I creep out at 10 o’clock...a wilderness of fire and dust.. We drink the last water that comes out of the heaters... City power is gone completely... Dead horses are cut up in the midst of bombardment, the meat eaten raw. I fear the very worst. God take pity!
When I discovered my grandfather’s 1945 diaries, the war came back in terrifying detail and at the same time the little books raised a torrent of questions about my grandfather, the Nazi era, and my involvement in German guilt.
My grandfather’s story raises disturbing questions about myself and my family, but it also helps to stitch together some sense of history. In the end there is only a personal position and the sum of such positions makes up history.
Despite war, human beings reach out to each other in kindness, compassion, even love.
What kind of times are they, when
A talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
Bert Brecht: Lines from “To Those Born Later,” trans. John Willett
A group of Studebaker workers win out over segregation in the 1950's and build a legacy.
A memoir I did not want to write. The Reluctant Nazi uses my grandfather's diary in Berlin 1945 interwoven with my own memories and reflections.
The story of the first German immigrants to northern Indiana also is the story of the growth of South Bend and the development of the surrounding woods and swamps into farm land.
Kurt Simon left Germany when he was only 16 and made his fortune in America. At age 93 he sees it as his greatest accomplishment, however, that, while still poor, he was able to bring his family out of Hitler’s Germany in 1937.
The incoherence, violence and moodiness of John Whiting's plays fits perhaps our time even better than the 1950's and 60's when he wrote them.
Even today, the time to examine what happened in Germany under Hitler is by no means gone. “Gone is only the time of shameful silence,” noted the president of the Max Planck Institute. My book The Reluctant Nazi: Searching for my Grandfather is such an accounting of both German guilt and German suffering seen through the lens of my Prussian grandfather’s Berlin diary of 1945 and my own memories. It’s an intimate family story as well as a broader historical perspective.
For a long time I did not want to write this memoir. The World War II diaries I discovered tell not only of my grandfather’s perilous existence during the bombing of Berlin and the Russian occupation, they also revealed that the grandfather I loved, who took me in after the war—my father a Luftwaffe fighter pilot was killed in the war—had been a member of the Nazi Party. For over 60 years I had not felt implicated in the guilt of the Third Reich. Now I had to face a painful re-evaluation of my family and my nationality.
Biography and Local History
As English professor, I had published on modern drama from Ibsen to Pinter and Stoppard. Later I switched to more popular pieces on the wine bars, the Heurigen, of Vienna and its famed coffeehouses. I also became interested in local history. I wrote a book about 19th century German immigrants to northern Indiana who played such an important role in developing the area. Through hundreds of letters I found, I could add some personal stories including those of women who often don’t have a voice in immigration history.
One of the most rewarding results of my research was that I could initiate a sister city relationship between South Bend and Arzberg, the little town in Bavaria from where many of the settlers came. Because of this, people from South Bend rediscovered their roots and Arzbergers found out what happened to their ancestors in the New World. I was awarded the keys of the city of South Bend, the honor medal of Arzberg, and was made a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest honor.
I also wrote a book about a more recent Jewish immigrant. Kurt Simon emigrated from Germany in 1930 and 8 years later rescued as many of his family as he could from Nazi Germany. Sadly most other family members perished in the Holocaust.