Have you seen Hitler? And Do you know about that? Written by Walter Kempowski Published 1973 and 1979. These were the two questions he put to ordinary Germans after the war. The witness statements have now been produced in one volume.
The first reaction is denial. “No, I didn’t see Hitler. “I was in the lead all that time.”
As if this also buys some kind of debt. Because not seeing him gives you the opportunity to distance yourself from him and shift responsibility.
Have you seen Hitler? That’s the question German writer Walter Kempowski posed to “about 500 West Germans, friends, family, colleagues, museum curators, dealers and elderly people.”
He initially did this during the research phase of his novel Tadeluser Wolf (1971). But because Kempowski noted that the answers “may be of general interest,” he compiled them into the book Do you think Hitler would be insulted? (Have you seen Hitler?) which will appear in 1973.
The man who has been at the forefront all this time was a writer born in 1921. He is the first to be introduced in the first chapter where no one has seen Hitler yet. In the second act, everyone has seen it, and they pretty much know what kind of meat they have in store.
These two chapters, which have been manipulated to spice things up, are set before Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933. Kempowski then edits the answers in such a way that they follow Hitler chronologically.
Questioning people about Hitler is risky. This is why Kempowski does not ask, “What do you think of Hitler?”, but rather, “Have you seen Hitler?” In answers to the first question, nuances and compliments will be less clear.
Or as Sebastian Haffner, the writer and biographer of Hitler (1907-1999), says in a wide-ranging footnote titled “The Germans and Hitler”: “Because if you asked people directly what they thought about Hitler—their opinion then and those of today—it might still be There’s a lot of banter. Kempowski’s clever dribbling is even more fruitful.
“Hitler,” replied a business employee born in 1929, “is this still interesting?” Yes. Because I say, somewhat pedantically, lessons can be learned from him. or not. The answers will be very different from those in a future book titled Have you seen Putin?
Enthusiasm, apathy, horror, disbelief, and bewilderment are intertwined in these intriguing and frank eyewitness accounts. It reminds us of the beautiful books written by Belarusian Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich about the landmarks of Russian history. Don’t write about it, but let it be described. Direct, difficult, unconvincing.
Also in the second part of Kempowski’s book: Do you know about that? (Would you like a Davon Geosit?, published in 1979), all those feelings come back. Strikingly: Kempowski, who referred to the existence of concentration camps, rarely received the answer “We never knew anything about that.” Here too, first “No!”
Many of the answers in this part are all the more poignant, because the unthinkable and death are so common. The good thing about these “investigative books,” as Kempowski calls them, is that no judgment is passed on people who judge themselves and condemn themselves. The books are a “choral accompaniment” to the history of Hitler’s Germany. Awesome.
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