Why I founded the
German Gun Collectors Association
and now have the Website
By Dietrich Apel
I started the new web-site <GermanHuntingGuns.com> for only the following reasons:
I grew up in Suhl, the German gun making center, and knew how to open doors that were closed to others, and because my knowledge of the German and English Language is up to the job, and because it was only after I had come to America that I saw the many interesting and well made guns made in Germany that went through my hands, and to make as much of the material I have collected over the years available to all those who are interested in German hunting guns and their makers but are not in command of the German language.
I will welcome all those who want to help with this effort.
I was born in Berlin, the German Capital, in 1929, the year the stock market in New York collapsed and brought the Great Depression that affected the whole world. Although I was too young to be aware of this, it affected my family in a major way. I have very few memories of Berlin but very good memories of Suhl, the former gun making center, where my grandfather Franz Jaeger had his gun factory. I will always remember the visits to Suhl and how happy I was when my mother, my sister and I moved to Suhl and lived in my grandfather’s house.
I remember sitting on the workbench next to the engraver in my grandfather’s shop and admired how with the use of hammer and chisel the gun parts looked better and better. When I was old enough I carried gun components to various specialized gun makers all over town. It was there that I experienced the Hitler years, the Second World War, the arrival of American troops in Suhl in April of 1945 and then of Russian troops a few months later. I experienced how most bigger factories were occupied by American troops and then taken over by a Communist Government.
After I graduated from high school in the last class that was not required to learn the Russian language, it became quite clear to me and everybody in the family that I would not have a good future, and my grandfather recommended that I should quickly serve an apprenticeship as a gunsmith and stock maker and would always find a job in the free world. My apprenticeship was not quite two years long and, although I learned the process, I was not a good gunsmith when I leftSuhl.
Paul Jaeger, my uncle in America, had been in touch with the American Air Force and was told that I could get a job at the Wiesbaden Rod and Gun Club of the American Air Force. Although the border between the two Germanys could not be crossed without severe consequences, refugees could still go to the western sector of the blockaded Berlin where American and British airplanes supplied the city with all that was needed to survive and took out refugees on the way back. I reached the western zone on a British plane that had brought bags with coal to Berlin and I arrived in the free world covered with coal dust looking like a chimney sweep.
To make a long story short, I worked for one year inWiesbaden, then opened a shop together with my uncle Kurt Jaeger in Mainz, and immigrated to America in 1952. After working in Paul Jaeger’s shop in Pennsylvania for 18 years I moved to Newport, New Hampshire to work in the Sturm Ruger factory. I returned to Jenkintown seven years later and had the sad experience of moving the company to Tennesseeand loosing it
I opened my own company, New England Custom Guns, in Plainfield, New Hampshire until I retired and sold the company to my younger partners. It was during this time that I agonized what I could do with my remaining life and do some good. I did not want to make the same mistake Paul Jaeger made in holding on to his company despite its decline, and neither did I want to keep working as a gunsmith whose skill was also declining. During all these years I had always regretted that the owners of German hunting guns could not find good information in English about the guns and their makers. While I was still in my company I had handed out and sent out inquiries about the founding of an association to make good information available. The positive response was overwhelming and I felt that I had no other option than to try it myself.
I founded the German Gun Collectors Association, registered it and incorporated it. From a humble beginning the association grew to over 500 members. I had visited the Mannlicher Collectors Association on the west coast to learn from them and get their advice. They recommended that I should only have a short newsletter, but I decided that at my age I needed to do something that put the association on the map and brought out a first Journal in the summer of 1998 and the last Journal Nr. 42 in the spring of 2010. We attended and had a booth or tables at the Beinfeld Show in Las Vegas, the American Custom Gun Makers and Engravers Show in Reno,Nevada and the Vintagers events in three locations. Members were taken on tours in Europe to Suhl, Zella-Mehlis, the Heym factory, the Krieghoff factory, to Ferlach in Austria and many other locations.
During all the years I was building and supporting the Association I spent a lot of time and quite a bit of my money, but one of the most time consuming efforts was the answering of thousands of inquiries with questions and photos of German guns. I downloaded the more important inquiries, numbered the photos in order to enhance them and the inquiries in order to find them when additional answers came. This took a lot of my time but also brought the association new members and me more information which I stored in my computer. I had good help in doing this, especially from Axel Eichendorff inGermany, Steve Meyer and quite a few others.
(Editors note- The following paragraphs cover a difficult period in the GGCA history and are Dietrich’s version of the events. Other parties who were involved at the time might have differant views of what happened. LBS)
During all this time I regretted that I could not sort out all the information I had saved and that I could not make it available to many more interested gun owners than the up to 600 members who received the Journals. I started to create Almanacs, but again only the members were informed about them. My suggestion to produce more Almanacs was rejected by some of those who had helped with much of the information I had gathered. It was rejected with the reasoning that all information can be found on the inter-net already, especially in Forums. I visited some of these and marveled at the time spent with exchanges of opinions and that at the end of all the information that was gained it was not retained for the future and that false information, repeated often enough, was accepted as the truth.
It was at this time that the request for more openness by the leadership of the Association was rejected, that two directors resigned because of it and that all other directors and officers also resigned after they appointed a temporary new President. A new election orchestrated by the new temporary President who also added simplistic questions to the ballots The vision and mission statement of the Association was voted in by the new president and two new directors. Although I was elected by the membership as vice-president, I resigned because I was not allowed to discuss these changes in a Board of Directors meeting, and false accusations, including that I was suffering under “Founders Syndrome” were made.
It took me more than three years to overcome my disappointment and frustration, and only last year did I decide to continue my efforts by starting a web-site. I have still some hope that members of the German Gun Collectors Association will convince the officers and directors to return to the cause that was clearly spelled out in the original Vision and Mission Statements of the Association and in the by-laws, allow an open discussion and then let them decide what is best for the Association.