Beatings, hunger, diphtheria: nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s reminiscences of his 1945-’46 internment in Allied prison camps
The following entry will be the final excerpt posted from nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s post-War autobiographical novel Der Fragebogen, the end of the ‘Monthly Fragebogen’ series which has continued over the past year. I’m not sure what will replace it, at this point, but something will – having to maintain a regular monthly posting pattern has been very useful, even if the content hasn’t always been the most popular. The entry below comprises a number of extracts taken from the final quarter of van Solomon’s novel, in which he describes in detail his detainment by the Allied military authorities in the Natternberg, Plattling, and Langwasser civilian internment camps from 1945-’46 on the charge of being a “big Nazi” and a “security threat”. von Salomon was left deeply embittered by this experience and by his ill-treatment at the hands of the American GI’s, not least because he had long associated with members of the Resistance and had additionally risked his own safety by sheltering his half-Jewish lover Ille Gotthelft (who was herself arrested and detained for a period alongside him!). Natternberg especially was notorious for being a particularly poorly-run camp, and the ill-treatment which internees suffered (starvation and beatings were common, and disease was especially rife, exacerbated by what seemed like a deliberate lack of medicines) created a deep, overriding cynicism in the author about the supposed humanitarian intentions underlying the American war effort. I have extracted a number of different segments from this section of the novel to try and give readers an idea of what life was like for German detainees in these camps, since it is an aspect of WWII which seems to be very frequently glossed-over. It is often difficult to engender sympathy for the plight of Germans interned by the Allies (not to mention for those ethnic-Germans displaced from their ancestral homelands in Silesia and the Sudetenland), considering the well-known conditions in German-run concentration camps, but the reality of what occurred should regardless not be ignored. Ernst von Salomon’s novel provides a rare and very personal insight into what life was like for those Germans who were imprisoned in the wake of their nation’s defeat.
As we drove across Munich all the inmates of the truck were silent. We passed through the horribly smashed city, through ruins. I looked at Ille. She sat in the back of the jeep, and the dust had covered her face with a grey film. She had removed her hat… Now she was crying, and her tears made little channels through the dust on her face. We drove through Munich, heading north… We saw a sign marking a road fork that led to Plattling. So we must be nearing the Danube valley. One of the two teachers amused himself by peeping through a slit in the canvas that separated us from the driver and announcing the names of the villages through which we passed. We sat, tired, sweaty and silent, in the truck and he announced:
At once the truck left the main road and drove along a farm track. Suddenly I saw an American soldier seated behind a machine-gun. Then we passed a high, barbed-wire fence, with behind it squat, grey-green barrack huts. The track turned sharply and we stopped. The jeep had drawn up immediately behind the truck, and I could look straight down at Ille. She raised her eyes to mine and smiled. All at once there seemed to be a great many American soldiers milling about the two vehicles. One went up to the jeep and grinned at the driver, saying with a nod of his head towards Ille:
The MP said:
“No – internee.”
The expression on the soldier’s face changed instantly. Grabbing Ille brutally by the arm he pulled her to her feet, shouting:
“You dirty ––––– . . . mak snell! Mak snell!”
Then he pushed her out of the jeep. She stumbled and fell. Her little case landed on top of her. She looked anxiously up towards me; her eyes were filled with a helpless astonishment. Continue reading →
“Ever heard of what they call ‘shot while attempting to escape?'” Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon describes his brief brush with arrest and imprisonment in early 1933
Despite his deep involvement in the radical-nationalist politics of the Weimar era, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon was regarded with some distrust by the National Socialist government following the 1933 Machtergreifung. von Salomon was an ‘Ehrhardt man’, a follower of prominent Marine Brigade Freikorps leader Hermann Ehrhardt, whose relationship with Hitler and the NSDAP had been largely antagonistic and was probably the original source of much of the regime’s suspicion. Ehrhardt had helped stymie Hitler’s attempts to march on Berlin in 1923, had been behind the (absolutely disastrous) alliance between Otto Strasser and SA-rebel Walter Stennes in 1931, and his more prominent followers had moved fairly openly in National Bolshevik or similar circles prior to 1933. The company the writer kept following Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship would not have helped allay any latent mistrust, considering he tended to mix with those who the new state regarded as politically unreliable. von Salomon’s reputation as a potential troublemaker was further compounded by an incident which occurred while visiting the home of writer friend Hans Fallada on 7 April, 1933, shortly after the NSDAP took power. Fallada had attempted to shock his housemaid by telling her that his guest was an “assassin”, a reference to von Salomon’s role in the Rathenau-murder and his (alleged) involvement in the Landvolk bombings of the late ’20s. The housemaid promptly gossiped about the mysterious houseguest to Fallada’s landlords, who in turn decided to report this “assassin” to the authorities, reasoning that they had intercepted a plot to murder the Führer. The inevitable result was both men being picked up by the police on the 12th and held without charge for a fortnight or so, a period of internment that was thankfully brief due to the intercession of friends helping clear up the misunderstanding. von Salomon’s account of this experience is transcribed below, taken from the 1954 English translation of his post-WWII bestseller Der Fragebogen.
Easter of 1933 found me living at Grünheide near Erkner, a suburb to the east of Berlin. The owner of a guest-house on Lake Peetz had furnished for me a small building some distance from his pension. It consisted of one room only, but it was big enough and comfortable enough for me to be able to sleep in it and work in it as well. Rowohlt lived a hundred yards away, in a small house with a narrow garden that led down to the lake shore. I could see from the light in his sleeping porch whether or not he was at home. He usually returned exhausted and then he would throw me out by noisily lowering the bed on his veranda. One evening I went over, thinking that I might be able to discuss something with him, but he pulled down his bed; I strolled back to my own place, feeling rather depressed, worked for a little, and then went to bed. It seemed to me that I had only just fallen asleep when I was awakened by noise and a tremendous banging on my door. I cried:
“All right, Rowohlt, what is it?”
But it wasn’t Rowohlt. It was the police. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was precisely six a.m. I thought, with a certain satisfaction, that they were acting exactly according to form. I turned on the light and opened the door. Immediately the room was filled with powerfully built men, who brought with them the fresh morning air. They fell upon my bed and table, and rummaged through my trunk and my suits.
“Why didn’t you open the door at once?” one of them asked me. I replied that I had wished to check that it was really six o’clock. The man said:
“So you know all about it, eh?”
I assured him that I did know more or less all about this sort of thing. That was a mistake, for the man said at once:
“In that case I needn’t waste a lot of words on you. You’re under arrest.” Continue reading →