TULSA, Okla. (Tulsa World) — If only he could just play soccer all the time.
Nothing would’ve made young Walter Schnoor more happy than that.
But as a boy growing up in Germany at the time, life could not be so simple.
Now 86 and a longtime Tulsa resident, Schnoor still recalls the local Nazi youth organization in his hometown and his experience as a member of it.
“I was 5 when I had to join,” he said. “I’d put on the brown shirt and black pants and go to the meetings once a week.”
“I remember we marched once on Hitler’s birthday.”
Although his parents were anti-Nazi, membership in the group, a version of the Hitler Youth for younger boys, was mandatory.
Thankfully, his time in it would be short, Schnoor said. When the Allied bombings picked up, most youths were evacuated to the countryside.
“That was the end of that,” he said of his Nazi indoctrination.
But for Schnoor, other things were just beginning.
His world — the entire world, for that matter — was changing. And there would be no going back to the way things were before.
Impossible to ignore
For native Germans like Schnoor, 2020 brings with it two anniversaries that relate directly to those cataclysmic events.
The first, back in May, was the 75th anniversary of Germany’s defeat in World War II and the end of Nazi rule.
And coming up Saturday, Oct. 3: the 30th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
Schnoor talked about those events in a recent interview. But first, a couple of things about Schnoor the Tulsan.
He’s called the city home since 1958, when he arrived there as an ace Volkswagen mechanic.
Today, he’s still at it, repairing Mercedes and other German-made cars at his German Motor Shop.
Schnoor is even better known for his contributions to the Tulsa soccer scene.
Bringing his passion for the game with him when he immigrated, he founded the University of Tulsa’s soccer program and served as its first coach. He is a member of the state soccer association’s hall of fame.
Schnoor’s love for the sport traces back to his youth in Kiel, Germany.
When the war began in 1939, he said, at first it wasn’t much of a distraction from his childhood fun. But it would become impossible to ignore.
Unlike other parts of the country, anti-Nazi sentiment thrived in Kiel, a port city on Germany’s northern coast, he said.
His ears still ring with the emphatic warning his mother once gave to him and his older brother, George.
“I remember her saying that what you say or hear here at home does not go beyond that door,” he said.
Radios were allowed only by permit. So Schnoor’s father, an engineer, built one in secret.
Every night, he’d tune his homemade radio to the BBC out of England.
“He wanted to hear the truth,” said Schnoor, not what was being reported on German radio.
His mother’s feelings toward the Nazis would only grow harder.
Her younger brother, a soldier with the Army, was killed at Stalingrad.
“She would never forgive that,” Schnoor said.
His father was able to avoid military service because of his value to the war industry. He worked in a plant building submarines.
But most men were drafted, leaving the women to take up their former jobs.
In what is probably Schnoor’s favorite photo from that time, his mother is shown in uniform, striking an impressive pose.
“She carried the mail,” he said. “All the mail carriers were women then.”
By mid-1942, Allied bombers were flying raids over Kiel once or twice a week.
Whenever the alarm went off during school hours, Schnoor and the other children were sent home.
“The teacher would throw open the doors and you were on your own,” he said, adding that the kids herded out, running and screaming.
But one morning in the fall of 1942, Schnoor didn’t make it home.
With the alarm announcing the approach of bombers, he and his older brother, George — sticking together, as their mother had told them — ducked into the basement of an apartment building.
There, they found several adults and children huddled, waiting out the raid.
As the booms came closer, growing louder, “everything rattled,” he said.
Then, from somewhere over their heads — an explosion.
“I remember water and dust everywhere,” Schnoor said. “People were screaming.”
A bomb had hit the building.
Thankfully, the basement was intact.
But the damage upstairs had left them trapped inside it. As the hours passed, all they could do was wait.
“If you needed to go to the bathroom, you just had to go right there,” Schnoor said.
Finally, after 14 hours, voices were heard and Schnoor “finally felt a breeze.”
Rescuers had cleared a path out.
“George went ahead of me and then pulled me through,” Schnoor said.
It was 2 a.m. when the siblings emerged onto the street.
Before they knew what was happening, their mother’s arms were around them.
“We cried,” he said.
It was the last time Schnoor would see Kiel for nearly three years.
The next day, the city’s children were evacuated to safer places in the countryside.
Schnoor, George and their mother would go to live on a farm near a town called Alt-Bokhorst.
It was a large farm and harbored many families, and was also home to a makeshift prisoner of war camp.
The camp, which held French and Belgium POWs, was a pretty loosely run affair, Schnoor recalled.
With only three or four guards, the POWs almost had the run of the place.
He recalls learning to fish and play chess from the Frenchmen.
Children attended a nearby one-room school house.
They had no radio access, so Schnoor isn’t sure how his mother heard the news of May 1945.
But he remembers her telling him that Germany had surrendered.
It came just days after his 11th birthday.
One result of the war would be the splitting of Germany in two — into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany.
Back home in Kiel on the western side, Schnoor resumed school. He would go on to become an auto mechanic for Volkswagen.
It wasn’t what he wanted at the time, but “they gave me a chance when I needed one.”
That chance, a few years later, would lead him to a new life in Tulsa.
A short blurb in a 1958 Tulsa World announced Schnoor’s arrival. Brown Auto Service, under owner Loyd Brown, had just brought a VW specialist to town, it said.
Walter Schnoor, 24, “an old hand with VWs,” flew into Tulsa last week, it noted.
Schnoor’s introduction to Tulsa, with its American brand of freedom, could not have been more eye-opening.
“I couldn’t believe how different it was from the town I came from,” he said. “Just being able to go in a restaurant and order food — it was such a drastic change from what my life was.
“Every day was a joy to wake up and go out,” he said.
Schnoor eventually married.
He met his wife, Peggy, when she had a flat tire on the roadside and he stopped to help.
The pair, who raised three daughters and a stepson together, were married for more than 50 years before her death.
Schnoor returned to Germany for visits over the years.
He saw the infamous Berlin Wall, erected to keep residents from the communist side caged in. He hated it and everything it represented.
Schnoor felt certain, though, that the barrier could not last.
“I always believed the people would rise up and tear it down,” he said. “And that’s what happened.”
Schnoor, who still has a sister in Germany, made more visits after the reunification in 1990.
He was happy for his homeland, finally free from both Nazis and Communists and facing a brighter future.
But it didn’t change his mind about his own past, and his decision to leave.
During one return visit, Schnoor stopped at the Checkpoint Charlie historic site, the onetime crossing point between East and West Berlin, and saw a visitor’s log.
He took special pleasure in writing in it.
“I signed it ‘Walter Schnoor, Tulsa, Oklahoma,’” he said, adding that he felt like underlining it several times for emphasis.
“How proud I was to be able to say that — not Walter Schnoor, Kiel, Germany, but Walter Schnoor, Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
More than 60 years after he arrived, Schnoor’s affection for his adopted hometown remains strong.
He started out there knowing no one and speaking little English, but he’s built a life and legacy he never dreamed possible.
He hopes through his contributions to Tulsa, especially in promoting youth soccer, he’s returned a little of what it’s provided for him.
“How blessed I am to be here,” Schnoor said. “It’s staggering, really.”
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