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A Man Much in Demand at the Heimatmuseum

An Interview with Dr. Hugo Knöll

Fieβ, Heinz. "A Man Much in Demand at the Heimatmuseum." Mitteilungsblatt, September 2011, 15-16.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, and editorial assistance by Dr. Nancy A. Herzog, Boulder, CO

As reported in the March, 2011 of the Mitteilungsblatt, during the national delegates’ meeting at which he did not stand as candidate for national vice-president, Dr. Hugo Knöll was awarded the Golden Pin of Merit for his work on behalf of the Bessarabian Germans. The following interview is intended to honor his achievements.

Heinz Fieβ: My dear Hugo, we have known each other for many years. Beginning with the early 1970s you and I took part in many sessions of the then Presidium of the Heimatmuseum. Jointly with Ingo Isert we were being groomed by Chairman Christian Fiess for high-level positions in the Association. How did you first get involved with the Heimatmuseum?  

Dr. Hugo Knöll: It all began with free-time activities organized by Mr. Fiess. It was in Truden when I took part for the first time. Fiess was able to motivate me rather quickly in getting involved in his work, and by the end of the 1960s I was already the vice-chair of the Heimatmuseum. Via Fiess, too, I came to be part of the Landsmannschaft. In that capacity I also got to be part of the negotiations with the Leicht Brewery  concerning the land for the Heimathaus. For a while I also acted as national spokesman for the Landsmannschaft. That position was done away with later on because it was considered unnecessary for a small association such as ours.
I look back happily on those times when, during various discussions in the Presidium, we talked about how to re-invent the Heimatmuseum. And as a long-time national vice-chair of the Bessarabiendeutsche Verein [Bessarabian German Association] I have been closley associated with the tasks and plans of the Association until March of this year.

H.F.: Many, many Bessarabian Germans have in the meantime gotten to know and respect you because of your central responsibility, family research. What made you get into family research?

Dr. Knöll: On the one hand, from my former professional life teaching physics, mathematics and information technology at higher grade levels at a gymnasium I was inclined to work with a PC. On the other hand, there is my brother-in-law and genealogist Dietmar Alex of Backnang. Even though he is not a Bessarabian German, his wife’s (my sister’s) Bessarabian roots led him to do especially intensive research on that family circle. In nearly two decades of work using a variety of professional software he has come up with an incredibly extensive genealogical data bank. During this work he researched nearly all Bessarabian German families. For most families, the ancestry tables he came up with go back all the way to the great-great-grandparents, and for some even further back than that.

His data at first got me interested in the Knöll family, and later I expanded it to all former Teplitz families.

H.F.: What does your work consist of now?

Dr. Knöll: While Dietmar Alex works with unbelievable passion collecting data from early morning until night time, I see my task primarily in being helpful to our countrymen by using the data bank created by Dietmar in trying to answer their genealogy questions and to give them a little joy thereby. Often I receive back messages such as, “Through your information on families the whole world of my ancestors has been opened up for me!” or, “I thank you a thousand and another thousand times!”

Via the PC I have access to the entire set of data retrieved and entered by Dietmar (which again and again he makes available to me via USB stick), and I am thus able to answer many questions regarding research on ancestry and relatives. For me, too, it is always surprising when I see how many relationship connections are discovered. Thus far I have provided answers to more than a thousand inquiries.

In this regard I am in high demand especially at the Bundestreffen, various other homeland get-togethers and on Open Door days. Family research often leads folks to join the Association and, happily, to develop an interest in our Bessarabian history.

H.F.: There has also been some harsh criticism of your family research work?

Dr. Knöll: Yes, a former employee of the Heimatmuseum came up with some accusations that were simply baseless, but that did not keep me from my family research work on behalf of our countrymen.

H.F.: Let’s leave the subject of family research now. I actually have a couple of personal questions. Even though we have known each other for a long time, I don’t know anything about your hobbies, for example.

Dr. Knöll: Well, for one thing I read a lot, with special interest in historical works on cultural struggles. And I probably don’t need to mention that I am also particularly interested in Bessarabian history. In this area I have to thank my father for many stimulating talks. I also like to delve into philosophy and psychology. In that regard I was very fortunate to have been close to a classmate of mine, the by now deceased Dr. Oswald Seitter, a former Synod President of the Church of Württemberg.

I also like to listen to classical music and, together with my wife, to attend concerts and theater performances.

H.F.: I seem to recall that you were at the Max-Planck Institute for a while?

Dr. Knöll: Even in [elementary] school I was interested in problems of mathematics and the natural sciences. Later I wrote articles in two issues of the series “Contemporary Schoolwork” that is used in continuing teacher training. My topics included atomic energy and the science of rocketry. After the Abitur [graded multi-subject final exams to complete the gymnasium and to be eligible for university studies– Tr.] I studied physics at the University of Stuttgart (and graduated as a certified physics scientist), and for five years thereafter I worked on the physics of metals as a scientific employee at the Max-Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart. After transferring to the University of Karlsruhe I received a PhD. in engineering and worked for some time as an academic and as a research assistant. To remain in research would have required more geographical transfers, but I am a person who likes his roots and to remain around his home area. For that reason, despite there being better prospects in scientific work, I moved over to a high-ranking post at the gymnasium teaching physics, mathematics, and information technology.

H.F.: Can you tell us more about your life story?

Dr. Knöll: I was born in December 1934 in Teplitz and (like nearly all Teplitz residents with ancestry in Württemberg) was raised in the strict Pietist faith. From our resettlement times I remember travel on ship, holding on to the outside of the railing and receiving a severe scolding for it. Following a long train ride we stayed for half a year in the Hubertusburg transition camp before we were settled in Bromberg. In Poland I attended school and—despite an abbreviated first grade—was to skip the second grade. While my older sister, accompanied by a Polish farmhand on a horse-drawn wagon, joined a group of other Bessarabian German refugees in an escape trek, my mother took us three younger children by train to Berlin and from there to Mecklenburg. We found temporary quarters in Teterow/MV {Mecklenburg/Vorpommern – Tr.], and a bit later our father was able to reunite with us there. In June 1946, he and some other Teplitzers rented a railroad car that took us all the way to the cargo railroad yard in Stuttgart. A rented truck brought us to Backnang, where we and other Teplitzers soon built a home in the Plattenwald settlement. As the best student in the first year of middle school, I transferred to the second year of high school, where I immediately got a top grade in mathematics.

I never joined a sports club, although I was physically the strongest in class and was successful in all kinds of sports—a natural decathlete, so to speak. Additionally, I later sang in the church choir in my home town and served twelve years there in the Church Community Council.

A concluding note: During the interview, which was conducted in the Heimatmuseum library, Egon Sprecher chanced to come by. His spontaneous expression of high regard must not be left unmentioned: “Whenever Dr. Knöll’s name is heard in Bad Sachsa, for example, he is always held in high esteem on account of his work. The Association can only wish to keep him in that work for a long time to come.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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