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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Frustration Expressed in the Primitivism of Clumsy Strokes and Bright Colours

In the early 1970s, I conducted research in the Luapula Valley of Zambia. I was enchanted with the region, its people, and their kinship system. Women were strong, descent was matrilineal. Life was hard, short, and often bitter, but it had its beauty and joy.

When I returned home to the university and was frustrated with the administration or colleagues, I "painted" – although and alas – without skill or knowledge.

But for the sake of memory, here is my oversized Luapula woman with her undersized Luapula man.
Luapula Matriarch

Luapula Girl

It was a difficult time, full of frustration. I could not dwell on either. Instead, I pushed brush with colour on canvas to portray the harshness and dearth of a sun-burned Africa. Should have done it on a blackboard -- just for the heck of it. But it was not students that frustrated me. They were far too eager to learn then.

The frustration was with myself ... with doing chores, rather than creating. With things not learned, because other things took priorities.

Woman in Water

Alas, I would never learn the skill of painting. Nor would I find time to do more. Nor could I afford to be frustrated. It was “publish or perish.” And since I did not perish as a refugee from Königsberg late 1944, it would have been downright ungrateful to those who kept me alive to fail now.

Kindheit hieß nicht Leben, sondern überleben. Und so ging es weiter mit dem überleben. Obwohl, na ja, das Leben dann doch mehr wurde.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Jonathan Steinberg's Review of Ian Kershaw's New Book in the Globe and Mail

According to Jonathan Steinberge's review,Ian Kershaw, British historian of Hitler, wonders how Germans could have remained “loyal” and “obedient” to Hitler despite mass murder (as per Holocaust) and, with the Allied bombing and bloody battles in the East, mass homicides. I assume that since homicide means any killing by any one of any other, the use of the term implies mass suicides – both in the literal sense of Germans killing themselves for fear of revenge and in the proxy sense of Germans, not having risen up against Hitler therefore, being massively bombed, expelled, tortured, and incarcerated by the Allies.

If Steinberg is right, Ian Kershaw’s book sits on several flawed assumptions. The main one being that Germans did not rise up against Hitler owing to their perverse tendency to “obey” the Führer. He links this to concepts that the Nazis themselves developed in their popular literature, namely, charisma and, more importantly, “personalization.” It would have been better to simply say that in the 1930s völkisch Nazis were obsessed with great personalities and the cultivation, in the form of popular literature furthered especially by the SS, of cunning, "holy" warriors.

Given Steinberg's review, what Kershaw forgets are two important things. First, the Nazis knew—(as did the population that read their propaganda disguised as heroic adventure stories from Germanic to Islamic ones)—that great personalities or god-like heroes lose their legitimacy instantly when a hint of failure is detected, which occurred, for example, with the demise of the 6th Army in Stalingrad. Hence the immediate and dramatic reaction of Goebbels first to close all theaters, movies, and other public entertainment (2 – 4.2. 1943), then to call out “total war” (18.2.1943) at the Berlin Sportpalast, and finally, about a month or so later open, with heroic generosity, new venues for mass entertainment in lieu of those destroyed by Allied bombs.

While it needs further study, this and similar Wagner-like antiques used by Goebbels and of course Himmler for propaganda purposes, had the long term effect of shoring up the legitimacy of Hitler, at least among its immediate supporters.

Second, Germans were not “obedient” to the Führer, but were boxed in by Goebbels’ propaganda apparatus, by Bormann’s heavy-handed control of Party matters including “disobedient” Germans even in foreign countries, by Himmler’s terror and think tank organizations, and by Speer’s architectural creations of cultic spaces. Furthermore, there was a Resistance; but with the exception of Hoffmann (1977), it is largely ignored in the English speaking world.

Instead of blaming and mystifying the Germans for crimes committed by the Third Reich’s thousands, but countable, fanaticized leaders, we should have researched how it is that we still do not recognize what those many führers did, and how they did it. And above all, we should research, something I have and am doing, namely, how it is that many of them, especially those who managed the religious-political worldview, survived detection after the war and lived to write sweet but poisonous books right into the 1980s.

To move forward in our thinking, we also need to put to rest Allied World War II propaganda, which at any rate was often a convenient adaptation of Goebbels’ propaganda, like his claims that the German people are uniformly behind their Führer, or the German Resistance was but a clique of reactionaries, and so on ad infinitum. Do that, and look at the religious mythological foundation of the National Socialist Worldview, and we might come to an understanding of what went on there and then—and what is going on in, for example, the Arabic and/or Muslim world now.

German readers might want to look at Ulrich Herbert's work who argues against Hannah Arendt's conclusion, for example, that Eichmann was incapable of moral judgment. Herbert points out that Eichmann did what he did because he was convinced that "it was serving a greater end" and "a higher law above conventional morality." Taking orders -- something done in all armies -- was done, but the likes of Eichmann did not do it for the sake of obedience to Hitler. They did it because they were convinced of their actions. They believed -- in the end -- their own propaganda, that is, their new religion -- as National Socialists said repeatedly.

At any rate, there is a better review of Ian Kershaw's book in a recent TLS.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-War German Condemnations: Unenlightened Propaganda rather than History

I was at a friend's place. She is older than I and remembers more of the past. She told me a beautiful story about wanting to attend a session at the Nürnberg trial when she ran into a friend called Victor Klemperer. He advised her to stay away, the trials were about punishing the Germans, not justice. Why was there this hate against "the Germans"?

The answer is found in many American history books. Take for example David Stafford 2007. He wrote "Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II." N.Y.: Back Bay Books. The book is not, as you might expect, about the plight of refugees flocking into Germany or bombed out people fighting to keep children and themselves alive. It is about monitoring their feelings of guilt. And because Germans were not seen to be expressing guilt, the book is about the further judgement and condemnation of those who remained alive.

Thus Count Folke Bernadotte, a genuinely humane Swede in the Service of the Red Cross, who managed to persuade Himmler to allow Bernadotte to save interned Swedes, is quoted as having said: "The German people as a whole never made a serious attempt to cast off the yoke. They never seriously protested against the anti-Semitic policy, against conditions in the occupied countries...They have Failed (p. 506). True. But what Bernadotte had to say in 1945 Das Ende, Zürich: Europa Verlag, is much more profound than that. Yes, in retrospect one must agree that Germans failed. And after the war many, but not all, were in a state of stupor about their defeat and, perhaps, in the state of self-absorption that comes with survival. But Bernodotte is much more concerned to point out that the final scene of the demise of the Third Reich lacked the dignity of a true human tragedy. Why? Because the surviving officials of the Third Reich were so unbearably petty; they did not fight for a faith, nor from conviction of an idea, but merely for their naked existence, and that was soiled by inexpiable crimes. Bernadotte referred to the rather petty and pathetic leaders -- the kinds we saw frequently on tv screens during the Irak war and the Arab Spring. Since Bernadotte had worked with people from the German Resistance, he worried, but did not make collective judgement and voice wholesale condemnation.

Rev. David Cairns in the spring and summer of 1945 apparently told the British Council of Churches that German civilians were obsessed with their own survival and that of their families and friends...But what particularly bothered him was "the lack of understanding for the suffering that Germany has caused other people, and an unawareness of the hatred and contempt that, for example, Holland and Denmark, Poland and Belgium, feel for her." Above all Cairns complained that the sense of guilt was "rather lacking" (in Stafford, 2007:506). And Stafford goes on to quote Alan Moorhead who said April 22, 1945, "Not one German has any feeling of guilt." It is not said which Germans he observed. -- And we can be sure that he sat down with the whole German population, or a large representative sample, and had a talk about it with them. And finally, Anne Matheson complained that "these women have no pity but for themselves, Evening Standard 30 April, 1945.

The war was just over -- peace declared May 8, 1945. Yes, the war was just over. A general feeling of numbness had set in. Trümmer, rags, hunger -- and Allies, satiated, victorious, informed -- doing one thing and one thing only, taking the temperature of German guilt.

Authors who collected these condemning statements made no attempt to analyze what they found. For example, that in the last days of the war leaflets were dropped from planes saying "You are guilty." A collective judgement and condemnation before any trial and in the midst of destruction. Nor did the pulse-takers of German guilt think that they, coming from Allied countries were well informed about the murder of Jews in concentration camps, not least by the German military and Christian resistance, among them, Hans Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; by people who knew, precisely, because they were military or associated with its intelligence; by people who risked their lives to inform the Allies and to stop the war; by people who helped Jews escape; by people who were hanged on meat hooks in Plötzensee.


Many of the German population, by contrast, may have surmised that things were not right. But surmising is not knowing. Few of them listened to the BBC. And those who did, shut up and lived, and not only for themselves but for the future; for a sense of democracy and fairness that they knew well and would now have a chance to help put into place.

Authors like the one discussed here are popular in America. History for them is still written from the perspective of World War II Allied propaganda and with the attitude of punishing a whole people -- even though most of these people have long since understood that others suffered first and that their suffering was caused by the defeated.

Books like that of Stafford, and there are many others like it, teach us nothing about defeat. They ignore deliberately the resistance, deem it as having been small in number and ineffective. That it was a substantial minority and has much to tell us is ignored. Nevertheless, the Second World War is their story.

Saved by a Lutheran Orphanage in Telz and the people who did the saving were all WOMEN -- and we were not even their children. Life would be filled with guilt, but also with joy. And, yes, I know that the Third Reich killed -- totally unjustifiably -- millions of Jews and killed millions of others in a criminal war.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Re: Nigel Cliff's "Holy War" - Another Nonsense NP 25.11.2011

I was astonished to find the National Post (a Canadian newspaper) publishing an excerpt of a version of history that, last time I looked, was deliberately promoted by the SS. I mean the supposed seven centuries of “an advanced Islamic state” that lifted Europe out of the “Dark Ages.” SS think tanks like Ahnenerbe promoted the writing of page-turning books that were based on a mix of fact and fiction to capture the more effectively readers’ minds in the web of SS propaganda. The aim of these worldview fantasts was not only to write Greece, Rome, and the Judeo-Christianity out of European history, but to eliminate “intellectual Jewry.” Thenceforth the roots of Western civilization were sunk into the ground prepared by glorious “holy wars” starting in the seventh Century that were responsible for the “miraculous” expansion of Arabic Islam.

Numerous SS agents found their way to Arabia, the Near East, and Muslim countries of North Africa to cause mischief and to check out affinities with Islam. Naturally, they found not only affinities -- that is a race specific unitarian faith with a great leader that embodied it and its holy warriors -- they also found outstanding and accommoating propagandists. And the 28th of November 1941 Adolf Hitler met the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el-Husseini in the Berlin Reich Chancellery.

And now the same nonsense is written once again with yet another twist. At least the British publisher talked about "Crasades." In the States it must, of course, have the misleading, but sales-inviting words, "Holy War."

Serious readers should look at Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers. "Halbmond und Hakenkreuz: Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina." (2011, WBG, Darmstadt)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Let's not turn inward. Let's turn outward and face reality.

Reflection on a BBC Interview on Internet Radio:
There is all this talk about nations turning inward, people turning inward, in light of the current banking and debt problems. Here's my opinion. We cannot turn inward! The last time we did was in the nineteen twenties--the interwar years--turning inward meant fascism outward. A crude romanticism of own; a brutal killing of other. It ended in a dreadful disaster as we all know. -- We can't turn inward because neither evolution nor a personal God made us that way. Our ears listen to what is outside, our eyes look at what is outside, our senses are stimulated by the world, by its crudeness, but also by its nuances of wisdom and beauty. In short, let us do what democrats do. Encourage our and other governments, our and other citizens to live within our means, stop excesses, and help the world get out of the mess we allowed ourselves to drift into.

Aging is not for Cowards - a poem from a non-poet

My God, my God
What have I not done,
Not seen my own city,
not been downtown.

I'm in my home and look across --
lights sparkling on the hill --
far away from us.

I've not moved around our city much,
not seen the folk that are poor or are lost,
"sit down" they say, "enjoy your old age,"
but today I know, sitting back is a cage.

The brain must be challenged -- must conquer fear,
our inside must laugh,
our eyes lose a tear.

Terror -- the inner kind --
is n'er far away;
we have to feel it --
lest our humanity decay.

Age is not for cowards,
though cowards we are --
all the same, walk on,
leave parked your car.

Feel the nerves quiver
and -- when you think -- you'll break,
have a big laugh for laughter's sake.

Here is a comment from Marlis:

(Karla) I beg to differ with ‘sitting back is a cage.’

Somehow that idea seems to be central to your poem. Now, think, are there not all kinds of cages? - some locked from the outside, others locked from the inside?

The first are truly troublesome, but the latter are of our own creation. If I see a cage in your life at all, it has got to be academia and your specialization in it.

Don’t you believe that the brain can be challenged outside of that cage?

Unlock that cage (it’s an inside lock) and see your own city, go downtown, see the folk that are poor and lost, feel inner terror if it arises, let your nerves quiver, let your inside laugh, let your eyes lose a tear --- and remember, sitting back allows one to contemplate experiences and their meaning in our lives.

And if you’ve read this far, have a good laugh for laughter’s sake.

Luv ya,


Karla to Marlis:

You are so right. It's academia; It's my latest concern with the past; and the cage is locked from the inside. But, I seem to be unable to find the key to unlock it from the inside until I have answers to various things. Then -- who knows -- the door could also be unlocked from the outside.

You raised a real puzzle
my blood pressure rose,
my life is a hassle,
my thoughts oft morose.

There is a way out
if I could but see,
human good will sprout,
like blossoms on a tree.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Berlin 2011: Symbols of Defeat

These monuments speak about German defeat and what it means to be defeated. The defeated -- although in this case it simply had to happen -- more or less lose their voice and lose sight of their dead. But the defeated are rewarded with oversized monuments of the victors.

The Russian memorial at Seelow.

Here is another one at the same place.

And this, also at Seelow just east of Berlin.

I had to look hard for a memorial to German soldiers. I found this sad story by chance, just outside of Eisleben. The camp held 90,000 German prisoners of war after the defeat. Twenty died each day. Yes, it had to be defeat for Germany. But the enforced silence about what defeat meant and this small, rather hidden memorial says it all. For all its wrongness, I mean the wrongness of that war, it is still sad. Frankly, and generally speaking, I think soldiers are always cheated -- cheated even in their victory and cheated in their death. These German soldiers were in a war that should not have been started, and having been started should not have been criminal, and having been criminal, someone should apologize to soldiers who thought -- as per propaganda -- that they were fighting for their country when, in fact, they were not. No one apologized to them. And except for the hidden memorial below, no one wants to remember.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Berlin Diary of 1995 Continued

January 9, 1995
Well, I joined Irving and took a round-trip of the city with his classmates from the Goethe Institute. The trip is part of the Institute program. The city’s history filled me with a sense of awe. Every building and ruin seemed to tell its story – as if it is urgent to do so. It is simply spectacular.

Whether in the eastern or western parts, we saw just about everything that has political meaning: Honnecker's former headquarters, for example; the Reichstag that is in the process of renovation; and the remains of “the wall” to the Brandenburger Tor. The Tor, we were told, will also be renovated.

Our international companions from Turkey, Brazil, England, Russia, French-speaking Switzerland, the Isle of Feroe, and elsewhere were good company. Naturally, they were not taking courses at the Goethe Institute because they loved the German language. Rather most said they were here because they needed to learn German for business reasons.

All I can say is that Mark Twain was more philosophical about it. For example, he was supposed to have said, “I don't believe there is anything in the whole earth that you can't learn in Berlin except the German language.” If you ask me, his words are downright profound. Irving’s favorite assessment of German also comes from Mark Twain: “Never knew before what eternity was made for?” he asked. And answered, “It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.” Let’s face it Mark Twain knew something.

Well, our apartment held no attraction. We swallowed tinned fish and a ready-made salad and returned to look at length at the Prinz-Albrecht-Gelände.

Alas, I must stop here. Stop all foolishness because this is hallowed ground. No, my attitude is not idolatrous. It is simply that, in my mind’s eye, I was looking in the mirror – and saw failure: my failure, the failures of people and of states. I stood and pondered, how did he do it? He and that Briton did not fail – not as persons. But what they intended to do failed and he, but not the Briton, lost his life.

Topography of Terror, but from the Perspective of Hope

Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8 (today Niederkirchnerstraße) is permanently associated with the brilliant theologian and core man of the German resistance Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) who was held and interrogated there. When he recognized the mortal danger in which his country and church found themselves, he said, “When a madman races his car through the streets, and I as a pastor am with him, I cannot simply console those who were run down or bury them, rather I have to throw myself in front of him and stop him.”

The above picture also shows his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi (1902-1945), who was married to Bonhoeffer’s sister Christine. Dohnanyi was vital to the resistance because like Bonhoeffer he built bridges to other resistance circles in the military, in the foreign ministry, and among Protestants and Catholics. Dohnanyi recognized early on that Hitler and the Nazi leadership had to be removed by force. And he and Bonhoeffer worked toward that goal.

In 1945, Bonhoeffer was sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was executed. With great shock I would learn later that Flossenbürg was just south of the camp where we ended up after our flight from East Prussia.

Bonhoeffer tried hard to get help from the Western world for the fight against National Socialism, especially, through the English Bishop of Chichester, George Bell. That is the Briton I referred to above. Both were infinitely gracious. They failed to prevent catastrophe but are, nevertheless, figures inspiring hope to this day. As well, George Bell helped Jews who were Christians when they most needed it.

Irving and I walked along the Gelände and learned that here Hitler’s indispensible assistants, Himmler, Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner, among many others, planned the Wannsee Conference, organized the Einsatzgruppen, planned the murder of Jews and the Germanization of occupied Poland. It is truly a place of terror and we felt it in our bones. – Except of course, and in final analysis – the good of the resisters, not the evil of their executioners, triumphed. These are not empty words.

Bonhoeffer’s understanding of resistance was significant for two reasons. First, he understood that he and those like him worked with God but in a world without God, and second, he refused to use the same weapons of terror that his opponents used. What those resisters did, they did despite defamation, in isolation, and sometimes with a sense of utter forlornness.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

See Uwe Siemon-Netto's Blog

Berfore I continue with my Berlin 1995 Diary, I want to encourage anyone who is interested in the up-coming Royal Wedding and the historical relationships between the British and German Monarchies or Royal Families to check out Uwe Siemon-Netto's link on the side of this posting. - If nothing else, it is a fun read and free of the world's obsession with drabness and violence. Karla.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Berlin Diary - January 3 to 7, 1995

January 3, 1995
We are in Berlin. The apartment shocked me on arrival. Like everything else, it too reminds me of WWII - primitive, cramped, above all cold. A reminder of the kalte Heimat after WWII – the destroyed one we left in Königsberg and the new one we entered in Werdau, Saxony. Want to start with my research right away but alas, other tasks need doing.

Building with WWII bullet holes

Yesterday, January 2, I found my way to the most important institution in the world, the bank.

I am in the West, my former home, but experienced myself as if shopping in unfamiliar stores. Had to buy bags and pack groceries myself, and then carried the heavy bags "home."

The only good thing I did was to contact my colleague at the research institute immediately. Above all, it was reassuring to learn that the archivists are expecting me.

The old gas stove in the kitchen depresses me. I cannot bring myself to touch it, so Irving cooked. He already knows that he will be doing it for the remainder of our stay in Berlin.

Another thing we have not solved, where and how to sleep. Our aristocratic landlady, a descendant of the famous theologian von Harnack (1851-1930), has obviously not checked the size and condition of the beds - nor has she checked the temperature of the "bedroom." – Our passion will save us, Irving says.

My task today is simple and straightforward. I must find my way to the archive using public transportation. I have the feeling that bus-drivers still do not know that Berlin is part of the new Germany and host city to many visitors. Bus stops are not announced! It is assumed we all know where to get off. When I ask in normal German where we are, the bus driver looks at me as if I am dada. “Ach Mensch,” I say frustrated, “Ich bin doch von Kanada.” “Ich auch,” he says and continues driving. Consider it sightseeing, Irving says.

Saturday January 7, 1995
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays I worked in the archive of the Berliner Missionswerk. The material is excellent. My having practiced writing in the old German Sutterlin script helps greatly reading missionaries' handwritings. Have some difficulty, however, getting used to the East Berlin atmosphere, to the mannerisms of East Berliners, to their poorer clothing and greyer buildings.

At the Berliner Missionswerk Archive

Irving cooked, shopped, and fixed various things in the apartment. He even went out and bought a new shower curtain and pink bathroom mats to cheer me up. Indeed, they brighten the old stuffy place. – Alas, there is method in his madness: he enjoys learning German at the stores; learning German equals shopping; he talks to all and sundry, and not just in the Goethe Institute. Only German grammar frustrates him; it is like a trap, even traps me at times.

Family matters took off too. The half-sister who is the most open and friendly, called back today. I let her know a few days ago that we arrived. She is already helping me plan our trip to her in Löhne. – Have not yet called my cousin E. in Hamburg nor contacted my childhood friend G. in Berlin. I am aware that calling all at once would overwhelm my emotions.

My contact at the Freie Univserität, a woman who, like me, had done research in Zambia, was preparing a paper for a conference in München. I will not see her until her return from there. She did suggest, however, that we participate in the colloquia at the Ethnological Institute of the university.

Our apartment is very cold. I freeze all the time. Telling our aristocratic landlady is useless. After all, she is not freezing. Fact is I have to buy warm clothing. The warm clothing that I brought from Canada, the land that is “really” cold, is simply not adequate. As if that is not enough, my attempt to sleep in the upstairs room was futile too. The temperature must have been sub-zero degrees. At any rate, I woke up with my hair frozen; on the top of my head it stood up like steel rods.

The beds too are too narrow; one is too short and too soft in the middle. When I pointed this out, the aristocratic landlady merely told me that a Chinese physicist had occupied that room. He was very happy in it, so happy in fact, that he asked to bring his wife over. She slept in that narrow, short, curved bed, and she was grateful – while I, alas, do nothing but complain.

Although our landlady is a retired physician, she has obviously not heard of marital intimacy. She is not nor ever was married – except to her ancestors, among them the founder of what is now called the Max Planck Institute.

I look at that bed and all I can think is poor Chinese woman; what did she really think? While I ponder whether I can stand it here for four months, Irving enjoys the city and travels about in it all day – learning German. He loves it. I am beginning to wonder whether my complaining has to do with my historical past. What is wrong with me? Do I want to see evidence of a harshness that once characterized wartime Germany? Is the evidence more in my heart than in Berlin?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Berlin Diary January 1 1995 - Continuation

January 1, 1995
On the train from Bonn to Berlin we pass Löhne. I strain my eyes to see all I can see because one of my sisters lives here. The countryside surrounding Löhne is attractive: rolling hills, farms, space for horses.

Didn't sleep last night, December 31, 1994. We spent New Year's Eve with M. and U.. Earlier that afternoon, we took a 7.3 km walk around lake Maria Laach. Its atmosphere is refreshing and healing, the artwork of monks enchanting. Above all, Maria Laach reminds me of the good work done by Catholics during the resistance against Hitler. For example, the monastery sheltered Konrad Adenauer in the spring of 1933 for about a year after the Nazis squeezed him out of his office as Lord Mayor of Cologne.

After the walk, we had coffee and cake in a hotel on the banks of the Rhein River. The current is swift. In the distance we see a castle. Below it the buildings look bright yellow, reflecting the yellow of a sinking sun. It rains intermittently. I'm surprised to note how green the area is, how balmy the weather. It is a stark contrast to the sharp, jagged, snow-covered mountains of Alberta.

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Back at the H’s home we had a light dinner. Then about 11:30 p.m. we took to the paths surrounding the fields of Odendorf. The intent is to be standing in the fields, amidst several villages and observe the fireworks from there. Midnight they begin. All around us the sky is lit up. Distant fireworks and explosions remind me violently of WWII. I mention it to M. and U. who understand.

Flowers near Maria Laach

And now we are on the train and Irving keeps helping people with their luggage. And I think to myself, I bet no one will help us with our seven pieces of luggage when we get off. The thought makes me anxious. In Bonn the train stopped, literally, for just two minutes and left. The elastic band of the case holder burst and split Irving's fingernail. I chased down a bandage while Irving and Michael loaded our suitcases, all in two minutes. Irving says nothing, just holds his bleeding finger. It hurts to look at it, and I wonder, will I last the four months?

Such is the unease of a German who became a refugee from Königsberg, East Prussia (then) to Netzschkau, Saxony, an escapee from the Soviet Zone to the British Zone, and an immigrant from Hamburg to Toronto.

To be continued

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Berlin Diary 1995 - Prelude

The first time I returned to Germany was in 1990. The Berlin wall had fallen and I was wondering whether the wall to my past would now also fall. Helping this wall disappear was my second task. The first task had to do with my profession. I am an anthropologist with years of research in Africa behind me. Now I was researching a project with global dimensions and that project took me to Germany.

On that first trip to Germany I found several people and learned several things. In Buxtehude, near Hamburg, I found some old school friends and a cousin whom I had last seen in 1953. Then in Werdau, a small hilly town in Sachsen, I discovered that my father's grave had been moved to Berlin. By whom, I wondered? It had to be one of my sisters. But which one and where were they? And how could I possibly find them when they had probably married and changed their last names?

Back in Canada, I followed a German colleague's suggestion and began to write to various Einwohnermeldeämter, registration offices, in various cities, starting with Werdau, to find out where my sisters might have moved to. One day I had an address and then an answer from each of the four living sisters. On the next research trip to Germany I would try and meet these four sisters. That opportunity came in 1995.

I tried to remember what I still knew of my sisters. My mother refused to speak about the past. All I knew is that these sisters were the offspring of a different mother but the same father. Since my mother was 19 years younger than my father had been, these sisters were also considerably older than I. Finally I knew that there had been terrible conflicts between the oldest sister and my mother. Where were we separated and why? We were in an orphanage together near Berlin, but where exactly and when? It must have been in the 1940s, possibly 1947, for in 1947 my father returned from Russian imprisonment and in 1948 he died from the horrible consequences of this brutal imprisonment. Around this time was the moment of permanent separation. With our father dead, each group of children was placed somewhere with its maternal kin--or so I assumed--and one of these maternal groups lived in Berlin.

In 1995, then, all roads led to Berlin. My research would take place in the Archives of the Berliner Missionswerk on Georgenkirchstrasse, in the eastern part of Berlin. We would live in a small apartment in Zehlendorf-Dahlem, in the western part of Berlin. Near Berlin would be the orphanage where we were last together and the cemetery where my father was granted his final rest. Each day I would criss-cross the city and criss-cross too, the heart of my own and my country's history - a country and a history that had become stranger to me than the Africa of my first field trip.

This Diary is a simple record of my equally simple thoughts, encounters, research findings, and tasks in Berlin. My husband and I arrived in Berlin after five difficult years of unrelenting stress. In this state I would do my research and sort out my personal life. I was not at all certain that I would succeed.

The Diary is reproduced as I recorded it, primarily on the route to and from work, usually archives or interviews. It starts in Bonn and Köln with a friend and colleague - one who had helped me find my way home on my first return to Germany in 1990.

December 31, 1994
We left Calgary December 28th. It had turned bitterly cold; the trees stood covered in ice. There was a question as to whether or not the plane would take off. It did.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The flight was straightforward and pleasant except for the incident with an elderly woman who sat in our assigned seats but refused to believe it. She also refused to show us her stub with the seat number. By her demand, we had to call the stewardess. When she spoke, I detected an accent. Let it be English, I prayed, not German. But German it was - or so Irving insisted. Let it be an example of human absurdity, I thought, not - already - an introduction to German pigheadedness. But pigheadedness it was. Eventually we had our rightful seats and I could follow peacefully my dreams of anticipation.

From Frankfurt/M. we took the train to Bonn. Our suitcases were lost, but they were delivered the same afternoon in Odendorf where we stayed with our friends and colleagues. Lufthansa delivers lost suitcases promptly. In this case, it saved our having had to carry them.

At the H's the atmosphere is cosy and warm and our friend is filled with things to do and say. His knowledge of languages is superb. So are his desktop publishing ventures.

The question that haunts me, however, is whether or not I shall overcome whatever it is that I am overcoming: anxiety, the past, fear of continuing in the same manner, fear of September and the university routine. Will I last and learn in Germany and enjoy the country as well?

On the evening of the 29th, M's son drove us to the Köln symphony. The avant-garde pieces were fascinating to hear, but what appealed to me most were the old pieces by Brahms. - Of this we must do more in Berlin. - The symphony hall was large and spacious with high ceilings and superb acoustics. Then the wonderful human element: suppression of coughs during the performance, a cacophony of them at each break.

December 30, 1994

Back to Köln to straighten out train tickets, see the dome; see the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, and the Käthe Kollwitz exhibition. Many years before me, Käthe Kollwitz was born but two or three houses from where I was born, on the Weidendamm, in Königsberg, which was then part of East Prussia.

The streets of Köln's inner city are bursting with people. We walk in the rain under a grey sky. At the end of the walk, we reward ourselves with a Torte. I think how similar the western world is and yet how different. Expressions of human bitterness are plastered on the scaffold surrounding the Kölner Dom. Resentment against Christianity is expressed in a crisp, bitter saying - when the crisp, bitter saying expressed only human ignorance of a long tradition.

Did Käthe Kollwitz's anti-war art make the least bit of difference? Did it increase our understanding of human suffering - could it if we were to let it? I found the fixation of her art on motherhood oppressive. But is that not my problem? What she said about World War I, namely, "never again," also looks hollow in light of the fact that World War II followed on its heels, indeed, is its direct consequence. Instead, should not her art have expressed a foreboding of the Second World War? Was her visual expression of suffering too politicised, too centred on stereotypical symbols? - On sterile phrases? - On mother and child? - On solidarity? Take solidarity. To my mind, solidarity is to communism as gay is to homosexuality. And while the meaning of gayness holds no further significance for me, the meaning of solidarity-cum-communism is palpable. It is there in every grey and dilapidated building of East Berlin. It is there in every out of shape and out of work East German.
to be continued
Berlin Parliament Buildings and Spree River

Potsdam - Happy Moment with Irving

Monday, March 28, 2011

German Elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz and the Christian Vote

This time I disagree with Uwe Siemon-Netto’s analysis. It is not ANGST but REASON that caused the change in the election results of Baden-Württemberg und Rheinland-Pfalz. Given the still developing disaster at Japan’s energy plants, it is reasonable to doubt the safety of nuclear energy plants generally and to doubt whether the best security and safety measures – rather than minimum ones as was the case in Japan – were applied to nuclear plants. Doubt here is reasonable. One has to look beyond the demonstrations.

Furthermore, what is significant is that the Green candidate Winfried Kretschmann, who will be the Ministerpresident in Baden-Württemberg, is Catholic. Of Catholic voters, 21% decided for the Greens, an increase of 11%. The CDU lost Catholic votes (48%, minus 8%) and Protestant votes (37%, minus 2%). What is the significant is the low Christian vote for the FDP (6% Protestants, 5% Catholics, and 4% other or no religions).

In Rheinland-Pfalz, 43% of Protestants voted for SPD and 28% of Protestants for CDU, which also got most Catholic votes. Two things are significant again: first, the FDP has been booted out – given its narrow policy focus on lower taxes, this is good – second, the Ministerpresident of the Land is Kurt Beck who is also a Catholic. Whether he will remain in office is yet uncertain because a coalition has yet to be formed.

Of importance again are the Catholic vote and the Catholic active presence in the primarily secular world of politics. For those who have read the talks between Jürgen Habermas, a secular philosopher, and Joseph Ratzinger, a Catholic theologian and now Pope, the vote shift to the Greens in light of the very real and serious atomic energy plant problem in Japan was to be expected. Ratzinger has always argued that faith does not contradict the humanistic idea of reason. Indeed, there is a necessary relatedness between reason and faith and reason and religion (Dialectic of Secularization 2006: 78). Likewise, Habermas argued, “philosophy has good reasons to be willing to learn from religious traditions” including significantly Christianity (p.42). In short, what the election results show me is that the sharp divisiveness between secularists and religious – as one sees in England and the U.S.A. – is rejected by these voters. Instead, there is a new and fruitful co-operation between the two – especially, when real problems need to be addressed. And the problem that Japan has thrown up is real and conducive to a new dialogue beyond simply the concern to lower taxes – although I have nothing against it at the right time and in the right circumstances.

To emphasize again, the important result in these two "provincial" elections is how well secularists and Christians can work together. Anything else is "Nebensache." Voters can easily return to other parties on the next election, especially, since the discussion on safe and economical energy production is far from over.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Total Defeat: Post-World War II Refugees and Reflections about Libya

In the summer of 1945, when in all towns and villages the posters hung with the pictures and stories from Belsen and the crucial statement, “You are the guilty!” Consciences grew uneasy, horror gripped many who had indeed not known this, and something rebelled: who indicts me there? No signature, no authority—the poster came as though from empty space (Jaspers 1947: 47).

World War II did not end in May of 1945 as we have been made to believe. To claim that is as dishonest as it is to claim now in 2011 that the Iraq war ended with the capture of Saddam. For Germans, World War II continued in a barbaric form well beyond 1945. I use the word barbaric deliberately because the war was now motivated, not by Hitler’s unconscionable desire for Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe nor by the necessity of the Allies to defeat and conquer Hitler’s Germany, it was motivated purely and simply by revenge — arbitrary revenge and terror.

After May 9 1945, the Allies were not hunting down the German army, which was defeated and destroyed, most of its soldiers either killed or imprisoned. Rather, the Allies, now as conquerors, and their numerous affiliated armed militias in Russia, Poland and then Czechoslovakia pitted themselves against unarmed German women, children, and the old, all civilians who were plundered, driven from their homes, interned, tortured or killed. Personal guilt or innocence of civilians was ignored. Not only was collective guilt assumed, it was used as a political weapon to justify leaving Germany suspended between life and death. According to various estimates, this war of retribution and revenge cost some two and a half million Germans their lives after the official hostilities ended.

Furthermore, it is estimated that 12 to 14 million Germans from Eastern Europe fled West, were expelled, incarcerated, or became victims of ethnic cleansing. For these millions, the conflict would continue until at least 1949 and often into the 1950s.

In my view, this further defeating of the already defeated was a post-war strategy of the Allied victors. It was done physically, psychologically, and culturally. Why was this done? Primarily, because the Allies believed their own and Goebbels’ propaganda, namely, that all Germans were happy Nazis. The German resistance, especially the Christian Military Resistance, which was known to be active, was ignored for Allied strategic reasons. And earlier, to win this brutal war, Allied propaganda needed to convince all of their citizens that every German was bad. After all, they needed to recruit young men.

I am reminded of Marion von Dönhoff, a courier for the German resistance. Her friends and family many of them part of the July 20 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler were brutally tortured and murdered in Hitler’s concentration camps. In 1945, von Dönhoff went to Nuremburg (Nürnberg) to observe the war crimes trials. She found the whole process highly questionable. She saw the superficial attempt at Nürnberg to separate the bad from the good. Since those presiding "denied the German resistance, however, there were no good people – and so the whole event turned into a kind of extermination (Vernichtung) of the Germans" (Schad 2001:285 my italics).

What happened in post-war Germany will never be repeated – at least not in this manner nor on that scale. German wrong-doing that preceded it was too great. But I fear we have not learned from it. At present, academics, reporters, politicians, and many citizens are discussing war, its nature, and its necessity--not as George Jonas suggests the Peace of Westphalia, which stood for economic recovery and respect for political sovereignty rather than vengefulness.

The discussions about war are no doubt valuable. But we are still not discussing the immediate aftermath of war – a time period that may last several years, even decades. Post-war periods are disturbingly unpredictable. Above all, because legal vacuums form, all elements to the conflict tend to settle scores. The consequences are bitter and cost uncountable innocent lives.

Here it is interesting to mention that the German resistance, or most resisters, knew that the price for their opposition was death - their deaths, but perpetrated against them by Hitler's executioners. Even then, they hoped that their sacrifice would help spare the civilian population. This was not to be. -- And indeed television reports from Libya have shown similar awareness of sacrifice on the part of its protesters. But these resisters were wounded by those who are enforcing the no-fly zone. The significance, however, is not that these Libyans seem to accept the risk. The signifigance is rather that their resistance against Gaddafi is recognized by the Americans, British, and French - the very powers that did not acknowledge German resistance way back then. Which is, in my view, an additional reason why Germany should have agreed to the no-fly zone proposal - but instead abstained. Did young parliamentarians forget to discuss this issue?

Nor are we discussing how to deal with the defeated. While defeat, even of definable bad people, is its own punishment, victors and their allied militias or rebels usually cannot resist taking revenge. While in some cultures revenge is considered appropriate behavior in certain circumstances, in my view and in a civilized world, revenge can never be justified either within or without the law. Furthermore, the rule of law is usually absent in postwar situations, when, in fact, it should be the first thing to be established or re-established.

What I am saying is that currently America, Britain, and France among others, are helping people in that region. The intentions are good. The people there are calling for western help. The risk of unexpected or ugly consequences, however, is great and largely unforseeable. Have the U.S., the UN, or NATO prepared post-conflict strategies so that wars of retribution will be prevented? The stories of refugees in the collection camps on the Tunisian side of the border would make one doubt that.

In Memorium: Eberhard Hahn (1939 - 2011) Rostock - Toronto

Each one of us is born into a time and a country.
And its history – light or heavy – is a weight on our shoulders.
Think about it. Eberhard was born at the beginning of 1939.
About seven months later, we were in an unnecessary and finally brutal war.
Chaos, destruction, and dislocation followed.
When both of his parents died – one after the other — having first, however, left the German Democratic Republic for the Federal Republic, Eberhard aged 22 and his younger brother came to Canada. They exchanged the pain of a fractured life, you might say, for an adventure.
Though without means, he brought something with him. Two things really – or two skills perhaps. The first was caring. – He learned it the hard way while looking after his much older father – and then extending that care, as tender as it was practical, to his brother and the family that sits among you.

The second skill was a technical one – but it was more than that. It was a gift – a creative gift – to build, to solve problems, to innovate and enhance, to repair and explain – and above all to make something work, so that brain, hands, tools, and skills made whole what was broken and real what was theoretical. He turned these skills into a way of life. He used them both to support and to play. Perhaps play out a childhood that he never had, while yet raising, supporting, and encouraging his wife and children.
Because he was color blind, he could not realize his dream of becoming a pilot. – And yet, you might say, he hung onto flying – if only by “remote control” – all of his life.
RC flying and gliding became his hobby. He remained loyal to it and his family – and friends – until the end. Until, quite literally Wednesday, March 16, when he died.
To my mind, caring and making things for and with others – is a rare gift – almost ethereal – and yet as real as a coffee table, or a model airplane, or a child’s science project, or a car, or a machine.
Eberhard! We – your family and friends – know that you have escaped our “remote control.” – We know that you are flying outside of this world to a landscape beyond all distance. – We accept your parting with pain, and bid you “auf wiedersehen.” – Karla.

Last Day

He cannot stay in bed and rest.
Knows medics come to resuscitate.
His soul left quietly knowing best.
Ending his agonizing fate.

Chagall’s Crucifixion hung over his bed.
Yet he did not believe in the church, he said.
Did he harbor secretly a faith in Christ?
Was that the spirit was that his Geist?

Whatever it was whether faith or frown.
He bore the cancer cross.
And though his sickness nailed him down,
His life was not a loss.