentist, and likely a colleague and/or friend of my father. (Figure 26)
August 3rd, “Fr. Jeglin” (Figure 27) Possibly the wife of Oscar Jeglin, owner of a drugstore in Tiegenhof with whom my father may have had professional dealings.
August 9th, “Herr Wiebe” (Figure 27) Unclear who this refers to.
August 10th, “Erwin Wann” (Figure 27) Unclear who this refers to.
September 15th, “Dr. Behrendt” (Figure 30) This person, who appears in a 1943 Tiegenhof Address Book, was likely one of my father’s professional colleagues. (Figure 31)
September 26th, “Rolfi Steinbach” (Figure 32) Unclear who this refers to.
November 18th, “Erika Geb.” (Figure 33) The birthday of one of my father’s girlfriends. (Figure 34)
December 9th, “Truden!” (Figure 35) Likely the birthday of Trudchen Wagner, one of father’s girlfriends and sister of Hans Wagner. (Figure 36)
December 23rd, “Kathi Lau Geb.” (Figure 37) December 23, 1892 was the birthday of Kathi Lau, wife of Kurt Lau and mother of Peter Lau. (Figure 38)
ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS (“Anchriften und Fernsprecher”)
“Fa. M. Broh 22636” (Figure 39) Business was a “Eisengrosshandlung,” a firm involved in selling wholesale goods for the manufacture of homes. Unclear what type of relationship father had to this firm. (Figure 40)
“Bertram 27408” (Figure 39) Danzig Phone Directories from the 1930’s list an individual by the name of “Fritz Bertram,” identified as a “Zahnarzt” or dentist who manufactured bridges and dentures. (Figures 41-42)
“Hoppe-Neuteich 47” (Figure 39) Dr. Gerhard Hoppe was a good friend of my father and a dentist in Neuteich, Free State of Danzig, located SSW of Tiegenhof. (Figures 4 & 43)
As is evident from the above, I’ve successfully been able to decipher most of the people and events recorded by my father in his Pocket Calendar. Being a visual person, I also set out to find pictures of as many of these people as possible, using either my father’s photos or ones sent to me by descendants of my father’s friends and acquaintances; additionally, using Danzig Address Books and Phone Directories from the 1930’s, I was able to identify business colleagues with whom my father dealt and, in one instance, even correlate a picture with one of these people. It goes without saying that without my father’s surviving pictures, as well as the network of former Tiegenhof residents and descendants who subscribed to the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten,” very little of this type of reconstruction would have been possible. The network of people with whom my father interacted, however, ranged beyond Tiegenhof to include Danzig, and included many business people in both communities.
In one of my previous Blog posts, I discussed “the Schlummermutter,” a woman my father talked about in an almost reverential and maternal tone whenever her name came up. I explained to the reader that while I was eventually able to learn her true identity, “Frau Grete Gramatzki,” I have been stymied in learning more about her life before moving to Tiegenhof, although I find telltale traces that may relate to her and someone who may have been her husband. Two other women my father often mentioned from his time in Tiegenhof were only ever known to me by their first names, “Idschi” and “Suse.” They too were close friends and seemingly rented accommodations in the same building where my father had his apartment and dental practice, but were otherwise enigmatic figures. My reliable “go-to” source, Peter Lau, could not provide clarification as to who these ladies were, although both were known to Peter. I came to believe they were merely neighbors my father had befriended.
Confronted with this dilemma, I set myself to again carefully studying my father’s few remaining documents. Recognizing that most of the writing in my father’s 1932 Pocket Calendar was in Sütterlin, the bizarre saw-tooth script taught in Prussian schools from roughly 1915 until 1941, I nonetheless was eventually able to recognize that Idschi’s surname was “Epp,” and that her birthday fell on May 31st. Similarly, I found in my father’s Pocket Calendar a listing for a “Suschen” under June 10th, although no surname was provided in this instance.
As in my previous attempts to learn more about the persons with whom my father may have interacted during his five years in Tiegenhof, I again consulted the index in the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten,” this time looking for people with the surname “Epp.” I came across four individuals, one living in Canada and three in Germany. I wrote to all four individuals, enclosing relevant copies of my father’s photos and asking whether they recognized anyone. Typically, this included a photo of the office building where my father had had his dental practice, and a group picture of the Schlummermutter, “Idschi,” “Suse,” and my father. (Figure 1)
The first three responses were negative, so I began to wonder whether I would ever learn more about Idschi Epp and Suse. But, finally, a response to the last of my letters arrived on November 27, 2012, from Angelika Schuetze, living in Lubeck, Germany. Angelika responded on behalf of her mother, Ms. Rita Schuetze, née Epp (born June 1, 1920), in words that will forever resonate with me, “. . .we think we are the people you’ve been looking for.” She revealed that “Suse (Susanna)” and “Ida (Idschi)” were her great-aunts, sisters who’d never married, and, respectively, the oldest and youngest sisters born 16 years apart; Suse was born in 1877, coincidentally, on June 10th as noted in my father’s Pocket Calendar, and Idschi in 1893, on May 31st, again as indicated in my father’s Pocket Calendar. The difference in age and appearance explains why it never occurred to me they might be sisters. Ms. Rita Schuetze (Figure 2), to whom I’d initially written, is the daughter of Suse and Idschi’s brother, Gerhard Epp, about whom much more will be said below.
Angelika informed me that, sadly, her mother suffers from dementia, and could provide no historical information. The information she did include in her correspondence came from Rita Schuetze’s half-brother, Hans Joachim (“Hajo”) Wiebe (Figure 3), twelve years her junior who is blessed with an excellent memory.
Hajo explained to Angelika Schuetze that the coffee & confectionary shop seen in my father’s 1934 photograph, named “Johannes Wiebe,” was actually owned and managed by Idschi Epp and, possibly, also her sister Suse; the Wiebe and Epp families are related by marriage. The sisters eventually purchased the building once owned by Frau Grete Gramatzki where the business was located. In the 1943 Tiegenhof phone directory, discussed earlier, there is a listing for “Ida Epp” at “Adolf Hitler Strasse 8,” formerly Marktstrasse 8, where my father’s office and residence were located. Also, in the book entitled “Tiegenhof und der Kreis Grosses Werder in Bildern” by Gunter Jeglin, businesses in existence ca. 1935 are indexed, and there is a listing for a “Kaffee und Teehandlung” owned by Ida Epp. It appears that Idschi not only ran a coffee and tea shop, but also sold liqueur and other groceries from this location.
Angelika went on to say that her uncle, Hajo Wiebe, remembered that one of the neighbors of the confectionary store owned by Idschi and Suse Epp was a “dentist,” and that perhaps my father had been his assistant or friend. Peter Lau had also once mentioned that my father had apprenticed with a “dentist” by the name of Dr. Gillmann, when he first arrived in Tiegenhof. Curious as to this convergence in memories, I again turned to the 1943 Tiegenhof Phone Directory looking for a nearby “dentist” by this name, and, indeed, at Adolf Hitler Strasse 9, that’s to say, in the building adjacent where my father’s practice was located, there worked a Dr. Georg Gillman.
It’s worth noting that in Germany, until 1952, “dentist” was an expression for a non-academic technician, what is today referred to as “Zahntechniker.” Historically, the technician has its origins in the Middle Ages and developed from the position of “barber-surgeon”; in former times, “dentists” primarily extracted abscessed teeth after administering alcohol to a patient. But, because so many patients died due to bleeding, there arose a need for academically-trained physicians, i.e., “Zahnarzt.” In contrast to Dr. Gillmann, my father was a “Zahnarzt.” Nowadays, the “Zahntechniker” produces bridges and dentures.
Angelika Schuetze went on to relate that as the Russians were approaching Tiegenhof in 1945, Idschi and Suse escaped by ship to Denmark along with thousands of other people. They lived there in prison-like conditions, and that’s where Suse eventually passed away in 1948, at the age of 71. Idschi eventually went to live in Munich with her nephew, Rupprecht Braun, and died there in 1975. Angelika barely remembers her great-aunt but was told by her mother Rita that Idschi was a woman of extraordinary charm.
Among the photos of Idschi I had initially sent to Angelika’s mother was one Idschi sent my father after they had reunited in Munich in the early 1960’s (Figure 4). Interestingly, Angelika recognized her great-grandmother in a framed photo hanging behind her great-aunt, a woman I eventually learned was Susanna Klaassen. Angelika asked me several questions about some of the pictures I had sent, so this provided an opportunity to continue our dialogue. Following receipt of the initial letter from Angelika, I sent her copies of all my father’s snapshots showing Idschi and Suse, along with any identifying information.
Eventually, I mentioned that I was planning on traveling to Germany in 2013, and wondered whether it might be possible to visit her in Lubeck and meet and talk with her uncle Hajo about his memories of Tiegenhof. Angelika responded that she and her uncle were very amenable to this idea. So, eventually, in early June 2013, I visited Angelika Schuetze in Lubeck, Germany, and met her along her mother Rita Schuetze, her uncle Hajo Wiebe and his partner, and Angelika’s daughter, Paula. (Figure 5)
In anticipation of this meeting, I had made copies of all my father’s pictures of Tiegenhof and East and West Prussia for easy viewing. Because of his outstanding memory, Hajo Wiebe recognized many of the people and places my father had photographed. He recognized his step-father, Gerhard Epp, and Gerhard’s first wife, Margarete Epp, née Klaassen, the parents of Rita Schuetze. (Figure 6)
Naturally, he also recognized Suse and Idschi Epp, siblings of Gerhard Epp, as well as another of their sisters, Johanna Margaretha (“Grete”) and her husband, Johannes Harder. I mentioned earlier that after their escape from Tiegenhof, Suse and Idschi went to Denmark, where Suse died in 1948; after WWII, Idschi went to live with her sister Anna’s son, Rupprecht Braun. Notably, Hajo even recognized this Rupprecht in a picture that included him with Suse, Idschi, and Grete Gramatzki. (Figure 7)
A few of my father’s pictures showed a very large Great Dane, an apparently iconic animal in family history that was named “Ajax,” seen in Figure 6. During our visit, Angelika showed me some of her mother’s photo albums, and, remarkably, they include copies of the very same photos my father had taken in Stutthof, (today: Sztutowo, Poland), a place more notoriously known as the site of a Nazi concentration camp from which no prisoners ever escaped because marshy conditions prevented tunneling out. In any case, I can only surmise my father was invited to a family gathering at Gerhard Epp’s home, and shared pictures he had taken with Idschi and Suse following the event.
As an aside, Hajo Wiebe was the third person to recognize and confirm that the “Schlummermutter’s” real name was indeed “Frau Grete Gramatzki.” As with others, she was a very recognizable personage in Tiegenhof. Hajo too thinks that Frau Gramatzki died between 1938 and 1940, as Hans Erich Mueller had remembered.
While not specifically relevant to my father’s family history, Hajo Wiebe shared some recollections of his step-father, Gerhard Epp, and half-sister, Rita Schuetze. Gerhard met his first wife Margarete Epp, née Klaassen, in Russia prior to the 1917 Revolution. At the time, Gerhard sold Mercedes cars to Russians, but after 1917, this became too dangerous, so the family moved to Stutthof. There, he founded and operated an engineering workshop, where among other things, he provided electricity for the village and serviced agricultural equipment; interestingly, Gerhard was reputed to also have been a major smuggler of goods between the Free State of Danzig and Germany. Hajo told me that while the Epp family home no longer exists, some of the outlying buildings associated with Gerhard’s business survive to this day.
Gerhard Epp’s first wife died in 1939 at age 44, and Rita was their only child. As Rita’s mother was dying, she wanted her daughter close to her, so Rita attended the “gymnasium,” or high school, in Tiegenhof, and passed her “abitur” or university-qualifying examination there. Hajo Wiebe started high school in Tiegenhof in 1941, but lived in Stutthof, so his daily trip took more than an hour-and-a-half each way.
Of particular historical interest is the role that Gerhard and Rita played in helping Prussian citizens and German soldiers escape towards the end of WWII as the Russians were encircling Stutthof. Danzig to the west and Elbing (today: Elblag, Poland) to the south had already been cutoff, so the only way Germans could still flee the area was to make their way across the frozen “Frisches Haff,” or Vistula Lagoon, to a narrow, sandy spit (Vistula Spit); here, they could be picked up by German boats cruising the Baltic Sea looking for fleeing Germans, then taken first to the Hel Peninsula and eventually to Germany. Using Gerhard’s mechanical expertise, he and Rita drove all around the area south of Stutthof destroying the flood control dams to inundate the naturally marshy area and slow the advance of the Russians, allowing Germans an opportunity to take flight. However, even with the area flooded, travel across the Vistula Lagoon was fraught with danger as Russian bombers were always strafing escaping Germans who stood out against the frozen landscape. The exact date of Gerhard and Rita’s own get-away on one of the last German ships leaving from the Vistula Spit is recorded in family annals as May 6, 1945.
Among the photos included in my father’s albums from his time living in Tiegenhof are many of an unnamed man who at one time was clearly a dear friend of my father (Figure 1). As opposed to the frequent mentions of the revered Schlummermutter (discussed in my previous Blog post) when I was growing up, there was nary a mention of this once-close friend. However, my father often mentioned that by the time he left Tiegenhof in 1937, most of his former friends and acquaintances no longer spoke to him nor frequented his dental practice. In retrospect, I can only conclude that this former friend fell into the category of people who no longer acknowledged my father’s existence during the era of the National Socialists.
Clearly, my father felt no need to caption the numerous pictures with this friend, so I had absolutely no clues to go on when I began to investigate this man’s identity. Again, my initial “go-to” source was Peter Lau, who as I’ve previously discussed grew up in Tiegenhof between roughly age 5 and age 15. He immediately recognized my father’s friend as “Mochum Wagner.” Interestingly, I eventually came to find or was given photographs of Mochum Wagner that spanned almost his entire life from childhood to soldier in the German Army.
Peter Lau was able to tell me a few things about Mochum Wagner and his family, some of which I’ve independently been able to confirm. Peter told me that Mochum was the son a chimney sweep. In German, a chimney sweep is called “Schornsteinfeger.” In my first Blog post, I mentioned a book on Tiegenhof, entitled “Tiegenhof und der Kreis Grosses Werder in Bildern” by Gunter Jeglin, where a listing of businesses in existence ca. 1935 can be found. Under the listings for “Schornsteinfegermeister,” there is indeed one for a “J. Wagner.”
Peter also mentioned that Mochum Wagner had been inseparable friends with Langer Hannemann, son of the lawyer who readers may recall occupied office space in the same building where my father had his dental practice. Peter also conveniently shared one of the few remaining photos from his father’s collection of Tiegenhof showing this Langer Hannemann, a man reputed to be 1.95m. tall (6’4”); Gunter Jeglin; an unknown man; and, finally, Mochum Wagner (Figure 2).
In my father’s photos of Mochum Wagner, he is clearly seen to be extremely fit. Peter told me that his father, Kurt Lau, traveled to Berlin with Mochum Wagner and a few other young people from Tiegenhof to see Jesse Owens participate in the 1936 Olympics. Peter recalled that his father took pictures of this trip using his Leica camera, photos which regrettably have not survived.
Peter remembered that one of my father’s many girlfriends was Mochum Wagner’s sister, Trudchen Wagner (Figure 3), and, indeed, in my father’s “1932 Pocket Calendar,” previously discussed, next to date December 5th my father wrote “Truden!” While not specifically captioned, there are several photos of Mochum Wagner and my father with their respective girlfriends, and one is clearly a woman seen in other photographs who appears to be Mochum’s sister.
Peter recalled that Mochum Wagner was a Lieutenant in an infantry division of the German Army, and was killed early on during WWII. Ironically, Langer Hannemann, Mochum Wagner’s good friend who was a banker in Berlin, went MIA during WWII and was presumed also to have died during the war.
I mentioned at the outset that I was able to locate photographs of Mochum Wagner from his time as a young boy to his time in the German Army, and it is worth explaining to the reader how this came to happen. In the aforementioned Gunter Jeglin book, I had the good fortune to find two photographs of “Hans ‘Mochum’ Wagner,” as he was in fact known. A 1922 class photo shows him as a lad of perhaps 10 to 12 years of age (Figure 4).
Then, in a 1938 photo, after my father had already left Tiegenhof, Mochum Wagner is standing among a group of children born between 1931-32 and identified as a compulsory education (i.e., “Volksschule”) teacher (Figure 5).
As in prior posts, I must again digress to set the stage for explaining how I obtained photos of Mochum Wagner in his German Army uniform. I’ve previously mentioned that my father’s 1932 Pocket Calendar contained a list of names of family, friends and acquaintances next to dates that in most cases appear to coincide with anniversaries and birthdays. Among the surnames that were listed were “Schlenger”; “Dr. Kurt Schlenger” was noted by date April 20th, and “Dicken & Hedsch Schlenger” were recorded by date June 13th. Curious as to whether the dates were significant, I again pulled out the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten” and wrote to various people in the index whose maiden or surname was “Schlenger.” One lady I wrote to on September 13, 2013 was Ms. Beate Lohff, née Schlenger, who responded a short ten days later. As with many people to whom I have written “cold” letters over the years, Ms. Lohff was exceptionally surprised to receive my correspondence. Thus began an extremely productive exchange of information.
Ms. Lohff explained the June 13th date noted in my father’s Pocket Calendar for “Hedsch Schlenger” corresponded with the day that her grandmother, Hedwig Schlenger, née Fenger, was born; she was married to Alfred Schlenger, son of Otto “Opa” Schlenger, owner of the “Dampfmahlmuehle Tiegenhof” (i.e., steam-operated flour mill). Incidentally, Rudi Schlenger, Peter Lau’s good friend, was Alfred Schlenger’s nephew, son of Alfred’s brother Franz Schlenger. And, the aforementioned Kurt Schlenger was the third of Otto Schlenger’s three sons, a musician and musicologist. In any case, in her initial email, Ms. Lohff included a picture of Alfred and Hedsch Schlenger standing on the steps of the flour mill (Figure 6).
Eventually, Ms. Lohff would go through her grandmother’s collection of photos, and send me two unexpected pictures. The first, taken in 1943, showed Peter Lau’s father, Kurt Lau, with Hedsch Schlenger, and two other named but unknown men, “Wilfried” and “Alfred Koenig.” The second, taken in 1942 in Steegen, part of Danzig, was of Mochum Wagner, in his German Army uniform, likely with his sister Hanni Wagner, and, again, Alfred Schlenger (Figure 7). Here was the actual proof of Peter Lau’s recollection that Mochum Wagner, not surprisingly, was in the German Army during WWII. More remarkable is that through a careful step-by-step process, I was able to trace Mochum Wagner’s life in Tiegenhof from his time in grade school to his eventual life in the German Army that led to his untimely death.
In the next Blog post, I will trace two more of my father’s friends from his time in Tiegenhof.
There was a twenty-two year age difference between my parents, and, on account of this generational divide, my father spoke only infrequently about his life before World War II. For all practical purposes, my father’s time before the war was, for him, another lifetime—a shadow of the distant past—particularly in light of the tragic events that had intervened. Still, during my childhood, on those rare occasions when the topic came up and my father pulled out his photo albums, he spoke both fondly and wistfully of his time living in Tiegenhof in the Free State of Danzig (Polish: Gdansk). One individual he spoke about in a particularly reverential tone was a very large woman he only ever referred to as “the Schlummermutter” (Figure 1). For most of my life, I didn’t know her real name, nor the significance of her sobriquet; as a child, I never thought to ask.
Given the particularly close bond “the Schlummermutter” and my father shared, as evidenced in my father’s pictures, I was anxious to learn her true identity. I asked Peter Lau about “the Schlummermutter.” Naturally, he remembered her, as she was a larger-than-life figure in Tiegenhof, literally and figuratively. He explained that she owned the building where my father had his dental practice. Whereas I initially thought the Schlummermutter’s nickname might be a pejorative reference to her girth, perhaps a tendency to nod off during the day, when I eventually learned she was the proprietor of the building, the translation I’d fleetingly come across of “landlady” seemed apt.
Peter Lau could not initially remember the Schlummermutter’s true identity but thought it was “Dicke Grete,” a name I mistakenly transposed as “Grete Dicke.” Given that the surname “Dicke” and its variants (i.e., Dyck, Dick, Dueck) are fairly common surnames for German Mennonites formerly living in the Zulawy region, perhaps my transposition was not so far-fetched. Fortuitously, this error lead me to eventually uncovering the Schlummermutter’s actual identity.
Using the index of names in the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten,” the annual periodical written for former German residents of Tiegenhof and their descendants, in September 2012, I wrote letters to all people with the surname “Dicke” and its variants. None of the people who responded recognized the Schlummermutter, or “Grete Dicke” as I’d begun to refer to her. However, one person I had written to was a Marianne Harder, née Dyck. About two weeks went by before her son, Thomas Harder, emailed me to tell me that his mother had passed away in April 2011, and that her brother, Hans-Joachim Dyck, was also no longer alive. However, Thomas Harder’s aunt, Helga Dyck, who had gone to school in Tiegenhof and was still alive, suggested I contact Mr. Hans Erich Mueller, a gentleman almost 90 years of age at the time with roots in Tiegenhof, with my questions about the Schlummermutter.
So, in early October 2012, I contacted Mr. Mueller, living in an old-age home in Jesteberg, Germany. Towards the end of that same month, Mr. Mueller eloquently responded in his long unused English. He clearly recalled the Schlummermutter and said she had been well-known in Tiegenhof. He patiently explained my error, that I had interpreted “Dicke Grete” as a transposition of the name “Grete Dicke.” As German readers will realize, “dicke” translates to “fat,” and “Dicke Grete” (i.e., “fat Grete”) obviously described the Schlummermutter’s physique. Mr. Mueller told me her real name was “Grete Gramatzki.”. He mentioned that she was reputed to have weighed more than 200 kilos, that’s to say over 400 pounds, a situation that caused her to have the doors and stairs of her home widened. Mr. Mueller confirmed that she leased rooms in a house on Marktstrasse. He thought she had passed away in either 1939 or 1940. One of the last pictures of Grete Gramatzki, perhaps mailed to my father after he had already left Tiegenhof in 1937, appears to show the after-effects of a stroke she suffered, so the timing of her death seems plausible.
In discussing with my still-living mother what I had learned about “the Schlummermutter,” as she will always affectionately be known to both of us, my mother showed me a ring that Grete Gramatzki had given to my father when he left Tiegenhof in 1937, that had apparently once belonged to her husband (Figure 2). The accompanying story passed down is that the Schlummermutter’s husband had been a Baron, suggesting her name might actually have been “Grete von Gramatzki.” The signet ring given to my father would seem to corroborate the likelihood that Grete Gramatzki’s husband was indeed a Baron.
Since this database includes birth, marriage and death records from a large swath of Prussia, including the nearby German cities formerly known as Danzig and Koenisgberg, I did a search for “von Gramatzki.” I came across a gentleman, named “August Archibald von Gramatzki” born in 1837 who died in May 1913 in Danzig (August Archibald von Gramatzki Death Certificate (May 23, 1913)), within the time period I am seeking, who coincidentally was married to a “Margarethe (presumably Grete) Clara von Gramatzki, née Mönch” born January 7, 1871 (August Archibald von Gramatzki Marriage Certificate (April 28, 1897)), seemingly about the Schlummermutter’s age. By all measures, this would have seemed a perfect fit, since this Archibald von Gramtzki was a Baron with long-standing connections to nearby-Danzig, first as the District Administrator (“Landrat“) for “Kreis Danzig-Land” from 1867 to 1887, and, after it was subdivided, for “Kreis Danziger Niederung,” from 1887-1895. The only thing that belies this conclusion is that in 1937, the year my father left Tiegenhof for good, on June 13th specifically, a birthday party was held in the Schlummermutter’s honor. So what to make of this disconnect remains open to debate, but exemplifies the frustrations one sometimes encounters in doing forensic genealogy.
There are other telltale signs of Gramatzki in Tiegenhof and Allenstein (today: Olsztyn, Poland) that may relate to Ms. Grete Gramatzki but the verdict on this also remains open. Marek Opitz, Director of the Muzeum Zulawskie, sent me a digital copy of a 1910 Address Book from Tiegenhof, that includes a listing for a Dr. Erich Gramatzki, located at Vorhofstrasse 43, today ulica Sikorskiego. What ancestral relationship this doctor may have had with Grete Gramatzki, if any, remains lost in time. A broader search of the name “Grete Gramatzki” on ancestry.com revealed someone of that name, living in Allenstein, listed in a 1938 Phone Directory. The distance between Tiegenhof and Allenstein was only 130 km, roughly 80 miles. It does not seem unreasonable given the Schlummermutter’s large size that she would have experienced health issues, as previously mentioned, a situation which may better have been treated in Allenstein. Still, all of this is mere speculation, and I have no way to know whether the Grete Gramatzki living in Allenstein in 1938 is the Schlummermutter.
In the following blog post, I will discuss what I have been able to learn about a man who at one time was clearly a close friend of my father’s.
After my wife and I returned from our first visit to Nowy Dwor Gdanski (NDG) in September 2011, I was recounting the highlights of our trip to my now 87-year old mother. She was particularly curious how Tiegenhof, and the town where my father was born, Ratibor (today: Raciborz, Poland), which we’d also visited, look today, and whether I had been able to recognize any of the places my father had photographed; as with me, my father had spoken fondly to my mother of his years in Tiegenhof.
It was during this conversation that my mother reminded me that my father’s good friends, Juergen “Peter” Lau and his wife Hannelore “Lolo” Lau, were still alive, then-living in Oberhausen, Germany; my mother explained that Peter Lau had spent part of his childhood in Tiegenhof. Having by this time scanned my father’s entire photo collection and having thoroughly studied them for any identifiable landmarks or captions, I was extremely curious to speak with someone who might recognize some of the unidentified people in the pictures, particularly those from Tiegenhof. Reminded of Peter Lau’s childhood connection to this place, I immediately contacted him, first by phone and, subsequently, by mail. I asked him what he remembered of Tiegenhof, about my father, about some of the people and places that featured prominently in my father’s photos, as well as his own family’s connection to the town. In passing, I mentioned that my wife and I were planning another trip to NDG in 2012 at the Muzeum Zulawskie’s invitation.
Some weeks later, I received a very gracious reply from Peter and his wife, detailing his family’s association with East Prussia and identifying on an enclosed map various towns he talked about. Peter briefly explained how his parents had wound up in Tiegenhof and how they became life-long friends with my father, and told me he had lived in Tiegenhof from about age 5 to age 15. Since I’d mentioned my interest in having Peter look through my father’s pictures, he suggested my wife and I incorporate a visit to Oberhausen the following year on our way to NDG so we could meet in person, he could peruse my father’s photos, and we could discuss his memories of Tiegenhof. Given Peter’s advanced age, he was 88 at the time, we eagerly agreed to this suggestion. In the interim, I had also asked the Director of the Muzeum Zulawskie, Mr. Marek Opitz, if he could send Peter a copy of his book on Tiegenhof, so that we would have additional visual prompts to work from when we met.
Finally, in May 2012, my wife and I drove to Oberhausen for the first time to meet Peter and Lolo Lau (Figure 1). Peter has an excellent memory of many of the people and places that figure in my father’s pictures. During our visit, he explained that his father, Kurt Lau, and his mother, Kathe, married in 1919 and moved to Danzig that same year. Kurt Lau worked there for the Deutsches Bank. Jurgen Lau was born in Danzig on August 23, 1923. Around 1927 or 1928, when Peter was four or five years old, the Deutsches Bank, which owned shares in the rapeseed oil mill factory in Tiegenhof, needed a manager to run operations, so they tapped Kurt Lau for the position of Managing Director of the “Tieghenhofer Oelmühle.” To this day, rape or rapeseed, grown for its seeds which yield canola or rapeseed oil, is widespread in the Zulawy region. In any case, during his time in Tiegenhof, Kurt Lau slowly began acquiring shares in the oil mill, so by the time he returned to Danzig in about 1936, he owned the oil mill. Peter attended elementary and high school in Tiegenhof. It was there that my father, Kurt, and Kurt’s wife Kathi became close friends, a friendship that lasted throughout their lives. Towards the end of the war, as the Russians were closing in on Tiegenhof, Kurt Lau convinced the German authorities that the oil mill was critical to the war effort so they agreed to dismantle it and ship it to the Hamburg area. While newer technology eventually rendered the old mill obsolete, the replacement technology formed the basis for Kurt Lau’s future rapeseed oil business in Deggendorf, Germany.
My hope that Peter Lau would recognize some of the people in my father’s photographs was partially borne out, although his equally important contribution was in providing some historical and geographic context for Tiegenhof, as well as Danzig. Not surprisingly, Peter picked out his parents in a few of my father’s photos, identified some of his own father’s business associates, gave names to a few of my father’s friends and acquaintances, and even told me the eventual fate of some of my father’s associates.
Given the rather hasty and chaotic departure from Danzig of Peter’s parents and Lolo Lau as the Russians were approaching in 1945, not surprisingly, few pictures survive of their lives in Tiegenhof and Danzig, making the survival of my father’s collection of photos that much more remarkable. One photo that did survive was given to Peter by one of his dear friends from his days in Tiegenhof, Rudi Schlenger, and shows Peter and Rudi’s graduation class around 1937 (Figure 2). Another, post-dating Peter’s time in Tiegenhof, shows Rudi’s widow, Hedwig or “Hedsch,” and Peter’s mother, Kathi Lau, when she visited the Laus in Deggendorf, Germany.
In subsequent Blog posts, I will focus on several people identified by Peter Lau who formed part of my father’s circle of friends and acquaintances, what and how I was able to learn about some of them, and, in one instance, how I even met the descendants of a few of my father’s friends.
It was during our initial visit with Peter and Lolo Lau in May 2012 that Peter showed me his copy of the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten,” an annual periodical for former German residents of Tiegenhof and their descendants that ceased being published in December 2014. Naturally written in German, it reported on annual trips to the former German town, interviewed former residents, their current whereabouts, people who’d passed away, the history of still-standing historic structures in NDG, and more. As a non-speaker, however, the most intriguing part of the periodical was the list of member’s names, addresses, and, in the case of women, maiden names, found in the back of the publication. This proved to be a real treasure trove of information, and provided the basis for the next phase of research into my father’s life in Tiegenhof. Following my return to the States after our vacation in 2012, I focused on writing letters to various people with variants on the surname “Dicke,” having mistakenly, but amusingly, misunderstood that the name of one of my father’s friends was “Grete Dicke.” The people to whom I wrote to with this surname were names I found in the “Tiegenhofer Nachrichten.” My next post will focus on this “Grete Dicke,” and how I was eventually able to discover her true identity.