“Once a Hitler Youth” would be an attention-grabbing headline in any publication. There it was in the Oct. 2, 1976, edition of The Everett Herald’s Panorama magazine. The lengthy profile, with the subject’s first-person account of growing up in World War II-era Germany, told the story of Ernest Brockmann.
An esteemed German teacher, Brockmann shared knowledge of history, his native tongue and culture with students in the Everett School District for 50 years.
Ernest Rudolf Brockmann died in Everett on Aug. 25. He was 89.
Berinda Brockmann Wolitarsky, one of his four children, said Wednesday the family has heard from many of her father’s former students since his passing. “For those who knew him, he was an icon,” she said.
Brockmann taught at Evergreen Middle School and Everett, Cascade and Jackson high schools. He spent 25 years with the district as a teacher, starting in 1968, and for a decade of that time was also foreign language director for Everett schools. After retirement in 1993, he was back as a substitute teacher for another 25 years. And as a speaker for World War II symposium events, he encountered students at other area schools.
Martin Idehall, who spent 1992-93 as an exchange student at Cascade, teaches at a secondary school in Sweden. “Boy, did we have the most fantastic German teacher and the most fascinating classes,” he wrote in a Facebook post about “Herr Brockmann.”
“Teaching is all about the relationship with the students; learning is an effect of that relationship,” wrote Idehall, who recalled class walks with Brockmann to a deli to get proper ingredients for German cooking sessions. “Learning a language is also learning a culture was your firm belief. And the stories you told us! We all loved you!”
On the Facebook page of Maddie Cameron, one of Brockmann’s grandchildren — his grandkids called him “Opa” — hundreds of other comments sing his praises.
The 1976 Herald article was written by Betty Rettenmier. A Herald reporter and columnist for more than a decade, she died last year at 95. Her story about Brockmann follows his life, which began in the German coastal town of Wilhelmshaven.
Born in 1931, by 1939 his family had moved to Hamburg. He and a younger brother, Karl-Heinz, were by then members of “the Deutsche Jugend (Hitler Youth).” Rettenmier wrote that they “met once a week with the popular military-political organization — for the Glory of Germany and the Third Reich.”
In his segment of the article, Brockmann wrote of nightly air raids in Hamburg. There were eventually three boys in the family. His worried mother took her sons to stay on a friend’s farm in Bavaria. He recalled her hiding Polish Jews in a barn, and how she fed and cared for them.
His naval officer father, Henri Berthold Brockmann, was a World War I veteran. During the second world war, he was commander of the Saint-Nazaire submarine base on the coast of Nazi-occupied France. Captured during the Battle of Normandy in June 1944, he was held as a prisoner in France until 1947.
By late 1943, at 12, Ernest Brockmann was in a military training academy not far from the Bavarian farm. A repurposed Roman Catholic monastery, it had been taken over by Hitler Youth leaders. Instructors were Nazi officers. In April 1945, just before the war’s end, Brockmann and a buddy escaped the academy, and he made it back to the farm. In the 1976 article, he recalled terrible food shortages in those postwar years.
In 1948, he started the immigration process that in 1950 would bring him to Portland, Oregon. An aunt and uncle lived there. He worked at a dairy and in other jobs, and became a U.S. citizen. Brockmann later wrote that embracing Christianity during a Billy Graham crusade in Portland was what changed his life forever.
During the Korean War, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952. He served until 1954 as an interpreter — in Germany.
Back in Oregon, with teaching credentials from Portland State College, he taught in Tillamook for two years. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Washington. A fellowship took him back to his homeland for a time — but by then his life was in the Pacific Northwest.
He and his future wife, JoAnn Prouse, met at a Portland church and were married Aug 24, 1956. They raised four children and were married nearly 60 years. JoAnn Brockmann died in 2015.
In 2017, Brockmann was remarried to a retired nurse, Colleen Lienau, a former nursing instructor at Northwest University. Their courtship began with a chance meeting at a French bakery in Everett.
A backyard gathering Wednesday brought several of his loved ones to the Everett home of Deanna Cameron Kelly, another of Brockmann’s daughters. His widow was there, as well as daughter Berinda, grandson Jake Brockmann and daughter-in-law Melody Brockmann, Jake’s mother. Ernest Brockmann is also survived by his son Bryan Brockmann, Jake’s father, and daughter Carmen Yeadon.
Before sharing stories about her dad, the hostess invited everyone to enjoy “kuchen hour.” She served a berry kuchen, as cake in called in German, with whipped cream. There was coffee, too, on an outside table covered with a family heirloom, a vintage European tablecloth. With her father, Kelly said, everything was a celebration.
“Ernie never lost his European flair,” added his widow, Colleen Lienau Brockmann, who traveled to Europe and on cruises with her husband before he suffered several strokes.
Jake Brockmann has written a biographical tribute to his grandfather, which he shares on a website, www.forevermissed.com/ernie-rudolf-brockmann.
A 1981 graduate of Cascade High, Deanna was in her father’s German class for four years. “His class was like magic. He had a magnetism. It drew kids in,” she recalled. She remembers helping her dad prepare “farmer’s breakfasts” for students. Brockmann also accompanied Everett students on class trips to his homeland.
He had close and loving ties to all his children, grandkids and great-grandchildren, his family said. There was no hate in the man who spent boyhood in the midst of war.
“He had this amazing capacity for love,” his widow said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.