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The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials

The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials

by Christiane Kohl

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Autumn 1945 saw the start of the Nuremberg trials, in which high ranking representatives of the Nazi government were called to account for their war crimes. In a curious yet fascinating twist, witnesses for the prosecution and the defense were housed together in a villa on the outskirts of town. In this so-called Witness House, perpetrators and victims confronted each


Autumn 1945 saw the start of the Nuremberg trials, in which high ranking representatives of the Nazi government were called to account for their war crimes. In a curious yet fascinating twist, witnesses for the prosecution and the defense were housed together in a villa on the outskirts of town. In this so-called Witness House, perpetrators and victims confronted each other in a microcosm that reflected the events of the high court. Presiding over the affair was the beautiful Countess Ingeborg Kálnoky (a woman so blond and enticing that she was described as a Jean Harlowe look-alike) who took great pride in her ability to keep the household civil and the communal dinners pleasant.  A comedy of manners arose among the guests as the urge to continue battle was checked by a sudden and uncomfortable return to civilized life.
   The trial atmosphere extends to the small group in the villa.  Agitated victims confront and avoid perpetrators and sympathizers, and high-ranking officers in the German armed forces struggle to keep their composure. This highly explosive mixture is seasoned with vivid, often humorous, anecdotes of those who had basked in the glory of the inner circles of power. Christiane Kohl focuses on the guilty, the sympathizers, the undecided, and those who always manage to make themselves fit in.  The Witness House reveals the social structures that allowed a cruel and unjust regime to flourish and serves as a symbol of the blurred boundaries between accuser and accused that would come to form the basis of postwar Germany.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kohl, a correspondent for Süddeutsche Zeitung and former editor for Der Spiegel, returns to the 1945 Nuremberg trials with this fascinating look at 24 Novalisstrasse, a villa on the outskirts of Nuremberg, which housed the trial witnesses, the prosecution, and the defense. This meant that "former Nazis and members of the Resistance were under the same roof." Kohl's detailed account begins with the recruitment by Americans of the 36-year-old Hungarian Countess Kálnoky as house manager. Kálnoky, who spoke four languages, was instructed to "keep things running smoothly," which she did, often entertaining the "motley assortment" of guests with her amusing anecdotes and practical jokes, in addition to helping them prepare for courtroom appearances. Because Kálnoky's book, The Guest House, glossed over certain incidents, Kohl began her own extensive research, conducting interviews with Kálnoky shortly before her death in 1997 and poring through public archives, private papers, and eyewitness reports. Kohl's skill as a writer has enabled her to create a powerful postwar portrait of life inside the villa amid denials, guilt, and bitter memories. (Oct. 12)
From the Publisher
“A richly detailed and deeply researched account.” —The Washington Post

“Kohl’s journalist touch…brings a human element to the rather inhuman stories that came out of the trials…The Witness House is an important reminder of how, at the end of war, we still have to eat at the same table. Finding a civil way to do so is perhaps the key to healing.” —NPR.org

Richly detailed and deeply researched… [The Witness House is] a 360-degree view of this critical time in history.” —The Denver Post

“Drawing on interviews, primary source materials, and recently disclosed documents,
Kohl introduces a cast of characters who, if not actually real participants in the events described, would seem to be the product of a work of fiction.” —Jewish Book World

“The history of World War II is so rich in character and detail that fiction presented alongside often pales in comparison, and this is especially true for a story so nuanced and taut as Kohl presents in The Witness House. The cast of characters, setting, and plot twists in the slim book are so extraordinary that, were they not entirely true, they simply could not be believed.” —ForeWord Magazine

“Kohl offers a glimpse of the Nuremberg trials refreshingly unlike that provided by standard histories. An improbable story of perpetrators and their victims forced to share the same domestic space, The Witness House is at once humorous, moving and disturbing. It is a fascinating read.” —Lawrence Douglas, Amherst College, author of The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust

“A fascinating glimpse into the very human and remarkably harmonious society created in the microcosm of an Allied guesthouse where victors, vanquished and victims were lodged together during the Nuremberg Trials. Ms. Kohl, in this very readable book written with tremendous sensitivity, contributes greatly to the neglected history of the human condition in the postwar chaos of Europe.” —Lynn Nicholas, author of The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
“Kohl deserves high praise for this fascinating new book, tapping into a story most people have never heard of but which provides a vital footnote to our understanding of the post-World War II world.” —Don and Petie Kladstrup, authors of Wine & War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure

Library Journal
During the more than three years in which the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal heard cases, the American military ran an inn called the Witness House for those slated to testify. Journalist Kohl has utilized published sources and her own interviews with former residents, staff, and associates to tell the story of this unusual hostel. The focal point of the narrative, translated by the notable Bell, is the Hungarian émigré Ingeborg Kalnoky, who was engaged by American military authorities to manage a facility in which both defense and prosecution witnesses stayed. Kohl vividly re-creates the physical landscape and the nearly soap opera-like interactions of the residents, some of whom were intimates of the Nazis and others their victims. VERDICT Kohl blends the story of her own research with the telling of the actual history of the hostel. The result is not always interesting, although the narrative of the hostel is fascinating, particularly the portraits of the Nazis and Nazi sympathizers and their revisionist stories about their past.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll.
Sarah Halzack
…a richly detailed and deeply researched account of the diverse list of people who stayed at the villa and what life was like for them inside…Kohl weaves anecdotes of what happened at the villa with facts about each person's biography and testimony at Nuremberg…and their stories add up to a 360-degree view of this critical time in history.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Other Press, LLC
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6.72(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.85(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Witness House

By Christiane Kohl

Other Press

Copyright © 2010 Christiane Kohl
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781590513798

There was a certain aura of gloom about the house, and yet it seemed very much more welcoming than anything Ingeborg Kálnoky had seen over the last few weeks. Its façade had an oddly patchwork appearance. Traveling bag in hand, the young woman was standing outside it on a late August day in 1945, blinking into the morning sun. After all she had gone through, the little villa in the wood was like a haven of safety that might at last offer her shelter. Yet at the same time she
felt vaguely afraid of the new challenge ahead of her.
   Inside the house, Elise Krülle was standing at the window, examining the new arrival with some suspicion. The countess was blond, very blond. Elise’s son Gerhard, a bright boy of thirteen, was to remember her very clearly later: “She looked like Jean Harlow,” he said. “The beautiful sinner type, you might say.”  The Krülle family’s house, like the neighboring buildings in the street, had been camouflaged from air raids with splotches of brown and green paint. Whether it was thanks to these camouflage colors, or the rather remote situation on the outskirts of the city, we cannot know, but here in the suburb of Erlenstegen, in any case, they had remained relatively unscathed by the bombs, although the Old Town of Nuremberg itself was reduced to rubble. There was nothing but ruins to be seen down on the banks of the Pegnitz River; half-timbered houses centuries old, adorned with fine carving, had collapsed into dust and ashes like sacks of flour slit open.


Excerpted from The Witness House by Christiane Kohl Copyright © 2010 by Christiane Kohl. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Christiane Kohl has worked as a correspondent to the Cologne Express, a press officer for the Environment Ministry in Hessen, and, from 1988 to 1998, an editor with Der Spiegel. She worked for several years in Rome for Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and is currently the newspaper’s correspondent for eastern Germany. Her book, Der Jude und Das Mädchen (2002), was the basis of Joseph Vilsmaier’s feature film Leo and Claire. She lives in Dresden.
Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French, specializing in fiction. She has won a number of translation awards in the UK, the USA, and Europe. Her translations includeW.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (and other works by Sebald), a large selection of Stefan Zweig’s novellas and stories, and Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir, The Pianist

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