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"...[Y]our Husband... Starved to Death...

"
The Sad Fate of Ernst Hermann Klavon, German Postal Official in Königsberg, East Prussia, 1945

By Dan Durning

June 2011

In October 1948, the wife of Ernst H. Klavon received a letter from E. R. Pélisier, who had worked with her husband in the German postal service. He was replying to a letter from her asking if he knew what had happened to her husband, who had been the head of Post Office 5 in Königsberg (East Prussia) in March 1945. That month, the Soviet Army had taken the city. It was more than three years later, and she still did not know his fate. Word was just now getting back to Germany about what had happened in East Prussia after the Soviet Union had conquered it. All Germans living in East Prussia had been forced to leave in late 1947 and 1948, and the expellees were arriving in Germany by the thousands. Their stories, and those of people left behind, were being told. A woman forced to leave Königsberg, arriving in Germany in March, 1948, told Mr. Pélisier about what had happened to Mr. Klavon. In his letter to Mrs. Klavon, Pélisier passed on the bad news:
I am today in a position to sadly tell you that your husband and my work colleague starved to death in Königsberg as did P.I. [Postal Inspector?] Ackermann, P.I. Neumann, P.I. Meier, and P.I. Boldt. The thought of everything these poor men had to endure is horrible.

Mrs. Klavon learned more about the last days of her husband in a letter from Elizabeth Krause, who had worked with her husband at the post office in Königsberg and had been there when the Russians arrived. Mrs. Krause told her how he had helped his colleagues, refused to trade two hidden rings for food, had slowly starved to death, and had been buried. In her words:
[W]e began to march back again toward Königsberg. Your husband was a good helper for me. Although he was himself weak, he did not fail me if I could not go on. Your husband had no work and, as a result, no longer received his 200 grams of bread. For old people it was most sad; only those who could work received bread. ...[Y]our husband had only what they found or perhaps at times received from the Russians. Your husband, dear Mrs. Klavon, was still at this time to some extent healthy and because all sorts of rumors were emerging about expulsion, a free state, etc., he held himself together with all his strength. He had hidden an engagement ring and another ring -- I don't know any more if it was a signet ring -- so well that the Russians had not found them. We pleaded with him repeatedly to exchange the rings for goods, so that he did not need to go hungry. He was not to be persuaded, but always replied, "The rings will go to my family." In December, I returned to Horst-Wessel-Street to invite Mr. Klavon to my birthday. We had some bread. He had become rather weak and said that he had lice, about which he was in despair. I washed his clothes and beat his green coat. In spite of the

slick streets and his weakness, he went to Schönfließ to clean himself in the baths that had been built there. When he returned, I asked him again to exchange the rings for bacon or butter. He declined to do so. On Christmas 1945, Frau Schmidtke came to let us know that Mr. Klavon was dead. As Mrs. Schmidtke told it, he went easily to sleep. We wrapped him in his green coat and brought him on a sled to the Schönfließ cemetery, where he received a number and was put in a mass grave. Frau Schmidtke, a good soul, later found a priest to pray for him. Mr. König carved a wooden cross, which was set on the grave.

Thus was the sad fate of Mr. Klavon, postal official in Königsberg, at the end of the war. His rings -- the ones he refused to sell to get badly needed food -- were never given to his family. His story comes from two documents taped inside a book that I recently bought (along with about 25 others) that had belonged to his son Hans E. Klavon. The title of the book is "Die Lage der Deutschen in Königsberger Gebiet 1945-1948" (The Situation of Germans in the Königsberg Area, 1945-1948) by Gerhild Luschnat, Peter Lang publisher, 1995. The books were purchased at "Read All About It," a used book store in Blaine, Washington. Hans Klavon, who was born in East Prussia and was a soldier in the German army during World War II, apparently immigrated to Canada after the war. While living there, he collected many books about the fate of East Prussia, and especially Königsberg (now known as Kaliningrad), during and after World War II. In many of these books, he placed clippings related to the post-war period in East Prussia and related topics. After World War II, Kaliningrad was a closed Soviet city, with no foreigners allowed to visit. However, after the demise of the Soviet Union, the city was opened and now can be visited by tourists. Hans Klavon's books contain several clippings about Kaliningrad that were written after it was reopened. I do not know if made a visit to the city. In the following pages, I provide a translation of the two documents quoted above that were pasted into the book. Also, after that, I include a scan of the two documents, which are in German.

TRANSLATION OF DOCUMENT 1: Letter from E. R. Pélisier to Mr. Klavon, Sept. 13, 1948

E. R. Pélisier Frankfurt a. M. Mechtildstrasse 17 Greetings Dear Mrs. Klavon:

13.9.1948

After I was unable earlier to give you a report about your dear husband, I am today in a position to sadly tell you that your husband and my work colleague starved to death in Königsberg as did P.I. [Postal Inspector?] Ackermann, P.I. Neumann, P.I. Meier, and P.I. Boldt. The thought of everything these poor men had to endure is horrible. I have this news from a female colleague who came out [from East Prussia] in March. And I believe it my duty to not keep this news from you so that you, in case you are still uninformed, can clearly see what happened and come to terms with bitter fate. Please know, dear Mr. Klavon, that I share your feelings and be assured that your dear husband will always remain in my memory and the memory of many of his colleagues. May God comfort you in your pain and always be near you. That is my sincere and heart-felt wish. I have myself not been reinstated, but hope on October 1 at last to be. It is terrible in these difficult times to be without work, when I must take care of my wife and 12 year old daughter. Have you in the meanwhile received a pension? Or at least some support. Mrs. Rogalla has, like you, a heavy burden to bear; her husband hanged himself in jail. One can hardly understand it, but his mental state must have led him to do it. Well, hear Mrs. Klavon, as a colleague of your husband and I sincerely shake your hand, with warm memories. Always Your very devoted E.R. Pélisier

TRANSLATION OF DOCUMENT 2: Excerpt from a letter written to Mrs. Klavon by Elizabeth Krause concerning the fate of her husband (no date, no source)

IN THOSE DIFFICULT DAYS Then in Königsberg Passages from a letter written by Elizabeth Krause to Frau Klavon, earlier of Bischofsburg ...where do I begin, where do I stop. Whoever was not there cannot imagine all we experienced. Your husband became the leader of Post Office 5 (at the main train station) in Königsberg in March 1945, when Dr. Fuchs, the previous head, was removed. Service was provided only in the cellar [of the post office]. Because I knew that my parents were trapped in District [Kreis] Rößel, I volunteered to stay until the last minute. Your husband entered the job with a lung infection. However, the cellar of the post office 5 also contained the main infirmary of locally stationed military units, whose doctor took care of him. A canteen was nearby, and we tended to your husband as well as we could. Else Sambraus had her foster parents in Schönfließ and went evenings, if there was no firing, to their house. Only in the last days was that no longer possible; then we all remained in the office. On 27 March, I was wounded in the right arm and both legs, so that I could no longer do anything and had to be cared for by the military doctor. Else, a Miss Gehrang (who, sadly, is dead) and I had set up a nice room for ourselves. We hoped to keep the place. Your husband, though still very weak, could at last again stand up for a short while in order to "manage." On April 8, the Russians marched in behind strong shelling and our suffering began. I had to, unless I wanted to be killed, get out of bed. We were forced out [of the city] going until we reached Löwenhagen. I was at times hauled [on a cart], dragged, carried, and then separated from my colleagues. Your husband managed to get to Löwenhagen. I got there a day later, to the astonishment on all my colleagues, who all thought I was already dead. We lay in the barracks, on the ground, or in the open. What happened here one cannot discuss in detail. It is unimaginable if one has not lived through it. Our nourishment consisted daily of turnip tops and turnips, like ones found in the trash.

Your husband was brave and sought to comfort us. Also a few men from the OPD [oberpostdirektion -- middle managers for the German postal service] were there, battered, filthy, and sick -- a picture of misery. Every day was structured. Everyone who could stand and walk had to. I lay in the barracks and waited for my death. One day we were all brought out, and it meant: "To home." Else, who from birth had a hip problem and limped, was also there. So we began to march back again toward Königsberg. Your husband was a good helper for me. Although he was himself weak, he did not fail me if I could not go on. We came at last to a army barracks; I believe it was Neuendorf. Here began the interrogations. Also, your husband was taken, but returned in the morning. Then we went through other camps, where interrogation after interrogation was held. [Getting back to Königsberg] many people could take care of themselves and looked for their dwellings. We hoped to stay with Else's foster parents in Schönfließ. However, they lived there with many other people in a train car, to which we also came and led a sad existence. We survived on things that were found in different cellars. In any case, only the old people could go search for food; for the young it was too dangerous. My wounds healed with God's help without bandages or salve, and I began to work for a Russian store. Here I had to cook and was able to repay the old Werners [Else's foster parents], who for so long fed me. Also, I could often slip your husband a little sugar, a little soup or sometimes a little meat. One day your husband was picked up. After three weeks, he returned and said that he had been in a camp in Rothenstein. He had not been beaten there and had every day received at least some soup. Then he worked as night watchman at the store for which he received daily 200 grams of bread. Meanwhile it became July. Else got sick with typhus, a bad illness, but it turned out to be good luck for her. She was taken to the York hospital. Our "family" had become smaller, since some had been taken to the countryside and others had were sick or dead. The store closed. We had to leave our dwelling. Thus we were thereby deprived of everything we had had. We found a new asylum in the almost completely destroyed Horst-Wessel-Street. It was terrible there: no windows, it rained through the roof, everything was so uncomfortable. Mr. Werner was, however, very clever; he covered the windows and made improvements where ever he could. Your husband had no work and, as a result, no longer received his 200 grams of bread. For old people it was most sad; only those who could work received bread. I got sick also with typhus and was taken by Mr. Werner by wheel barrow to Elizabeth hospital. Else in the meanwhile had regained her health and had agreed

with a German doctor to remain as a nurse. She had been a nurse before coming to work at the post office. Her needs had, with that, ended. She received enough to eat and had lodging, lights, and heat. In November, I was down to 79 pounds and feared for my life; since I could not work, there was nothing to eat. The Werners and your husband had only what they found or perhaps at times received from the Russians. God helped again; I was found by a colleague (Mr. König) and another former colleague (a female), who had worked at a Russian police station in the vicinity of Bartenstein during harvest time. The police unit was moved to Königsberg and, as a result, they were able to bring the grain with them. I moved in with them and have them to thank that I recovered and could work again. To the Warners came a woman from Palmburg, a friend of Mrs. Werner. Mrs. Schmidtke was a determined woman. Although she had already buried her husband, she was very intrepid. She traded in dishes that she got out of the rubble; she exchanged them with Russians for grain. Mr. Werner had soon become very weak and went to Else at the hospital. Your husband, dear Mrs. Klavon, was still at this time to some extent healthy and because all sorts of rumors were emerging about expulsion, a free state, etc., he held himself together with all his strength. He had hidden an engagement ring and another ring -- I don't know any more if it was a signet ring -- so well that the Russians had not found them. We pleaded with him repeatedly to exchange the rings for goods, so that he did not need to go hungry. He was not to be persuaded, but always replied, "The rings will go to my family." Herr Warner had, in the meanwhile, died. In December, I returned to Horst-WesselStreet to invite Mr. Klavon to my birthday. We had some bread. He had become rather weak and said that he had lice, about which he was in despair. I washed his clothes and beat his green coat. In spite of the slick streets and his weakness, he went to Schönfließ to clean himself in the baths that had been built there. When he returned, I asked him again to exchange the rings for bacon or butter. He declined to do so. Life became ever more difficult, especially for the elderly, and they were starving and freezing. We worked and received at least some bread. On Christmas 1945, Frau Schmidtke came to let us know that Mr. Klavon was dead. As Mrs. Schmidtke told it, he went easily to sleep. We wrapped him in his green coat and brought him on a sled to the Schönfließ cemetery, where he received a number and was put in a mass grave. Frau Schmidtke, a good soul, later found a priest to pray for him. Mr. König carved a wooden cross, which was set on the grave. Mrs. Werner then went

to Else in the hospital, where she soon died. Mrs. Schmidtke remained healthy until the end of 1946. We had to relocate a couple of times and have worked hard until 1948. At the end, I was working at the fire department near Viehmarkt (Cattle Market), where Else visited me at times and told me that she was keeping mementos your husband had left behind. Later I did not have a chance to see her again because we were all busy with our own things to do. Therefore I do not know whether the rings were taken by the Russians -- what is, of course, very likely. ****************************** Herr Ernst Hermann Klavon, about whom the above fate is reported, was from 1925 until 1935 the postmaster of Bischofsburg. Ten he was moved to Gerdauer. Because of difficulties with the Party, we was sent in 1940 to Königsberg. There he worked in higher management of the post office. His only brother, who lived in Goldap and was a school manager there, was also likely killed in the last days of battle in East Prussia. In Elbing, he heard that his brother was in Königsberg. He wanted to go to him and left Elbing in the direction of Königsberg. Nothing has been heard of him since then.

Document 1

DOCUMENT 2 IN JENEN SCHWEREN TAGEN Damals in Konigsberg Auszüge aus einen Brief von Elisabeth Krause an Frau Klavon früher Bischofsburg