Travels in the Reich, 1933-1945: Foreign Authors Report from Germanyby Oliver Lubrich
“Even now,” wrote Christopher Isherwood in his Berlin Diary of 1933, “I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened.” Three years later, W. E. B. DuBois described Germany as “silent, nervous, suppressed; it speaks in whispers.” In contrast, a young John F. Kennedy, in the journal he kept on a German/i>… See more details below
“Even now,” wrote Christopher Isherwood in his Berlin Diary of 1933, “I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened.” Three years later, W. E. B. DuBois described Germany as “silent, nervous, suppressed; it speaks in whispers.” In contrast, a young John F. Kennedy, in the journal he kept on a German tour in 1937, wrote, “The Germans really are too good—it makes people gang against them for protection.”
Drawing on such published and unpublished accounts from writers and public figures visiting Germany, Travels in the Reich creates a chilling composite portrait of the reality of life under Hitler. Written in the moment by writers such as Virginia Woolf, Isak Dinesen, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, William Shirer, Georges Simenon, and Albert Camus, the essays, letters, and articles gathered here offer fascinating insight into the range of responses to Nazi Germany. While some accounts betray a distressing naivete, overall what is striking is just how clearly many of the travelers understood the true situation—and the terrors to come.
Through the eyes of these visitors, Travels in the Reich offers a new perspective on the quotidian—yet so often horrifying—details of German life under Nazism, in accounts as gripping and well-written as a novel, but bearing all the weight of historical witness.
"A portrait of daily life in Germany under Hitler based on the accounts of writers and public figures, such as Virginia Woolf, Isak Dinesen, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who visited Germany in the years 1933-45."
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TRAVELS IN THE REICH, 1933–1945Foreign Authors Report from Germany
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD
Goodbye to Berlin
Christopher Isherwood was twenty-five years old when he went to Berlin in 1929. The German capital had attracted him as it had his compatriots, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and James Stern. Isherwood worked as a teacher of English, enjoyed the nightlife, and witnessed the collapse of the Weimar Republic. In the sixth and final part of his autobiographical and documentary novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939), "A Berlin Diary. Winter 1932-3," Isherwood describes his final days in Germany after the National Socialists came into power. After the last, halfway-democratic elections of 5 March 1933, in which the Nazis obtained almost 44 percent of the votes, Isherwood went to London in April for four weeks before returning again to Berlin for a few days to organize things for his final departure. John van Druten developed I Am a Camera (1951) as the stage version of Isherwood's stories about the cabaret singer Sally Bowles (the eponymous story had first appeared independently in 1937). Joe Masteroff , John Kander, and Fred Ebb created the musical Cabaret (1966) out of this play, and Bob Fosse made a film out of the musical with the same name (1972). Isherwood had published a further novel about his experiences in Germany, Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935). He gives a renewed account of his time in Berlin in his memoirs—narrated in the third person—Christopher and his Kind (1977).
Schleicher has resigned. The monocles did their stuff. Hitler has formed a cabinet with Hugenberg. Nobody thinks it can last till the spring.
* * *
The newspapers are becoming more and more like copies of a school magazine. There is nothing in them but new rules, new punishments, and lists of people who have been "kept in." This morning, Göring has invented three fresh varieties of high treason.
Every evening, I sit in the big half-empty artists' café by the Memorial Church, where the Jews and left-wing intellectuals bend their heads together over the marble tables, speaking in low, scared voices. Many of them know that they will certainly be arrested—if not to-day, then to-morrow or next week. So they are polite and mild with each other, and raise their hats and enquire after their colleagues' families. Notorious literary tiff s of several years' standing are forgotten.
Almost every evening, the S.A. men come into the café. Sometimes they are only collecting money: everybody is compelled to give something. Sometimes they have come to make an arrest. One evening a Jewish writer, who was present, ran into the telephone-box to ring up the Police. The Nazis dragged him out, and he was taken away. Nobody moved a finger. You could have heard a pin drop, till they were gone.
The foreign newspaper correspondents dine every night at the same little Italian restaurant, at a big round table, in the corner. Everybody else in the restaurant is watching them and trying to overhear what they are saying. If you have a piece of news to bring them—the details of an arrest, or the address of a victim whose relatives might be interviewed—then one of the journalists leaves the table and walks up and down with you outside, in the street.
A young communist I know was arrested by the S.A. men, taken to a Nazi barracks, and badly knocked about. After three or four days, he was released and went home. Next morning there was a knock at the door. The communist hobbled over to open it, his arm in a sling—and there stood a Nazi with a collecting-box. At the sight of him the communist completely lost his temper. "Isn't it enough," he yelled, "that you beat me up? And you dare to come and ask me for money?"
But the Nazi only grinned. "Now, now, comrade! No political squabbling! Remember, we're living in the Third Reich! We're all brothers! You must try and drive that silly political hatred from your heart!"
* * *
This evening I went into the Russian tea-shop in the Kleistrasse, and there was D. For a moment I really thought I must be dreaming. He greeted me quite as usual, beaming all over his face.
"Good God!" I whispered. "What on earth are you doing here?"
D. beamed. "You thought I might have gone abroad?"
"But the situation nowadays is so interesting...."
I laughed. "That's one way of looking at it, certainly.... But isn't it awfully dangerous for you?"
D. merely smiled. Then he turned to the girl he was sitting with and said, "This is Mr. Isherwood.... You can speak quite openly to him. He hates the Nazis as much as we do. Oh, yes! Mr. Isherwood is a confirmed anti-fascist!"
He laughed very heartily and slapped me on the back. Several people who were sitting near us overheard him. Their reactions were curious. Either they simply couldn't believe their ears, or they were so scared that they pretended to hear nothing, and went on sipping their tea in a state of deaf horror. I have seldom felt so uncomfortable in my whole life.
(D.'s technique appears to have had its points, all the same. He was never arrested. Two months later, he successfully crossed the frontier into Holland.)
* * *
This morning, as I was walking down the Bülowstrasse, the Nazis were raiding the house of a small liberal pacifist publisher. They had brought a lorry and were piling it with the publisher's books. The driver of the lorry mockingly read out the titles of the books to the crowd:
"Nie Wieder Krieg!" he shouted, holding up one of them by the corner of the cover, disgustedly, as though it were a nasty kind of reptile. Everybody roared with laughter.
"'No More War!'" echoed a fat, well-dressed woman, with a scornful, savage laugh. "What an idea!"
* * *
At present, one of my regular pupils is Herr N., a police chief under the Weimar régime. He comes to me every day. He wants to brush up his English, for he is leaving very soon to take up a job in the United States. The curious thing about these lessons is that they are all given while we are driving about the streets in Herr N.'s enormous closed car. Herr N. himself never comes into our house: he sends up his chauffeur to fetch me, and the car moves off at once. Sometimes we stop for a few minutes at the edge of the Tiergarten, and stroll up and down the paths—the chauff eur always following us at a respectful distance.
Herr N. talks to me chiefly about his family. He is worried about his son, who is very delicate, and whom he is obliged to leave behind, to undergo an operation. His wife is delicate, too. He hopes the journey won't tire her. He describes her symptoms, and the kind of medicine she is taking. He tells me stories about his son as a little boy. In a tactful, impersonal way we have become quite intimate. Herr N. is always charmingly polite, and listens gravely and carefully to my explanations of grammatical points. Behind everything he says I am aware of an immense sadness.
We never discuss politics; but I know that Herr N. must be an enemy of the Nazis, and, perhaps, even in hourly danger of arrest. One morning, when we were driving along the Unter den Linden, we passed a group of self-important S.A. men, chatting to each other and blocking the whole pavement. Passers-by were obliged to walk in the gutter. Herr N. smiled faintly and sadly: "One sees some queer sights in the streets nowadays." That was his only comment.
Sometimes he will bend forward to the window and regard a building or a square with a mournful fixity, as if to impress its image upon his memory and to bid it good-bye.
* * *
To-morrow I am going to England. In a few weeks I shall return, but only to pick up my things, before leaving Berlin altogether.
Poor Frl. Schroeder is inconsolable: "I shall never find another gentleman like you, Herr Issyvoo—always so punctual with the rent.... I'm sure I don't know what makes you want to leave Berlin, all of a sudden, like this...."
It's no use trying to explain to her, or talking politics. Already she is adapting herself, as she will adapt herself to every new régime. This morning I even heard her talking reverently about "Der Führer" to the porter's wife. If anybody were to remind her that, at the elections last November, she voted communist, she would probably deny it hotly, and in perfect good faith. She is merely acclimatizing herself, in accordance with a natural law, like an animal which changes its coat for the winter. Thousands of people like Frl. Schroeder are acclimatizing themselves. After all, whatever government is in power, they are doomed to live in this town.
* * *
To-day the sun is brilliantly shining; it is quite mild and warm. I go out for my last morning walk, without an overcoat or hat. The sun shines, and Hitler is master of this city. The sun shines, and dozens of my friends—my pupils at the Workers' School, the men and women I met at the I.A.H. [Internationale Arbeiter-Hilfe]—are in prison, possibly dead. But it isn't of them that I am thinking—the clear-headed ones, the purposeful, the heroic; they recognized and accepted the risks. I am thinking of poor Rudi, in his absurd Russian blouse. Rudi's make-believe, story-book game has become earnest; the Nazis will play it with him. The Nazis won't laugh at him; they'll take him on trust for what he pretended to be. Perhaps at this very moment Rudi is being tortured to death.
I catch sight of my face in the mirror of a shop, and am horrified to see that I am smiling. You can't help smiling, in such beautiful weather. The trams are going up and down the Kleiststrasse, just as usual. They, and the people on the pavement, and the teacosy dome of the Nollendorfplatz station have an air of curious familiarity, of striking resemblance to something one remembers as normal and pleasant in the past—like a very good photograph.
No. Even now I can't altogether believe that any of this has really happened....
Hitler in the Elevator
Between the years 1928 and 1946, the Belgian journalist and writer Georges Simenon undertook numerous journeys in France, throughout Europe, and around the world. He wrote about thirty reports of his travels—for example, on Africa, Tahiti, and Panama. In 1933, Simenon traveled through Belgium, Poland, the Baltic States, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and the Soviet Union. The outcome of his journey was a seven-part series on "Europe 33," part six of which deals with Germany: "La génération du désordre" ("The Generation of Disorder"). It appeared on 22 April 1933 in the journal Voilà.
While Simenon and his wife were staying in Berlin, Nazi propaganda in the run up to the Reichstag elections of 5 March 1933 was in full swing. The two travelers were staying in the hotel where Adolf Hitler was also in residence, and Simenon promptly met him in the elevator. Communist activists told him that the Nazis, whose office they had bugged, were planning a violent coup. This information, which the reporter passed on to Paris-Soir, went unheeded. Two days later (on 27 February 1933), the Reichstag was set on fire, an act that was used by the Nazis as a pretext for the promulgation of emergency laws. Simenon's article on Germany is illustrated with photographs. One of them shows a man with a moustache. The caption reads: "This is not Hitler, though it looks like him. It is Kürten, the Düsseldorf vampire." The psychopathic serial killer Peter Kürten (1883-1931) had stabbed or beaten women to death and supposedly even drunk their blood.
At the conclusion of his European journey, Simenon managed to secure an interview with Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) in Turkey. Besides his journalistic writings, this tremendously productive author published over one thousand short stories and nearly four hundred novels. After 1929 he developed the character of Chief Inspector Maigret, whom he featured in numerous books.
I saw him, the Messiah, ten days before the elections, as he was coming back to his apartment in the Kaiserhof. I was staying in the same hotel, a hundred meters from where Hindenburg was living. It was snowing. The sky was leaden. All the foreign newspapers had articles with headlines such as "Poverty in Germany!"
And, in fact, every hundred meters, a well-dressed man, very polite, would ask you for a mark, or more or less, while raising his hat.
Somewhere, I came across a funeral cortège followed by thousands of men in brown shirts. And, here and there, there was a police car with machine guns at the ready.
It was the funeral of a Hitler supporter killed by the communists.
The day after, I read, in the most serious of the Paris newspapers, "Terror in Germany."
Because, here and there, there were a few more deaths!
Special correspondents wrote, in all seriousness, "It is impossible for the party of violence to win."
They shouldn't be blamed. It was the first time they had set foot in Germany, and these thousands of brown shirts, these cars with machine guns, really made an impression on them.
Not the Germans! They walked past without even a glance at the cortège. And if they read that five communists and three Nazis had been killed the night before, they were no more surprised than when you learn every day that twenty people have been killed in automobile accidents.
The "Führer" was calm too, surrounded by his general staff in the Kaiserhof. I met him in the elevator, just as [I had met] Emil Jannings, who was staying on the floor above. The Kaiser's wife came to pay Hitler a visit and even hosted a tea at the hotel, where, on the next day, there was a masked ball.
And the foreign journalists cabled: "Return of the Monarchy ..."
Hitler went on a short trip to Munich and the papers said: "Negotiations with the Wittelsbachs ... Things are heating up. Bavaria is against the Führer ..."
I read things like this in the foreign newspapers, but no one in the Kaiserhof in Berlin was excited, anxious, or surprised.
One evening a grand council was summoned, and it was decided that, before the elections, some excuse had to be found to muzzle the communists. Hitler proposed organizing a fake assassination attempt on himself to galvanize his troops. Goebbels, more calm, dissuaded him, saying that a fake assassination might give some people the idea of staging a real one.
So they fell back on the Reichstag. It was one week before the elections, a Saturday. I wired the news to the Paris evening newspaper. No one dared publish it. Wednesday evening, the Reichstag burned and not a single German showed the least surprise!
Good Lord! Can you imagine the naiveté of the foreign correspondents who write columns seeking the "truth"?
Hitler triumphed and the same correspondents were flabbergasted.
Excerpted from TRAVELS IN THE REICH, 1933–1945 Copyright © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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