Archive for August, 2009

Peter Hoffmann, “Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944″ (Book of the Week)

Peter Hoffmann, “Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944″ (Book of the Week)

The title of the book suggests it is a history of the entire Stauffenberg family, but I would say this is slightly overstated. You cannot read Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944 (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE [english], DE [german]) without coming away thinking the book was primarily about Claus von Stauffenberg. And that’s no complaint, for Claus von Stauffenberg is clearly the Stauffenberg about whom we want to read.

If, a few years ago, you did not know who Claus von Stauffenberg was, you most likely found out thanks to Tom Cruise. If you saw the film Valkyrie, you know Claus von Stauffenberg was a member of the military resistance against the National Socialist regime and that he attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. That’s indeed the extent of most people’s knowledge of Stauffenberg: a pity, because his character is much richer than just that.

The assassination attempt was indeed the limit of my own knowledge of Stauffenberg prior to reading Hoffmann’s book. The most important aspect of Stauffenberg’s life of which I had been entirely ignorant was his and his brothers’ very close association with the German poet, Stefan George. Claus Stauffenberg’s brother, Berthold, was one of the two persons named by George as executors of his estate; Berthold appointed Claus as his successor in that role. Hoffmann dedicates a whole chapter and much of another to describing the Stauffenbergs’ closeness to George and continues on occasion throughout the book to allude to “The Master’s” influence on Claus. Given the the brothers’ roles as executors and the fact that Claus often took time — including during the war — to look after business concerning George’s estate, it appears that Hoffmann is not overstating this influence.

As Hoffmann continues to weave Stefan George and his influence throughout the remainder of the history, he moulds the character of Claus Stauffenberg as an aristocratic officer striving to fulfill the heroic deed which was expected of him by his membership in what George called the “Secret Germany.” According to Hoffmann’s story, it was not unusual for Stauffenberg to cite George’s poems when convincing others of the need to remove Hitler by force. When one Stauffenberg friend expressed distaste over the idea of murdering Hitler, Stauffenberg reminded her that “tens of thousands of Jews are being killed most cruelly.” He explained that the officers had to choose between “action or inaction”:

He believed that God had assigned a mission to him and he had devoted himself to it entirely. His inner calling gave him the certainty that was so convincing to others. [197]

He then quoted a George poem to this friend:

If ever this nation from her cowardly slackness
Remembers her election, her mission:

Then in the morning breeze a true emblem will flutter
The royal standard and bow itself in greeting
To the Noble – the Heroes!


Hoffmann, to his credit, does not shy away from the fact that the romantic, aristocratic Stauffenberg also supported the Nazi regime until at least 1938 and only gradually turned to resistance thereafter. (“Supported” may be saying too much: he approved of the leadership principle [Führerprinzip], re-armament and what he perceived as the renewed importance of the officer corps; but he was much too aristocratic to get his hands dirty with party politics, particularly of the “brown” sort.) He came to resist later than some other prominent officers such as Ludwig Beck, who had already resigned his commission before the start of war, and also later than other aristocrats such as Helmuth James, Count von Moltke.

I haven’t researched criticisms (if any) of Hoffmann’s books on Stauffenberg. I would imagine that if any exist then one point of dispute might be the centrality of Stefan George in the Stauffenberg biography; another might be that Hoffmann simply romanticizes his subject too much. I’m not saying that this is the case; I’m merely saying that as I read the book I had the feeling that if it could be claimed that it diverts from a “scholarly” historical approach, then it probably would be in these two ways.

Personally, I was not bothered at all. I enjoyed this book immensely and very much appreciated getting to know this fascinating historical character in such depth.

(Image credit: I found the lead image for this article at Wikimedia Commons. The photo is credited to Adam Carr and is said to be in the public domain. The image shows a plaque on the wall of the inner courtyard at the “Bendlerblock”, formerly Army headquarters in Berlin, today the home of the German Resistance Memorial Center. Stauffenberg and others were shot in this courtyard on the evening of the 20th of July 1944. The plaque, translated, reads, “Here died for Germany on 20 July 1944:” and lists the officers in the resistance who were killed that night, Stauffenberg among them.)

We have several other Books of the Week.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

  • RT @germany_news: Berlin Soccer Club embroiled in Stasi sponsorship row: #
  • The latter is our "Book of the Week" for this week. #
  • Cornelius Fichtner re follow friday: – I agree, and I was SO guilty of doing it the bad way last friday #
  • Polish PM: During the ceremonies myself and [prez] will present the Polish pt of view, whether someone likes it or not. #
  • Cool, found this old article about GDR dissident (and personal acquaintance) Wolfgang Welsch. From the U.S.: #
  • First five who sign up for newsletter get equiv GBP 5 gift certificate at amazon us,uk,ca or de. Details: #
  • If you do the promotion (last tweet), don't forget you have to confirm the request (you get the confirmation e-mail) #
  • Eeks, total fail! Nobody has taken advantage of the offer! Going to bed (it's 01:25 here),will announce results 2mrw #
  • @cymraegcayla Congrats! Which Amazon? I guess it would be CA? #
  • Awoke this morning to find that one person had taken the offer. ( ) Bravo! #
  • I love it when non-English media sites have at least some English content, like this site of PL's Gazeta Wyborcza. #
  • Łódź section of has much on the Łódź Ghetto, including this 10 min film But in polish! Like the music. #
  • If anybody watches that and can identify the music for me, I'd appreciate it. Wikipedia re that ghetto: #
  • Original draft plans for construction of Auschwitz given to Israeli PM: #
  • RT @billdawson: Posted: NY Times features German "Tatort" TV series #
  • My not-very-popular offer still has 4 slots available. Just sayin'. #
  • @Theofel Danke für das FF. Du (wenn ich duzen darf) macht es gut hier: schon 34 Followers nach nur 3 Tage! #
  • Happy Follow Friday everyone. @Theofel is a 3dy old account by a professional historian/journalist. She tweets in German! #
  • Oh god I forgot the #ff #followfriday #historyFF topic tags in that tweet about @Theofel. Fixed. #
  • RT @TheLocalGermany: Vietnamese reporter sacked over Berlin Wall blog post #
  • I just think it's so cool that my fave German show was featured in the NY Times yesterday. #
  • And let's not forget the Austrian Tatort, starring H Krassnitzer, whose autograph I actually have! (Yes, I'm a nerd.) #
  • Since I have some new followers, let me re-announce that you can get an Amazon gift certificate (4 available) #
  • @fuckincroissant Congrats!, right? #
  • @fuckincroissant ok, then I won't bother sending the money. JUST KIDDING! :-) It's there now. Enjoy it! #
  • @fuckincroissant wld be lovely if you started your shopping with this link — i get some credit then. in reply to fuckincroissant #
  • Bravo, two signups and two certificates gone! 3 to go. #
  • @MattMoore647 Hi Matt, thx for signing up. you get an amazon certificate – do you want it for #
  • @MattMoore647 thx matt! in reply to MattMoore647 #
  • History and historians are big news in Russia v Poland these days. Putins Sep 1 visit will be interesting. #
  • @Ente81 Film sieht aber sehr gut aus! Haben sie wirklich einen Junge gegen sie geschickt? in reply to Ente81 #

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Russia, Germany, the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the (re-)writing of History

Russia, Germany, the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the (re-)writing of History

The 70th anniversaries of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (agreed on 23 Aug 1939, signed early morning 24 Aug), the invasion by Nazi Germany of Poland (1 Sep 1939) and the invasion by Soviet Russia of Poland (17 Sep 1939), have given rise to spectacular happenings in the world of history and historians. The “spectacular” aspect of it all was kicked off when the Russian Defense Ministry published a paper denouncing the “falsification” of history committed by many historians in the West who damn the Soviets for their part in the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The publication of this paper seems to have been in line with Russian President Medvedev’s publicly-declared efforts to combat what he deems “severe, evil, and aggressive” falsifications of history. Then, earlier this month, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) released a statement which also defended the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The Russian arguments concerning the Pact and the outbreak of war seem (to me) to go like this:

  • The Second World War began because Poland did not accede to justifiable German demands, namely the incorporation of the very German city of Danzig (Gdansk) into the Reich and transit routes — under German control — to East Prussia.
  • War between the Soviets and Nazis was inevitable, therefore Stalin had to do everything he could to put a buffer zone between the German military and the Russian border. This buffer zone would be the Baltic States and the regions of Poland which thereafter came under Soviet control.
  • The West, particularly Britain, pushed the Soviets into this position of needing to make a Pact with Germany by a) its (the West’s) failure to enter into defense agreements with the Soviets; b) by the example set in Munich regarding Czechoslovakia the year before; and c) by siding with Poland in its refusal to accede to justifiable German demands.

You can well imagine that many people in Poland are paying attention to these contemporary interpretations which make the 1939 devastation of Poland both inevitable and the fault of the devastated. On Thursday (28 Aug 2009) things went one step further, as a Russian historian branded Poland an ally of Nazi Germany between the months of March and August of 1939. This was too much for Wacław Radziwinowicz, who calls out the Russian historian, Natalia Narochnitskaya, in an article titled (sarcastically) “How we became Hitler’s allies” in the English version of Gazeta Wyborcza:

This time of the role of the recon historian was played by Natalia Narochnitskaya, member of the presidential Committee Against Historical Distortions Harmful to Russia.

Ms Narochnitskaya is a very professional force. Her day job is running the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, which for the Kremlin’s money monitors the state of democracy in the West. So she is an experienced soldier of the ideological front, baptised by fire in positions deep in enemy territory.

Yesterday, the readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda found in the tabloid an interview in which Ms Narochnitskaya exposed the historical truth, praising Stalin for ‘revising’ Hitler’s ‘timetable of war.’ According to her, Poland in 1939 between March and August secretly conspired with Hitler against the Soviet Union.

‘There are documents which prove that the date of the invasion of Poland was set on 1 March 1939. And do you know what the Poles did for the next half-year?’ asks Ms Narochnitskaya. And she answers herself, ‘The Russophobe foreign minister Józef Beck negotiated with Hitler to become his ally, offering assistance in invading Ukraine so that Poland could stretch from a sea to a sea.’ [my emphasis]

(Komsomolskaya Pravda, by the way, is described in its Wikipedia entry as belonging to Gazprom. Gazprom is the enormous Russian natural gas company controlled by the State, which occasionally uses it to influence events in Europe by threatening to cutoff natural gas supplies.)

Narochnitskaya’s interpretation of events might simply seem silly to some, but a Pole such as Radziwinowicz cannot be blamed for seeing it as sinister:

I also have no doubts that it is the state propaganda that is feeding Russians today with hatred and contempt towards Poles, just as it has previously done towards Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians or Georgians. People like Ms Narochnitskaya attack us in newspapers and TV stations where every single word is closely controlled by the Kremlin. Working in Moscow, meeting people here, I feel on my own skin how hostility towards Poles is growing.

I really recommend you read the complete text of Radziwinowicz’s column. In the meantime, however, I want to bring up another event that added to the spectacular nature of these historical debates. On 20 August 2009, a group of over 130 German historians issued a declaration which ties together the 1939 and 1989 anniversaries being commemorated this year. (1989 references the Fall of the Berlin Wall.) The declaration openly blames Germany for the start of the war, but does not mince words when it comes to its assessment of the Soviet impact on Europe in the following years. It describes the Hitler-Stalin Pact as “ruinous” and does not grant the Soviets any kind of excuse based on, for example, the idea of the inevitability of war with Germany. Instead, the Pact “divid[ed] up the Baltic states, Poland, Finland and Romania between the two totalitarian dictatorships.” And both dictatorships’ invasions of Poland are mentioned in the same breath: “The attack on Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 marked the beginning of an unprecedented war of conquest and extermination…” The historians rightfully follow-up by emphasizing’s Germany’s guilt during the war, but they then emphasize the Soviets’ post-war dicatorships:

After Europe and Germany had been liberated from the Nazis/National Socialism, people in all the countries of Europe were hoping for a future in freedom and democracy. But these hopes were bitterly disappointed for many. The Soviet Union enforced new dictatorial regimes in the central and eastern European countries and in part of Germany – all of which had been weakened by the War and by Nazi rule – with devastating consequences for the societies, the economy and culture, and for countless people who were persecuted as political opponents or lost their lives because they stood in the way of those in power. Thus, the Germans not only bear a heavy responsibility for the extermination of European Jews, the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, the disabled, people stigmatized as anti-social or political dissidents, and for the millions upon millions of people who were victims of the War. We are painfully aware that if Germany had not started the Second World War, there would have been neither the Communist dictatorships in central and eastern Europe, nor the partition of the continent and of Germany.

Extraordinary stuff, and I have to believe that the recent Russian revisionism played a role in getting these historians together for this declaration. An article in the Scotsman claims as much by stating that the German intellectuals “signed a declaration calling on Russia to condemn the ‘ill-fated pact’.” I don’t know if the author of that article refers to the same declaration. I don’t find anything in the declaration I’ve quoted above which directly calls on Russia to issue condemnations. But I can see why one might interpret that.

It’s worth considering Russia’s reasons for this revisionism. I think James Rodgers’ piece at the BBC, titled “Russia acts against ‘false’ history”, states the reasons rather well:

The country sees its victory over Hitler’s forces as the greatest moment of the 20th Century.

The war is sometimes discussed in the news media as if it were a recent event, not increasingly distant history.

Any attempt to tarnish the glory of that triumph is seen as a deliberate attempt to make Russia look bad.

That’s only a part of his explanation; I recommend you read the article in full.

As with most historical revisionism, the Russian position does not spring from pure fantasy. Historians such as Ms Narochnitskaya need to reference actual, documented evidence or they will simply be laughed off and ignored as kooks. Narochnitskaya, as we saw above, highlights what she considers Polish complicity with Nazi Germany. The Poles and the Germans did, in fact, sign a non-aggression treaty, an event which Stalin most likely looked upon with disfavor. Here’s Alan Bullock in Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (Amazon UK):

Yet the first country with which Hitler had signed a Pact of Non-Aggression had been Poland, and for five years he treated Poland in the friendliest fashion, despite the unpopularity of such a policy in Germany. [p. 491 of 2005 Penguin paperback]

There were indeed direct talks between Nazi Germany and Jozef Beck’s Poland during 1939, a fact which Narochnitskaya is quite pleased to use to her and Russia’s advantage. And it’s probably true that Beck listened to German ideas of a pact explicitly aimed at the Soviets; Beck — and Poland — had every reason to fear both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. But the fact is that Beck rebuffed the Nazis.

[Hitler’s openness to negotiations with Poland] was not altered after Beck’s reply to Hitler in his speech to the Polish Diet on 5 May [1939]. Rejecting Hitler’s account of the negotiations between Poland and Germany and reaffirming Poland’s determination not to agree to the German demands, Beck spoke of ‘various other hints made by representatives of the Reich Government which extended much further than the subjects of discussion. I reserve the right to return to this matter if necessary.’ This covert reference to suggestions of a joint German-Polish front against Russia, and Beck’s declaration that peace could be bought too dearly, if it was at the price of national honour, did not, however, stir Hitler to reply. [Bullock 505]

Beck himself made the cover of TIME Magazine’s March 6, 1939 issue. The accompanying TIME article about Jozef Beck makes for very interesting historical reading, considering it is only a matter of months before the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the start of the War. TIME plays up Beck’s wheeling and dealing ways. We see a Beck who is willing to discuss matters with any European government. He visits Hitler at Berchtesgaden but also reaffirms non-aggression with the Soviets. He even discusses territorial and colonial ambitions with the Italians, as shown in this rather unflattering bit:

Some diplomatic correspondents even reported that Italy was ready to cut Poland in for some of France’s colonies, probably Madagascar, where anti-Semitic Poland might send some of her 3,200,000 Jews, which she wants no more than Germany wants hers. [p. 2 of the TIME article]

On the one hand, the TIME article emphasizes Poland’s precarious position between its giant neighbors; on the other hand, the article does not exactly present the Poles as victims. Beck comes across as a rather cynical realist.

But surely we can’t compare Beck’s cynicism with Stalin’s. By Bullock’s telling, it was actually Stalin who insisted on the “Secret Protocols” that were attached to the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement:

The pact itself presented no difficulties: Hitler had already accepted Molotov’s draft. But the Russians had added a postscript to the text: ‘The present pact shall be valid only if a special protocol is signed simultaneously covering the points in which the High Contracting Parties are interested in the field of foreign policy.’

To put it in crude terms, the Soviet Government did not propose to sign until it learned what its share of the spoils was going to be, and how Eastern Europe was to be parceled up. It was to complete this process of horse-trading that Ribbentrop was now to fly to Moscow. [524-525]

The evening appears to have been passed in the most cordial atmosphere. When toasts were drunk, ‘Herr Stalin spontaneously proposed a toast to the Führer: “I know how much the German nation loves its Führer; I should therefore like to drink his health.”‘ [530]

Bullock is quoting the German minutes of the discussion, which appear in the archives of the German Foreign Ministry. Presumably Ms Narochnitskaya also relies on such archives when she points out proof of Polish talks with Germany during 1939. Does she place equal emphasis on revelations such as these?

(Image credit: The lead image for this article is a blown-up portion of an image of the secret protocols attached to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The image was found at Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. The German title reads “Geheimes Zusatzprotokoll” [“Secret additional protocol”].)

In the Hausarchiv: Vienna, Germany?

In the Hausarchiv: Vienna, Germany?

Vienna, GermanyAmateur history nerd that I am, I’m quite pleased to have married into a family which has retained all sorts of books, newspapers and magazines dating from about 1920 onwards. The “In the Hausarchiv” series gives an occasional look at the things I’ve come across in our own “house archive”.

This week’s “In the Hausarchiv” presents a booklet full of attractive photos of the beautiful city in which I live, Vienna. Sounds nice, right? But this book is about Vienna, Germany! Is this the same Vienna I live in? Of course it is…

At midnight on March 11, 1938, the last Austrian government of the first republic — that of Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg — resigned office and on March 12, 1938, German troops entered Austria without resistance.  In German this event is referred to as the Anschluss, or union.  Austria ceased to exist, and instead became the Eastern March (Ostmark) of the Greater German Empire (Großdeutsches Reich.)  During this period, until the fall of the National Socialist regime, the word “Austria” (Österreich) was out of favor (perhaps even illegal?), and to insist on using it was certainly to invite arrest.

(The most famous visible sign of the Austrian Resistance to National Socialism, the “O5″ which appears to this day on one of the outside walls of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, signifies Österreich, or more accurately the alternative spelling of Oesterreich: the letter “O” followed by the number 5, signifying the fifth letter of the alphabet, “e”: Oesterreich).

This “Wien, Deutschland” book featured here is from 1939, a year following the Anschluss.  The cover shows a drawing of part of the Schönbrunn Palace, looking out from the main part of the palace towards the gardens and the Glorietta (the structure on the hill.)

The photo shown below, which also appears in this book, is of Vienna’s Rathaus. I’ve painstakingly blurred out every occurrence I could find of the swastika — and there were many — to be sure the image doesn’t show up on some other website which proudly features swastikas. The caption to the photo reads, “The Rathaus on 1. May of the year of the Liberation of the Ostmark.”

Vienna Rathaus 1938

Richard Overy, “Interrrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945″

Richard Overy, “Interrrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945″

Interrogations (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE [english]) includes partial transcripts from the interrogations held at Nuremberg or locations relevant to similar trials such as the “Doctors’ Trial”. The following people appear in the book either as having been interrogated or having submitted an affidavit or other type of testimony:

Overy begins the book with a 200 page introduction that provides context for the transcripts and recalls some of their highlights. 300 pages of transcripts then follow. Some of the transcripts are not from interrogations, but rather from secret tapings of conversations between prisoners.

As you would imagine, it all makes for fascinating reading. I read the book a few years and marked a few passages. I’ll share a few of those now.

In this section, Albert Speer speaks of Adolf Hitler’s belief in his own destiny, particularly in light of the attempts on his life, all of which he escaped:

Out of innumerable isolated incidents, he had pieced together a firm conviction that his whole career, with its many unfavorable events and setbacks, was predestined by providence to take him to the goal which it had set him. In all difficult situations and decisions this belief of his served as a primary argument. The more his overworked condition caused him to lose his original gift of detaching himself in his thinking from the pressure of current events, and the more he was cornered by the course of events, the more emphasis he would place on this argument of his ‘predestined fate’.

The incomprehensible fact that he escaped injury on the 20 July [1944] gave him new foundation for this belief. Dr Goebbels’ press campaign about Frederick the Great and the course of the Seven Years War confirmed him in this belief and gave it a new incentive. Towards the end he even saw in Roosevelt’s unexpected death a parallel to Frederick the Great’s history; – the Empress Elizabeth had died shortly before the end of the Seven Years War, thus rescuing Frederick the Great out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

It is true that he cited this parallel in his first moment of elation on receipt of the news. [p. 235-6 of 2002 Penguin Paperback]

Speer again, on Hitler fancying himself a military leader:

His [Hitler’s] reaction to 20 July was indicative of the high opinion he had of himself as a military leader. He stressed the fact that the occurrence on 20 July historically justified him in his military decisions, in spite of the fact that during the last few years he had nothing but setbacks. These, however, he ascribed to the continuous treachery and intentional misinterpretation of his orders.

He issued an order that all the daily conferences on the situation should be taken down in shorthand verbatim, as he wanted to prove to posterity that he had always judged the position currently and given the right orders. Actually these documents are devastating for him and his entourage. [246]

Hermann Goering on Hitler, dead or alive, and the whereabouts of Martin Bormann:

Question: Do you think the Fuehrer is dead?

Goering: Absolutely, no doubt about it.

Question: What makes you think so?

Goering: Well, this is quite out of the question. We always knew the Fuehrer would kill himself if things were coming to an end. We always knew that. There is not the least doubt about it.

Question: Well, was there any understanding or agreement to that effect?

Goering: Yes, he said this only too clearly and too explicitly to different people, and we all knew about this exactly.

Question: What about Bormann?

Goering: (Throwing his hands into the air) If I had my say in it, I hope he is frying in Hell, but I don’t know about it… [311-312]

From a taped conversation between Ernst von Gottstein, identified as Hauptbauleiter OT, Gauamtsleiter für Technik, Gau Kärnten (Carinthia in today’s Austria) and Eugen Horak, identified as “Interpreter in Gruppe VI/C of the RSHA”, RHSA being the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or the Reich Main Security Office:

Horak: I was present in Vienna when they were loading up people for one of those mass evacuations. Hundreds were crammed into wagons, which normally took a couple of cows. And they were thoroughly beaten up as well. I went up to a young SS man and asked if the beating up was really necessary. He laughed and said they were only scum anyway. You know the whole thing was so unnecessary and one could well have got along without it … what was the purpose of all that beating up? I have nothing at all against the gas chambers. A time can come when it is useful to the race to eliminate certain elements. Extermination is one thing, but there is no need to torture your victims beforehand. [372]

I found that particular passage particularly brutal and offensive. And that’s what makes this book useful as a selection of original sources: I think it’s important to be able to read the actual thoughts of the very real people who were part of this regime, no matter how ugly those thoughts may be.

(Photo credit: the lead graphic for this article is a combination of four photos found at Wikimedia Commons and described as being in the public domain because they are photos from the Federal Government of the United States. From left to right, the photos are of the following persons: Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Arthur Seyss-Inquart.)

A footnote to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

stalin_ribbentropToday marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact or the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

From an old blog that I used to run, I have the following anecdote concerning Molotov and Leopold Figl, the Austrian statesman.  I wrote the blog entry six years ago, in 2003, and based it on an article that I’d read that day in the Austrian daily, Kurier.  Unfortunately I don’t have the original anymore, so I’m trusting my translation from back then.  Here is the excerpt:

An article concerning the [Moscow] Declaration includes portions of an interview with an Austrian who was present in 1955 during talks — again in Moscow — concerning Austria’s return to independence. This man, Ludwig Steiner, was present when Leopold Figl, who, as Foreign Minister, was part of the Austrian delegation, spoke privately to Russian foreign minister Molotov. Figl had been in a concentration camp from the time of the annexation of Austria in 1938 all the way until the end of the war in 1945. He said to Molotov on that day in 1955,

“Your name has always made an impression on me. Most of all it made an impression on me when we in the concentration camp had to assemble in the yard at five o’clock in the morning. It was cold and we had to stand there for hours. Suddenly your voice came over the loudspeaker. That was when you had concluded the pact with Hitler-Germany [Hitler-Stalin pact, 1939].”


Considering that this Austrian delegation of 1955 was in Moscow and that the future of their state was very much at the mercy of the Soviets, this was quite a gutsy thing to say. Steiner, the Austrian who witnessed this, said that he immediately thought “the world was going under,” that Figl’s honesty would ruin Austria’s chances to quickly attain true statehood. But, says Steiner, “Molotov simply said ‘Da, Da’ and turned away.”

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-23

  • Prince of Liechtenstein invokes Holocaust as reason to keep bank secrecy; angers German Jews. #
  • flashback 17 Aug 1939, "Germany will not consent to Danzig Talks" #
  • Did streptococcal infection kill WA Mozart? #
  • RT @WWIIToday: in History: 8.18.41. Hitler orders halt to euthanasia of Germany's mentally ill as rising protests challenge the Nazi program #
  • First one who replies with the correct name (first and last) of the young lady in the second picture on my profile gets… well, praise! #
  • And praise goes out to @synvet (Synve in Norway) who correctly replied with … "Sophie Scholl!" #
  • was down so no url was auto-created for that last tweet re the new posting. Here 'tis: #
  • RT @dw_germany: New book reveals horrors of brothels in Nazi concentration camps #
  • is pathetic today. Here's a link for that "Hausarchiv" posting: #
  • (wow great resource) RT @dancohen: RT @xcia0069: APIs for huge collection of archives websites relating to WW1 and WW2 – #
  • Excellent German propaganda (both NSDAP and SED) resource from Calvin College: #
  • Example from that propaganda site: Goebbels 1927: "Up with the German worker's state!" #
  • @fuckincroissant Well thank you! in reply to fuckincroissant #
  • It all started with this small crack in the dike, 20 years ago yesterday. #
  • Stay cool Deutschland, where lots of youl are facing 37°C today. Here in Vienna we'll "only" get to 30. #
  • @fuckincroissant Good, then my site and links are perfect 4 u. A new way of "studying". in reply to fuckincroissant #
  • @scattermoon So cool. I'm having a good chuckle thinking of Dirndl'd lass walking about in the UK. in reply to scattermoon #
  • Bummer when my real life work intrudes on my tweeting about things that are so much more interesting! :-) #
  • Anybody going to Berlin this year to see celebrations/exhibitions celebrating 20 yr anniv Fall of Wall? (I'm not :-( ) #
  • Colorful brochure (pdf avail — only in german) for german students on the GDR/DDR and Wall Fall #
  • #FollowFriday @TheLocalGermany @RissmannT (german) @germany_news @Ente81 @TheHistoryWoman @fuckingcroissant @scattermoon @HistoryatCamb #
  • Germany's UK embassy has some pretty good stuff re Wall and reunification. Check-out the navigation on left-side too. #
  • @WWIIToday a really good photo. What kind of uniform on the guy on the left (whose arm we see)? The Jeep looks US, but that uniform? in reply to WWIIToday #
  • Fab resource! (just german RT @Ente81: Orte der Erinnerung – neue Internetpräsenz mehrere Gedenkstätten: #
  • Stirring (esp. b/o the music) video re Berlin Wall . Linked to it also from my Berlin Wall page. #

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Remember Ida Siekmann and 22 August 1961

Remember Ida Siekmann and 22 August 1961

Reading Ida Siekmann’s story at the Chronik der Mauer (Chronicle of the Berlin Wall) website will likely make you shake your head a few times and wonder how this all could have happened.  The German version of the story is quite detailed, whereas the English version is only a few lines.  So I’ll give here a summary of some of the content that’s available in German but not in English.

Ms. Siekmann’s death is recognized as having been the first attributed directly to the building of the Wall.  She was born in 1902 in West Prussia and it’s not known when she first moved to Berlin.    At the time the Wall was built she lived at Bernauer Straße 48 in Central Berlin, specifically the district Berlin-Mitte, which, during the 4-power occupation of Berlin, was in the Soviet zone.  However, the street in front of the building belonged in the district of Berlin-Wedding, which was part of the French zone.  Prior to the Wall, this unfortunate circumstance caused no great difficulty; there was neighborly contact between both sides of the street.  In fact, Ms. Siekmann visited her sister, a few blocks to the west, regularly and without difficulty.

Because of the arrangement of the building, it could only be entered from Wedding, but once you were within it, you were in Berlin-Mitte.  In the first few days of the Wall’s construction, many people living along that side of Bernauer Straße were still able to escape and go over to the west via their front doors.  Beginning on the 18th of August, however, the communist authorities barricaded the front doors and created new entrances from the sides of the buildings not facing west.  Authorities tightly controlled entrance to these buildings.

With their front doors barricaded, residents inside the buildings began jumping out of windows on the western side.  You can see footage here:

Authorities barricaded the front door of Ms. Siekmann’s building on 21 August 1961. Early the next morning, 22 August 1961, she threw many of her belongings out of the window of her third-floor flat. Probably because of her fear of being seen and stopped, she jumped out of the window herself too quickly and before West Berlin firemen were prepared to catch her. She died from her injuries on the way to the hospital, one day before her 59th birthday.

Her death caused a great deal of consternation in West Berlin. The press described her fate as a “deadly jump to freedom.” A memorial was soon erected in her honor. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy later visited this memorial with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

I have a special page dedicated to links concerning the Berlin Wall.

Photo credit: I found this photo at Wikimedia Commons. The copyright holder is listed as “Mutter Erde”, which is most certainly not a real name (it’s the German for “Mother Earth.”) The copyright holder has given full permission for the image to be used and altered.

Resource: Digitized versions of NS Frauen-Warte

Resource: Digitized versions of NS Frauen-Warte

I was looking at a post at the German Propaganda Archive blog showing an example of the National Socialist “Frauen-Warte“, an official, bi-weekly women’s illustrated published by the party.  A search on the main site of the German Propaganda Archive led me to their full page on Frauen-Warte, which in turn mentions the digitized collection of the magazine which is available via the web at a site maintained by the University of Heidelberg.  So here we have yet another great resource, free and available to all of us netizens.

The purpose of the magazine was, of course, to put forward the National Socialist vision of women’s role in their society.  Stereotypically, this included a lot of what you would expect: care for the children, support the men, manage the house.  The higher purpose was service to the State; therefore, when the times called for it, the magazine also celebrated service outside of the home, or at least so it seems by looking at the first issue of 1941 as an example.  1941 was a war year, so to find the National Socialists emphasizing woman’s role outside of the home is not surprising, given that their men were busy being slaughtered on the Eastern Front.  As such, we’re told in the article “Die faschistische Frau im Dienste der Nation” how women in fascist Italy are working as trolley conductors, farmers, machine workers, etc., while their men fight.    The article’s German author assures her readers that their Italian counterparts took on these new roles with the greatest of enthusiasm.  (Die Frauen sind dem Aufruf auf die hochherzigste Art gefolgt.)

Propaganda though it all may be, the covert art for each issue is worth having a look at.  Some of it is really striking.

In the Hausarchiv: Neues Oesterreich, 5 June 1945

In the Hausarchiv: Neues Oesterreich, 5 June 1945

Amateur history nerd that I am, I’m quite pleased to have married into a family which has retained all sorts of books, newspapers and magazines dating from about 1920 onwards.  The “In the Hausarchiv” series gives an occasional look at the things I’ve come across in our own “house archive”.

Last Wednesday’s “In the Hausarchiv” featured a post-war edition of the Wiener Zeitung.  Today I do something similar by featuring the 5 June 1945 edition of “New Austria” (Neues Oesterreich), “the organ of democratic unification” (Organ der demokratischen Einigung).

I believe this is the earliest post-war edition of a newspaper here in the Hausarchiv.  Given that this edition is numbered 38, one presumes it was being published as early as late April 1945, which would have been quite soon after the Red Army had entered Vienna (ca. 13 April 1945).

Because the paper has no information concerning its publisher, and considering the moniker “organ of democratic unification”, I thought it safe to conclude that this was the newspaper published by the provisional government.  A visit to the online Austrian encyclopedia project, aeiou, confirmed this:

Neues Österreich, first Austrian post-war newspaper set up on April 23, 1945 as the “voice of democratic agreement”. The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) were responsible for its contents …

(You can see that their translation of “Organ der demokratischen Einigung” differs from the translation I came up with before finding their entry on the topic.  When in doubt, go with theirs not mine!)

In this edition of Neues Oesterreich, the lead headline reads, “Mass murder in Graz: 143 unidentifiable corpses left behind by the Gestapo” (my translation).  The article concludes that these corpses belonged to prisoners held by the Gestapo and the SS and that, rather than being shown any mercy, these prisoners were simply murdered just before their captors fled from the approaching Red Army.  Only one body could be identified, that of Dr. Julia Pongracic.

Most interesting from the historical perspective is the account of the speech by the governor of Styria (where Graz is located), given at the memorial service for these victims.  In the speech, the governor, Reinhold Machold, underscores Austrian resistance to National Socialism, as well he might do, given that the Soviets were occupying his part of Austria.  Compared to the occupation zones of the other three Allies, the Soviet zone was rather more punishing in the sense that the Red Army uprooted and physically moved to the Soviet Union much machinery and other equipment for industrial production.  After emphasizing Austrian resistance, Machold concludes:

We would hope and plead that the victors [the Allies], for whom we are grateful for freeing us from this Nazi pest, shall keep this in mind as they decide the fate of our poor, plagued, tormented, unhappy Austrian Volk. [my translation]

(Wir wollen hoffen und wir bitten darum, daß die Sieger, denen wir dankbar dafür sind, daß die uns von dieser nazistischen Pest befreit haben, dies bedenken und in Rechnung stellen mögen, wenn sie endgültig über das Schicksal unseres armen, geplagten und gepeinigten, unglücklichen österreichischen Volkes entscheiden werden.)

The question of seeing Austrians as Mittäter oder Opfer (perpetrators or victims) is a big one, and one which I will no doubt write about here someday.