Sunshine Recorder

Link: Fourth Reich Calling

One of the important tasks of the on-going project of Never Again for Anyone, including our own to take place in Berlin during the Holocaust’s 70th anniversary, is to highlight the danger of a resurgence of violent far-right activity in Europe. As a German resident, I think the most notable example in recent times is undoubtedly the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). NSU is a terror cell that has killed ten people, including a police officer, and has also spearheaded bomb attacks and other criminal activity over the past twelve years.

NSU was composed of three core members: Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe. They were acquainted through the neo-Nazi scene in the town of Jena in the 1990s. NSU also had a network of helpers that has been variously estimated as having between ten and two hundred people. Some observers say that this may have included members of German police and intelligence services. This lacks proof, but it is undeniable that investigative bodies have seemed to make nothing but mistakes since NSU came to light.

NSU remained active throughout the 2000s, until November 2011 when, following their increasingly hopeless attempts to flee from a bank robbery they had just committed in Eisenach, Mundlos and Böhnhardt were found dead. Mundlos had shot Böhnhardt and then himself. Zschäpe responded by blowing up the house she had shared with them, and was arrested four days later by police after a short run. Her trial is currently on-going in Munich.

There are lots of questions here. Probably the most important is how they managed to escape the police for so long, or indeed any serious investigation. Why, for instance, did investigators choose to rule out the possibility for any racial motivation in the nine deaths committed by NSU? Why did they focus on Eastern and South-Eastern European “criminal gangs” instead? Why did it take them so long to even identify the three people behind it all?

Despite the fact that Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe had been on the run with an arrest warrant hanging over their heads since 1998, relating to large amounts of explosives and bomb-making material found in a Jena garage, and there were suggestions of a racist motive from individual officers and victims’ families, every attempt to push this line of investigation was thwarted. The threat of far-right violence was played down by the central investigators. The Parliamentary Committee for Enquiry recently concluded that intelligence services had been, “professionally speaking, blind in their right eye.”

The Committee, in their 1400-page report, further outlined some of the massive mistakes and deficiencies relating to the investigation of the NSU, or lack thereof. Although the report itself stopped short of ascribing specifically racist motives to the investigating officers, many of the political factions involved begged to differ. Representatives of the Social Democrat PartyThe Left Party and the Greens variously attributed failures in the investigation to “structurally racist preconceptions,” “investigations carried out with presuppositions, attributions and stereotypes not to be attributed to racism of individual investigators, but rather forms of a structural, institutional racism,” and false or non-investigations “closely bound to racist presuppositions.”

Add to this as yet unexplained details such as the “accidental” shredding of hundreds of pages of documents related to the NSU, seemingly just a few days after the group and their activities became public knowledge, and the mystery surrounding why an intelligence official known locally as “Little Adolf” logged out and left a Kassel internet cafe at almost exactly the same time as the young man working behind the counter was shot dead, and it is easy to see why rumours of official involvement in the group’s activities refuse to go away.

What seems clear is that any analysis of the NSU cannot explain it away as the actions of a few rogue extremists. Rather, it must be seen as a representative of a deeper vein of racism, xenophobia, and far-right policies in German culture and society. The old saying “this is by no means a German problem” applies here, but there is a reason that the far-right has made strong gains in Germany’s eastern “new states.” It is tied to structural factors. Unfortunately, though, neo-Nazis are so strong in the East that many West Germans have begun attacking neo-Nazism as an Eastern problem that came with unification, rather than a social and economic issue.

In that vein, there is a clear atmospheric link between the NSU and the National Democratic Party. One acts violently on what the other instills more subtly, which broadly, can be said of much of conservative politics, even if it intends otherwise. These forms of irrational politics all operate on energy, in the end, and the NPD has not helped matters with its populist policy-making and determination to be a flag-bearer of the far-right.

One of the main differences between far-right supporters in East and West lies in their age and social class. In the West, they tend to be older, more middle class, guided by chauvinism, nationalism and anti-semitism, and in the East it is dominated by young, working class men disaffected by what they see as the broken promises of a system that was supposed to bring guaranteed prosperity. They lash out because they have witnessed the destruction of East Germany’s social and economic structures and dominantly have a perception that they are second class citizens within their own land.

In the small towns of the East, there is little hope of employment, social security or entry into West-dominated social elites, creating a feeling of “relative deprivation” that provides the ideal breeding ground for radicalisation. The movement’s youthful face in the East makes it obvious why that movement is more likely to embrace violence. The protagonists of the NSU are currently the best known exemplars of this tendency, but are by no means the only ones.

The actions of the NSU, then, are the natural conclusion to several different trends within German society. They cannot be classified as “terrorists” and “extremists” before being hidden from view. German politicians, culture, and society should use the NSU as an opportunity to look in the mirror and wonder why racism is such a huge part of the German social fabric. Will they scoff at the idea, or become determined to collapse the hierarchy between white Germans and minorities?

How Germans react to NSU will shape much of future race relations in the country. In the spirit of this, Never Again for Anyone must be articulated as a rallying call, otherwise, it will become a lonely cry in the dark.

franzderkaiser:

Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, East Germany, 1973.

franzderkaiser:

Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, East Germany, 1973.

(Source: linklayer, via infinite-iterations)

Link: The Nazi Anatomists

FACT mix 371 - Efdemin (Feb ‘13)

The Dial records man Efdemin shares almost 2 hours of his abstract and otherworldly take on deep house with Fact magazine in this podcast.

A key figure in German techno’s more romantic side, it’s no surprise that Efdemin’s favoured home over the years has been Dial Records, a label that specialises in yearning 4×4 that interacts with the world like a new born child, wide-eyed and overwhelmed by possibility. Kick drums that crunch like snow underfoot and melodies constructed from the world’s most longing bells and chimes. To portray Sollmann as just another Pantha du Prince-alike, though, is to do him a massive disservice: when in the mood, his music arguably jacks harder than anybody else in the Dial stable. His second album was titled Chicago, after all.

Tracklist:
1. Raymond Scott – Country Fair (Instrumental)
2. Dj Sotofett – Asa Med
3. Anthony Shake Shakir – Frayed
4. Perception – Abandoned Building In Mono
5. Max/Ernst – 7Klick1
5. Steevio – Ty (Deep Mix)
6. Furthr – Enta (enypnion)
7. DJ Qu – Times Like This
8. Black Jazz Consortium – Be And Not Know Why (feat. Christina Wheeler)
9. STL – Paku Paku
10. Jason Fine – Conical
11. Delroy Edwards – 4 Club Use Only
12. Ra. H – Spacepops
13. Gherkin Jerks – Midi Beats
14. Vakula – 41600
15. Delano Smith – Invitation Only (Reconstructed by Tobias.)
16. M-Core – Be Gene
17. Parallel 9 – Dominus
18. Echoplex – Soleil
19. tvhosten – Swinger EP
20. Acid Jesus – Radium
21. Lucy – Finegan (Pariah Rmx)
22. MLZ – One State
23. Jeroen – Axis
24. D5 – Run
25. Mark Ambrose – Bellringers
26. Phuture – Rise From Your Grave
27. Dream 2 Science – Dream 2 Science

Link: The Münster Rebellion

Why the European Renaissance wasn’t actually a very good time to be alive.

The man whose face is stamped on this 1535 silver medal is Jan van Leiden. In January 1536, van Leiden was tortured to death with two other men at a public square in Münster, a city in the German region of Westphalia. The city’s officials and a throng of spectators watched as the three were pulled apart with searing hot tongs, one by one, until their agonies were ended with a thrust to the heart. But who was this Jan van Leiden, and why was he so violently and horribly executed?

Germany in the 16th century was a rough place. Martin Luther’s protests against the corruption of the Church sparked a long and partly successful rebellion against the spiritual and temporal authority of Rome. They also sparked smaller movements that branched off of Lutheranism to pursue their own goals. One of the earliest of these offshoot movements was Anabaptism. This new Christian sect proposed that infant baptism was invalid and that, to be truly saved, Christians must be baptised as adults. Some Anabaptists also advocated for total equality between fellow Christians and even the total abolition of property and wealth. Naturally, the Church hated these innovations, but they had their hands full with the Lutherans and the Netherlands and northern Germany became hotbeds of Anabaptism.

Renaissance Europe was a mix of large kingdoms and small principalities, dukedoms and republics. One of these was the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, a constituent state of the Holy Roman Empire. While formally under the control of the Emperor, Münster was truly ruled by Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck, who was exactly what he sounded like: both the prince of a territory and a bishop of the Church. He wasn’t the city’s absolute ruler, however: Münster had an elected town council, unusual for a state in that period.

Initially, the population of Münster was composed of a mix of Catholics, Lutherans and Anabaptists. By 1532, however, that balance began to change. Bernard Rothmann, an Anabaptist preacher in the city, began to rail against the Catholic Church, while Bernard Knipperdolling, a wealthy merchant with Anabaptist sympathies, used his printing press to spread Rothmann’s sermons far and wide. By 1533, the city had attracted two of what would become the century’s most charismatic and dangerous men – Jan Matthys and Jan van Leiden. Matthys and van Leiden had traveled from their homes in the Netherlands to answer Rothmann’s call for the establishment of a “New Jerusalem” in Münster: a perfect Christian society that would witness and be spared from the end of the world.

Ironically, their actions ended up bringing down deadly wrath upon Münster and its remaining inhabitants.

Matthys and his lieutenant van Leiden immediately took a considerable share of influence in the city’s affairs through their connection to Rothmann, the firebrand preacher, and Knipperdolling, the respected councilman and merchant. Together, the four initiated a religious reign of terror. They first ran new elections to the Münster city council that packed the body with Anabaptists. Matthys then shockingly urged the council to put the town’s spiritually unfit – meaning its Catholics and more moderate Protestants – to death. Knipperdolling managed to negotiate this sentence down to forced expulsion, and many of the city’s old families were subsequently thrown out without their property or belongings. These remaining assets were transferred to Münster’s new arrivals: thousands of destitute Anabaptists from the surrounding northern German and Dutch lands, attracted by Knipperdolling’s continued printing and publishing of Rothmann’s calls to action.

All of these happenings naturally attracted the attention of the Prince-Bishop of Münster. Waldeck, who had fled Münster ahead of the Anabaptist takeover, promptly gathered his forces, supplemented by mercenary troops, and laid siege to the city.

Meanwhile, Matthys and van Leiden began to organize the city’s defense and stockpile its resources. Helpfully, Matthys claimed to regularly receive messages from God. These divine revelations included orders to put the “faithless” of Münster to death, orders that he and his men carried out swiftly. God also apparently ordered him to ride out of the city armed, with a few dozen followers, to meet the Prince-Bishop’s thousands of troops in battle, because on Easter 1534 that’s just what he did. Jan van Leiden inherited the spiritual leadership of Münster right after Matthys’ death (cause: getting hacked to pieces by Franz von Waldeck’s cavalry.)

Jan van Leiden, a.k.a. Jan Bockelson, was an interesting character. In addition to leadership over the fervently faithful Anabaptists of Münster, van Leiden also inherited Matthys’ direct line to God – as well as his allegedly attractive wife Divara.

This new Jan was slightly different from the old one. Van Leiden first weirded out the people of Münster by running around town naked, supposedly in a divinely induced trance, and then he shocked his followers by announcing that God wanted Münster to adopt polygamy as a legal practice. Jan completed his master plan (assuming he had one) by having himself declared King of Münster, something that the severe Jan Matthys had never done. His Majesty dissolved the city’s old government and created a royal court for himself composed of his inner circle of friends, including the two Bernards, Knipperdolling and Rothmann.

Despite his faults, van Leiden seemed to have been at least kind of competent, because his newly organized defensive military units, composed by the remaining citizens of Münster, successfully repelled two of the Prince-Bishop’s direct assaults. The city was starving, however, and by mid-1535 its some of its people had had enough. Several deserters to the enemy’s siege lines gave the Prince-Bishop enough information to realize that he had worn the city’s inhabitants down. A third assault in late 1535 was successful, and the Prince-Bishop’s men retook Münster after a bloody battle within the city’s walls.

Many of the town’s population were summarily executed, but the leaders of Münster’s short-lived rebellion were captured alive to be questioned and later to be horrifically executed. Van Leiden, Knipperdolling and one Bernard Krechting suffered the officially sanctioned sentence of being ripped apart with coal-heated tongs for one hour each. Bernard Rothmann, the other ringleader of the Anabaptist rebellion, was not available for execution – after the last battle for Münster, he simply disappeared. Even if he had been killed in the fighting, we should probably consider him lucky that he didn’t have to share the scaffold with his friends in January 1536.

As a final insult, the bodies of the now-dead Anabaptist leaders were shoved into iron cages that were then hauled to the top of Münster Cathedral, presumably there to serve as a reminder and a warning. The corpses have long since decayed and scattered, but the iron cages remain hanging from the steeple of the great church to this very day.

This bizarre chapter of history raises all kinds of issues. We’re still not sure just how far King Jan of Münster believed what he told his people during his short reign – many of his actions suggest a desire for self-preservation that Jan Matthys, the man who rode against an army with a handful of citizen-soldiers, clearly didn’t have.

But the short-lived experiment in Münster is about more than this uniquely strange character. It’s also about the role that fanatical beliefs – religious or otherwise – can have on people. Münster was a relatively peaceful town before the arrival of the extremist Anabaptist preachers from Holland, and it was largely due to the influence of the Münsterites Hoffmann and Knipperdolling that they succeeded in overturning that peace and taking control of the city. Otherwise, they probably would have remained two obscure Dutch guys remembered only by hardcore Reformation historians. But they bought their fame at a great price. Thousands of Münsterites were killed, some by the extreme Anabaptists and some by the Prince-Bishop and his mercenary armies. Thousands more lost their homes and livelihoods. And the heads of the whole business lost their lives in an undignified, brutal and incredibly painful way.

Today’s Anabaptist societies, most famously the Amish and the Mennonites, are entirely pacifist and spend their time farming, building furniture, having children and not using modern technology. Maybe living in obscurity isn’t such a bad thing.

Münster’s Anabaptist “coins” aren’t coins at all. Many Anabaptists, including the Münster faction, didn’t believe in money or personal ownership of property, so minting coins would have been pretty useless. Medals bearing the image of Jan van Leiden as king of the “New Jerusalem” were crafted purely for propaganda purposes. These medals were produced at a time when the quality of coins was on the rise: they were beginning to be produced on round planchets, as opposed to the irregular planchets common to medieval coins.

I’m not even sure how many of these things exist, but considering the brief period of Anabaptist rule in Münster and the extreme strain on the besieged city’s resources, I imagine not too many were produced. Medals and other trinkets from the period and place are still around, though. Let me know if you find one!

If you want to learn more about the Münster Rebellion of 1534-5, look up the book The Tailor King. There are probably many more sources on the subject written in German and Dutch, but I can’t read them. If you’re more into podcasts, or you have four and a half hours to kill during commutes to and from work, check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History site, which features an episode on the rebellion and its causes and effects. I’m a big fan of his work, and you might find that you’re one too.Share this:

Link: "I Was A Nazi, And Here's Why"

Few perpetrators seek out their victims, let alone write books about them. Melita Maschmann, a former Nazi, published just such a book…

In recent years, many victims of violence have written memoirs in which they seek out and confront the perpetrators who harmed them. The opposite is rare. Few perpetrators seek out their victims, let alone write books about them. But fifty years ago this month, Melita Maschmann, a former Nazi, published just such a book.

“Fazit,” which was translated as “Account Rendered” in 1964, is the memoir of a woman who, as a fifteen-year-old and against her family’s wishes, joined the Hitler Youth. Before and during the Second World War, Maschmann worked in the high echelons of press and propaganda of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, the girls’ section of the Nazi youth organization, and, later, she supervised the eviction of Polish farmers and the resettlement of ethnic Germans on their farms. Arrested in 1945 at the age of thirty-three, she completed a mandatory de-Nazification course and became a freelance journalist.

Soon after her release from internment in 1948, Maschmann wrote a letter to a Jewish former classmate with whom she had the kind of passionate friendship common among adolescent girls. She didn’t know if her friend had made it out of Berlin before the war, or if her mother (whose address she had obtained) would pass the letter on. “I don’t know if it reached you,” the author writes. “Since then I have often continued my conversation with you, awake and in dreams, but I have never tried to write any of it down. Now, today, I feel impelled to do so. I was prompted to this by a trivial incident. A woman spoke to me in the street and the way she held her head suddenly reminded me quite strikingly of you. But what is the real reason which made me sit down and write to you as soon as I came in? Perhaps in the intervening years I have, without being aware of it, prepared an account within me which must be presented.”

“Account Rendered” is written in the form of a second book-length letter. “With you as a witness,” the author writes, in a painful, exhaustive, seemingly scrupulous portrait of her younger self, “I should like to try once more to go over the result of my reflections on the past. You will compel me to be much more precise than I could be if left to myself.”

Maschmann is acutely aware that her friend might view her project as self-justifying, but writes, “Even the element of fate in a person’s life does not dispose of individual guilt, I know that. What I hope, dare to hope, is that you might be able to understand—not excuse—the wrong and even evil steps which I took and which I must report, and that such an understanding might form the basis for a lasting dialogue.”

Maschmann elaborated on her purpose to Hannah Arendt in 1963, in a letter that expressed her desire to help former Nazi colleagues reflect on their actions, and to help others “better understand” why people like her had been drawn to Hitler. (Their brief correspondence can be read online.)

A deft writer and practiced propagandist who understood the power of a vivid quote, detail, or anecdote, Maschmann portrayed herself as a girl who came of age in a culture imbued with the shame of Germany’s defeat in the First World War. “Before I understood the meaning of the word ‘Germany,’ I loved it as something mysteriously overshadowed with grief…,” she writes. Her wealthy parents, avid newspaper readers and members of the conservative German National Party, complained about “the chaotic squabbling of Parliament” and the millions of people out of work, but had a sign affixed to their door that read “No Hawkers or Beggars.” Melita sympathized with them, and with the maid, chauffeur, and house seamstress. The latter wore an embossed metal swastika under the lapel of her coat, spoke movingly of Hitler, and was instrumental in Melita’s resolve “to follow a different road from the conservative one prescribed for me by family tradition.” The book documents twelve years of following that road.

“Account Rendered” appeared at a time when Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” was making its way into public conversation, and while the West German parliament was debating the statute of limitations on crimes committed by Nazis. Some critics found the text candid and forthright; others considered it defensive, prevaricating, and melodramatic. Some of Maschmann’s former colleagues, Nazis who were issued kerosene with which to burn their documents at the end of the war, viewed it as a betrayal, and never forgave her for writing it.

In Germany, the book went through eight editions (the last in 1987) and was added to high-school reading lists in some school districts. It became part of Germany’s private, public, and scholarly debates over its own history. Historians of the Nazi period—Daniel Goldhagen and Claudia Koonz, among others—used “Account Rendered” as a primary source. Women’s studies researchers tried to discover in it the mentality of a female perpetrator. Students of memoir used the text to showcase the vagaries of personal narrative; sociologists looked for a relation between the literary work and the cultural setting from which it arose. Some readers questioned Maschmann’s reliability as a narrator, her motivation, and whether or not she was representative of ordinary Germans. They theorized about the Jewish friend to whom the memoir is addressed: Was she a construct, a composite, or a reality?

No one could answer those questions, because soon after the book’s publication, its author effectively disappeared from public view. She had found a guru, Sri Anandamayi Ma, a woman venerated as a “living saint,” in India. Maschmann took a Hindu name, lived in Indian ashrams, and returned to Germany only on brief family visits every two or three years.

I had never heard of Melita Maschmann until a friend, the former editor Arthur Samuelson, described “Account Rendered” as one of the most interesting memoirs he had ever read. My husband and I republish classic non-fiction as e-books at Plunkett Lake Press, and we were intrigued. “I found in the memoir someone who had been overtaken by history,” Samuelson told me. “Someone who was struggling to make sense of what no longer made sense, and to understand why it had once done so. And someone whose best self had been attracted to Nazism.”

We read the book and began to research its history.

First, we located Maschmann’s remaining family in Germany and France. According to her sister-in-law, now in her nineties, Maschmann had trouble finding friends and establishing a postwar life. She travelled, took some university courses, and freelanced for newspapers. In 1962, she toured Afghanistan and India and, after publishing her memoir, decided to leave Germany.

Among the scholars who continue to be intrigued by Maschmann is Dagmar Reese, the author of “Growing Up Female in Nazi Germany.” She recalled that she had come across a footnote in an essay by the late Irmgard Klönne suggesting that Maschmann’s Jewish friend was not a literary construct but an actual person: Marianne Schweitzer, the daughter of the physician Ernst Schweitzer and Franziska Körte Schweitzer of Berlin. We located her at her home in La Jolla, California, and she almost hung up when we called, thinking we were telemarketers.


Stumbling over the Past
In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.
On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.
The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.
Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”—in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National Socialism—Jewish, gypsy, homosexual or other—who had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:
HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNERBORN 1867DEPORTED 22.9.1942THERESIENTSTADTMURDERED 20.12.1943
There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation arose—all before we had even moved in.
In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.
Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”
At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”
And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technology—for Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.
Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the world—environment, governance, companies and all that.”
And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942—nine months before Chaim Shattner was deported—to decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Stumbling over the Past

In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.

On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.

The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.

Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National SocialismJewish, gypsy, homosexual or otherwho had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:

HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNER
BORN 1867
DEPORTED 22.9.1942
THERESIENTSTADT
MURDERED 20.12.1943

There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation aroseall before we had even moved in.

In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.

Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”

At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”

And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technologyfor Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.

Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the worldenvironment, governance, companies and all that.”

And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942nine months before Chaim Shattner was deportedto decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Link: George Orwell Reviews Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

It is a sign of the speed at which events are moving that Hurst and Blackett’s unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, published only a year ago, is edited from a pro-Hitler angle. The obvious intention of the translator’s preface and notes is to tone down the book’s ferocity and present Hitler in as kindly a light as possible. For at that date Hitler was still respectable. He had crushed the German labour movement, and for that the property-owning classes were willing to forgive him almost anything. Both Left and Right concurred in the very shallow notion that National Socialism was merely a version of Conservatism.

Then suddenly it turned out that Hitler was not respectable after all. As one result of this, Hurst and Blackett’s edition was reissued in a new jacket explaining that all profits would be devoted to the Red Cross. Nevertheless, simply on the internal evidence of Mein Kampf, it is difficult to believe that any real change has taken place in Hitler’s aims and opinions. When one compares his utterances of a year or so ago with those made fifteen years earlier, a thing that strikes one is the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his world-view doesn’t develop. It is the fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be much affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics. Probably, in Hitler’s own mind, the Russo-German Pact represents no more than an alteration of time-table. The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture—that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.

Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state of 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afghanistan or thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favourable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches …. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.

Also he has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

Link: Hitler’s Food Taster: One Bite Away from Death

Each meal could have been her last, but Adolf Hitler’s food taster Margot Wölk lived to tell her story. Forced to test the Nazi leader’s meals for more than two years, the 95-year-old tells SPIEGEL ONLINE that she lived in constant fear.

It might have been something as simple as a portion of white asparagus. Peeled, steamed and served with a delicious sauce, as Germans traditionally eat it. And with real butter, a scarcity in wartime. While the rest of the country struggled to get even coffee, or had to spread margarine diluted with flour on their bread, Margot Wölk could have savored the expensive vegetable dish — if not for the fear of dying, that is. Wölk was one of 15 young women who were forced to taste Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s food for some two and a half years during World War II.

The 24-year-old secretary had fled from her parents’ bombed-out Berlin apartment in the winter of 1941, traveling to her mother-in-law’s home in the East Prussian village of Gross-Partsch, now Parcz, Poland. It was an idyllic, green setting, and she lived in a house with a large garden. But less than three kilometers (1.9 miles) away was the location that Hitler had chosen for his Eastern Front headquarters — the Wolf’s Lair.

“The mayor of the little nest was an old Nazi,” says Wölk. “I’d hardly arrived when the SS showed up at the door and demanded, ‘Come with us!’”

Sitting in the same apartment in Berlin’s Schmargendorf area where she was born 95 years ago, she carefully eats tiny pieces of crumb cake from a silver fork. “Delicious,” she says. Wölk has learned to enjoy food again, but it wasn’t easy.

Hitler’s thugs brought her and the other young women to barracks in nearby Krausendorf, where cooks prepared the food for the Wolf’s Lair in a two-story building. The service personnel filled platters with vegetables, sauces, noodle dishes and exotic fruits, placing them in a room with a large wooden table, where the food had to be tasted. “There was never meat because Hitler was a vegetarian,” Wölk recalls. “The food was good — very good. But we couldn’t enjoy it.”