Heinz Kampes (1937 - 2023)
Eulogy delivered by Glencree CEO, Naoimh McNamee
Dundalk, 18 November 2023
Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Today, we gather not only to mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, but to celebrate the life, legacy and indelible mark left by Heinz Kampes. To all of us who had the privilege of knowing him, Heinz was an embodiment of courage, resilience, compassion and an unwavering love for his wonderful family. Heinz is survived by his two children, Orlágh and Franz, his daughter-in-law Cora, his seven grandchildren: Marianne, Laura, Nicole, Naomi, Killian, Caoimhe, and Enya, and his 4 great grandchildren: Lochlain, Matthew, Callum and Ryan. Heinz also leaves behind his three sisters in Germany: Kati, Marianna, and Ulla and his extended German family. We all join together today in expressing our heartfelt condolences to you all on the loss of such a beloved man.
I was deeply honoured when Orlágh and Franz asked me to give this eulogy for Heinz. As the CEO of the Glencree Centre for Peace & Reconciliation, I have had the honour of getting to know Heinz and learning about his remarkable life story. Born in 1937 to Peter and Maria, Heinz spent the early years of his life in Oberhausen, Germany. He was one of 12 children, 9 boys and 3 girls. The early years of Heinz’s life were marred by the Second World War. With his father away fighting in the war, the family were bombed out of several homes and had to move around a lot, sometimes separated from each other. Food was often scarce and so Heinz and his older brother Franz would sometimes go out to see what they could find locally.
After one of these excursions in 1945, Franz and Heinz came home to find their mother talking to two men they didn’t recognise. Panic set in as they thought they were farmers whose fields they had visited earlier that day. So the young boys hid. After they left, Heinz’s mother asked her older children if any of them would like to go away for a while to somewhere untouched by the war and where food was plentiful. Eager to ‘lay low’ for a while, away from the potential wrath of any irate farmers, both Heinz and Franz eagerly said yes.
As it turns out, the two men were from the Irish Red Cross. They were part of Operation Shamrock, the post-war programme that brought children from war-torn Germany, Poland and Austria to Ireland to be fostered by Irish families. Heinz had never heard of Ireland and did not know where he and Franz were going. He talked about only starting to feel scared when they were out at sea and couldn't see land anymore. When they finally arrived in Ireland, the boys were taken to the Glencree Centre in the Wicklow mountains, which served as a reception centre for the children to recuperate before they went to live with their foster family. Following a ‘good scrubbing’, a feeding up, and a short respite, Heinz was put on a train to Dundalk to begin his stay with his Irish foster family. To his deep upset, he was separated from his beloved Franz who ended up in Cork. Heinz didn't speak English, his foster parents didn’t speak German. He was alone in a strange place, missing his brother, and recounted crying all through their first night apart.
Heinz talked about how he struggled in school, having missed his first years of schooling in Germany due to the war and having to start his formal education in Ireland as he tried to learn English – not to mention as Gaeilge as well. Other children knew that Heinz was German and some pushed him around and called him names. While Heinz wasn’t shy about standing up for himself, he soon found some back-up in the form of two new Irish friends, Noel and, his future wife and love of his life, Marie. Marie used to keep a stick in her wellie-boot and if anyone pushed Heinz around, she would chase them down. She was the best kind of feisty Irish woman and one that Heinz quickly fell in love with …. and what a love it was. Heinz and Marie faced many challenges in their young lives, including the disapproval of his Irish foster parents, the threat of separation when Heinz went back to Germany aged 16, and again when he turned 18 and got his papers for military service in the German army. Through the support of Marie’s family, Heinz was able to stay in Ireland and make a life and a family with his beloved Marie.
Heinz was German by blood and Irish by heart. While he never forgot his German roots and visited his German family regularly, Heinz made Ireland his home. He was deeply proud of his Irish citizenship. He was a soldier in the Irish army, a butcher, a gunsmith, a welder and a bus driver. A jack of all trades, Heinz was good at anything he put his hand to. He was a cub scout leader and Marie a brownie leader, with plenty of healthy and fun competition between them. And, he wasn’t a man that let circumstance stop him. He could always be counted on to improvise, adapt and overcome. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put two long planks of wood in the back of his battered old green van and pack up to 30 kids to take them to a competition. No matter what end of the country, Heinz always got them there and back safely.
Heinz and Marie loved to travel and visit new countries. While Heinz was happy to ‘wing it’, Marie researched every last detail of their destinations and poured over maps. While they might have approached it differently, they shared a great sense of adventure and held on to that sense of ‘two kids in love having fun’ throughout their lives. He was also a man in possession of a twinkle in his eye and a healthy dose of divillment! During the Covid pandemic, Heinz and his neighbour Gerry were prone to an occasional picnic outing and enjoyed conspiring on what they would tell the Gardai if stopped. After much deliberation, it was agreed Gerry would do all of the talking as Heinz would likely get them in trouble. They made many trips, exploring different places, enjoying many's the picnic and the fun and banter that came with it.
Throughout his life, Heinz stayed connected to Operation Shamrock and to the Glencree Centre. He attended as many of the gatherings of the Operation Shamrock children as he could and always brought the whole family to the German Remembrance Day event in Glencree each year. He would start planning well in advance, making sure the hair was cut, suit and shoes were ready and that he had his Irish / German pin. Glencree was a huge part of Heinz’s life, and indeed of Marie’s and the whole Kampes family. As much as he loved Glencree, we loved him back fiercely in return. I remember many conversations in the Armoury Café where he’d regale us all with his stories. A true gentleman with a steel backbone and the warmest of hearts, we cherished our time with him and the joyous memories he gave us.
When H.E. the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife visited Glencree in 2021, Heinz was the first person on our list that we wanted to invite to the event …. and of course, Heinz brought most of the family – 3 generations. The President and his wife were so enamoured by the conversation, the event ran well over time, such were the enrapturing powers of Heinz and Kathe Carroll (one of Heinz’s fellow Operation Shamrock children), and indeed the Kampes family. Heinz was someone who made real connections with people, someone who made you feel an inner warmth. It was at this event that Heinz and the Kampes family met the then new German Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Cord Meier-Klodt for the first time. Despite Franz mistaking the Ambassador for a journalist and trying to give him a German / Irish pin, or perhaps partly because of it and the banter that ensued, Heinz developed a warm and genuine connection with the Ambassador, who delighted in inviting him to a number of wonderful events in recent years. I know this recognition of how important his German roots were to him meant so much to Heinz. It also means a lot to the Kampes family to have the Ambassador here today to help them honour Heinz’s life and bid him farewell.
Heinz’s tenacity and resilience stayed with him all of his life. He was a walking miracle, having endured 3 strokes, 7 heart-attacks, 11 stents, and a number of years of heart and renal failure. Heinz’s approach to life was to take it one day at time and his indomitable spirit saw him through to the wonderful age of 86.
I remember last year’s German Remembrance event in Glencree. With Heinz’s health failing, we spoke about our fears that it could be his last Volkstrauertag. Orlágh tells me that even in his final weeks, he was determined to be here again this year and reluctantly agreed to the compromise of a wheelchair. He had his hair cut, asked Orlágh to get his suit and shoes ready, and make sure he had his pin. He came so very close …. and it breaks many hearts that we won’t get to see his twinkling eyes and warm smile at Remembrance Day at Glencree tomorrow; to have a laugh with him in the café, to get one of his big hugs.
While Heinz won’t be with us, his presence will always be felt in Glencree. When we speak to people about Operation Shamrock, his is the story we always tell. We point to Heinz and Marie’s picture on the wall and refer to him as the darling of Glencree. Heinz is part of the magic of that special place and always will be. Heinz created a life in Ireland that exemplified the resilience of the human spirit. His warmth, genuine interest in others, and his infectious laughter made him a beloved figure in our community. Heinz didn’t just reside in Ireland; he became an integral thread in its tapestry, weaving connections and leaving an enduring impact on all who had the privilege of knowing him.
Now at rest, I’d like to think of him back with his beloved Marie, off together on their next adventure.
Rest in peace, dearest Heinz.
Go n’éirí an bothar leat.
Ruhe in Frieden