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Sailing back in time

Guenther Gross

Guenter W. Gross, above, professor of biological sciences, lost his father, Kurt Gross, in World War II, but a story once untold has been brought to life thanks to the UNT and Denton community.

“My father was in the German Navy and was killed in Norway during World War II when I was 4 years old,” said Gross. “I have a vague recollection of looking up and seeing him holding my hand.”

Kurt Gross was a sailor on the German war cruiser Karlsruhe, which embarked on several training cruises, two of which stopped in Galveston and Houston, Texas. The sailors of the Karlsruhe were graciously welcomed in nearly all ports they entered, many of which had citizens of German descent.  

“He kept a detailed diary about the voyage, life onboard and the reception that the sailors received in the different ports and nations,” said Simone De Santiago Ramos, who graduated in August 2013.

As a part of her dissertation for her Ph.D. in history, De Santiago Ramos published the diary and her findings from her research in her book, Die Reise des Kreuzers Karlsruhe: Nov. 1931- Dez. 1932 Tagebuch (The Voyage of Cruiser Karlsruhe: Nov. 1931- Dec. 1932 Issue). “The book is a political, diplomatic, social and trans-Atlantic history that needed to be told.”

manuscript on Guenter Gross' father Kurt GrossKurt Gross wrote the diary in Sütterlin, the early 20th-century German script abolished by the Nazis. The diary was passed on to his son, who was able to know its contents 50 years later with the help of Fritz Schwalm, retired biology professor from Texas Women’s University, and De Santiago Ramos. The two transcribed the diary, right, and presented the final manuscript was presented to Gross last year.

In addition to research through the diary, De Santiago Ramos conducted oral history interviews and gathered archival research, aided by history professors Mike Campbell and Robert Citino, her military advisor. De Santiago Ramos plans to author two more books about other training cruises conducted by similar German war ships during the early 20th century.

“My father essentially wrote a little book after his death thanks to Simone and Fritz’s interpretation,” Gross said. “It was surprising for a sailor to have such extensive notes with social and political commentaries. I found that my father had a great sense of humor and was apparently a pretty good soccer player.”

Guenter W. Gross emigrated to the US in 1953, studied engineering and neurophysiology and became an Air Force pilot in 1962. He served in Vietnam as a forward air controller. 

—Lauren Frock, student assistant, URCM

(Photos by Ahna Hubnik / URCM)

Posted on: Tue 15 July 2014

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