On the Rhine, on the Rhine, on the beautiful Rhine
The time of my youth, of which I have the strongest memories, was spent in Koblenz on the Rhine.
My father had been transferred as a result of his work as a border police officer in Serrig. His former boss in Trier was now in charge of setting up a new office in Koblenz and remembered his former colleague Dettmann.
At the time, the Secret State Police was being set up, the political police force that was to play such an inglorious role in the history of our nation. For my father, as far as I was aware as a boy, this was a good opportunity to earn more and to be promoted.
My father was in his late thirties, the years when a man starts to think about his future life, his career prospects, and at the age when one generally tries to get ahead and improve one’s quality of life as far as one can influence it oneself.
I know from stories that father grew up as the youngest of four children. The age difference to his eldest sister was almost 10 years, to his youngest still five. So he was the youngest and as such was probably very spoiled. His mother was 35 years old when he was born, his father five years older. So it is understandable that his two sisters looked after him a lot and always spoke of him as “our Julemann”.
He went to primary schools, learned to be a merchant and was drafted into the army. He served in the artillery, and I still remember pictures of him on horseback.
He took part in the First World War from beginning to end, when he was just twenty years old. He was a vice constable, which was probably something like a sergeant. He never spoke of his war experiences. He was decorated with the Iron Cross, as far as I know, he was not wounded and he was not a prisoner of war.
After the war, he must have applied for a job in the police, or at least he went to the police school in Sensburg in East Prussia. His professional stations were Königsberg/Pr., Serrig, Solingen, Koblenz, Posen, Bielefeld and the Netherlands. First he served in the border police, then in the criminal investigation department, and from 1934 until his suicide in 1945 he was with the Gestapo, finally as a criminal inspector.
I remember him as a warm-hearted, very consistent person who did not show his inner life, who was a family man after his storm and stress period, who was absorbed in his family, who loved domestic cosiness and good food, who smoked moderately – cigars and the occasional pipe – and only consumed alcohol very rarely and then moderately. I know of only one occasion when I saw him intoxicated – and then he was even more comfortable than he already was.
He was probably attached to his boy with great love and I know from my mother that he was looking forward to having a daughter-in-law and grandchildren one day. His untimely death did not fulfil this wish.
One of his favourite pastimes was reading. Sitting comfortably in an armchair at home, in our Serriger time even the cat sitting on his shoulder, a book in front of his nose, that’s how I remember him. He was completely untalented at handicrafts. He could only hammer a nail into the wall if he held his thumb over the nail head as a target. He was tall and, in keeping with his fondness for good food, rather plump. At about 178 cm tall, 200 pounds of weight were not to be overlooked. It was only later, when he was over forty, that he slimmed down thanks to his health-conscious wife and the general trend to do sports, which he did actively – athletics, swimming, cycling. He had a vein for sports anyway, had played football actively as a young man and acted as a referee. In his mid-forties, he fulfilled the requirements for the Golden Sports Badge, and they were tougher then than they are today. Bronze was awarded from the age of 18, silver from the age of 32 and gold from the age of 40. It was quite an achievement to start again at the age of forty after a break of decades and to fulfil the same conditions as an eighteen-year-old!
Television was still unknown at that time. The radio only really became popular. I remember that we got our first radio at home in Solingen or even in Koblenz. People talked about television, but nobody knew about it, and my father was beyond his technical understanding. He used to say that he could still understand the transmission of radio waves and their reception to some extent, but he could not imagine how moving pictures could be transported over long distances. I cannot say anything about my father’s political position. For one thing, I was too young to think about politics until the beginning of the Nazi era, and for another, it seems to me that – at least in my parental home – politics was little talked about.
I know that my father joined the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) relatively late, around 1939, at the beginning of the war. By then, as a civil servant and, what’s more, as one of the political police, he was no longer able to oppose it. He received his uniform as an SS leader much later, when he was posted to Posen. The war was already on. By law, the police and the SS were brought into line. The Reichsführer SS (Heinrich Himmler) became “Chief of the German Police” at the same time.
Thus my father, whom I would most accurately describe as politically abstinent, became a member of two very adventurous institutions of the Nazi era, both of which were classified as criminal by the Allies after the war: the Gestapo and the SS.
That all sounds terrible, because whoever is a member of a criminal organisation must logically be a criminal and who likes to say that he is the son of a criminal?
Of course, this is all a matter of interpretation. In the course of time, lawyers and politicians interpreted the term criminal organisation to mean the institution and not necessarily all its members. Otherwise, Germany would have consisted at least to a large extent of criminals in 1945.
But historical truth is part of retrospection. People born after the war cannot make value judgements anyway, because without the knowledge born of the experience of that time, one speaks like “the blind man of the paint”. 37 years after the ark of this terrible time, those still alive know that apportioning blame can only be subjective, and that the Germans of the Nazi era as a whole were neither worse nor better than the people before or after them. How difficult it is to judge someone’s inner attitude can be seen today in the examination of conscientious objectors.
I liked my father, I respected him and I honour his memory, because I know he did nothing bad.
I have inherited a lot from him, not only his greatness, but also his poorly developed manual skills, a certain aspiration, a healthy sense of household and perhaps also a bit of realism.