Remagen Federal German Republic
John M. Wilkins is the 1967 Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from The Tacoma News Tribune. Permission to publish this article may be sought from The Managing Editor, The Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington.
My friend Reinhardt Pfundtner, of Darmstadt, apparently is the only one on my list of 10 former elite German youths not to have died in the armed forces of the Third Reich.
Now almost 48, he won his city’s senior tennis championship during my visit there this May shortly after my arrival in Germany. In light of his background, the victory did not surprise me in the least. During one of his three periods as an escaped prisoner of war in Canada he had made his living as a semi-professional hockey player. (The war was just over, so during this period he wasn’t desperate to get back to Germany; he was merely trying to stay out of POW camp. But after his 1942 escape he went to Ottawa and tried to get the Vichy French ambassador to take him to Germany in a large “diplomatic” trunk.) No, the big surprise about Reinie had come to me several months before my trip to Germany–the news that he was alive.
Of the 10 German exchange students I knew in 1935 at Tabor Academy, Marion, Mass., the dynamic Pfundtner was to seem in retrospect the most likely to have been killed first. But in Germany I am becoming used to surprises.
During one of several long sessions with me in our May reunion, Reinie characterized his age group as “a lost generation, compelled to fight its best friends.” The term “generation of lieutenants” I owe to David binder, of the New York Times, over a cup of coffee in Bonn.
“The Germans in their forties and early fifties have had it up to their teeth,” Binder said. “They had it on the Eastern Front and in Africa and Italy and France and Germany. They had it as Nazis or under the Nazis or while being de-Nazified. They had it under the occupations and in the cold war. But now for the first time they are coming into positions of power in government and business. Many are enjoying the game of power, just for the game, and there is a ruthlessness in some of the games. You are right in saying there was idealism–of sorts–among many National Socialists in the 1930s. Well, what happened to it among those who survived? How was it exploited and eroded over the years? How much of it remains and how will it be applied?”
A Look Back
The 10 exchange students I knew 32 years ago ranged from 16 to 18 years of age and were drawn from among four “National Political Institutes of Education.”
By 1935 the German government had established a dozen such schools, most of them on the foundations of pre-World War I cadet schools of the Prussian type. The military stress had been forbidden in the peace settlement, so they attempted to follow the English public school pattern until 1933. Then, as National Political schools, the military aspect returned, coupled in the late 1930s with growing S.S. influence. However, these spartan schools never became as drenched with ideology as the other elite schools–the Adolph Hitler Schools–and the 10 exchange students had not been crammed with as much nonsense as an American might now suppose when generalizing about the total Hitler era.
I have received definite word on seven of the exchange students; six died in the war, Reinie being the survivor. Chances are slight that any of the other three survived, though several Germans with appropriate backgrounds are helping me seek news of them.
Reinie attributes his own survival to two “Zpitfeuers” that shot down his Junker 88 reconnaissance plane near Bristol in 1941. He bailed out, received hospital treatment. and then spent five years in and out of Canadian POW camps.
My project of tracking down the 10 Germans was making me feel like a ghoul by the time I finally got to Darmstadt to visit Reinie. As a newsman with a fellowship coming up for a year of study and travel in Germany, I had felt that interviewing the survivors about their experience of national socialism would provide me with a perspective from which to view contemporary German developments. But letters had begun arriving in Tacoma:
“Hans-Heinz Bosenius was killed in action in Poland in 1939…Friedrich-Hermann von der Luhe was killed in action in Russia in 1942…Edgar von Seidlitz died on the Eastern Front before America got into the war…Emil Claussen was killed in action at sea in 1943…Wolfgang Starke was an antiaircraft battery commander, killed in 1941 when the battery was in ground action… Hubert Hund did not come back…”
In short, I put my “project” out of mind as I approached Reinhardt Pfundtner’s office in May. I was visiting a friend I hadn’t seen in 32 years, a friend who was alive after all.
His small but smart office and display room are in an attractive modern office building near the railway station, an area that was still almost completely flattened from bombing when he moved to Darmstadt in 1948. Last February he moved his business to its present site from a cramped, rickety little building on a narrow street. He wholesales light industrial products–ball bearings, electric motors, tools. With two salesmen on the road and with his wife helping with the books, he is finally beginning to “make it,” augmenting his income by selling for an investment trust.
He was expecting me sometime during the week. I gave my card to the inside salesman and as he headed for Reinie’s office I framed a picture of the Pfundtner at Tabor when he was 17 and I 15.
About five-feet-six, with massive chest, lean waist pile-driver legs, he had the neck and shoulders of a light-heavyweight wrestler; he was a panther on the soccer field and the top tennis player at Tabor. He was intelligent, exuberant and friendly. Though I believe the label “cocky” was pinned on him by some of the Americans, he was generally admired even if grudgingly in some cases.
In Darmstadt I was prepared to meet him on the basis of the young man I had known and liked and tried to convince that Louis would take Schmeling; already I was giving him the benefit of the doubt in regard to the worst features of Nazism. Certainly all of the 10 had been indoctrinated, but over the years I recalled them, generally, as gentlemen, brimming with what I am tempted to call “idealism” though I’ll settle for “youth.” They expressed their “Germanism” in such things as delightful group singing, athletic elan and high spirits tempered with studiousness. True, there had been a sickening pantomime of “Jewishness” by one of them–but he was turned off by a German rather than any of the Americans watching.
(Indeed, if my attitude toward these Germans seems soft, the hypnotic effects of national socialism can be judged by the spell cast on some of the American Tabor exchange students who spent a year in the National Political schools. One wrote to me recently that he enjoyed his friendships with classmates, that he received good instruction, that he especially liked the military games, and that “the nationalism which was present at the time was very infectious and when my time came to leave before Christmas of 1935 I was almost tempted to stay–especially since the school was scheduled to leave on a skiing expedition into the German Alps.”
(Another American, now a psychologist, sent me a tape recording which presented his thoughts of a few months ago, when he lay on a “couch” and relived his year at a National Political school and his vacation periods with a German family whose son was attending Tabor. He had gone to Germany with a chip on his shoulder, primarily because of the anti- Semitism and nationalism of which he had read. He recalls that the anti-Semitism beamed at him in Germany was not rationalized on Nazi racial theories but on strictly economic arguments–the claim that Jews held a disproportionate share of the country’s wealth. He could not examine the validity of the “percentages” presented to him; the arguments prevailed; when he returned to The States and entered college he did not regard himself as an anti-Semite, but he did defend part of the Nazi case with those economic arguments. And the general economic argument was what enlisted his qualified support of national socialism: he lived with a family whose savings had been wiped out by inflation;
he saw the Germans as reviving, as being happy and overwhelmingly in favor of the regime, as having had their self-respect restored by the Hitler movement. This former young liberal–who is now a middle-aged liberal–flew a swastika flag from his bicycle seat when he got, home from Germany. Only when he became convinced that Hitler was psychotic, only when the full savagery of Nazi repression and extermination became known, did he once more become what he had been at the age of 16–an anti-Nazi.)
Reinie, bulkier now and with a balding spot, greeted me in his office with warmth. Soon we were launched in a bull session. In many respects this first talk merely confirmed my expectations: apparently the war had been an exciting game, played to the full because of a concept of duty, played as an officer and gentleman. It was only in later sessions–when we “really got to know each other” and he felt I wouldn’t take his words as facile disclaimers–that he reflected the torment that had come from fighting the British and, especially, from facing the prospect of fighting Americans, though his capture by the British obviated the latter prospect. In the latter sessions I discovered a man with a breadth of knowledge, a depth of perception, and a human sympathy for which I simply had not been prepared.
Yet even in this first session there was material that bears on my generation of lieutenants theme–either that or I am rationalizing in order to include material that I find interesting in itself.
He spoke highly of his treatment in POW camps. In the main, he feels, his captors had an attitude of British fair play and they stuck to the rules of the game, though he feels that some escaped prisoners were shot when it was not necessary. The Mounties always got their man, with the exception of an escapee who got to Argentina and back to Germany, only to die in action later.
For one year the Mounties searched for an “escapee” who was really hiding in the camp itself. Here’s Reinie’s account:
Escaped prisoners were usually killed or captured quickly because of physical descriptions. Consequently one officer–I’ll call him Max–decided he would pretend to escape, then go into concealment in camp while undergoing a change of appearance with the idea of escaping later when no new absence would be noted and the heat would be off.
Max helped a group that was tunneling under the snow, but did not join them in escaping; he crawled back and was concealed by other prisoners in camp. In a couple of days the escapees were captured but the search for Max continued on the outside.
Meanwhile, back in camp, Reinie and several others were holding Max down (at his own previous request) while a German physician-prisoner, with razor and no anaesthetic, performed an operation to change the shape of Max’s chin. This involved inserting part of a hockey puck.
They hid Max in an attic. His temperature went way up; he was in danger of death; the physician advised him to let himself be turned over to the Canadians for hospitalization. He refused and passed the crisis. Months later he still looked like his old self, though sickly and with the addition of a partially healed jaw wound. He dyed his hair red and waited for a chance to escape, but a year after the operation he was discovered in camp by the guards. You can discover him now in the Foreign office in Bonn, a member of the generation of lieutenants.
During Reinie’s post-war incarceration in Canada he learned of his parents’ death and the burning of their home. He had become fond of Canada’s people and land and regarded it as a place to begin a new life, but the prisoners were required to return to Germany.
However, one of his POW friends returned to Canada as soon as possible. Almost out of funds, he was hailed on a Vancouver street one day by a familiar voice: “What the devil are you doing here?”
It was his former POW camp commander. The Canadian gave the German a job. After a couple of years the Canadian was heading the European branch of the growing company, then North American operations, and then he became a partner–and now, well, guess who owns the company.
Gone With The Wind
Reinie wasn’t able to help much on my student project. The only other exchange student from the Potsdam National Political school he attended was Wolfgang Starke, who was killed in 1941. Besides, Reinie doesn’t care for large reunions. He said he can’t stomach veterans’ clubs or mass meetings.
“One friend from the Luftwaffe or from school, gut. We can talk and have good time together. But no big get-togethers! A man in the mass comes under a different psychology,” he said, making a cutting gesture with his hand.
His business, family and tennis club are the things that occupy him. There is nothing of the war or prewar days on which they rest, because for him there is little that remains from those days but memory. Even his Tabor yearbook was buried in an air raid. Of the 25 men in his class of 1938 at the Potsdam school, five survived. I learned later that the class of 1940 had four survivors out of 21. (Some of the classes of the late 1920s, when the school was non-military but “select,” had no survivors at all; this was the generation of company commanders.) Reinie was a Berliner; his father was socially prominent and an assistant minister in the Third Reich–and those days are gone, gone, gone.
My Europe, My America
“Europe, you must say Europe,” was his response to my first reference to Germany. There was no messianic ring to his voice; merely a reflection of the reality he sees…Only as a united body can nationalism be contained. Only as a united body can the common economy develop.
Those beliefs seem closely tied to an emotional commitment to non-Germans in Europe, including East Europeans. In the 1950s he played tennis and hockey all over Europe; he feels “European.” he favors the Free Democratic Party (the former coalition partner of the Christian Democrats) which he describes as liberal, strongly free-enterprise, and strongly pro-detente.
But his Europeanism is not anti-Americanism. His feeling for the United States is tremendously strong– so much so that he could not express it for several days, until he finally had no fear that I would regard his remarks as superficial.
“It must be hard for you to understand how I carried a special love for America inside me during the war,” he said, “that when some of our guys would cuss The States, I would argue back even though I wanted our side to win.”
I was surprised to hear that even before leaving Germany for Tabor he had regarded The States as the best expression of freedom and opportunity and self-respect in the world. (Probably growing up in pre-Nazi Berlin was important in this, along with his superior education.) His period at Tabor reinforced these beliefs mightily; in Darmstadt he cited to me such things as funny papers, New Yorker cartoons, the atmosphere in ice cream parlors, the free and easy manner of American students, and the willingness of Americans to give serious consideration to his points of view. He stayed with an American family on weekends and the memory of its kindness and way of life is a glowing one.
I concluded that two of the worst periods of his life came while he was a prisoner:
The allied invasion. Though “rooting for my boys to win,” he could see nothing but a dismal future if the Germans did repulse the attack. “What would Germany do, stay on guard forever against another invasion?”
Seeing films of the extermination and concentration camps. These were shown to the prisoners by the Canadians. He has difficulty whenever the subject of the camps comes up. “We just didn’t believe the films were true… Finally we had to…I tell you, more than 95 per cent of the German people knew nothing of these mass killings and starvations. Naturally in POW camps we were in kind of suspended animation and we
naturally wouldn’t know about the camps–but when I got back to Germany I found that the people had been just as ignorant. A few of them told me they had heard that Jews were being shipped to Poland. It was known that there were concentration camps of some sort–but not death camps…The killings were not only hideous, they were stupid. Those people could have been put to work so more men could fight.”
Another time he said of the camps:
“Please believe me, we know, we know that those things happened. The films have been shown again and again. It’s enough! We know–and if the films keep being shown, they could have the reverse effect.”
He found David Binder’s concept of a generation of lieutenants to be generally valid. He is wary of some of them attempting to summon the phoenix of nationalism. In his opinion, however, the prime characteristic of the generation since the war has been rejection of most forms of responsibility.
“There has been the attitude, ‘ohne mich, without me,”’ he said. For years someone had pointed toward Russia, told them they were officers, and said they had to lead their men in impossible attacks. Since then they haven’t wanted to be responsible for anything but themselves, their families and their business.
“If the members of an association wanted such a man to head a committee, he would throw up his hands. When a tennis club wanted someone of my age group to take over, he would shake his head; the job would always go to someone older or younger. But now I think this is changing. Time and prosperity are doing it.”
The Nazis did not eradicate German humanism in his generation even though they almost did, even though we may belittle its original strength in view of the rationalizations and moral surrender that took place. Some of the humanism is reflected in Reinie. Some of the idealism that was exploited is still with him, tempered by experience; he will not be fooled again and he will probably not gallop to the head of the column even in a good cause,
though he won’t be pushed around either. He is one member of the generation of lieutenants who is weighing in on the side of a liberal Germany with rational aims.
Though he will maintain that the guilt of two world wars is not confined to Germany, he will say that Nazi Germany was wrong, that national socialism should be remembered only as a warning against nationalism.
But to some others (who knows how many?) of the generation of lieutenants, the days of national socialism and the war were the great days.
“I really wish you could have been there,” the 45-year-old alumni secretary of one of the National Political schools said in regard to an alumni reunion he had just attended. “For the first time the fellows really turned out. There were 150 of us (including graduates from the pre-Nazi period) acting like kids and sleeping on air mattresses.”
Of course, I wouldn’t attempt to portray any alumni secretary as a typical alumnus. I merely note that this one, who is a Bundeswehr major and a veteran of the Wehrmacht, was strongly moved by the reunion.
The major seemed profoundly happy to report that every one at the union is “doing well” these days. He said, “I think you would have enjoyed being there. I don’t think there was one discussion of national socialism, though of course many of the friendships developed during that period.” In a different context he said, “I am almost positive that none of the graduates of our school, living or dead, had anything to do with the camps.”
Evidently he is pained by the widespread American impression that the entire S.S. was designed for genocide; on the other hand (despite what I suspect is considerable anti- Semitic orientation on his part) he is exasperated by the knowledge that the S.S. did contain such an apparatus. He expressed himself along these lines:
“The Waffen-S.S., you know, was the fighting S.S., elite soldiers like the British Guards regiments. I tell you frankly that early in the war I would have served in it gladly. Later we were amazed to learn how complex the S.S. really was: a state within a state.”
We were talking in his home. He is trim and soldierly, basically an intense type but with graciousness and an ease of manner. I would judge that he has a sharp technical competence. He fought against the Russians for three and a half years and against the Americans for the last five months of the war. Until a month before the end, he thought Germany would win.
Our conversation developed into a polite duel of sorts on two levels; on both he used two weapons, American anti-Semitism and the Vietnam conflict. The two levels were these:
My attempt to discover his political leanings, the strategy and tactics he would like to see West Germany adopt, and the objectives he would like to see the nation strive for– the objectives to which he might commit himself with enthusiasm.
His oblique efforts to put me on the defensive (unless he was probing me as I was probing him), to convince me that America should have struck Russia rather than Germany, that America has misconceptions of contemporary Germany because of Jewish influence in communications, and that the Nurnberg trials were unfair.
“They strung up fellows at Nurnberg simply because they killed partisans in Russia,” he said with more intensity that he showed at any other point of the evening. “But those partisans were not regular soldiers. They wanted to kill us, so we killed them. I shot partisans! Why not? Sein oder nicht sein–To be or not to be, that is the question in war.”
“A Blind Alley”
His remarks about Adenauer were similar to many I have heard. Often there is an ambiguousness about such criticism because almost identical comments about Adenauer are made by people with mutually contradictory views–and “divided Germany” is the basis of the criticism.
The major said something to the effect that Adenauer’s policies had led Germany “up a blind alley” and that by focusing on “Europe” and downgrading nationalism he had allowed a new nationalistic force, Gaullist France, to arise. (Spoken like a true NATO officer!)
While critics on the left of Adenauer feel that he should not have rearmed West Germany and that he should have striven for detente with East Germany long ago, the major (I think) feels that by being tough West Germany could have melded with the East Zone on a satisfactory basis before the partition jelled. Of course, another solution to “divided Germany” might have been throwing in West Germany’s fortunes with East rather than West; I have not heard this espoused.
The major sees no chance of East Germany or the rest of the Warsaw Pact nations being allowed by Russia to draw any closer to Western Europe. Shortly after I talked with him there occurred the exchange of letters between East German Prime Minister Willi Stoph and Chancellor Kiesinger–an event which raised the question whether Kiesinger, by replying, had “recognized” the East German regime as legitimate. Dilemmas of this type are the traffic signals of the major’s “blind alley”: the more West Germany reaches eastward in a spirit of detente, the closer it comes to accepting the East’s regime and the status quo.
The tactics by which the barrier between the two German areas might be dissolved or made more bearable form the top question of German politics and perhaps the key problem of Europe.
The major is a Berliner and a Protestant. The Catholic Rheinlander Adenauer is claimed by many critics to have been content to see Protestant East German remain beyond the curtain. Whatever the importance of the allegations if they are true, and whether or not the major shares that view, the partition of Germany is galling to a wide spectrum of Germans.
I hope to talk with the major again. I can’t honestly say he was evasive, because I really wasn’t conducting a hard-nosed interview; he had been kind enough to offer me information about the National Political schools. But we were in a duel and I wasn’t quite
sure of the rules. He said things about anti-Semitism, Vietnam and communism that could have been merely his justification of Third Reich policies to an American newsman. On the other hand, when combined with his remarks about Adenauer, they seemed to be an oblique advocacy of a very hard line against the Russians and the Chinese.
However, he was very direct about one thing: the military should be completely subservient to the government, not meddling in politics to the slightest degree; in fact, the German army should never occupy its previous “special place of respect” but simply do its job with dedication.
This member of the generation of lieutenants now serves the Bundeswehr and NATO, not the Wehrmacht, and it would seem that he made the transition within the framework of loyalty to his nation and to his profession, that he will do his chores with a soldier’s pride even though the profession is no longer glamorous. I find myself wondering what this individual would be like now if he had not been taken into the Bundeswehr or some other body that provides continuity with the past and opportunity for “service.” I have encountered a few beery Germans of about 40 years of age with chips on their shoulder, with marital problems and nebulous jobs and complaints about the current economic dip and the pedigrees of their current associates. Some of this age group saw two or three years of service in their late teens and were commissioned late in the war. The commissions were high points in their lives and they will talk about the “honor of a German officer” until the suds fly. One of them told me he is waiting for a “man like Hitler” to come along and do something about “my brothers” in the “four Germanys”: The Federal Republic, the East Zone, the Polish-administered areas, and the Soviet-administered part of East Prussia.
The major told me he has heard American officers make anti-Semitic remarks and that he recently had a letter from a wartime comrade now in California giving accounts (with what degree of relish?) of anti-Semitism there. The discussion proceeded on an abstract level (as befitting an officer, shall we say?) but it left few doubts in my mind about his feelings in this area.
“The I-Wasn’t-A-Nazi Polka”
On the other hand, there are many ways of being unfair to Germans. The major is very intelligent and like so many Germans he has something of a reporter’s mind; perhaps he was as interested in getting me to talk as I was in hearing him.
And among some of them is a dignified reluctance to disclaim support of some or all aspects of Nazism or to say that they “helped Jews” even though they did so.
Two men in their early thirties pointed out a man in his mid-sixties in Remagen, saying, “There’s been a lot of false claims about working in the German resistance, but over there is one man in this town who really opposed the Nazis. Ask any of the older people.” It so happened that I had chatted with the man in question the previous day and that he had made no mention of this–though he did stress that World War I American occupation troops had given him candy and were kind to the population.
(Incidentally, the owner of the hotel where I stayed in Remagen was the last German soldier to retreat over the Remagen bridge before the Americans used it to gain the first Rhein bridgehead. He and others of his generation were present and made no protest when a younger German gave me his views of a recent news story:
(The widow of the German officer who allegedly neglected to blow up the bridge has tried to get his court martial decision over-ruled–to wipe out the disgrace, and, perhaps, to qualify for a pension. The young German said the officer should be regarded as a hero if his failure to blow the bridge was intentional. This reflects an attitude I find very prevalent among educated Germans in their twenties and early thirties–giving credence to the assertion of lrmgard Burmeister, editor of “The Bridge,” Hamburg, in an article on conclusions reached by an International Textbook Institute, that American historians found the history textbooks used in the last two years of gymnasium gave an adequate picture of the Hitler regime.)
Again, That Place
Vietnam. It was inevitable that the major should bring it up. Did I think, perhaps, that in Vietnam the Americans were preparing the way for their own Nurnberg trials? Not literally, of course…not that America would lose…but did there not exist a parallel between the Americans fighting a tough war against guerillas and communists in Vietnam and the Germans doing the same thing in World War II? Ja, so, but the American position is right, of course; communism must not be allowed to expand.
After I left, wondering who had probed whom but knowing who had been needled, my thoughts went back to my talk with David Binder, of the New York Times. Binder had told me this story:
A drunken German entered binder’s railroad compartment and, upon learning he was American, said, “Will you keep a secret if I tell it to you?”
“I’m a war criminal. They accused me in court of being a criminal. A man said another German and I killed 25 Jews.”
“Did you admit it?”
“No! A German does not rat on another German! But
you, you Americans, you are war criminals, too. In Vietnam. Is it not so?”
“I’m not a judge.”
“Oh yes, you are war criminals too.”
The train stopped and the man left, saying, “So long, buddy!”
Binder’s comment to me stays in my mind:
“Buddy! He called me buddy! War criminals of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your guilt burdens.”
One Man’s Voyage
There was an epic sweep in the diversity of experiences undergone among members of the German legions that flung themselves upon the world. Effects on some of the men are fascinating.
Georg, 47, one of Reinhardt Pfundtner’s salesmen, took me on a day-long drive through the Siegfried-Nibelungen-haunted Hessian Oldenwald, where he made calls on customers in fairy-story towns (in one of which, I noted, The Lions meet once a week–but in a brewery; I think they fare better here than back home). Georg does well in English. He studied it for many years in gymnasium before the war blasted his projected university career in Germanic literature; he also has vacationed in England, being fond of the English and giving special approval to their un-German behavior in not shoving one another aside when boarding streetcars.
George takes an interest in politics. He probably would be that way even with a different type of war experience. He is strongly SPD (social democratic) but is annoyed with the party for not having persisted in efforts for detente and for letting Kiesinger and the Christian Democrats get credit when the first real overtures were made recently. He feels that the coalition government is merely a formalization of a years-long pattern. He feels press comment is too uniform. He decries what he regards as German docility and repressiveness: “We have freedom, sure. A man can sit in a pub and say whatever he likes to his companion, but if he gets people together for a speech he is going to have difficulty with the police.”
(Not that I see any similarity between the SPD and the right-wing NPD, but it is pertinent to note that the latter party—a perfectly legal one, with no record of violence despite what many of its members may have done when they were Brownshirts–has not been able to rent a hall for a convention in any large German city.)
Well, Georg was anti-authority even in 1935, when he was 16. He had a concealed cache of 3,000 jazz records that could have bought him plenty of trouble. A German needed special permission to leave the country. One sufficient grounds was to see a German football team play a foreign team; he once got a permit for such a purpose but skipped the game to see Louie Armstrong.
He was inducted into the army, was captured in Russia in 1941 and was returned to Germany in 1950. Surprise, not atrocity stories!
The prisoners had nothing to eat near Leningrad, but he points out that the population was starving, too. Of the 80 Germans shipped with him from there to the Uzbek Republic, he and six others were alive when they got there. Then there was food and he began an eight-year Odyssey, working with prisoners and Soviet citizens on farms and in factories throughout Central Asia and in Siberia and villages and cities of Russia. It was a spiritual voyage, a liberal education for this lover of Goethe; he played chess with a Russian Jewish intelligence officer, was operated upon by a surgeon who grew up in a nomad’s tent, and dug potatoes with Russian women. As he recounted it to me with humor and a re-living of the curiosity and growing insight that had obviously been his, the narrative had almost a Tolstoyan quality.
Aside from his affection for many of the people–and his fascination with bizarre contrasts between old and new, between nomads and commissars–he had his first contact with Marxism-Leninism and was impressed. Apparently he didn’t become a Communist then and he certainly isn’t one now–but he approved of much that was going on in the Soviet Union: he believes that after the war he saw genuine democracy operating on local levels and making itself felt to some degree on the bureaucracy above; that the government was
making massive headway in education; and that the program for Asian nomads was admirable.
After 11 years in the army, most of it in captivity, he returned to still-ruined Darmstadt. His 3,000 jazz records had been bombed out, but he has a modest new collection underway. Though management-oriented in his sales job, he remains strongly SPD. He says what he thinks, and he thinks that Germany should realize it lost the war and can be reunified only within the context of a general and gradual drawing together of East Europe and West Europe. Though more political than his boss Reinie, and moderately to the left of him, he, like Reinie, is a member of the generation of lieutenants who will weigh in on the side of a liberal Germany with realistic–and idealistic–aims.
The Generation Of Babies
The word “idealistic” is tricky, especially in Germany. But I feel that I can apply it in the conventional American sense to a 27-year-old law student with whom I chatted between Reinlander songs two nights ago.
“That Nasser is a Hitler,” he said. “He wants to destroy Israel. God forbid that war should come. But if it does, I think that Germany should send troops to help Israel. I would volunteer. That’s the right kind of S.S.”
Received in New York June 6, 1967.