AN ODYSSEY THROUGH NORTH BRABANT
His name was Werner Klemke. He got his baptism of fire at the front line in North Brabant. Just like every other German in the Third Reich, Klemke was called up for military service. He was stationed in the Luftwaffe in the occupied Netherlands, more particularly at the air defences in the Gooi. Klemke had significant graphic skills and in the Erasmus bookshop in Amsterdam he made contact with the Dutch resistance and, together with a friend he helped to forge papers. He risked his own life to rescue a Jewish family, and then the two German soldiers helped the family save hundreds of other Jews from deportation.
Baptism of fire
As if this illegal work was not risky enough, in September 1944 Klemke and Gerhardt suddenly had to move to the front which by this time had reached the Netherlands. He wrote a humorous report about this odyssey through the province by writing the diary of a fictitious Lieutenant Ferdinand Vogel, which the reader immediately recognises as Klemke himself.
At that time Werner Klemke was serving as a staff member in the 16th Battalion of the Fallschirm Panzer-Ersatz und Ausbildungs-Regiment Hermann Göring. This regiment was a training unit and comprised six 88 mm cannons which were really intended to shoot down aircraft but which were also very effective against ground targets. They set off on 10 September, first to Udenhout and then to the front near Ten Aard where the Scots had crossed over the Maas-Schelde Canal. Hermann Göring’s men were assigned to General Chill’s unit and this is where Klemke received his baptism of fire. The Scots were driven back and from that moment, the Kampfgruppe Chill was stationed anywhere in Brabant where a crisis threatened.
Church tower specialists
On 23 September the German High Command decided for a second time to attack the allied area around Veghel and split it in two. This was also a job for Chill, and it was the final blow for Operation Market Garden. The 16th Battalion reduced the church tower in Eerde to rubble so the allied observers could not locate it. From then on shooting down towers became their speciality. Klemke, alias Ferdinand, named his unit with irreverent humour as the ‘Kirchturmespezialisten’ (Church tower specialists).
Shortly afterwards the battle moved on. From then on the Kampfgruppe, so also the brigade criss-crossed Brabant, described humorously by Klemke as ‘Vorwärt nach rückwärts’ (forwards and backwards). By the beginning of October they had reached Woensdrecht. Klemke’s battalion lived up to its name again. This time Our Lady of the Ascension Church in Hoogerheide was the target.
At the end of October the 2nd British Army Forces attacked the entire front line in North Brabant. A German retreat was inevitable. Kampfgruppe Chill retreated north of the Zoom. The Quirinus Church in Halsteren came under fire from the 16th Brigade. After that they retreated over the River Mark and fired on towers and church buildings in Oudenbosch. The inevitable retreat across the Hollands Diep river took place on 3 November. In German reports this was invariably referred to as the River Waal, hence Klemke’s joking reference to a Wal (whale). Klemke’s experiences as a soldier in the front line were over. His battalion continued on to Naaldwijk, a long way from the front and which once again took on air defences. It was there that Klemke finally saw surrender in 1945.
His experiences on the front inspired the artist Klemke to write a unique diary, which ended on Christmas Eve 1944. After the Second World War he became East Germany’s most famous graphic designer and illustrator. His works are still on display in German museums and a park has been named after him in Berlin.
Left: A joke about the shooting of Eerde’s church
Right: Klemke alias Vogel
Source: Jack Didden