Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘The Germans’ Category

When There is a Nazi in Your Family Tree

In Off to War, The Germans on January 31, 2013 at 3:11 am

My first cousin, two times removed, Hans Knuppel, and Rolf.
Berlin, 1940

My grandmother introduced me to genealogy at a very young age.  Just looking at her face I knew there was a string of people just like me–and that this string of people was endless.  I decided that I wanted to find each and every one of them.

My grandmother, Johanna Knuppel

My grandmother, Johanna Knuppel

The very last time I saw her she showed me scrapbooks filled with pictures of our family.  One photograph fascinated me more than the others. It was of a young man in a uniform.  I asked her about him and she explained that he was our cousin, Hans, from Germany.  He was wearing a German World War II era uniform.  I asked her if he was a Nazi.  She told me that, yes, our cousin was a Nazi.

It was a disturbing thing to encounter but I have learned since that time that the genealogist must follow one rule first:  do not judge.  It is inevitable that we will find all sorts of scoundrels in our family tree.    Our families are the history of the world.

My grandmother was a little upset by my anxiety over his picture.  But my trepidation was understandable.  I knew way too much about the Nazis and their work.  I had lived in Germany.  I had visited Dachau as a little girl.  I had seen the ovens.  But she was hurt that I had reacted this way.  To her, he was our cousin.  He was one of us.   And that was that.

I put all that away for some time until this Christmas.  My aunt gave me the picture of Hans.  So here he was, this Nazi officer, in my house.  What to do?  I thought.  I decided that I would put my emotions aside and be a good genealogist.  I would find out more about him.

But I hardly know anything at all about Hans. He is a complete stranger.  There is so much work to do.  And where to begin?

Luckily, there are some things that I do know.     His grandparents, Johann and Augusta Knuppel,  are my great great grandparents.  So forever backwards in that line of our family, we are the same.  Our family was from the Mecklenburg-VorPommern region of Germany.  This is the northernmost eastern section of Germany and part of what was known as Prussia.    I also know that Hans’s father was my great grandfather’s older brother, Albert Knuppel.  I wonder if he was named for his grandfather?   My great grandfather had been named for the same man, his father.

Augusta and Johann Knuppel

Augusta and Johann Knuppel, my great great grandparents

My great grandfather, also Hans Knuppel

My great grandfather, also Hans Knuppel

A most interesting breakthrough came to me only recently when my aunt Elaine found  a letter dated March 14, 1948, from my Uncle Albert to my grandmother, Johanna.   My friend, Nancy Deering, was kind enough to interpret it for me.  It brought me to tears.  So beautifully written, it was an attempt by my uncle to reestablish ties to his American family after a horrible and devastating war.  He had not seen my great grandfather, his brother (also Hans), since before 1914–because of another world war.  My great grandfather, a sailor on the Norddeutscher Lloyd lines, had found himself stranded in New Jersey when the First World War broke out.  He jumped ship and was never able to return to his homeland.  It had been a long time. But here, in this letter, my uncle sought to reestablish the family ties from across an ocean.

In beautiful German he wrote of how he so deeply missed his younger brother and how he wanted nothing more than to send his love to all of his American kin. 

“I send you all from the old home of your father the sincerest greetings and wishes for your well being…”

In one of the most interesting lines he goes on to tell of the tragedy of the war and its effect on his family.

“Because of the unfortunate and disastrous war, we lost our house and home and unfortunately also our dear son…”

Letter from Albert Knuppel to Johanna Knuppel Barthel, 1948

Letter from Albert Knuppel to Johanna Knuppel Barthel, 1948

Their dear son was Hans, the man in the photograph.  I can’t help but wonder what the circumstances of his death may have been.  In my opinion it looks like he is in the uniform of the Luftwaffe, or the German Air Force.  Did he die over the skies somewhere?  I have no idea at this point.    I also found from a photograph that Hans had a wife and a daughter named, Klara.      According to the letter, my uncle Albert and aunt Ella made sure that they kept close to their son’s widow and their granddaughter, after his death.    Times were very difficult in March of 1948.  They resided in Berlin Steglitz, or West Berlin.

Mrs. Hans Knuppel and Klara

Mrs. Hans Knuppel and Klara

I don’t know anything more at this point.  I am at the beginning of an interesting journey back in time.  My hope is to rebuild my family, one story at a time.  We all have stories and we all have circumstances.  My great grandfather’s sons (twins), my uncles John Albert and Hans Delbert (yes, yet another generation of Hans Knuppels), were also veterans of the Second World War.  They fought under the American flag.  And both of my grandfathers also served with the Allies–one with the RAF and one with the 8th Air Force in England.  War is war and people are people.  I hope that one day I will be able to tell the complete story of my cousin, Hans Knuppel.

Michelle Kratts