Also Reading: BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, by Alfred Doblin

From the foreword by the author:

He throws in the towel, he has no idea what day of the week it is, it seems all up with him.

Before he can make an end, however, his blindness is taken from him in a way I do not describe here. His fault is revealed to him in the clearest terms. It is indeed his, the fault of his plan, which may once have looked sensible enough to him, but now looks quite different, not unexceptionable and straightforward, but full of arrogance and ignorance, and further vitiated with impertinence, cowardice and weakness.

The terrible thing that was his life acquires a purpose. A medical cure has been performed on Franz Biberkopf. And in the end we see our man back on Alexanderplatz, greatly changed, considerably the worse for wear, but straightened out.

To see and hear this will be worthwhile for many readers who, like Franz Biberkopf, fill out a human skin, but, again like Franz Biberkopf, happen to want more from life than a piece of bread.

Aftermath

  • Former Nazi officials ensured that they received unreduced pension claims from their work for the regime. Even members of the SS received the appropriate credit from the pensions agency in spite of their membership in what was deemed to be a criminal organization. — p.307
  • For decades there was no widespread engagement with the murder of millions; that only began with the Auschwitz trials that lasted from 1963 until 1968. — p. 324

Alfred Doblin, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz

Doblin had fled Germany during the war. Now, at 68, he was asked by the French to start a literary magazine to revive “a democratic intellectual life.” The name he chose for the magazine was The Golden Gate. On its front was “a stylised version of the eponymous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.” This magazine, to Doblin’s dismay, was received with little enthusiasm by Doblin’s former writing colleagues. They regarded themselves as victims and Doblin as an outsider, even though he had become a literary star after the publication of Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In 1947, Doblin was invited to deliver a lecture at Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace. When he arrived, wearing “a smart French uniform,” he was greeted with a freezing silence “and he soon left.”

Hardly a single audience member knew that Doblin’s 25-year-old son, Wolfgang, whom Doblin and his wife had had to leave in France when they fled to America, had killed himself in just such a French uniform. Cut off from his French military unit, Wolfgang Doblin, a prodigiously gifted mathematician, had shot himself in a barn near the village of Housseras in the Vosges, shortly before German troops could take him prisoner.

Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945 – 1955, p. 255

“Life Simply Went On.”

The conscience that had failed so terribly ticked on as if nothing had happened. Hunger dictated the next steps and fear of socially uprooted, disoriented fellow men re-framed people’s morals. Zapp-zarapp, organized theft, trophy-hunting, Fringsing — that was the vocabulary of relativisation and self-exculpation. Fine distinctions were made between different kinds of stealing, designed to differentiate between protecting one’s own property and life and expropriating the property of others. A piece of coal was, once it had been personally claimed by someone, more protected by the collective sense of justice than when it merely lay on the freight train as the possession of some abstract institution. The person who took coal from a railway wagon was Fringsing; anyone who removed it from a private coal cellar was stealing. Post-war Germans liked to use animal imagery for their activities: the person who removed potatoes from a field was “hamstering” (stockpiling), while the person who stole them from the hoarding “hamsters” was a “hyena.” And wandering back and forth between them was the “wolf,” whose sociability one could never be quite sure of, since the “lone wolf” had just as frightening a reputation as the whole pack.

Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, pp. 182 – 183

Sentence of the Day, 2nd Sunday of March 2022

“Germans were astonished to observe that subordinates could hand their superiors a document without rising from their chairs, and that it was possible to win a war without constantly clicking one’s heels.” — Aftermath: Life in the Aftermath of the Third Reich, 1945 – 1955, p. 151

Self finds some of the same nonchalance in Ukrainians. Who would have thought! This nonchalance is a big, big factor in the way Ukrainians have rallied the world to their side.

Stay tuned.

GIs Enter Berlin: Summer 1945

The two groups of people — American and German — encounter each other for the first time, free of the filter of government propaganda. German women check out the newcomers. Actress Hildegard Knef makes note of GIs’ “tight buttocks.” LOL

Throughout the war, America had been portrayed as “the enemy” — greedy and rapacious. Concurrently, “the American military leadership had ordered their soldiers to maintain a strict but deliberately unfriendly relationship towards the Germans . . . the Americans had always stressed civilian mass sympathy for and participation in the Nazi regime. For Americans, most Germans were fanatical Nazis and incorrigible criminals. In view of this, the American military leadership had prepared their soldiers for a ruthless subjugation of the enemy and, in April 1944, forbidden any kind of fraternisation. No handshakes, no exchange of words, not the slightest approach of any kind was permitted. As they rolled in, the GIs were all the more surprised by the friendly reception they were given by pretty women and admiring youths, and they couldn’t get enough of the grateful reactions prompted by the cigarettes and chocolate that they handed out of the jeeps in spite of the prohibition.

With the Americans, an unfamiliar army entered the country. The locals admired everything about them as they passed: their relaxed sitting postures, the confident laughter, their casual way of smoking. “The GIs’ shoulders were as wide as wardrobes, their tight buttocks as narrow as cigarette boxes,” as Hildegard Knef put it in her memoirs. They were described as bursting with health, as unusually life-affirming and, we read repeatedly in numerous eyewitness reports, as being as “naive as children.”

Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955, pp. 149 – 1950

Poetry Friday: Seppel Glückert

And before the war — do you want to know?
We had to beat our breasts
those of us who could not find
the courage to free ourselves from servitude.

We called “heil, heil” ceaselessly
and let me add one other thing:
many of our brothers and sisters
that eternal “Heil” of former times
whether spoken or sung
never sounded in their hearts.

To Be Young and German in 1947: Wolfgang Borchert

Now our song is jazz. Agitated, hectic jazz is our music. And the hot, crazed, lunatic song through which the drum rushes along, catty and scratching. And sometimes once again the old sentimental soldiers’ bawling, with which they drowned out adversity and rejected their mothers . . . Our whooping and our music are a dance above the abyss that gapes at us . . . Because our hearts and our brains have the same rhythm of hot and cold: agitated, crazed, and hectic, uninhibited. And our girls have the same hot pulse in hands and hips. And their laughter is hoarse and brittle and clarinet-hard. And their hair that crackles like phosphorus. That burns. And their hearts beating in syncophation, wistfully wild.

an excerpt from This is Our Manifesto, by Wolfgang Borchert, p. 95 of Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945 – 1955

Poetry Thursday: Erich Kastner

Marching Song 1945

For the last thirty weeks
I have wandered through forest and field.
And my shirt is so full of holes
that you would hardly believe it.
I wore shoes without soles,
and my rucksack is my wardrobe.
The Poles have my furniture,
the Dresdner Bank my money.
Without home or family,
dull boots and all the rest —
yes, that was the famous
Decline of the West.

A thousand years have passed
along with his mustachioed majesty (Hitler).
And now we’re supposed to start all over!
Forward march, or it will be too late.
Left, two, three, four,
left, two, three —
because our heads, because our heads
are still solidly on our necks.

Countryside, East of Berlin: June 1945

Ruth Andreas-Friedrich and a friend cycled into the countryside east of Berlin one day in June 1945. This is what they saw:

We climb over an embankment and stop as if frozen. Merciful heaven. Have we wandered into a migration of the people? An endless procession of misery is rolling away in front of us from East to West. Women and men, old and young, hurled together at random, as fate drove them together. Some from Posen (Poznan), others from East Prussia. These from Silesia, those from Pomerania. They’re carrying their belongings on their backs. To anywhere, wherever their feet carry them. A child totters by. A pitiful little boy. “It huuuuurts,” he sobs to himself. He balances miserably on his bare heels and stretches his bleeding soles at a sharp angle into the air.

Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945 – 1955, p. 63

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