A leather-bound book held photos of elite horses, but Pat Schneider knew little else about the album his uncle found in Germany near the end of World War II.
Charlie Schneider was a U.S. soldier at a deserted farm when he discovered the photo album. He took the book home, settling in Ione, but didn’t talk much to family about it or the war.
Artful, embossed horse heads graced the cover. Thick paper held about 50 black-and-white photos of thoroughbreds. Yet, its nearly 75-year-old origins remained a mystery until July, when Pat Schneider got help finding a still-operational horse farm.
“The book was probably very expensive in its time, about 16-by-12-inches,” said Schneider, a 53-year-old Chewelah resident. “It has handwritten German captions, very detailed with horses’ names and jockeys’ names.
“Many photos were just of horses in the field, but others were at a Frankfurt stadium with a huge grandstand. The photos were in good condition. My uncle would have had to carry it back. It weighed probably 6 to 8 pounds.”
A social studies teacher, Schneider over the years had tried researching on the internet and even checked with TV shows like “History Detectives.” His father Richard, who inherited the book before his death in 2005, wished to return it.
Then in 2017, Pat Schneider mentioned the photo album to parents of one of his former German exchange students when the family visited his home. Returning to Germany, the family linked clues to a still-operational horse farm, Gestüt Fohlenhof, in western Germany.
The operation, located between Koblenz and Heidelberg, dates back to the 1880s. Today, the facility raises and trains horses in various equestrian sports.
In July, Schneider and his wife, Mara, went to Germany and met with the farm’s current owners, led by family patriarch Dr. Bernd Heicke, to see if the structures or landscape in photos matched modern sights.
After touring the grounds, the group found enough background clues to confirm it was the right place. People who looked through the book included Heicke and his wife, and their daughter Claudia.
“I had a picture of my uncle and this other guy standing in a corral,” Schneider said. “I was able to find that exact location. There were some buildings that were still there.”
By the end of his visit, he felt confident the book came from the farm, and returned it. That’s where it belongs, he said, and he hopes its contents will fill out the facility’s missing records.
“I figured if I could find the person the book belongs to, it would be a missing piece to the horses’ bloodlines,” he said. “It’s a very fancy place. In 2015, he (Heicke) had the No. 1 horse in the world. You had to be let into a main gate, and there are four cameras.”
Schneider said he and his wife were treated as guests, but the owners at first seemed a little wary until they realized he only wanted to give them the book back. “I didn’t know he had elite horses. I’m not a horse person. I knew they were probably expensive.”
But he also learned more about what probably happened when his uncle Charlie found the book undamaged in a destroyed home.
During WWII, his uncle at first served with the 1st Special Service Force, a joint U.S. and Canadian commando unit as a forerunner to today’s Special Op Forces, but many members were killed and it disbanded in 1944. Then, his uncle moved to the 101st Airborne entering Germany, Schneider said.
He probably fancied the photo album because he had once served in a cavalry unit and had a life-long appreciation for horses.
“He was around horses since the day he was born,” Schneider said. “They (U.S. soldiers) found the farm and exercised the horses and waited for the war to be done because the time was pretty much around 1945.”
The one story that the younger Schneider heard was that his uncle thought the home where he found the book had been bombed, so when he asked the Heicke family about that, they at first weren’t sure.
Then a family member remembered that a home on the grounds had caught on fire perhaps a year before the war’s start. “In my uncle’s mind, he thought it was bombed, and it was just ruined from being burned down. This home was on the same property at the time.”
Back in the U.S., Charlie Schneider married later in life but had no kids. He worked as a forest ranger in Ione-Metaline Falls until retiring.
After his uncle died in 1978, the book went to Schneider’s dad and eventually to him. Today, Schneider said he thinks it’s important to fill in missing parts of history.
Heicke also told the couple that he stays in touch with two elderly women living nearby who are daughters of the original family owners during WWII, so they were children living there at the time.
“The book went full circle,” Schneider said. “I’m kind of a history buff, and to me, it’s just proper that the book went home. Is it worth anything to anyone but people at the farm? Probably not.
“I hope with the information, they were able to close some circles on bloodlines. That this horse is this horse’s mom. It may well be the only photos from that time. All of the photos were from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s.
“I doubt they had other copies. He (Heicke) said they had a small museum on site, but he didn’t say how he’d use the book other than to research more about the horses’ names and bloodlines that were pictured in the book. He had all the other records going back to when the farm started.”
Since 2006, the Schneiders have hosted a number of foreign exchange students, including six from Germany. Pat Schneider credits that thread of befriending families as making all the difference.
“The cool thing is the foreign exchange connection,” he said. “Without that, this wouldn’t have happened.
“There were so many coincidences for this book to be able to go home.”
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