Monthly Fragebogen: ‘A bashing! A proper bashing!’

Jailed by American occupying forces, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon encounters some “old Nazis”

Last month I started a new ARPLAN series, The Monthly Fragebogen, in which I post extracts from nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s post-War autobiographical best-seller Der Fragebogen. In this month’s excerpt from the novel we encounter von Salomon in prison, shortly after being arrested by US military forces in June 1945 for the crime of being a “security threat” and a “militarist.” von Salomon had never joined the NSDAP and had associated with members of the Resistance, like Hartmut Plaas and Harro Schulze-Boysen, yet this was not enough to avoid his arrest and placement first in the Kitzbühel prison, then in a series of concentration camps. This excerpt is the beginning of the long ending section of von Salomon’s memoir which describes his experiences of internment in these American-run prison camps, where he and hundreds of other German officials, soldiers, and National Socialists lived in abominable conditions. von Salomon’s description of the treatment he and others were meted out (which grows considerably worse following on from the section below) was intended to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the forces of Democracy and Liberalism, that they were neither against brutal interrogation techniques, nor against using internment to help locals settle personal scores. 

The cell was quite large for one person and quite small for two. On either side stood wire beds on which were laid very repulsive, lumpy and incredibly filthy sacks of straw. But at least there was no latrine-bucket. My cellmate was a native of Kitzbühel, a tailor by trade, and he immediately offered to turn the worn collar of my summer coat when I was ‘outside.’ He had to serve a ten days’ stretch for having broken the curfew. He had been drunk at the time. Herr Bacherl [the prison warder] was a friend of his. Herr Bacherl had been a prison official even before the First World War. On the door hung a notice so faded as to be almost illegible, but the Imperial and Royal seal was still visible. Herr Bacherl seemed to be a persevering and at the same time adaptable character.

From downstairs horrible noises were again audible, coming from the interrogation room. My tailor knew all about it.

“It’s the other fellow now,” he said.

Apparently it was two parachute soldiers who were being ‘interrogated’ by the Polish-American officer. They had been arrested on a charge of using the syringes with which SS men could remove the ‘blood group’ tattoo-mark. It was the first time I heard about such things. The two parachute soldiers, who had been left here in Kitzbühel,  were sent for alternately and beaten to a jelly.

Midday dinner was excellently cooked but there was very little of it. I requested Herr Bacherl that he convey my congratulations to his wife and my thanks for her excellent cooking. Should she need anyone to help her peel the potatoes, the young lady who had arrived with me had considerable experience of such work. Herr Bacherl seemed impressed and thoughtful.

I was very worried about Ille. I was shocked at how wrong her reactions had been. The first night in the Kitzbühel lock-up I slept extremely badly, and solely on account of Ille. The whole afternoon I had spent walking anxiously up and down, waiting to be interrogated, though I kept telling myself that this was most unlikely. The gentlemen were certainly in no hurry: such gentlemen never are.

My tailor was not particularly communicative. He had already been inside for a couple of days and hoped to be ‘remitted’ after five more. He said, secretively:

“Here in Austria you can fix anything.”

Herr Bacherl had an assistant, Walter by name, and he was an honest-to-God ‘resistance fighter.’ At first I imagined that he had been given his present job in order that he might keep an eye on that ‘forced Nazi’ Bacherl – but it later transpired that Bacherl was his father-in-law. I had frequently attempted to explain to Ille that most trouble inside prisons resulted from the way unaccustomed prisoners allowed the warders to treat them. This was the reason why criminals were usually quite happy in gaol, while intellectuals later wrote books about how they had been insulted. It was a great relief to me to find that Ille, after recovering from her initial shock, had regained her self-control. Even on the second day she had reached such a point with little Walter that she persuaded him to fetch me to her door. Through the old-fashioned key-hole I could see her seated on her bed, her arms clutched about her knees. She came to the door as soon as she heard my voice. Herr Bacherl had already proposed to her that she help his wife with the potatoes, and Ille had immediately agreed. Now, however, she was already angling for another job, one that would give her an opportunity of coming in contact with the Americans. She whispered that I need not be anxious on her account. Apart from this, Walter would serve as a link between us. Ille was all right. Continue reading