Just Out

This publication includes previously unpublished first-hand accounts of conditions in Germany between September 1944 and May 1945.

A new book about my father Jupp Kappius and Operation DOWNEND has just been finished and is now available on Lulu. Bernard O’Connor, with whom we had the pleasure a few years back already, dived into primary and secondary sources to lay out the ins and outs of Operation DOWNEND in book format.

Last time, when he was researching the Tempsford Academy, we had very little help to offer, but this time around we could be of a little more assistance and help out with a little bit of translation and some odds and ends here and there. It is always to interesting to deal with primary sources, and this book even contains previously unpublished first-hand accounts of the situation in Germany during the last nine months of WWII, the kind of report that my father and the other ISK members wrote and sent to their ISK leadership in London, that is, to Willi Eichler who was exiled there at that time.

One little correction may be allowed here: On page 6 in the 4th paragraph, Mr. O’Connor mentions our website about Jupp Kappius and that it was built by Jupp’s granddaughter Anne Denney. While that surely makes me look younger, it is a casual error as I am, in fact, Jupp’s daughter. 🙂

Unsung Heroes: Anna Kothe

There are those without whom things would have been very different in life for a lot of people, but who are very quickly forgotten by ‘the public’. Anna was one such person.

Anna Kothe was a good friend of my father Jupp Kappius from 1944 until his death in December of 1967, and continued to be a friend of the family until her own death on this day, October 24th, 26 years ago. Here is a little bit of her story.

Born into a Lutheran family on 26 May 1898 in Hemelingen which later became part of the city of Bremen, Germany, and daughter of Johann Hermann Hinrich Kothe and his wife Elise nee Blohm, Anna Gesine Elisabeth Kothe learned home economic and trained to be a cook. She became politically interested and involved, and in the 1920s and 1930s kept house for various ISK members who shared flats. We have good reason to believe that she joined the ISK in 1925 because it was then that she left the Lutheran church, something that was required of ISK members.

In 1934, she started running one of the vegetarian restaurants the ISK owned and used for centers of information exchange and contact among group members, the VEGA in Hamburg. When the ISK group in Hamburg got caught by the Gestapo in December of 1937, Anna lost the restaurant by order of the Gestapo in May of 1938, was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison in Berlin and Luebeck for two and a half years, from 17 March 1938 to 22 September 1940. Being a vegetarian like all ISK members, times were doubly hard for her there, but apparently she was able to steal some of the candy she and the other inmates had to pack at the Luebeck facility to beef up her portions (pun unintended) and survived, her spirit unbroken.

After her release in September 1940, she started to work for Ernst Volkmann and his wife in their house in the Burgstrasse 15 in Bochum, the very same house in which my father was later hid when he entered Germany clandestinely in 1944, and where Anna continued to live for a while after the war. When the war was over, Anna joined the new-formed SPD and later the AWO, an organization concerned with the well-being of workers. In both organizations she was an active member for well nigh 45 years. Otherwise, after leaving the household of Ernst Volkmann in Bochum, she kept house for Willi Eichler in Koeln and Bochum, and after his death continued to live with Willi’s wife Susanne Miller until her own death on 24 October 1994.

Requiescat in Pace, Anna. The public might have forgotten you, but we surely have not. We owe much to you and are grateful for the friendship and support you have shown Jupp as well as us even after Jupp was long gone. The featured image shows Anna with Jupps son Peter in 1978 during a visit in Bremen.

Everyone who knew Anna and talked about her praised her strength of character and her steadfast conviction – and her cookies. During the war, she was the living chronicler of the ISK, knowing everything about everyone, where they lived, what their history was and their family situation, and how they were doing. She was also the one who kept contact with the ISK members in Switzerland and made sure Aenne (as “Jutta”) knew where she would find a comrade when she traveled into the Reich in 1944 and 1945.

To illustrate how Anna once managed to dissuade a Gestapo infiltrator and thus saved not just my father’s skin but that of several others as well, we shall quote from a letter Jupp wrote from London on 10 May 1945:

The Story of Gerda

About the middle of January, 1945, in fact the same day Jutta (i.e., Aenne Kappius) arrived in Bochum, a courier came from Hamburg warning us of arrests of friends that had taken place in Berlin, Hannover and Goettingen. These friends were members of the ISK who had formerly been imprisoned for illegal activities. As the friend I was living with (i.e., Anna Kothe) had been involved in that and furthermore had recently been in communications with some of those arrested, we had to expect a visit from the Gestapo. Therefore we moved Jutta and myself out of this place, decided to keep her in Bochum and send somebody else to do her round of visits with a view of trying at the same time to find out what had happened. While this courier was on his way a woman turned up at the Burgstrasse one late afternoon. She pretended she had come from Berlin to warn our friends of the arrests that had taken place, giving to understand that she knew the people arrested and also knew about their connection with our friend she was talking to (i.e. Anna). Our friend, however, was wary, did not deny to know those arrested but pretended she couldn’t think of any reason why they should have got into trouble with the Gestapo. The woman visitor then suggested it might have something to do with Jutta, of whose former visit she knew, of whose impending visit she was informed she said, whose real name she actually mentioned and whom she pretended she was very much concerned to warn of the danger she was in. Our friend, however, didn’t let on anything, pretended she had never heard of Jutta and anyway, didn’t see at all what the other woman was getting at. This woman then tried to make our friend more confident, telling her she was on the move herself to avoid arrest, saying she had been staying with a friend in Duesseldorf for the past fortnight and that she had really hoped our friend would be so kind and put her up for a day or two. This our friend flatly refused to do, claiming it was not her house and not her flat so she could on no account dispose of the flat without permission of her employer (i.e. Ernst Volkmann) and, anyway, she would have nothing to do with anything that would get her into trouble with the police. She stuck to this line, although all the time her own mind was troubled lest she might be wrong and the visitor was really genuinely trying to warn her and she was turning her out of doors (it was bitterly cold). Still she stuck to it, and the visitor turned away, complaining of her disappointment to find such inhospitable people when she expected to meet real solidarity. (…)

Gerda had no success in the Ruhr nor at any other place. Perhaps our friend in Bochum had really convinced her she didn’t know anything, for we never noticed anything suspicious in the way of watching or shadowing; the Gestapo must have dropped the thing.

From: Martin Ruether, Uwe Schuetz und Otto Dann (Hrsg.): Deutschland im ersten Nachkriegsjahr. Berichte von Mitgliedern des Internationalen Sozialistischen Kampfbundes (ISK) aus dem besetzten Deutschland 1945/46. K.G. Saur Verlag, Muenchen 1998, pp. 50-51.

Anna Kothe around 1940, archive signature 6/FOTB062392
This picture is a link to the Archiv der Sozialen Demokratie der FES and shows Anna around 1946.

Pictures of a younger Anna and of her friends and comrades can be found at the Archiv der Sozialen Demokratie der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bonn, Germany. They can be viewed and ordered online. Please click on the thumbnail above to go to their photo research page, query ‘Anna Kothe’.

Remembering Our Ancestors: Paul Heinrich Bücker

Last Sunday 37 years ago, (Great-) Grandpa Paul passed away in Gütersloh, Germany.

When Paul Heinrich Bücker was born on 26 January 1911 in Balve in the German Sauerland, both his father Josef Bücker and his mother Anna Hotmaker were 35 years old.  He had many brothers but only one sister, Auguste, or Gustchen for short, and she died fairly young.  They all missed her terribly; Paul named his first daughter after her.  From the quiet and beautiful Sauerland, the family moved into the Ruhrgebiet during the 1920s, most likely because Paul’s father had to find work in the city to feed his big family.  Times were hard in the Weimar Republic.

There, in the city of Dorsten, Paul grew into a man and married Anna von Hinten on 23 January 1939.  Paul moved his family out of the Ruhrgebiet to the more quiet Gütersloh close to the Teutoburg Forest – yes, the same area where the Cherusci Arminius (or rather, Hermann) beat the Romans in 9 AD -, where he worked for a private rehab clinic as a physiotherapist.  They had two daughters, one at the onset of WWII and the other when the war was over.  During the war Paul served in a medical unit in Danzig.

Paul with 2 grandchildren

In the late 1940s, Paul’s mother Anna, then widowed, lived with them for a few years in Gütersloh before she died in 1950.  His older daughter remembers well her ‘Strickoma’, and the time spent together.  Paul worked at the same place until he retired when he was 70 years old, so that would have been in 1981.

paul-und-anni-1975
Paul with his wife Anni on a visit to Bremen, Germany, around 1975

Paul died of a heart attack only roughly two years later, on 12 July 1983, in Gütersloh, and lies buried there, see picture below.  His wife Anny followed him fourteen years later.

buecker hain grave 7-12-2020
Here, Paul and his wife Anny lie buried, together with their son-in-law Ingo Hain, whose 51st birthday it would have been on the day this picture was taken, 12 July 2020.

Rest in Peace, dear Opi.  You had a big heart, and from you, I first learned about Goethe’s Faust, the music of Richard Wagner, and why it is a good idea to eat smoked ham sandwiches with knife and fork.  You also were the most cunning Easter-egg-hider in the family!

We love you, and we miss you.

paul-buecker-1982
Paul liked to visit the harbor in Bremen. Here he is watching the ships being loaded and unloaded, in 1982.

 

Remembering Our Ancestors: Hans von Hinten

Until recently, we did not know when exactly, where or how Great-Uncle Hans died. Now we know.

I heard about “Bruder Hans” a good bit in my childhood:  Julius Hans (nobody called him Julius, however) was my maternal grandmother‘s favorite brother.  Given that she had four of them along with three sisters, that’s saying something.  And while we always knew that he fell during WWII, we never knew when exactly, let alone where or how.  Memorial Day is always a good occasion for research websites to release genealogically interesting material from military records, and this year they released the records of German forces casualties for the years 1939 – 1948, among other data.  And listed there I found my Great-Uncle Hans.

But back to the beginning:

Julius Hans von Hinten, the second son of Franz von Hinten and Johanna Clemens, was born in Aachen, Germany, also known as Aix-la-Chapelle, city of Charlemagne, on 7 June 1910.  Here we have him (on the left) with three of his siblings, some time between 1916 and 1919, I should say.

von Hinten children aroubd 1916
left to right: Hans, Anna, Kurt and Franz Jr.

Times were turbulent in Germany during Hans’ youth.  He was born when Emperor Wilhelm II still ruled Germany, grew up during WWI and the Weimar Republic, and was 23 years old when the Nazi-era began.  The family relocated to Dorsten before 1913, and when Hans had finished school, he became a dentist like his father, although we do not know if he stayed in Dorsten for his studies or went elsewhere.  However, in September 1939 at the age of 29, when WWII was just beginning in Europe, he married Elisabeth Anna Ulrich (or Ullrich) in Eutin, Schleswig-Holstein, close to 300 miles (almost 500 km) north-east of Dorsten.  The Ulrich’s were from that area, and Hans and Lisa settled there, too.  They had two children, first a girl, then a boy, although Hans cannot have seen much of them, as was the fate of many young men during that time:  Hans was a soldier in the German Wehrmacht, and thus he was more away from home than not.  His daughter was around two years old by the time Hans passed away, and his son was born shortly before his death.  Here is a picture of him as a young man, presumably in his late teens or early twenties:

Hans von Hinten
Hans von Hinten (1910 – 1942)

By the time Hans was to die, he served as a private in the 376th Infantry Regiment which was to be included into the 376th Infantry Division that was formed in March 1942 and sent direction Stalingrad to fight Communism.  But Hans never made it anywhere near Russia, it seems.  Death found him on 16 February 1942 in some place we cannot decipher:  Try your luck in the featured image, the word after the date 16.2.1942: Rytr?  Rytv?  Sounds more like an abbreviation to me than a place; maybe he was on his way to France or back home from there.  Regardless, he took a direct hit from an artillery grenade, the above death certificate states, and I guess it matters little where precisely it happened.  I wonder if he has a grave at all, given the circumstances, or if he is one of the countless un-buried soldiers that the history of mankind has produced.

Strangely enough, his family didn’t know a whole lot about this until now.  His mother did receive the news of his hero’s death along with a medal, the “Golden Mother’s Cross”.  Apparently, she did not appreciate it – small wonder – but threw it through the closed window into the street instead where the family then quickly retrieved it to keep her out of trouble with the authorities.

Requiescat in Pace, Great-Uncle Hans.  You were loved, and you are not forgotten.

***News***

Apparently, Hans does have a grave in Eutin, so we can hope they found his body and brought him home, and it is not just a memorial marker.  Also, it appears that Hans and his brother-in-law Paul, husband of Hans’ sister Anna, met somewhere during the war, and that Hans was anxious to hear if his second child had already been born.  Paul (my grandfather) did not know either, it seems.  This meeting must have taken place early in 1942 or possibly late in 1941.

Remembering Our Ancestors: Johanna Agnes Clemens

Last Monday 68 years ago, our (2nd) great-grandmother Johanna von Hinten passed away in Minden, Germany.

Johanna Agnes Clemens, mother of our maternal (great-) grandmother Anna von Hinten, was born in Aachen in Germany, an old city steeped in European history:  It was the preferred medieval Imperial residence of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse, as the Germans call him), and from 936 to 1531, the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned Kings of the Germans there.  To the English-speaking world, the city has been known by its French name Aix-la-Chapelle.

Johanna was born there on 30 January 1884, and grew up in this western-most city of modern-day Germany.  As far as we know, she had four siblings, three brothers and one sister.

By the turn of the 19th century, we find her having married and living in Dorsten.  Her husband was Franz von Hinten.  Most of her children, however, were born in Aachen where she would have visited her mother, something that expectant mothers appear to have done a lot in that family.  Franz and Johanna’s first son was born in 1908, and within the next sixteen years, eight children were born to them, four boys and four girls.  Their fourth child and first daughter was our great-grandmother Anna mentioned above.

Johanna’s husband was a dentist, and after WWII they settled in the small town of Minden in the Weserbergland in Germany.  There, Johanna died on 13 January 1952, a little over two weeks days before her 68th birthday.

Weserbergland
Weser Uplands

Rest in Peace, Great-Grandma von Hinten.  You raised your children in turbulent times, and were lucky to lose only one of your four sons in WWII.

Featured a panoramic photo of the city of Aachen in 2006.  The cathedral where Charlemagne was laid to rest in 814 A.D. is located in the background on the right.

 

Remembering Our Ancestors: Jupp Kappius

Today we remember my father Jupp, whose family relations were a closed book for us for a long time.

Josef Kappius, known to everyone only as Jupp, was born at the onset of the 20th century, on 3 November 1907, in Bochum, Germany.  He was the first child and only son of Josef Kappius Sr. and his wife Antonie Lingemann, both of families that originally came from Haaren at the borders of the Sauerland.  But Joseph Sr. and his brother had already been born in Bochum, where their father Johann had moved after the farm and lands that the family had owned in Haaren was lost.

Regardless, Josef Sr. and Antonie most likely met in Haaren, where Josef Sr. was learning the wheelwright’s trade at his uncle’s shop.  By the time Jupp was born, the young couple was living with Josef Sr.’s parents in Bochum.  Withing the next five years, two more children were born to the couple, both girls.

We have a photo of Jupp’s grandparents, and we are not sure whether they are the Kappius or the Lingemann grandparents, but some life facts and events indicate that they are most probably the parents of Jupp’s mother Antonie, Josef Lingemann and his wife.  He was first teacher at the local school in Haaren and much involved in the affairs of the village, as teachers used to be.  We hope to discover more about this line of the family still as the Lingemann’s were closer to Jupp’s heart, but things are going slow in this research area.  They appear to have relocated to Schmallenberg in the Sauerland after leaving Haaren in the early 1900s, where many Lingemann’s still reside to this day.

Jupps Grosseltern
(most likely) Josef Lingemann and his wife Louise Becker, Jupp’s maternal grandparents

Now, Jupp’s life wasn’t very long – he died on 30 December 1967 in Dortmund at the age of 60 – but rather intense.  He lived through both great wars in Europe and was quite involved in the social and political re-shaping of his country after 1945.  He was married twice and, against all odds, fathered two children in his later years.  I have written about his personal life before, so head over to the article if you are interested.  Today, however, I would like to say a few more things about the Kappius family in Haaren.

Recently, we have discovered online access to the church books of the Roman-Catholic St. Vitus church in Haaren, and family members have been very diligently scanning the material for the name Cappius.  The result, in short, is that we can now say with some certainty that just about all people who live in Haaren and bear the name Cappius/Kappius, regardless of their various house names, go back to one and the same ancestor:  Johannes Franziskus (most likely called Johann Franz) Cappius, who is first documented as living in Haaren on 23 June 1726.  On this day, he married his first wife Anna Freitag (or Freytag) in Haaren.  They had 10 children together, many of whom did not live to see adulthood, and after her death in 1753 Johann Franz married again, this time Catharina Winhusen, with whom he had four more children.  He died on 27 April 1767 in Haaren, two years before his second wife.

Johann Franz was not born in Haaren, it would seem:  If our research is correct, he was born after 1698 in Giershagen, part of Marsberg in the High Sauerland area, and a very pretty little village.  But we say this with some hesitation because we are not completely sure yet of this fact.  Before 1726, the name Cappius does not show up in any of the Haaren church records, and the only Cappius recorded that could have been Johann Franz’s father was Johann Phillip Cappius, who died in Haaren on 10 February 1735 and had been born in Giershagen in 1672.  The only fly in this ointment is that we have not yet found proof that Johann Franz was indeed the son of Johann Phillip: We have found several children mentioned, but no Johann Franz among them.

From Johann Franz, who was the 6th great-grandfather of my father Jupp, the patri-linear line resided in Haaren until Jupp’s grandfather, who was born in Haaren but died in Bochum.  Now, the really funny and somewhat odd thing about all this is that after Jupp’s father, who still had good contact to his uncle and cousins in Haaren and visited them there frequently until very shortly before his death in 1955, the family contact with Haaren was completely severed.  None of Josef Sr.’s children, as far as we know, had any contact with Haaren anymore, or ever talked about the family in Haaren to their children and grandchildren.  This connection was only very recently reestablished (within the last decade), and while it appears to not have been a priority to my father whom we remember today, I am sure it is important to research and document the family roots, and that he would not be displeased at our doing so.

Rest in Peace, Jupp.  We remember you, and we love you, and we hope to find out more about the family of your beloved mother as well.

Josef 3 - Edited

Remembering Our Ancestors: Anna von Hinten

It would have been our (great-)grandmother 105th birthday this week.

Anna von Hinten was born at the onset of WWI, had her first child when WWII had just begun, and for the rest of her life was spared any more immediate war experiences.  I guess that was quite enough for one lifetime.

When Anna von Hinten was born on 29 October 1914 in Dorsten, North Rhine-Westphalia.  Her father (Karl Heinrich August) Franz was a dentist and well able to maintain his family of 10, with an even amount of sons and daughters.  Anna, or Anny as she was always called, was his oldest daughter and his 4th child.  Her older brother Hans, four years her senior, was always her favorite, but he fell on the battlefield during WWII.

Family Buecker
with her husband and two daughters when she was around 35 years old

When she was 24, Anny married Paul Heinrich Bücker on 23 January 1939, in her hometown of Dorsten.  He was from Balve in the Sauerland which they both visited together often, especially Brilon, although Anny was more drawn towards Oberstdorf and the Alps later in life.

Their first daughter was born late in 1939.  Before the war, the family had already moved to Gütersloh where Paul worked at a rehab clinic, but when the war came, he was moved to Danzig with the medical corps where he worked at a military hospital, probably much like a MASH.  It was hard for Anna to keep herself and her daughter fed in a city where she had neither family nor acquaintances, and so Paul managed to get her a job with a forester who was one of his patients.  Therefore, at some point between 1942 and 1943, Anna and her daughter went out to Danzig-Oliwa and lived there until the Russian army invaded from the East and they fled west again.

in Nds 1975
Anny and Paul 1975 in Platjenwerbe

Back in Gütersloh, the family made their home on the premises of the rehab clinic Paul worked for, and for a short time in the late 1940, Paul’s mother joined them there.  Anny and Paul’s second daughter was born there in 1948.

Grandma in 1986
Christmas 1986

At one point, Anny made a pilgrimage to Częstochowa in Poland to see the Black Madonna there.  Mary had always been her first and foremost friend and helper, but after her visit to Poland, this became ever more pronounced in her life.

Paul died a number of years before Anny, in the summer 1983.  Unfortunately, Anny’s last decade or so was marked by sickness and she eventually moved to her older daughter to Bremen.  There, she died a little more than a week after her 83rd birthday on 7 November 1997, and she was laid to rest next to her husband in Gütersloh.

Rest in Peace, Anny.  We buried your medals that you brought from Poland with you.

Czestochowska black madonna.jpg

Poesie: Merton’s Epitaph for John Paul

This is possibly the saddest poem I have ever read.

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveler

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrow lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed –
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
and buy your back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: They call you home.

~ Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)

Thomas Merton wrote the above poem after learning of the death of his brother John Paul, who had been in the American Air force in WWII, and stationed in Oxfordshire at the time:

Reverend Father (…) read me the telegram that Sergeant J. P. Merton, my brother, had been reported missing in action on April 17th [1943].

I have never understood why it took them so long to get the telegram through.  April 17th was already ten days ago – the End of Passion Week.

Some more days went by, letters of confirmation came, and finally, after a few weeks, I learned that John Paul was definitely dead.

The story was simply this.  On the night of Friday the sixteenth, which had been the Feast if Our Lady of Sorrows, he and his crew had taken off their bomber with Mannheim as their objective.  I never discovered whether they crashed on the way out or on the way home, but the plane came down in the North Sea.  John Paul was severely injured in the crash, but he managed to keep himself afloat, and even tried to support the pilot, who was already dead.  His companions managed to float their rubber dinghy and pulled him in.

He was very badly hurt: maybe his neck was broken,  He lay in the bottom of the dinghy in a delirium.

He was terribly thirsty.  He kept asking for water.  But they didn’t have any.  The water tank had broken in the crash, and the water was all gone.

It did not last too long.  He had three hours of it, and then he died.  Something of the three ours of the thirst of Christ Who loved him, and died for him many centuries ago, and had been offered again that very day, too, on many altars.

His companions had more of it to suffer, but they were finally picked up and brought to safety.  But that was some five days later.

On the fourth day they had buried John Paul in the sea.

~ Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain

Remembering Our Ancestors: Margaretha von Reele

“Tante Rita” felt strongly about our family identity bound up with the house name Reelen.

On 3 September 1935, Margaretha Krüger was born in Bochum, coal-miner city in western Germany and home to the family of Johannes Kappius since the late 19th century when the Reelen farm in Haaren was lost and Johannes moved his family to the nearby city to find work in the mines.  Margaretha was Johannes’ great-granddaughter, in other words, she was my cousin, second daughter of my father‘s sister Gertrud Kappius and her first husband Richard Krüger.  72 years later, in 2007. she died in Seattle, WA.  In between lies a long and interesting life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Margaretha Rita Krueger

Magraretha, or Rita, as she was called, grew up in Bochum with her sister Maria Theresia, and one can assume that not much of her first ten years were actually spent there because Bochum was heavily bombed during WWII, to the point where not much of it was left in the end.  But Rita survived, and so did her parents and her sister.

After the war, in the early 1950s, Rita married Raymond L. Brown of the American Air Force who had been stationed in Germany, and the two went to live in Arizona for the next 20 years.  In 1962, Rita became an American citizen.

Eventually, however, the marriage broke and Rita took the ship back home to Germany.  On the boat she met Christian Wätjen, a gentleman whose family was obviously of northern German extraction.  The two married, and they lived in the Bad Segeberg area in Schleswig-Holstein for the next 30 years.  But eventually, Rita returned to North America, living first in Canada and then in Seattle, where she died in 2007.

Between 2000 and 2007, Rita changed her name to Margaretha von Reele.  She had always been interested in genealogy, first to find out more about the little family riddles one inevitably encounters when talking about the past with your relatives, but eventually she was most intrigued by the loss of the house name of the Cappius/Kappius family.

The Cappius family had settled in Haaren latest around 1720, according to our oldest records, and around 1760 they acquired a farm that came with a name attached to it, like all farms and houses in Haaren did.  Those names were, quite logically, called “house names”, and to this day, the German term “Hausname” is used synonymous with family name or surname.  But back in the day, a house name was not the same as a family name:  There were many families by the name of Cappius in Haaren, and so they were distinguished from each other by the houses they occupied and the names that went with them.  Thus our branch of the family became known as Cappius Reelen.  Lots of land belonged to the farm eventually, and a second, smaller house in town as well, but times were hard in Haaren in the mid- to late 19th century, and by and by debt mounted and the land had to be sold off acre by acre, until in the end the farm could not be kept either.  The smaller house was then home to the remaining Kappius Reelen family, but most family members had already left town, like my great-grandfather, to settle where a living could be made, or to go to the military.  Since they were not connected with the house anymore, they dropped the name of Reelen from their last name, or took up other house names as they bought new houses.

By the time Rita started looking into all this, she had primarily her mother as a source to rely on, and Gertrud herself had already been born in Bochum and no relationship with the family that was still living in Haaren, although her father surely did until he died in 1955.  It is quite possible that Rita wasn’t yet interested in family history while her grandfather was still alive.  From her researches, probably conducted in the 1970s and onward, Rita concluded that it was a shame how the name had been lost, as with it some of the family identity was lost as well.  Therefore, she eventually changed her last name to “von Reele”, and sought to free the family from the stain on their reputation.  She even thought that some criminal act had possibly led to the Roman Catholic Church confiscating farm and land, but I have not been able to verify this suspicion.

While it is true that the family lost land and farm, they continued to be, and still are known by their house name Reele, although none of them actually called themselves by the house name only.  Rita’s great-uncle Anton, whose father had still lived on the Reelen farm and later in the small Reelen house in town before he built a new one for his growing family, was known throughout his life as “Reelens Anton”, and his children did not develop a similar sense of loss about the family name as it wasn’t really lost after all.  True, it wasn’t officially used anymore, but it surely was still part of their identity as it continued to distinguish them from other branches of the Kappius family.

There is one member of the family that shared Rita’s concern for the family name, down to the spelling of Cappius with a C, and that was my great-uncle Father Uncle William, who came to the United States in 1913 after his ordination and lived in various places in Nebraska until his death in 1945.  He, too, was quite interested in the Reelen part of the name but was unable to find out much about it, as we can gather from his letters to my father.  He refused to spell his own or his nephew’s last name with a K, which appears to have led to some confusion in the internment camp in Australia where my father received his letters in the early 1940s.  Maybe distance makes a (perceived) loss of identity be felt even more keenly.

Rest in Peace now, dear Rita von Reele.  It is indeed a shame that much of your research was lost after you passed on, and that we cannot read anymore all the facts and anecdotes you gathered.  But maybe that would have been too easy anyway, and we are meant to look again into the past ourselves and piece together the long and the short of it.

Tante Rita 70 Jahre alt
Rita when she was 70 years old

Remembering Our Ancestors: Cousin Katharina

On Monday, 19 August 2019, Cousin Katharina passed away at the good old age of 89.  With her, we have lost a family historian to whom we owe much.

Cousin Katharina, her full name being Maria Katharina Johanna Kappius, later Schmidt, was born on 20 January 1930, in Haaren, Germany.  Her grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers, which makes her my 2nd cousin 1x removed.  She was the eldest of four children, three girls and one boy.  The family lived in a farm house and thus weathered WWII relatively unharmed, albeit being located only about 5 miles north-east of the SS School in Castle Wewelsburg, and the KZ that was located there also.

DSCN9952 - Edited
This excerpt mentions the beginning of the anecdote about how Katharina’s father, Reelen’s Anton, went snooping around the KZ Wewelsburg and got caught doing so, but was released the next morning unharmed.  He had bought a wood lot in the vicinity which provided him with a credible reason for being in the area.

On 24 Oct 1955, Katharina married Rudolf Schmidt in Lennestadt-Altenhundem, in the German Sauerland, and there she lived until the end of her days.  Her husband died in 1982 already, 37 years earlier than she did.  They had five children together, three boys and two girls, and by the time she died, Katharina was a grandmother many times over.  For many years she had an apartment upstairs in her oldest son’s house.

Although where she spent most of her life is not at all far from where I lived until the early 2000s, Katharina and I did not meet until I had already moved to the United States.  Thus, all the personal contact we have had was either via good old-fashioned letters, or, periodically, via video-chat, something very newfangled that dear Katharina could appreciate because, like she said, you can have someone over for a Kaffeeklatsch (that is, coffee, cake and a chin-wag) without even having to provide either the coffee or the cake!  But I owe her a lot, and she has grown very dear to me in the five years that I knew her.

You see, Katharina was the family historian of the Kappius-clan, so to speak.  Just about everything that I know about my father‘s side of the family, apart from very few anecdotes and one photo that isn’t even clearly labeled, I know from Katharina.  She provided me with memorabilia as well as a goodly amount of historical facts and family ‘stories’, so much so that I was able to develop a whole new relationship to my paternal relatives and ancestors.  From her, I received the first picture of my paternal grandfather that I had ever seen, and the first picture of his brother whose letters to my father we have, but we didn’t have a photo.  Through her, I learned why our family name used to be Cappius Reelen, and where the clan had lived for many generations as farmers.  From her I learned what kind of a person my paternal grandfather was, and how much he was appreciated by his family back in Haaren.

So I asked her to write down her memories.  A big request, no doubt, but she began writing it all down even before I had asked.  All pictures in this post show passages from her notebook that she sent to us.  It is one of my most treasured genealogical, and personal, assets.

Katharina Schmidt passed away on 19 August 2019, and has been laid to rest in her home town yesterday in the afternoon.

Thank you, Katharina.  Thank you for being who you were, for all your efforts, for your laughter, and for your thoughtfulness.  We miss you, but Rest in Peace now.

DSCN9954 - Edited
This is how Katharina’s account ends, with a last reference to my grandfather Joseph Kappius Sr. and how his good business relations helped her family in times of financial crisis.

The featured image relates how WWII ended in Haaren with American tanks rolling into town during mass on Good Friday in 1945.

The song below was played at Katharina’s funeral, in particular for it being in Plattdeutsch (Low German).

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