Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Nazis are the misfortune

‘To keep the people from directing their rage at their actual oppressor, rulers in every age have used diversionary tactics to shield their own guilt. The entire action against the Jews was no different from throwing down a piece of meat for the beasts. “The Jews are our misfortune,” cry out the Nazis. The correct answer of the people would have been, “No, not the Jews, but the Nazis are the misfortune for the German people.” This is from a remarkable diary kept in secret by a middle-ranking German civil servant, Friedrich Kellner, during the Second World War. Kellner, who died 50 years ago today, left his diary to his grandson, but it was only published for the first time in German in 2011, and in English in 2018.

Kellner was born in Vaihingen an der Enz (then in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire, now in southern Germany), the only child of a baker and his wife, both evangelical Lutherans. When he was four, the family moved to Mainz so his father could take up an appointment as a master baker at a confectionary company. In 1902, on finishing school, he became a trainee in courthouse administration. The following year, he was employed as a junior clerk in the Mainz courthouse. In 1907-1908, he undertook military service. He married Pauline Preuss in 1913, and they had one son. With the onset of war in 1914, he was called up again, as a sergeant and deputy-officer, and saw active service. However, before long he was wounded and sent back to Mainz to recover. He spent the remainder of the war as a quartermaster secretary in Frankfurt am Main.

After the war, Kellner remained working for the courthouse, rising to justice inspector in 1920. He was also active as a political organiser for the local branch of the Social Democratic Party, often speaking out against the dangers of Communist and Nazi extremists. In the early 1930s, Kellner and his family moved to the village of Laubach in Hesse, where he worked as the chief justice inspector in the district court. In 1935 his son emigrated to the US to avoid military service; and in 1938, after Kellner had tried to bring charges against the leaders of a riot, his religious heritage was thoroughly investigated - the district judge, though, found it to be solidly Christian. Nevertheless, Kellner’s outspoken views kept him in the sights of the authorities who considered him a ‘bad influence’, and threatened him with being sent to a concentration camp.

After the war, Kellner was appointed deputy mayor of Laubach, and assisted with the task of removing former Nazis from positions of power in the area. He helped to resurrect the Social Democratic Party, and became the regional party chairman. He served as chief justice inspector and administrator of the Laubach courthouse until 1948, and was district auditor in the regional court in Giessen until his retirement in 1950. He continued to provide legal advisor in Laubach, and returned to local politics becoming deputy mayor until 1960. Thereafter, he continued as a volunteer legal advisor. His wife died in February 1970, and he died later the same year, on 4 November. Further information is available from Wikipedia.

Kellner is remembered today thanks to an extraordinary diary he kept from September 1939, when Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland, to May 1945. According to Wikipedia, he considered his diary a response to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, so he named his diary Mein Widerstand, meaning My Opposition. It comprises ten notebooks totaling 861 pages with some 676 dated entries. The handwriting is in the Sütterlin script, a style of German lettering no longer in use. It was first published - thanks to Kellner’s American grandson, Robert Scott Kellner - in Germany in 2011 as two volumes Vernebelt, verdunkelt sind alle Hirne, Tagebücher 1939-1945. This was translated by Robert Kellner, and published in English in 2018 by Cambridge University Press (single volume): My Opposition: The Diary of Friedrich Kellner - A German against the Third Reich. This can be previewed at Googlebooks, and further information can be read at History Extra, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and The Guardian. Some extracts can be read (in English and German) on these dedicated Kellner web pages.

Here are several extracts.

4 October 1939
‘We have been ordered to fly flags on the building for one week to mark the occasion of German troops entering Warsaw. Such gestures, I have to say, make no impression on the population. The people feel nothing now from all these “victories.” The breadbasket will be hung higher and out of reach, the portions will become smaller, and the struggle to obtain a ration card for doing an essential laundry - or purchasing a piece of clothing - is what really will stir up their blood. The situation is that these small things of daily life generally exert a substantial influence on the people’s mood. The artifice of “culture” cannot stand disturbances because people feel it immediately; the smallest change makes them think their way of life has been impaired. The higher the culture, the further away must be war.’

10 October 1939
‘To keep the people from directing their rage at their actual oppressor, rulers in every age have used diversionary tactics to shield their own guilt. The entire action against the Jews was no different from throwing down a piece of meat for the beasts. “The Jews are our misfortune,” cry out the Nazis. The correct answer of the people would have been, “No, not the Jews, but the Nazis are the misfortune for the German people.”

It is exactly the same today, except the drums now beat against the English. Every reasonable person knows that if we had behaved in a decent manner we could have achieved a satisfactory relationship with England, at least to some extent. Everything with us is weapons and shouts of war and continuous threats - with no suitable middle ground. The purpose is to intimidate the alleged or real opponent to want to be on good terms with us. But eternal saber rattling leads to one thing, and that is war.

The lack of good will on our side is clear to see from all of our propaganda. We take a spiteful swipe at the English at every single opportunity. I need only think of Palestine. At the same time we were throwing Jews out of Germany, we roused up the Arabs through radio and press to resist Jewish settlement. Is this a coherent foreign policy? This mania to make things more difficult for the English everywhere, and then to exult over it, makes us look ridiculous. [...]’

9 November 1939
‘At the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich yesterday, Hitler gave a speech to his Party members - the usual glorification of members of the “Movement” who were killed. The German government of 1923 failed to act decisively against this political movement, and so it must be said the 1923 government bears a huge responsibility for the graves in Germany. The NSDAP clearly showed at the beginning it intended to create a tremendous general disturbance. Every fanatic and every brutal egoist was accepted into its ranks with open arms: charmers, con men, convicted criminals, and murderers. Everyone against the government then, whether in words or with deeds, was called a revolutionary and held up as a “hero.” The worst sort of criminals, fools, and position seekers became known in time as the “Old Fighters,” whose self-glorification brought them into the highest government positions - or into important Party positions - with a virtuoso’s ease. Here they could be let loose on the unfortunate people. Today we are seized by a distinct sadness over the development of this terrible Party - today, when thinking itself has become dangerous [...].’ 

11 November 1939
‘The way the newspapers are howling furiously against England, blaming it for the explosion in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, it is evident this incident will be fully used to stir up the flagging war mood. Without batting an eye and without the slightest proof, they make England the suspect in the attempted assassination of the Führer.

This affair will not be solved with presumptions and conjectures. One day the truth will become known, we hope.’

21 July 1940
‘Bad Salzhausen. As Pauline and I sat in front of the spa building, the Hellwig family greeted us. Herr Hellwig, a senior inspector in Mainz, believes the English will be totally beaten quickly, and after the war we will be in a very good position for natural resources because we occupy every country with raw materials. The worst sort of business-oriented politician, he sees his wheat in bloom. In former times he was a Social Democrat. Today, 250 percent Nazi.’

25 July 1941
‘The widow Frau Emmelius received news that her son August was killed. He is the first casualty from Laubach on the Eastern Front. Reports came today of other casualties: Philippi, Kammer, and von Eiff.

What I hear is August Emmelius was no Nazi. Naturally the respectable always have to die. The “most valuable” elements of the populace - Haas, Naumann, Haack, and other Party members - are still among the living.’

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