Fritz – All I Do Not Know

My father was born 1930 in Breslau (Ger., Eng.). His father was named Wilhelm in 1896, his mother Emma, I do not know her year of birth, she was a bit younger than her husband. They married maybe 1928.
Wilhelm and Emma were born in villages somewhere in Silesia (Oels?), I do not know when and how they came to the main city, where and when they met. Wilhelm miraculously survived WWI serving in the front line, at Verdun (Ger., Eng.) and somewhere near the chemin des dames (Ger., Eng.). I think there is a gap of some years in his biography, it may be a total imagination, but the family lore only starts sometime in the mid-Twenties, when he started to work self-employed in his business as tailor. The family of his wife always looked a bit down on him, because Emma came from a more bourgeoise staple, her brothers and sisters (as I recall it) were better off; I think to remember that one or two of them were members of the Stadtrat of Breslau, but I may be wrong. At least I remember that she told me about the fine and vornehm habitations her siblings lived in. The rented flat in the suburb Wilhelm could provide was not genügend.
Fritz was the only child. His childhood and youth were seemingly easy. He always remembered the summers and the Freibad, swimming was his favourite, and table tennis. He was a member of some swimming club, I do not know the details, but they trained swimming, diving, jumping and so on. He spent the summer either in the open-air bath or in the river. For some time Emma was working in the Freibad, I have no idea what she did there – but he got free entrance.
Wilhelm was busily working on his sewing machine. He was Meister, a master craftsman,, so he could employ Gehilfen and train Gesellen. His business consisted mostly in changing standard clothes to individual fitting (Änderungsschneiderei) and he worked on contract basis for the large clothing sellers. They would sell a suit and if the customer needed changes, Wilhelm would do it. He bought special equipment, notably a machine that could stitch leather – even when I learned to know him as a child (he died in the late sixties when I was not yet in school!) – he mentioned that machine that it made him stand out and get better jobs.
The NS? Wilhelm was initially  not averse to the whole thing, but it changed a lot when he was badly beaten by SA, for looking not aryan enough – he was a small dark-haired man. Emma was not very fond of the Fuehrer, she simply rejected the pseudo-religious features of “the movement”; she was deeply rooted in her christian believe, worked a lot for the church, the protestant of course – later, after the war, she was very dedicated to the small Lutheran parish she found in the middle of the deep catholic Bavarian Forrest.
At the start of WWII Wilhelm was drafted into the air force (!); for some time nothing happened and he was in the barracks, where his wife visited him with their son. He was then sent to Peenemünde (Ger., Eng.) to guard the missile developing centre (Ger., Eng.). But after a short time, maybe 1941 (or early 1942), he was 45 then, they sent him home. He reached the age, the Reich was winning everywhere, you’ve done your duty. Breslau was for a long time a peaceful place, I do not think that there were bombing raids.
Fritz went to school. They sent him to a Realgymnasium (Ger. only), and he was in the last class of this school: I am not sure, but I think the whole thing called Realgymnasium was abandoned then. The war came nearer (Ger., Eng.), and Breslau was “evacuated” – a damn crime, I do not want to go into details. Fritz was sent together with his class to a place in the Eulengebirge (Ger., Eng.), South of Breslau: No worries, you’ll be back at Christmas. Yeah. They were taught the regular curriculum, as possible, and additionally such nice things like putting together a machine gun and using a Panzerfaust (Ger., Eng.). This must have happened winter 1944/45.
Wilhelm was reactivated and had to serve in the Volkssturm (Ger., Eng.). He became a Meldeläufer or Meldegänger, dispatch runner,  in the Festung Breslau. Emma was arbeitsdienstverpflichted (Ger., Eng.), and worked in a can factory. I have no clue what they canned there. And I do not know how she escaped from this place. They were separated. Wilhelm made it later into British captivity, he was found in Plön (Ger., Eng.) – no clue how he made it. He was in Breslau after the fall of the “fortress”, and when he came to the destroyed house he once lived in, he was nearly beaten to death by Poles for plundering: He wanted to rescue his sewing machines.
Emma was somehow evacuated and came to the above mentioned Bavarian Forrest. They heard of each other simply by accident, via a former co-tenant, who accidentally ran into Emma on a station, she had met Wilhelm earlier on her travel through the mess.
Fritz? Was on his own. The class should become formally members of the HJ (Ger., Eng.) to Fuehrers Geburtstag 1945 (Ger. only). But they came to the ceremony in unsuitable clothes and were not marching – my father did not know, even after forty years, whether the officer in charge (he remembered it to be Wehrmachtsoffizier, no party-honcho) was simply fed up with this unmilitary class, or whether he used their appearance as an excuse to spare them this nonsense. Anyway – the teachers one by one dropped off, and the bunch was on their own. They cheated death one time when they were earmarked to go to Dresden, their train did not come. They could watch Dresden going to hell in one night of February 1945 – and went back to their Baude (Ger. only) in the mountains.
I do not know whether he went there in a group or alone, but he went to Colditz, the safest place in the rest of the Reich (Ger., Eng.). I do not know how long he was there. Some day the Russians arrived and the war was over. He had no idea where (or if) his parents were alive, so he worked as farm hand, Pferdeknecht.
I do not know how or when he decided to go, but as I recall it was his own decision. So he went away to the West over the “grüne Grenze”. When he was in the West the Red Cross could give him the whereabouts of his mother, Emma had earlier arrived in the woods. This must have happened 1947 or early in 1948. So he went to his mother and started to learn a profession. First of all he had to go to school again, because he had no  formal Schulabschluss – he once showed me the house where he had to attend classes.
After that he learned the profession of a Kaufmann, merchant. Daily commute of more than one hour in one direction with the train through the green nothingness, we did this travel on some occasions together years later. 1948 Wilhelm surfaced, and the family was together again.
Sometime in the early fifties (1951, at 21) Fritz finally decided to join the Zoll (Ger., Eng.). I have no idea why. He hated weapons and I never (not even as child!) saw him in a uniform. Maybe the idea of a safe income, the promise of stability was overwhelming. They sent him to the North of Bavaria to the inner German border. Their first “office” in a village called Fornbach was a former pigsty. He served at this damn line through the fifties, met my mother, they married.
I stop this waffle here. Too long. Maybe I will continue later.

Interesting Women: Mechthilde Peto

She is born (1879) Mechthilde Christiane Marie Gräfin von und zu ARCO-ZINNEBERG (Ger., Eng., DNB),  was correctly addressed as Mechthilde Christiane Marie Fürstin LICHNOWSKY between 1904 and 1937, and finally lived and died (1958) as Mechthilde Christiane Marie PETO.
Mechthilde, a Urururenkelin of Empress Maria Theresia, has a nice childhood, spent on a castle in Niederbayern and in the family palais in Munich. Her catholic education is strict, what is not the worst, and “open” at the same time, among other things she learns French and English fluently (she will later write a novel in French).
In Munich she meets the young British military attaché Ralph HARDING PETO in 1901, they become engaged, but the family does not accept this mésalliance. In 1904 she marries Fürst Karl Max LICHNOWSKY (Ger., Eng.) (1860-1928), a man in his early forties then, 19 years her senior, who has just retired from his career in the ministry of foreign affairs. They have three children, the marriage is seemingly not an unhappy one. In those years until 1912, they live in houses belonging to Fürst LICHNOWSKY, mostly in Schloss Grätz (Ger.) and Kuchelna (Ger., Eng.) in Mährisch Schlesien (Ger., Eng.). Under her influence these places become gathering points for literates, musicians: People like KEYSERLING (Ger., Eng.), HOFMANNSTHAL (Ger., Eng.), C. STERNHEIM  (Ger., Eng.) and others show up; she works together with a certain Karl KRAUS (Ger., Eng.) on texts of NESTROY (Ger., Eng.), and the Viennese thunderer and the Tyrolian countess are linked in a lifelong friendship since these days, until his death 1936. Must have been carefree and happy times.

Her husband is always counted among those who would get an important job in the ministry of foreign affairs, and this becomes true – seemingly after the Kaiser has misunderstood an article the Fürst had written about British-German relations. LICHNOWSKY himself writes in his memoires that the first proposed candidate was found to be too old, two others turned the job down, so he became the  ambassador of the Deutsche Reich at St.James’s (Ger., Eng.). The last before the Great War.
Mechthilde was not a Mauerblümchen, but an ideal model for this role. As Alfred KERR (Ger., Eng.) put it: “The house of the German ambassador is the only place where not the buffet is the main attraction, but the hostess”. She collects art and has some paintings of this strange Spaniard PICASSO on the walls (blue phase), she writes books and establishes a salon: When she comes to London in 1912 she already has a lot of contacts in the cultural European scene of the day, and she uses them.
In August 1914 her husband – as one of the very very few of the elite in the Reich – stands the test of time: Fürst LICHNOWSKY – a man deeply rooted in the 19th century! – is the only one in the ministry of foreign affairs who seriously opposes war as means of politics, who actively works for peace: One of his last telegrams simply says: “There is nothing to win!”
They do not listen to him in Berlin. When he has to leave London the British give him an Ehrenkompagnie, a very fine gesture to a brave man, who had tried all his best to avoid the abyss. LICHNOWSKY is later (1917) expelled from the Prussian house of Lords, but this itself ceases to exist after just one more year – then there is no more Reich. The usual dickheads screamed “traitor”, but it is a sad fact: He stood the test, those in charge to make decisions, not. He dies 1928.

Mechthilde’s first book is published before WWI, a travelbook about Egypt. Later she writes novels and plays, and  in the 1920 establishes herself as a well-known writer with essays, newspaper work and so on. After the death of her husband she spends most of her time outside of Germany, notably in France, especially after 1933. 1936 Mechthilde should join the Reichsschrifttumskammer, what she plainly refuses to do. So her books are not published in Germany anymore and she is de facto verboten. She leaves and we find her among the expatriates who come together in Southern France in 1937 – an illustrious crowd, definitely good compagnie. In the late 1930s her first love, the young attaché from Munich, steps back into her life, and she marries Ralph HARDING PETO (scroll down) in 1937, they settle in London. Mechthilde goes back to Germany on family business in 1939, I have no idea what was so important to her. Despite the fact that she has a British passport she is not allowed to leave Germany – she will not meet her husband again: Major Ralph H. PETO dies in September 1946.
During the war she lives in Munich and in the house in Graetz, and as a foreigner has to show up at the local police station every week. She writes, but of course does not publish. When I piece it together correctly the end of the war finds her in Silesia, in the small part that comes to the new   Tschechoslowakei (Ger., Eng.). So she may have found herself in the midst of the expellation of  Germans (Ger., Eng.). She comes back to London at the end of 1946, some months after her husband’s death, the house in Graetz and other possessions of the family were confiscated by the new state.

She publishes her first book after the war in 1949, Worte über Wörter, a Sprachkritik about style. Some say that it could be compared to KLEMPERERs Lingua Tertii Imperii – I have ordered her book via Fernleihe and am eager for reading it.
Since the beginning of the fifties new editions of her titles start to be published, she receives some honours: In 1950 she becomes a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung and the Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur. The brand new oh so democratic state and the old society want to adorne itself with those, who did not what they did in the twelve years. Mechthilde lives quietly and humbly in London: She did not visit again the house the German ambassador once had. A journey to Germany or to Munich is impossible, not for monetary reasons, but not after those times of Ungeist. There is a break, a fracture between the individual education and the general cultural decay she had to witness first hand, and the language mirrors it. Her prose is characterised as strict and rigid, dismissive even; she understands language as the tool for the Geist to express itself – the “expert” sees language as tool for domination, what is nothing else but oppression.
I think her writings earn to be rediscovered, an interesting woman.

Sources besides those in the text: Literaturportal Bayern (German only), Lesekost (German only), fembio (German only, with a bibliography and further sources), der SPIEGEL 1949 (German only).

Still Untitled

The 24th of December. In the coming night, as tradition wants it, Jesus Christ is said to be born, the 25th being his birthday. Lets hope that Mary has not to suffer, any mother giving birth should not. Maybe there lies a secret of  faith, in the repetition, in the understanding that a divine act happened once and is always repeated, by any man to come, by any woman who brings another Erlöser on this world. Maybe this is what theologians mean when they speak about the presence of the ransom. On the other hand, Wolfdietrich SCHNURRE (1920-1989) (Ger., Eng.) once said that redemption is a promise not honoured (ein Versprechen, das nicht eingelöst wird)*.
I came back from my trip through the War, visited places I never had heard of, and finally met my fate in the form of a Russian hand grenade on the banks of the river Düna (Ger., Eng.). Must be a very nice scenery, at least according to the pictures I found on the web. I wish I had time and money to travel, the Baltic states, and the region from the Ostsee to the Black Sea would be one of my favourite areas, roughly the East End of Europe. I would especially like to visit the Krim (Ger., Eng.) and Charkow (Ger., Eng.).
Today pictures of the letters must be taken – I tried and failed this afternoon, and do not know why. I am used to photograph originals out of churchbooks under challenging circumstances, but I have no idea why it did not work today, in a heated room with natural light. I was tense and knotted, sweating heavily, as if I’d do heavy labour. After a first glance at the pictures I thought that only some “Ausreißer”, some runaways, had gone wrong. But there were too much of them, and the pictures are deleted now. Tomorrow a professional will take care of this. My only job left is to carefully put the original letters into archival maps (“Archivmappen”) and write the correct date on them. Put it carefully in an archival box and burn a CD with the transcriptions, a register and a kind of explaining text or history.
I love my profession, and I did this job  with dedication, but I am glad that it is over.

I wish You All a happy Christmas, or a happy Holiday Season, whatever you prefer. I am not in a festive mood, I am just glad that this year is over. I am happily looking forward to the week zwischen den Jahren – I don’t know whether there is an English equivalent or translation for this. It means just the normally quiet week between Christmas an New Year. Today I found an Aldi leaflet in my letter box offering fireworks, something called “Vienna”, “Lisbon”, “Bristol” etc. … oh yeah, just bomb it, honey … Nowadays they do not just offer some rockets on a stick, but up to three crates of explosives mounted on one base – nur einmal Anzünden.  Maybe this is world economy at its finest: People somewhere in the world produce explosives, that are shipped around the world only to be sold to and blown up by other people. Absolutely useless. Well, at least it’s meant to do no harm. But basically it remains nonsensical.
Anyway, bomb or don’t, I don’t care.
Here’s some festive music.
I prefer Bells over bombs. By William BYRD (ca. 1543-1623) (Ger., Eng.). Performed by Michael Maxwell STEER.
Hope you enjoy it.

Happy Christmas. Peace, love, and understanding.



* Der Schattenfotograf, 1978. Recommended.


Wolfgang Koeppen (the english article is a stub) was an outsider of the writer’s “guild” in Germany after the war. He wrote a trilogy (Trilogie des Scheiterns: Tauben im Gras; Das Treibhaus; Tod in Rom, 1951-1954) about the newly installed gouvernment, the “new” society, about the old elites, the democratic-painted fascism – and he was shunned. He recieved prizes, yes, but he found it all the more difficult to write, so he went on travels and made travel-books. As I see it he wrote no autobiography. Dagmar von Biel edited autobiographical texts by Koeppen (“Ich ging Eulenspiegels Wege. Ein Lesebuch”, 1. Aufl. Frankfurt/Main 1996) and there is a short piece titled “Mein Freund August Scholtis” (My friend August Scholtis). Now I reached the subject of this post.
Koeppen describes very short how he met the man in the pre-fascist Berlin, a little about Scholtis origin and a scene from the war-time that stuck in his memory:
“I once met Scholtis on the Kurfürstendamm. He wore an incredibly shabby uniform. I did not recognize him until he stood in front of me, raised the right arm and with a croaky, irate, put down (“unterdrückten”) voice in his native silesian dialect pressed out “Heil Hietler”. It was the scream of a tormented cat that was on the verge of running amok. After the war, alone and nearly forgotten, he wrote his memoirs “Ein Herr aus Bolatitz” [A Sir from Bolatitz, it’s bitter irony]. A very German book from a very German time.”
Of course I have to read. It is sometimes nearly unbearable. Scholtis was born 1901 in Bolatitz in the “Hultschiner Ländchen” – can you find that on a map without help? It is in Oberschlesien, today it belongs to Tschechien. In the 50s and 60s Scholtis engaged himself in the first tries of reconciliation – what isolated him even more in Germany, because nobody wanted to talk to “the goddam communists that stole our “Heimat”” and a writer and journalist telling people that the eviction of the Germans after 1945 is a result of the elections of 1933 had to fear for his health in the new democratic Germany, especially when he expressed sympathy for the communist ideas – Scholtis grew up in feudal structures, behind the Schnaps-factory of his lordship and that is no joke.
Blessed or cursed with a cast-iron memory he describes his childhood and youth – I am reading still about the years before WWI – and some sentences just hit me, when he describes the innocent happiness of the child, the joys on the fields, gardens – und dann schwankte mein betrunkener Vater zwischen den Kühen, and my drunk father staggered between the cows. Violence, alcoholism, nationalism, the authorities (Fürst, Richter, Amtmann, Pfarrer), teachers mostly uncapable … this man will later in Berlin play Chopin for friends – as Koeppen remembers, where did he learn that? -, will write novels and for newspapers for money, will somehow survive all the nonsense called German history (his descriptions of the “comrades” in his American captivity, oh Herr), will recognize the lie of the “Stunde Null” (Start from Zero) the democratic catholic Bonn democracy is based upon, and will finally put an end to his life 1969.
I do not have a very German family-name. My father was born in Breslau, the silesian capital, only recently I found by chance my grandfather in an old address-book: “Wilhelm G., Maßschneider, Breslau I, Marthastr. 4”. My father knew about the Hultschiner Land, he was there before the war. I would very much like to visit this area and see the village August Scholtis describes, where he was born 107 years ago, right into the middle ages.