Johann Maria Hans Zwierzina, Captain
At the time of his birth, on 7 September 1889, his parents lived at Wien-Gersthof, Neuwaldeggerstraße 37. His father was 64 years old and his mother 34. They had just married seven months before Hans was born, so he could possibly be considered to have been the cause for yet another marriage. A more logical explanation, however, would be that a 64 year-old man, who had just recently been widowed, and who had five daughters under 15 years old (Helene 14, Melanie 11, Valerie 5, Hedwig 4, Martha 2) and most certainly needed a woman in his household.
|Historical Events of the Period|
|1889||The Austrian Crown Prince Archduke Rudolf, a son of Emperor Franz Josef I shot his mistress and himself.|
|Hollerith created the first card punch system.|
I can only speculate about his childhood. For the first two years, until my father was born, Hans only had to compete for attention with the two youngest children from his father's previous marriage. Being "the baby" most likely gave him an undisputed advantage. Being a boy, he did not need to wear hand-me-down clothing as the girls probably did, because there was no older boy ahead of him. He probably had absolutely no say in the decision that he would become a career officer in the army of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
The only story which involves Hans as a child is one where the two brothers Hans and Emo got into trouble for decorating the face of 3 year-old Ida (Birman) with flower petals. What upset Ida and their father was that the petals had to be "glued" to Ida's face with spittle. If Ida was 3 years old, then this must have taken place about 1899, and Hans would have been 10 years old, and Emo eight.
The two boys were probably not very close, because I do not remember my father talking about him beyond saying that he had this brother who was a flyer and crashed during WWI. It is quite possible that my conclusion is completely wrong, and that my father did not speak of him for some other reason.
Hans was only 14 years old when his father died in 1903. He was already away from home and in his third year of military school (Militärunterrealschule) in St.Pölten which he attended from 1900 to 1904. From there he went to Prague (Praha) to attend the Infanteriekadettenschule (School for Infantry Cadets) until 1908. He graduated from both schools with good results.
1908 He became Fähnrich (Ensign) on the 18th of August (P.V.BL. No.29) and was assigned to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1 for 3 years of line duty, 7 years of reserve duty and 2 years of Landwehr (Militia) duty. (He had to serve 7 years to make up for the time spent in military school).(2)
He was garrisoned in Vienna as of 28 September 1908, and on 5 October 1908 he was officially transferred to Company duty.
His superior, captain Hermann Freiherr Baselli
von Süssenberg, commander of the 8th Field Company
provides the following description (Kurze Charakteristik):
|Offener Charakter, heiter, temperamentvoll. Sehr gute Fähigkeiten mit ebensolcher Auffassung, sehr findig, ambitioniert und in jeder Hinsicht sehr verwendbar. Führt den Zug sehr geschickt und mit viel Ver-ständnis. Hat einen sehr guten taktischen Blick. Sehr guter Patrouilleur und Instruktor im Telephon und Feldsignaldienst. Viel Orientierungsgabe. Im Schieß und Waffenwesen sehr gut bewandert und erzielt als Instruktor hierin sehr gute Resultate. Selbst guter Schütze. Sehr guter Kamerad, sehr gesellig. Eignung zur Erziehung, Leitung und Beurteilung der Untergebenen: Beurteilt seine Untergebenen richtig und ist für diese sehr fürsorglich. Besitzt deren Vertrauen.||Forthright personality, cheerful disposition,
spirited. Good abilities and grasp, resourceful, ambitious, and in every
way very useful. Leads his unit with skill and understanding. Has a good
eye for tactics. Is a good patroller, and a good instructor in the subjects
of telephone and field signal service. Much aptitude for orienteering. Good
knowledge of ordnance and firing, and obtains good results instructing these
subjects. Is himself a good marksman. Good comrade, very sociable.
Personal suitability for the training, leading and evaluation
of subordinates: Judges his subordinates correctly, cares for them and has
Signed: General Emil List, Commander of the 49th Infantry Brigade.
1910 Hans spent a month in Sarajevo (Apr 1 to May 3) training reservists recently taken on strength. The rest of the time he did general company duty.
Other changes reported on his annual fitness report form (Zusatz zum Reinpare der Qualifikationsliste für das Jahr 1910)fggdoc59 show under Inland decorations: "strike out Bosnian-Hercegovinian Memorial Medal", and under Foreign decorations: Königlich preußischer Kronenorden 4. Klasse ( Royal Prussian Order of the Crown 4th Class). To his knowledge of geographic areas, Switzerland had been added with the indication that he had traveled there. For his personal suitability, the comment reads "Trains and leads his subordinates with real understanding". The flawed chronology indicates that this form may have been started in 1910 but that it was used for several subsequent years as sort of a running account. Fact is that he did not receive the Prussian decoration until after August 1914 when he was assigned to the German Flying Branch.
1911 Promotion to Lieutenant effective Nov 1st (P.V.Bl.44 ex 1911). On Company duty in Vienna. No changes. This promotion seems to have made a big impression on Hans. While so far he had been living in barracks at the Alserkaserne, he now immediately moved out, and rented his very own flat (#14) on the third floor of Ausstellungsgasse 41 in Vienna's 2nd district. Hans stayed in his flat for six months, then on 9 May 1912 he moved back barracks (this time at the Albrechtskaserne).
1912 Moved from Vienna to Wiener Neustadt on 4 March 1912.
In July 1912, as a 23 year old lieutenant, Hans distinguished himself when he showed presence of mind and personal courage as he proceeded to get rid of burning timbers so they would not cause further explosions of gun powder. The following documents attest to his receiving the Signum Laudis(3), the coveted expression of praise from his Majesty Emperor Franz Joseph I. (P.V.Bl.26 ex 1912)
He was awarded the Bronze Medal of Military Merit with Red Ribbon "in recognition of his decisive, and astute conduct on the occasion of a catastrophic explosion".fggdoc75-3
Der Kommandant des 2. Korps beantragt die Ag.Verleihung Ah. Auszeichnungen an die unten angeführten Personen, die sich bei den Explosionskatastrophen am Steinfeld bei Wöllersdorf und am Mittel bei Solenau durch kaltblütiges und selbstloses Verhalten hervorgetan haben.
Leutnant Zwierzina und der Infanterist Maksimovic sind nach der Explosion
am Mittel, trotz augenscheinlich hoher Gefahr herbeigeeilt, um die Löschaktion
In Anerkennung des entschlossenen und umsichtigen Verhaltens bei einer Explosionskatastrophe ist der Ausdruck Meiner Zufriedenheit zu geben (...) dem Leutnant Johann Zwierzina des bosnisch herzegovinischen Infanterieregiments Nr 1.
The commander of 2nd Corps requests the most gracious awarding of the very highest decorations to the below named persons, who have distinguished themselves on the occasion of the catastrophic explosions at Steinfeld near Wöllersdorf(4), and at Mittel near Solenau(5) by their cool-headed and unselfish conduct. Despite the imminent danger to their lives, Lieutenant Zwierzina and the infantry man Maksimovic rushed to the scene after the explosion to begin extinguishing the fire. ([More specifically from a "Memo to File"]: "As Officer of the Watch, despite imminent danger to life, he rendered harmless glowing and burning timbers in the vicinity of the endangered powder stores.")
In recognition of his decisive, and perceptive conduct on the occasion of a catastrophic explosion, the expression of My Satisfaction is to be conveyed to (...) Lieutenant Johann Zwierzina of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment Nr 1.my translation
dated at Bad Ischl 17 July 1912,
signed: Franz Joseph
Offener Charakter, heiter, temperamentvoll. Sehr gute Fähigkeiten mit rascher, richtiger Auffassung. Sehr findig, entschlossen und umsichtig. Führt den Zug im Verbande und selbständig sicher und geschickt. Besitzt Verständnis für taktische Situationen. Sehr guter Patrouilleur und Instruktor; im Telephon- und Signaldienst sehr gut bewandert, orientiert sich im Terrain sehr gut, im Schieß- und Waffenwesen sehr gut bewandert. Selbst guter Schütze. Sonst wie im vorigen Jahre. Besitzt volle Eignung zur Erziehung, Leitung und Beurteilung der Untergebenen, angemessen streng; jedoch wohlwollend. Hat die Skieabteilung des Bataillons mit sehr gutem Erfolg ausgebildet. Ein energischer, vielfach sehr gut verwendbarer Offizier. Wurde im Jahre 1912 nicht beschrieben, da er sich in ehrenrätlicher Untersuchung befand.
Forthright character, cheerful, spirited.
Very good abilities with quick and correct grasp. Very resourceful, decisive
and perceptive. Leads the unit in an assured, and competent manner whether
in formation or alone. Has good understanding of tactical situations.
Very good on patrol, and very good instructor; well versed in the provision
of telephone and signal services, can find his way very well in any terrain.
Very good in shooting and weaponry. Good marksman. Otherwise as in the
previous year. Fully qualified for the training, leading and evaluation
of subordinates. Appropriately stern, but benevolent. He trained the Battalion's
ski detachment with good results. An energetic,
versatile and very useful officer. Was not rated in 1912 as he was being
reviewed by the Honor Tribunal.my
He was healthy, a gymnast, fencer, skier, skater, cyclist, swimmer. His linguistic skills were rated as perfect in spoken and written German, adequate for service in spoken Czech and Serbo-Croatian (language of his Regiment), and passable in spoken French. An entry indicates that he was given the Erinnerungskreuz (Memorial Cross) in 1912/13.fggdoc61The comment to the effect that he had not been rated in 1912 because he was at the time under investigation by an Honor Tribunal. ("... da er sich in ehrenrätlicher Untersuchung befand.") aroused my curiosity. A little research revealed that while these tribunals were instituted in January 1868 primarily as an attempt to reduce the frequency of dueling and fighting among the officers, they also had jurisdiction over any act which could put the officer corps in a bad light (drunkenness, immorality, indebtedness, gambling - if it exploited fellow officers, breaking one's given word, inciting two other officers to duel, and inviting - through one's own unreasonable conduct - a show of disrespect by an outsider). Anyone falling under its jurisdiction could ask the tribunal to arbitrate, but there was no appealing its judgement.
1914 Promoted to First Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) effective Aug 1st, 1914.
Request for Decoration (#275) dated 18 Oct 1914.fggdoc74-1,-2,-3
Er hat sich als Ordonanzoffizier des 49. IbrigKmdos [Infanteriebrigade Kommandos] in den Kämpfen bei Wereszyca vom 8.-12./9. und bei Przylbice am 13./9. durch hervorragende Tapferkeit und bravoureusen Eifer beim Überbringen von Befehlen im heftigen Artilleriefeuer ausgezeichnet. Bei Przylbice geriet er in starkes Schrapnellfeuer, in welchem das Pferd des ihn begleitenden Ulanen todt blieb. Da Oblt. Zwierzina zu dieser Zeit schon an einer Nierenentzündung litt, seinen Dienst nur mit größter Selbstaufopferung versehen konnte, ist die tapfere Haltung dieses Offiziers einer Allerhöchsten Auszeichnung im hohen Maße würdig.
He distinguished himself as ordnance officer on the Staff of the 49th Infantry Brigade during the battles at Wereszyca between Sept 8th and 12th, and at Przylbice on Sept 13th through outstanding courage and undaunted perseverance while delivering battle orders under heavy artillery fire. At Przylbice he was caught in heavy shrapnel fire which killed the horse of the accompanying Ulan. Because First Lieutenant Zwierzina was at this time already suffering from an inflamed kidney, and could only carry out his duties with the outmost self-sacrifice, the brave conduct of this officer is worthy of the very highest recognition. my translation
... The request was signed by the k.u.k. 21st Infantry Troop Command, the k.u.k. 2nd Corps Command, and the signature for the k.u.k. 4th Army was that of Crown prince Joseph. (P.V.B.15/10/14)(6)
Bronze Military Merit Medal on the Band of the Military Merit Cross [the Bravery Ribbon] with Swords.
Request for Award (Res.Nr.83/6) dated 11 Jan 1915:fggdoc76
Anlass:Ganz hervorragendes tapferes heldenhaftes und schneidiges Verhalten in den Gefechten am 18-21 Dezember.
Mit wahrer Todesverachtung stürmte er an der Spitze seiner Komp[anie] die fdl [feindlichen] Stellungen, als leuchtendes Beispiel seiner Mannschaft, und es gelang ihm mehrere fdl. Stellungen zu nehmen.
Reason: Very outstandingly, courageous and heroically daring conduct during the battles of December 18-21. As a shining example for his troops, stormed enemy positions at the head of his Company with true death defiance, and succeeded in capturing several enemy positions in succession.
Requested: Military Cross of Merit 3rd Class (KD)[KD=Kriegsdekoration; i.e. awarded during the war]. my translation
The Military Cross of Merit 3rd Class (KD)
Signed, among others, by Field Marshall Lieutenant Virálicek, Commander of the 9th Corps; by Major General Stöhr, Commander of the 11(?) Infantry Brigade; and for the k.u.k. 4th Army, again by Erzherzog Joseph. Needless to say, he received (P.V.B. 36/15)
It is obvious from the foregoing that Hans started his military career on the ground. His decorations up to this point were for bravery while moving burning timbers away from powder kegs, for delivering dispatches under fire, and for storming enemy positions at the head of his men. An opportunity to transfer to the Flying Branch of the Army must have come up, and Hans took advantage of it as the following indicates:
1915.07.26 Als Beobachter aus Luftfahrzeugen dauernd zur Luftschifferabteilung kommandiert und der deutschen Fliegerabteilung in Herkulesbad zugeteilt. K.M.Erl. M5/M Nr.12016 ex.15. fggdoc56,57
1915.07.26 Permanently transferred to the Airborne Branch as an Observer from Aircraft, and assigned for duty to the German Flying Branch in Herkulesbad (7). As per Ministry of War order M5/M Nr.12016 ex.15.my translation
To be specific, he was assigned to the 1st Fkomp (Flugkompanie) in FK (Flieger Korps) 12.fggdoc57 His decorations from here foreward are all for bravery while carrying out observation flights above enemy territory.
From Field Marshall Conrad von Hötzendorf's book Aus Meiner Dienstzeit 1906-1918 we learn that not only did planes exist in 1910, but that he had recognized their importance. He writes: "A further urgent need are aircraft. I have requested 240 of them in the 1911 Budget, but modern requirements significantly exceed this number. There exist currently only 35 training craft and 84 field-ready craft".
Aerial reconnaissance became a very high military priority in 1915 with the primary objective being the continued surveillance of the enemy's trenches, artillery positions, and the guidance of one's own artillery. Initially all airborne observers were officers because it was thought that only they had the ability to correctly interpret in military terms that which they saw. Many, who had been wounded, or for other reason were not allowed to march or ride, volunteered for flying. Since it was quicker to be trained for observer than it was for pilot, and since there was a general fear that they might miss this war, most opted for observer training. Hans seems to have gone that route also, and it was another year before he qualified as Feldpilot (field pilot).
Hans' bride, Anny Skopek
Information I received from Ute Nagati (the late Hans' daughter-in-law) in July 1991 indicates that other scenarios were just as likely, or perhaps more likely. Ute said, and she must have heard this from Anny first hand, that Hans had been in the hospital in Herkulesbad. To which Ute's husband added that Anny wanted to be a candy-striper (volunteer nurse) so badly that she hired her own transportation to the front when she ran into bureaucratic hurdles (she was not allowed on the train to Herkulesbad because trains were stuffed full with troops and equipment. Anny then reportedly leased a railway car of her own and had it attached to one of the trains.) That he was in the hospital as a patient at that time can be roughly approximated with the text of the Request for Decoration #275, dated 18 October 1914. In this document the writer makes reference to Hans having an inflamed kidney. It is reasonable to expect that this condition would have eventually caused him to be hospitalized. As to Anny's arrival at the hospital, there are two possibilities: either they had met before, and he had informed her of his hospitalization, and she went to be with him. Or else they met for the first time at the hospital, and then decided within a very short time to get married. To those that knew Anny, such impulsive action seems not to have been unusual. She usually went after what she wanted without wasting any time.
The interesting, and somewhat surprising thing about the timing of this marriage, is that he was not yet the dashing, much-decorated flyer he later became.
Request for Award (Res.Nr.5827) dated 10 Nov 1915:
This request shows him to be an aerial observer in the Group FML Fülöpp of the German-Turkish Flying Branch.fggdoc77-2
War für die Aufklärung in östl. Serbien, für welche nur Flieger in Betracht kommen unermüdlich tätig. Alle Aufklärungsmeldungen und Photographien in den Abschnitten Orsova, Ogradina, Golubinje, Lukowo, Zajecar, Negotin, Brza Palanka, Kladovo stammen von genannten Offiz. der die Flüge als Beobachter mit dem Abteilungsführer gemacht hat. Ganz besondere Anerkennung verdienen die Flüge am 23/10. gelegentlich der Forzierung der Donau bei Orsova, bei denen die untere Wolkengrenze ein fliegen in 200 - 300 m. bedingte.
Beantragt: Silberne Verdienst Medaille am Bande des M.V.Kr.
Was tirelessly engaged in the reconnaissance in eastern Serbia where only planes can be used. All of the observation reports and photographs of the sectors Orsova, Ogradina, Golubinje, Lukowo, Zajecar, Negotin, Brza Palanka, Kladovo come from the officer named, who made the flights as observer with the Group leader. Particular recognition is deserved by the flights on October 23 during the forcing of the Danube crossing at Orsova, when the low ceiling required all flights to be made at the 200-300 meter level.
Requested: Silver Medal of Merit on the Ribbon of the Military Cross of Merit.my translation
...The request originates at Forces Post Office FP136, and is signed by Field Marshall Lieutenant Fülöpp
and endorsed by the Commander of the k.u.k. Luftfahrtruppen.
An extract from the duty roster (Auszug aus der Rang- und Einteilungsliste)fggdoc56 of the Reserve Battalion (Ersatzbataillon) of the k.u.k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment Nr.1 (Res.E.No.4468 Adj), dated at Budapest on 6 December 1915, shows him as First Lieutenant effective 1 August 1914 (#997), the previous rank having been obtained 1 November 1911 (#107). It also shows him belonging to the 5th Company, but assigned to the 1st Flight Company.
-------------- The K.T.K. (Karl Truppen Kreuz).(9)
Image courtesy Glenn Jewison.
The above also shows that "For his services in the German Flying Branch" he was awarded the Royal Prussian Order of the Crown 4th Class.fggdoc57 1916 The next medal he received, seems to be the one requested for him by Field Marshall Lieutenant Füllöp in November 1915, the Silver Medal of Merit on the Ribbon of the Military
Cross of Merit (P.V.B.7/16).
1916.08.16 Hans received his FP Badge (Abzeichen "FP"). I surmise that FP stands for Feldpilot, in which case this would be an occasion equivalent to "receiving his wings". It would also mean that until then he flew as an observer, but was not qualified to pilot the aircraft himself. fggdoc56 An explanation I have read indicates that the rules stated that the observer had to be an officer - because it required an officer to be able to correctly interpret from a military point of view that which had been observed. Since the pilot seems to have been regarded something like a chauffeur, he could be anything, and many pilots were in fact non-commissioned officers.
On the very day that he received his FP badge, he was in Vienna, inside that famous Vienna landmark, the Stefansdom, attending the marriage of his 29 year-old half-sister Martha who on that day became the Baroness Pelikan by marrying Karl Pelikan Freiherr von Plauenwald, a 69 year-old, retired senior accountant. As a matter of fact, since Hans was her oldest male relative, he probably acted in lieu of her deceased father, and "gave her in marriage".(10) During his stay in Vienna he was registered at 53 Hütteldorferstraße in the 12th district.
Request for Award (#638) dated 15 October 1916.
Anlass: Sehr tapferes Verhalten als Flieger vor dem Feinde. ( Feldpilot, 14th Fliegerkomp).fggdoc78-1 to 78-5
Hat am 19.9.1916 anlässlich eines freiwilligen Frontfluges eines von drei fdl. Flugzeugen im Luftkampfe zum Absturz gebracht. Zeugen dieser Tat laut Beilagen.
Diese Leistung ist nur seiner unermüdlichen, nie versagenden Freude am Fliegen, sowie dem steten Ausharren selbst unter den allerschwierigsten Umständen zu verdanken.
Zum Kampfe herausgefordert, stürzte sich der fdl. Flieger, der durch seine grössere Höhe und Schnelligkeit sowie leichtere Wendsamkeit im Vorteile war, auf das von Obltn. Zwierzina gelenkte Flugzeug. Mit ausserordentlicher Kaltblütigkeit wendete Obltn. Zwierzina derart, dass dem Feinde jedweder Vorteil benommen wurde. Tollkühn näherte sich das eigene Flugzeug, bis auf die nächsten Distanzen an das fdl. Flugzeug, bis es ihm in erbitterten Kampfe gelang, den Gegner vollkommen kampfunfähig zu machen.
Unermüdlich, mit steter Schaffungsfreude, hält Obltn. Zwierzina unter Hintansetzung seines Ichs und seiner Gesundheit mit besonderer Ambition den aufreibenden Dienst der Frontsperre. Durch sein angeborenes Draufgängertum, kaltblütige Zähigkeit und Festhalten an den einmal gefassten Entschlusse, ist es ihm zu verdanken, dass kein fdl. Flugzeug sich über die Front wagt.
Am 8./9. flog Feldpilot Obltn. Zwierzina über Radziwillow. Plötzlich versagte der Motor gänzlich. Mit grosser Mühe gelang es ihm, ungehindert des abnormal heftigen Feuers, das Flugzeug noch knapp hinter die eigene Front zu bringen. Fest entschlossen seine Aufgabe zu lösen, reparierte Obltn. Zwierzina sein Flugzeug und brachte es dahin, nochmals über die Front zu fliegen und seinen wichtigen Auftrag zu erfüllen. Zeuge dieser Tat: Beobachter Ltn.i.d.Res. Popelak.
Obltn.Zwierzina hat bereits im März l.J. in Gemeinschaft mit 2 eigenen Flugzeugen einen fdl. Caproni zur Landung auf eigenem Terrain gezwungen. Genannter hat im Ganzen 102 Feindflüge absolviert, hievon 76 seit seiner letzten Dekorierung.
(Russischer und italienischer Kriegsschauplatz).
Occasion: Very courageous conduct before the enemy as a flyer. Caused one of three enemy planes to crash during an arial combat while on a voluntary mission on 19 September 1916. Witnesses as per attachments. This achievement can only be credited to his tireless, never failing enjoyment of flying as well as his steadfastness even under the most difficult circumstances.
Challenged to combat, the enemy plane, which enjoyed the advantages of greater height, speed and manouverability, dove on the plane piloted by First Lieutenant Zwierzina. With extreme cool-headedness First Lieutenant Zwierzina turned his plane in such a way that the enemy was robbed of any advantage. He approached the enemy plane most daringly to the closest possible quarters until, in heavy fighting, he succeeded in putting it out of commission.
Untiring, constantly full of initiative with no regard to himself or his health, First Lieutenant Zwierzina carries out his assignment of locking out the enemy. It is to his personal credit that, because of his initiative, cool tenacity, and determination to stick with predefined objectives, no enemy plane dares to show itself above the lines.
On 8 September field pilot, First Lieutenant Zwierzina was flying over Radziwillow when his motor abruptly stopped. With great difficulty, and undeterred by the abnormally heavy firing, he succeeded in landing his plane just barely inside our own lines. Determined to complete his intended mission, First Lieutenant Zwierzina repaired his plane and proceeded to once again fly over the front, and to complete his task. Witnessed by Lieutenant of the Reserve, Popelak.
First Lieutenant Zwierzina did already, in March of last year, while in company with two other planes, force an enemy Caprioni to land on our territory. He has so far completed 102 missions, 76 of these since his last decoration. (Russian and Italian Theaters). my translation
On 29 January 1917 he received as per P.V.B.21/17:
The Silver Military Medal of Merit on the Ribbon of the Military Cross of Merit - for the second time
1917 A notation on yet another, undated duty roster/staff list fggdoc56 shows under "Important Files" that he was engaged in aerial combat (Luftkampf) on 6 April 1917. (res. 29.71).
It shows four decorations (three of them received in 1917): P.V.B. No.7/1916; EKO.3.Kl m K , P.V.B. No.107/1917; P.V.B. No.211/1917. The same form shows his job as Feldpilot, but on 20 April 1917 a submission was made to the AOK (Armee Oberkommando) to promote him to commander of Fliegerkompanie No.3 (Res. 1380/1917), which he seems to have received on April 28, 1917 (A.O.K. Pers.No. 250/595 v 17) while Feldpilot with FK 14.
Request for Award (Nr.5487) dated 12 Apr 1917.fggdoc79-1,-2,-3
Anlass: Sehr tapferes Verhalten als Flieger vor dem Feinde.
Oblt. Zwierzina unternahm am 5.4.1917 einen Feindesflug bei welchem er in einer Höhe von 900 Mtr. flog, um wichtige Frontaufnahmen zu machen. Beim Rückflug von Radziwillow begegnete er drei feindl. Nieuports zu welchen sich nach kurzer Zeit 2 weitere gesellten. Nach 3 hartnäckigen Angriffen, bei welchen sich die Apparate bis auf 15 Mtr. gegenüber befanden, stürzte der erste über den linken Flügel abrutschend in die Tiefe. Die Pausen zwischen den 2.ten und 3.ten Angriffen benützten die anderen, um von rückwärts kommend, im Sturzfluge, anzugreifen. Im ganzen wehrte Oblt. Zwierzina 6 heftige Angriffe ab, wobei er seine gesammte Munition zur Wirkung brachte.
(Auch am 19.9.1916 brachte er ein Flugzeug zum Absturz. Durch seine kaltblütigen Wendungen benahm er dem überlegenen Feinde jeden Vorteil. Nur dem Umstande, dass der Beobachter Zeit zum Gurtenwechsel gewinnen musste, verdanken die Gegner das Aufgeben des weiteren Kampfes.)
Am 30. März 1917 fotografierte er 45 Minuten lang von 1200 Meter die feindlichen Batteriestellungen unter stärkstem Feuer bis seine Aufgabe erfüllt war.
Obltn. Zwierzina ist ein äusserst schneidiger Pilot, der sich zu jedem Flug freiwillig meldet. Seine Aufgaben glänzend löst und seinen aufreibenden Dienst zur grössten Zufriedenheit versieht.
Unterschrift: Hauptmann Tauszig, Kommandeur der Fliegerkompanie 14.
Dazu die Bemerkung des Kommandeurs der k.u.k. Lutffahrt-truppe:
Ein Kampf gegen einen fünffach überlegenen Gegner ist in der Luft zumindest so hoch anzuschätzen wie auf der Erde. Oberleutnant Zwierzina ist dem Kampfe nicht ausgewichen sondern hat zäh an seinem Auftrage festgehalten. Diese Leistung ist einer besonderen Anerkennung würdig. Orden der Eisernen Krone 3. Klasse mit Schwertern. F.P.O.332. am 11.4.1917 (schon einmal dafür eingereicht).
Occasion: Very courageous conduct as flyer before the enemy.
First Lieutenant Zwierzina flew a mission on 5 April 1917 to take important pictures of the front from an altitude of 900 meters. During his return from Radziwillow he encountered three enemy Nieuports which were soon joined by two more. After three tenacious attacks during which the machines were a mere 15 meters apart, the first one crashed - slipping off over the left wing. The others took advantage of the interval between the second and third attacks to come in at a dive from behind. All told First Lieutenant Zwierzina defended against six vicious attacks while using up all of his ammunition.
(He had also caused a plane to crash on 19 September 1916. With his cool-headed maneuver he robbed the numerically superior enemy of all advantage. His opponents can be thankful that the combat had to be broken off because the observer needed time to change cartridge belts.)
On 30 March 1917 he photographed, while exposed to the heaviest enemy fire, the battery emplacements at Brody from an altitude of 1200 meters. The plane circled for 45 minutes in heaviest antiaircraft fire until his mission was completed. First Lieutenant Zwierzina is a particularly daring pilot who volunteers for every flight, who brilliantly solves all his assignments, and who carries out his stressful job in a most satisfactory manner.
The request was signed by Captain Tauszig, Commander of Fliegerk.14 ..
. The Commander of the k.u.k. Luffahrtruppe added the following when he endorsed the request:
Combat when outnumbered five to one by the enemy must be regarded at least as highly in the air as on the ground. First Lieutenant Zwierzina did not avoid the battle but tenaciously stuck to his assignment. That achievement merits special recognition. Order of the Iron Crown 3rd. Class with Swords.
... [Dated at] FPO 332 on 11.4. 1917 (had been previously submitted for this). my translation
Received Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with KD with swords
In Sector Zloczow, Corps HQ at Tarnopol.
Request for Award (#500/9) dated 23 August 1917.fggdoc80
Anlass: Tapferes und erfolgreiches Verhalten als Flieger vor dem Feinde.
Ein besonders schneidiger von Tatendrang beseelter Flieger. Als Kommandant der F.K.3 leitet er seine Unterabteilung mustergiltig. Die Belobung des deutschen 23. Res. Korps, bei welchem die Kompagnie in den Tagen der jetzigen schweren Kämpfe eingeteilt war, bildet den Beweis (1 Blge). Persönlich ein Muster seiner Untergebenen, steht er mit 168 Feindesflügen weit über den normalen Leistungen. Als Kampfflieger brachte er im Luftkampfe am 2/7. l. J. bei Batkow einen feindlichen. Doppeldecker zum Absturze. Oblt. Zwierzina ist in jeder Beziehung ein beispielgebendes Vorbild seiner Untergebenen und ist einer Allerhöchsten Auszeichnung im vollsten Maße würdig. Hat seit seiner letzten Dekoration 38 Feindesflüge.
Reason: Courageous and successful conduct as flyer before the enemy.
A particularly daring flyer driven by initiative. As commander of the FK3 [Flieger Kompanie 3], he leads his sub-unit in an exemplary fashion. The praise received from the 23rd German Reserve Corps, where the Company was presently assigned during the heavy fighting, is proof of this (1 attchmt). Personally a model for his subordinates, he flew 168 missions over enemy territory, an achievement way above the norm. As a fighter he caused an enemy biplane to crash on 2 July of last year near Batkow. First Lieutenant Zwierzina is in every respect a model for his subordinates and entirely worthy of the very highest recognition. Has flown 38 missions since his last decoration.Dated FPO 332, 5 August 1917. my translationAttached to the above request was a memorandum written by von Kathen on behalf of the XXIII. Res. Korps Generalkommando. In his praise of the flyers' contribution, he is specifically referring to the 3rd (which was commanded by Hans), and the 8th, and 20th Flight-companies.
Received the Silver Military Medal of Merit on the Ribbon of the Military Cross of Merit with Swords - for the third time
1918 Died May 23 in a plane crash, while commander of the 3rd Flight Company, Flieger Korps III., 3rd Jagdstaffel. He crashed during a training flight above the airfield of Gardolo near Trient, Italy. The final entry gives the plane's serial number as "Flgzg 153.232". (P.No.3120 v.18).
Hans was buried on 2 June 1918 with all the military pomp and circumstance befitting a heavily decorated flying officer. Cousin Ida Birman remembers that the funeral took a very long time because there were squadrons of planes flying over the grave. She says the whole cemetery was full of officers in uniform. Some were relatives, some were friends, some were from his unit, some had been told by their Regiments to attend. It is difficult to determine which of the relatives were there, but Ida distinctly remembers my grandmother Kutschera, and Hans' first cousin Field Marshall Lieutenant Alfred Edler von Schenk, Hans' brother-in-law Baron Karl Pelikan von Plauenwald, from which can be assumed that his half-sister Martha was also there with her husband. Ida Birman was obviously there, and there is reason to believe that Ida Wolf and her daughter Irma were there, but my father Emo, Hans' only brother, was involved in the heavy fighting on the Italian front and could not get away to attend.
His tragic death is the more regrettable, since judging by his military record, he had survived during the past three years many more flights into enemy air space than could be reasonably expected. Why then would he crash above his own air field - in a training flight?! What a pitiful waste of a good officer, and of a very brave man! Not to mention that he was my only uncle, whom I have never known.
John Biggins in his book "The Two-Headed Eagle" describes Gardolo as one of the trickiest airfields to navigate. It was in the Alps, north of Lake Garda, and as he describes it, "tucked in between two walls of mountain soaring almost sheer on both sides to a thousand meters or more from which all sorts of unpredictable wind gusts bounced off almost constantly. An eddying back-draught of wind off the mountainsides had created a sort of air-hollow into which we suddenly dropped ten meters or more like a brick ..." Added to the unpredictable behavior of some of the planes that were years overdue for having some parts replaced, crashes on take-off or landing were not at all rare."
Biggins sums up his book with "That war we fought which we fought in those fragile, desperate aircraft with their unreliable engines and flimsy petrol tanks and no parachutes ...." He figures the death rate was about 50%, and that the majority of casualties died by burning. He then describes the funeral of a fellow flyer: "The guard of honor fired off its three salvos into the summer sky and we filed past to toss our handful of earth on the lid of the coffin, the smell of incense still not quite managing to mask the faint odor of roasted meat."
According to the Vienna Meldearchivfggdoc165 Hans' regular residence address at the end was shown as Wiener Neustadt, which I find very strange because I know of no reason for him to be in Wiener Neustadt. It may have been left over from the days of the explosion incident before the war. Perhaps he just never got around to officially change his address - which, at any rate, would be ridiculous during times of war. Others may have wondered also, as can be seen from the fact that the file of his Probate had been delegated by the District Court in Wiener Neustadt to the District court of Vienna Inner City (Innere Stadt) as number 2 P 2 / 23.
In the probate file are named Anna Zwierzina and her son Hans, born 13.9.1918, for whom she had assumed guardianship. Also mentioned is the mother, Maria Zwierzina, Captain's widow, 8 Kochgasse 10, and siblings Grete and Emil Zwierzina.
Johann Maria "Hans" Zwierzina
my uncle Hans
I remember seeing as a boy, a photograph of Hans in uniform. He had a smooth, oval face, a high forehead which hinted at premature balding at the hairline. His hair looked sparse, and was combed flat to the side. His expression was relaxed and self-confident. I did not think at the time that he resembled my father. Later (1989) cousin Ida described him as stout and tending to be chubby. She contrasted him with my father Emo, who in her eyes was slim, and tall (nothing tall about him, perhaps 5'9" but he had good posture and was never over-weight). My good fortune allowed me to again find a copy of the very same picture of my uncle Hans when I visited his son Hans Nagati in July 1991; it was exactly as I had remembered it!
This "Albatros D.I" is identical to the one in which Hans crashed to his death.
His plane had the number 153.232.
Decorations Of Captain Johann Maria ( Hans) Zwierzina.
|Militärjubileumskreuz (Military Jubilee Cross)||1912/13||058|
|Erinnerungsmedaille (Bosn-Herzeg.Memorial Medal)||058, 061|
|Signum Laudis - Militärverdienstmedaille am Roten Band (Bronze Medal of Military Merit with Red Ribbon)||1912-07-12||P.V.Bl 26 ex1912||75-3|
|Bronze Militärverdienstmedaille am Bande des Militärverdienstkreuzes mit Schwertern (Bronze Military Medal on the Ribbon of the Military Merit Cross (the bravery ribbon) with swords.||1914-08-01 #275||74-1, 74-2, 74-3|
|Militärverdienstkreuz 3.Klasse (KD) und Schwertern (Military Cross of Merit 3rd class (KD) with swords)||1915-01-11 #83/6||P.V.B 36/15||76|
|Silberne Verdienstmedaille am Bande des Militärverdienstkreuzes (Silver Military Merit Medal on the Ribbon of the Military Merit Cross [the bravery ribbon]).||1915-11-10 #5827
|Königlich Preußischer Kronenorden 4.Klasse||57|
|Abzeichen "FP" (Feldpilot)||1916-08-16||56|
|Silver Medal of Merit on the ribbon of the Military Cross of Merit - for the second time.||1916-10-15 #638
|P.V. B. 21/17||
78-1, 78-2, 78-3, 78-4, 78-5
|Eiserner Kronen Orden 3. Klasse mit KD, mit Schwertern (Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with War Ribbon and Swords)||1917-04-12 #5847||P.V.B 107/17||79-1, 79-2, 79-3|
|Silver Military Medal of Merit on the ribbon of the Military Cross of Merit (bravery ribbon) - for the third time||1917-08-23 #500/9||
80 have medal & ribbon. + pics
Anna Elisabeth Skopek was born 1 June 1893 at Schweglerstraße 22 in Vienna's Rudolfsheim district, and was baptized on 8 June 1893 in the Roman Catholic church of Reindorf. Her father was Johann Skopek, restaurateur, born in Horised Pose Ckyn, Bohemia, son of the restaurateur Mathias Skopek and Magdalena Kohaut. Her mother was Anna Maria, daughter of painter and decorator Johann Heinz and Franziska Mladek. See Hans Nagati chart.
It seems that apart from operating a restaurant, her father was also a wine wholesaler. As her son later told me, Anny was three years old when her mother died, and as an only child, she grew up to be a beautiful, but very spoiled woman, constantly indulged by her father who seemed to be able to find the money for her every whim. She appears to have had a better than average education for girls of her era. During the first World War, she belonged to a ladies' choir that gave benefit concerts, and following the spirit of the times which saw more and more human carnage, she wanted to be a volunteer nurse and care for the wounded.
On 1 July 1915 she married Oberleutnant Johann Maria (Hans) Zwierzina in the Roman Catholic church in Herkulesbad, which at that time was said to be in Southern Hungary. Less than three years later, in May 1918, she became the pregnant widow of the much-decorated captain Hans Zwierzina, and attended his ceremonial military funeral in Vienna's Zentral Friedhof.
Ida Birman was there, and told me in 1989 how the "entire cemetery was full of officers", and how the squadrons flew over the grave. When Ida talked about it seventy years later, she seemed still impressed. She also remembered that Anny was quite advanced in her pregnancy (she was in her 6th month), and that she was ill-humored during the lengthy ceremony. That seemed a strange comment since one would hardly expect a young widow to be jolly and pleasant at her husband's funeral. Add to that the fact that summers in Vienna can be quite hot, that she was carrying a considerable extra load which would indeed cause some discomfort to the spine and the bladder. In addition, there was every indication that Anny was not on speaking terms with her husband's sisters and half-sisters, and was generally living in a totally different orbit from them, which fueled envy and gossip among her in-laws. No, I do not imagine that she would have been her most pleasant self on that day.
Since no one had any idea what became of the child she was carrying, I visited the Rathaus in Vienna and asked at the Stadt- und Landesarchiv to have the registration records researched for any clue as to Anny's identity, and/or indication of a birth. On January 18, 1990 I received a letter from the Meldearchiv of the Magistrat der Stadt Wien (MA 8), informing me that Anny Zwierzina, née Skopek, born in Wien on 1 June 1893, de-registered herself from 1st district, Gonzagagasse 11/25 on 27 November 1923, as she was leaving for Alexandria, Egypt. Also shown as accompanying her were the children Hans Otto, born 13 September 1918, and Otto Emil born 9 December 1920.
Now I knew for certain that Hans had a son Hans Otto Zwierzina, who had been christened "Johann Otto" on 23 September 1918.
|Anny Zwierzina with Hans' son Hans|
A strange piece of paper was sent to me in November 1990 by Albert Rueprecht, the famous Viennese actor and director. He had found an old program for a benefit concert given by the Deutscher Männergesang-Verein in Friedek (German male Choral Society of Friedek) on 8 December 1918 to help poor school children. The male choir was assisted by the Ladies Choir and the Music Association. The program was folded in half and on one blank half was written, as if it were an envelope, "Frau Anny Zwierzina, Wien XIV, Schweglerstr 22.", and on the other half is the date "8/XII/1918" and a very short message: "Handkisses from an entertainment" signed by the writer (looks like "Herr ", or could be a signature meaning Herr Ritter) and 13 other people, who must have been members of the choir.
I concluded from this that Anny was a member of the Ladies Choir, and that she was popular with the other members. In December 1918 she was a young widow of six months, and had a three months old baby. She could not attend the benefit concert, and the others wanted to indicate that they thought of her, and perhaps missed her.
But why was the paper in the possession of the Rueprecht family? It will be mentioned in chapter six that my father had been married to Felicitas Ramberg, whose sister was Gertrud Rueprecht, the mother of Albert Rueprecht who sent the paper. While it is only speculation, it is entirely plausible that Anny and Felicitas were both members of the same choir, and it is even possible that it was Anny, my father's sister-in-law, who introduced him to his future wife Felicitas.
Two years later Anny had a second son, Otto Emil, who was born 9 December 1920. The father is unknown, and the only bit of information Anny ever gave about her second son's father is that he was an officer, who apparently would not acknowledge his paternity. Otto Emil's name first showed up on 17 Dec 1920 on a form reporting his mother's address in the 1st district, Gonzagasse 11, where she had been residing since 22 Jun 1920. Although no record of Otto Emil's birth has yet been found, it can be assumed that he was born in Vienna. There is no birth record in the Meldearchiv, and no record in the General Hospital. If the birth took place at home, the parish 'Schotten' at Freyung 6, A-1010 would have been responsible for the documentation of the infant. The Meldearchiv confirmed that Anna Zwierzina showed herself as "widow" on all forms she filled out, indicating that there was no hint of a new liaison which could shed a light on the identity of Otto Emil's father.
According to Hans (who by that time had assumed the name of Nagati) and his wife Ute, papa Skopek's reaction to Anny's fatherless son was that enough was enough, and that she would now marry someone who knew how to run a restaurant, and then take over the family business. It appears that Anny had no intention of spending the rest of her life cooking and serving drinks to a clientele she probably considered below her station. She hired a young Jugoslav nanny named Wilma to look after her two boys, and managed to get herself invited to go to Alexandria (Egypt) and teach German to ladies from well-to-do families (an indication that she had received a better than average education).
Cousin Ida told me that correspondence from Tante Netta, the oldest half-sister of Anny's deceased husband, implied that Netta was not happy at no longer being the only Anna Zwierzina in Alexandria, particularly since, at least in Tante Netta's view, the younger Anna seemed to be somewhat careless about her reputation. This somehow does not sound right. That Anna Netta, the faithful and aging governess of Monsieur Zoogheb, should have run into Anny Zwierzina, the young widow teaching society ladies, in a large city like Alexandria is unlikely. What is more likely is that regular correspondence was maintained between Netta and her sisters and nieces in Vienna, and that one of them provided her with the news that she was no longer the only Anna Zwierzina in Alexandria, and probably added a little dig to hint that Anny was careless with her reputation. Such opinion must have been old, warmed-over titillation because had it been up-to-date information from the time when Anny left Vienna, that would mean that the Viennese busybodies would have known about her sons, which according to Ida was obviously not the case.
It must have been during this period that Anny met Ali Nagati and she must have struck some kind of deal with him, because in 1923 with her two sons now five and three years old respectively, and to the great distress of the Jugoslav nanny Wilma, she packed up and emigrated to Alexandria to marry Nagati.
That a beautiful young widow should remarry is of course not surprising, but in terms of my search for Hans Otto this threatened to immensely complicate matters because there was every reason to fear that the child's name would somehow get changed to a name which I could not know. It is difficult enough finding people when their name is known, but it is just about impossible if the name is not known.
Before I became aware that Anny had gone to Egypt prior to her 1923 emigration, and because it seemed to be such a neat theory, I had concluded that the second boy's father had been to Vienna, and had met her there, and that he was a Muslim from Egypt, and that Anny went with him to his homeland. The religion was significant only to explain why Otto Emil was registered with the civil authorities rather than the Catholic church. This neat theory was wiped out by the subsequent revelation that Nagati, whom she had gone to marry was in fact not the father of her second child, and that no one knows the father's identity, and that Anny quite deliberately took that secret to her grave. This is of course frustrating to a researcher, but shows admirable strength of character on the part of Anny. We will never know why this was so important to her; whether she was protecting someone, or was simply vengeful, making sure the father, who had denied his paternity, would never have the opportunity to meet his son. The whole scenario is reminiscent of Ida Birman (née Zwierzina) whose mother would never tell her who her father was.
As far as I can piece together what Hans Nagati and his wife told me, Ali Nagati was a successful trader, who probably dealt mostly in cotton, because the 1947 Cotton Crash just about wiped him out. The second World War was over by then and the many uses that cotton had been put to during the war disappeared almost over night. He had been able, however, to provide a home for Anny and her two sons, and to give Otto a name by way of legal adoption. If there was anything else Anny wanted of him, it certainly did not include children. This may have caused some hostilities, because it has been suggested that the internment as enemy aliens, of Anny and her two boys for the duration of the second World War was the doing of the Nagati family.
That situation seems to have worsened as time went by, and as Ali recovered from the Crash, Otto's legal adoption became a threat to the Nagati estate. There were thinly veiled threats on Otto's life. The procedure followed, it was explained to me, was a late night phone call inviting him to a clandestine meeting at a secret place, where he would be offered Turkish coffee. Otto seems to have caught on quickly and left Egypt for France where he worked for TWA as a flight attendant on their long flights where his fluency in English, French and Arabic was needed. He married a French woman named Marie-Claude, and they had two daughters and a boy. Otto, who I am told was the apple of Anny's eye, died in 1967 of a heart attack at the age of 47. (Marie-Claude Nagati, and her younger daughter Marie-France live in Paris, the older daughter Isabelle lives in Munich and is self-employed in a graphics production business - similar to what Mark Game is doing. The youngest child, son Michel, lives somewhere in the South of France).
Documents received from the Austrian embassy in Cairo show that Anny inquired in 1957 whether she had lost her Heimatrecht (Domicile Entitlement) as a result of her marriage to captain Hans Zwierzina back in 1915. The official answer from the Austrian State Department was that she would have assumed her husband's domicile entitlement upon marriage.fggdoc129pp.26,27 Ironically, captain Hans Zwierzina, although born and raised in Vienna, had never been entered into the Wiener Heimatrolle, the one book that would have given him the right to be domiciled in Vienna. Through this oversight he was still affected by his father's "legal residence" (as opposed to actual residence) of Brno in the Czech Republic - although I never understood why this should be hereditary. The result of this bureaucratic pedantry was that Anny, who had been born and raised in Vienna, had in fact lost her right of domicile in that very city. Without knowing exactly what a right of domicile would have given her, I am of the opinion that this verdict should have been challenged, especially since it was not provided as a "ruling", but rather as an opinion. The challenge could have been based on (a) Anny's own Heimatrecht, which, if lost through marriage, should be recoverable upon becoming a widow; (b) The statement in Captain Hans Zwierzina's Death Certificate that he was "born and domiciled in Vienna"; (c) The Potsdam agreement (1945) which permitted Czechoslovakia to revoke the Czech Citizenship from all ethnic Germans, who were then forcibly expelled. It is not realistic to deny someone Austrian domicile who was born and raised in Austria simply because someone, two generations earlier, acquired through military posting, the Right of Domicile in a Country which now no longer wanted any part of these foreigners.
Anny was 64 years old when she made her inquiries in 1957. Why did she inquire? Was she again a widow, and did she want to go back to Austria to be near relatives, and perhaps receive old age assistance from the Austrian State? Or was she just unhappy with her existence? Of her two sons, Hans was then living in Austria, and was in the first year of his second marriage. Otto was living in Paris, but through his work with TWA spent most of his time flying about the World. Anny eventually came to Canada to stay with Hans, and she died in Surrey, British Columbia on 10 December 1969 at the age of 76.
What sort of picture do I paint for myself from these bits and pieces about my only uncle's wife? I have no doubt that if Anny would have been born fifty years later, she would have been a jet-setter. She had the beauty, the single-minded dedication to "do her thing", was impetuous, and a socializer. All traits that we tend to admire from a distance. Whenever someone close to us exhibits such characteristics, we usually find them difficult to live with, and they can be a challenge to the sanity of their loved ones. I believe that Anny's instincts were well focused during the various stages of her life. When she felt ready for motherhood, she did all the things which ensure motherhood. When she was faced with having to provide a home for her children, she went out and found one. When she became grandmother, she knitted and meddled. There is no doubt in my mind that she was an intelligent, practical woman, and that she had a strong personality, and I suspect I could have liked her.
A photocopy of the complete entry was obtained in November 1990 from the Roman Catholic Parish Rudolfsheim at 1150 Vienna, Meiselstraße 1 by my cousin, the late Hofrat Dr. Dorrit Birman. (It is entry #249, but does not give the volume or page numbers). Even though, it became one of the most valuable documents to help me find this first cousin because it contains a number of almost unintelligible scribbles that indicate activities during subsequent years which indicate that the adult Hans was required to provide copies of his birth/baptism record. All these were noted by the parish in Vienna, and helped establish that he was alive, and hinted at what he was up to, where the events took place, and finally what his name was.
For example, a copy seems to have been provided on 8 June 1942. This was in the middle of World War-2, and Hans Otto was 24 years old. While it showed that he was alive, it raised the question why he needed to prove his birth? It must have had something to do with the internment of enemy aliens.
By far the most interesting entry is the one on 27 December 1949 indicating that a copy was sent to the Austrian Embassy in Egypt. This was after the war, and was evidence that he had survived the war and was still alive. It also caused me to concentrate on milking the embassy for information. At first this seemed fruitless, but then I got a break when one of the most helpful people I know took an interest in my plight.
I found out that Hans was a resident of Cairo in 1952 (not of Alexandria, where I had until then focused my attention), and that he was trying to obtain a copy of his father's birth certificate. There was also the most welcome indication that he was still using the name Zwierzina.
My efforts to find this cousin who would be my closest living male relative, eventually paid of, and on the memorable Sunday of June 16 1991 I received a call from a man who introduced himself as Hassan Nagati. It was an extremely pleasant shock to my system, and I must have babbled on out of control for a while during this first telephone contact. Speaking to my cousin over the telephone I learned that he is still called Hans, had been living in Vancouver for the last thirty years. It was so nice hearing him speak English because I had considered the possibility that if I ever found him, we may not have a language in common. Both of us being in Canada made it quite feasible and uncomplicated to go and meet him. I also learned that he has a German wife named Ute, whom he had met in Austria, and that they have two grown sons - a respectable contribution to the Zwierzina gene pool of the future.
Ute Hoffmann & Hans Nagati marry
From the many discussions we had while looking at his collection of photographs and documents, the following sketchy biography emerged, which I hope he will flesh out some day: When he was five years old his mother took him to Egypt where he grew up. As I understand from what Hans told me, his education was predominantly French, and he says he knows Arabic. As expected, he speaks German and English fluently. He did not like his stepfather Ali Nagati, nor did he have the warmest of relationships with his mother. As a young man he seems to have been active in such sports as scuba diving, flying gliders, and playing soccer, and he held a pilot's license for single engine aircraft.
From 1941 to 1945 he found himself in the Egyptian Internment Camp Fayed. He said he had been well treated. There was enough food and lots of sports. There are photographs showing him (in 1943) with his soccer team-mates, and one showing him being visited by his mother, who herself was in the internment camp for women (Mansurah). For a while after the war he worked for his half-brother Otto, who was artistic and did well for about a year and a half manufacturing costume jewellery. Otto got wiped out by import competition.
Hans moved to Austria and found employment with the American Occupation Authorities first as a motor pool dispatcher, then as interviewer and investigator in support of the US Displaced Persons (DPs) Program. Without difficulty, he obtained Austrian Citizenship (Salzburger Landesregierung, Zahl 9105/LAD/53) in 1953. He is shown on the document as a technical employee, residing at Großmain Nr.181. When the Americans pulled out of Austria he was taken over by the US Consulate in Salzburg, and continued to work as an interviewer. Hans married Ute Hoffmann on 22 November 1956. Hans resigned from the US Consulate(13) in 1958, and he and Ute landed in Canada on 27 August 1958 aboard the Cunard liner Saxonia.
The von Gordons' Schloß Laskowitz bei Schwetz in Westpreußen
While visiting Hans and Ute, and going through boxes of photographs which they kindly dug out for me, I realized that Ute's maternal line was a very interesting family. The von Gordon family credits its origins to a young Scot from the Coldwells sept of the Gordon clan. This young Scot emigrated to Poland, and acquired land. Subsequent generations of German families accumulated additional land and several estates as new family units were formed and needed to establish themselves. Probably the most impressive structure among these holdings is Schloß Laskowitz near Schwetz in what used to be West Prussia.
The von Gordon family history reads like many of the better German family histories: They worked hard, served their king as officers in the army, and as Members of the Upper House, they multiplied, and enlarged their holdings, and in times of war, they buried their young men. They also married and bred some strong-willed women, and Ute descends from these.
On her paternal side, Ute's father Roland Hans Hugo Hoffmann, an Austrian, was one of four children. He received training in agricultural administration with an emphasis on the management of colonial estates. He went to German West Africa (now Namibia), where he was employed on the estate of the von Gordon family who were raising the Karakul breed of sheep. They had a daughter Hedwig Helene Maria von Gordon, whom Roland married.
was a superb horseman specializing in dressage, the style of precision training
given to the famous Lippizan horses at the Spanische
Reitschule in Vienna. Somewhere along the line he developed Buerger's
disease, and in a series of operations lost both of his legs. When he needed
yet another operation which no one in Africa would touch, he went to Europe
to have it done, and there, for the first time, met his 21-year-old daughter
Ute, as well as his former wife who married him for the second time despite
his missing legs. This time she returned with him to Africa, where Roland continued
to teach the finer points of horsemanship until his death in 1979.
The following extract from the October 22, 1979 issue of the Windhoek Advertiser is a touching tribute to his achievement:
More than 30 horses and riders from all over SWA participated in Windhoek Perdetuiste's first tournament recently. The tournament was a testimonial to Mr. Roland Hoffmann, the driving force behind the club (who died 2 months ago). This man, who had no legs, but a big love for horses planned the tournament to its finest detail. It is indeed tragic that he could not witness the results of his hard labour.
Many a tear had to be wiped away when Müller on Waldfeuer received the Roland Hoffmann Floating Trophy for the most successful junior rider. The trophy was donated by Mrs. de Kock. As Mr. Hoffmann's widow handed the trophy to Müller, members of the St. Paul's College Kadett Band played "The Last Post", a last tribute to a man who will be sorely missed in the riding world of SWA.
Ute's mother stayed on in Namibia, until her death 1991 at the age of 79.
Hedwig von Gordon née von Katzler
I should perhaps add here, that my information about the von Gordon family came to me from Hans Nagati's wife Ute, who descends from that originally Scottish clan. Five years after my book "The Game Ancestry" was published in 1997, I was informed that a history of the von Gordon Family who once populated Schloß Laskowitz in the former West Preußen had been written by a descendent, a lady who calls herself Astrid von Weitzel-Zenker. She calls her work "Am Ufer der Erinnerung" and has filled it with about 250 pages of well-documented loving anecdotal stories, pictures, maps and genealogical charts reflecting on the lives of these interesting people. I was given the opportunity to purchase a copy of this work, and have immediately done so. It saddened me that my cousin's wife, Ute Nagati, a genuine descent of that family had not been given the opportunity to read the book Am Ufer der Erinnerung before she died in October 2004.
Hans and Ute Nagati have two sons. The first, Christian Otto, was born in Vancouver on 22 Jan 1959. He is a graduate of the University of British Columbia, and is a geologist. The second son, Peter Hans was born on 23 August 1961. He also graduated from UBC, in Forestry.
Hans retired in October 1983 after 25 years in the employ of Noranda Mines, where he started in refrigeration, then worked as heavy equipment operator, and then as foreman.
Shortly after I had visited Hans 1991 he bought a house trailer in a wooded area just across the US border, and spent two summers fixing it up and, judging by pictures he sent me, he did a superb job of the landscaping. No sooner did he have that trailer site to his liking, with Ute now also retired, they decided in 1993 to sell the condominium and build a house in Abbotsford. For a man 75 years old he showed a remarkable amount of initiative. Four more years have passed since, and Hans is still full of energy, but seems to worry the two young, female RCMP officers who live across the street and tend to rush out with their snow shovels whenever they notice Hans going out to clear his drive way.
Born in 1918, Hans turned 82 in the Centennial Year of 2000. He has since sold that house, and bought a condominium apartment requiring no maintenance. Unfortunately, he has also lost his wife and best friend to lung cancer. At this writing (Oct. 2006) he is alternating in visiting his two sons and their families, and is still going strong, but sold his apartment in a highrise and has moved into a senior home.
Notes for Chapter 6
1. In 1994 while in Gmunden I tried to find a trace of this Kutschera woman. A personal visit to the Meldeamt did produce the fact that about three people by the name of Kutschera had at one time or other lived in Gmunden, but none had the right name, nor did either of them fall into the correct time frame.
2. The Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry wore light-blue tunics and jackets topped off by a madder red fez (green for Jäger) from which dangled a dark-blue tassel.(Uniforms of the World, p.22).
3. According to Joseph von Falkenstein the Signum Laudis (A Token of Esteem) was another name for the Medal for Military Merit (Militärverdienstmedaille). It was founded by Emperor Franz Joseph I. on 12 March 1890, for outstanding services in war and peace. This bronze gilt medal also used the red and white horizontally striped ribbon of the Medal for Bravery, when awarded in wartime to officers, or a plain 37.5mm red ribbon for non-military persons of rank. In peacetime the plain red ribbon was used in all cases. In 1911 a Silver Medal was added for officers, and from October 1915 the horizontally striped ribbon was used for all war services.
The war-time meaning attached to the award was "as a visible sign of the highest laudable recognition for outstanding achievements in time of war". The peace-time sentiment was "as an expression of the highest satisfaction for excellent services in time of peace".
4. Wöllersdorf became known later (in the pre-Anschluß period) for its detention camp set up by the Vienna government for suspected anti-state activists. (The Viennese, p.227).
5. Sollenau and Wöllersdorf are both located in an area called "Steinfeld" which is north of Wiener Neustadt. Sollenau is about half way between Baden and Wiener Neustadt on route B17. Wöllersdorf is South of Sollenau. Dorli was unable to find anything on "Mittel", but thinks it may be a hill of sorts. The exact location of these places is unclear because other military records make reference to a Pulvermagazin am Steinfeld and an Artillerie Zeugsdepot Steinfeld in both cases indicating that Steinfeld is near Sanct Pölten; the same records also lump Wöllersdorf together with Wiener Neustadt as if they were close together.
6. Erzherzog Joseph is Archduke Joseph Ferdinand, commander-in-chief of the eastern Army.
7. Herkulesbad is now in Romania and called Bile-Herculane, a spa in the Banat, "a remote and beautiful little watering-place high up in the Carpathians", where in the spring of 1884 Empress Elisabeth of Austria, wife of Franz Josef I attempted to soothe her nerves and wrote poetry in company of Carmen Sylva, the poetess Queeen of Hungary (from: Joan Haslip, The Lonely Empress). The location of eastern Hungary is significant because Germany apparently helped out Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey with material and flying know-how (Special Units).
8. Originally the date of the marriage was taken to be 1 July 1915 based on hand-written comments added to the birth entry of his son Hans (Johann Otto Zwierzina, now Hans Nagati). Later when an official transcript of the marriage certificate was requested from the Rumanian authorities, they supplied the date of 1 June for the marriage. Since this is also Anny's date of birth, I strongly suspected that a clerical error had occurred and asked the Rumanians to double check their date against the original record. Many months later they sent confirmation that the date they had given, 1 June 1915 is the correct date. I have, however, more faith in the date provided 70 years ago by the bride herself, and will stick with 1 July 1915.
9. The Karl Truppenkreuz was Emperor Karl's Cross for the Troops. This decoration was instituted on 13 December 1916, for award to all service personnel, regular, militia, and volunteers, who had seen at least twelve months' field service before the enemy and who had participated in at least one battle.
10. It is interesting that the part of the marriage entry in the marriage book of St.Stefan is in a different handwriting from the rest, and that it looks very much like my father Emo's writing. So either Emo was at the wedding also, or Hans had a handwriting very much like my father's.
11. 73 years later, Hans Nagati confirmed my hunch: Anny did have an uncle who was a Catholic Priest.
12. The marriage document shows him to be a Büroangestellter (office worker), gives his address as Salzburg, Vogelweidestraße 56, shows his religion as mohammedanisch (muslim), and adds the note that the "groom carries the name Hassan Nagati by virtue of a certificate from the Religious Court of Abdine."
His former wife Ilse Ismahan Nagati (née Hoffmann) still lives in Austria (Niederöblarn) and is in contact with them, occasionally haranguing Hans for his lack of interest in current affairs. There is a photograph showing her, with a young beau, visiting Hans and Ute in their apartment.
13. US Consulate, Escapee Program Division, Giselakai 53, Salzburg.
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