Bernhard Peter Kronauer was my grandmother’s youngest and supposedly favorite brother. They had eight more brothers and sisters. According to my aunt Greta my grandmother used a little verse to recollect their names:
Papa, Mama, Joan, Matil’
Ida, Bernhard und Sibyl’
Lily, Fritz und Gretchen,
Mit Quirin und Kätchen
Bernhard was born in Honnef on January 27, 1892 and baptized on the 31st in the St. Johann Baptist parochial church. His mother Helena (née Brassel) died almost exactly one year later, followed by his father Peter in 1895. His parents died of lung disease, both at the age of 45. Yet the story in my family went that ‘Mama Kronauer’ died giving birth to Bernhard and that ‘Papa Kronauer’ then killed himself by riding his horse into the Rhine. Be that as it may, when their parents died my grandmother went to her aunt Gertrud, who lived in The Hague, Holland, and Bernhard went to his uncle and godfather Bernhard.
Uncle Bernhard Kronauer was a master carpenter, just like the pater familias, my great grandfather Quirin Kronauer. Quirin was one of the wealthy and helpful men that in 1872 helped to build the Fuchshardt Chappel, a pilgrimage chapel on the Fuchshardt, a high ridge to the east of Honnef. According to the archives of the archdiocese of Cologne, Bernhard’s father Peter also was a carpenter. In fact, the Kronauers were known as a carpenters family.
The carpentry workshop of the Kronauers was located on the Biscmarckstraße 27 – 29, and Bernhard Kronauer’s family lived in the Rommersdorferstraße number 40.
Very little is known about Bernhard’s youth, other than the facts mentioned above. I do not have a picture of him, nor are there any letters or diaries I can draw from. May we assume he was an apprentice carpenter? Or did he have aspirations other than continuing the family tradition? I can only speculate on what he looked like, what kind of person he was and how he was in life.
From Bernhard’s death card and obituary we know that he joined the army in 1912, when he was 20 years old. At that age the Dienstpflicht (compulsory military service) began and Bernhard was one of 112.000 20-year olds starting active service for king and country in 1912. Military life was harsh and the suicide rate was 14 times higher than the civilian population. Bernhard however survived the two years of service as a foot soldier before he would have gone into the reserves, had the war not intervened.
When the First World War broke out in August 1914 Bernhard was a Musketier (a private in the Prussian army) in the Infantry Regiment Nr. 25 “von Lützow”, and set out to march on Liege, the regiment’s first objective in the war. On their way to Liege the regiment had to pass through Berneau, a small Belgian village on the slopes of the Meuse. According to the regimental history shots were fired during the night passage and several casualties occurred, the first sustained by the regiment during the war. Bernhard’s company was sent back into the village to recover the dead and wounded.
Apparently the Germans were convinced the shots were fired by Franc-tireurs (civilian resistance fighters). It turns out however the nervous soldiers had been firing upon themselves. The regimental history in fact mentions the troops were ordered to unload their rifles after passing the village. Nonetheless, the village was burned to the ground and 10 civilians, including a family with 5 children, were executed. The thought haunts me that Bernhard may have been involved in these atrocities.
From the Deutsche Verlustliste (official casualty roll) we learn that Bernhard was promoted during the war. He is listed being wounded in 1914 as a Musketier, and again in April 1915, this time as a Gefreiter (Lance Corporal). The Honneffer Volkszeitung (the local Honnef newspaper) of December 31, 1915 mentions that Bernhard received the Iron Cross, by this time an Unteroffizier (Corporal). NCO promotion from the ranks was seldom done in less than two years. This suggests that Bernhard was a good Soldier, catching the attention of his superiors. In September 1916 he still held the rank Unteroffizier.
Based on my father’s stories about the Kronauers I always believed 5 of his mothers’ brothers fell in the Great War, however I did not find evidence to support this story. I did find the name of another Kronauer, Friedrich, on the remembrance stones near Honnef’s parish church, the same church where Bernhard was baptised. At first I assumed this was Bernhard’s older brother ‘Fritz’, but it turned out that the Friedrich on the monument was his cousin, the son of his uncle Paul Kronauer. Cousin Friedrich served with IR 28 Von Goeben, and died on February 17, 1915 at Perthes-les-Hurlus. In addition another cousin from his aunt Catharina Stang’s (née Kronauer) side – Paul Stang – met his end on the Eastern front in 1914.
The Verlustenliste also revealed an entry concerning one Jos. Kronauer from Honnef, a Wehrmann in the Reserve Infantry Regiment nr. 65. In May 1916 he was listed wounded. One of Bernhard’s brothers was Johannes Joseph Kronauer – ‘Joan’ in my grandmothers poem – born on 29.10.1877. At 39 years of age in 1916 this brother may well have been drafted into the reserves. Possible, considering that German medically fit males were subject to military service between the ages of seventeen and forty-five, spending 11 years – roughly between the ages of twenty-nine and forty – as a Wehrmann.
It seems my father may have mixed things up hearing stories about the many relatives from Honnef that fought in the Great War and of whom at least three fell.
On September 30, 1916 the fatal news was published in the Honnefer Volkszeitung: Bernhard Kronauer was killed in action in Galicia on September 17, 1916. On October 27 the news was officially published in the Deutsche Verlustenliste. The obituary in the local paper is a mixture of patriotic pathos (‘heroic death for King and Country’) and personal mourning (‘our sweet and unforgettable foster-son’). It is hard to imagine what the news did to his family. It moves me, even now, reading the words written 100 years ago and knowing that they were written over and over again, on both sides.
Bernhard Kronauer will not be forgotten.
- Brungs, J.J. (1925), Die Stadt Honnef und ihre Geschichte
- Honneffer directories 1900 – 1910
- Hütmann, A. (1929), Das Infanterie Regiment von Lützow (1. Rhein.) Nr. 25 im Weltkriege 1914-1918
- Sheldon, J. (2007), The German Army on the Somme 1914 – 1916