Wolfgang Schoch’s father, Paul, died fighting in World War II in Germany and Mr Schoch has researched as much as he can about his dad’s life but never thought there was a connection to him in country Victoria.
Yet that’s what he discovered recently when the Melbourne man met the altar boy from his father’s funeral, Alfred Seiter, and his brother Siegfried Seiter in Numurkah last week.
Mr Schoch’s father joined the Volkssturm, a German militia that formed towards the end of the war as the Allies advanced through Germany, and was stationed at the town of Großweier near Baden-Baden.
Großweier was the Seiters’ home town and Siegfried discovered the connection with Mr Schoch when a friend in the town sent a newspaper clipping that featured an article with Mr Schoch who had recently visited his father’s grave during an overseas journey.
‘‘I saw the article and did some research and found Mr Schoch’s phone number and told him to come visit us in Numurkah,’’ Siegfried said.
Mr Schoch — who was only three years old when his father died — jumped at the opportunity to find out more about his father and speak to the last person known to be linked to him.
‘‘I didn’t think I would find anyone linked to the men in that mass grave when I moved to Australia,’’ Alfred said.
‘‘It’s really unbelievable, it’s a small world.’’
Mr Schoch said the Volkssturm was a last resort during the war with the bulk of the force made up of teenagers and older men with minimal training and equipment.
‘‘The Volkssturm were about 100 strong in Großweier but were heavily outgunned by the French forces who were backed up by tanks, and with the help of historians I even found out where they fought in town,’’ he said.
Mr Schoch discovered where his father was killed as he attempted to climb through the window of a building on April 13, 1945 as the Volkssturm retreated.
‘‘His father was buried in a mass grave with 10 other soldiers, and during the funeral ceremony the French were firing cannons only 50m away towards the next German force,’’ Alfred said.
Alfred said he was 13 during the conflict and was in a shelter that day with his brother and they both remember three German soldiers coming inside and one of them was so devastated he did not stop crying.
‘‘War is a terrible thing,’’ he said.
The Seiter and Schoch men share a similar story with both having moved to Australia in the 1950s with their mothers and stepfathers. The Seiters first settled in Wunghnu before moving to Numurkah while the Schochs settled in Melbourne.