Margarete Koppe

* 1928

  • “Yes, that concentration camp in Žatec, where we were for six weeks. At the time we were in the village and from the village we came to Žatec, to the empty residential neighbourhood, they (the previous inhabitants) were of course long gone. There were bunk beds and straw mattresses. And we had to leave from there, it was a closed area, but thankfully it was in summer. There were only a single table and chair inside. For everyone. One chair. It was a tiny room. And during the day we had to walk past the guards, and we were always ordered where to go. And there they picked us up for work. I also know that I had to wash bottles, some people had to do hard work in the brickyard, or they had to move heavy furniture. In the past all you had was that heavy solid wood furniture, that’s long gone now. And in the evenings, we just had to sit inside and weren’t allowed out. I passed my time copying out the songbook of the League of German Girls (BdM). And we also prayed a lot. With God you’re never alone, that’s a piece of ancient wisdom. And the camp? Them standing there? We were naturally afraid of them too. Of those guards, watching over things.”

  • “So first of all we had to wear an ‘N’, a white band or that letter. A white band with a black ‘N’ on it. Some people wore something here (on their chest). We weren’t allowed to walk on the pavement, only the street. That was the decree, but not everyone listened to it. And then my brother wrote us letters, at fourteen he was sent to the Czech midlands for forced labour. To one village near Olomouc, I can’t think of the name right now. But I went to visit it later. He had to look after four horses, at the age of fourteen.”

  • “A few days later, about a week it was, the new Czech priest came, Hroznata. And I have to say the man was half saint. Otherwise people liked to say the Czech clergy were nationalist first and Christian later. But that wasn’t true of this priest at all. He was set up as the new priest. And because Mum could play the organ, that church only had a harmonium with bellows, us kids had to work hard on the bellows. And on that note, I have to say that our family was among the few people in the village who went to the new Czech priest for mass. Our mother, since we were brought up to be tolerant, our mother said: ‘We’ll go to the new priest, whether he’s Czech or Chinese, or whatever else. We go to mass for our Lord God.’ And so mum dutifully played the organ there. And then, every three or four weeks, we were invited by the priest and his cook for lunch, but it had to be a secret, very quiet. Other people couldn’t find out, not even the first Czechs who came along, they chose a house and drove the people out. We didn’t care, we didn’t have anything any more, we only had to take a different room. And of course the priest would say: ‘Oh Ms Koppe, I can’t keep you in my house, that isn’t possible, but I can get you a room.’ And so he looked after us and then invited us to eat. And then we had to go work, for the National Committee.”

  • “In Opava we lived in Hradecká street. And as I said, across the way was the entrance to the hall of The Three Roosters (U Tří kouhoutů). When we arrived in Opava, in summer, I’m still completely sure about that, that was where the SS were gathered, or who knows who, in the Three Rooster’s hall. The whole road was full of flags, with flags at the sides. And we, our mother and us three kids, we had come from the town or from the station. My brother Helmut, he was the cleverest and in 38 he was seven, he was born in 1931. And suddenly he called out loud: ‘Look Mother, it’s like at the circus!’ and mother: ‘Oh God, stop that!’ If someone had heard we would have been gonners. But children and fools tell the truth.”

  • Full recordings
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    Pegnitz, SRN, 14.07.2020

    duration: 01:57:35
    media recorded in project The Removed Memory
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If it wasn’t for the good Czechs, the expulsion would’ve been much more painful

Margarete Koppe, Pegnitz, 2020
Margarete Koppe, Pegnitz, 2020
photo: Post Bellum

Margarete Koppe was born on 17 July 1928 in Opava to the German family of a financial officer and a piano teacher. Due to her father’s job, she spent her early childhood in Jihlava, but “home” for her is represented by her father’s birthplace of Kobylá nad Vidnavkou (Jungferndorf in German, Jeseník district). The father, Rudolf Koppe, was sent back to Opava in the summer of 1938, on the eve of the Munich Agreement and annex of Sudety to Nazi Germany. Despite the allegedly rather anti-Nazi positions of the father, Margarete was a member of the League of German Girls. In September 1944, their father had to enlist, he was captured in France and his family only met him after the Expulsion. The front was approaching Opava at the end of January and the Koppe family were evacuated from the town. They lived through the end of the war in North Bohemian Staňkovice, where a new Czech priest, father Hroznata, took care of them. Koppe gratefully remembers his humane approach to this day. From the Staňkovice parish, Margarete watched the march of hundreds of Žatec men on foot to Postoloprty, where most of them were subsequently massacred. The weeks before expulsion the Koppe family spent locked up in an empty Žatec, on 13 May 1946 they were expelled in covered cattle cars to Germany. Margarete spent her first years after expulsion in bombed-out Schweinfurt, completed her education and began to work as a teacher. She visited Czechoslovakia for the first time with her father, in 1968, since then she has made regular visits to her previous homeland.