The Fallen, Dead & Lampedusa War Refugees (Satis Shroff)

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Today we were gathered at the War Memorial in a hamlet called Kappel, which belongs to Freiburg, for it's Volkstrauertag, the day the people of Germany think and pray for the sons of Kappel (and other hamlets, town and cities) who fell in the two Great Wars. The World War I was fought 100 years ago.

Submitted: November 17, 2014

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Submitted: November 17, 2014

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THE FALLEN, DEAD AND LAMPEDUSA REFUGEES (Satis Shroff)

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(Firebrigade men on Volkstrauertag in Freiburg-Kappel, Germany)

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Musikverein-Kappel (c)satisshroff

 

NOVEMBER is the month of remembering the fallen soldiers and the deceased. The British Prime Minister David Cameron was depicted in a press-photo laying a plastic flower among a sea of scarlet tulips. It was in memory of the 17 million dead of the World War I. That's the reason why 888246 ceramic tulips were planted around the Tower of London, with a traditionally clad Beef-Eater sentinal in the centre of the tulip field, for every tulip stands for a dead soldier of the British Armed Forces and the Armies of the British Colony (Africans, Chinese, Indians and Nepalese Gurkhas).

 

Today we were gathered at the War Memorial in a hamlet called Kappel, which belongs to Freiburg, for it's Volkstrauertag, the day the people of Germany think and pray for the sons of Kappel (and other hamlets, town and cities) who fell in the two Great Wars. The World War I was fought 100 years ago. A well-documented war in which people had no idea what they'd experience and how violent and gruesome it would be with mustard gas in the trenches. It wasn't a cricket match and a good many didn't return for Christmas to their homes.When the wind blew in the wrong direction the wrong armymen became the victims.

 

Erich Maria Remarques' novel 'Im Westen nichts Neues' is still regarded as the most important anti-war novel of the World War I. A lecture has been organised by the Joseph-Wirth Stiftung together with Freiburg City, the Goethe Institute and the French Cultural Centre. The theme of the lecture is 'Finally the Truth about the War.' Remarques relates in his novel about his own war-experiences with reports of other wounded solciers depicting the nightmare of the battle in the trenches of the Western Front.

 

It must be mentioned that this book, which was filmed in 1930, was forbidden by the national Socialists in Germany after they came to power.

 

The people in Europe and all over the globalised world are well-informed about the wars in the Near East, in Syrian and Iraq, as well as in the Ukraine, where the pro-Russian separatists are being assisted by Putin's Russia. Peace has become so fragile in a world where geopolitical and religious fanatism are showing their ugly heads. In the case of the countries attacked by the Islamic States, humanitarian help alone does not suffice, as our German President Gauck has often emphasised.

 

On the other side, the skirmishes between the Nato and Russia have been taking a alarming form of late. Nato military jets have carried out sorties against Russian warplanes over 100 times in 2014, three times as much as last year. There were 40 touch-and-go situations with the Russians which could have got out of control, according to the European Leadership Network based in London. The tension between Russia and the Nato has increased since the annexation of the Ukranian Crimea by Moscow in March, 2014.

 

The Quiet Catastrophe: Meanwhile, the flow of refugees to Italy, on their way to friendly European countries is dramatically increasing. In his blog 'Fortress Europe' the Italian journalist Gabriele del Grande writes about people who have tried to reach Europe and are either missing or have died. Since 1988, 18,673 people have died in their endevour to gain freedom in Europe.

 

2011 was the saddest year when 2,352 humans from various nations died or were missing on their way to Lampedusa, which has become the outer border of the European Union. Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea, has 5,000 inhabitants engaged in fishing and tourism. In the past years, an increasing number of refugees from Africa were stranded with the hope of acquiring asylum in Europe. They reached Lampedusa in rickety boats but in Lampedusa they were (and still are) greeted by a reception committee of 500 Italian policemen. The Carabinieri drive with blue-lights and bring the refugees to a crude, make-shift refugee camp.

 

The Schengener Agreement proclaims that a non-EU refugee can settle down in Europe only when he or she has a professional qualification which is deemed useful to an EU country or when he or she's politically persecuted. But can you really prove a persecution? If your life is in danger, why, you run away if you can. A lot of East Germany did it during the socialism rule under Eric Honnecker. They were ingenuous and crossed the GDR-FRG border by secretly digging tunnels, using balloons and even small, self-made aircraft or swam across the border.

 

It might be noted that after the Holocaust in which genocide was committed by the National Socialists in Germany and its conquered territories, the United nations proclaimed in 1951 the Geneva Refugee Convention, according to which a refugee is defined as a person who is persecuted for his or her political beliefs, nationality, race or religion. Furthermore, in the Treaty of Dublin, which was signed by the EU countries, as well as non-EU states like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, it was declared that a state has to consider the asylum application in which the refugee first enters or disembarks. This was a clever decision because only a low number of refugees come by plane to Paris (France) or Berlin (Germany). The consequence and the problem was thus ironically passed on to the Mediterranean stated like Spain, Italy and Greece.And thereby hangs a tale.

 

Moreover, Schengen and Dublin are known for their data-banks. The Schengen Information System (SIS) stores every data of persons who have been banned to travel in the Schengen signatory countries for the main reason that they came without visa. On the other hand, the databank Eurodac stores the fingerprints of all persons who have illegally entered the member states or who have crossed the outer border of an EU member state. This ensures that asylum can't be sought and granted in other EU countries and to thwart any attempt to seek asylum in the country. Nevertheless, there are cases of people who try again and again via dangerous paths to gain asylum in the well-guarded Fortress Europe.

 

The European border is big biz for Frontex which makes risk-analyses and recommends the European states to send personel, logistics to places where the most refugees are to be found who attempt to get to EU countries. Border observation and control mean a great deal of money and involves observation cameras, infrared cameras and satellites. All these costs the European Union 110 million euros, and there's even an European Day for Border Guards. The press isn't invited to this exclusive event because it's a pow-wow of border guards, security firms and the armaments industry.

 

This way, refugees become roofless, experience poverty and get provoked and attacked verbally, psychologically, and physically with the passage of time, especially whenever there's an economic crisis in a good many European countries. In Germany the refugees have become the targets of soccer hooligans and the neonazis, a volatile combination, which needs to be curbed by Chancellor Merkel and her government. Alone this year 2014 according to the Federal Criminal Department (Bundeskriminalamt) 86 criminal attacks were carried out from Januar till September in asylum homes.

 

 

Meanwhile, Green City Freiburg remembers the bombing of th Black Forest city during the First and the Second World Wars. Freiburg was bombed on November 27, 1944 and 3000 people died and a great part of the town was destroyed by Allied bombs (not to speak of the British dead caused by the Luftwaffe). 'Dem Vergessen entreissen' is the name of a book published jointly by Freiburg City, the Landesverein 'Badische Heimat' and Romberg verlag and deals with the victims of the memories of time-witnesses, who lived or still live, in Freiburg. A Freiburger historian named Carola Schark has gathered the names of many victims and written their stories of civil courage in the face of emergency. There's also mention of Freiburg's role during the Third Reich and about the protective measures around Freiburg's cathedral during the war.

 

On November 9, 2014 Freiburg also remembered the destruction of its Jewish Synagogue by the Nazis. It is heartening to note that the Society for Christian-Jewish Partnership, as well as Freiburg City and other organisations held a memorial event at the place where the olde synagogue stood. You could even take part in a guided-tour with the title 'The Jew.' Additionally, a portrait of Gertrude Luckner painted by Miron Lvov-Brodsky was also revealed, followed by a talk on Freiburg's Stolperstein by Ms. Marlies Meckel. If you come to this Schwarzwald metropolis you'll come across a lot of bronze cobbled stones with names of the Jews engraved on them. These were the Jews who once lived in Freiburg but who were murdered in the concentration camps through the use of Zyklon B, a nerve-gas, used by the Nazis. A ghastly reminder of a tragic and sad chapter in the history of Germany and this city.

 

* * *

STUMBLE STONES IN GREEN CITY(Satis Shroff)

Subtitle: Tripping into the Past

 

 

IF you walk along the cobbled streets of Green City Freiburg, your eyes will be attracted by the golden Stolpersteine. Stolpern means to trip over or stumble, and stein means a stone. You won’t trip over the golden, metallic ‘stones’ but your curiosity gets awakened. You stop, bend down and see an inscription on the stone which bears the names of people who lived in Freiburg and were deported by the Nazis and their helpers, who denounced them to Gurs (France) from where they were sent to the gas-chambers of Auschwitz.

 

One such deported person was the economics professor Dr. Robert Liefmann, born in 1874, deported in 1940 to Gurs. Shortly thereafter he died in the southern French lager Morlass. He’d lived in the house in Goethestrasse 33. He was deported with his sister Martha and Else in October 1940.wifeI Similar tripping-stones have been placed in the streets of Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin and Bonn, and since 2003 in Freiburg.

 

The initiator of this great, moving idea was Gunter Demnig, who’s idea it was to integrate the memories of the hideous crimes of the National Socialists into the daily lives of the inhabitants of Green City Freiburg.

 

A stolper-stones are only 10x10 centimetre in size, tucked between the cobbled stones and merely need the permission of the community, and not of the current house-owner. So if you’ve been a Nazi in the past (and even secretly now), you can do nothing about it. Gunter Demnig has had 2000 such stones placed in different cities of Germany. A brass stone costs 75 euros and is sponsored by the people. Another brass-stone: ‘ Here lived Klara Maier-Blum (1875), deported in 1940 to Gurs, dead on 13.01.1941.

 

Gurs, it might be noted, is 1027km away from Freiburg. Gurs wasn’t a concentration camp. Unlike Dachau and Buchen, where there were SS-guards and camps for elimination of humans as in Auschwitz or Majdanek, Gurs was located in France and the guards were French: gendarmes at first and later French soldiers. In those months, small children and elderly people died in the camps due to hunger, weakness, diarrhoea, dehydration, typhoid and encephalitis. It was in the morning of October 22, 1940 that suddenly, and without warning, the police rang the doorbells of the Jewish population in Baden and Saarpfalz. What followed was jail, the concentration camp Ravensbrück. Dr. Gertrud Lückner said about these brutal, sad, miserable times of terror thus: ‘The concentration camp was Hell. We know it, we who had to experience the worst in terms of human sadism and brutality every day…’

 

Jews were given official permission to settle down where they pleased in Baden as far back as 1862. Since the Jews were settled, there were also Jewish grave-yards in Emmendingen and later in Freiburg. Ruben Frankenstein brought out a book with the title ‘Memorial and Name—the Good Town Freiburg.’ In this book you’ll also find the local historical stories, for instance, of a certain Family Mayer, especially Janette Mayer (1848-1918), who was a chair-person of the Israelite Women’s Association. Her son ran a leather-ware shop, and worked in the town council till 1933. His daughter dedicated a book to him ‘Der kleine Händler,der mein Vater war.’(The Small Trader Who Was My Father). He emigrated, returned to Freiburg and died in Freiburg in 1962.

 

Or think about Oscar Hirsch, who was deported with his wife to Gurs in 1940. This couple was saved from the gas chambers of Auschwitz through the help of their son, who lived in Switzerland.

 

The fact remains that millions of Jews were brutally and systematically killed and Jewish culture was destroyed, not only in Germany, but also in many European countries. The persecution of Jews is not new to history and cannot be explained only with modern, racist ideologies alone, for it dated back to many centuries in Christendom, when the arrogant, soulless theory of Jews as the murderers of the Christian God and thus second-class humans.

 

Was it already the seed of apartheid, of caste or class-system in the western society? The Jews were characterised as dark, evil and lowly objects, a projection of the own negative values and virtues. Was that perhaps the reason the churches were not lit during the Progrom Night? Was that the reason why the Christians didn’t shout and decry the injustice in the country, and didn’t build a wall between the Nazis and the Jews?

 

We saw a parallel when Hoyerswerder’s asylum-home was set to fire by neo-nazis and their friends from the local German population. What did the people do then? They encouraged the fire-devils and watched the spectacle from a safe distance with glee. And yet these very people go to church on Sundays to atone for their sins against humanity, against foreigners, against people from the southern hemisphere, who have left their homes to eke out a living, seeking a better, protected life than in their own war-torn, economically defunct or malfunctioning countries, where corruption and nepotism, destruction prevail.

 

Elie Wiesel wrote a book with the appropriate title ‘Make Prayers Out of My Stories’ which is indeed a noble gesture towards the injustice, criminal act and punishment that was meted out to the Jews, Gypsies, and disabled people of non-Teutonic, non-Aryan people in the years of the Third Reich. To rise from such terrible conditions and yet develop and preserve a noble stance is worthy of praise on the part of the survivors of the holocaust and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Revenge for the injustice was never an issue. The deep rooted source of hatred should be looked into, and the mechanism of this negative trait removed like a tumour that makes a section of the people in this modern, federal republic destroy lives, existence and property and holy graveyards where people are thought to have found peace.

 

What is needed is a life concept as Dr. Bernhard Maurer said on November 9, 1992 to solve such problems . He had then called upon people responsible for politics and economy to react. Let us consider together even today the dignity of human life and the desire and need for justice in the world. Let us build a culture of love instead, and encourage each other to fight against the lack of civil courage and injustice, and hatred and inhumanity which prevails in this world.

 

‘What does the Initiative Stolperstein do in Freiburg?’ you might ask. It’s a private honorary work that was started in March 2002. To date, it has placed 330 such stones in the cobbled streets of this medieval town which is Green City Freiburg today. The Initiative does research on the fate of the victims of the Nazis years in Freiburg, who belonged to different groups such as: the Jewish people, Sinti and Roma who were sentenced by special colours because of their appearance and origin, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, people who opposed the nazi-regime, victims of euthanasia, army deserters and others. The Initiative maintains contacts with relatives, friends and former neighbours of the victims. Moreover, it works intensively with schools together in work projects. Here is an excerpt from a book about the family Abraham with the title ‘Den Opfern ihre Namen zurückgeben’ (Give the Victims their Names) ‘Sainte Radegonde.’

 

Heinrich Rosenberg was born on march 17,1923 in Freiburg. He lived with their parents in the Jacobi-strasse 50. His father died after being arrested and deported to the concentration camp Dachau in 1938.

 

In October 22, 1940 Heinrich Rosenberg was deported with his mother and around 350 other Freiburger to the concentration camp (German: KZ) Dachau. A lot of children under 16 years could be saved but Heinrich was too old for this rescue operation. He and his mother were sent to the KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau via Kz-Drancy with the transport number 31. Heinrich,19, was murdered.

 

As you stroll along Green City Freiburg, the golden stones make you think of the Freiburger who were deported to blocks and barracks in concentration camps, like cattle and sheep. A barrack was 25 metres long 10 metre wide and the wind blew in at day and night. Sixty persons in a barrack, with not even straw-sacks. Husbands and wives were separated and all around you had barked wire. Barking dogs and their masters in brown uniforms. In Gurs alone, there were only 25 identity cards for over 1000 people. Hunger, dirt, poor hygiene, vegetating in dark, damp wooden barracks, like cattle before the big kill.

 

From 1939 till 1945 some 60,000 people were interned in Gurs. I know and elderly lady in Zäringen who went to look for her dear brother’s grave in France. As she talked to me, her burly husband came out of the house and barked at her: ‘Was schwäzt du wieder?’ She said softly ‘Tschüssle!’ and scurried into the crooked, self-built house, like a scared rabbit. I also met at another time a beady-eyed artist from Zähringen who had done wonderful portraits of people in peacetime. When I said I was also an artist, he took me to his secret atelier and showed me his collection of sketches done during the World War II of horror stricken German soldiers, emaciated faces and bodies of the Reichsarmy infantrists. They somehow reminded me of the potato-pickers of van Gogh done with charcoal. His line was: ‘You see, I was forced to join the army, so I painted instead of shooting innocent people.’ Shortly thereafter the old artist-cum-soldier died.

 

Towards the autumn of 1942 the Camp de Gurs became empty and 1070 people died due to the above-mentioned hygienic conditions. They lie buried near the graveyard are looked after today by Germans. A memorial reminds you of the people from Baden, Pfalz and Saarland who were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.

 

On September 2, every year the Jews who were killed in the holocaust are remembered in Germany, Europe under the aegis of ‘European Day of Jewish Culture.’

 

* * *

 

(Ceux de Gurs, Sketch on a newspaper by Max Lingner, Historical Museum, Luzern)

Commentary:

Holocaust and KZ Syndrome, Lest We Forget (Satis Shroff)

 

The German pope has indeed damaged the pontificate and the church, even though it was Cardinal Hoyos who’d ignored what sort of people the four members of the Pius-Brotherhood were. The four had been excommunicated in 1988. These bishops, especially Bishop Williamson, have emphatically stated that the misery and pain of the Jews and the holocaust was just fantasy, and that the Nazis hadn’t used Zyklon B to gas anyone.


 

My respect goes to Cardinal Lehmann who, at least, spoke of a ‘catastrophe for the survivors of the Holocaust’ and went so far as to demand an apology from the highest instance. Freiburg’s Cardinal Zollitsch took two whole weeks to react, but came up an invitation for the Central Council of Jews, to talk about the matter which is a step in the right direction. Normally, the Vatican is something of a master in presenting its own multimedia profile. This time there was a hitch. The Vatican didn’t even think it was relevant to inform the bishops of France and Switzerland about the Pius-Brotherhood quartet, which was banned by Pope Johannes Paul II.


 

Be that as it may, I found Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted swiftly and showed statemanship and political correctness, when she talked with the German pope about the holocaust lies spread by Bishop Williamson, and the contorted version of the bible interpreted by the late Marcel Lafebvre (1905-1991), who made the Jews responsible for the murder of Jesus. The Pius-Brotherhood founded in 1970 has 500 priests and 600,000 followers.


 

The politically correct attitude towards Israel of the German government under Merkel has grown out of the ashes of the holocaust. In the past, around the thirties, it was easier to be silent for the majority of the Germans, when their Jewish neighbours were being insulted, beaten, humiliated, discriminated by Hitler’s brown shirts, and later accompanied by force to the concentrations camps and eventually to the gas-chambers. Zykon B was a dreaded name in those days.


 

It was only after the World War II, when it became public, that many Germans realised what an infamy and act of criminality and inhumanity its armed forces and civil servants had meted out to its Jewish citizens, gypsies (Roma and Sinti), POWS from other conquered countries and their very own disabled persons, whose right to exist and live as they pleased was challenged by self-styled members of the Aryan race, who wanted to eliminate, what they called ‘worthless lives.’ Hitler wanted to create a new Aryan race with blondes and blue-eyed Germans and a start was made at Schönborn, where young virile males and females were allowed to mate for the Fatherland. Many of the children from these anonymous intercourses still live today, and would like to know who their parents were, for the offsprings were given to German families or grew up in Scandinavian countries.


 

We have but to read Bertold Brecht’s book ‘Furcht und Elend im Dritten Reich’ to understand that angst was the order of the day, when even fathers had to fear their own sons because the latter were active members of Hitler’s youth and boy-scout organisations. They had to show allegiance to their Führer and no one else. It was in this atmosphere, charged with fear of denunciation, that the people lived their normal lives in wartime Germany.


 

In the post-war period it wasn’t any better for the Germans who lived in the German Democratic Republic under Erik Honneker, where kilometres of barbed-wire, Alsatian dogs, manned by the Volks police and deadly automatic guns that fired at the touch of a hidden wire, and where the Big Brother Stasi (secret state security) was always watching its citizens. You couldn’t trust anybody in those days. I remember when I was a medical student I met a blonde girl in the Anatomy class and she looked around furtively said in a whisper: ‘I’m from the DDR, but please don’t tell anyone about it.’ She’d fled to the west. She was safe here but her fear accompanied her like a shadow. I reassured her and we are still good friends and laugh about those times. Even Günter Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, has a tough time fighting with himself regarding his past, and he mentions it in his onion-experience book, the English version of which hit the bookstands last year. The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie are replete with historical human tragedies of people who wanted to flee from a totalitarian state. Families were separated and the expression ‘Ossie and Wessie’ was normal for a long time, even after the Berlin Wall fell on November 11,1989. Two nations, two governments, two different ideologies but the same people. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most emotional and historical greatest events in this world, not only for us Germans, but also for the former East Bloc countries. In this post-Perestroika period, the new and growing memberships in the European Union and Nato are proof enough of the desire, yes the craving, to be a part of Europe and the Upper Hemisphere, for the East Bloc countries were economically developing countries, made kaput by the communist and socialist apparatus.


 

Despite the negative headlines and banners in the media, even the former East German cities are mobilising themselves against the Neonazis, and others who still believe in the yesteryears of so-called Aryan culture and power. Wolfgang Tiefen, SPD, Minister of Transport in

Germany was right when he said: ‘It isn’t enough if one thinks in silence. In many cities there are attempts by rightists to show their presence. To counteract this move, one has to go to the streets. Dresden has shown us how to treat the Neos.’ It must be mentioned that at the autobahn resting place Teufelstuhl (Devil’s Chair), near Jena, Neonazis brutally beat up the people who’d taken part in the big demonstration, and some of them had serious injuries.


 

Apropos injuries, the survivors of the holocaust and their children, and their children’s children still suffer from the traumatic experience in the concentration camps, and have fear of death and loss. In a clinical study carried out in 1968 in Holland with 800 Jewish patients, who’d survived the holocaust, had what is known as the KZ-syndrome, which is a combination of problems. The patients had chronic angst (fear), cognition and memory disturbances, heavy chronic depression, changes in personality and identity, emotional regression, psychosomatic problems like phobia, hallucination and showed signs of agitation. They also suffered from psychosis, restlessness, sleep disturbances, nervosity, diffuse fear of new persecution, permanent exhaustion and loss of vitality due to weight loss caused by persecution.


 

It is interesting to note that similar symptoms were to be seen in the case of survivors of Hiroshima, POWs and among the persecuted Afro-American and native Indian tribesmen of the USA. A study about the syndromes of Guantanamo survivors on the part of NANDA is pending.


 

Whereas a lot of the KZ survivors had the syndrome, there were those who were spared such traumatic experiences and syndromes in a new, safe country like the USA, Holland, Canada and Israel, even though they had a latent phase in old age, because the Jewish migrants have a close social network in which rituals and symbols play a big part. Nevertheless, all holocaust survivors have a lot of things in common: the experience of helplessness, terror, deprivation, loss of social groups (friends, family, relatives) and profession. Added to this plethora of problems is the survivor-guilt. When you’ve underdone such hardships and experiences you tend to ask yourself: Why did I survive and not the others?. You have painful pictures of death and the unfinished process of mourning for your near and dear ones who’d died in the concentration camps or were shot by a firing squad.

 

When a Jewish survivor of the holocaust gets a cancer tumour, it brings up memories of the holocaust because of the loss of hair due to the intake of cyclostatica during treatment, thus baldiness gives you the feeling of being imprisoned again in an institute. The fear of death creeps up slowly and the hospital clothing remind you of the KZ prisoner’s striped dress. The loss of hair imparts a feeling of loss of identity. So the diagnosis cancer develops further in your mind to become a personal holocaust.


 

The question is: have we Germans learned from the lessons of the past? One thing we should have learned after having survived the Third Reich and World War II is never to be silent when the rights of humans are being trampled, and look the other way. As long there’s democracy, there’s also the right to view one’s personal opinions in matters pertaining to politics, culture and religion. In diesem Sinne: Vive la difference!


 

In Luzern you can see a Pandora’s Box, the contents of which was long in the hands of a Swiss Red Cross nurse named Elsbeth Kasser, who’d worked in the concentration camp Gurs, located in Southern France. It’s a box full of 150 pictures, works of art by interned Jewish artists. The photographs and KZ artistic drawings, sketches are being exhibited at Luzern’s Historical Museum. The title is appropriate: Hinschauen---nicht wegschauen, which means, Look at it, don’t look away.


 

The KZ prisoners, who were transported to the Vernichtungslager by the Nazis, had pleaded to the nurse Elsbeth Kasser: ‘Swiss Sister, tell about it in your country, tell what happened here to the world.’ 1943 was long ago, but it was in 1989 that she showed the works to others. Frau Kasser died in 1992. She’d brought a little joy and support in Gurs and was ashamed of what the Nazis had done to the people she’d begun to like: transported to the camps of elimination, never to return and see the light of the day, never to breathe like you and me, never to live with their families and friends. Uprooted brutally, undergoing suffering, maltreatment, experiencing cold, hunger, deprivation and dying miserable deaths in concentration camps, eradicated like rodents. Precious human souls, who’d lived in Barrack No. C/6.

* * *


 

Valkyrie (Operation Walküre) (Satis Shroff)

 

‘Operation Walküre’ was Hitler’s own Emergency Plan which was used by Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg to put an end to the Fuehrer, take over his Nazi regime and remove the Third Reich’s military and political administrators and replace them with his own men. Stauffenberg and his men risked their own lives, and those of their own families, for the fate of millions of people.

 

Tom Cruise shone in his role, although some German critics have described the film as being rather ‘plakativ’ and trivial. Nevertheless, Cruise’s film is successful in comparison to George Wilhelm Pabst’s ‘Es geschah am 20. Juli’ and Falk Harnack’s ‘The 20th of July.’ Both films were released at the same time in 1955. A German critic found it irritating that ‘Walküre’ (Valkyrie) is all about the ‘pathetic hero-worship of Stauffenberg.’

 

Well, why not a hero-worship, even though it’s through the courtesy of a Tom Cruise, when the old war heroes are slowing disappearing with Alzheimer, Parkinson’s and other diseases in gerontological homes, and many in their own four walls. I’m awfully glad and proud that our children are taught about the holocaust in their schools (Abitur classes), that there are memorials, museums and that school-kids have to write essays about Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, the Third Reich and that school classes and students go to see where, and how it happened in the concentration camps in Germany, Poland, France and elsewhere: lest we forget.

 

Germany does have quite a few resistance heroes, and if more people had the desire to show civil courage like Stauffenberg, Sophie Scholl and a host of others, then such atrocities like World War II, Auschwitz and other concentration- camp genocides would not have happened. I think that the Germans, as a folk, have learned their lessons well.

 

Actually, the idea to undermine the Hitler regime with the help of Hitler’s own Walküre plans through the implementation of the Auxillary Army to mow down revolts, was General Olbricht’s brain-child. In ‘Operation Walküre,’ however, it is shown as Stauffenberg’s geistesblitz to assassinate Hitler and to put the blame on the SS and Nazi big shots, and to use the ‘Walküre’ plans to make the Nazis surrender their weapons.

 

According to Norse mythology, Walküren were those who decided who ought to die in the battlefield. In Germanic mythology, the messengers of the highest God Wodan (Odin), ride over the killing-fields and give the slain eternal life by means of a kiss and take them to Asgard, whereby Asen is the mightiest dynasty of Gods with Odin (Wodan) at the top, seconded by Thor (Donar), Baldr, Zyr (Zin) and Frigg (also known as Frija , Frea). Odin was the sovereign God, whom the Germanic dynasties of England and Scandinavia, originally regarded as their divine founder. These Gods are perhaps a reflection of the tripartite division of the Indo-European society into: priest, warrior and cultivator.

 

Recently, at Thomas Gottschalk’s ‘Wetten, dass’ TV show, Mittermeier, a popular tongue-in-cheek cabaretist said as a joke that instead of Hitler, Tom Cruise would have done well to have laid the leader of the Scientology church cold, which caused a big laugh. Mittermeier’s parody of Obama and Merkel brought the house down with more laughter. In Germany’s first channel ARD Oliver Pocher, a comedian moderated a show (Schmidt & Pcher) dressed as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, complete with an eye-patch, and the blurb: “You can see better with the First (Channel). The chairman of the ARD Herr Volker Stich wasn’t amused and said, ‘Herr Pocher isn’t do the ARD any good.’ If this fun-making goes on in in good olde Germany, then a lot of Stauffenbergs-in-uniform will be appearing during the Carnival (Fasnet) next month.

 

Be that as it may, I found Tom Cruise’s film-timing, and his performance as Staufenberg superb, and the film didn’t possess the clichès that critics expected from Hollywood about the role of the Germans at all. It’s a breath-taking film which releases your adrenalin constantly as you identify yourself with the protagonist, when he sets out to achieve his goal of eliminating the Führer: coute que coute, no matter what, after General Henning gives his rather belated signal in the film, and Operation Walküre begins rolling.

 

You know how it is going to end, due to your pre-knowledge in prior critical scenes, but Stauffenberg doesn’t, and it’s gripping to hear him mutter that he’d personally seen the explosion. Although a cat is accredited with seven lives, Hitler survived fifteen attempts on his life. By the time the news reaches Stauffenberg that the Führer has survived the murder attempt, you know it’s only a matter of time when the Gestapo gets him.

 

Who was Claus Stauffenberg really? He was a noble German, a count, who lived in the Castle of Jettingen, which lies in the vicinity of Günzburg. He was born in November 15, 1907 and shot by the Nazi execution squad in Berlin on July 20, 1944. Stauffenberg was an officer and resistance fighter. He did his military duty in Poland and France. Between 1940-43 he worked in the organisation department of the General Staff of the Army. He belonged to the German elite, was conservative, but was also open to new social changes, and was initially impressed by Hitler’s success. He developed a growing skepsis regarding the national socialist politics of conquest, critic on the military, Hitler’s mistakes and his disgust regarding the terror meted out to the people of the conquered countries culminated in his decision to be ready for the revolt in 1942.

 

Claus Stauffenberg was severely wounded in April 1943 in North Africa. He was promoted to the rank of Stabschef in the Reichsarmy department and became the force behind the diverging resistance groups. Since July 1, 1944 he had access to Hitler’s HQ as an Oberst. He personally carried out the plan to blow up the Führer on July 20, 1944 and flew to Berlin because he was a key figure in carrying out and coordinating the technical plans of the operation to take over the state.

 

Tom Cruise has done justice to his role as Stauffenberg and deserves a big ‘Dankeschön’ for brining this film to the world. Even though there are still old and neo-nazis who raise their voices now and then in Germany even today, we believe in the norms and values of democracy: freedom of opinion, cultures, togetherness (Miteinander) and vive la difference. Yes we can, as you can see. Come to Germany and see it for yourself.

 

Stauffenberg’s last words in the film are: ‘Long live holy Germany! Es lebe das heilige Deutschland!’ before he is riddled by a firing squad on the night of July 20, 1944. The attempt to assassinate backfired but for many Germans it was a sign, a symbol for another Germany which has lasted even to this day. The men and women of July 20, 1944 were instrumental in shaping the goals (Leitbild) of the present-day Bundeswehr, which is battling against the Talibans in Afghanistan, keeping-off pirates in Somalia and elsewhere, is a Nato member and works closely with the USA and other nations, not to speak of its many development projects in many poor countries.

 

If you’d like to visit the Military Archive located at the Wiesentalstrasse 10 in Freiburg, just give them a call: 0761-47817-801 and ask for Herr Michael Steidel. Tom Cruise’s crew were at the Archive two weeks long to do their research on German SS and Gestapo uniforms, documents and other historical paraphernalia. At the Military Archiv you’ll find five halls and 55km of files dating back from 1867 till today.

 

On January 27,2009 like in many other European cities, we Freiburger remember the ‘Persecution Children and Youth from 1933 till 1945’ as the day of liberation of the prisoners from the concentration camp in Ausschwitz in 1945, and we discuss about the families that were separated from the German mainstream in those days, persecuted and exterminated by the National Socialists (Nazis). Their only crime was that they were: Jews, Sintis, Romas, Jehova’s witnesses or disabled human beings, who were regarded as lesser beings in comparison to the so-called master Germanic race. The youth will have a chance to speak to witnesses and survivors of the holocaust who still live in Freiburg or have been invited to speak about their sad, moving, traumatic experiences. In the German language we call them Zeitzeugen.


 

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About the Author:

 

Satis Shroff is a prolific writer and has taught Creative Writing at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, writing workshops at the University of Education, Littenweiler, and lectures at the VHS-Freiburg and VHS-Dreisamtal. Besides lecturing he's also a poet and writer and is the published author of three books: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. He is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.

 

Satis Shroff is based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) and also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg where he is a Lehrbeauftragter for Creative Writing). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.


 


 


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