CAT | German and other heroes
“Coping with our past means sitting in session about ourselves and about the dangerous factors in our history, everything which has been inhumane here – with the innate consequence of a profession of truly humane values in the past and in the present time”, Fritz Bauer wrote in 1961 when he was already deeply involved in the preparation of the Auschwitz Trials in Frankfurt (Wojak, p. 358, my translation). It was by no means self-evident that these trials would take place; it needed someone with Fritz Bauer’s energy and determination to get them going. Although he was not involved in the actual trials, he was the chief of the prosecuting agency and the directing spirit behind them.
With 22 defendants, 19 counsels for the defense, three judges, four public prosecutors, and 360 witnesses, the first Auschwitz Trial (1963-65) was the largest criminal case in Germany’s post-war history (see Wojak, pp. 317-362). In the end, six of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment; others received sentences between 3.5 and 14 years, for murder and/or joint complicity in murder. More important than the verdicts was what the trial (and several successor trials) brought to the surface for everyone to see. Again, Fritz Bauer had invited historians to present their expert opinions on the Nazi regime and the whole system of persecution and mass murder. Although their expertise and the broad individual documentation of the terror in the camp in the survivors’ testimony did not lead to an immediate change in the general attitude toward Germany’s criminal past, the Auschwitz Trial was a turning point in the long run. The confrontation with so much individual suffering had broken the wall of silence.
While Fritz Bauer’s view of the full juridical responsibility of the perpetrators, who had not just aided and abetted murder but knowingly joined a murder-machinery and thus had been murderers themselves, again did not prevail, the defendants at least had to account for their deeds. This was much less so in other fields. Fritz Bauer’s activities against his own profession came to nothing. You won’t believe it, but not one of the judges of the infamous Volksgerichtshof or of any other Nazi law court was ever tried successfully after 1945. Thousands of those who had participated in unjust Nazi trials and imposed unjust verdicts remained in office; they became the juridical elite of the Federal Republic.
And one other series of Fritz Bauer’s major trials, against the physicians and the administrators of the euthanasia project, the precursor of the holocaust against the Jews, also was an almost complete failure. Only four of the defendants, some of whom had killed thousands of handicapped adults and children, were (mildly) sentenced to prison. Six were considered unable to stand trial (they often lived long lives after the trials and continued practicing as physicians right away or after a short time), and four were set free because they had not been aware that what they were doing was unjust!
No wonder Fritz Bauer felt increasingly isolated and saw the clouds darken over the final years of his life. As one of his friends, the writer Horst Krüger, said: “Fritz Bauer was a rare fortune in our judiciary and a miracle in our nation of obedient civil servants” (Wojak, p. 358).
(My foto shows a small part of the “Frankfurt Stairs”, a mosaic of almost two million pieces on the wall at the ground floor of one of Frankfurt’s tallest building. The unending staircase has a number of people on it, including 56 famous Frankfurtians – among them the physician Paul Ehrlich, the businessman Oskar Schindler, the painter Max Beckmann, or the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Fritz Bauer stands at the bottom to the right. On his left, a few stairs up, you can see Anne Frank.)
In 1962, Fritz Bauer wrote about his return to Germany in 1949: “I came back, because I believed I could bring (…) some of the spirit and determination of resistance in the emigration in their fight against governmental injustice with me. German democracy had already failed once because it had no democrats. I wanted to be one of them. The German judiciary had already failed once when it ought to have defended the democracy but had misused its power – and crimes of government had been endless between 1933 and1945 (…). I wanted to be a lawyer who would not just pay lip service to the law and to justice, to humaneness and peace (Wojak, p. 232, my translation).”
The Remer trial in 1952 formed an important early part in Bauer’s efforts to help build a new and just German democracy. Otto Ernst Remer, the former commander of a battalion which had been instrumental in putting down the rebellion of July 20, 1944 in Berlin, was a member of the Sozialistische Reichspartei (SRP), a successor of the NSDAP. (It was prohibited by the Constitutional Court in 1952.) Bremer had spread slander and defamation against the resistance, whose activists he called traitors – a view still held by most Germans at the time.
Fritz Bauer wanted to use the trial against Bremer to legitimate the resistance, and he won, against severe odds (see Wojak, pp. 265-279). Hardly any of the officials in the judiciary, the police or in administration who had built up the Nazi regime and committed thousands of crimes against the opposition, had been tried successfully. Typically, in 1951 a court in Munich had acquitted the judge who had sentenced a number of famous resisters to death in the closing days of the war. The argument was that they had indeed committed high treason according to the law of the time.
Together with witnesses from the resistance and experts in history and moral theology, Fritz Bauer argued that the activists of July 1944 never intended to harm Germany but wanted to save it, and (2) that in all democratic and many other traditions people were entitled to resist their government, if it no longer respected their basic human rights. In his powerful and moving final speech, he said: “A political regime embodying injustice such as the Third Reich cannot even be the object of high treason at all (Wojak, p. 274).”
Bremer was sentenced to three months in prison. The case and the verdict were a historical turning point, although in strict juridical terms, Fritz Bauer’s success was limited. He had only rehabilitated one group of resisters, and he had had to focus on their intentions. Objectively, they still had committed treason in the eyes of the vast majority of his colleagues.
Deserters and their families had to wait the longest. In the 1990s, German courts rehabilitated a number of individual deserters, many of whom had been sentenced to death and executed during the war. Finally, in 2005, the German Federal Parliament rehabilitated all deserters from the Wehrmacht generally and collectively. By then, even those who had survived the war were mostly dead.
(My foto shows a court building in Frankfurt on Main with Article 1 of our constitution on it: Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar/Man’s dignity is inviolable. Fritz Bauer had it placed there.)
Fritz Bauer, Fighter for Human Rights and a New Germany (part 1)
Fritz Bauer (1903-1968) has always been one of post-war Germany’s most important lawyers, but for quite a long time he was not remembered well (and certainly not remembered fondly by many). That seems to have changed somewhat during the last 15 years. In the mid-1990s, the Fritz-Bauer-Institute was founded in Frankfurt on Main to do research on and to document the Holocaust and its effects until today. For example, the Institute has a complete documentation of the Auschwitz Trial. In 2009, a large and wonderful biography by Irmtraud Wojak was published (see photo); and in 2010 a documentary film released: Fritz Bauer – Tod auf Raten/Death by Installments. It is a very good film, but I think my heading is more appropriate.
Before I tell you more about Fritz Bauer’s life, his achievements and failures, I want to give you an idea of the person and his character. In a short article, one of the very few in which he talks at some length about himself, he starts off with a story from his childhood. When he was eleven years old, one of his teachers asked him what he would like to become. He painted a large plate with his name and the term “Oberstaatsanwalt” (chief public prosecutor) on it. He did not really know then what a public prosecutor was, except that it meant something like a better lawyer. He adds that even today (i.e. in 1955), he would prefer the term “Rechtsanwalt” (lawyer, literally a representative of the law) instead of “Staatsanwalt” (public prosecutor, literally a representative of the state). Fritz Bauer was well aware of the fateful German tradition in the law profession to support the state, any state, and any laws decreed by it. He feels a lawyer should support the rights of man and their social existence, even against the state, certainly against a despotic state.
The major reason behind these early ideas about his vocation was an unpleasant experience in his very first days in elementary school. He had won a box in a contest, but after school some of his classmates attacked him. At some time, they started screaming: “you and you parents, you have murdered Jesus Christ.” When his mother consoled him and told him about the historical background, he was still unhappy; not only about the unjust attack against him but also about Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Policemen (who later turned into lawyers) would prevent all this. Reflecting on his event, he wrote:
“I still have this childhood experience clearly in front of my eyes, as if it happened yesterday. The harm and disappointment which this young school beginner suffered, his still vague rebellion against injustice wherever it occurs, his determination to resist and his daydream about a better, a good world, have “developed along my life”, to use Goethe’s basic words.”
Fritz Bauer ends his article with a distinction between two different kinds of lawyers, the law and order lawyer, and the freedom and liberty lawyer. He had found this distinction in an introduction into the law by Gustav Radbruch, a professor whom the Nazis dismissed in 1933 because he was a Social Democrat: “’These (freedom) lawyers are the outposts of the constitutional state against our innate penchant for the police state. For us, constitutional state is not only a political, but also a cultural term. It means preserving freedom against order, life against reason, chance against rule, richness against system.’ I had underlined these words heavily; I knew where I wanted to belong (Fritz Bauer, Im Kampf um des Menschen Rechte/Fighting for the Rights of Man; from the internet – my translation).”
Memorials at Hanau’s Main Cemetery
On Sunday, we went to Hanau. It was my first trip with a navigator, so it was no problem to find the “Hauptfriedhof” there. The weather was beautiful: very cold, but nine hours sunshine; we haven’t had that for long time. The atmosphere at Hanau’s main cemetery, a very long and spacious rectangle, was serene and peaceful, even bright. With the help of a notice board, which listed famous Hanovians and the places of their graves, we found the memorial stone for Elisabeth Schmitz. It is even more beautiful than I had thought, so I made the new photograph which you can see in part 1. (Mr. Gailus’ book only has a black and white picture of it.)
We also discovered signposts pointing to a field of graves for forced laborers. It is in a corner at the cemetery’s far end. Close to 300 people are buried there. Some graves have tombstones, others have very small nameplates only; some are anonymous mass graves. From the dates on the inscriptions, we learned that most of the forced laborers had died very young, at 18, 19 or in their early twenties! A large number died on March 19, 1945, the day when Hanau was almost completely destroyed in an air-raid. (Elisabeth Schmitz’ house was the only one in her street which remained standing, essentially unscathed.) Most of Hanau’s regular inhabitants had already left the city and moved to the countryside.
As you can see, the field looks plain and unattended. But there was, at one place, a wreath from the city of Hanau which must have been laid down recently. The memorial plate, which the city put up on the inside of the wall at the entrance in 1996, has the following inscription:
During the National Socialist terror, more than 10.000 human beings were deported as forced laborers to Hanau between 1942-1945. Women and men from Poland, the Soviet Republics, Belgium, the Netherlands and France were interned in 38 camps in our city. Many of them were tortured to death through hard work, hunger and violence, or seriously injured for the rest of their lives. We remember these victims of the criminal Nazi rule in mourning and shame. Hanau in the Year 1996, The Town Council
Elisabeth Schmitz, a Protesting Protestant (part 3)
I wish, Elisabeth Schmitz’ memorandum of 1935/36 on the situation of the “non-Aryans” was compulsory reading in all German schools. Just take the first three pages on “The Agitation of Public Opinion”. Try to think of the vilest racist statement you can imagine. You will find that Schmitz’ quotations of public addresses, not only by leading Nazi figures but by common professional organizations such as regional chapters of physicians (!), will surpass it in their ugliness, perversion, and violence against the Jews and “Aryan” Germans close to them.
In vivid detail, she discusses the separation of “Aryans” and Jews and the latter’s increasing discrimination and persecution; the burdens which the Nazis and their supporters bring on friends, lovers, married couples and their children or their trusted nannies, on old couples and the guardians they have relied on for years, and above all on “non-Aryans”. She is particularly concerned about the pain inflicted on the children, although she never had children of her own. Imagine how much it hurts, when a girl or a boy has to walk behind in the distance and alone during an excursion of his or her class, just because he or she is Jewish.
And she lists the material threats to the everyday lives of hundreds and thousands of Germans no longer considered part of the community or nation. This is her comment on the exclusion of Jewish Germans from the big nationwide welfare program in late 1935:
(…) after one has robbed the Jews of their positions, employment, income, a major part of their means to exist at all; after one has deprived them even of their honour; after their pauperization, violently brought about, has made terribly fast progress – one tells them, right before the onset of winter, that one has withdrawn help from their poor and poorest, forcing them to build a new huge organisation out of thin air (Gailus, p. 240, my translation).
Even the Jewish soldiers who had fought in World War I are no longer spared. To prove their worth to their country, the “Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten” (Association of Jewish Front-line Soldiers) publishes, in 1935, “Letters from the Front of Jewish Soldiers Killed in Battle”. In one of these letters, a Jewish soldier who gave his life out of love for his German Fatherland had complained about the anti-Semitic slander even then: “What more do they want than our blood? May they use the blood shed by our fellow Jews for further racial studies; the enemy’s bullets don’t bother to make such distinctions, thank God!”
Elisabeth Schmitz concludes that there was a “cold pogrom” going on in Germany:
As the examples show, it is not an exaggeration if one talks about the attempt to annihilate Jewry in Germany. They have said from the beginning, they did not need a Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; they had “other methods”. (…) We need to understand that hundreds, perhaps many more human lives have already become victims of this persecution. (…) It has been reported that at the beginning someone in Sweden used these devastating words: “The Germans have a new God, whose name is Race, and they bring him human sacrifice.” – Who can dare deny this? (Gailus, p. 237-238)
And to all this she adds the desperation about her Church, which either supports the regime or keeps silent:
In humane terms, the guilt that all this could happen, in front of the eyes of the Christians, will weigh on the Christians of Germany, for all times and with all nations and not least with our own future generations as witnesses (Gailus, p. 241-242).
She wrote this sentence in 1935, several years before the “real” holocaust!
Elisabeth Schmitz, a Protesting Protestant – Part 2
Elisabeth Schmitz was born into a typical Wilhelminian upper middle class family: Protestant, conservative and patriarchal, a family in which “Bildung” (education and culture) was considered a central achievement. She went to one of the first grammar schools for girls and also to university. She studied German literature, History and Theology in Berlin and became closely acquainted and friends with the family of the famous liberal Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack.
She was a grammar school teacher in Berlin until early 1939. In 1933, she joined the Protestant opposition against the Nazis. She participated in discussion
groups, communicated with a network of liberal friends and exchanged letters with well-known Protestant theologians. In April 1933 (!), e.g., she wrote to Karl Barth:
Among the circle of my closest friends I devastatingly experience the consequences of the persecution of the Jews. To me, the flood of ingratitude, injustice, hatred, lies, bestiality which has hit our Jewish co-nationals, seems such terrible proof of the sin and guilt of the “Christian” side that we ought to be, in a sense quite different from its usual meaning, in the grip of deadly fear of God’s judgement. But the Church is celebrating festivals of victory, celebrates Easter in the “mood of victory which has currently caught our German people” as someone said in a sermon here (…) and as has certainly been said in similar words in thousands of others (quoted in Gailus, p. 84).
A few weeks later, when Barth published his vehement protest against the Protestant Church’s self-transformation into a racio-national Church of the Third Reich, she wrote to him in emphatic agreement:
(…) today we experience, in the Church, a movement of godlessness of dimensions previously unknown (…) It also seems to me that the “blood”-madness is gradually producing an atmosphere of pathology and stifling heat equal to that of the mania against the witches (Gailus, p. 85).
In 1935/36, Schmitz wrote the famous anonymous memorandum (see my part 3). After the November pogroms in 1938, she fell ill and asked for permission to retire early, at the age of 45. In her application, she pointed to her physical and psychological problems and said she had come to the conclusion that she could not represent her subjects any longer in a way which the National Socialist state expected from her. She was lucky; her application was accepted and she even received a (reduced) pension.
When Helmut Gollwitzer gave a courageous sermon of repentance on November 16, 1938 at Berlin-Dahlem, Elisabeth Schmitz sent him a letter of gratitude (she had sent him other letters before the sermon, and it is quite likely that they were a factor in his decision to speak out):
When we remained silent on April 1, 1933, when we remained silent about the “Stürmer” boxes (newspaper boxes with the violently anti-Semitic paper “Der Stürmer”, which were all over Germany, GK), about the satanic inflammatory articles in other papers, about the poison¬ing of the soul of the German people and its youth, about the destruction of lives and marria¬ges through so-called “laws”, about the methods of Buchenwald – here and in thousands of other instances we have become sinners at November 10, 1938. (…) It seems that the Church even this time, when the stones are really screaming, will leave it to the understanding and the courage of the individual minister whether he will say something and what.
(…) Nothing is impossible in this country, we know that. (…) We have seen the annihilation of property, for this purpose the shops had been marked during the summer this year. If one moves to marking people – then a conclusion is near which I do not want to describe more precisely. And nobody will dare say that these orders will not be executed just as promptly, as unscrupulously and obstinately, as maliciously and satanically as the present ones. (…) I am convinced that – should it come to that – with the last Jew Christianity too will disappear from Germany. I cannot prove it, but I believe so (Gailus, p.121-122).
When the Nazis continuously increased their pressure on the Protestant opposition during the war, and when more and more people among her circle of friends and communication were under threat of arrest or even death, Elisabeth Schmitz withdrew to Hanau in 1943, to her parents’ house. She continued to help endangered friends and saved at least one more person from deportation. After the war, she became a teacher again. Although she was known to the relevant authorities as an anti-Fascist, she never spoke about her activities in the Nazi era in public and nobody, neither the Church nor the city of Hanau, cared about them. A single woman all her life and very conservative in her appearance, she had towered thousands, millions of other Protestant Germans in her beliefs and her religious and her general humane thinking, attitude, and actions.
This beautiful memorial stone stands in the main cemetery of the city of Hanau, 25 km east of Frankfurt. It is devoted to a brave woman who had been virtually unknown until the end of the 20th century. The stone was erected in 2005, but she had already died in 1977. Last year, an historian published a wonderful biography: Manfred Gailus, Mir aber zerriss es das Herz. Der stille Widerstand der Elisabeth Schmitz, Göttingen 2010 (My Heart Was Torn Apart. The Quiet Resistance of Elisabeth Schmitz). Steven D. Martin, an American theologian, has made a film about “Elisabeth of Berlin”, based on Mr. Gailus’ research (see www.vitalvisuals.com).
In Berlin, where she lived from 1915 up to 1943, Elisabeth Schmitz had been an active member of the “Bekennende Kirche” (Confessing Church), the Protestant minority who resisted identification and total collaboration with the Nazi regime as practiced by the “German Christians”. And she was a minority within this minority. She criticized the BK’s timidity and vacillation, and took a strong stand against its more traditional anti-Judaism and the new racist anti-Semitism which she found even there. And she helped many of her Jewish or “non-Aryan” Protestant friends, supported them, hid them, and assisted them in getting out of Germany.
Never before have I seen such lucidity in the contemporary observation and condemnation of Nazi barbarism as in her letters since 1933 and in her anonymous memorandum of 1935/36, which she had duplicated and sent to a number of people in the Protestant opposition. And rarely has anybody in the Christian Churches, at that time, ever demanded a new, i.e. a truly Christian theology of the relationship between Christians and Jews, as she did. It has taken more than 60 years after the Nazis for such a process of theological recognition and search for commonality to come to fruit.
As a whole, Protestantism, i.e. my Church, failed dismally in the 20th century; it betrayed its own God and its chief “hero”, the Jew Jesus Christ. As a kind of national religion, it was closely allied with the Prussian-German state. It supported not only militant nationalism and war, but later also ethno-national racism and the persecution of religious minorities. Typical of the 1930s, one notorious Protestant built an institute with up to 30 employees who searched parish registers for traces of Jewish, “colored”, Sinti or Turkish “blood” in the genealogy of Protestant families, only to denounce them to the Nazis. He was not taken to account by the Church after the war, he remained its accepted member and employee. To be sure, there was soul-searching, there were public confessions of guilt in and by the Protestant Church, but “sweeping under the carpet – deleting from memory – not talking about ‘that’ – all these remained dominant ways of dealing with its own past (…) between 1950 and 1990 (Gailus 2010, p. 180, my translation)”.
Erwin Dold, a humane KZ Commander
“You simply cannot do that to people”. Your quotation from Mina Lautenschlaeger is the simple and basic norm of humanity which some Germans, certainly too few, followed even in the years of organized inhumanity in Germany. (Other brave opponents had more ideological motivations.) You would not believe it, but there even existed one humane commander of a (minor) KZ, which seems a contradiction in terms. I learned about him from a book on non-violent resistance against Hitler which my elder daughter gave me. (She has been active in non-violent civic action groups for years.)
When a French military tribunal tried KZ commanders, command leaders, block leaders, camp elders, and kapos at Rastatt in the French zone on February 1st, 1947 and sentenced 21 of them to death, it also set one man free: Erwin Dold. He was the only one of the 50 accused who had “shown sentiments of humanity” and “broken with the order of terror”.
As an adolescent, Dold had joined the „Hitlerjugend“; at 18 he volunteered for the “Luftwaffe”. His plane was shot down and he was seriously wounded. Later he worked as a military truck driver. In 1944, when the SS sent more of its members to the front and needed replacements in the camps from the Army, he was ordered to join an industrial watch command. He became a member of the staff at Haslach and then a commander at Dautmergen, two of a few dozen small dependencies of the major KZ Natzweiler-Struthof, which were put up in the final phase of the war to support German industry and the war effort.
The situation of the forced laborers was terrible; about half of them died from disease, hunger, exhaustion, neglect or violence, many were deliberately worked to death. Dold was shocked by the mountains of corpses, and when he took over responsibility he considered this, in contrast to the all the other camp commanders, a responsibility towards “his” workers as well. He saw them as other human beings, not different from himself. He stopped sending sick prisoners to work, improved the ratios of bread, worried about better shoes, and had the barracks repaired. He used false papers and orders, supplied workers with army uniforms, and together with them “organized” truckloads of potatoes and (illegally) slaughtered meat. (He was from a small town in the area, and his father helped him with money to pay the farmers and with suggestions for hidden routes.)
When the Gestapo ordered Dold to collect a firing squad to execute 22 Russian prisoners of war (in front of all other prisoners), he refused. Witnesses later confirmed that a shouting match ensued which ended with the sentence: “You will never become a good SS man.” Dold got away with his decision unharmed, but he risked his life every day.
When a watchman accused a prisoner of trading with cardboard soles of shoes and took him to the commander, Dold only had his shoes repaired. This prisoner was one of many witnesses who were willing to testify in Dold’s favor; he had more than he needed. Dold also became a witness himself in several trials against war criminals. When he returned to his old home town, he did not talk about his activities and his experience until fifty years later. Opinions about him have remained ambiguous: Some people still see him as a KZ commander first; others believe he was a hero. One thing is beyond doubt: In the camps at Haslach and Dautmergen, there was only one who actively cared for the survival of its prisoners: Erwin Dold. To be sure, there were differences in the degrees of bestiality among the KZ commanders and the watchmen and -women. As far as I know, Dold was the only humane KZ commander. He was an exception.
Fern Schumer Chapman
Happy New Year, or I should say Guten Rusch to you.
The new year is a time of great reflection. We ask ourselves how can we improve ourselves in the coming months. It is a good time to think about the question you have posed: What is a hero?
I have been mulling over how I can answer you these last days. I agree with Mr. Primor’s definition. ”Heroes are people who show the courage of their convictions.” The truest “hero” I know is Mina Lautenschlager who is featured in my book, Motherland. Her heroism is rooted in her steadfast refusal – in big and small ways –to succumb to the pressures of Nazism in the 1930s and her absolute belief that, as she told me in 1990, “You simply cannot do these things to people.“
That may not sound particularly heroic, but in the political climate of the 1930s, that kind of resistance was rare. Interestingly, when I asked Mina at that time if she saw herself as a hero, she completely rejected the idea. She simply saw herself as human. If you ask others who have performed heroic acts, I think that they would agree with Mina’s assessment. My son is a paramedic and I have become acquainted with that culture through his stories. I often think about the many firefighters and paramedics who lost their lives in 9/11. That culture doesn’t see these acts – risking their own lives to save the lives of others – as heroic. They simply see it as doing their jobs.
Heroism is evident to me in large acts of rescue and small acts of defiance. I think it’s even evident in how we conduct ourselves in our day-to-day lives. For example, it seems to me, even an individual who has been raised in an abusive or dysfunctional family who tries to alter the dynamic and protect his or her children from that pattern is heroic. That transitional person refuses to fall victim to pattern or be a bystander, thereby continuing the damaging family dynamic and can lead to a public effect as well (as we have discussed in earlier blogs). The commitment to change requires awareness, steadfastness and resistance – three elements Mina embodied.
One of the international organizations that teaches tolerance to school children is called “Facing History.” It tries to instill in youngsters the understanding that each of us is confronted with small moral choices every day. The organization emphasizes that how we respond in those circumstances is critical to our own self definition and our citizenship. I completely agree. Nazi Germany is a great example of the dangers of doing nothing.
Here’s hoping that all of us around the world will make small, mindful, moral — even heroic — choices in 2011.