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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Otto Bauer and the celebrated Hanns Klemm

     Here are two year-old posts from Dissent the Blog that tell the story of Otto Bauer and his association with aircraft pioneer Hanns Klemm:

The case of Dr. Hanns Klemm
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
. . .

     My late grandfather, Otto, was a friend of an aircraft designer and manufacturer named Hanns Klemm (See Wikipedia.) Opa, a wood worker, was with the R&D unit (Klemm was a great believer in wood construction and made significant contributions to wood construction and glue for aircraft). Like my grandfather, who was a communist, Herr Klemm badmouthed the Nazis, and that finally got him into trouble. I do believe he was arrested toward the end of the war. I seem to recall coming across an article about Herr Klemm's fate. I'll try to dig it up. (See below.)
     According to my father, Klemm asked Opa to run a factory for him, and Opa decided not to take the job, a decision which created problems for his marriage.
     This photograph seems to be from about 1928.
     I'm guessing that the plane is the L20. It's predecessor, the L15, was powered by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine! (Klemm's first plane, conceived when he worked for Daimler, had an Indian engine.) After the war, Germany was not allowed to develop aircraft with motors, and it was reasoned that the addition of a little 12 hp motorcycle engine wouldn't count.

Grandpa (Otto) is the guy on the far right. Yeah, this is an L20 all right. Probably an L20b1. The L20 was first flown in 1923 and was in production until 1928.
. . .
Opa, late 30s?

Re Opa's friend and employer Hanns Klemm, I found the following brief biography:

Hanns Klemm: the man who resigned from the Nazi Party and lived to tell about it 

     …[T]he Klemm company [which developed out of Hanns Klemm's association with Daimler, in Böblingen, in the mid-twenties] earned the reputation of being very innovative and commercially very successful.
     Hanns Klemm's vision was to build aeroplanes which, like cars, would allow a much wider circle of people to buy and run a plane.
     That meant a plane which was easy to manufacture and cheap to maintain, and ideally also fit in a garage. All development had to be subordinated to this primary goal.
     For this reason Klemm aircraft were not spectacular as far as horsepower and speed are concerned, but they were spectacularly economical and practical. Almost every flyer in Germany in the 20's and 30's learned to fly in a Klemm.
     In 1932 production reached 25 planes per month! Subsidiaries were formed abroad, among other places in the USA, Great Britain, and Sweden.
     In 1933 the National Socialists came to power in Germany and Hanns Klemm too, enthused by the spirit of national resurgence, joined the Nazi party in 1933.
     In 1934 the influence of the Nazis over the economy was growing. As an entrepreneur, Hanns Klemm was no longer free to determine his company's fortunes, and the Air Ministry set a starkly reduced monthly salary.
     A new factory was built in Halle on the Saale in 1934/1935 under pressure from the Air Ministry, and Director Klemm had to transfer to it a number of employees and the design of a two-engined machine, the FH 104. It then, after Hanns Klemm transferred this factory in 1937 to his one-time friend and company representatitve Friedrich W. Siebel, again under pressure from the Air Ministry, became the Siebel Flugzeugwerke.
     The Nazis interfered more and more in the running of the company and in the appointment of top positions, valued Jewish employees had to be dismissed, and piecework for other companies, for example the fuselage of the Messerschmidt Me 163 jet [sic; it was a rocket plane], had to be built at Klemm. Hanns Klemm refused the directives from Berlin, was subjected to an investigation for sabotage, and had to resign as head of the company -- Hanns Klemm was no longer boss of his own company.
     Hanns Klemm was a practising Christian and regular church-goer, and his growing distaste at the goings-on immmediately around him and in Germany made his membership of the Nazi party appear increasingly perverse. Also his inability to keep quiet about incidents which came to his notice meant that in 1937 he was considered politically unreliable, and declared to be "unfit to occupy a party position".
     In june 1943 Hanns Klemm dared the unimaginable, he resigned from the NSDAP [the Nazi Party]. The reason he gave on 26th May 1943 was: "I consider my membership of the NSDAP to be no longer compatible with my belonging to the Christian community". [Note: this was about the time that my grandfather was secreted to the Wehrmacht, keeping him out of the reach of the authorities.]
     The reaction to this resignation from the NSDAP was not long in coming.
     Hanns Klemm, to save his fortune, had to transfer his company to his wife. The Böblingen Tax Office, assessing Gift Tax at 330%, demanded 50,000 RM.
     Hanns Klemm was arrested by the Gestapo and after a fierce interrogation was delivered to the Bürgerhospital lunatic asylum in Stuttgart. The doctors, however, didn't consider him mad and so let him go home.
     On the 12th of June 1944 his company was requisitioned and a commissar appointed.
     In March 1945 he was arrested again by the Gestapo, interrogated, beaten-up, and his case handed over to a summary court. Only the arrival of the French army on 28.4.1945 saved Hanns Klemm's life.

Klemm next to a KL26

Charles Lindberg, flight testing a Klemm L20 in New York, 1928

Family war stories
Thursday, August 19, 2010

     I had a chance to speak with my father about Opa—his father, my grandfather—and Opa's association with Hanns Klemm, an important aircraft innovator and entrepreneur who, in 1943, was arrested by the Gestapo for the crime of resigning from the Nazi Party. (In May of '43, he wrote them, "I consider my membership of the NSDAP to be no longer compatible with my belonging to the Christian community." Six years earlier, owing to his constant objections to party meddling in his business—including removal of valued Jewish employees—the Nazis had declared him to be "unreliable.")
     As I’ve explained previously, Opa, who had been a communist, was a noisy denouncer of Hitler and the Nazis and, in 1943, was rushed, by friends, into the Wehrmacht (army) to keep him out of the reach of the Gestapo. Today, I asked my dad if there was any connection between Klemm’s famous "death sentence" resignation and Opa’s sudden military recruitment at the age of 36.
     He wasn’t sure. Indeed, he had never thought about the matter before. In 1943, he was eleven years old and so he does not have a clear memory of chronology or even an understanding of major events at the time. Most families, of course, need only refer to other family members for clarifying information, but our family lacks that resource. My grandparents are now long dead, my dad’s sister died a year ago, and no other knowledgeable family member lives in this country. There are some relatives in Germany, even some who are elderly, but only my dad knows them, and he is disinclined to pepper them with such questions. I’m trying to arrange an email, in German, to family there in hopes of getting more information.
     “Now that you raise the question,” says dad, “it does seem very likely that the two events were connected.” He was pleased that I was pursuing the matter, and he was very happy to receive the results of my initial research into the career and fate of the legendary (for him) Hanns Klemm. He had thought that the memory of Klemm, an important figure in his hometown up through the war, had fallen into obscurity, as so much has done.
     But such is not the case. As it turns out, Klemm is remembered and honored, both for his contributions to aviation and related technologies and, to a far lesser extent, his stunning resignation letter, which he would have known would have lethal consequences. (As it turns out, the allies invaded Germany just in time to save Klemm, who was in prison.)
     My father reminded me that, in about 1932, Klemm had asked Opa to manage a new factory, but Opa turned down the job, which infuriated my grandmother.
     "Really? Opa would have been twenty-five years old at the time. Klemm [who would have been 47] asked such a young man to run a factory?"
     "Well, yes he did."
     Dad explains that Opa was a supreme technician and a master of the kind of work he did, which generally involved the making of models as part of the design and fabrication process. His official title was "model maker."
     But Opa didn't want the responsibility of running a factory. "He was strictly a Number 2 man," says my father. "He didn't want to run the show."
     My father grew up in the shadow of this peculiar act of unambitousness, the resulting bitterness of which permeated Opa's marriage and indeed his family. I knew Oma, and I can well imagine the ferocious hectoring she would have unleashed on her husband. I knew Opa, too. He was remarkably stubborn. There is no stubbornness like German stubbornness, which is far deeper and more inveterate than any species known anywhere in the New World.
     Despite Opa’s decision to remain a mere R&D man at Klemm, he and his boss evidently remained friends and maintainted a close working relationship. My father recalls serving as a messenger boy for his father in his town of Böblingen (and its sister town Sindelfingen), and he is sure that he often encountered Klemm; this experience left him with the impression that Opa and Klemm were friends and routinely worked together.
     According to dad, Opa used to tell the story of how the Gestapo would come to Klemm’s place of business, demanding the aircraft maker's attention. Opa would go to the door, open the little view window, and shout “state secrets!” He’d then slam it shut and return to the business at hand. Evidently, Klemm was always pleased by such antics. “So, what did you tell them this time, Otto?”
     (During the war years, it was understood that the open expression of “state secrets” was punishable by death, and so there were many jokes and stories focusing on that phrase.)
     The information I have about my family's war and pre-war history (both sides) is largely provided by two people who were just kids when the war ended—my parents. Naturally, their accounts of events do not always square perfectly with the facts available in history books. But, in my experience, their stories always ultimately check out as essentially accurate. Talking with my parents is a cross between dinner with the Costanzas and conversation with Gracie Allen.
     But they’re no liars.

     I recalled that my mother’s father (who was actually her stepfather and uncle) was often described as a “Marxist.” So I asked my mother about that today. Despite the “Gracie Allen” factor, I did learn a few things. He was a well-educated man from Berlin, and, along with most of his college friends, he was a Marxist. He often talked politics, and his politics were decidedly left-wing.
     So did this cause problems for him during the Nazi years?
     He died of tuberculosis in about 1941. He was indeed outspoken in his hatred for Hitler and the party until the end. But he was liked and respected in the little town of Bärwalde. Friends and other town leaders did routinely implore him to keep his views to himself, for they feared that Nazi authorities would not tolerate his defiance forever. But he ignored such entreaties. In the last few years of his life, he was clearly ill and then dying, and so, evidently, the authorities left him alone.
     “Were these friends and others Marxists?”
     “Oh no, not all of them” says mom. “Some of them were even Nazis!”
     I should mention that not all Nazi-era family members shared my two grandfathers’ hatred for the Nazis. My mother tells stories of her older sister’s haughtiness and contempt for the Polish prisoners, who  performed various jobs in towns and in businesses, including in the family lumber business. (The engineer of the train my mother ultimately took to flee the Russian invasion was a Polish prisoner.) On one occasion, Ilsa was in town and demanded of a Polish man that he step aside to make way for her on the sidewalk. That got back to her mother (by then widowed), and, well, there was hell to pay.
     “Our family does not do such things," she declared. Nazi notions of superiority and inferiority were strictly verboten among the Schultzes.
     Neither of my parents strike me as rebellious in any way. They voted for Bush.
     Maybe it skips a generation.

Flughafen Stuttgart-Böblingen mit den Maschinen der Akademischen Fliegergruppe der TH Stuttgart ca. 1928. von links: Versuchsflugzeug A2 von Wolf Hirth, L20 von Hanns Klemm, Dietrich Gobiel DP9, Heinkel H.D.32

Klemm L20


  1. Perhaps not the correct venue but I decided to try. This is a geneology question that perhaps you could answer or guide me to an answer. My great grandmother, Justina, they think her last name was Klemm, no birthdate, but from Germany in the 1800's, her first daughter, Justina, born 1873 in Leipzig, Germany. I was wondering if Dr. Hanns Klemm family member or friend would know if there is a trace back to a Justina Klemm who was forced supposedly to marry a man named August Klimach (a Prussian tailor). My email is sandgust@netzero.net.

  2. 5:05, I think that your chances of finding that information are promising, in part because Hanns Klemm, as it turns out, is not forgotten or obscure. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Böblingen#History) You might start at something like Ancestry.com and then look at the various German genealogy resources. It sounds as though your family does not come from places where records were deliberately destroyed (as was the case in Pomerania, etc.). You might also go here:

  3. Dear sir otto

    I read carefully the story of his grandfather Opa and its relationship to Hanns Klemm and I feel wonderful.
    I wonder if his grandfather owned a plane Klemm L 20 in new york because only two aircraft entered Klemm L 20 costruidos in Germany and one of these aircraft was registered serial number 53 in new york as N 4921 -
    My interest in all the information you could give me is that this plane I have it in Argentina and we are doing the rebuilding -
    I would ask that you try to search its files and friendly people, if you can help me with more information. and the information of my aircraft in New York.
    My aircraft will recostruida and I am a pilot and want to fly to the EAA, in osckosh for the reunion of classic and antique. and I would go back to Germany tanbien as one of the products even fly in tribute to Hanns Klemm.
    Could send pictures of my aircraft that my grandfather gave me and now after 78 years of life are returning to flight.

    thank you very much.
    Horacio Quiroga

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