From the Life of an Immigrant

My name is Johann (Hans) Kopp I am a descendant of the Germans. Born in Prigrevica, now a suburb of Apatin, Serbia a German community with a population of 6301 Germans according to a 1941 census.

At age nine I was incarcerated from March 15 1945 to April 12 1947 into the Annihilation camp Gakowa where 1/3rd of our population perished among them my Grandmother Apollonia Öffler who was raped and murdered on Christmas of 1945. During the period of Christmas 1944 both of my parents were deported to Russian slave labor camps. From where my father escaped and was able to find us in May of 1946. Since we were undernourished down to skin and bones, he had to go do find work among the Serbian and bring food to us (my brother, his mother and his brother’s wife and children).

The loss of life of 80,000 innocent Donauschwaben in Yugoslavia during the post war years of World War II 1945-1948, were many gruesome atrocities were committed by numerous societies against one another, none of which were justified or excusable. What is also inexcusable is that some of these atrocities have been de-emphasized, ignored or forgotten, as in the case of the Donauschwaben during the post war years of WWII by the Tito Partisans. This paragraph is intended to serve as a reminder of what their families had to suffer because of politics. There is no greater crime than the crime against innocent people whatever the reason and destroying the life of their families.

On April 12, 1947, we were able to flee to Batschalmasch, Hungary where we did live for 4 months. After the 4 months, we left Hungary by train, bus and on foot to Austria where we lived in Obertrum on the lake where I resumed going to school after a 3 year absent. I made friend among the Austrian children in school. I skied, played soccer and table tennis with them and became a founding member of the USK Obertrum soccer team. I also learned the art of operating a soccer club.

In 1948 we received a postcard from my mother in Russia via the Red Cross, finally she was released from Russia in 1948 and we were reunited as a family again. It did not take long and we received a letter from the Great Uncle of my mother in Obertrum again via Red Cross that my mother answered. We received several parcels with food from him and an invitation to emigrate to America. We applied and after three years of waiting we could travel via train to Bremerhaven on June 6th 1956 and board the General Langfitt that took us to New York from where we took the train to Cleveland, Ohio.

My first thought when seeing the statue of liberty in the New York harbor was full of hope, anticipation with many questions, what will life be when we disembark and take the train to Cleveland? Would we find work and not become a burden to our sponsor Uncle Joseph Ergh.

The challenges were multiple, learning English, although I did have two years of school English it was not enough to get by and therefore went to the West-Technical High School and took an English course, but not only English. While still at my home town, the neighbor of my grandfather did have a machine shop. I visited his shop on occasions and he told me he would take me on as apprentice when old enough. Of course, that never came through. Now I had the opportunity to take High School courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry and others courses to prepare myself for an engineering degree.

Back in Austria when applying for an immigrant entry visa I had to sign a form stating if called for active military duty that I would not refuse to serve in the military. In August of 1959 I did receive a summon to serve in the military. All future soldiers had to take an IQ test, which I barely passed. The reason for the low score was the lack better English. I did serve 2 years in the Army 18 months of it in Germany.

Now that I had returned I did weigh my options and found the Acme Technical Institute, mad a call and talked to the school director Dr. Gisbert Bossard, who offered me a scholarship through the John Huntington Foundation. I attended the technical institute for the next 6 years, working part time and attending school full time. When one of the evening instructors moved out of town Dr. Bossard asked me if I would like to become a student instructor for one evening and did get me an instructors certificate by the State of Ohio. Needless to say, being a student instructor deepened my engineering knowledge.

At the end of 1969 I married Annemarie Gibisch, had two children a girl Birgitt and a boy Robert. Now It was time to find a suitable job. During these year design engineers were in demand and I landed a position at Lucas Machine, a manufacturer of horizontal boring mills. I worked for this company until the Union forced their closing in 1990. This was a disadvantage for me since I lost 4 years of retirement vesting.

However, an engineer with my machine design experience was quick to find employment in the industry and I was hired as an engineering consultant at Middough Associates as an engineering consultant. I worked at the firm until my retirement in 2000.

Giving Back As Volunteer

As early as 1960 I volunteered to be an officer in the soccer club of the SC Donauschwaben as press referent. As such I, would write sports articles for the club publish by the local German newspaper Waechter und Anzeiger. In 1965 I became a coach for the youth teams and a founding Member of the Lake Erie Junior Soccer League. Over the next ten year I would hold every position of the league and promoting youth soccer in Northern Ohio.

In 1974 the United States Soccer Federation decided to reorganized itself and add a youth soccer division to promote youth soccer throughout the United States. Every state was requested to form a youth soccer association under the new United States Youth Soccer Association. A committee was formed to seek out and nominate people for the positions to form a state association.

Several people approached me among The Herb Haller Sr. and Earl Patterson. After long discussions, I finally accepted the position of President a position I held for the next 10 years. As president, it was up to me to structure the foundation of the organization which is still in place today.

Since I strongly believe in education, in the early 70this I became a force promoting a soccer school to teach parent who to coach the ever-increasing demands for coaching and was appointed by the national youth chairman Don Greer to the National coaching committee in 1975. Naturally it must be understood the all the positions are voluntary. Thus, I became a founder of the United States State Coaching School in 1977.

Also in 1977 national youth chairman Don Greer needed to form a Select Team Committee, now called Olympic Development Program. Together with John Hilske, our Mid-West regional chairman appointed myself as the director of the program for the Mid-West Region which I held for 7 years. As such it was my duty to appoint the regional coaching staff and organize a regional tournament to identify talent for a Mid-West regional team.

In my capacity of the administrator for the region I was also part of a fife men committee running effective programs and also run a national camp to identify the talent for a national youth team. There was something else I began to promote women soccer. It was not an easy task since most men looked cross-eyed at women playing soccer, and I began to feel that if women would run their own program they would be more effective. In 1984 they finally did get their own program.

Traveling the country, I could see that North Eastern, Ohio our Cleveland Area is the best location in the USA economically as well as in many other areas.
Youth Soccer is not my only passion. I retired as the president of the Ohio North Youth Soccer Association in 1984 and became a ski instructor for the next 22 years. As such I had the opportunity to work with young boys and girls. And thus, be an influence in their lives like during the time as soccer coach of many years.

When I retired in 2000 from my work I resumed the duty as the gardener at Lenau Park, the home of the Donauschwaben, in Cleveland helping a friend who was in and out of the hospital with Leukemia. In 1957 I was a founding member of the soccer club prior to my army time and still am a member today, perhaps not as active I once was, but still am a delegate for the Edelweiss Ski Club to the Cleveland Metro Ski Council for the last 39 years. As such I was called upon to run 5 ski trips West. Requiring a minimum of 100+ hours of volunteer work.
It did not take long before the German community was looking for a man who could take over the chores of the German Cultural Garden at Rockefeller Park. Again, one looked at me because of my gardening experience. When I saw the Garden, it was in disarray and decided to completely re-landscape it. I did function as the custodian for 12 years and age forced me to discontinue the work of maintaining the German Garden.

To your question was the importance of immigrants. Being a political refugee and immigrant to the United States. My reaction to this is the following, they need to come legally like myself, do not became a burden of the country, are willing to go to a language school to learn English, treasure the ”Immigrant freedom” we treasure and become a loyal citizens to respect our laws and Flag.

Your final question; is it important to travel abroad. To go on vacation to see something else. To see how other people, live. To get a better understanding of their life.