Waltraut Clark

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Waltraut Clark, nee Baltutt, was born on December 6, 1940, in Osterode, East Prussia, Germany. Her parents were Hermann Otto Baltutt and Gertrud Jakumeit, both from the city of Memel, Germany. She was their fourth and last child. Her first name, "Waltraut", is a perfectly ordinary name in the German language, but because English-speakers find learning to pronounce it a difficult task, in the United States she is known to her friends and acquaintances as "Val". But I prefer her full name (which sounds very beautiful to me), or certain "pet" names she had while growing up, such as "Traute", "Trautchen", or "Tuttchen". This last name was due to her family name, Baltutt, and was invented and used by one of her coworkers in the electronics factory she worked in when a young woman. I only used this one when I wish to mildly annoy her, since she didn't much care for it!

Besides being a wonderful wife and mother, she was also a partner in our publishing business, Prospect Avenue Books. She served as Associate Editor, and much of the work of translation of the original German-language transcript that became The Bones of My People was her responsibility.

In 2012 we discovered that she had colon cancer. After earnest attempts to treat the cancer, in April 2015 it was determined that the cancer had spread past the point where further treatment would be effective. Upon receiving this news she decided to forego further treatment and to go into hospice to await the outcome. She passed away at home on September 21, 2015.

Individual Facts

Vital Statistics

  • Name: Waltraut Baltutt
  • Sex: Female
  • Father: Hermann Otto Baltutt
  • Mother: Gertrud Jakumeit
  • Birth: December 6, 1940 in Osterode, East Prussia, Germany
  • Death: September 21, 2015 in Olympia, Thurston, Washington

Marriage 1

  • Spouse: Kenneth Merle Cooper
  • Marriage: Ulm, Federal Republic of Germany

Marriage 2

  • Spouse: Michael Lee Clark
  • Marriage: August 22, 1980 in Aiken, Aiken, South Carolina

Early Life

Waltraut was born about a year after the beginning of World War II, but as a child she would not have been aware of the greater things going on in the world around her. One of her earliest memories, however, was of a train journey back to the family's home city of Memel in October 1944, when she noticed gas masks hanging from the ceiling of the train cars for passenger use. As unaccustomed as train travel was for her, even this was clearly an unusual sight for her.

In January 1945, a month after she turned four years old, she, along with her father, mother and three older sisters were forced to flee just in front the advancing Soviet Army as it invaded Germany from the East. Overtaken in the town of Prussian Holland (today known as Pasłęk, in Poland), a few days later, the family hid in an abandoned home as Soviet forces began passing through and around the town on their way to Berlin and eventual victory. This house belonged to one of the richer families in town, the family of the local chimneysweep master. It happened that the house they were sheltering in was chosen as the headquarters for a Soviet tank unit. The commander of the headquarters, and perhaps also the commander of the unit itself, was a Russian officer Waltraut 's mother remembered with the name Shakirov. He was a kind and honorable man, and instead of driving the family from the home, elected to engage Gertrud as a cook for the officers who ate in the headquarters. This lasted about two weeks, at which time the tank unit was ordered to move out. Shakirov informed Otto that the family would have to find another place to stay, since the infantry unit which would next use the house as its headquarters did not want them to remain. Thus the family went further into town looking for a house or a building that had not been burned out. There were few enough of them by this time, due to the propensity of Soviet soldiers to burn buildings down when they were drunk. Which they often were.

The family settled into a building which had once been a furniture store and workshop, with a residence on the second floor, but they weren't there long before they became aware that the Soviet authorities had set February 13, 1945 as the last day for German civilians to register. Failure to do so would result in summary execution, so Otto and Gertrud reluctantly set out that day to find a Soviet Commandanteur where they could register. Their daughters were expecting them to return before nightfall, but they did not. In fact, they never came home, and thus the four little girls, ages 4 through 10, were on their own for all aspects of survival, from food, to water, and to shelter.

What happened was this, that their parents reported to one of apparently several Soviet Commandanteurs, were interviewed, but instead of being permitted to return home to their children, the father was taken immediately into custody for use as a forced laborer. The mother was initially let go, but while she was on the way back to their shelter, she was captured by other Soviet soldiers and likewise taken into custody for forced labor. All the mother's attempts to explain about her children, now left alone, were useless, and she ended up being transported into Russia with hundreds of thousands of other Germans from East Prussia. Their father, Otto, remained in Prussian Holland for the meantime, since about two weeks later two of Waltraut 's sisters found him working under guard with a number of other prisoners. He was able to speak with them briefly, but soon they were forced apart, and he was never seen again by anyone in his family. He is assumed to have been transported into the Soviet Union, like his wife, Gertrud. He never returned and it is certain that he died in a Soviet labor camp, which was the fate of almost half of the approximately 500,000 Germans who were taken into the Soviet Union. Attempts to discover more about his fate, around 1980, and later around 2010 when old Soviet records became more available, were unsuccessful.

Wolf Children

From February 13, 1945 until sometime around September or October of that year, Waltraut with her three sisters survived all by themselves for nine months in the burned-out German town that was now within the post-war boundaries of Poland. While the two youngest, Waltraut and Irmgard, stayed at home in the furniture business apartment, Edith and Rita ranged far and wide around town searching for food and water. Since most German homes had basements containing preserved food, they were able to find barely enough. The fact that many basements were flooded made this dangerous and difficult, however.

While foraging for food, there was some danger not only due to drunken Russian soldiers (although most Russians seemed to treat children kindly), but also due to lawless elements of the leftover German population. Rita in particular had a couple of run-ins with some German teenagers who had acquired some horses, and once she witnessed them murdering a disabled woman.

Orphans of War

Waltraut, age 6, with Uncle Heinrich and Aunt Emmi

In the early fall, the four little girls were made aware of a train which was to take all remaining German nationals out of what had become Poland, to now Communist-occupied Germany. Given some bread and beans for the journey by a kind old German woman who called herself Frau Pavendenat, and who had decided to remain in town where her husband was buried, the girls boarded the train. The journey was rather long, perhaps as long as two weeks, but they finally arrived in East Berlin, where they were given shelter in an orphanage. After some time acclimating to being fed regularly, and having received medical attention, the four sisters were separated to live with different foster parents in Berlin. Little Waltraut was first to be fostered, sent to a couple who essentially treated her as a meal ticket: it was not at all uncommon that adults in East Berlin would take on an orphan simply in order to get more food. Because of the destruction of transportation networks and disruption in food-production due to the war, virtually nobody in Germany (or indeed much of Europe) had sufficient food. Individuals and families did whatever they could to obtain it, and some used unethical means.

During their first year in East Berlin, the four sisters lived with four different families, but later the couple which had taken in Waltraut also ended up taking in two of her older sisters as well. But because this couple treated the girls simply as a resource, feeding them poorly while reserving the best food for themselves, the oldest sister eventually rebelled. She went to the child welfare office in East Berlin to complain, which led to official efforts to locate surviving relatives of the sisters, and when these were found, the three sisters were placed with them instead. The fourth sister, Irmgard, preferred to remain with her original foster parents, the Bachs, since they treated and loved her like a daughter.

Reunion

Waltraut as LittleGirl.png

It wasn't until the early fall of 1948 that their mother managed to return alive from Russia after three and a half years of strenuous forced labor. At that time, Waltraut was living with an aunt and uncle in the village of Großziethen, which was located just south of East Berlin. By this time Waltraut was 7 1/2 years old, and had last seen her mother when she was 4.

She tells the story of her reunion as follows:

I was playing in the yard of Aunt Anny's house, when suddenly my oldest sister Edith shows up (I hadn't seen her in months, since she lived with other relatives), and says that I need to come into the house. She didn't say why, and I just seemed to accept her sudden appearance without question. She led me to the house's sitting room and there were all these people sitting, arranged in a kind of circle, apparently waiting for me. So I went to each one in turn and greeted them with a handshake. I knew some of them, for example, Frau Bach who had been Irmgard's foster mother was there, but some I didn't know. Finally I came to one of the last persons and greeted her in the exact same way. She seemed vaguely familiar to me, but nothing came to mind until as I was about to move on. She stopped me and asked "Waltraut, don't you recognize me?" I looked at her blankly, still not seeing who it was, until she said "I'm your mother!" I have to confess that even then I wasn't sure about who she was, but I went to her and she gathered me into her arms.

The last daughter to be reunited with their mother was Rita, who had been northwards of Berlin at the time, living on a working farm for the summer so as to try to give her an opportunity to gain some weight. She was always the thinnest of the sisters, and was a picky eater besides. Officaldom took this as a reason for making her a candidate for fattening up, although Rita herself said she always felt fine, even when she was half-starved in reality. Finally, Rita arrived back in Berlin and reunited. The family was now as complete as it ever would be again.

Berlin and Beyond

Mother Baltutt had some difficulty establishing residency in Berlin, due to official policy of giving born Berliners priority in housing. The reason for this policy was the very serious shortage of livable housing in the city, due to wartime bombing. The Berlin housing authority office wanted to send the family to the city of Leipzig, but Gertrud was incredibly persistent, and made a point of playing on her status as a returned forced laborer to the hilt. Eventually the housing authority capitulated, and made an exception. And so the family was assigned official permanent quarters in the city.

As time went on, the three older girls moved out on their own or got married. In fact, all but Irmgard ended up marrying American servicemen and emigrating to the United States. Sometime in the mid-1950's, Mother Baltutt decided that she had had enough of Communist East Berlin. And so, one fine day, she and Waltraut abandoned their apartment, all its furnishings and extra clothing, and crossed the border into West Berlin, never to return. All they carried was a shopping bag and enough currency to go on a modest shopping expedition. The reason for this was that if they had too much unnecessary baggage, the East German border guards would suspect they were trying to flee the Communist paradise of East Germany, and probably arrest them.

First Marriage

Waltraut and her first child and son, Frank

She lived with her mother in various refugee camps for several years. They started in West Berlin, and after some months they were moved to refugee housing in various locations in southern West Germany. Their final refugee situation was in Ulm, in Baden-Württemberg, West Germany. There they lived for a few years in the old city fortress, called the Wilhelmsburg, It took years before they became eligible for private housing, and then they moved into a second floor apartment in the Eselsberg district. During this time she attended vocational school, after which she worked for Telefunken as an electronics assembler.

It was in Ulm where she met and married an American serviceman, Kenneth Cooper. Over the years they had seven children: Frank, Peter, Eric, Burt, Isaac, Angela, and Ben.

Waltraut became an American citizen in 1966, and in that same year was baptized into her husband's church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Second Marriage

After her marriage to Kenneth ended in divorce in 1978, in August of 1980 she married Michael L. Clark, also a soldier at the time, and three further children resulted from this marriage: David, Daniel and Nathan. She now had two stepchildren, Jason and Melissa, from Mike's previous marriage.

Upon Mike’s honorable discharge in 1983, the family moved to Washington and took up residence in Olympia, which is where most of her children grew up.

Around 2013 Waltraut and I came into possession of a transcript of her mother's experiences as a forced laborer in Soviet Russia immediately after World War II. We had already been working on trying to get her sister Rita's book, Yesterday's Sandhills, ready for publication, and when we read her mother Gertrud Baltutt's story, we decided that we had to publish both of them. So we began the work of translation from German. The translation was a joint effort, because of course both Waltraut and I speak German, but without her it would not have gone as well as it did. In the company that we founded to publish the two books, Yesterday's Sandhills and The Bones of My People, she had the title Associate Editor. But she was truly the heart and soul of the company.

Cancer Diagnosis and Death

Waltraut's Headstone

In 2012 it was discovered that she had stage 2 colon cancer. After due consideration of the medical treatment options she decided that she would not use the conventional medical treatments offered by the oncologist we saw, but instead would pursue alternative healing methods. So, for two years afterwards Waltraut used various alternative or natural means in order to treat her cancer.

In April 2015 she became very sick and tests showed that the cancer had spread until it was too far advanced, and that even aggressive conventional treatment would have little or no chance of extending her life. The physicians recommended that she go home and be as comfortable as possible until the end. They estimated that she had perhaps 6 months left.

Very soon after this prognosis was made, an impromptu family reunion occurred, and all of her children far and wide ended up at the family home in Olympia, Washington, within a two week period. This became known as the 2015 Family Reunion.

The prognosis of 6 months proved to be accurate, for in the event she passed away nearly 6 months later in her home on September 21, 2015, attended to by me, her husband. Her funeral service took place on September 26, 2015, and she was laid to rest on September 28, 2015 in the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Washington. This cemetery was chosen by both of us for our final resting place, and we are entitled to it due to my honorable service in the U. S. Army.

Waltraut rests in Site 1129 of Section 28C of the Tahoma National Cemetery.

Besides me, her husband, she was survived by her three sisters, ten children, two stepchildren, and 13 grandchildren. One granddaughter preceded her in death.

Michael Writes About Waltraut

While she lived, for 35 years, she was the pole about which the planet of my life has turned. Even when I was annoyed or angry at her, whether justified or not, she was the fulcrum upon which my lever moved, or the all-pervasive field which lined my compass up. But now that she is gone, my planet seems to spin off wildly into space, the lever is powerless, and the compass rotates aimlessly. I will eventually steady my boat and my navigation again, this time to prepare myself to meet her again in Eternity, but for the nonce I am wandering in a trackless waste.

After the Funeral

I posted the following on my blog (see it HERE):

In the deep of night after my sweetie’s funeral, I needed to express my feelings, and Twitter was the medium. Since not so many follow my Twitter feed, here’s that series of tweets.

  • Today I said a sad au revoir to my sweetheart of 35 years. Her funeral was beautiful and reminds me that the love doesn’t die, but lives on. (11:39 PM – 26 Sep 2015)
  • Time and disease will no longer touch her! My beloved is free. I follow when my own is time is up, but not soon I hope. So much yet to do… (11:51 PM – 26 Sep 2015)
  • Do you appreciate your beloved? What will you be when he or she is gone? Better love more and complain less! Leave the bickering behind. (12:02 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • I’ve lost the light of my life, yet there is no darkness. Her light is now in my heart, where it illuminates my soul! Shine on, my Queen. (12:19 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • Sad to realize that I will miss her more over time, but now she lives in me every day, so I am content. (12:28 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • Poetry? Can’t do it. Song? My throat hurts. Love? I’m swimming in it! My beloved has set sail yet the water is still warm. (12:43 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • 890 Waltraut is an asteroid named for a character in a Wagner opera. I pretend it’s named for my beloved. Contact the IAU! (12:56 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • I thought I watched her breathe her last. I realize now I witnessed the first flight of an angel. Soar high, my love! (1:03 AM – 27 Sep 2015)
  • I’m tweeting about my beloved. Meet her here. (1:17 AM – 27 Sep 2015) - with a link to this article.

Further Observations

In the deepening afterglow of four months after her passing, I thought that I should attempt to describe my Waltraut's salient characteristics. The result:

My wife Waltraut was extraordinarily honest, and she was fiercely loyal, especially to her family and her husband. She was a tireless worker, and no task was too large for her. Though she could underestimate the extent of some tasks that she initiated, when the true extent became evident she simply shrugged her shoulders figuratively and worked the task to completion anyway, no matter how hard it was, or how long it took. She cared about people and if she turned the searchlight of her caring upon you, well then, you were going to be well and truly cared for, if to a fault! She did not complain about her lot in life, and when life handed her lemons, she defiantly made lemonade and kept on keeping on. She had extraordinary faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and was going to do His will, as she saw it, no matter the obstacle. When I came to her in the hospital after she had received the news that she had about six months left to live, she was not downcast, but told me the news with a smile! Even on her deathbed her foremost thoughts were of others, and on the unfulfilled obligations that she felt she still owed, directing me on how to fulfill them. When she passed quietly into Eternity, she should have had a chorus of Klingon Warriors around her shouting loudly and triumphantly, warning Heaven of her arrival, because things there were now going to be done Right. It was a blessing to have been her husband, as well as a challenge, because too frequently I felt like I was running after her, trying to keep up! I might have been the King, but she was the Queenly power behind the throne, and Graced my kingdom beyond any power I had to grace it.

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