The Atlantic Serial
BY Nora Waln
CHAPTERS 37 TO 48
The early chapters ofREACHING FOR THE STARS
FOR four years — from June 1934 to the summer of 1938 — Nora Waln faced the difficult problem of trying to live with and understand the Germany of Hitler. Many friends she made in the Rhine Valley and in Saxony, in the Black Forest, Vienna, Czechoslovakia, and at Dresden. Within the Nazi barriers she found the warm elements of German character — the music, the forest walks, the Gemütlichkeit of inns, the happy, healthy children, the family life. Through her husband’s work as a musician she was admitted to the inner circle of artists and music lovers. It was all the more disconcerting to her to find the shocking contrast between the deep-hearted tenderness of the German people and the blind cruelty of their nationalistic pride. Like a rock in midstream, this American woman stood up against the surging force and emotionalism which were transforming Germany.
Nora Waln was born and brought up in a Quaker household in Pennsylvania. She learned as a child the fearlessness, kindliness, and tolerance of the Quakers. She learned also a love for another people and their culture, the Chinese, for her family had for a century traded with the great House of Lin. After her study at Swarthmore, she went to China, where she was admitted as an adopted daughter within the Lin family circle — an intimate experience in the understanding of another people which she has described in her first book, The House of Exile. Early in her stay she fell in love with an Englishman in the Chinese Postal Service, and after their marriage she lived on in China until 1932. That year her husband retired from service to devote himself to his lifelong hobby, music, and with this purpose he and his wife took up their new life in the Rhine Valley.
While her husband studied music, Nora was drawn irresistibly into the web of German life. Everything that met her eyes in Germany made her aware of the new order, a strict régime of nationalistic pride and powerful direction: the disciplined customs officials, the formalities of pass cards, the Labor Corps, the Hitler youth, the radio speeches, even the road signs — ‘Germans, while you enjoy life in the Fatherland, remember your brothers in the Saar’; ‘ Hitler — Work and Bread’; ‘ Thank the Führer for 415,673 hours of work.’ But it seemed to her that the vigor and healthiness of such achievements were in terrible contrast to the impoverishment of the human spirit. This contrast was almost more than she could bear. She could not shut her eyes to the persecution of the Jews, the desertion of free speech and of loyalty to kin, the obedience without mercy which clouded the lives of so many German households.
Here were a people who asked to publish her book on life in China, and received it enthusiastically, yet who forbade her to bring into Germany the books which represented to her the best of German and foreign culture. Here were a people torn between despair and defiant faith; afraid of force, but living under a system grown out of and supported by force; longing for peace, yet tolerating violence. So with patient determination she set herself to learn why such things should be. ‘Is Germany dead?’ she asked herself. ‘ Or does she lie as Snow White in a trance from eating a poisoned apple?’ To answer that question this American Quaker has told in poignant human terms the true story of her life in Germany during the past four years.
The winter of 1936-1937 she and her husband spent in Vienna, where people were watching anxiously the changes that were taking place across the German border. Vienna, for all its poverty, was still gay, still free. Nora Waln was impressed with the spontaneity of the people, the care they gave to the poor, the pride they took in their parks, their swimming baths, and their model apartments for the workers. Nor could she help noticing the fatalism with which so many of her friends discussed the future of their beloved country.
When summer came she set forth on her travels to Bohemia, Slovakia, and Silesia. Thereafter Dresden was to become her temporary home. And there, as the year ran its momentous course, she was to see . . .
With each twelve months of the Atlantic
THREE GREAT BOOKS OF THE YEAR
REACHING FOR THE STARS.
BY NORA WALN
DURING our winter in Dresden, we had a comfortable house with plenty of room and the skiing was good on the Saxon hills, so I asked Otto and Rüdiger to come for a visit.
They arrived equipped to ski. We were but twenty-six miles from what was then the Bohemian border of Czechoslovakia, and their desire was to combine sport with seeing as much as possible of conditions in the region called the Sudeten. I asked if they had visas for Czechoslovakia.
‘The visa is not the difficulty,’ explained Rüdiger. ‘It is money. As you know, one can take only ten marks out of the country. We have been trying to go over there for a long time. We have been refused Devisen. But if we are careful we can perhaps manage three days.’
‘We have brought chocolate and biscuits from home to help out with the food, and if you will fill our thermos bottles—’ began Otto.
‘That part is all right,’ I interrupted him. ‘I have American dollars which I am glad for you to have, but the skiing is just as good, if not better, on this side. Why do you want to go into the Sudeten?’
‘Our purpose is not altruistic,’ confessed Rüdiger. ‘We’re not going because we feel particularly sorry for Germans there, and would carry them comforting assurance that they will soon be gathered into the Dritte Reich. Our desire is purely selfish.’
‘By a sagacious and persistent use of propaganda, Heaven itself can be presented to a people as Hell, and, inversely, the most wretched existence as paradise,’ came from young Otto. ‘I am quoting from Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.’
‘What has that got to do with it?’
‘Everything. Absolutely everything, and you ought to know why it has. One of your own Presidents gave the answer, Tante Hühnchen.’
Since we gave these boys a lift on the road from Remagen to Bonn, I have become as fond of them as if they were my own nephews, and I think that they are fond of me. They have been ardent in efforts for my education, but their nickname for me is Tante Hühnchen, or ‘Aunt Chickabiddy’ — scarcely respectful. They take delight in answering me in confusing ways.
‘You shan’t go,’ I threatened, ‘unless you are clear as to why.’
‘All right! I’ll now quote Herr Abraham Lincoln’ — Otto was enjoying himself. ‘You can fool all the people some of the time. You can fool some of the people all the time. But you cannot fool all the people all the time.’
‘I am sure you haven’t got it quite accurate.’
‘It will serve,’ put in Rüdiger. ‘The point is that we have heard so much about the hellishness of democracy that we have to visit where it is. We do not want to do our investigating in a place like England or America — even if you should decide to give us the trip. We want to talk to Germans who have experienced life in a democracy — we want to speak about it in our own language — we want to observe how they live under it. We have read a book written by this chap Beneš — archscoundrel of our age, a villain outranking Anthony Eden in wickedness. And we have read more than one book by the evil genius who taught him, the terrible Masaryk.’
‘We know full well, Hühnchen, that in such reading we do a great wrong.’ Otto likes to talk. ‘If caught with any such book, or discovered harboring ideas such as they contain, we shall be immediately arrested and taken to a concentration camp for reëducation. And if we do not learn there we shall be put to death. But some of us in Germany to-day are becoming more cunning than foxes. Brought up as we are, — preached at constantly that we must be ready at a moment’s notice to give our lives at a Führer’s command, — well, some of us are acquiring a different attitude toward death than our parents have. Death is not to be feared, so we are repeatedly told.’
‘Our parents were born in a Blumenzeit [blossomtime]. They are babes-inthe-wood even now. We were born in a burned-over field, and are educated by tigers.’
They would have talked all the morning if encouraged. I had housekeeping to do. I told them I would take them into Czechoslovakia by motorcar after lunch, and leave them with money enough to stay there two weeks, paying the people who put them up a proper amount. I would not countenance giving poor people who sheltered them as little as possible; and I expected them to eat properly, too, and not return to me half-starved.
They had German money, and went to do some shopping. I thought they were right in wanting wind jackets, and Rüdiger’s gloves were too thin. They were late to lunch. When they did come, Otto’s sleeve was torn, and the knuckles of his right hand were bloody.
I have often wondered about walking on air. Otto was doing it. His hair stood up, electrified. His face — no words of mine can describe it. Sixteen years of age — a clumsy, overgrown, flappingeared lad, he tiptoed on air.
Rüdiger was nineteen. His face was grave — ashen. His is a more sober nature — to my delight he has chosen forestry as his career.
‘You had better tell me about it.’
They told. Busy about their own affairs, they had come on Jew-baiting. Dresden is the Saxons’ town, and they are Hamburgers, but the victim being tormented was a woman — an old woman — a German-Jewish woman with some spirit. Her back was against a wall and she was answering. She was not defending herself—in no uncertain words she was defending the honor of a Germany some people think dead.
A crowd had gathered. Taller than Saxons, the boys could see over the crowd. The baiting was being done by a boy in the Hitler Youth uniform. Otto pushed in, and told him to stop. He did not, so Otto warned him; and when he continued Otto knocked the boy down. A man then came at Otto.
‘He had fine teeth. They are now in his stomach,’ Otto informed me.
Rüdiger silenced him, and continued the narration. A policeman had taken charge of Otto. They had walked a long way; they had presumed it led to jail. But in a quiet street the policeman had suddenly released Otto.
He had shaken Otto’s bloody hand and said: ‘Congratulations. I envy you youth and courage. Now be off — quickly.’
After lunch I took them into Czechoslovakia. They had their fortnight of skiing, came back to me, and I waved them off to Hamburg — relieved to see them go, that I must confess. They seemed too much, just then, for my pacifism.
When I arrived in Germany, government was absolute, but whether or not intellect and spirit were to be fettered had not been definitely settled. In the press one could watch the progress of argument on this matter. I was interested in it as a general subject, and also as it related to special men.
I meant to hear Professor Karl Barth lecture, but before I could do so he had gone. This newspaper item explains his departure: —
Professor Karl Barth of Bonn, who was suspended in November, has now been dismissed by the disciplinary court at Cologne, to whom the matter was taken. The Court decided that Professor Barth should be granted relief to the amount of half the normal retired pay for a year. Dr. Barth, aside from his request for change in oath to suit his conscience, was charged with observations hostile to the state a year ago, and failure to give the Hitler salute in his lecture rooms after having been ordered to do so last autumn. Dr. Barth’s reply was that as a professor of theology he could not do so because it would be tantamount to the recognition of a ‘totalitarian’ state in theological classes. He has enjoyed unforeseen support among his students, 300 of whom issued a statement at the time of his suspension refusing to recognize a change in professorship.
Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler’s decision of whether to stay or go also concerned me, aside from the ethics of the matter. His way of conducting an orchestra as if he were playing an organ, phrasing with passion and restraint, speaking intimately through the language of the composer, has an emotional beauty which seems to me fundamentally German, and we were here for German music.
His contest over the freedom of music is illustrative of what happened to other forms of art.
On November 25,1934, in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Dr. Furtwängler published a spirited defense of Paul Hindemith, the composer. He declared himself concerned not only to defend Hindemith, but to bring up the whole question of interference with artistic life by political zealots. The theme of the article was ‘What shall we come to if political denunciation is to be turned against art without check?’
On December 4 I saw in The Times: —
Herr Furtwängler has resigned the vice presidency of the Reich Chamber of Music, the leadership of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the chief directorship of the State Opera. Dr. Goebbels has accepted his resignation of the first two posts, General Goring of the third. Early in the National Socialist régime, he addressed a letter to Dr. Goebbels expressing the opinion that in music there should be no distinction except that of a good or a bad artist. Men of ability like Reinhardt, Klemperer, and Walter, must continue to have a voice as artists. Dr. Goebbels expressed his different opinion, and the matter dropped.
In the past eighteen months the majority of Jewish artists have been eliminated; and Herr Furtwängler, despite his known opinions, has been made much of by the National Socialists as an example of Aryan genius. The issue is over the work of Hindemith, which may not be used in Germany because ’for years before the National Socialist seizure of power he had adopted a deliberately un-German attitude, which makes his collaboration intolerable in the National Socialist work of reconstruction.’ Herr Furtwängler’s resignation leaves a Jew, Herr Leo Blech, whose original appointment was made by the Kaiser, the best-known conductor now remaining at the State Opera.
Herr Blech remained there, under General Göring’s protection, until he reached the age of retirement.
In the Völkischer Beobachter, on December 6, Herr Alfred Rosenberg, designated ‘Special Supervisor of Intellectual Training and Head of the National Socialist Culture Committee,’ wrote of the resignation of Herr Furtwängler, stating that his unforgivable offense was to conduct the first performance of Herr Hindemith’s new work, Mathis the Painter, and then, when this caused a violent conflict, to publish a spirited defense of Herr Hindemith as an artist.
When a talented musician like Hindemith, after German beginnings, lives and works and feels himself at home in Jewish company; when he associates almost entirely with Jews; when he lends himself, in accordance with the spirit of the Republic, to the worst kind of tawdry imitation of German music, then that is his own affair. But it gives others the right to show him and his circle that a revolution has now removed the entire human, artistic, and political associations of Herr Hindemith. It is deeply regrettable that so great an artist as Herr Furtwängler should have interfered in this dispute. But as he persisted in his nineteenth-century ideas, and evidently had no further sympathy with the great national struggle of our age, he must take the consequences.
On January first it was announced that Herr Furtwängler had not gone abroad as rumored, since it had been pointed out to him that to do this so soon after his resignation might be harmful to German prestige.
Then an order was printed in the professional journals. It forbade German artists of all kinds, and German lecturers, to accept engagements abroad without the express authorization of the president of their own subchamber of music, painting, sculpture, speech, or literature.
‘To disobey means ineligibility to work again in Germany. This is to ensure that only persons who will leave behind them a really deep impression of German intellectual activities go abroad. Such men as Dr. Furtwängler, if they do not wish to become exiles, are affected. He has canceled concerts in Vienna and London.’
Some months later Dr. Furtwängler accepted the government offer to return to conducting. Herr Erich Kleiber, his associate at the State Opera House, conducted for the last time, handed in his resignation, and left the country immediately. Despite ardent appeals, he refused to return. Next, Professor Knappertsbusch, who had a life contract as musical director of the Bavarian Opera House, was criticized for ‘nebulous views’ and turned his back on National Socialism.
And so it went on in all the arts, the government always winning, until the Propaganda Minister announced at a ‘festal sitting’ of the Nazi Chamber of Culture that he had issued instructions forbidding from that day criticism of art, literature, music, and drama. The command against critical expression extends to remarks about stage, cinema, and concert performances. The government decides what is good and what is bad; the people’s part is to be grateful for what they are given.
Art is not neglected, or even treated as a side issue, in the Dritte Reich. Art from the German past has not been repudiated. It has merely been ‘cleaned up’ — the Jewish contribution given back to the Jews, and liberal, pacifist, and other ‘decadent’ tendencies removed for ‘the benefit of the people.’ Aryan creation is energetically encouraged and supported. The state provides generous prizes, and promotes cultural groups. Genius is not readily producible, as we all know. So far in mankind’s experience it has, according to my researches, never yet been possible to force or anticipate it, or even breed it from known variables. But this is a neue Zeit — a new time.
Dispute as to whether or not propaganda is an art has been settled. Propaganda is art, and presides over all other art; it has a Reich minister, — similar to a cabinet minister in a democracy, only of course far stronger, — and the Senate of Culture is one of the departments in his organization.
The Führerprinzip among Germans stands on three legs — the Propaganda Bureau, the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei — secret police), and the Army. When I was endeavoring to find the good in Naziism, I did not shirk looking at all three of them as intelligently as I could. I collected an enormous amount of data, so much that it is difficult to select from it.
Of the Propaganda Bureau, I have only space to tell that it is housed in a great white building in Berlin, and is equipped with more than one can imagine. It has a fine collection of books on psychology, shelves for every foreign book published about Naziism, and files for newspaper and magazine clippings from foreign lands. The staff are mostly young, and appear healthy and as if they enjoyed life. Under threat of death should they make a mistake, they seem to obey implicitly. When anything of unusual importance occurs, it is the duty of the Propaganda Minister to meet with those of them who are news writers and tell them exactly how the news is to be handled. They have, therefore, no excuse for endangering either themselves or the internal tranquillity of Germany. This mother-bureau has a little daughter at Stuttgart busy trying to bring all people of German blood now living abroad into the fold of Naziism.
The young man who assisted in my education in Nazi propaganda told me that ‘the propaganda is thoughtfully arranged. It neglects nothing — not even the songs on the lips of the people. It is not destructive, but definitely constructive.’
Everything is subject to the pressure of propaganda: painting, music, literature, sculpture, architecture — even God. All are in the process of Teutonization.
Count Gobineau’s book on the inequalities of human races, esteemed by Wagner, and Foundations of the Nineteenth Century by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who married Wagner’s daughter, are used as aids in this tremendous task.
‘We are working for generations to come and we take into account the needs of the future,’ the Führer has said. ‘The art of the new Reich shall be given a character which generations to come will see at once has sprung from this epoch.’
His own book tops the best-seller list, climbing now toward its fifth million. Edition follows edition, each new edition generously expanded. ‘All “Aryan” Germans are given a copy on graduating from school, and every “Aryan” bride gets one with her marriage certificate,’ my instructor assured me.
I had noticed that for some weeks the newspaper my husband always takes — The Times of London — had had columns of letters debating whether Mein Kampf has any importance now, as it was written some years ago. The able Propaganda Minister misses nothing. He answered it firmly with a statement radioed to the world: ‘We go forward with the book in one hand and the sword in the other.’
And to safeguard everyone from misunderstanding regarding what art is, the Führer’s definition has been published. He has made it quite clear: —
Whether it is a matter of architecture or of music, of sculpture or of painting, one fundamental principle must never be lost sight of: every true art must give its products the stamp of beauty, for the ideal for all of us must lie in the cultivation of the healthy. Only the healthy is right and natural; and so everything right and natural is beautiful. It is our task to find the will to true beauty, and not let ourselves be led astray by the chatter, half silly, half impudent, of decadent literati who try to decry as trash the natural and so the beautiful, and to put forward the unhealthy and unsound as interesting, remarkable, and therefore worthy of consideration.
The newspaper which I had bought clearly stated that the rumors people were spreading about the concentration of German troops on the Austrian border were without foundation. Anyone who believed in this report believed in a mirage.
‘There,’ I said to the news vendor. ‘See what a liar you are — self-committed. Yesterday you wasted my time telling me about this mobilization, and to-day you sell me a paper telling me that what you said is untrue.’
He winked at me. Another customer was approaching. I waited while he sold wares to several people, taking my revenge by reading one of his magazines with no intention of buying it. Finally we were alone.
‘How long have you been in this country? ’ were his first words.
‘Nearly four years — off and on.’
‘And you have not yet learned to read the newspapers. Somewhere I got the idea that Americans are quick — it must be a mistake. Let a Saxon give you a lesson. You are not cheated when you buy my newspapers. These are the papers of a new time. You read the news, and then you enjoy the mental exercise of taking each item and transposing it. What is printed is the opposite of what should be there, but there is enough truth mixed in it to confuse and give zest to the solution of the puzzle.’
When I wrote to Germans in other parts that I had to spend the winter in Dresden, I received considerable sympathy. There was not one who failed to tell me that the people of Saxony are sehr komische Leute. All mentioned Blümchenkaffee — the coffee of a people so stingy that one can see through the pale liquid the flowers in the bottom of their Dresden china cups. On the German comedy stage the Sachse occupies the same place that the Philadelphian does on the New York stage.
My self-pity soon wore off. I was at home here. And not since I left my friend the coppersmith on the Taku Road at Tientsin had I met anyone near to being his equal until I met this news vendor at Dresden.
‘When you are in a serious mood,’ I asked him, ‘what is your opinion of present-day printing in Germany?’
‘The words I customarily use about that could not be said to a lady, but I will mention that those who are proclaiming themselves leaders of a new culture are without culture. Therefore they underrate the intelligence of their subjects.’
‘Now that is nonsense,’ I retorted. ‘The head of your Bureau of Propaganda and Enlightenment is a university man. I have heard him broadcast that he has had a classical education.’
‘A little learning is a dangerous thing,’ was the answer. ‘Have you ever seen him?’
‘Yes — in a hotel. As I was paying our bill I happened to hear a page asking for Herr Doktor Goebbels’s bill, as he wanted it taken upstairs. I felt acquainted with him as a radio voice, and was curious to see him. So I sat down in the lobby and waited.’
‘How did he look?’
‘ Well scrubbed, neatly dressed, pleased with the morning. There was a man with him, but merely there; your Propaganda Minister was the person present. Dr. Goebbels gave the lobby a swift glance as he stepped from the elevator, the glance of a man accustomed to looking before he leaps, then smiled cheerfully and shook hands with everyone — the elevator man, waiters who came in from the dining room, pages, hotel guests, desk clerks, and the doorkeeper. He said “Thank you for everything” to all, and was gone, gliding away in a car which had been waiting at the door.’
‘Very interesting,’ commented my news vendor. ‘ Dr. Goebbels is scheduled to speak here next week, and people won’t take the tickets. It is going to lead to trouble. Last time we were insolent we were punished. The Senate of Culture issued an order that singers at the Dresden Opera were not to sing at the Hofkirche any more because it took time needed for their proper work. In Dresden under the kings, it was always in the opera contract that singers must sing in the church on Sunday. That continued up to January of this year. If we do not rally to this meeting we shall probably be told that we cannot drink from flowered cups. But we are sehr komische Leute. People are not taking the tickets.’
‘Is Saxony likely to start a revolution?’
‘ I hardly think so. Have n’t you heard that we were slow starters in the Great War, and not very much use when we got there? We are a plodding people, quiet and industrious; we should n’t like a revolution. Our last king, when taunted, would not take part in one. When approached by revolutionists, he merely said: “Good-bye, have a republic if you want a republic. I won’t be responsible for bloodshed in the Schloss Strasse.” Sometime later he was traveling from one place to another in Saxony on a train, and at one station a lot of people had gathered to cheer him. The conductor told him that they were there. He went out to the platform, and all he did was to look them over and say, “You are a fine lot of republicans!” and return to his carriage.
‘Our kings were in business like the rest of us. His son is in business — one of the best business men in Saxony. Our kings were not dependent on monarchy for an occupation. We had our democracy. Now we have our Führerprinzip. The fact that we do not revolt against it does not signify that we endorse it.’
As I walked home I thought, ‘I shall never understand the Germans,’ and something seen when we were traveling in the Riesengebirge returned to memory. At the side of the road, a little way ahead, we noticed a patch of blue, and, coming up, discovered that it was lupines. They covered the space of a clearing right up to the edge of the wood — tall and in full bloom, as well grown as in a tended garden. In serried ranks, thousands of them stood holding up spikes of intense blue, of lighter blue with white-tipped petals, of bluish purple, of reddish purple, and of pure white. Their beauty, in this unexpected place, was such as makes the heart leap up when the eyes behold a wondrous sight.
Someone had placed a banner in their midst, a long white strip of cloth stretched taut between two posts that were neatly painted green and firmly planted in the earth. In broad black letters the white cloth bore the words, in German: ‘He who does not stand with the Führer is no longer German ’ — words seen in many places.
On this banner set amid the lupines another hand had written below the bold letters, in a delicate script as with a fountain pen, also in German: ‘Et tu, Brute.’
From the time of the proclamation of conscription, March 16, 1935, life in Germany was punctuated by events great and small which kept the thought of war recurrent. During the summer before the reoccupation of the Rhineland, men in neat uniforms who called themselves ‘the war protection service’ came to give us instruction as to exactly what to do in case of falling bombs. They had sand, and such, which they wanted to put in our attic. I was at home alone; I explained to them that I do not take part in wars, and refused to have the stuff brought in. They listened to my speech and went away without dispute; but they came again when I was not at home and arranged the attic exactly as they had planned, giving the ‘household instructions’ to our German maids.
That winter, which was our second in the Rhineland, our daughter went to school in Cologne, bicycling to and fro. She was often late for her lunch because of some ‘war protection’ lesson. My diary holds several pages written in her hand about the different gases that might be used, how to protect oneself against them, and how to give first aid to the injured. She also put there a description of the ‘air-raid cellar’ which all her class were taught to enter without panic, with instructions on how to conduct themselves when there. There is something very touching as well as terrible in the Gemütlichkeit of that cellar, with its place for a foreign girl, two small books for each child, — good books, — and packets of concentrated food to be rationed sparingly. My child has written in my diary: ‘It is really cosy. Our teacher will read aloud to us, and we shall take turns in reading.’
Friends of ours who were building an apartment house had in their plans arrangement for a laundry, in the basement, for each apartment; but they had to abandon this to make a bombproof and gasproof room large enough to hold all the persons that might be in the building when the sirens gave warning. They had also to furnish it and equip it with an ‘air-refreshing pump’ (the pump alone cost about three hundred dollars). Others, who had inherited a large house and decided to convert it into four apartments, had also to provide such a cellar.
Before the sudden occupation of the Rhineland by the army there were Gestapo arrests, and this time I knew of one case where the secret police broke the house lock and were standing by the bed of their victim when they announced their presence. Gestapo arrests were made again before the march on Austria. And I was told that they recurred before the order for the conscription of labor to refortify the Western Front last summer, and before the march into Bohemia. Each time, key people who might lead rebellion were taken.
When the reoccupation of the Rhineland occurred, I was in Bremen. My sister, who lives in Shanghai, had been visiting me, and I had waved her off to China, sad to see her go and wishing I could go along. With German friends who had accompanied me to the boat, and were now taking me to my Cologne train, I was walking in the main street of Bremen when a loud-speaker announced that German soldiers were again in the Rhineland. There was plenty of time, and we stopped to listen to the dramatic broadcast of how the soldiers had got safely in under cover of the night, and how the happy people had welcomed them with flowers, cheers, and song.
On the train I shared a compartment with people who mistook me for English and began to thank me for the reoccupation. They were all certain that England had sanctioned this before it took place. They had no apprehension of war, being sure that England would restrain France.
Cologne looked as usual when I arrived about eight in the evening. The next day as I went my round of household shopping, and to call on various people, I met intense apprehension. Some were prepared for bombs to drop at any minute. There was more interest in peace than delight over the reoccupation. I learned that the local Gauleiter had given a dinner for all the foreign consuls, and kept them entertained while the troops got themselves fairly well in. No one with whom I talked seemed to consider this so clever, but most told me of it. The length of the dinner and the after-dinner speeches was detailed as if the narrator had been present.
By the time we came to live in Dresden we were accustomed to preparations for possible war, and gave one of our most successful musical evenings on a Verdunklungsabend. Silence was not compulsory; the only restriction was against showing any light. Bishop and Mrs. Perry, of Rhode Island, were our guests of honor at this party.
Strengthening the German army was not to us just the recruiting of so many men; it was conscription of Fritz and Hans, Otto and August, Friedbert and Lutz. If a person called was a ‘conscientious objector’ it meant his arrest. The families of boys who had no religious objection did not talk of war; they avoided that subject, and spoke of the discipline and order which soldiers are taught.
After they had gone into barracks we heard of double-decker beds, with eight men in some rooms and fewer in others. We learned that each man had his own cupboard, with a porcelain shelf on which to keep stores of food received from home. Letters read aloud explained that, besides morning coffee, they got a hot dinner at noon — usually very good — at the canteen, sometimes with cabbage and sausage, sometimes three eggs and spinach, always plenty of potatoes, and on Sunday often roast beef, carrots, and peas. Once a week they got a large loaf of Kommissbrot and butter, and this was eaten in their own room for other meals, with whatever they had from home added to it.
They were not allowed to leave barracks except on Saturday and Sunday, and by permission on Wednesday. They could go to the canteen in the evenings, if they had time, and buy beer and play ‘skat.’ They received fifty pfennigs a day from the state, and they reminded their parents that this would not allow many drinks of beer. They had to do their own laundry, also to sew names in their garments — and if this was not well done underofficers pulled the work out as many as nine times; they had to press their uniforms and clean their boots, shave early, clean their nails, stand up to be inspected, and bear it if ordered to take off a boot and sock and display a foot so that the underofficer could see if it was clean. German boys are waited on at home, and mothers used to smile as they read such things and say, ‘The poor darling! ’
As discussed, the army was a very domestic affair. Keen interest was taken at home in how the bed must be made to pass inspection, and just what clothes the state provided. There was a uniform for exercise, and a uniform for street wear, with while gloves, underwear, socks, boots, and nightshirts. We heard all the details of lights against these nightshirts waged by sons who preferred pyjamas, and of a boy put in the guardhouse for redressing in his home pyjamas after he had got into bed.
To begin with there were two salutes, one to the forehead after the manner of the Reichswehr, and the Hitler salute given with the right arm stretched out to the front. One boy complained of this, saying that it is the salute slaves had to give in ancient Rome. His father shook his head as the letter was read because he did not see any need to change the old customs of the army. When home on Sunday the embryo soldiers complained of endless lectures and lessons in National Socialism, and of continual grumbling, especially by farmers and workers.
‘Grumbling would not have been permitted in my time,’ fathers would say, ‘and we had no hours to waste on lectures. We were up to learn to handle our guns.’
‘The peasants have been told so often that they are the earth’s best that they grumble at the state in a way that could not be stopped except by putting them all in prison, and they know they cannot be spared from food growing. As for learning to handle our guns, we do that all right, and have plenty of drill, but we have the lectures piled on top.’
Discussions of then and now between fathers and sons would go on for hours. Only in time of tension was there ever talk of war, and never to the boy. Fathers did not talk of the Front. Asked questions, they skirted away from the subject and would soon become silent, with a far-away, sad look in their eyes, often a bewildered look. Nobody ever mentioned conquest, not even the reconquest of former German lands, although the regaining of these lands was the principal propaganda subject.
I am sure it is not a windy boast when the Nazis proclaim that they have a peacetime army which is the most powerful striking force any nation has ever possessed. When Germans undertake a thing they do it well.
Under a Führer who has absolute power, and is keen on arming, they have become the most thoroughly fortified and armed nation in all history. When we were first in Germany, many around us spoke of the Reichswehr as the most conservative group in the land. Immediately on the death of Field Marshal von Hindenburg, the armed forces swore an oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler. This allayed the worry of many who had been anxious about Nazi deeds, as they interpreted this army action as foretelling the end of Nazi radicalism.
From then on, there were periods of gossip about what might be happening inside the Reichswehr — whispers that the generals were not in favor of things planned, and not always satisfied when these plans were accomplished without bloodshed. But the Führer progressed successfully to possession of absolute power until he could retire generals with thanks for services to Germany in the past, and have them accept a signed photograph of himself as a retirement gift.
The Führerüs power is now said to be absolute. My travels were wider than those of many of our German friends, and were not bounded by any class or group limits. Many anxious about the possibility of war used to ask me, ‘Do you think the army would march at his command?’ To them I always presented a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, and recommended its reading.
Under Nazi direction the army has increased in size and strength very rapidly. It has a million men standing at arms, an ever-increasing number of trained reserves, and the entire resources of the Dritte Reich — including all foodstuffs, and women and children — ticketed and docketed ready for war at a moment’s notice if the Führer decides war is necessary.
The army is systematically conscripting all men of military age in accordance with the contention that Germany would have won the World War if the imperial authorities in pre-war years had made full use of Germany’s man power. In addition to the conscripts who receive a full military training of at least two years, the annual classes which escaped conscription in the post-war years get a short military training of at least several weeks. The classes born in 1906-1907, who missed conscription, have been instructed to report to the authorities at the beginning of next year preparatory to receiving military training.
There were more boys born during the latter years of the Weimar Republic than during the war and the years immediately following. These are coming on toward military age; in each succeeding year that elapses there will be more to conscript from; and many state measures aim to encourage the increase of births.
Machines and soldiers, mostly technicians, have been detailed to Spain for testing out in actual warfare — ‘a better preparation than any sham manœuvres,’ I was told. It was also explained to me that, one of the reasons for calling officers home front China, aside from the fact that the Dritte Reich had made an agreement with Japan, is that these men have had valuable experience and are needed at home. They, with those who had been in Russia before conscription was reëstablished in Germany, were spoken of as General von Seeckt’s men.
All the forts that were destroyed have been rebuilt far better than before. Heligoland, the submarine base marveled at by engineers sent to destroy it, is much improved, and there are other bases. Nazis have told me that there is nothing in the Anglo-German Naval Treaty to disturb their ocean plans. The ratio is a ratio of tonnage, and, while England builds large vessels, Germany concentrates on smaller ships — largely ‘undersea’ craft of the destroyer category.
The Germans have finished the wilhelm Canal, which makes it possible to shift their navy safely from the North Sea to the Baltic at desire, and will soon have the Black Sea and the Mediterranean linked up with their system of inland water traffic. They have a network of Reichsautobahnen, and the railways are under government control. As for their bombing arm, Field Marshal Göring, its creator, has declared, ‘Germany’s aviation industry is now organized in such a mariner as to ensure German superiority in the air for the coming years. Whatever the aircraft, production of other countries, Germany will increase her air force correspondingly.’
Munitions factories are tremendously expanded, and are working day and night, as are the navy yards. Miners work a fourteen-hour shift, or longer if there is a press. Not only are iron and steel made from ore such as was formerly used, but there are new processes for getting raw material out of what was once discarded as useless. Foreign exchange is devoted to the purchase of things needed for armed strength, and to the stirring up of German racial consciousness. At home, whipped cream, white bread, and personal liberty have been sacrificed. Butter rationing has been accepted. Steel railings from parks and private gardens have been used for war preparedness.
Broadcasting from all German stations, the Propaganda Minister has declared: ‘We live too fast in these stirring times. The years are filled with dramatic thrills, and as fast as one great event is over another follows it.
‘Owing to this abruptness and speed we are often inclined to forget the difficulties involved. We take the success of the régime for granted. If, in the course of a year, we reap an unprecedented historical harvest, we suppose that it is only the result of luck, or of some sort of historical miracle.
‘There is no doubt that luck is necessary to obtain historical success, and in its totality the work of the Führer must, be regarded as a miracle. But miracles come not when one just waits for them, but when one works and lights for them. That is what happened here. The Führer did not wait. He collected the forces of the nation, organized, and boldly engaged on the big historical decision of the year. He succeeded.’
The great mass of the people, he proclaimed, ‘possess a primitive, unspoilt capacity for believing that, all is possible,’ and then remarked that, ‘unfortunately, in certain circles, this faculty has been somewhat blunted, particularly among men of possessions and education, who trust more in the power of pure and cold understanding than in that of the glowing idealistic heart.’
These intellectuals he characterized as knowing so much that they did not know what to do with their knowledge. ‘When the Nazi movement was fighting for power,’ he exclaimed, ‘they could not believe in its victory. And now, too, they cannot bring themselves to believe. They only recognize what is, but do not see what will be.
‘Difficulties for them are not things to be overcome, but things to capitulate to. With such feeble-spirited elements one cannot make history, but happily in all peoples, and particularly the German, there is only a very thin top layer of intellectuals and “society.” They will never lead the nation.
‘Formerly they encountered in our country willing and grateful disciples. To-day they can only fling a few cues to members of the intellectual bourgeoisie who live behind the times.
‘The people do not want to hear of these intellectual grumblers. The people live under a nerve-racking tension, and they are happy about the great success the Führer has gained.’
Field Marshal Göring has appealed to the German people to continue making sacrifices under the Four-Year Plan: ‘The year 1938 rises like an obelisk of granite above the centuries; like a tremendous oak tree it overshadows all events of German history.
‘Nineteen thirty-nine too will be a year of hard labor. The third year of the Four-Year Plan demands the utilization of the entire strength of the people, because the strength of the nation always depends on the determination of the individual to work on and his willingness to make sacrifices. Every single individual is important — that is the watchword for 1939.’
In the Dritte Reich, to harbor behind the clock Bertrand Russell’s book on roads to pence may lead a shoemaker into prison. Arrested without warrant, and held without trial, he may pass into that Nazi darkness called a concentration camp, and may not be seen again by his kin. They may be allowed to send blankets, soap, home-cooked food. Receiving a message, ‘ Be brave,’ they must forever question, ‘ How came that slip of paper with his handwriting on it to be posted at Berlin?’ — because no other word of him comes.
But it is permissible to have Der Christliche Staatsmann, by Wilhelm Stapel, which ends thus: ‘ Wenn nun der Germane, der nordische Mensch, seinen Fuss auf den letzten Streifen eroberten Landes gesetzt hat, so nimmt er die Krone der Welt und legt sie Gott zu Füssen, um sick von Him damit kronen zu lassen.’ (And when the Germanic, the Nordic, man has set his foot upon the last strip of conquered land, he will take the crown of the world and lay it at God’s feet, in order that he may be crowned by the Almighty.)
From reading this I turned to reading Ibsen. That is a natural turn. Radio and press repeatedly stressed the Nazis’ feeling of the necessity to cleanse themselves, and all other Germans throughout the world, of every characteristic which is not Nordic. The National Socialist Students’ Union has been entrusted with the task of coöperating with the Nordic Society in the promotion of Nordic ideals. The plays of Ibsen are in the repertoire of nearly every theatre.
And this is what I read from Ibsen, in words not quite so simple as those of Matthew: ‘If you won all, but lost yourself, then your whole gain was nothing but a wreath around a cloven brow.’
‘We have struck the word “pacifist” from the German vocabulary’ is a remark which I heard frequently from people of the Reich who felt that way. They were using something coined for them by Herr Franz von Papen, last German Minister to Austria. A peculiar thing was that I often heard, even from those who used these words, another statement: ‘Ich habe alle Quäker in mein Herz geschlossen ’ (I have locked all Quakers in my heart).
This greeted me in castle and cottage. It was said by ardent supporters of Naziism, as well as by German men and women who whispered their pacifism; and by folk who went courageously forward as pacifist until arrested, and then continued pacifism in prison. In fact, I got the impression that pacifism might be out of the vocabulary, but the Germans have not yet done with its practice.
It was April 1938. The long, too mild winter was over. A false spring had lured the orchards on, and a frost had blackened the blossoms. There would be no fruit in Germany this year, so ran a discouraged murmur, while Nazi journals, in prose and verse, urged citizens to look on the winter wheat, bettered by the frost, and hear its promise of white bread.
The sun, pleasantly warm, streamed in my open windows. Birds sang. Children were playing marbles. A chimney sweep climbed up our neighbor’s roof; he would come to us next. By a custom so old that no one could tell me when it began, the city sweeps all chimneys once a month in Dresden.
I was packing. Through the Rhineland, Vienna, Czechoslovakia, and Dresden we had followed a trail of music. Now we were going home to England. I am married to a gypsy whose habits of travel were firmly established before I met him. Simplicity in possessions is not one of his characteristics. The names of the multitude of housekeeping things we carry are written down in little books — presumably checked by me at each moving. Towels, sheets, pillowcases, table linen, — all English, — fragrant with that nice smell freshly ironed washing has, were piled on tables and chairs. I had finished one box when Christl came up with an armful of blankets.
‘There is a caller. He has brought you lilacs and tulips,’ she announced.
Leaving her to finish, I tidied my hair and went down to the drawing-room. The visitor was from my German publisher’s office. He told me that the head of the firm had hoped to bid us Auf Wiedersehen, but he was in Italy and could not get back before the day we had set for our departure. So he had come to bring us the firm’s best wishes for a happy life in England, and tell me that the Leader of All the Germans had just shown their firm a special and gracious favor. A few days ago Herr Hitler had ordered thirty-five copies of my China book to give to his personal friends.
To write clearly is not easy. I am thrilled when I satisfy a reader. I was pleased that Herr Hitler liked my book well enough to give copies to his friends. Spring is a time when hope is all around one. My mood was happy. I like to be given flowers and flattering messages. I did not mean to mislead, here or at any time, by my words or my manner. I may be particularly stupid, but it never occurred to me when in Germany that I should continuously criticize the Nazis lest my silence be taken as a sign that I approve all their activities.
We did not discuss politics. My husband came. Else brought tea, and sensibly the Linzertorfe which had been prepared for guests expected to-morrow. We spoke of the frivolity of hoarding up butter, doing without it on one’s bread, so as to make cakes for part ies. We talked of Austrian cookery and its peculiar difference from German. Our guest had noticed that, Christl, who had let him in, was an Austrian woman, and asked how she came to be with us in Dresden. I told how she has been with us, in about the same, capacity as Bald-the-third, our old Chinese serving matron, ever since a winter day when she rang our doorbell in Vienna. She had gone along with us to Czechoslovakia, and was going to England. Then my husband, who dislikes domestic conversation, turned the subject to literature and music, and we expressed our admiration of the heights Germans have reached in things of the mind and the spirit.
We enjoyed our guest. After he had gone, I thought of how short human life is, how there are good and bad in all of us, and what the more energetic in each generation do to others. I considered Herr Hitler. Memory of three incidents concerning him came back to me on the rays of the setting sun. Two had to do with wayside villages. One happened in East Prussia, where we all went to spend three weeks with the friend who was Marie’s governess at Tientsin. The other occurred in the Rhineland.
The people of a hamlet had long disputed with the people of a neighboring Dorf beyond the hill regarding their respective rights in a wood. There seemed to be no end to this quarrel. Now that they had a Führer, the people of the hamlet decided to present their case directly to him. They drew up a list of their grievances. The schoolmaster wrote the petition on a scroll in fine script. It was rolled and tied with Nazi ribbon. The Führer was due to go through on his way to a great assembly.
The tallest man was chosen to wave the petition. Early in the forenoon of the day, the whole population dressed in their Sunday clothes and lined up along their street. It was considerably after country dinnertime when their Führer whizzed by. He was in a powerful car. He left ill feeling behind him. ‘Adolf Hitler was born to the people, but he is a mighty man now. He does not see folk like us — except when he wishes to use us.’
Until evening they grumbled. Then, shortly after Abendbrot, a young stranger arrived on a motorcycle. Their Führer had seen the petition waved. He had something so important to do that he could not stop for it. But he wanted it. He had sent his messenger to fetch it. They gave it gladly.
In less than a fortnight they had their answer. The disputing was to stop at once. It is forbidden for Germans to quarrel with each other. The man who brought this reply was to hear both sides, and the people were to abide by his decision. Enough German strength had been wasted.
The investigator went about his task quietly. He wrote his decision in two copies, and gave one to each set. of citizens. He did not set down any details, the interpretation of which could lead to further dissension. The sum of his decision was that what the wood produced was to be divided without selfishness. He held a joint meeting which everyone from both villages must attend. He led them in singing songs together. The people did as he decreed. The quarrel, two decades old, was over.
The second incident is about people who wove a carpet of flowers from their gardens. They placed this on the road over which their Führer was to pass. Either word of it reached him somehow or, as one old man in that village is certain, he has very long sight. His car and those that escorted him halted. He got down. Wheels were not allowed to crush the blossoms.
The cars and the escort went around. The Führer walked through the village. He spoke gently to men, women, and children. He took the hands of two little ones who ran to him. Babies went into his strange arms fearlessly.
No one who saw this could correctly call it play-acting. He was moved by the gift of flowers put on his road. He was grateful for love. Goodness shone in his face.
When he had gone, they said: ‘He is our true German Führer. He would not let a flower, a bird, or a person be crushed if he knew it was to be done. He is enthroned in our hearts. Heaven sent him.’
This village had been troubled. A few days previously a minor Nazi official had put up a sign: ’Jews must go.’ The village had just one Jewish family, who had been there as long as anybody else. The head of the family is an old man, a shoemaker. His son married Anna, the postmistress, and they have a fair child named Hans. Although possessed of very slender means themselves, this family have been very charitable to others in times of distress. In the wartime, people who had no money had their shoes mended and never had to pay. Now, in the butter shortage, the old man and his wife were giving more than half their allowance to a neighbor who was sick. One of the fair babies whom their Führer had taken into his arms was little Hans. These village people accepted that as a sign. They took down the anti-Jewish poster.
The third incident was at a review of soldiers. Some people gave a party in their offices, and we were among those invited. Food and wine were served inside; and from a large balcony, through glasses, we could plainly see the officials’ platform as well as the marchers.
A company of aged veterans came along, one of them so feeble that I had just, thought, ‘He ought not to be walking,’ when I saw his Führer take notice of him. Herr Hitler had him taken out of the line. A chair was placed for him on the platform. Aglow with pleasure, the old soldier enjoyed the remainder of the review from a seat beside his standing Leader.
My packing was as near finished as it could be until just before we started. I had idleness to spend. Enchanting April called me out of doors. Fed by freshets, the Elbe was running high. A white cargo boat went downstream at fine speed, brilliant laundry flapping on the line, and a little brown dog sitting at the prow like a sentinel.
I crossed over to the Weisser Hirsch side, intending to walk a way and then take a tram up to the Kurpark; but the newly grown grass was a lovely green on this bank of the river, and a group of pretty children played a springtime Ringelreihen. Rosy-cheeked, they joined hands and circled. Confidence of life was in their every movement as they sang: ’Wir drehen uns, die Wange glüht und Freude füllt die Brust.'
A well-dressed woman came on to the path. Her small, neatly shod feet, paced back and forth restlessly. She stared at the river, and then, as if drawn by their happiness, she stared at the children. Her sensitive face was pale, her eyes bewildered. She began to pace again. Although a stranger, I had decided to go and ask her trouble when I felt someone looking at me.
Turning, I met the gaze of an elderly policeman. I had begun to wonder why he measured me when he strode off toward the pacing woman, who was now going upriver with her back to us. He caught up to her, and walked by her side to the second bridge and back. I could see that he was talking persuasively as they returned.
I sat down on the grass and opened my book. Soon I was interrupted. The policeman stood before me. He paid me the nicest compliment. He said, ‘You have a look one; can trust,’ and asked if I would do a kindness. I replied that I would answer when I knew what he wanted.
He wanted this woman to go to a café he named, and stay there reading the papers all day until five o’clock. It was now about eleven in the morning. She must not go home to her own house until after five o’clock. Then she would find what she had lost; it would be in the upper right-hand drawer of the desk in her Frauenzimmer.
She must not be allowed to stay out of doors. He feared she might throw herself into the river. He needed to be quickly about what he had to do, and wanted me to escort her to the café and sit there with her until she was quieter. I said that the café idea seemed dreary. I would take her home with me for the day if she would come.
She burst into tears when I asked her, and sobbed, ‘You are both too good.’ Then she was concerned for me. ‘ I must not get you into trouble — are you married to a German?’ I told her an Englishman; that reassured her. The policeman called us a taxi. We took a ride over the Weisser Hirsch and back, because I thought that sight of the leafing trees would do her good. We had the top down, and the air brought color to her cheeks.
Some time ago the Nazi authorities had called in her German passport, and had not returned it. Then they had sent her a notice to be out of the country in a fortnight. She could not go without her passport. No other country would let her enter without it. When she asked for it they told her that they had never received it.
She acted as wisely as she could. She was a widow. She asked aid of her husband’s brother. He plainly did not want to be mixed up with anyone who was in trouble with the government. She asked friends. They drew away as soon as they knew her plight. She appealed to every possible official, but to no avail. She was told that she lied if she said that the government had her passport. The very man to whom she had handed it accused her of either hiding or destroying it. They exchanged remarks in front of her about her being neurotic.
Her fortnight was up that night. She did not know what they would do to her if she was there after the hour when she had been warned that she must be away; but she was sure that it would be better to be dead than found. Germany was her homeland — the homeland of her fathers. She did not think these Nazis, many of whom were not German-born, had any right to dictate its to who should live on this part of the earth. But they had seized power in the Fatherland. As a child she had played that same springtime Ringelreihen children were playing now by the Elbe, and had been as confident as they. She did not know why she was in trouble. No one would tell her.
She explained about the policeman. For years he had been on the beat by her home. He was their ‘family policeman.’ Somehow he had hoard this morning about her lost passport. When he did not find her at home, he looked for her by the river. He had promised to get the passport and put it in her desk. She did not believe that he could do it. Her faith in things was worn out.
I felt sure that he would do it if he said he would. My husband was away for the day, visiting some musical people a little way out in the country. I was to meet him at the opera and go to a supper afterwards. In the Dritte Reich one cannot telephone about anything private. I decided that it was no use bothering anyone else until the policeman had failed.
We had a quiet day. We played chess and read aloud. At half-past five her passport was where the policeman said it would be.
I helped her pack. She took a small trunk and two bags. She left a nicely furnished house. Both her father and her husband had willed her comfortable fortunes. She could take but ten marks out of the country with her. Still, she was glad to get away even if it proved that all else was forfeit to the Nazis. She gave me good clothes, warm bedding, all the extra cash she had, and a list of poor people she had been helping. Sometime after seven I saw her depart for Paris, where her sister lived.
I felt in a horrible trance as I dressed for the opera. I was so slow that I did not slip into the seat beside my husband until after the bell had rung for the last act. Tosca seemed less tragic than present-day life.
From Paris I got a telegram announcing her safe arrival.
On the morning we left, beautiful Dresden was daubed with the yellow paint of anti-Semitism, and hung with scarlet in commemoration of the Nazi Führer’s birthday. We went, to Kassel, stopping at Weimar for lunch. In obedience to a command broadcast from the Propaganda Bureau, every habitation displayed the banner of the hooked cross. If anxiety and sorrow dwelt anywhere on this lovely landscape, they hid themselves. Only joy and satisfaction were abroad.
We went by orderly fields, neatly painted houses, trim gardens, and wellkept forests. It was a gala day. People were marching, singing, and cheering. At Weimar we could not drive into the square by the Hotel Erbprinz because it was filled with men in Party uniforms, gathered for speeches and luncheon.
We were politely shown a place at the side of the Duke of Weimar’s castle where we could park. We had come early because I wanted to put flowers on Goethe’s and Schiller’s desks. We went first to Goet he’s house, intending only to go to the little room where he used to work. But as we were coming down the stairs a teacher with a class of schoolboys went into the museum, and I had curiosity as to how he taught them. When here with Marie I had wished for other aids than the collection of relics arranged in chronological order in the big hall. Following this teacher past Herr Hitler’s statue, I found that he did not need aids. Out of a full mind he was re-creating for his pupils the Weimar of Goethe’s time.
Using vivid words, he arranged a background: one Duke of Weimar, and then another; this duchess and her successor; individuals gathered round them; their furniture, their clothes; a few sentences of reminder concerning the stirring of minds through the Reformation and the hard times that followed. He had his boys’ attention and mine. He noticed that I listened. I explained my eavesdropping. With that friendliness which I have found everywhere a German characteristic, he welcomed me to his class. He said they were from Bayern, and were celebrating Herr Hitler’s birthday by this trip.
This stiff-necked, spectacled, threadbare teacher warned his pupils that the time under study was an era when stale control, particularly in Weimar, was lax. There was no Bureau of Propaganda and Enlightenment to guide Germans. Ideas of freedom and liberty for the individual were loose in the air.
There was no Führer, and even Goethe failed to devote his genius to the furtherance of national discipline and obedience. Goethe made a hero of Götz von Berlichingen, beleaguered in his tower, defending personal opinion against the forces of law and order which pressed hard upon him. Schiller declared that an artist could follow no voice but the promptings of his own inner self. The little teacher made live people of these Germans of the past. Herder, urging men to be ‘masters of their own fate,’ went through the Weimar streets, his ‘blue coattails Hying in the wind.’
The teacher’s range was wide. He did not bother about any of the labeled relics of Goethe’s life. He concentrated on other things. He touched on Novalis, who defined the best state as one where individual men were powerful, not weak. He mentioned Wilhelm von Humboldt, who demanded that the state should limit its sphere of action to the safeguarding of the citizen’s life and property. He dwelt longest on Lessing, influenced by the philosopher Felix Mendelssohn. He said: ‘The author of Minna von Barnhelm discounted patriotism. When very ardent he called it unheroic. Anything other than appreciation of all humanity he considered a weakness, a sign that a man was a coward, afraid of men not exactly his own image.’
‘I’m not sure these ideas are not right,’ said one boy, the tallest and strongest. He was promptly scowled at. Squelched, he became sulky, while the teacher impressed on them all that, as good Hitler Youths, it was their duty to keep their oath and give instant and blind obedience to the Führer’s every command. Then he announced that for ten minutes they could look at things by themselves. After that it would be time for lunch.
When I had thanked him I went to find my husband. He was waiting in the hotel, which was considerably torn up inside. It was being enlarged because more accommodation for Nazi officials was needed at Weimar. The former duchy, once famous for the musicians and writers entertained there, was becoming an important government centre. Soon Weimar would be almost surrounded by military aeroplane fields, and a concentration camp called Buchenwalde for ‘undesirable and antisocial elements’ of the German population.
Feeling that the old Weimar was about gone, except in memory, I asked to see again the little suite of rooms which we had occupied when previously here. They were as yet unspoilt. These were the rooms that the Duke of Weimar provided for Hans Christian Andersen.
In the countryside beyond Weimar we saw new barracks, and many aeroplanes. Thuringia, the green heart of Germany, is one of the earth’s charming places; we lingered in forested hills as long as we could, then hastened to Kassel. After we had booked a room for the night we went to find a stranger, of whom we had been asked to bring news to England.
She and her family had been working late in their field, taking advantage of the line evening, so our plan to arrive after their supper did not succeed. Sitting on the doorstep, a board on her knees, the mother was cutting slices of black bread and smoked sausage. To her children’s delight she was giving the food into their hands and letting them eat it by the haystack, or wherever they chose.
Five children were at home, in ages from sixteen to four; a daughter was away learning to be a nurse, and a son studying for the ministry. Her husband, a pastor, was in a concentration camp. She was grateful for the invitation for some of her children to come to England, although she herself was certain that Germans ought to stay in their Fatherland. She would not send any outside, but if they wanted to go they could. No one wished to leave. The ‘cause’ would be lost in Germany if those with eyes that saw the decline of morals, hearts that felt it, and tongues that dared to rebuke it, went into exile.
The mother and two older boys talked to my husband, while I went with the younger ones to see their cow and newborn calf, three baby pigs a neighboring farmer had given them, and the stone mill, very like home mills in China, on which they had ground rye. This little Bauernhaus had been willed to their mother by her aunt. Formerly they had only come here sometimes in summer. But when their father was taken their mother had brought them here to make it their home.
‘Father could come out at any time,’ said the six-year-old. ‘God gives him courage to stay in. We pray for it. He asked us to pray because it helps him to know that we are doing so.'
‘To come out he has to sign a promise to support everything the Nazis do. lie has to take the oath of blind obedience to Adolf Hitler. Our father is a Christian. A Christian cannot approve or be quiet in the face of the things the Nazis do,’explained the daughter of eleven.
‘Christianity is a religion of love,’offered the tiniest solemnly. ‘Love and sorrow for all whom the Nazis hurt; and love and sorrow for the Nazis, too.’
After Kassel, we went to a family who gave us an evening of a string quartette, playing Mozart. In this house they were enthusiastic about the Third Reich, and keen on the things their Führer has done. They knew that there had been cruelty, but ‘revolution is never bloodless.’ They believed that Germany would soon be invincible, and that Herr Hitler really does speak for seventy-five million people, whose strength is at his command.
‘If you think otherwise, you are misinformed,’ I was told.
They talked with satisfaction of the end of unemployment. When I asked what will happen eventually about the multitude now making munitions, they said that the time will never come when they need be turned off. There will always be a market for arms — wars are natural to man; and besides, the larger the Reich grows the more need there will be to defend frontiers and colonies from jealous nations.
In the Rhineland we said Auf Wiedersehen to many we knew well. Above Aachen we halted before the same red and white barrier that had been opened to us nearly four years ago. ‘Heil Hitler!' said the official. ‘Heil Hitler!’ we responded to his country’s convention. My husband went into the wayside office. I waited.
The formalities for exit were soon completed. The way was clear to leave Germany. ‘ Auf Wiedersehen’ — ‘ Auf Wiedersehen.’ Until we meet again. As we exchanged that parting with the man who let us out, we knew that often we should be homesick for this land and its people.
En route to Ostend there was time for a detour to take a present, to our godson in Eupen-Malmédy. He had grown splendidly, and could greet and thank us in English. His grandfather hoped for some assurance from us that union with his Fatherland would come soon.
‘The Saar and Austria have got home.’ He had pried in this. ‘Probably it will be the Sudeten next, and maybe the Tirol. Then Memel and Danzig and the Corridor. Our Führer seems to be swinging round that way. Our time will come — but it is long. It is long, and I grow old in waiting.’
His daughter-in-law did not want Eupen-Malmedy to be taken into the Reich. Belgium is her country. She was five years old when the frontier was fixed at its present place. She has a married sister living on the other side.
‘Bibsi is better off under good King Leopold,’ she said. ‘Our king is of German race. He is a Christian king. I do not want Bibsi to grow up where Christ is rejected.’
‘ I know English, French, and German,’ suddenly boasted Bibsi. He won’t be four until June. His English words are less than a dozen, his French is decidedly limited, and German is his daily speech, but he has joy in being trilingual. ‘I can salute “Heil Hitler,” sing “Bravo King George,” say “O. K. Roosevelt,” and wave the flag for my king.’
His mother flushed. ‘Do you think he is too forward? It is hard not to spoil when then is only one. Perhaps we encourage him too much?’
The white cliffs of Dover welcomed us to England. Bluebells were in flower when we arrived. Almost immediately I began to prepare this account, of my experience among the Germans. A concern has been on me to do it. Its purpose is to help understanding between Germans and people who live outside the Dritte Reich. We who inhabit this earth must draw closer together in brotherly love than we have done. We must take more interest in each other. Selfishness, ignorance, and fear have brought us to the pass we are in.
We ought to have helped the Germans to a wiser constitution after the war. The Weimar Constitution is a beautiful thing — a code for angels. They needed a code for earthly use. We should have known that they had never learned to carry civic responsibility. In writing this book about present-day life among the Germans I have striven to give a clear, true, and balanced picture. I hope it will rouse wise men to help Germans to get back into the vanguard of civilized people where, by merit, of their talents, they rightly belong. In my portrayal I have not used actual names, excepting those of state officials, and I have changed the location of incidents wherever I have thought it necessary. While I have been working at this, German history has moved on in a tragic course.
We now live by a wood into which our gate opens to a path that leads through the wood and fields to Jordans, the Friends’ meetinghouse where William Penn used to wait for the voice of God. His grave is in the yard. I am not homesick here as on the continent, because I never feel far off from Pennsylvania. The people round me hold the same views, and order their lives in the same way, as those among whom I grew up. It seems as if I had come home; and it is good to be among one’s own in months such as these have been.
Since we have been here, more Germans than we expected have crossed our threshold — each one welcome. We have had exiles, people on holiday, and advocates of Naziism. I know myself fortunate to be mistress of a house in a liberal land where one can listen and talk on neutral ground.
From the many things which my guests have told me, it is my conclusion that through the time of mounting tension up to the destruction of the Czechoslovakia of Masaryk, and on to the end of the year, havoc which has deeply stirred the German people has been wrought in all the lands over which the banner of the hooked cross waves.
Not all people have been stirred. During my experience I have met a fairly large number of men and women who give to their Führer a blind allegiance from which critical judgment is entirely absent, no matter what happens. One of them visited us late this fall. He is a man of education, and successful in business. He told me that Adolf Hitler is a Übermensch, a god-man. He said that the Führer willed Mr. Chamberlain to go to Munich so that, war might be avoided, and that eight days before he flew there Herr Hitler became quite calm and waited for his arrival. The people I know who have maintained a steady assurance that the peace of Europe and the future of civilization can be trusted to one man have all been middle-aged. Among youth I have not known anyone whose confidence has been so steady.
The destruction of Czechoslovakia upset me very much. When Mr. Chamberlain set off by aeroplane for Munich I was thrilled. I thought that he knew a way in which to adjust things differently than was done. I do not blame him for what happened. If there was no choice except between this and war, then this was the better. But I felt things should never have reached this crisis.
In my disturbed mood I wrote letters to a number of people, including young men I knew in the German army. From one — after some time — I got a lengthy answer. He said that he and a good many other young men did not like being moved around as chessmen in a game. He imagined that youth who feel like that are to be found in other countries as well as in Germany, and said if he had any choice in the matter he would order a complete disarmament of the entire world, erase all the frontiers, and have everything run for everybody’s benefit by a committee of unselfish men devoted to the welfare of humanity.
He had not enjoyed giving two years of life to the boredom of army training. This is part of his letter, in translation:
I know that things in my country could be ordered better than they are. Many of us talk about that, but none whom I know has devised any workable plan by which a change could be made. We shrink from a revolution which would cause great destruction, and leave us probably no better off than we are at present, and perhaps worse. We rescued Austria last March. Our entrance met with no resistance from a population counted German, but whom we found different from ourselves. They welcomed our soldiers with cheers, but no joy. Soldiers were given a special allowance — extra pay — to spend in the land of the poverty-stricken Austrians, and thus create a feeling of coming prosperity. In the countryside we could pay for nothing. With a courtesy which was somehow embarrassing, people gave us the best they had and refused our money. We had heard that they were poor. So they were in a way, hut they had things we had not seen for years — many of us felt like locusts as we passed over their land. After the conquest Austria was as poor in butter, milk, white flour, wool, and the pretty things in shops, as Germany.
We had to let Nazis do things no German should be allowed to do, and then, when it had run a little time, bring them to order. The purpose of this was to make it look as if there would have been civic chaos in Austria but for the German army. The faces of the Austrians reflected scorn. They saw through the whole thing. In Vienna such deeds were done as civilized men have never done before. Ballots were marked ‘Yes’ for the plebiscite, but. we know that it was no more than the acceptance of the inevitable — we were the barbarian hordes.
That was spring. The cuckoo announced the coming of summer. Men were conscripted in Germany to fortify the Rhine. We had a warning of what it means to be governed by mandate - a notice that man, woman, and child can be taken from anything he or she may personally want to do and be set to work at anything the government plans. As for soldiers, they were kept at manœuvres through long weeks — waiting. And again marched to meet no resistance, taking over territory and property, the theft of which made many feel anything but happy. We have all been to school. We know the historic boundary line of the Bohemian Crownlands. We know how Germans happened to live in the Sudeten, and we’ve no illusions about Nazi interest in poor people. We’ve observed the Winterhilfe several winters.
Few have any illusions about propaganda. Some of us have skied over there, and have never seen any Czech atrocities. This time a proportion of the rescued ran before us as fast as they could go. Others welcomed us, expecting to receive all that they had been promised.
German soldiers are not beasts, whatever you have imagined. It was horrible to have to leave Jewish sick unattended by the roadside in no man’s lands, and be forbidden to allow cars to pass to them with food.
It may be a thrilling thing to make a conquest by battle — the soldier risking his life to gain territory can feel himself a hero, but if we don’t find a foe soon who will fight when he is encountered our fine army is going to fall to pieces. [In other mood my young friend does not think this — knowing him as I do, I am certain of it.] We have the guns, and although we may grumble about the lack of butter, that is really not an important thing. It is something quite inexplicable.
And among us many are asking each other, ‘What is up? Are we being decoyed as Napoleon was into Russia? We have got 10,000,000 people and their lands. There is no bulwark between us and the Ukraine, or the Black Sea - but we are no better off in Germany than we were last year. We are poorer by far.’
This is the way another man has been affected. He is middle-aged, a prosperous manufacturer. He has been a supporter of the Party, and when I first met him he was sure that this was the way for his country. He was anti-Semitic then, and told me that most Germans were. Recently he lias changed. ‘I am cured of anti-Semitism because I see now where it leads. We’ve got to learn to get along with, and protect, our fellow men even though there are some different from ourselves to whom we are not attracted.’
He told me that men who knew better were among those who obeyed when ordered out of their beds to set fire to Jewish synagogues. He explained that the reflex habit of obedience was too highly developed in Germans in a time when absolutism was not unsatisfactory. He was deeply troubled that men looked on without action, although with apprehension, at Hitler youth destroying property with government encouragement.
‘We Germans have been a thrifty and frugal people, and developed a sense of the care of property. Even in the time of the Bolshevik uprisings, in the era just after the war, it was not like this. Although Bolshevik in theory, they remembered that they were German, and put papers on polished floors before they placed guns on them. That may seem queer to a foreigner, but there is a Germanness in it which I like. I am not the only one lost to the cause. Those fires did not please the German populace. The whole anti-Jewish show was a strategic mistake. Five years of intensive propaganda have failed to rouse the German people to a spontaneous pogrom. Our people are humanitarian. They were the happiest when led by kings who saw to it that they practised the Christian virtues.
‘This blunder has won us the condemnation of the civilized world, and rightly. It has lost to the government the adherence of vast numbers of people without ability to stand against it openly, yet certain that it is wrong. My workmen were not pleased about it, and other men have told me the same about theirs.
‘The people are not ignorant of the fact that ever since the Nazis came into office they have taken as forfeit the money in the treasury of every club and organization, large and small, which they have ordered to be closed. They know of private fortunes — “Aryan” fortunes — forfeit to the state, and the sudden disappearance of good people. And now they see Nazi confiscation of £80,000,000 from the Jews. To peasants and workers that sort of thing is plain thievery.’
Angela is eighteen. She came to me in England because there was something she wanted me to help her do. Three and a half years ago, when she first wrote me, she was a child — a child in Arcadia. Her hair, the color of ripe wheat, was in a braid, and her blue eyes shone as we sat by the Rhine and she told me of National Socialism. She was a Hitler Maid. Her selfless heart, her talent for influencing others, and all her strength were her Führer’s to use.
She now held a Nazi job, which she combined with an unofficial mission. Accredited as a Nazi worker, she could move about with a freedom she said she would not otherwise have. Her unofficial mission was ‘listening to the voice of the people.’
She dialed my radio, picking up a succession of German stations. I heard nothing unusual. Other nations, including my own United States, were being portrayed as dens of iniquity. England happened then to be occupying the centre of the stage. Identical statements, in three different voices, from three stations, followed one after the other, quoting an Arab paper on the wicked behavior of British troops in Palestine. It was but a repetition of the reports, from so-called eyewitnesses or obscure middle European newspapers, of atrocities formerly broadcast as committed by the Czechs on the Sudeten Germans. There was good music. She let me hear only a few bars from Chopin and Bach. There was a weather report, and an interesting talk on cookery had my attention when she dialed off.
She said: ‘You may think that our radio is the voice of our people, but it is not. The voice of Naziism is trumpeted, but the true voice of Germany is a murmur so low that only the patient and gentle can hear it. Many of us who were formerly deaf to all but the cause that had enthralled us are listening now to news that is never published. What we learn we are passing from one to another.’
Earnestly she endeavored to give a report which I would credit. With my young German friends I have a reputation for skepticism. This is owing to the fact that when I was young my educators were Quakers who counseled against too hasty enthusiasm. She covered the map of her country from Königsberg to the Brenner, from the North Sea into the Sudeten. Compatriots had assisted in arming her. I was not asked to accept a general statement for any district until the conclusion had been buttressed with specific incidents, in which she gave the occupation and home background of the person whose ‘voice’ she reported.
Her record was written in her memory. In Germany they wrote nothing down. They passed what they learned by word of mouth. If record was found in the Dritte Reich, at the frontier, or by a German spy in England, the carrier would have endangered the people reported. Also, the carrier’s chance to work toward the reëstablishment of civilization in Germany would be over.
Discontent is widespread. The Nazis never have represented all the people, and now many who were won by misrepresentation, or were conquered by fear, are stirring. While broadcasting to the world that they speak for the whole people of Germany, the leaders have had to arrest an ever-increasing number, until a total they dare not publish has been taken into concentration camps. They have to silence opposition by beheading; there is an unknown number of martyrs — many seventeen to thirty years of age — whose lives have been taken. Their death fans the cause.
Neither propaganda nor violence is the power that it was. People are uncertain as to how to effect a change, but they want a change. Fundamentally, Germans are good. People are making cults of men who stand against Naziism. Pastors who refuse the oath, and condemn wickedness from their pulpits, have a greater following than those who do not — and when they are taken into concentration camp that following increases. They are called blessed when they stay in prison, refusing to retract what they have said. Lay folk gather courage against, fear by the pastors’ setting this example.
In the Sudeten, people who welcomed the union with anticipation are already whispering how much better it was under Beneš. In Austria, people who discounted Herr von Schuschnigg as a narrow, bigoted Catholic take courage from his courage. Peasants who did not know the name of this minor Tirolean nobleman when he was Chancellor tell stories of him: how he threw his service cap into the open grave of the murdered Dollfuss, pledging his life ‘for Austria,’ and how he has kept that pledge. He could have flown before the arrival of the Nazis, — a plane was ready and his friends urged him to go, — but he stayed to drink the cup of bitterness with Austria. Taunted, reviled, tortured, he has shown men how to keep faith with their principles. Even when the Nazi Führer came to try to make him leave, because his presence strengthens the courage of those who have surrendered but not submitted, he would not go.
People in Germany, in Austria, in Bohemia, watch with growing apprehension the exodus of neighbors ordered to leave the Reich. Despite what the Propaganda Bureau may try to teach, Hans and Gretchen know whether or not their own neighbors, Jacob and Rebecca, have been folk whom it is good to live beside through thick and thin. They do not have the civic courage to stand by a neighbor, but every time a good neighbor is taken the government loses prestige with those who are left.
What Angela wanted was for me to be less silent than I had been. She asked me to condemn in no uncertain terms every breach of the humanities committed in Germany, and combine this with outspoken belief in the goodness of the German people. She wanted me to ask all my friends to do the same. She said that it would help.
‘You do believe in us, don’t you?’ she pressed.
I assured her that I have faith in the goodness, the courage, and the endurance of the Germans. They are a people whose true nature is not to hate, but to love all their fellow men. When they had passed through the fires of the Reformation their hearts were neither stone nor ash. They were pure gold. With this treasure they founded a kingdom so strong that they could fearlessly welcome Jew and Gentile, pagan and agnostic, to full citizenship.
In ages past, the Germans have reached so high in getting truth for mankind that they have touched the stars. They have brought down for us gifts beyond estimation. That contribution is not ended.
Often I have heard it said that Naziism will last a thousand years. I think that those who speak for it overestimate the time of its duration. The good in this movement will endure. All other elements the German people will discard. They are not an ignorant mass. They are an educated populace. Their future history will be different from that of a less cultured people on whom barbaric emotionalism is used.
It is well to reconsider their past. Before the close of the eighteenth century, the intellectuals among their forefathers had dreamed of a system of education that would raise the moral and intellectual level of the whole people. Rulers were won to the movement. By the opening of the nineteenth century all the German states, led by Prussia, had established schools — and normal schools for the training of teachers — to give the people, rich and poor, opportunity for education. And in 1819 state laws made attendance compulsory. Presentday Germans bear the mark of this attempt so clearly that I am convinced of its success. It permeates every class.
Circumstance did not seriously press their fat hers to sue, and die if there were need, for civic rights. The fact that the Germans have to-day no political liberty is not a true sign that they are a people too backward to assume the responsibilities of government.
In past times, those of their number who made efforts to secure a hold on the steering wheel of state could gather but a feeble following. Ruled as they were, the people felt no necessity to demand ruthlessly more than was benignly given. Civic responsibility is a heavy burden — few cared to assume it. One has but to look into the histories of other nations to learn that we are all akin in this reluctance.
I have talked with many educated in the time of Freiheit. Few of them ever considered the possibility that freedom of intellect might lead to what exists under Naziism. They did not dream that such liberty could result in suppression, by men of Sturm und Drang, of all voice but their own. Politics were never even considered seriously by many of these descendants of nineteenthcentury Germans.
When the war was over they lost their kings and other liege lords so rapidly that many with whom I have talked do not know how it happened; they blame it on the victorious democracies, and tell me that they looked on their own democracy merely as something forced on them by military defeat. Not all, of course. There were loyal supporters of the Weimar Republic, but not enough. The others, harassed by the unruly, who interpreted civic liberty as civic license, were only too glad to hand the responsibility of government to any leader willing to assume it, protect them from all bother, and give back the happier past.
But, alas, that beautiful past has not been restored to them. Some Germans never hoped for it, and warned others, sacrificing their liberty and their lives in order to do so. Many are only now waking to realization of what has happened. Even when they saw evil done they held on to a comfortable hope that everything would come out all right in the end. Few are evil, but a great number close their eyes to what goes on, and continue to hope. An increasing number do not.
Naziism is a materialism. My estimation is that a very small proportion of the Germans are materialists. They are mostly people whose poetic comprehension is more developed than their common sense — but they are not materialists. On the radio and in the press there is great clamor about a German demand for the return of colonies, but in non-Nazi circles there is a stirring concern regarding foreign affairs which has nothing to do with colonies. ‘Colonies’ is a subject less important, in many German minds, than a very real concern for civilization. The German people’s reluctance to war is not wholly fright that their land may be bombed, but encompasses a concern that other countries may be bombed.
Just as Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda has failed to do more than make many stay quiet, and others take part under orders, so the vile propaganda against other nations has failed to make the people as a whole hate them. To my certain knowledge three nations and their nationals are popular in Germany to-day — England, America, Sweden. I have not tested out the popularity of others, but I can state that there is many an admiring word said for Herr Beneš; and it is remembered that he is of the people who gave to Germany, in the seventeenth century, Johann Amos Comeaius, ‘the father of German common school education,’ a Hapsburg exile.
Even when in another land those of us who have a wide German friendship are kept continuously close to the civic troubles of Germans. Our situation is similar to that of all our English friends who have connection with those who dwell in the Dritte Reich. We never know from which German the mail will bring an appeal, ‘Help me to get out,’ or, ‘Will you take my children?’ When telephone or doorbell rings we do not know whose voice will say, ’I have had to fly’ — we are now beyond all possibility of surprise. German Aryan, German Jew, and German Czech are among those who turn to us.
A government does not stand long, without drastic modification of its tenets, when this begins to happen. It is but a warning of the unrest rising in the land the exiles leave. I learned this wisdom from the Chinese political philosophers.
Of refugees I give one example. Recently arrived from Germany, he sat at my husband’s piano, playing as if we were not there, playing German music, Czech music, Russian music, playing with a feeling divinely inspired — a man bewildered, seeking guidance from other musicians.
In the Who’s Who of German music, a long list of celebrated accomplishments are recorded below his name. He was composing in early youth, and his music has absorbed all his attention until now, when he is no longer young. He was born of Flemish blood, and is on the census as German because his ‘speech in daily use’ was German — that was the way the census report was made up. In these last years he has had his home in Cologne — a home furnished with things of beauty. He often played in Brussels, and some friend thoughtfully saw to it that he had a Belgian passport. He seems never to have thought of himself as anything but a musician.
My husband knew him, and we were privileged to be invited to his private musicals. Anyone looking over fellow guests soon saw that if his host had ever heard of the ‘ poisonousness’ of Jews he had brushed that foolish noise impatiently away. In April, when we left Germany, his name was one acclaimed by those who have German voice to-day — and he, deep in a cycle of songs, gave politics no heed.
In June, although he is of pure Flemish inheritance and has a Belgian passport, he received a Nazi request to state his political position. On the form he wrote, ‘I am an artist.’ In November, about to start on a series of concerts in German cities, — all arrangements settled, — he received a notice that he could play no more in Germany, and had a warning that if not out of the country in twentyfour hours he would be put in a concentration camp. He got this message by telephone.
He consulted friends — ‘What is an artist to do?'
‘Fly—fly! You have the fortune to be a Belgian — you have a Belgian passport — go to Amsterdam, go on to England — to America. Fly while you can.’
‘But is it right to fly before injustice? Should I not fight it—go into Konzentrationslager for the freedom of music, if necessary?’
‘An artist’s first duty is to enlighten pathways with his art. That you cannot do from a concentration camp. Go abroad—tour America — help us all. You have a Belgian pass — you can get out. Go quickly while there is time.’
His German friends—‘Aryans’ — persuaded him. Leaving everything, he set forth. Luckily, from his last trip abroad to play in Switzerland he had a statement that he had brought, in, and had permission to take out, 430 francs. All his other money, excepting ten marks, must be left in Cologne—most of the money of to-day’s exiles stays with the Nazis.
Before the twenty-four hours were up he was in Amsterdam. From there he brought the report: ‘The Dutch are alarmed — they arm — they arm — to hold this storm at bay if they can. They see the gathering Götterdämmerung. I was preoccupied with my compositions. I did not wake. The burning of the Berlin Reichstag signaled the start of Götterdämmerung. We have had our second warning in the firing of the synagogues. Fire is its theme. One hundred and twenty-six beautiful synagogues, all the synagogues of the German Jews, burst into flame in one instant — oil and then fire. It will be the Catholic Church next, — the beautiful churches, — then the homes of the people. It is a crash more terrible than Wagner foretold. Yet he is right — his music is right for it.’
And he continues: ‘You remember Frau L.?’ We nod. ‘They have taken her fortune. First they took her car, the car she used to send for my use; then they took her property — she is allowed one hundred marks a week. Frau L. a Nazi pensioner because she is a German Jew! That lovely park at her country place — I wrote some of my best music as her guest, and she has had to go to her daughter at X. They will make a household with what they are allowed. A twilight of the gods comes on us all, and yet you say I must learn English.'
‘No, not learn English, but use English. Perfect your English. Don’t fall back into German continually. German is a tongue few understand here,’ we press on him, attempting to make clear to him the futility of trying to make himself understood in his native language.
He will come through his twilight. He has his art. God has gifted him. Art is enriched by suffering — he will now have more to give mankind than before.
I, too, can see that Götterdämmerung. Much in Germany has already gone, but brave men and women there hold up the edifice of civilization, and their support is an educated populace, a populace waking to realization of the danger.
I do not share the view of those who feel that if that crash occurred it would mean the end of civilization. Nor do I think that a general European war would end civilization. We should have to endure it, as my dear ones in China endure, and those who survived would carry on regardless of which side had the victory. But much of great beauty, which should be the property of our children, and our children’s children, would be destroyed. I am thankful for what peace we have to-day.
It is Christmas Day as I write this page. Logs burn brightly on my fire. We have a tree, and there is a smell of candles and hemlock. The landscape beyond our windows is white, with the laurel hedge gleaming, green and glossy. There is snow for my first English Christmas. Holly grows here as tall as trees. In our thicket it was adorned with a glory of berries ready for hungry birds to feast on.
There are many robins. They come to the kitchen door for crumbs. The English robin is small, friendly, and redbreasted. These robins are a great comfort to me. They have the same effect on our German friends. They have power to blot out awareness, even remembrance, of human affairs. Whether or not next Christmas has as much peace as this one, or more, depends too much upon the strength of the faithful among the Germans.
They need the aid we can give them — our prayers, our friendship, and all the recognition and support that our statesmen can devise.
Auf Wiedersehen, and a good New Year.
Beginning in the April Atlantic
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A. A. MILNE
told with the charm of a humorist and the skill of a playwright
RUMFORD PRESS CONCORD.N.H. U.S.A.