The German Conscience
BY TERENCE PRITTIE London-born and a graduate of OXFORD, TERENCE PRITTIE was a prisoner of war in Germany from 1944 to 1945. Following his release, he joined the staff of the MANCHESTER GUARDIAN and has been its correspondent in Germany ever since. The following is the second of two excerpts drawn from his new book, GERMANY DIVIDED,which has just been published by Atlantic-Little, Brown.
ONE of the most usual mistakes made about anti-Semitism in Germany is to suppose that it was invented by Hitler. Actually it is as old as the history of German Jewry. But the vital impetus was given to it by that spirit of rabid racial arrogance born in Bismarck’s Germany out of three brilliantly successful wars and the foundation of the German Empire. Anti-Semitism was the inevitable adjunct of pan-Germanism.
One of the real evangelists of Nazi racialism died only in 1954, at the age of eighty and in complete obscurity. Adolf Lanz was a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who left the Church hurriedly in 1899 after an affair with a woman. As a priest he worked in the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz near Vienna. There he had a dream in which Knights Templars of the twelfth century appeared to him and told him what his task was to be: This was to propagate the gospel that the world is divided into two races engaged in a struggle to the death: on one hand, the blond Aryans represent the Forces of Light and could lead mankind back into an earthly Garden of Eden; on the other, the dark, malign subhumans (specifically including the Jews) represent the Forces of Darkness. It is the mission of the Aryans to fetter and even liquidate them.
In 1905 Lanz founded a monthly journal called Ostara. Its third number was entitled “An Easter Message on the Mastery of the European Races.” These were the Nordics. And the “subject races” included the dark-skinned peoples of the Mediterranean littoral, as well as “Asiatics,” Jews, and “subhuman ape people.” Up to 1914 about seventy numbers of Ostara were published, and the following are a few of the means which the paper recommended for making the dream of the Aryan world come true:
Abolition of the freedom of the press. This was necessary, Lanz pointed out, because the Aryans were in a minority. The Nazis started out from exactly the same premise.
Organization of human stud farms. Lanz maintained that the Aryan birth rate had to be stimulated. Hitler established stud farms by his Lebensborn experiment, in which S.S. men were coupled with blue-eyed, blonde volunteers of the right physique and blood groups. Their babies were “gifts to the Führer.”
Prostitution as a means of polluting the subhumans. Contraceptives were to be encouraged for subhurnans, so that their birth rate would tall.
Sterilization and castration. Both were carried out by the Nazis.
Mass deportations and mass liquidations. Lanz wrote that all “inferior” races should be “banished to the jungle and live there with their gorilla and mandrill cousins.”
Lanz selected the swastika as his emblem and hoisted a swastika flag on the tower of the ruined Werfenstein Castle in Austria in 1907. At about the same time he introduced “Heil” as the conventional greeting. And around 1909 Hitler began buying Ostara at a tobacconist’s shop in Vienna’s Felberstrasse and discussing its contents with his cronies in the café of the Goldener Kugel.
Lanz’s repugnant ideas must have been immensely attractive to Hitler, socially and sexually frustrated and often out of work. But Lanz’s “New Order of the Knights Templars” was only one of many similar societies which burgeoned during that era of German material prosperity and spiritual decline. Writers like Marr, Ammer, Lagarde, and Lange founded their own racialist groups in the same period. It is very likely that the Bismarckian-Wilhelmian era has left more binding habits and traditions behind it than the interlude of Nazi rule. This, in turn, suggests that there was no valid reason at all why German anti-Semitism should have perished with Hitler in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery.
ANTI-SEMITISM was, in fact, slow to show its head again in post-war Germany. The reasons for this, however, were not moral but material. The tracking down of Nazis, which was bound to develop some of the attributes of a witch hunt, was carried out in the face of extreme difficulties. Whatever is said to the contrary today, the Nazis constituted something like an elite. The most damaging thing about the German community was that, with honorable exceptions, it did not merely tolerate Nazism but subscribed freely to it. After the war the elite of the Nazi movement itself, the S.S., organized a sort of freemasonry. They smuggled some of their members out of the country. They gave others forged passports and new names. They met S.S. criminals returning from Russian prisoner of war camps and told them where to seek legal advice. They organized their own tracing service. All the while, there were a great many wanted men in Germany. It paid them, and their friends, to lie low.
Any open admission of anti-Semitism was tantamount to inviting an inquiry into one’s antecedents by Allied as well as by German authorities. Under the cold compress of Allied occupation Germans remained the greatest conformists in the civilized world. Anti-Semitism had been pronounced wrong; very well, it was wrong. Those who wanted to indulge in it had to find discreet methods.
In April, 1950, the weekly Jewish paper, Allgemeine, in Düsseldorf, received leaflets through the mail telling all Jews to get out of Germany (there were only 20,000 remaining out of the pre-war Jewish community of 670,000). The Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, received an anonymous letter which termed the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jews a failure, because some Jews had been left alive, and appealed for “a new leader to free Germany from the Jewish yoke.”
But even two years later anti-Semitic manifestations were still not general. In Föhrenwald camp, south of Munich, certainly there was a shocking incident when the Bavarian police staged a raid in the belief that there was black-market traffic among the Jewish displaced persons there. Lorry loads of police drove into the camp with sirens screaming. The Jews, almost all of whom had lost relatives, or even all of their families, in the concentration camps, feared some gross repetition of their sufferings. Jewish women lay down on the road in front of the lorries and refused to move. The men formed to prevent the police from entering their huts. Jews were beaten, kicked, and cursed in such terms as “Stinking Yids!” and “We’ll put you in the gas ovens yet!”
The incident showed what lurked just beneath the surface, even in the minds of the guardians of the law. But in 1952 the Federal Government signed a debts agreement with Israel by which it undertook to provide 3 billion marks worth of goods as the German contribution to resettling half a million Jews in Israel.
By 1954 the Jewish community had grown only to about 24,000. Its average age was the astonishingly high one of fifty-four. Not a single Jewish marriage had taken place in two years in the city of Bremen (population 400,000). Of 250 Jews in Hannover, only 13 were in the “marriage bracket,” between the ages of twenty and thirty. There were only 150 Jews at German universities and technical colleges. But a B’nai B’rith team from New York found no basic lessening of antiSemitism.
In 1954 and 1955, desecrations of Jewish cemeteries were on the increase, but not a single arrest was made on account of them, and the police always maintained that they were the work of “children playing” (one of their “games,” in that case, being to carry off and then smash tombstones weighing four hundred pounds). A Hannover court ruled that tombstones from one Jewish cemetery could be used as building material, as the cemetery was “in a poor state” and was “no longer an object of piety.”
In Berlin, people were battered by uniformed thugs and told to “go back to the concentration camps” when they failed to stand up to sing the officially forbidden first verse of the old national anthem at a German party meeting. Abusive letters to Berlin Jews announced: “We are back again! Berlin will soon be rid of her Jews. Our hour has struck!” And the head of the Jewish old people’s home in Berlin received this: “Germany will be purged of the Jews once more! Target date for the operation, February 27, 1956.” Large sections of the Christian Democratic and Free Democratic Government parties opposed ratification of the Israeli Debt Agreement in Parliament, and it was passed only because one hundred and fifty opposition Social Democrats supported the government. In an interview given to the paper Die Welt, Dr. Adenauer said that the German people had overcome the hatred of the Jews engendered by the Nazis. But a publicopinion Gallup Poll showed that 55 per cent of those asked were friendly to the Jews, 22 per cent were neutral, and 22 per cent were still unfriendly. Had the proportion of the “unfriendly” ever been any larger?
It was probably in the realization that an acute psychological problem was not solved by the passage of a mere ten years that the Federal President, Professor Theodor Heuss, sent a message to the German people in which he urged them never to forget the sense of “collective shame” which they should feel for the deeds committed in their name by the Nazis. He urged, too, moral as well as material restitution, and his words carried so much weight that in a period of a few weeks the Jewish Allgemeine had letters from more than three hundred young Germans who wanted to go to Israel to learn about the country and work for nothing for their hosts there.
For the Federal President, it was only one of many obligations. It has been left to a man of humbler political origins and attributes to crusade for recognition of the sins of the past and for the promise of enlightenment in the future.
I FIRST met Erich Lueth in the early, darkest days of the post-Nazi era. As chief of the press office of the City and Land of Hamburg he faced a daunting task. He was overworked, underfed, and his city was in ruins. I was struck at that first meeting by the resolution and kindliness of the man. With his slow, childlike smile, his soft, thoughtful speech, and his intense interest in every human problem, Erich Lueth was the epitome of the best German virtues, of which there are many.
Lueth was working for the liberal Hamburg Anzeiger when the Nazis came into power in 1933. He lasted only a few weeks before being forbidden to take any further part in “publicistic activity.” He took jobs in retail trade associations and as blurb writer for a firm which made sewing machines in Kaiserslautern. His brother, Herbert, was taken away to a concentration camp, and he himself twice narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo.
In 1943, Lueth was drafted into the army, in spite of extreme nearsightedness. Within a few days of the end of the war he was nearly in serious trouble for demanding that the Hitler salute should be abolished. The war ended just in time for him, taking him to an American prisoner of war camp, where he edited the Ghedi Lagerpost, with a circulation of 10,000. Within eighteen months he was press chief to the first post-war lord mayor of Hamburg, Rudolf Petersen.
Like many other Germans, Erich Lueth was horrified by the anti-Semitism of the Nazis; unlike all but a few, he tried to find out exactly what had been done to the Jews. In the early post-war years he made friends with such people as Rudolph Kustermeier, the editor of Die Welt; Dr. Gertrud Luckner, a leading member of the Roman Catholic relief society Caritas; Professor Franz Boehm, a member of the Bundestag; Hermann Maass, an evangelical clergyman. These were people who, like Lueth, believed that something had to be done to bring about a true reconciliation between the Germans and the Jews, and that otherwise the German people would relapse into their easy way of believing what they found convenient and rewriting their history in the comfortable legend of German innocence and high-mindedness.
In 1951 this group of people, with backing from a great many others, launched the campaign for “Peace with Israel.” A series of leaflets was widely distributed throughout West Germany; long articles went into the Telegraf, the Neue Zeitung, and Die Welt; the Northwest German Radio put on a half-hour discussion of the theme. Big meetings were organized with the help of the newly formed Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, and at one of them in Berlin, Willy Brandt (later lord mayor) and Erich Lueth spoke before an audience of more than two thousand people. Money was collected, and was given freely, for Jewish charitable organizations, for the planting of olive and citrus trees in Israel, for the tending of Jewish cemeteries.
The ideas of the campaigners for “Peace with Israel” were simple enough. All Germans should be informed of the facts of the Nazi persecutions. They should be given figures too. Accordingly, one of the first of the leaflets set out the grisly tally: of 8,295,000 Jews once living in the parts of Europe which were occupied by the Germans, 6,093,000, or 73 per cent, died; over 90 per cent of the German Jews died; and over 80 per cent of the Jews of five other countries. Germans had to learn, too, what was being done in Israel and how Israel could be helped by them. Above all, German youth had to be brought into contact with Jewish youth, for in their mutual understanding lay the real hope for the future.
The first result achieved by Lueth and his friends was that the Federal Chancellor made a government statement on the Jewish question. “At last,” as the group remarked in its pamphlet, “reconciliation with Israel.” For the first two years of its existence there had been no government statement on the problem which involved the greatest stain on the German national character. The reaction to “Peace with Israel” among German youth was immediate. Subscriptions and letters poured in. A typical one came from Berlin: “I hope soon to work actively in your cause. You must propose new and practical steps which will help to an understanding with the Jews and in which we little people can help.”
Three out of every hundred letters written to Lueth and his group were negative. Writers complained that Jews were securing compensation for their war losses but “decent” East German refugees were not; that the numbers of Jews murdered by the Nazis were exaggerated; that Germany owed the state of Israel nothing; that stories of Nazi persecutions were impossible because Germans were honest, kind, good. Most of these critical letters were anonymous.
In 1953 Erich Lueth paid his first visit to Israel, aware of the delicacy with which he had to deal with the feelings of those he met of the 70,000 German immigrants to Israel and the 350,000 other Europeans to whom Germany and Germans conjured up only horror or hatred. He traveled incognito, ashamed of doing so but knowing it was necessary. With him went four other Germans. Their prevailing impression was that GermanIsraeli relations had to be fostered with the greatest tact and not pressed ahead too fast.
Lueth and his friends went again in 1955, openly this time, learning Jewish views, bearing with harsh criticism, fully aware that they would not reap immediate success. They were asked a great many questions, nearly all of them roughly phrased. More than once they were told that a true reconciliation between Germans and Jews was impossible. Lueth was not discouraged. He went back to Israel in 1956 and 1958. He began to call it his second homeland. He made many friends, a remarkable achievement.
In Germany Lueth led thousands of school children to the mass graves of the Nazis’ victims at Belsen. He organized parties to visit Israel, urged quicker compensation to the survivors of the concentration camps, launched a long legal case — which he won — against the ex-Nazi film producer, Veit Harlan, organized meetings between German and Israeli children, wrote endless articles, and talked, talked, talked.
His greatest enemy was German forgetfulness; but in 1957 an unexpected ally came to his aid in the shape of the book and play The Diary of Anne Frank. The story of the thirteen-year-old Jewish girl who lived in hiding in an Amsterdam attic with her family and who died in Belsen after being caught by the Nazis hit the Germans in their weakest spot, their sentimentality. Theater audiences all over Germany watched the play in strained silence, left at the end like school children filing away from the grave of a dead playmate. Many wept openly. On the tenth anniversary of the relief of Belsen, and the first such anniversary after the showing of the play, five thousand children took part in the pilgrimage to the mass graves and laid flowers on them. One boy said, “These graves are as much a part of our history as the works of Goethe and Beethoven.”
Some observers talked about an “Anne Frank movement,” so strong were the feelings aroused by her story. But men like Lueth knew that a wave of sentiment might be only temporary. It was significant that German pity was expended on the young girl, not on her companions. A 1958 publicopinion poll showed that two thirds of the population thought that the figure of five to six million Jews murdered by the Nazis was too high; 37 per cent talked of gross exaggeration. Among countryfolk, only 60 per cent thought that marriage between a Jew and a Christian could be happy. Older people were especially unwilling to shed their anti-Jewish prejudices. Some parents prevailed on schoolteachers not to allow children from their classes to go to Belsen. The reason given was that it was morbid to do so.
BUT there were far more disturbing signs than these that anti-Jewish feeling was still very much alive in Germany. In 1958 and early in 1959, cases of anti-Semitic utterances and incidents multiplied. Here are just a very few of them:
An Offenburg schoolmaster, Ludwig Zind, said that too few Jews were gassed and that Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies were amply justified. He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, but he appealed. When his appeal was rejected, Zind was not in court but actually on his way to the United Arab Republic, where he joined forces with other ex-Nazis working for President Nasser and against Israel. There is every reason to suspect that Zind was smuggled out of Germany by members of the S.S.
In Düsseldorf swastikas appeared on the walls and the three doors of the new Jewish synagogue; the old one was burned down in 1938. The police arrested one former Communist and imputed this act of vandalism to Communist agitators.
In Marburg violently anti-Semitic leaflets were distributed in and around the university, calling for the ejection of Jews from Palestine and asserting that “the Communist and capitalist worlds have given Palestine to the Jews in return for their part in causing the downfall of Germany.”
In Lübeck the schoolmaster Lothar Stielau told his pupils that The Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery, that she and others had exploited Germany’s defeat. He was suspended from his post by the Minister of Education of Land SchleswigHolstein.
In Herford the tradesman Carl Krumsiek was charged with committing a breach of the peace in a restaurant. He told other guests that Hitler was quite right to send the Jews to the gas chambers, and that all surviving Jews should be killed either by shooting or poisoning.
Yet another public-opinion survey revealed that out of more than 1200 people questioned, 23 per cent were openly anti-Semitic, 15 per cent were slightly anti-Semitic, 41 per cent considered themselves to be tolerant, 15 per cent were neutral, and 6 per cent pro-Jewish. When asked what caused anti-Semitism, 53 per cent opted for “the characteristics of the Jews” and 12 per cent for the Jewish religion. Only 30 per cent agreed that the principal reason was anti-Semitic propaganda.
In Frankfurt the office of the World Jewish Congress received abusive anti-Semitic letters. One letter contained these passages: “One day we shall break every bone in the body of the Jewish bastard who denounced Professor Zind. As for the rest of you Jewish rabble, see to it that you get out of our Germany as quickly as possible! Otherwise you will share the same fate. You arrived here in a caftan, dirty and lousy, and you have cheated and robbed us of millions. Out with the Jews! Perish Judah !”
In Bonn the Federal Chancellor told a British television team early in 1959 that anti-Semitism had virtually ceased to exist in Germany, that acts of vandalism on Jewish property were the work of Communist agents, and that openly anti-Semitic expressions were used by only a few “loutish” members of society. This statement was utterly disproved by the desecration of the Cologne synagogue on Christmas Day, 1959, and the sequence of anti-Semitic incidents which then took place.
A Jew whom I have known for some time past came back in 1952 to his home town, Berlin. He had been an exile in Africa since the Nazis came to power. He had purposely waited a long time, till after the end of the war and the foundation of a new German democratic state. “I wanted to be sure,” he explained. “I meant to stay a long time, perhaps settle in Germany for good. But I shall go back to Africa again.
“Nothing has really been settled,” he said. “But I am afraid that anti-Semitism is not dead. For it cannot really be dead until it has been replaced by a real understanding of what happened in the past. Instead, the past is simply put into the backs of people’s minds, docketed, and left there.”
In time laws will undoubtedly be passed in order to stifle outbreaks of anti-Semitic feeling. The press, the radio, even the film industry will try to help. Men who were nurtured on Nazi doctrine will gradually disappear from government service, will die out elsewhere in the community. But there still may not be a positive attitude on the part of the mass of the population toward the Jewish problem. For Germans will continue to be encouraged to forget their country’s past, on the grounds that it is too terrible to live with and that people’s nerves have suffered too much already. That is why Erich Lueth must go on with his self-appointed task — a sturdy, infinitely courageous crusader and a living testimony of mankind’s reason to trust the Germans to find themselves in the long run.
During a memorable hour I listened to Lueth tell the story of the Reichs Kristall night of November 9, 1938. He described the columns of smoke rising from the burning synagogues; the pillaging of Jewish shops, when the mob smashed windows and grabbed the goods they wanted — in silence; the embarrassed inactivity of the police who watched this organized robbery; the terrible constraint of all those who watched, too, and hated themselves for not protesting. I listened to Lueth tell how one thing more than all others affected him while in Israel; on the arms of women working in the fields he could still see the tattooed numbers of their former concentration camps.
I listened to him say: “Never let your sons and daughters be deceived by that trite saying, ‘Leave the grass to grow over these things.’ Germans unborn must not inherit the blindness and the cowardice of our generation.”
Never were men like Erich Lueth more needed by their country. For their problem is to set the German conscience at rest — by setting it first to work.