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Sorely missed: Hermann Kemmner fell in WWII

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

My great-uncle Hermann Kemmner was born on February 6, 1920 in Unterensingen (Evangelische Kirche Unterensingen, 1925). He was the second child of my great-grandparents Hermann and Marie Kemmner (Evangelische Kirche Unterensingen, 1910). His father made the following entry in the family Bible: “The second son Hermann Gustav was born to me on February 6, 1920. The Lord protect him in all his ways.” (Kemmner, o. J.).

Familienbibel 1920 Hermann Kemmner
"On February 6, 1920, my second son Hermann Gustav was born to me. May the Lord protect him in all his ways." is written in the family Bible of Hermann's parents (Photo: Family Bible owned by the family).

On February 22nd at 2 p.m., Hermann was baptized by Pastor Wacker in the Protestant church in Unterensingen. His godparents were Gottlieb Kemmner, a mechanic in Spandau, his father's brother, and Karoline Kemmner, a mechanic's wife, his mother's sister. Gustav Kemmner, artist and also his mother's brother, was also named as godfather.(Evangelische Kirche Unterensingen, 1925)

Hermann Kemmner Gustav Karoline Gottlieb
Hermann's godparents were his aunt Karoline and his uncles Gottlieb and Gustav (personal illustration)

In addition to his older brother Richard, who was born in 1912, Hermann was followed by a sister named Marta and my grandfather Otto (Evangelische Kirche Unterensingen, 1910). The three younger siblings in particular had a very close relationship.

As a small boy, Hermann attended the so-called children's school, the first kindergarten in the village, on Bergstrasse in Unterensingen with sister Karoline Reuß (Unterensingen, 1984). She is said to have been a loving woman (Kemmner, 2019).

Kinderschule Unterensingen Karoline Reuß
The children's school in Unterensingen with Sister Karoline Reuß (Unterensingen, 1984, p. 32).

The children enjoyed looking at picture books together. Hermann's thick illustrated non-fiction book on animal diseases with suggestions for treatment was very popular because it contained many illustrations. (Kemmner, 2010)

Hermann's other passion was cookies: he and his siblings loved Christmas cookies. When their mother finished baking in December and retrieved the cookies from the bakery, each child received one to try. Her mother hid the rest of the cookies because they weren't supposed to be available until Christmas Eve. However, Hermann had a reliable instinct: he found every hiding place and as soon as the parents were away for a long evening, the children looked for the bowl with the "Gutsl'a". Hermann was the search leader.(Kemmner, 2010)

The shared bedroom of the three brothers Richard, Hermann and Otto was particularly convenient, directly past the kitchen and towards the barn (Kemmner, 2019).

From 1926 Hermann attended elementary school in Unterensingen. Classes took place from Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In this 4 hour period there was a break of 15 minutes. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays there were also lessons in the afternoon from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The three younger siblings shared two school bags. (Kemmner, 2010)

Dorf Unterensingen Stuttgart Nürtingen
The village of Unterensingen at that time from my grandfather's photo collection (photo: privately owned).

As the second son of the family, Hermann, like his younger siblings, had to work early on. During the school holidays, the younger children brought breakfast to their father and older brother Richard in the field around 7 a.m. There they also started their work, swabbing the grass - so they had to spread the mown grass evenly on the ground with the fork. (Kemmner, 2010)

In his book, my grandfather remembers a funny situation with his brother: Hermann wanted to smoke his father's pipe in his parents' absence. He took powerful puffs and blew real clouds of smoke into the air. My grandpa Otto did the same, he quickly became sick. Hermann continued to smoke and wanted to show his brother that he could do better. But it didn't take long before he also became very sick. (Kemmner, 2010)

In his free time, Hermann enjoyed going to the youth group at the CVJM. He spent Sunday afternoons there playing, also with his brother Otto. Quartet, chess and games of skill were played. There were also crafts, singing and storytelling and at the end the Bible was read. When the weather was good, the children spent time outdoors, went for ball games, scavenger hunts, terrain games, hikes and occasionally went on day trips.(Kemmner, 2010)

Hermann seems to have been the organizer of many activities and integrated his little brother Otto into many experiences.

But Hermann was also very musical. He played the harmonium and found it easy to replay melodies he had heard. (Kemmner, 2019)

Hermann was confirmed in 1933. At the same time his school days ended.

Hermann Kemmner
Hermann Kemmner (picture: privately owned)

Hermann began an apprenticeship as an iron turner in the Esslingen machine factory. The company, founded in 1846, built locomotives, railway wagons, road wagons and other rail vehicles (Förderverein für die Maschinenfabrik Esslingen e.V. for the Preservation of Locomotives). To do this, he had to go to Wendlingen (today Unterboihingen), about 4 kilometers away, every day and from there take the train to Esslingen. Later he took the bike to get there and back every day.(Kemmner, 2019)

Maschinenfabrik Esslingen
The Esslingen machine factory in the middle of the 19th century (photo: Beck, 1989. p. 78).

Hermann was very skilled and my grandfather assumed that Hermann would later have become self-employed as an iron turner. (Kemmner, 2019)

Even after work, Hermann had to help with his parents' farm, mainly during the harvest season. Holidays were also used for harvest work. The children already knew this from their school days, so it was natural for them. When he came home from his working place in the evening, he would lend a hand and help, for example, with unloading the potatoes or turnips. (Kemmner, 2010)

Feldarbeit Unterensingen Kemmner
Field work with the Kemmner family - Hermann's parents and his brother Richard can be seen here. (photo: privately owned).

Hermann probably met his girlfriend Mariette in the “Traube” (which translates to "grape"), a local restaurant just a few hundred meters from his parents’ house (Kemmner, 2019).

Hermann Kemmner Mariette Müller
Mariette and Hermann (Photo: provided by Margot Koch).

Mariette was two days older than Hermann. She was born on February 4, 1920 in nearby Nürtingen. Her parents were the master cooper Adolf Müller and his wife Maria. (Evangelische Kirche Unterensingen, 1944)

In 1936, when Mariette was sixteen, her parents bought and renovated the restaurant in what was then the Trinkgasse in Unterensingen (today: Esslinger Straße 40). As was customary at the time, the family lived above the restaurant. Mariette's father also had a Hackerbräu beer distributorship and made sparkling water himself. Around the time of the renovation, a bottle burst during the process, causing the father to contract blood poisoning and die from it. The two women, Mariette and her mother, then ran the restaurant together. (Kemmner, 2019; Kemmner, 2023)

Unterensingen Gasthaus zur Traube Müller
Das Gasthaus Traube nach der Renovierung 1936 in Unterensingen (Foto: Unterensingen, 1984, S. 37).

Hermann was a member of the Swabian Alb Association and hiked a lot with Mariette (Kemmner, 2019).

In 1937, when Hermann was around 17 years old, he planned a bicycle tour to Berchtesgaden. My grandfather was also there and described the tour. In addition to Hermann and his brother Otto, three other friends took part. The tour led via Ulm, Augsburg, Munich, Berchtesgaden, including Königssee. (Kemmner, 2010)

The friends had a great time, stayed in youth hostels and had dinner there at a reasonable price. At lunchtime they cooked their own food, usually Maggi soup, and occasionally a red sausage roasted on a spit. The friends wanted to spend one night in tents in the forest and had chosen a nice place. A group of forest workers were busy near the campsite. At dinner everyone was in good spirits. The darker it got, the scarier it became for everyone. After a short discussion, everyone quickly packed up their belongings and drove together to the next youth hostel. After a good hour they reached Reit im Winkel and were fortunately still given beds. (Kemmner, 2010)

Unterensingen Hermann Kemmner Fahrrad
Hermann (right) and a friend on the bike (photo: provided by Margot Koch).

The next day they drove to Berchtesgaden. The friends had planned a few days to visit the salt mine and the surrounding area of Berchtesgaden. In the afternoon they learned that Hitler was at Obersalzberg. Visitors and holidaymakers could see him there. Since they wanted to go to Obersalzberg anyway, they joined the stream of visitors on their bikes. Hitler's security group funneled them past Hitler through a relatively narrow defile. (Kemmner, 2010)

The following day the Königssee and the Hintersee were on the agenda. In wonderful weather they took part in a boat trip on the Königsee. The beautiful mountains, the Obersee and the picturesque town of Sankt Bartholomä made a huge impression on the boys. In the middle of the lake the captain stopped and blew a trumpet, the echo came back beautifully. They would have liked to stay there longer. (Kemmner, 2010)

In Munich they made a longer stop to see the city and the German Museum. The youth hostel where they stayed was housed in a former synagogue. The visit to the museum was an impressive experience for everyone. (Kemmner, 2010)

Fahrradtour Unterensingen
Young women and men on bicycles from my grandfather's photo collection. I don't know who exactly can be seen in this photo, but this is what Hermann must have looked like on his bike tour (photo: privately owned).

After the Munich days they continued towards home. They originally wanted to spend the night in Augsburg, but progress was so good that they decided to drive to Ulm. In Ulm they agreed to drive home on the Ulm-Stuttgart motorway, which was currently under construction. They made very good progress on the section of road that was already concrete, and things also initially went well on the route that was still under construction. They took a break in the Swabian Alb and stopped at an inn. Everyone ordered a portion of Leberkäse. Instead of slices of bread, the innkeeper put a large loaf of bread on the table, of which everyone could eat as much as they wanted. (Kemmner, 2010)

After snacking, they continued their journey home. The road became increasingly worse and after a few kilometers the road was suddenly no longer passable and there was no village in sight. They had to leave the highway, but it wasn't that easy. To make matters worse, several spokes on one of the rear wheels broke during this maneuver. In order to be able to ride the bicycle at all, the rear wheel was no longer allowed to be loaded with luggage. The friends decided that the lightest person should ride this bike, while the other four took turns carrying his luggage. At around 6 a.m. the boys arrived home in Unterensingen very very tired. (Kemmner, 2010)

When the Second World War broke out, Hermann was initially declared indispensable by his employer and was therefore able to stay at home at the beginning of the war. It wasn't until 1942 that Hermann was drafted. (Kemmner, 2010)

Hermann Kemmner Soldat Zweiter Weltkrieg Panzer
Hermann Kemmner as a soldier (photo: privately owned).

You can see two skulls on the collar of his uniform, but Hermann was in the Panzer Corps. The explanation: “One skull on the collar meant (…) SS, two of them Wehrmacht tank troops. A distinction that - if at all - probably only reached very few soldiers in the anti-Hitler coalition.” (Althaus, 2018).

Through research in the Federal Archives, I was able to find out that Hermann belonged to the main company Panzer Replacement Department 7, the Staff Panzer Training Department 7 and the 6th Company Panzer Training Department 7. At the end he was part of the Feldherrnhalle tank department. (Bundesarchiv, 2021)

Hermann Kemmner Mariette Müller
Hermann and Mariette (Photo: provided by Margot Koch).

In March 1943, probably during Hermann's vacation, Mariette and Hermann got engaged.

Verlobungsanzeige Hermann Kemmner Mariette Müller
Engagement announcement from Hermann and Mariette (card in family possession).

Their wedding took place the following year: on April 28, 1944, the two married in a civil ceremony, followed by a church wedding on May 3. His brothers Richard and Otto were able to take time off for the wedding celebration. (Kemmner, 2010)

Hochzeitsanzüge Mariette Müller Hermann Kemmner
Marriage announcement of Mariette and Hermann Kemmner (card in family possession).

Hermann Kemmner Mariette Müller
Mariette and Hermann married in a civil ceremony on April 28, 1944 (Photo: provided by Margot Koch)

kirchliche Hochzeit Hermann Kemmner Mariette Müller
The two had their church wedding on May 3rd (Photo: Provided by Marianne Keller)

It was also the last time that the four siblings were together. (Kemmner, 2010).

Kemmner Unterensingen
One of the last complete family photos: The parents Marie and Hermann in the front, Hermann, Marta, Otto and Richard in the back (from left to right) (photo: in family possession).

Two months after his wedding, Hermann was back on the Eastern Front, fighting near Minsk. The events will later go down as the worst defeat in German military history. The units were usually allowed to withdraw far too late, making it very difficult for the soldiers to break away from the Soviet army. The retreat from June 26th was slow as it led through a difficult forest area and then inevitably to one of the few bridges over the Berezina. The columns were backed up for miles on the only unpaved road between Mogilev and the Berezina. The units were constantly attacked by enemy fighter planes, so that the soldiers who were accumulating were literally destroyed. On June 28, the situation culminated in chaos and countless deaths. (Kellerhof, 2019 & Seewald, 2014)

Hermann also fell on June 28, 1944 during the retreat between Minsk and Mogilev (Kemmner, 2010). He lost his life due to a bomb shrapnel in his neck, “5 km east of Berezina” in what is now Belarus (Bundesarchiv, 2021).

My grandfather Otto had written him two letters from the hospital. These came back. It was written on them: “Fallen for Greater Germany” (Kemmner, 2010).

Feldpost gefallen für Großdeutschland
Field mail to the already fallen Hermann Kemmner (letters in the family possession).

On Sunday, September 3, 1944, a funeral service took place at 2 p.m. in the Protestant church in Unterensingen.

Nürtinger Zeitung Hermann Kemmner Traueranzeige
Funeral notice for Hermann Kemmner in the Nürtinger Zeitung (newspaper clipping owned by the family).

Trauergottensdienst Hermann Kemmner
The funeral service for Hermann Kemmner (Photo: provided by Margot Koch).

There was no grave. Instead, Hermann's father, Karl Hermann, planted a birch tree in front of the family home. This still stands today and has grown tall over the decades. (Kemmner, 2010)

Birke Unterensingen
In memory of Hermann, his father planted a birch tree in front of the family home (photo: privately owned)

In the Protestant cemetery, Hermann's name was later immortalized on a memorial stone to those who died in the Second World War.

Gedenkstein Zweiter Weltkrieg Hermann Kemmner
Memorial stone for those who fell in the Second World War from Unterensingen. Hermann's name is also noted here (Photo: Privately owned).

This time must have been particularly difficult for his wife Mariette. A few years earlier she had lost her father, now her beloved husband. Mariette later married Erwin Schweizer and had a daughter named Margot. I have now contacted Margot Koch. She provided me with many pictures of the two of them and told me that as a small child she also lived above the Gaststätte zur Traube and enjoyed visiting Hermann's parents. (Kemmner, 2023)

Hermann was also deeply missed by his siblings. My grandfather and his sister Marta always spoke very lovingly and fondly about their brother Hermann. Both spoke of him as “my Hermann”.


Quellenverzeichnis Hermann Kemmner
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