SLIDING INTO WAR (pp. 9-26)
Berlin, 27 August 39 My appointment in Urfeld will take
tomorrow – if at all. Starting tomorrow there will be no civilian
travel on the train. Here a lot people are really optimistic, among
them your father. At 12 o'clock there is supposed to a declaration from
the government, but is has been postponed several times. They say that
the Polish foreign minister is supposed to be here. People say a lot of
29 August 39 (pg. 11)....America's declaration of neutrality
means absolutely nothing. If England gets into trouble, America will
come to its aid.
11 November 39 (pg. 19)....While cleaning up I found one of my letters from 1933 in which I exactly described the development of National Socialism, as confirmed by the Russian Pact and the war. I'm afraid I was right about this and all of the rest of it. The Polish war means nothing for the war as a whole.
5 Dec. 39 (pg. 26). The longer I am together with the people of my troop and especially in this company, the more I dislike them....They are incapable of forming a single independent thought....As an overall phenomenon I find them laughable, or I would if they weren't the foundation of the entire structure of the State. They are the ones that HE woos.
(pp. 31-64) The episodes in the chapters "Musik in der
durch Frankreich" (War Trip through France) and "Als Sieger
im Paradies" (As Victors in Paradise) are
dealt with in considerably
expanded form in Kuby's 1961 novel “Sieg! Sieg!,”
(translated 1962 into English as Sitzkrieg of
MUSIC IN THE EIFEL (pp. 31-33)
Demidoff, pg. 6:
During my first year as a soldier, toward the end of the French
campaign, it didn't occur to me that my letters would be read by other
eyes than the ones I saw before me as I wrote. In September 1940 I left
Le Creusot to go on leave. At home, on a hill above Lake Constance
[Bodensee], friends convinced me to make excerpts from the collection
to a wider circle of readers.* They knew about the letters because my
wife had occasionally read to them parts of the letters. After I
returned to France I landed in my 50th profession a soldier: The
Signals Unit 3, in which I had been promoted to Private first class,
assigned me to write its history [Neither this passage nor the relevant
passage in Mein Krieg makes clear whose idea this
(pg. 32-3) [From 27 Feb. to 12 March 40 I go on leave. We spend it in our half-emptied apartment in Berlin. In these days several meetings take place with Dr. Jürgen Eggebrecht, before the war editor at Hanseatic Publishing, in 1940, however, already censor in the OKW (Oberkommando der German High Command) with golden insignia of rank on his collar. In Cologne I also had a long conversation the Dom-Hotel with Prof. Kippenberg of Insel Publishing about whether it is possible to realistically describe the times and nevertheless to publish it under the current circumstances. [translator's note: birth of the manuscript "Kriegsfahrt durch Frankreich" – even before the invasion of France.]
20 May 41 (pg. 90) The manuscript which was returned to me from the OKW is decorated with a lot of green marks [by General Alfred Jodl]. Some objections can be accepted, others not. This week I will make some changes according to these green markings. The result will be as much of a compromise as I can accept. Perhaps you can then try again and see if you can achieve anything?
25 May 41 (pg. 91) However, two of the crossed out passages concern the core of the manuscript, so that, if the censors can not be convinced to accept them, then its fate is decided for the next few years. It will remain in the desk drawer. The passages are: the handing out of some apples to exhausted French POWs, and my reaction when hearing the cries of pain of a wounded soldier.
High Command of the Wehrmacht
1 t 12 J (III b) Berlin W. 35, 30th May 1941
2445/41 Tirpitzufer 72-76
Re: Manuscript „War Trip through France“ – War letters by Erich Kuby
Concerning: Dort. Schreiben Scho of 24. 5. 41.
To the Paul List Publishing House, Leipzig.
Regarding the object of the letter, it must be principally stated that
1. Every publisher is required to send manuscripts which concern the Wehrmacht to the competent Reich Ministry for the Volk's Enlightenment and Propaganda for subsequent submission to the Interior Department of the High Command of the Wehrmacht,
2. The publisher is required to include with the manuscript the letter of approval from the author's discipline officer and
3. Writings which describe the experiences of a unit are to be approved only for distribution to the concerned unit, unless they are of above average value.
The manuscript in question has already been presented to the High Command of the Wehrmacht/Interior Section and, with the communication 1 t 12 J (III b) no. 2445/41 of 15 May 41 addressed to the author's unit and stating that the publishing of the manuscript is militarily undesirable. This decision can not be changed if Private First Class Kuby
1. presents again the prohibited manuscript through the publisher and
2. acknowledges“ the crossed out passages and changes by the censor.
If publishing the manuscript were possible after making the changes to it, this would have been made known to the author by his unit.
The returned manuscript is included herewith.
The Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht
Enclosed: signed by Graf v. Rothkirch
STILL IN EAST PRUSSIA (MARCHING
OFF AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION) pp. 94-96
(Pg. 95) The people in the squad are all right, however, the sergeant [H. or Hahn] is a complete fool in his opinions. I have learned to ignore him. There is no strict observation of rank between us as he was a Private First Class with us in the same barracks in Prüm.MARCHING OFF AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION (STILL IN EAST PRUSSIA) pp. 97-105
As long there is no real war, we accept this fuss. In battle we will be able to keep him under control. It is terrible to be forced to deal with a person who can't be calm and is always trying to find out what others think and say about him. In addition, he is intellectually so confused that you can't say a reasonable sentence to him. But we will get him in line.
Now he goes around shouting – wonderful,
completely shrewd, the Russian has served his purpose, now he is
going to get a beating, etc. Everything outside of Germany is dirt
and filth. Any sort of not material motives don't exist for him. He
cites every day: "The end justifies the means." He has no
concept of a human being is. In his character he is, I think, not a
natural criminal, and he would be amazed (who would not be?) that he,
in his behavior and manner of thinking is no way different from a
criminal. The methods with which he and his SA gained control in the
streets he believes can be applied in general to all transactions
between people. Thereby he is fearful – even with dogs –
and sentimental. Ambitious, I would say, outrageously so, pushy, a
lackey in the face of everyone of higher rank.
(pg. 112) The nervousness of our sergeant affects me more than it should. He is obviously disappointed that here [in Russia], although perhaps milk and honey flow, women's stockings and stockings don't as they did in France...He would like to be a rich man among Untermenschen. As I said, a typical German.
(pg. 116) This sergeant, whose psycho portrait eludes me because, after a half hour, I have forgotten most of his utterances, and this degree of mental deformity can only be described by word-for-word repetition, this Mr. Hahn from Berlin....If I were to be punished for my thoughts – and I am punished for them! – then they would have to lock me up again and again for desertion from the flag, the war, and the present.
(pg. 119) The idyllic scene annoys me. I said that to B. [Bertram] as we, accompanied by our moon shadows, walked through the field. Well, he said, did you enjoy the long idyllic interlude in France
(pg. 120) My disgust for my people I don't have to learn, I
already took courses in it before. To be sure, it reaches here and
now the heights.
(pg. 128) War is not war – this war can not be compared with anything that Germans have done since they appeared as a nation, and I don't mean that in a quantitative sense. It can perhaps be compared with the bombardment of Paris under the eyes of such nobility as the first Emperor, Bismarck, and Moltke, minds full of red fog and possessed with a naked drive to destroy.
THE MILITARY TRIBUNAL PUTS THINGS IN ORDER (pp. 139)
(pg. 140) How exactly H. [Sgt. Hahn] had hit the mark, neither he nor I knew. Message and "counter message" went to the company commander at 3 o'clock, and at 5 o'clock we were summoned to him: I, H., and the young soldier [who had been on sentry duty with Kuby] who didn't know what was happening to him but nevertheless behaved admirably. First the facts of the case were established: Yes, we stood in the shade and had leaned our weapons against the car. Whether a formal order for sentry duty had been issued or not, an infraction of sentry rules had been committed. [ This was the excuse Kuby's immediate superiors had been looking for in order to court martial Kuby.}
(pg. 143) The silent protest: I do not belong
the H.s! By that I don't mean Hitler, but rather the German H. who is
one of 80 million who, just like Hitler, imagine themselves to be on
the path to world domination. They have no more legitimization to it
than an aboriginal tribe [Negerstamm].
(S. 145) Until now I had been clever, and perhaps I had enjoyed the freedom of a slippery eel. The manuscript ["War Trip through France"] is not slippery because it is serious, and now the opposition has been awakened. So be calm, calm, calm, and wait until the mood of persecution ebbs away. Where, how, and when I will pass these 9 days [of military prison], I am very anxious to find out. Probably in Hotel Europe in Leningrad. What I am going through now is payback for the many liberties I took during the autumn in France and during the winter in Frankfurt.
5 Aug. 41 (pg. 150) The main point in the whole matter is that the one H. [I mean Hitler] leaves me cool, but the other H.[sergeant Hahn] has driven me out of my mind, or better: that I had to bump into Hitler in the form of this Sgt. in order get me to no longer wind my way through. My analysis of the times doesn't go from top to bottom, but rather from bottom to top.[From Hansheinrich Bertram to the author's wife after the court martial (shortened)]
12 Aug. 41 (Pg. 163). These people whine about the war which, along with its successes, would appeal to them enormously if they were to read about it at home on the couch. If I were to reveal this thought to the good, faithfully providing family father [Sgt.] Dörr, he perhaps wouldn't denounce me, but he would be very surprised. The company in which he and all the others work, no, that is false – the company that all of the faithfully providing family fathers have created, would be considered by them to be a bad company if it fails, because it fails, but only for that reason. Then if they had another yardstick with which to judge, then the enterprise would never have come into existence.13 Aug. 41 (pg. 164). It is certain that, without this war, I would understand less upon which foundation this building has been constructed, and what the people are made of who erected it and are busily expanding it. That Bakunin [prominent Russian anarchist of the 19th century], as I once read in Ball [Hugo Ball who was close to the DADA-movement, author of a fundamental critique of the German intelligentsia], and his intellectual foster father Proudhon predicted socialistic despotism – a half century in anticipation – speaks for their explosive insight. But at least the socialism they had in mind was thought out, a theory, written down, susceptible to analysis. They are able to intelligently and logically argue: If A meets B, then C results. They couldn't predict that the Stalinist terror regime would be greatly surpassed by another, much worse one, because this newer one doesn't have any roots in theory, but rather only historical and social motivations intermingled with imponderables. There one is wiser with hindsight [after coming from the town hall].
BAD FEET CARRY ME HOME (pp. 188-95)
IN ZÜLLICHAU – WHITHER YOU COME FROM BOMST (pp. 196-203)
[Kuby is admitted to a hospital for his infected legs.
Züllichau is a town in Silesia, today part of Poland.]
(pg. 209). There are other indications that the mill of hatred toward the one who is recognized as being strange has again begun to grind. [Like Gregor Samsa or Joachim Mahlke?]
STILL IN ZÜLLICHAU (pp. 207-14)
BACK TO RUSSIA AGAIN (pp. 215-25)
(pg. 219). How did M. (Pastor Moderegger) come to the
conclusion that I see sense and internal logic in everything that
happens. I see in everything that happens the hand of insane people.
Whoever would tell me that these crazy people are only crazy because
we don't live under soviet, that is, communist circumstances, he or
she doesn't understand that the magnificent dynamism of Marxism is
based less upon its correctness than upon a basic flaw: the false
assumption about what people are and want.
SMALL CITY DEMIDOFF, AN ISLAND (pp. 225-64) [Demidoff is located in western Russia between Smolensk and the border with Belarus – translator's note.]
(pg. 225) [During the long months in Demidoff I lived in circumstances which allowed me to write especially great detail. I also sketched a lot, putting line beside line, with patience. In 1947 I published with the List Publishing house a modest echo of the book plans which failed during the war, a small volume of texts and drawings with the title "Demidoff – or on the Inviolability of the man." The selection I decided upon then only partially coincides with the selection which I now consider appropriate for the times.]
25 March 42 (pg. 228). Yesterday evening there was a three hour long discussion between a corporal from an artillery unit, the two sergeants of the orderly room an me. The corporal, together with a Ukrainian volunteer soldier, had local patrol duty. Since the night watchmen are on the time clock, on his rounds he had to report to us and sign the register. He let the Ukrainian stand outside in the yard. He came inside, struggling against the wind, with his coat collar turned up, and said the usual things, signed the patrol book and said suddenly to us: Tomorrow is another slaughter party. Although I didn't understand at all what he meant, I must have suspected something awful behind this these words, then this dialect-tinged word "Schlachtefest" will always stick in my memory. The two sergeants who, like I, were writing letters and were still in the orderly room (I was on night duty) raised their heads. It came out that about 180 Jews were penned up in a storage building in Demidoff and were supposed to be shot to death in a trench outside the village. The corporal added in a genuinely cheerful tone: "Whole families!"
29. March 41 (S. 230) The war is acting very wildly,
I don't trust his sprightliness. He is already a very grown man and
shows already the first signs of extreme old age. His belated signs of
fertility in this summer shouldn't fool us. He certainly won't be able
to hold out for so long this time. But he just keeps on creeping along.
15 April 42. (pg. 233)
Although I hadn't raised a big flag, I had after all raised a small one
with my French Campaign manuscript. Although I provoked in any case the
big beast to the point, without conscious intention, that I was court
martialed, nevertheless the others didn't really understand what they
were coming up against. They became angry, but their uniform was in
their way, but one incalculably valuable, even though occasionally
bothersome fact hindered their destructive instincts, that socially I
represented absolutely nothing. If I had been a member of the Reich
Writers' Union [Reichsschriftumskammer], I would have been finished.
13 May 42 (pg. 248). For (sergeant) K. it was already embarrassing to be seen conversing with me for a while in a public market place. When I told him that I found his and everyone else's behavior wretched, he became obstinate, and he suddenly said: “Do you know what's wrong with you? You are are missing something. You don't believe in the Reich.”
LUCKILY INTO PRISON (pp. 264-290)
7 August 42 (pg. 277). The "judgment" from Demidoff arrives [at the
prison]. F. showed it to me, it would have been better if it hadn't
been written. I am supposedly egoistic, my political attitude is
questionable. I am intellectually active, however not suitable for
clerk duty in the orderly room. All of that is correct.
1 November 42 (pg. 287) ...the prisoner does the job carefully. So
far none of them has said that there is a simpler way of doing it
[painting a stove in the military prison]. On
the other hand, they sense [smell] my lack of subservience from
around three corners.
12 September 42 (pg. 282). Millions in this army, one could object, to be sure live uncomfortably (less comfortably than I have throughout much of the war), and the danger they are exposed to is the, let us say, natural danger which war reserves for them. The millions don't get into situations the way I do...But how do they escape my sort of conflict? By behaving rationally in an overall irrational situation, that is to say conventionally in regards to a criminal enterprise. Their relative rationality is irrationality, their reason in detail is insanity in the whole, their decent soldiery criminal complicity. They aren't victims of a leadership, they members of a gang which doesn't therefore cease to be a gang because it comprises 99% of the nation. I would rather die miserably than belong to it.
IN A HARMLESS BARRACKS (pp. 291-300)
ENCOUNTERS IN INGOLSTAD (pp. 303-14)
18 January 43 (pg. 307). As arrogant our Volk is when in possession of power, so servile when it has gambled it away; you can expect nothing from it. I repeat, you can expect nothing from it, although it created Sedan, provoked the 1st World War, made 1933 possible, put the 2nd World War in motion and at the moment disposes over a world empire – but nevertheless, everything for nothing and again nothing.
18 January 43 (pg. 308). Through participation in politics, which you feel our intellectual leaders lack, one achieves nothing. You don't cure a kleptomaniac by reading the criminal law book to him. In prison he displays good intentions which he, in his compulsion forgets as soon as he gets out. Just wait and see what sort of fabulous resolutions we Germans "in prison" propose, that is when this is over. I have learned to not trust them, and if get to be a hundred years I will not see this nation securely chained to reason, or even to its own, easily understood (this must be emphasized!) interests. But that is only the one side. My mistrust applies also to myself because I foresee that I will nevertheless believe that something can be done with the Germans – and this is not based on a remnant of national solidarity, but in anticipation of the fact that I won't have a choice. Total resignation or toss the experiences of the present into the wind – this is an encouraging perspective. They will talk about Hitler rather than about themselves – Oh, the poor people!
11 February 43 (pg. 313). In the case of Stalingrad there is now no doubt why we must sympathize with a few hundred thousand men, or put another way, why they found themselves in a situation, if still alive, which provokes sympathy. Do you believe that, in this mass of soldiers, there were more than, at the most, two thousand who wouldn't have found it marvelous to be victors at the Volga and to build their cottages there? In your letter it sounds as if you saw in them victims of fate. When was it, before or after the Munich Putsch, that I with Uncle Robert [husband of the addressee] heard him [Hitler] speak and we told you about it? I can still hear your reaction. That was about 20 years ago. You didn't see Stalingrad in front of you, of course not, but nevertheless a hellish perspective. And you are, don't misunderstand me, a completely normal person with completely normal information. The same for me. That we weren't and aren't as blind as the others were doesn't give them a reason to go from door to door and excuse themselves, saying: I didn't know that, I didn't want that. That's what they are saying now, wherever I listen. That is the cheap text of a deeply mendacious comedy, about which I am supposed to believe that it is the Twilight of the Gods by Wagner.
Sympathy? When someone jumps from a bridge and expects to land in
an easy chair below, it makes me uneasy. Nobody shoved anyone over
the railing. Exactly this blue smoke is being blown by us afterward.
I understand that a national community, if it has collectively bought
itself Stalingrad, has no choice but to justify it
as a collective act. Historical processes are determined by a chain
of reasoning – the justifications invented after the fact for
one's own behavior serve as the basis for the following acts which,
again, require justification. Acts of absolute shamelessness. If your
view of Stalingrad is clouded by sympathy, then mine is by shame –
at the end: one nation, one empire (ein Volk, ein Reich).
As a morning greeting, a boy ran through the rooms with
newspapers. I bought one and read therein the Sportpalast speech of
Goebbels. [Do you want total war?? Jaaa!] That is what one can call
making out of a vice [non-virtue] a necessity.
But I correct myself. Therein there are to be sure
differences, and as far as the Russians are concerned, about whom one
says that they are the mass in itself, especially that doesn't hit the
mark. I know what I am talking about: to be a simple soldier surrounded
by a foreign people binds him to them in spite of his uniform.
The other enemy, the American mass, we will get to know
End of August 1943 (p. 344). The nut cases, the 999
among a 1000 are exactly in one respect not insane. They recognize
that I, once I have attracted their attention, am not of their kind.
After all, I recognize that the 999 are not of my kind. I consider
them to be criminals or idiots, whereas they consider me to be a
traitor to the great cause, or I hold them in contempt, without my
speaking of the matter. They smell it. from around three corners.
FROM THE DNIEPER RETURN
(translation of entire chapter), pp. 348-85.
22 October 43, I (along with 10 others) am being "deposited"
at the Eastern front again. We travel to Augsburg where the marching
battalion is being assembled. Brosius from the clerk's office gives
me at the last moment the hint that in my accompanying papers there
is a letter written by the company chief which could be dangerous for
me. I should try to get my hands on this letter.
By chance I meet two officers in the Augsburg Hotel "Three Moors" who know me from Demidoff. They are surprised that I am still a private and say that it is nonsense that I, a trained communications operator, be sent back to the infantry. One of them, a major, explains that he will try to get me removed from this marching battalion.]
2 November 43 [in Augsburg]. My guardian angel in uniform is functioning somewhat better than I expected yesterday. I can't be removed from the marching battalion, but I now have a letter which both officers have signed. It praises me and recommends me for assignment to a communications unit. Under certain circumstances, that can acquire tremendous significance, but right now I don't want to say anything more about the matter.
3 November 43. Already in the transport train which is about to leave the station. I am comfortably settled in the car which serves as the clerk's office for this enterprise. At night there is enough space for me to stretch out on the straw covered floor. In the middle a space has been saved for a small cast-iron stove whose exhaust tube exits through a hole in the wall. Because the straw is lying around on the floor, such an arrangement would normally be prohibited on the Reich Railroad. Now, however, it is correctly assumed that we ourselves will watch out and see that we don't perish in flames.
I learn from E. (Kuby in 3rd person) that he has been assigned to a division which is deployed near Krementshug in the southern sector. Now he gets to experience the war from a different point of view.
we look forward to seeing what
what he will write about it. [Here, as during my time in military prison, I again refer to myself as E. I used this precaution (to bypass censorship) only in exceptionally dangerous circumstances.] Before departure I bought Carossa's "Täuschungen" (Deceptions), but the book was produced from a hidden stack only after a lot of talking. [The communications from Augsburg are written almost exclusively on post cards whose order is indicated by dates and by numbers. Some of these "letters" fill several post cards. On the left front side, beside the space for the address there stands in capital letters:
ONLY KNOWS STRUGGLE,
WORK, AND WORRY.
WE WANT TO TAKE THAT
PART FROM HIM
THAT WE ARE ABLE TO.
3 November 43, noon. In Linz after pea soup. From Augsburg to here I read in the "Deceptions." The simplicity or even scantiness borders on pretentiousness. Some day many people will ask themselves why they had such a high opinion of Carossa and made him into almost a representative of national literature. That is only to be understood against the background of the general clamor. Whether we had named our son in 1929 Thomas, or L.W. her son Michael, is questionable, and I believe that effect of the circumstances of the times is more important than we normally suppose. And so it is with C[arossa]: a culturally inclined community only appreciates him because he is more independent than most authors. That is worth something, but is no literary quality.
5 November 43, Heygyeshalom (Hungarian border). Dialog at the train station:
"Do you have coffee?"
"No. Do you want wine?"
"Yes. Do you accept German money?"
"No, only Pengö."
That means we've left German territory. I satisfied my thirst from the nearest water tap. Finished the Carossa book. No....!
5 November 43, Konmorn (Hungary). Nobody can travel
more blindly, and with less engagement than we do in our freight car.
We sleep as much as possible. I sometimes get up in order to put fuel
in the oven, and each time it is the same picture: tracks and freight
trains in the light of highly hung lanterns. A featureless plain with
the trains station, in the distance a few village church steeples.
Almost all of the people we pass by raise a hand in greetings.
Toward evening we will be in Budapest. We are therefore headed on a southerly course and perhaps will land in Odessa. Optimists surmise that we will turn completely southward, toward Belgrade or Greece, but it doesn't appear like that to me.
I consider whether I should give my camera to the sergeant of the escort command. He is trustworthy, and I gradually warm up to him. That is also necessary. I occasionally glance at the iron trunk which contains our marching papers.
7 November 43 [with several landscape sketches]. When I
woke up, we
were no longer traveling through the plain. The valley was so narrow
that there is barely enough space for the tracks and the road alongside
the river which carved itself a bed in the limestone. In the night we
had passed Klausenburg. The huts have tall straw hats on. Even smaller
farms consists of several buildings: a hut for living quarters, stall,
barn, granary, baking oven. Different from the Russian villages which
humbly blend into the landscape, these stand self-confidently in
8 November 43. We will soon be in Rumania, the tracks
climb and climb, four small locomotives attempt to pull and shove our
tapeworm of a train. The locomotive engineers can't regulate the forces
of their machines are in agreement, so that the train jerks and pulls,
I can hardly write. Everywhere herds of sheep and coal black cattle
with hors turned forward. These cows look dangerous and primordial.
While all of the others had long been sleeping, I and the sergeant [from Vienna, named Stifter] sat next to the still glowing oven which I fed with briquettes from time to time which we had picked up somewhere on the way. Since we left Augsburg, without knowing what would
come of it, I purposely courted this man – who dreamed
only of his return to his Viennese bed in which his wife waited, and to
her cooking skills. On this evening I decided to lay my cards on the
table. The next night when we are surrounded by soundly sleeping
companions, we can talk about this further. You remember what E. [Kuby
referring to himself in third person in order to bypass censorship]
said when he telephoned you on 22 Oct. and recounted how a comrade
[Brosius, company clerk in Kempten] had given him a hint shortly before
his deployment to Russia. I have meanwhile met E. [Kuby] again, and he
said that he intends to take the hint seriously.
[Here follows an
escapade worthy of the "Good Soldier Schwejk." Kuby's superiors in
Kempten tried to have him killed during his
redeployment to the Russian Front. Murder by bureaucracy – Translator's
[Understandably, there is not a word about this in the
correspondence from these weeks. Brosius, reliable informant in the
Kempten company headquarters, who became more and more important to me
as my relation worsened with the company commander, 2nd lieutenant
Schmid (teacher), and chief sergeant Zetschke (hatter or owner of a hat
store) [In American
captivity, Kuby would again encounter this sergeant, an unrepentant
Nazi and still his enemy]. Brosius didn't reveal the entire
truth about the content of the accompanying letter from them, perhaps
because he feared that my reaction would make my situation even worse.
In any case, I had been expressly warned, and now was the time to get
at that letter, which was only possible with the help of the
Viennese sergeant in charge of the escort command to Russia.
In the freight car, in which the office of the marching
command (about 1300 men) was located, there was a locked steel trunk.
It contained the military IDs and files of the soldiers. During
our nightly discussions I had generally outlined my penal situation to
the sergeant. Finally I talk about the letter [by the commander of
Kuby's unit in Kempten] which is included in my file. The sergeant,
without opening the trunk, checks the list and confirms that under the
name K. there is a military ID and a letter by the company commander.
In another nightly hour the sergeant takes the letter
out of the trunk. It is glued shut, and the sergeant says that he can't
open it, because it must be turned over with the other papers upon
arrival. I show the sergeant the other letter which the officers in
Augsburg gave me, and I say: A letter is a letter. The sergeant allows
himself to be convinced to exchange the letters, and now the one from
Kempten is opened.
The letter was on paper without letterhead and
typewritten. The sender was indicated above left: Inf.,
Intell. Serv., Res. Comp. 407. On the right stood O.U. (the usual coded
abbreviation of locality) and the date. It was not addressed to anyone,
above the text there was only, underlined: Enclosure to military ID of
the infantryman Erich Kuby. The letter was about 10 lines long. It
dealt briefly with the court martial and called the infantryman K. a
"rebellious liar" who can be classified as a "political parasite." (I
quote the terms in quotation marks from memory). In the the last
sentence, the letter says that K should be so employed that he doesn't
return to the homeland. it was signed Schmidt, second lieutenant and
company commander (I am not sure of the spelling of the name Schmidt).
The text of the letter did not contain the N.S. jargon formulation
"Return not desired." However, on the right, in the blank space between
date and the text there was a dark blue stamp with the two letters
"R.U." The interpretation "Return Undesired" is quite plausible. Of
course I realized that this document should be preserved and was ready
to run the risk by not destroying it. The sergeant, however, insisted
on destroying it. In the case of an accident, or if I were wounded, the
letter might be discovered, in which case there would probably be an
investigation which could, at least, cause the sergeant to be suspected
of the theft of the letter.
Many years ago, when I described this episode in a
magazine article, a storm of indignation arose in veteran circles which
probably were associated with the "Soldiers' Newspaper." Obscure
"witnesses" who had nothing to say about the assertion itself, accused
me of "malicious invention." Now, a quarter of a century later, the
history of the Greater German Wehrmacht is open to us, and we know what
all it was capable of."]
Tighina, 11 November 43. We are stuck here, traveling
ever more slowly. There are too few tracks, to many trains, too few
locomotives. Yesterday we spend the entire day at the
Kishinew train station, the capital of Bessarabia. This city has about 100,000 inhabitants and is about the size of Munich. There was no shortage of space, and there was no need to build upward. A little red streetcar wobbled and clattered past the train station. On our right there was a munitions train, and on the left an oil train. A few bombs could have done solid work. In the evening the Odessa-Bucharest Express passed by us and had an illuminated sleeping car and restaurant. We saw elegant men sitting in the cushioned seats. Thus can one also get through the war.
I gave the Viennese sergeant Stifter for his wife a
"voucher" for a pair of your shoes [Kuby's wife Edith made women's
shoes]. Please consider payment and other sales conditions (allotment
coupon) as being fulfilled.
The conversations in the freight car and during the
stops about the deeds of the soldiers in France, Italy, Poland, and
Russian are for me disgusting and horrible. You remember our
conversation with Reichwein during which he said that the border
between acts of war and crimes no longer exists, and that this
experience can not be driven out of the people. [Reichwein was executed
after the officers' putsch against Hitler on 20 July 1944.]
13 November 43. The night passed comfortably because we
barely traveled 10 km in 9 hours. Our whole long train has been put on
a siding because the main tracks are being taken up by transports going
west. They are hauling back tractors and other agricultural equipment
so that they are not lost to the Russian offensive. If they would only
ship us back at the same time, they would save the well-known people's
E. [Kuby] named the city Golta on the Bug, not far from
Perwomaisk, as the possible goal of our trip. We have now been underway
for 10 days, and the war is still very far away, even farther than
Ausgburg. It will certainly be the last of such excursions.
It is surprisingly warm, only here and there lie thin
streaks of snow on the shadowed side of the straw roofs.
14. November 43. I give this page to the sergeant of
the escort command. We will soon be at the goal. While the train
stopped in Kirowograd, I picked up the front newspapers in the
Soldier's center [like a U.S.O].
When you learn that I am near Krementschug you will be
wondering. In fact, it is again a kind of pocket into which we are
being transported, not a small one like Demidoff, but rather a huge one
which begins in the north near Shitomer.
interaction with the people of the unit, a senior sergeant, a sergeant,
several staff and corporals and privates first class, all of them of
rank, is tolerable. All of them absolute bourgeois, who remember with
barely disguised pleasure the afternoon when we set our car on fire. To
destroy our own equipment without being punished for it, that was a new
and welcome experience for them. Is it possible that these obedient
castrated sheep could develop autonomous, creative impulses in our
downfall? Could the crowd running on a leash get out of step? If
I knew nothing of history, I might consider it possible after the
impressions of these days, but they do not understand that they they
are experiencing the beginning of the end, and they are defined by
this weakness of spirit. In their eyes there
only a small lustful gleam when they tell each other what they have
gone through together, and how the gasoline flames shot up into the sky.
Among us there is no farmer. I almost said: except for me. I am the only one who grew up with horses, cows, and pigs. Here I wander with four reluctant horses from one well to another, and only in the fourth well a little bit of water has accumulated. I have my bucket on a long rope (the buckets which belong to the wells have long ago disappeared), and the rope isn't worth much; if it breaks, then the bucket is lost. After an hour of watering, I come back and go back out with the other three horses, sometimes already at 4 in the morning before the wells have been emptied. The maintenance of our existence at the moment almost completely exhausts not only my energy, but also that of the division. Maybe the whole bunch will soon be disbanded for lack of effective military strength.
now someone brings the newspaper from 25 december. It contains a report
about the great air raid against Berlin. But two days ago, someone
returned from leave in Berlin where he spent that night, and he
reported that the entire city was in flames. But you are at the lake
[Bodensee] where there is still peace.
so hopelessly civilian, that the effects of the war in the area of
"normal" life get much more on my nerves than in military life. The
crying woman whose last pig we have just slaughtered or whose husband
has been evacuated – that for me is the war. I was sent recently as a
messenger to the company's position at the front. Compared to a fox
hole dug there in dripping wet earth, our farmer's hut is a luxurious
palace, and our life is comfortable compared to that of someone lying
out there behind his rifle or machine gun. If I were again to again
become one of them, I would – as one turns the wick of a petroleum lamp
higher so that the flame burns brighter – shift my inner machine up a
gear in order to get through the situation. As long as this machine is
packed in a complete skin and the tank is filled up occasionally – I
live. Yes, it is true, I live from my body, it forms and determines my
current relationship to the world, and this relationship is excellent.
Again and again I learn that
assume a sporting posture in the face of concrete difficulties and
challenges, if it were thinkable, I would be capable of giving it the
same expression as during my time at the university when I ran around
with white gloves and white carnation and a monocle, about which
professor Stucken in Erlangen said after my report on tax rollover: The
explanations of the student are worth listening to, but we would like
to know why he took the monocle out of his eye while he read, and put
in back in when he stopped reading. Back then it was foolishness,
today and here it would be a demonstration. It is really a shame that
such a demonstration is not possible now. To experience one's pure
existence is a wonderful thing.
two sheets will be with you for the festival of peace. Paper and words
instead of reality, but nevertheless a relief from reality.
was just outside. The night is mild and beautiful; the temperature,
just below the freezing point, lets a thin layer of powdered snow lie
on the fields and, above all, on top of all of the garbage and
destruction. The moonlight seems to illuminate an undestroyed world.
The mill stands still above, on its hill. Someone will come and set
fire to it.
7 December 43. It has become cold and dry. On the 6th I travel ahead
with the baggage. Once, three Russian fighter planes, new machines,
wonderful to see, but they had already used up their munitions and flew
back home. Without breaking a wheel or a horse's leg, I reach Stezowka.
However, there the gray horse get severe colic right after we arrive.
It rolled around and would have died if four artillery men, familiar
with horses, had not put the horse on its feet and had it led around by
a Ukrainian. It seems now to have pulled through.
the hill, three windmills which I photograph from all sides, they stand
beautiful in the sunlight. This piece of Ukraine gives the definite
impression of being prosperous.
December 43. For the third time I begin to write a little. The horses
are already harnessed in the stall, we are only waiting on the last
officer, a Mr. von Löffelholz, to get on his way so that we can close
up shop here. Then it goes further, further, further = backward. When
Russians of the moment notice that we are packing, they already know in
which direction we will be moving out. Today it is again supposed to be
15 km, the division is being removed from the most advanced lines.
Whether it will set up a collection position or battle partisans, we
don't know yet.
evening, just as it got dark, "my" wagon was stolen which stood right
before the front door. We began a search mission which was successful
only early this morning. Before that I had "procured" a new wagon. We
are now 80 km away from Krementshug.
I'm starting again to write again for the xth time, but this time with
the prospect of being able to stay at it. We have just finished the
most joyous evening meal that I have ever had in Russia: excellent
quarters, a pig slaughtered yesterday, a few women who take care of the
kitchen. At the large table there were six men and a lieutenant, two
had to pull duty. Somehow plates were found, and candles burned.
Instead of wine (we have none) we had tea from our last reserves. The
meat on each plate corresponds to the amount which you can buy in half
a year with your rationing cards.
tried to make some sketches of the family idyll on the huge oven, but
the children moved continuously, and I can't reproduce figures from
We are in an area with rather extensive forest, and that means a partisan area. When we left the village in the early morning we were shot at.
use this (poor quality) drawing paper for the letter because I have the
impression that my entries in the writing book more and more take on
the character of a diary, instead of remaining a conversation with you.
I know what that comes from: that since Kempten I haven't received a
word from you and that I, since 1939, have never been so deeply
immersed in the war as at the moment. It is wonderful dealing with the
horses. There are no language difficulties between them and me, they
also don't know that I am wearing a uniform. Six horses, when they
softly nickering move toward me in the stall, represent a lot of power.
In their interaction with me they make the most careful use of it.
December 43, 5 o'clock in the morning. Around midnight an artillery
platoon moved into the village, and at least 10 of their sergeants and
non-coms attempted to take over our quarters. Finally the artillery
colonel himself came, and it took a while before he understood why a
half-undressed soldier maintained that these were the quarters of a
general, while in fact nothing could be seen from him or of any officer
beside the artillery colonel himself. He left, shaking his head and
confused. Many things must now confuse officers who are attached to
certain concepts of rank and order. The harness of my horses is simply
a scandal for a sergeant educated in a military stall. He draws comfort
from the fact that they are, after all, only Soviet nags. However, they
are horses in the service of the German Wehrmacht, the farmer's wagon
is German means of transportation, my "Russian jacket" part of the
necessary equipment of a German soldier – it is a crying shame that
nothing conforms any more to the HDV [Army Service Regulations]. And
then there are the long coats of the infantrymen who have cut them off
at the knee so that they can run away. They look ridiculous in these
frocks, but nobody can call them to order.
wish I were Proust in order to be able to express my deepest feelings.
The term schadenfreude for them is much too crude. For me, the Greater German
Army in this condition is covered in irony as though in an expensive
perfume. The steely criminality is ragged at the edges, the paint is
peeling, and, see, it isn't made of steel at all.
was made of Braunau [town where Hitler was born] cardboard. Oh, aeropag
[classic Greek sacred hill] of our noblest spirits, these nasty bullies
like Jünger and consorts, this Thomas Mann from the first World War
[Kuby well knew that the Thomas Mann who wrote the Magic Mountain was
no longer the same person who had written "Betrachtungen eines
Unpolitischen."], Stefan George, Gottfried Benn, back to Körner,
Fichte, Arndt, forward to Heidegger and Johst – run away from
humanity, from people in themselves, for a foolish national illusion,
or for a fake heroism, for ideals. That is what is so
wonderful about what I now have around me – a German world on a quest
to the save the rest of the world for German ideals – a German world in
Russia transporting itself with farmers' horses, and completely without
ideals. Germania naked, what a sight! I look at her and irony fills me,
as though I had drunk champagne. Compassion – that is, humanity? And
because no compassion, no, by God no compassion – therefore no
humanity? Therefore I am also completely German? My compassion is for
the people who are at home here and whom we are condemning to the
hunger and misery of the coming winter. That is enough humanity.
am waiting for mail. You will have a lot to report! As far as general
information is concerned, I sink to the level of a stall boy. Yesterday
I borrowed from our unit commander the November issue of the "Reich."
The commanding officer, a captain from Saxony, is an automobile expert
in civilian life, raced cars, is completely devoted to cars. Now he
commands a unit which moves by means of poor horse-drawn farmers'
day dawns. I see that, directly in front of our windows, two cannons
have been put into position, I think 15 cm caliber, that is, quite
Russians in this area seem to be more sensitive to the cold than we
are. As soon as the thermometer sinks below zero, they rub their hands
and say: kolodno, kolodno, cold, cold. The cannons in front of our
house really upset our Russian woman, correctly so. Often enough I
imagine the situations reversed, these cannons are Russian and are
parked in front of Rehmenhalde 5 [that is where my family lives], and
all of these soldiers are Russians.
than ever I believe we are going into the last year. My letters don't
say very much. I don't know at all if they say anything. I am put in
motion, nowhere is the possibility to pull back.
the summer that would be different. Now I am dependent upon a room full
of warm air – or whatever it is filled with – and upon the constant
association with 8 to 10 people. But I don't want to complain,
everything is so good that I could wish that it remains like
that. Tomorrow someone going on leave will take this with him.
rarely see the army report. When I do, it tells about heavy fighting in
our sector. The landscape is hilly, like in the Eifel, like an Eifel
magnified a hundred times. The villages are often stretched out to the
size of small cities, the outside of the house white and clean, but
inside a mess and ruined by the troops going through. Now we will come
close to a railroad line which is still under our control. The mail
will find us there more easily. Gradually the pause is getting long.
December 43, evening. Right now the woman is starting a fire in the
oven for hot water. The senior sergeant, who is very much into care of
his body and goes about it without consideration of the surrounding
conditions, want to bathe in a tub. The half-round opening of the brick
oven lies about 1.2 meters above the floor. The fire must burn at the
very rear of the oven. With a pole to which a bent iron is attached,
woman bends down and shoves wood, piece by piece, into the mud vault
and erects there a sort of wood pile. It is a reverse game of pick up
sticks. Then she puts in a bundle of straw and lets it burn under the
wood for a long time which doesn't catch fire easily. She cooks and
bakes in the oven. The heat is considerable, everything is cooked
through very quickly. According to how far back the pots are shoved,
she can exactly determine the cooking temperature. They are all turned
on pottery wheels and all have the same potbellied shape. That way they
have the greatest possible outer surface. Each house has poles ending
in iron forks in two sizes in order to move the pots around in the
oven. In addition there is a practical holder for the pans. Very
measured and careful motions are required.
the top of this oven, close to the room's ceiling, two children spend
their days, 5 and 3 years old. They sit there from early until late,
have their food handed up to them, play with empty boxes and scraps of
paper, and sing a little to themselves. They do no work. From time to
time one of them climbs down and goes outside for a while. In the
morning they are
a very little bit. They are dressed only in worn out little shirts and
shorts hanging over their knees. They watch our activity with great
interest. The oven has two levels. The woman sleeps on the upper level,
together with the children. One of us who is off duty usually lies on
the lower level. In periods of intense cold, this oven bench can also
be heated, but wood is not used for that, only straw. Beside the oven
there is a piece of furniture filling the space between the oven and
the wall. It could be called a bed, but it has no springs whatsoever. A
sack made of linen serves as a blanket and covers the boards. Under the
table opposite this bed there is no room for our feet, because this
table is actually a trunk. Our teletype and our switchboard are placed
on this trunk. Day and night someone sits in front of it and puts
through conversations, and when there are problems making oneself
understood, then he yells so loud that the glued windows vibrate,
regardless of whether it is day or night.
Toward evening the telexes arrive, the machine hums, the paper strip rolls over the rollers, and when the matter is important, we bend over the tape and try to figure out what our superiors have decided to do with us.
gets dark at 3 in the afternoon, and all day when the sky is cloudy it
never gets very bright outside. We get our lighting from candles and
from the petroleum lamp. The woman squats at the oven and washes the
dishes or messes around with the pots as though we weren't present.
Messengers come and go. Her world and ours, her interests and ours –
they have nothing in common.
doesn't get quiet even at night. Nevertheless, as always, I sleep well.
The skin rash has clear up somewhat. One gets used to it. I rarely find
lice, until now no more than 2 or 3. Through begging I got a worn out
second set of underwear, shirt and pants, but the woman washes so
poorly that my old laundry is cleaner than the washed laundry. I could
only give her lie soap. Since I have been here, the unit has received
December 43, evening. The weather has turned, the temperature is around
0 degrees, early today it snowed a little, the sun came out at mid-day.
When we have to move on, there will probably be slippery ice. We have
now been here 3 or 4 days – remarkably long.
we cooked sweet oatmeal, and I rendered around 10 pounds of pork lard
from our last slaughtering.
the communications unit there is a big wave of people being sent down
to the infantry. People from group and army communications units are
sent down to us, some from our unit are send down to the regiments.
Whoever gets the order abandons equipment and lines and finds himself
with the artillery or the infantry. Everyone nervously awaits the
lightning bolt. Since I have been here only a short time and already
was in the infantry, my position is relatively exposed., but I calmly
and patiently wait to see what happens. Back when I left Kempten with
such poor prospects I had assumed I am going to get to know the war in
its crudest forms, and then as now I have the feeling that the true
test of the rule awaits me. However, it doesn't look as though they
want to transfer me to the infantry. I would mostly be upset that I
wouldn't get my leave which I have coming to me according to the arcane
rules of this crowd, and to be sure, within the next few weeks. To
imagine the possibility of leaving here in a few days in order to get
to Berlin or even Bodensee be means of the network of the war machine
has something unreal about it.
December 43. Today the land is white. I was awakened at 4 in the
morning so that I could show a car driver the way to Antonowka (4 km
from here). In the night the Russians with 700 allegedly had penetrated
Regiment 850, but were driven back by morning. I was back at 6 and
slept very soundly another hour. Because outside it is white, the room
inside is brighter. It is almost 2 o'clock and I can still write
without a candle. Meanwhile I have finished a teletext and listened
into a long distance telephone call between the first general
staff officer and a regiment commander who, from early today
until now had to conduct a very heavy counter-attack. Beyond the
factual information, there was a dialog which I won't forget very soon.
quickly this year has passed, which wasn't much of a war year for us.
The end of it leads again into war.
people go on leave again and take the most recent pages with them. I
also made a few sketches which I, however,
to keep here. I am not writing to anyone else this Christmas. I was
just out with the little horse to get some straw from one of the great
piles of it lying of the fields of the collective farm. The wind is
increasing, it seems that it is getting cooler.
December. 32. We have been almost a week in Trilessy. Today the woman
baked bread for us. She, with others, was supposed to turn for digging
fortifications, but after an hour she was back. God knows how she
managed that. The front is very restless, violent artillery barrages.
As we learned from the telexes, yesterday about 20 of our fighter
planes were supposed to provide us with some relief, but only three
arrived, and they partly shot up our own trenches. In the section of
Capt. M the Russians suffered a setback, the losses of around 180 men
were reported. M. is supposed to receive the Iron Cross. Nevertheless,
the Russians attacked again in the night and broke through at
Ljubimirka. In our village an alarm unit is being set up. Our company
is providing 40 men. The unit had to report at 9 o'clock and move out
to the front. We can easily hear the noise of the fighting with this
calm cold weather. The trees are covered with frost and stand there
completely motionless in this foggy air. Yesterday a sergeant from the
interpreters came to our woman and asked for some shawls. We asked why?
He said most of the artillery men had no hearing protection and were
supposed to cut the cloth into strips and wrap them around their ears.
Night duty. Early this morning someone else went on leave, and I am again on the regular duty list and have telephone duty from 8 in the evening to 2 in the morning. The radio functions for the first time since the retreat from Onufriewka. We connected a loudspeaker belonging to the chief who lives 2 houses away from us. The army report was as meaningless as can be imagined.
the alarm unit, two are now dead, 12-15 badly wounded, some lightly.
The others are still in the positions. The men were sent without
hand grenades and machine guns, and without support from regular
infantry, to face an opponent armed with heavy and light grenade
launchers and rapid fire weapons. If we hadn't just been
put on switchboard duty, our squad would also have had the pleasure.
The following casualty reports from the different divisions were sent
corps: 418 dead, 756 wounded; 821 dead, 654 wounded; 2832 dead, 6766 wounded. I don't know to how many units the to last numbers refer. It can't be just one division. The conversation between the first general staff officer [chief of operations] and a regiment commander went like this:
Comdr: I have two very serious
points. One, E. (battalion leader) reports that he has no officer, no
senior sergeant and no noncom left.
Ia [general staff officer for operations]: Then you have to just make do with what you have. E. already reported to us that he has nobody left. But it wasn't so bad after all. There we just cut back.
Comdr: Yes...hmm, but Lieutenant W. was killed, likewise 2nd Lt .M., and Lt. K. That is correct, he has no more officers.
Ia: But there is still Lt. P.
Comdr: No, P. is now with N., there wasn't anybody there either.
Ia: People on leave are coming back. Today Captain O. reported back, tomorrow afternoon he goes to the baggage train, and tomorrow he will be at the front. Noncoms will also be returning.
Comdr: Hopefully today already. The other point, Herr von M., is that we need a few machine guns. Thanks to grenade fire the first unit lost four machine guns, and the second unit lost three light machine guns and a heavy machine gun. Can't we get from you at least for each battalion 2 machine guns?
Ia: No. Major H. was just here. I had already spoken with him (Major H. is the Ib [supply officer] of the corps). It's not possible. We are on the lookout, and if something turns up, we grab it. But I can't give you anything immediately.
Comdr: Can't you comb through other units?
Ia: We already combed through everything. It really isn't possible.
Ia: What is your situation? Do you have an overview of the casualties?
Comdr: I can't yet say anything exact. There is no coordinated trench system, the men are lying isolated in their fox holes. I will try to get clarity before we make the evening report.
Ia: How deep is the breakthrough?
Comdr: (Describes the terrain and the new course of the positions according to the map.) It was one of the most difficult hours we have had. Until now we know of 130 bloody casualties.
Ia: And at W. they quietly withdrew. That increased the losses even more.
Comdr: Certainly, at the third attack W.'s company left their foxholes. But overall, you can't reproach the troops. It was impossible to hold the position. It really couldn't be done.
Ia: And the enemy?
Comdr: W. estimates in front of his position 70-100 dead, but that is perhaps too high a figure. In front of Regiment 50 near the mill in the ditch there are also some enemy dead. Maybe overall we can estimate 130. We don't yet have an exact count.
Ia: Weapons, equipment recovered?
Comdr: I don't know anything yet.
Ia: Anyway, try to determine the numbers for the evening report. As you know, above us they judge the success of the day accordingly.
Comdr: Jawohl. Just now a message has arrived, Lt. K. is not wounded.
Ia: There, you see?
Comdr: And with the machine guns really nothing can be done? I don't have to speak any more with H.?
Ia: No, there is no point in it.
[Above the pages in my
copybook, which recreate this conversation, I wrote: "Do not send off!"
In fact, the original and the
copies of page 59 (bottom half) and of pages are in present in the
relevant letter book.]
Sunday, 19 December 43:
The radio is just now playing "O du fröhliche..." The music make clear
how terribly removed we are from the real meaning of the holiday. In
the squad something really ugly happened. Early this morning our woman
was excavating positions and came home only at mid-day. I had cooked
potatoes because the field kitchen had been moved to the front in order
to take care of the alarm units. I gave the children, Iwan and
Anduschka, something to eat. I was then busy outside with something,
and when I came back in, the mother was shouting at the older child and
took him outside where she beat him with a stick. I intervened. Then I
saw that she was looking
for something in the
straw, and it seemed that A. had used the gasoline lighter and lost it.
A. stood beside the oven, cried, and insisted that he was innocent.
Suddenly I remembered that our squad leader, staff corporal E.W. had
been playing around that morning with an old lighter. One question –
and in fact, he had taken it. I said that should be cleared up. Two of
the men agreed with me. W. said that was none of my business, the
beating would be forgotten, and the boy should have been beaten anyway
without having done anything to deserve it. There the matter remained.
I couldn't do anything about it. The woman certainly understood that we
were arguing about something, she probably supposed it had something to
do with the lighter, but she couldn't exactly follow the controversy.
It was our responsibility, or rather, it was my responsibility to
explain the truth to her. But I didn't.
20 December 43.
The Corps makes great efforts to restore the HKL [main battle line] in
our division's sector. An entire regiment is put in – whatever that
meant – and allegedly even 6 tanks. Our attack began in the morning and
we regained the old position except for a small woods which was stoutly
defended by the Russians. Our tanks were also damaged by anti-tank fire
and were lost. In the evening the reinforcements and, before that, our
alarm unit were withdrawn. I believe that, after this "correction," our
problems have only increased. Are we going to spend Christmas in forced
marches? We act as though we would stay in Trilesy forever. We clean up
the room and the entire little house. The woman, infected by so much
diligence, washes herself and her children. By evening it looks
friendlier. For once, the radio plays good music for 10 minutes.
From a piece of a tree
branch and a cover of the telex machine I built a kind of table. The
lamp hangs on a wire from the ceiling, for lack of petroleum it is
filled with crude oil. It puts out smoke. The results of our cleaning
"attack" of yesterday are still apparent. The two children had their
hair cut today – by their mother with our help –, they are bald all the
way around. Now they put on big hoods because they are freezing. On the
other hand, that is all they are wearing. The mother is washing their
linen rags, they have no other clothing. So they sit around naked like
plucked, but in no way defenseless little chickens on the oven bench.
Everything we throw away, especially empty packaging, they use as toys.
Andruschka, the older one,
lends a hand to the
mother, brings in wood, etc. He has forgotten the beating. The husband
left for war two and a half years ago, and she had heard nothing from
him since, nor any news about him from others, nothing.
The intelligence section
lost 20 dead to the alarm unit. Because of these high losses, the
question about who should be assigned to the alarm unit is to be
redecided in a fairer manner. Only one man from each squad should be
detailed, and moreover one day, each unit in turn. Until tomorrow at 12
o'clock I am assigned to it.
Today is Stalin's
birthday. In captured Soviet newspapers I saw photos of the Teheran
conference: Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, this one in civilian clothing
and looking like a professor between the two militarily costumed
The radio does its best
to give us madrigals, it has one of its rare good moments. In its
entirety, the program is a permanent hoax presentation, an invisible,
gigantic, Potemkin village.
22. December 43,
evening. There is not even a noticeable trace of Christmas mood. The
conversations turn around whether there will be special rations among
which the most interesting: will there be schnapps? As long
as I have been in this unit, there has been none. I have seldom seen
someone's face light up as it did with the house woman when she heard
the word schnapps. She know that we will have a holiday and asked if
should paint the oven. Today our butcher, Otto Schäfer who receives the
large packets, has slaughtered a calf. I fried the liver, three pans
24. December 43. Thus is
our Christmas day. I get up as always a little before 6 while there is
strip of red on the horizon, above it the sky is gray. It isn't cold. I
first go to the horses, then I pick up coffee, then the straw on the
floor on which we sleep is shoved under the bed frame, and the floor is
swept. Straw is burned under the oven bench. In the meantime the men
wash themselves, one after the other, in the only bowl. At 6 the woman
is picked up to go the construction of positions.
I make a fire in the
hearth with the help of a broken up munitions box whose wood is dry. I
wash the pots which are gleaming
with grease while I
crouch on the mud floor – a disgusting activity. If a single drop of
water falls on the floor, it becomes slippery.
The general bad mood
gets worse and worse – reaction to Christmas. The division receives the
holiday gifts which are dragged to us on a tent half. It is not all
negligible: fruit cake, chocolate, pastry, etc.
If the majority had had
its way, each one would have received his share and basta. However, a
sort of tree had been brought in, the top of a pine with very long
needles, and it was intended to set it up in the evening. I now said,
either we do nothing, or the things will be saved until the evening and
a bowl for each person will be put under the tree. That led to me
cutting stars out of cardboard, stirring around some flour paste,
pasting on some tinfoil, and pulling thread through the pastries. Ten
candle holders were constructed from wire. We had five candles and cut
them in half. In the other room, alongside the heaps of meat from the
slaughtered calf and the family's junk, I tried to fairly divide the
content of the tent half into nine portions to be put in the bowls.
There weren't enough bowls, so I went to a part of the village where
there were no troops billeted. I entered a hut that looked somewhat
respectable and made it clear to the occupants that I needed three
earthen bowls, actually only big glazed plates which I would return
tomorrow. When I went to the door with the plates and said "Thank
you," I heard the oldest of the women say: "First steal, then say
thanks." I brought the provisions, fed the horses, and thus it had
become 4 o'clock and completely dark. Someone arrived with a handful of
mail and I asked, through many disappointments already prepared: Isn't
the name K. there? He answered no, and it sounded convincing. A few
minutes later I had five letters, all pages from 1-26, in addition
21/32 and the airmail letter from 14 December. For the time being only
27/30 was missing.
Toccata and fugue,
d-minor, Bach on the radio. It is 7 o'clock. Meanwhile the gifts were
"handed out," the tree candles burned, three photographs were made with
gun powder for the flash, the commander spent ten minutes there, gave a
little speech and drank some of our schnapps which he is very fond of.
mean, he likes schnapps in general. The Russians remain quieter than
usual. How much longer will we
remain in Trilesy if the
retreat continues, nobody knows. Leave? If everything goes normally
(normally!!) – second half of January. But anything can interfere!
Just now another squad
comes by in order to listen to the Goebbels speech. Woina, says the
woman – an often repeated word. Woina – the war.
[To H. F, who had been
"bombed out" in Berlin}
24 December 43. Christmas Eve in a Russian hut. I got your letter of 14 November. Poor F., what you have lost with your possessions! I am very sad for you. Keep safe! We will be alive after the war, and then we will really live again! Survive, no matter how bad it gets. For today only a greetings, soon more, someone going on leave will send it.
First day of Christmas
43. It is as though the war were taking a holiday, against all
expectations. The Russians in front of us are digging in, builds
positions, even real bunkers. The telex spits out the saying: Happy
holiday! However, it is probably quiet only in our sector. The army
report which I get to read fairly regularly, mentions attacks near
Shitomir. The squad is reduced again by one man who went on leave. I
have duty at the switchboard from 2 to 8 in the afternoon, and again
from 2 to 8 in the morning.
The man going on leave took with him a 25 lb calf 's leg which he hopes, with this cold weather, to bring back home unspoiled. He caught one of the horses wandering around and loaded it with his things. He will take it 15 km to the train station, and then turn it loose.
Night duty, 26
December 43, 4 o'clock in the morning. Nothing is happening. Everyone
is sleeping, and I have used the two hours since 2 o'clock to put my
two travel bags in order, and when everything was spread out on the
table, I got the inspiration to write down what a relatively well
equipped soldier carries around with him, after the backpack and other
stuff had been lost with the vehicle. The camera is wrapped in a red
handkerchief that I wore in France around my neck, back when were only
fake warriors. The camera, except for paper and writing utensils, is my
only possession I could lose without affecting my half-soldierly
existence. That too is freedom, to possess nothing that one doesn't
OFF TO BODENSEE (Lake Constance), pp. 389-93
Year's day 1944. In the train near Christianowka, Lemberg line. On
30 December, around 4:30 as I sat at the switchboard and had duty until
5, Walburg came in, went first to the oven and poked around in it for a
bit, then turned to me and said with a disapproving expression: Hold on
to your seat, Kuby! I thought he wanted to tell me I was relieved.
Instead, he continued: On the 2nd you're going on leave, go later to
Bacher (the orderly room assistant).
WOLYNISH FEVER (Malaria), pp. 394-410
<>[This entry doesn't express
the meaning which the "defect search" in that icy stormnight has
me in my memories. In the experience of these hours of an apparently
complletelly senseless and aimless march what was more a stumbling
through a formless plain of snow and in a storm which made it necessary
to shout our words directly into the ears of the next man; in this
enterprise seemingly removed from space and time which nevertheless
led, at the end and despite all probablity, to success. One of the
solideirs bent suddenly down and had in his hand the thin black cable
of the snow covered telephone line – a line about which nobody where it
led to and lay irreparbly somewhere in the snowy wastes. In this moment
(pg. 395) in which four mummified forms – at a point somewhere in the
interior of Russia which none of the four participants would ever be
able to find again – decided to turn back but hadn't the slightest idea
in which direction they should go, and utterly failed to find their
footprints which in the meantime had been blown away by the wind; in
this activity completely robbed of sense to the point of insanity, in
which the only goal was to find a heated hole in the ground, "the
eternally burning sheet steel oven" somewhere in Russis, summed up and
defined for me the whole war, when it was barely over. Therein and only
that until today, if I hear the word "war" in whatever context, that
stormnight surfaces in my imagination. On the one hand a symbol of the
senselessness, on the other hand the of the force of survival of a man
which became a past reality, has assumed the character of a dream
fixation, stored in memory and can be recalled at any moment as a key
word. [Note of the translator: This sentence is just as mushy as the
German sentence: "vergangene gewordene Wirklichkeit"?.]
Undated, February 44 (pg. 394). We are in Marinosch, a bit south of Nowo Mirgorod. When I came back from home leave at the beginning of February, I found myself, along with 32 others from the 282 Signals division 282, transferred to the regimental Signals platoon 849. After a few duty free days with the old company, during which time it changed position, and provided with a new "letter of recommendation" from the captain of Signals division 282, I moved to the regiment. ....On our level we experienced storm nights with temperatures of minus 30 degrees and found the warmth in the bunker in front of the constantly fed sheet oven as being quite friendly. In the coldest and most stormy night I and three others were sent outside at 11 in the morning to repair a line defect or to construct a replacement line, and we didn't get back until 6 the next morning. In this night alone, 30 men in the regiment suffered frostbite and 2 of them died immediately.
44 (pg. 435). Noncoms who, 14 days ago would put to me weaseling
questions about the whereabouts of "my friend" the staff
sergeant P. [who had deserted to the French resistance] (I wonder how
he is doing) and hinted at my involvement in his flight, now come
freely to me in order to complain about the corrupt conditions in our
company and about the terrible injustice that I had not profited from
the rain of Iron Crosses and promotions. Statements about this topic
embarrass me somewhat, though it may seem laughable, because it is
unimaginable that all of these people are really completely
disinterested in medals and promotions.
10 September 44 (pg. 435). Saying by K.: I never knew what goes on in an insane asylum. Now I know. [K. was Kuby's tent mate in the prison camp]
AMONG AMERICANS IN FRANCE (pp.
29 October 45 (pg. 453). I am now writing badly, but the overall impression of these victors has to be put in the record: They [the Americans] are as politically ignorant as they are, as people, agreeable.
14. November 44 (p. 459). In the same edition a photo shows a German man in hat and coat who stands in the rain in the street and considers the facade of a burned out house. The caption underneath: This "little man" (the man in the street) is the most peaceful, harmless, good-natured man that we can imagine. He lived in impoverished circumstances, he had barely enough to eat and get his family through. From 15 million of such "little men" the armies were formed which conquered Poland, Holland, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, and other countries. There was space in the mind of the little man for the ideas of Hitler...30 million of these little men produced Germany's armaments. The last sentence reads: Whether we really win the war depends on whether we can convert this little man again to the most harmless, peaceful person whom we know. Again!
KILLING TIME IN THE LIBRARY TENT (pp. 467)
28 January 45 (pg. 470). Moreover, I would like to prepare a few lectures about political psychology. Luckily he couldn't imagine what I intended. On the other hand, Jakob has read parts of the "Besinnung" [ Siege of Brest] manuscript, and he said: You can talk about this topic when the Russians are in Berlin. I said: You mean when the war is over? Exactly, he said. Before that those people outside in the [POW] camp will kill you if you say what you think. [That's why in 1947 Kuby felt he had to use the pseudonym Alexander Parlach for his first book "Demidoff oder von der Unverletzlichkeit des Menschen."]
26 April 45 (pp.
newspapers are all full of the horrible discoveries made by allied
troops in German and Polish territory. Churchill said, that which has
come to light is beyond all imagination. If he wasn't saying that for
only propaganda effect, then the Allies must have had a miserable
intelligence service. But I don't believe that.
FROM RENNES TO BODENSEE (Lake
Constance), pp. 484-500
“VON WOHER” (WHERE I COME FROM), pp. 501-12
[The epilogue to Erich Kuby's book "Mein Krieg" in which he describes his childhood and youth up to the point of his being called up for service in the Wehrmacht. – Translator's note]
"They are firing, that comes from Italy," said my mother. I was then about 5 years old. On our farm we, and our neighbors the Filgertshofers, believed that the wind from the south carried the sound of the artillery battles of the Alpine front. In the first World War.
This far-away booming, where and however it was produced, marks in my memory my first impression of war. I could have retained an even earlier memory – my father disappeared on 1 August 1914 when he reported as a lieutenant in the reserves.
The trained agriculturist turned over a large farm in Upper Bavaria [south of Munich] to my mother. She was a city woman and youngest daughter of a bank and brewery director and was very musical. She had performed in theaters most of the great alto parts.
Now, over night, she became a farmer, lady of the manor if you will, and she feared we would all starve. Every day, fifteen people in planting and harvest times had to be fed. Behind the stall and barn was the "people house," where the male farm hands lived. The "maids" lived in the attic rooms of the main house. This still stands today as is did 60 years ago, nothing hd changed, except the small road, leading on one side to the village Oberhausen (3.5 km), on the other side to Pleißenberg, about the same distance. The road has been asphalted. There was a coal mine in Pleißenberg where, during school vacation, I once worked as an "apprentice miner."
In the place of my father, at the time firing howitzers on the western front, my mother kept a daily record of the farm activities throughout the war. She learned her new profession quickly. It may have been then that she developed the rigor which she maintained until she died when she was 92 years old. She was quite a character. One of her grandchildren one summed up her psychology with the words - "Grandma read a book every day, but it was useless."
Some typical entries: 22 Aug. 1915. Weather: "Rain. In the morning Mr. Bossert. Mother, Erich and Mrs. to Peißenberg with 2 horses. The others finished mowing rye on lot 209.
In the morning Mrs. Hoy chopped wood and turned over the grain with a shovel."
With "and Mrs." she meant herself. In the entries she often referred to herself in the third person. At the beginning of 1915 most of the male personnel were still called Hans, Joseph, or Martin. Shortly thereafter they were drafted into the army. They were replaced with prisoners of war.
22 October 1915. Weather gloomy, cold, wind from east. 10 Frenchmen and Mrs. Lechner digging up potatoes. 2 tons.
Or years later: 17 April 1918. Weather: rather foggy, no rain. In the morning Magnier and Jean spread manure in the garden. Botin prepared fodder for cutting. The Russian made boots and now and then helped with the fodder cutting. Later Magnier and Botin spread artificial fertilizer on lots 196 and 243. The girls in the garden. The Mrs. bicycled at 5 o'clock to Peißenberg for shopping.
We took in a "war child" named Karl. He was a few months older than me, lived with us for 2 years, was my daily playmate. I don't have the slightest memory of him. But I do remember his mother. She played violin, was wild, dark hair hung on her forehead. Occasionally she visited us, played music upstairs where the grand piano was, in the large corner room or "salon" with the huge, green tile oven. Mother played piano well. Above all the violin player, like most of our guests, came for a good meal in wartime. My most direct memory of Karl's mother is that she put the eggs we gave her in the pocket meant for spare strings and rosin.
Once a light cavalry troop came by. They stopped in front of the gate. The women carried down washtubs full of water for the horses. The riders, who remained mounted, were handed glasses. They were the first and only soldiers of the first world war whom concretely remember. However, these few can not have been the only ones.
20 Oct. 1915. (Weather: beautiful) writes mother: "French in the potato field. Begun with the second field. In the afternoon Mrs. Lechner, also 500 soldiers from a guard regiment took on water.
The guests and relatives were picked at the railway station either in Peißenberg or Huglfing. We had a coach with high red wheels and a brass lantern.
In 1918 the last horses were requisitioned from us. My mother so uninhibited that she harnessed oxen to this luxurious coach in order to ride to Peißenberg. When the local mine doctor, a friend of the family, first encountered this vehicle, he was so surprised that he rode his bicycle in among the oxen and hurt himself on the wagon shaft.
Mother was not of a mind to shrink back from anything. In the winter she made me wear a sort of Ku Klux Klan cap against the cold. It was made of black wool and had holes only for the eyes. When I, so costumed, rode in the one -horse sleigh beside my mother through Peißenberg, the local children gathered and yelled "The devil is coming, the devil is coming."
Except for that Karl, with whom I obviously had no connection, my companions were my dolls, and our always jealous St. Bernhardiner named "Bari." Bronzius, one of the farm hands, addressed the dog with the formal "Sie," but always addressed my mother with the familiar "du." "Du, woman, go there...." Then there was Babetell, the blond pigtailed girl who was of the same age as I. She was the daughter of our only neighbor who, unlike us, was a real peasant farmer who only worked his farm with his own relatives.
It was said of Babettel's father that, on Sundays after the mass, he counted in his bedroom the gold pieces which he kept in an iron chest. I never saw him doing this. In the war, he didn't give gold for iron. The inflation, which he didn't understand, turned him into a billionaire a thousand times over. In 1923, when the new currency (Rentenmark) was suddenly introduced, he was just as rich as before, only the zeros of the fictitious money and gold values gone, and he didn't understand that either. He spent a short time in the insane asylum at Haar and returned as a mighty body without a mind, fading away.
I was supposed to go to the primary school in Oberhausen, but I only attended for half a year. The teacher's name was Irene, and she smelled good. Then it was determined that I wasn't strong enough for the long walk through the bog and over two streams, the Eiach (our own in which we swam) and the Aach by Maxelried.
Then there was always some "Fräulein" who taught me and, at the same time, wanted to learn to run a household. One of them was especially pretty and elegant.
Her name was Hagens, and her father was, if I remember correctly, president of the Supreme Court. I have forgotten the others.
We were the only Protestants in the whole region, but I went with Babettel up to St. Nikolaus where the farmer women of all the surrounding "Ammer farms" rattled off the Rosary, we greet you Maria full of grace the Lord be with you blessed among women and blessed be the fruit of your body Jesus Christ... I still remember that more than 60 years later.
My grandmother, the mother of my mother, often came from Munich to visit us. She wore widely puffed out silk dresses. A lorgnon hung on a gold chain, and her green silk parasol had a golden grip.
It was only a few years ago that I, in search of times not lost, drove by our farm. Industrialists now run it as a hobby, but the old neighbor family is still there. Babettel died young decades ago. We exchanged reminiscences, and the old farmer woman said to me: "You know Erich, your grandmother, she was a lady, "mei," she was fine.
There is a photo of me, grandmother, and Babettel on our way to the "Pig Garden," an artificial swamp at the foot of a hill in which a few dozen pigs wallowed from March to November. We are carrying long sticks as weapons against the "evil peacock, " a marvelous animal that tended to attack people in a dive who entered his territory, the orchard, where he screamed from the treetops.
That' is how the first World War appeared to me.
On 22 July 1918, four months before it ended, my father, now promoted to captain, wrote to me from the front:
"Dear Erich. If this letter reaches you, you are already 8 years old and a big boy. Last year on this day I came home. Today I can't leave because the English still don't want to understand that they have been defeated, and our borders still have to be guarded. In a month I will probably come for a few days. Then I will bring you a piece of an English shell, which everyday is fired at us. We send the English also nice presents, the day before yesterday I sent them 600 or wo lovely long shells full of shot. It took a half hour.
It was a splendid fireworks. When the answer came we all went down into our deep shafts 6 m below ground. There we were completely safe, although the entire earth shook. It is good that you are already old enough to remember this war for the rest of your life. Just let your mother keep on telling you about what is happening here. In the next months there will probably be a lot to tell and remember.
Your mother now has a lot of work and many problems with the farm. You are now big enough to help her a lot. In the coming year cause her as little annoyance as possible. For your next birthday I hope I will be there myself so that we can really celebrate the day. Until then, be well, stay healthy, learn as much as possible, and think every evening about your Father."
After four years of war and running the farm alone, the problems became too much for mother. In France father landed in the field hospital with dysentery. Nevertheless, with hindsight, it was absolute insanity to give up the farm in 1918. Nevertheless, it thus came to pass. Prosperity, even wealth had been inherited from both grandfathers. Our parents' generation in all of its branches were heirs. They were neither able to defend themselves against impoverishment, nor to acquire new wealth after the inflation.
We moved to the nearest county seat, Weilheim, and lived at first in a "villa." When father came back and had regained his health, he bought a small, run-down farm, along with several properties on the Ammer river and outside in the bog. I sold the house in 1949, and where it stood is now the parking lot of a factory. Over the years it had been renovated and expanded again and again. After it was knocked down in the final week of the war by bombs, I rebuilt half of it almost my myself in 1945-46.
It was only due to my mother's unbelievable strength and her inexhaustible energy that the property in Weilheim, the roof over our heads, our own garden, and our own fields remained in our possession through and after the second World War. Father was unable to get used to our reduced circumstances after the first war. He never complained and spoke little. It was his passion to draw building plans. Perhaps, instead of becoming a farmer, he should have become an architect.
He was a tall, unusually handsome man, but he hid himself in a way behind a veil of shy discretion. When he fell in Russia in the second [world] war, it was as though a shadow had disappeared from the wall [Plato?]. He was 65 years old.
For me it impossible bring his true self, his nobility, in agreement with his political convictions and actions. Soon after the [first] war, when we are barely established in Weilheim, he (along with General Epp, who later became one of Hitler's Reich representatives) the "Citizen Defense, "Bavaria and Reich," and the "Technical Emergency Help" which were disguised paramilitary organizations. Between 1919 and 1923, Field cannons and other weapons were hidden in our barns in remote fields. I saw Ludendorff in our garden. The shooting contests at the nearby firing range which were really exercises for the militia. They were followed by friendly dinners in our house. The household bills from the store and the butcher sometimes couldn't be paid.
In 1923, before the Hitler Putsch, my father rode with the "Citizen Defense" force at night in trucks to Munich. Although he "despised" the Nazis, he said "finally" when the Putsch took place. When the Putsch failed, all of this more or less fell apart. For 6 years I was a pupil in the Weilheim secondary school and "materials guard" in the "Young Bavarians" which was led by our school rector. We carried out land exercises within a 20 km radius as far as the Starnberg lake, and once we were received by Bavaria's crown prince Ruprecht.
After the Putsch, when the fleeing Hitler was arrested in Murnau, the district official Faigl called my father because Faigl didn't trust himself to face the "Führer" alone. My father took me along with him. Thus I saw Hitler for the first time, but he made no impression on me, neither on this occasion nor others. I saw him three more times – when he spoke at the Bürgerbraukeller [a beer hall], in Munich at the Feldherrnhalle on the day conscription was again instituted, and once while drinking coffee on the terrace of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst [German Art Museum].
My Aunt Bertha in Munich, my father's unmarried half sister. Between 1918 and 1926 she organized the "Middle Class Aid" which became important for thousands of shamed newly poor people,
and she outdid my father by far concerning nationalist sentiments. She subscribed to the conservative "Augsburger Evening Newspaper," and a regular visitor to her house was one of her idols, the Munich publisher J.F. Lehman. His Nazi publications would later have fateful consequences. Between 1921 and 1923 he published three volumes of his collected works with the titles "Undefeated in the Field," "Undefeated at Sea," and "Undefeated in the Air."
Thanks to my aunt's connection to Lehmann, she gave me these volumes fresh from the printer. In view of her intention to turn me into a nationalist, this was an error.
This same aunt, I think for my Confirmation, the letters exchanged between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. These texts formed my moral principles to the extent that they taught me that dishonesty and moral pathos do not necessarily exclude each other. However, the main reason I could not go along with the German burlesque theater which first led to 1918, then to 1945, was that I discovered that honorable and respected adults, among them my father, were simply delusional concerning the First World War and its result.
Therefore, since my youth I have forced to lead a life of opposition. This "I had no other option" must be understood literally. I never had to choose between two paths. It would never have occurred to me to seek security in the lap of a majoritarian solidarity, and I recognized a kindred spirit in Musil's novel "Mann ohne Eigenschaften" (Man without Features).
If Christian or Marxist convictions had prevented me from going with the big crowd, then maybe something positive could have been done on this basis, say a combative rebel. Nothing of the sort was granted me. Under the dictate of pure, even naive reason, refusal brought me nothing, not even satisfaction in having foreseen the national bankruptcy of those times. I would have enjoyed it only if I had previously been able to dispel my doubts that things could end well after all. One can not be proud of being right without entertaining the possibility of being in the wrong,
and such a unshakable certainty has no ability to influence others who have not wrestled with doubts. It can be assumed that nobody can read these notes without noticing their naive character.
The refusal to play along without a short and sweet justification opened to me a career as a black sheep in a nonplused family. For them a cousin from the Pfalz was considered to be a left winger because he was the only one among all of the relatives relatives to assert that Stresemann was a good politician. School bored me. Only two of my teachers in high school were able to dispel the boredom. One of them, Schalmann, a Jew, taught physics and math. The other one, Heusinger, taught German and history. He won my sympathy by, among other things, giving me a piece of advice: "Write whatever you want in your essay, but the last sentence must begin: May Germany...."
In my first school year in Munich, in middle school, I flunked because of lack of interest. Nevertheless, my parents made sure I didn't have to repeat the year. I had the luck to receive a year of private schooling (in all subjects) from the Jew Heinrich Lamm, at the time a medicine student and amateur director of the "Jewish Chamber Orchestra," today a doctor in the USA. Mostly we played music together, he was a good flute player. Even so, I owe him for what I know today about math, chemistry, and physics. I played in his chamber orchestra, for which he wrote me a letter of thanks in 1929. In Bavaria the anti-Semitic specter was on the rampage. For me the letter was a kind of badge of honor.
After a year I took the acceptance test in my former class and passed it easily, to the not inconsiderable annoyance of, above all, the school director. A year later I barely passed the final test. In order to put this pupil in a favorable light,
the diploma praised my musical activities in the school. Then I had just enough time, exactly 4 years, in order to get a university degree in National Economics before Hitler came. The study for a degree in law fell by the political wayside.
When he came, I wanted to leave the country, also because I had a Jewish girlfriend who shortly thereafter emigrated. I already had repeatedly spent weeks in Montagnola, the village above Lugano, where Hermann Hesse lived, and then again in the spring of 1933 right after the examination at the University of Munich.
Upon my return from Switzerland, I wrote to my parents that I wanted to leave [Germany]. This letter has been lost, but not the written replies of 14 April 1933 from my father and mother.
"Dear E., your letter was a pure holiday entertainment for, and therefore you should receive an Easter present. Your suggestion [number] 2 is nonsense. I readily believe that you can survive a year in Switzerland, if you have enough money. In Switzerland, you have not only the aversion to work which afflicts you here, but also the disadvantages of being a foreigner. Presumably there you won't be working at all. If you have proposals based on facts which lead me to a different conclusion, then we can talk further. If the Jews in Palestine impress you so much, then go there and enroll in their Labor Service. The work in Palestine is generally carried out in New York.
The deals between Jews and the [German] government should be worked out between the two parties. There is absolutely no reason for outsiders to get involved. If the Jews are as intelligent as you think they are, then they certainly don't need your support. For the last 2000 years they have always fallen up the steps and will be able to take care of themselves, better than you could advise them. At the end only you will be the fool. All of the five and a half million unemployed will find a job, only you will be too inhibited to begin work because of all kinds of things that don't concern you, and laziness. Learn to work and save in Germany. You have no idea of either. You can learn it from The Work Service, although that would be a lot less convenient than life in Lugano. As long as you have this opportunity and don't want to profit from it, I see no reason to support your inertia. Greetings, Father."
Mother [text shortened]:
"Weilheim, Good Friday 33.
Dear E., after reading your letter, Father sat down and wrote his answer without saying a word to me, nor I to him. I have though it through for a few hours, again as I have so done in really soundless nights for years. Apart from the fact that the thought always accompanies me, nothing new occurs to me because of the financial resources which we do not have,
good will on our side and also on your side is necessary, and we haven't noticed any from you in spite of everything.
In Germany there must live many people, with at least your spiritual superiority, who don't approve of the the situation here. Wealthy and sought after cultural giants can of course retire to Lugano or other foreign places and make their way as has always been the case with revolutions. Really genuine Germans always find the way back to the homeland, and the others don't matter, they should stay outside. I write this, although I am no fan of Hitler and never was. I disapprove of many things and, from the beginning, I always preferred Papen. I am glad that you also approve of him...
You are still too young, too insignificant, and too lazy to live as an idler in Lugano or Montagnolo, or wherever you find yourself. Since I with my 56 years am able to keep my temperament under control, you with your 22 years can at least make the attempt...
Rather than renting a room in Munich, you would do better to come out [here] tomorrow with all your belongings. Give it a try for a few weeks at least, and I will certainly keep my mouth shut. You can have the upstairs room that has turned out to be quite pretty, and you can always use the music room. With typewriter, violin, and piano you should be able to make a go of it, if I let you in peace. So, come home. Your Mother"
I didn't come, or if I did, only for a few days. I stayed in Munich. What I represented, one would call today a flipped out type. The girlfriend, now living in San Francisco and working a representative of a healing method named after her and which combines breathing techniques and the insights of C.G. Jung, was my staff and support in this life, until I went to Yugoslavia.
I played piano and violin and wrote. I sent a manuscript with the
stirring title "Romantic Experiments" (and with some of my drawing) to S. Fischer [publisher], and it was returned with a polite letter. I then wrote like Gottfried Keller, only not as well as he did. I learned to write by writing letters, most of them sent to women. It isn't much of an exaggeration to state that I wrote almost 7000 letters between my 19th and 26th year. They are documents of the flight into privacy.
On 13 April 1934 I took off on my bicycle and rode through Italy to Yugoslavia. I was too young, too disinterested in everything that wasn't German, so I (the negative form of a nationalist) returned 10 months later, and thus lost my girlfriend as my partner for life.
Now there was no hole in the wall left for me. Father said that general conscription was about to be announced, my age group would be called up (which turned out to not be the case), but if I immediately volunteered for an eight week training program, I would save myself two years of regular military service and choose my branch of the military. In late winter 1935, thanks to his connections, I was called into the Munich intelligence service, section 7 and wore for the next two months the uniform of the "Black Reich defense." Who then served as a volunteer belonged in general to the social outcasts. Very few with university education was among them. In spite of the diploma, I was also a social outcast. I was released from duty as a so-called candidate corporal, unfortunately, because six months later I was ordered to take a second course. I returned to the same barracks which I would have left two months later as a noncommissioned officer had I passed muster. From a military point of view it was a fabulous opportunity to skip over the lowest rank where I remained for the following 6 years. This promotion was nullified by an arrest for several days because of insubordination. We were eight or nine people in one barracks room, and it stank in there. The others opposed my suggestion to open the windows. I then flew into a rage and threw a full cup of coffee against a window with such force that all eight panes came down in shards. However, in the winter of 1936 at a carnival in the Nymphenburg Palace I met
the girl, a sculptress, who afterward became the mother of our five children. Without that turn of events, my future would have been very bleak indeed. Now there was a pressing need to earn money, and to be sure in Berlin. I went there in the summer of 1936 direct off the street into the office of the personnel chief of the Scherl newspaper publishing house. It still belonged to German nationalist Hugenberg, thus was not a Nazi party newspaper. I said, I need work, any kind of work as long as I didn't have to write.
My application was unusual, but it perhaps was successful for this reason. At first I didn't have to write, but rather began to organize pictures in the huge archive pictures for 250 Marks per month. I then discovered a 'market niche' for
series of prints about 'nonpolitical' topics. I first put together such series of pictures from the archive and wrote for them short descriptions, then I was allowed to travel around with photographers and produce new series: The Organ in Weingarten, Wood instead of Cork, Fish farming in the Bodensee, The Sugar Industry, Cosmeticians at Work (Model: Flickenshildt), A Glass Works...lots of stuff like that. The Scherl publishing house earned good money with these series, and I ended up making 600 Marks per month, at which point (1938) it was time to get married. But then there was the father in law, a well-known national economist with former students sitting in top management seats in big firms. He said: You won't get anywhere at Scherl, and there was no way to object to that. However, a career in industry through connections, which he imagined for me, was not the right way either. By chance I came in contact with another publishing firm, a whole conglomerate of different bought out publishers, among them the very respectable Reimar-Hobbing company. There I took care of advertising and sales and began to the learn the publishing trade hands on. Huge printing plants demand fodder. Ribbentrop used the firm and its advanced printing technology in order to produce a glossy propaganda magazine "Berlin-Rome-Tokyo" in ten colors and on three different kinds of paper.
The draft notice from the army probably arrived for me at the right moment.