Words Unspoken (3): The Power of Woman
By: Gaither Stewart
On their return home the Hartmanns did not expect to find the same Munich they had fled from two decades earlier. Nonetheless, they were surprised to find what seemed another city altogether. But then, they realized, they had been gone twenty years. Those years had transformed not only the visible city they had known but had also erased that unseen but perceived air of defeat and prevailing gloom of resignation on the faces of München’s people.
During their absence—their exile, Helmut called it—the piles of ruins and skeletons of bomb-demolished buildings of the devastatingly foreign city of then too had disappeared. Now, the palaces and great buildings—in regal Munich called palast and palais—had been recreated in all their magnificence … precisely as they were before the war. Yet, the old men on their fourth mass of beer in the big hall of the Hofbräuhaus on a Saturday morning swore that this was not the real Munich either, the Munich of when Mensch was Mensch and a mass of beer was a full liter, and—back in the good old times—when even the beer was sweeter.
None of the three had dreamed of a return to Grünwald and Pullach … least of all Hannah, who didn’t remember where they had lived before Italy. Only from hearsay was she even German. For Helmut and Ute, too, that former life was over and done with. Again in their homeland they were beginning everything anew. And as Ute noted, Helmut acted as if he’d never had an enemy in the world. Yet, he too, the repeat returnee, had his black memories. His private black holes. Remembrances of the bad times. Of totalitarianism in his world and of what for a time had seemed the absolute evil, the embers of which he felt smoldering in his depths. The combination of the same circumstances had hindered his return for the two long yet short decades in Italy.
He said he didn’t desert his home country as he thought he should have. On the contrary. He’d felt he was the abandoned one. He’d thought he could never forgive his homeland for its betrayal. And even less than others could he forgive it its evil. Unfeeling evils in the homeland and in the unspoken words of the contagion it emitted spreading across the Atlantic … only a pond it turns out separating them one from the other. Only an easily traversable pond. One evil had produced another.
For at least the first ten years abroad he’d been bitter. Today, that bitterness had matured like smoldering embers to combat level. Society was changing. He was rebelling against that evil still circulating … as it had before his exile, refusing to eliminate itself and become extinct.
And today, yes, as through a veil darkly, he repeated to Ute, he could see his own rebellion swirling and whorling in the Teutonic air.
He and his family were starting over. And they were fortunate … in many ways, Helmut recognized. They were free of economic restrictions: they could choose any part of the city they fancied to live in … space was the foremost requirement. Helmut Hartmann was now an affirmed journalist; Ute Friedrich, a screen writer. And Hannah, a twenty-three year old beauty, newly graduated from Milan University who wanted to live her own life, continue with her painting, and above all learn what her Germanness really was. And what it meant to be a German today. Were all Germans still either devils or rehabilitated angels?
The Hartmanns settled in a big duplex penthouse on the corner of Teng- and Elisabethstrasse in the heart of the academic, cultural district of Schwabing: Hannah upstairs with a light-filled studio and her privacy; Ute and Helmut downstairs where they too had separate studios.
Now, Helmut thought, after my youth in Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, after dislocation and resettlement in Germany, after Stalingrad and Gehlen Org in Pullach and after the Valtellina in Italy, I finally have a set location. And the keys to it. It’s mine. It’s ours. So now the rest is all up to me. And perhaps with help from fate or the omnipresent sudba, the sound of which he loved in Russian. I’m not done in … nor am I done yet. I’m only starting out in life. A beginner. A pivello, as Hannah said in Italian of herself.
The city. Hard to get a handle on. Again he walked the city. From palais to palais, from bridge to bridge along the banks of the Isar. The new luxury apartments in Bogenhausen replacing the rundown postwar plattenbau blocks. Not only the physical city was different. Helmut, man of several countries, felt different.
The city. Helmut felt like a transplant, a Zugereister, as Müncheners called new arrivals. He saw things today in a different light. People of the city were different. They had forgotten the bombs that destroyed their city. He had been sort of Czech, Czech-German, German, Münchener, sort of Italian. Now he walked the city he loved in search of his own Germanness. He saw Hitler’s places clearer than before under the rubble. He saw the beer gardens. The Oktoberfest. But avoided the beer cellars that real Germans loved. He rode out to the airport. World travelers, these Germans. Stared at lines of people at the race track placing their bets. Müncheners all? He walked to Nymphenburg Palace to see the Amalienburg, the rococo hunting lodge in the palace park. Jammed with foreign tourists. Took the tram back home
The city. September mornings seemed cooler than before their life in Italy. Only occasionally sunny. The usual dark clouds hung forever in ambush. Clouds that might unexpectedly part and a rare deep blue sky would peep out and sunshine crash down onto their corner of Earth and turn the Isar waters to silver. The constant rain and sudden sun and showers were like everything else; life was so unpredictably different from the southern Alps of his last twenty years.
Real Munich was not the city Helmut had conjured up in his imagination while in exile. Today he didn’t know what to make of the city he had loved in that crazy postwar way. No more than he had known what to make of the real Italy, the Italy down there over the pre-Alps to the south of their Valtellina home. His contact with “real Italy”—as he called it—was chiefly Milano while Hannah studied there and he and Ute visited her. But Munich was still part of him. And he’d once been part of it: he’d been at the parades celebrating its 800th anniversary; at other parades the day the one millionth Münchener was born; he’d followed the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Bavarian State Opera House. Now it was all reality. The Königsplatz was again like before the war.
Wherever he had been in the East or later in the Alps or Milan, it seemed his way had always led back to föhn-blown Munich—protective eye shades against that warm southern wind from the Alps, air purifiers, and endless anti-allergic Pernods notwithstanding.
Milan-Milano had reminded him of his imaginary Munich, the trams winding their way over narrow cobblestoned streets through both cities, both their cathedrals heavily damaged by Ami bombs. Or maybe it was only their same initial M. And the night train of Wagons Lits running between the two cities. In any case, now, in reality, they did not seem so different one from the other as he had once imagined.
They were sitting near the big window in Ute’s studio on one of the dark mornings that Helmut thought of as symbolic of Munich. From the fourth floor lookout he was watching Hannah rush down the wide sidewalk of Tengstraase in her firm, self-secure gait.
“Ute,” he said, following Hannah’s familiar figure nearing the corner, “I can hardly believe this young lady and university graduate is the three-year old I used to take to the Puppet Theater. Time got away from us, Now that we’re back home again, the twenty years in Italy seem to have hardly happened. Just another memory … of a place we used to know.”
He frowned at his own words, cleared his throat and lit a cigarette, the snap shut of his Zippo lighter ringing louder than usual as if it too doubted the count: “Twenty years, Ute! Twenty! And our child is an adult.”
“That’s the way time is, Helmut. It’s never even and regular as we like to think. It’s our clocks and calendars that confuse us. And day and night … and the seasons. It’s our life, yes, but all its images still end up in scrapbooks … with the rest of life.”
“Right. But still, still …” He lost his train of thought.. Ute was so philosophic.
“Still what, my love?”
“Well, circumstances change so fast. Us, for example. While Hannah was growing up, you and I did so many things. Think of that a bit. And we just stayed on in Italy that was never ours. Year after year, another decade, then another. We could have come back home years ago … but didn’t. Why didn’t we?”
“Well, there were Hannah’s schools and her friends and then just a way of life … we got used to it.”
“But you and I? We never really amalgamated. We lived in Italy … even though the Valtellina didn’t always seem like Italy. We adapted. We know our way around there; we know Italy but we remained who we were: Germans.”
“But also Europeans!” Ute added.
“Makes you wonder!”
“What do you mean? Wonder what?”
“Wonder about being also Europeans. Seems like many people are perplexed about what it means … to be a European, I mean. Every day I ask myself if I even want to be one any longer.”
“Still, some people do want to change things around. The whole system, I mean. Nazis destroyed our generation and now they’re coming back to power. And not only here. Crazy, no!”
“New Europe is at the city gates!”
REVOLUTIONARIES OR TERRORISTS?
From Italy, Helmut Harmann had written about the Red Brigades. His own newspaper, Münchener Anzeiger, called the anti-capitalist Rote Brigaden “terrorists”. But not Helmut Hartmann. For him they were a “resistance movement”. Revolutionaries. Like in Russia. Like in France. In wartime Italy too. Resistance was resistance to aggression. Resistance against enemy invaders. To mad Nazis they considered terrorists to be punished, again and again for such thoughts.
While rumors circulated about assistance from the Palestinian PLO and from Communist East Europe and while millions of Italians lent the Red Brigades their moral support, his Romanian friend, Ramon now a big wheel in Ceausescu’s socialist government in Bucharest—who still came for short stays in Montagna—swore that no one in East Europe would support ”Red Brigade terrorists.” Especially not since the Italian Communist Party too had disowned them. Deserted by the official left, the exteme left Brigate Rosse ended up alone.
In those post-1968 years, Helmut, writing from Alpine Italy, had concentrated on the Red Brigades. Now, back in Munich, he zeroed in on their cousins in Germany, the Red Army Faction, or RAF. He knew their history well. Both of the revolutionary underground organizations were born between 1968 and 1970, part of the backlash to the US war in Vietnam, RAF chiefly because of the return of so many Nazis to positions of power in West Germany. After his return to Munich in 1975, Helmut also traveled around Germany, frequently to Italy, and occasionally to Paris to speak with Italian left-wing revolutionaries who’d been granted asylum in France after the crackdown.
Had he himself not fled from Germany to Italy in the first place because of the widespread Nazi presence in power in Germany, especially in Gehlen’s organization where he worked? He knew first-hand what was happening in Germany. But then came the disillusionment at the CIA-Gladio-Fascist power in his country of exile. His journalism by its nature was of the investigative type: his goal, he told Ute, was to uncover the real power centers in new Europe: political power always infiltrated opposition groups like the Red Brigades, like RAF. Political power turned them and used them against themselves … and the nation. History shows it, he thought: the worst enemy of revolutionaries is within themselves.
He loved the quote from a letter Gudrun Ensslin—co-founder and the intellectual brain of RAF—wrote to her companion, Andreas Baader: “… what’s been missing in the European fight for socialism over the last 100 years is the element of ‘madness.”
HELMUT SEIFERT HARTMANN
Winter. The low December sky, dark and dreary. From his window he observed the winter east wind blowing from Elisabethstrasse. Small trees near the corner bent nearly to the pavement under the force, then magically rose again straight up during a lull. Visibly cold out there. Down on Tengstrasse a man wearing a winter coat and a Russian Ushanka hat pulled down over his ears leaned forward into the wind in a mighty struggle for supremacy. Had he too been in Stalingrad? The man was carrying two bottles of milk, one under his arm. Suddenly Helmut knocked on the window and shouted:
‘Careful, the bottle’s slipping.’ It did. Kaklop kaplash on the sidewalk. A pond of milk and glass surrounded the lone man like a stranger in a strange land looking in consternation at the spreading white mess as Helmut’s philosopher friend in the Stalingrad cellar did when his tin filled with horse-brain broth had slipped from his cold numbed hands and spilled; finally the man on Tengstrasse just shrugged and looking over his shoulder and wiping at the white on his shoes hurried on hoping no one had noticed.
That day Helmut had closed the door to his office-study in order to be alone with his ruminations. Again, as often of late, he recited to himself the only words he recalled of a poem by Jaroslav Seifert, the Czech poet his father had loved and even named his own son after him. Sometimes we are tied down by memories/ and there are no scissors that could cut/through those tough threads/.Or ropes.
Now what did the poet have in mind when he added those two last words: ‘or ropes’? Why ropes? Black Nazi ropes? Ropes of habit? Of ingrained beliefs? Of Self? Of veils through which to see only darkly? Or ropes of total insulation … stopped up with fingers in my ears? Things at times seemed so … so amorphous, so without any form or structure at all. Inchoate objects about to become something.
In any case, after the cold cellars of Stalingrad, Helmut Seifert Hartmann came to love in a special way the poet’s words: I believe that seeking beautiful words is better than killing and murdering. And he saw himself as in a portrait, the portrait of a man who felt fortunate simply because he’d never killed anyone in the war … never even shot the pistol which was just part of his Abwehr uniform.
With mounting dissatisfaction he turned away from the window and remembered there had been times when he admitted that he just didn’t give a fuck if they lost the fucking war. As a matter of fact he’d hoped they did. But then, as he had in Stalingrad, he remembered fondly his father’s telling him again and again that in the 1920s his poet namesake was enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution and had joined the Communist Party. And secretly Helmut Seifert Hartmann regretted that he had never had such a chance. An unhappy thought that never abandoned him. One of those hidden desires, words never revealed, words never spoken. For most certainly he had hoped to jeopardize the interests of his times, in which he, fortunately, was seldom the right age—either too young or too old. Only right on time for a dark cold rat-infested basement in Stalingrad where you could die either of starvation and cold or a sniper’s bullet.
From the start he had never intended being a mere newspaper reporter. He might speak of himself as a reporter but he knew he had too heavy a load of experience to even think of just reporting. To hell with conciseness and synthesis. Above all, to hell with impartiality. Roaming around in his fervid mind there were too many straightforward words that had to be spoken. Unambiguously. He’d written enough useless fact-filled reports for the Abwehr Intelligence to last him a lifetime.
His postwar life was now over and gone, too. Gone, yet still present. For in a sense it still existed. The shadow that remains from disappeared objects and times and persons. Their shadow was still present. Stupid lifetime. Stupid experience, his military service. And Gehlen. Especially Gehlen. Another time of which he never spoke. In particular not of the Gehlen time. A part of his life hidden away somewhere between his subconscious and—if it existed—the unconscious to which Freud referred. Hopeful monster of an idea! In his active memory at least Gehlen time was definable: the most evil part of his life experience! However that may be, he repeated, the sum of those experiences are mine alone.
But, one thing is clear, he thought, slapping one hand into the other: ‘Stalingrad made me into what I am today. For good or for bad. At least that. So unlike his Romanian friend in Montagna, Ramon, who had described Stalingrad as wondrous adventure—after it was over.
But the pure experience of Stalingrad,, the gritty-gritty part, the rats and the cannibals, tough but life-determining experiences—no actual report writing from a cellar!—had left him exposed, transformed and transfigured. Converted to something, or to someone else. Never would he lose the memory of it. Oh, no! Never. He struggled to hold tight to that memory … in all its nuances, all its ramifications. Stalingrad was the long moment that changed him … and its memories became his memories. His right. His possession. His obsession.
Yet, he told himself, he didn’t think that his experience was exclusive to him. Selfish. Bourgeois individualism—a word he’d begun thinking of late. And had even spoken once to Ute, inadvertently. He recalled how she had looked at him in a funny way.
Komisch! Still, in the end the mind gets its own way. Bourgeois individualism, he repeated to himself. Yet, others had a right to his thoughts about his experiences, too. The Buddhist part of him wanted to share them. His thoughts. To transcend the sorrow and evil of his personal experience. But not completely. Not totally. Not expressly so. Share it more simply, but also more complexly. Share a life experienced in a certain way. To accomplish that, he feared, he would have to dig deeper into himself … to be able to explain it correctly to others. He too loved simple words, everyday words, as did Seifert the poet. He thought in terms of essence, in terms of the core of people and things … even if of invented people and things even though still, still, still, inchoate and amorphous. But invented by himself. Ex-novo. From nothing to something. Words had to form inside him and emerge from him. Words. Most of which were still unspoken.
Above all, Helmut hoped for an eventual understanding of what his life was really all about. And the words to ignite the fires to light innocent minds and to boil the frog croaking those words inside him. Those would be real mental fireworks to heat the minds of his readers.
As a rule he was careful speaking about such matters—mad deviations, mad inventions, mad conclusions—even with Ute he was wary. Because then she always said that was why he had to switch to fiction. But the idea was frightening. Not the writing part; the digging into himself was his fear. The fear of learning what he really believed. More scary than was Stalingrad when it was happening. No, it was not the putting it on paper that scared him. He feared he would dig and dig and dig and then find he had gotten used to the idea of a Stalingrad being possible. Normal in the life of a man. That would be disaster.
One dark windy afternoon in Munich when you knew the early morning rain was returning, Hannah dropped in to introduce her new friend, Erica.
“Erica!” Helmut exclaimed spontaneously as any German ex-wartime soldier might. “Her name is Erika?” He thought of her name with a “k” instead of a “c”.
They both looked at him funny. As did Ute. He just shrugged, a strange look on his face. He would explain another day about the song.
Erica Valente was from Trento, the twenty-five year old daughter of Austrian parents, bi-lingual like Hannah. They were a striking couple of young women. Dark haired Hannah; blond Erica. Both taller than average Italian women. Though there was something Germanic about them, they both had a flamboyant Italian flair in dress and manners: their skirts a bit shorter, that extra something in dress such as Erica’s red high-heeled pumps and Hannah’s multi-colored silken scarves. Still, Hannah, like her mother, was a bit more conservative. Today they only exchanged greetings before they disappeared upstairs to Hannah’s studio
Back at his desk, Helmut stared out the windows for a long moment, a perplexed frown in his eyes. There was something disturbing about Erica, though he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. He sensed discrepancies between her actions and her words. Flamboyantly show-off in one moment, shy in the next, And there was a certain reticence in her words, something unspoken about her. Something like his impressions of his friend, Ramon, the Romanian in Montagna in the Italian Alps: Ramon was ex-intelligence, worked also for Gehlen and for unexplained reasons regularly disappeared from Montagna. Erica’s almost imperceptible manner of seeming to withhold her real self could seem to be timidity Though they had just met, he didn’t attribute her restraint to bashfulness; she was anything but demure. Such first impressions count, the former intelligence agent reminded himself. Still, in those few minutes together she had made the impression of one who lived life as if on the theater stage. She did smile too much … though often at the wrong time. And as it turned out she too, like Ramon, disappeared for days at a time.
“Hannichka, you don’t help me to dipanare la matassa, to untie the knot, that is Erica,” he often complained to his daughter, using an Italian expression just to show off his acquired Italian that she knew like the native she nearly was.
“Papa, she’s just a happy person. Doesn’t know what a bad mood is.” Hannah saw only joy in her girlfriend, whose mysterious absences she overlooked.
“Well, the way she just disappears from one day to the next is a knot that needs disentangling.. I’m not blind, Schatz … I see you too are perplexed by her vanishing like that. And then she never explains.”
“OK, Hannah, where is Erica this time,?” Helmut asked his daughter another day when she sat staring at a painting propped on what seemed a lonely easel … in that moment as extraneous to the unfinished work as it was to her.
“Who knows? She left a note in my mail box saying not to call her or even ask about her … that she would see me next Saturday, That is, today. Her usual signature, see you later, alligator.”
“What’s your friend up to, do you think?”
“I can’t figure it out. She’s always so open. Always. So this habit of just vanishing is simply bizzarro.”
“What do you say we take a walk, Hannah? Think things over. And I want to see Hohenzollernstrasse again.”
“Again? Erica lives there, you know. Why? Have you been there before?”
“I lived on this street when I was a student …. before the war. So did a lot of artistic people in those times. Kandinski lived here. Had his studio down near Leopoldstrasse.”
“I didn’t know that. How wonderful to know.”
“And for that matter so did Werner von Braun, the physicist, once a Nazi, I think, and one of the inventors of the atomic bomb … but on the side of the Americans. Didn’t seem to care for whom he worked … on all those nasty projects. Used for mass murder against the Japanese. No morality at all in that man.”
“But the bomb put an end to the war, no?”
“No! Hannah. No! The war with Japan was already won,” he said, clearing his throat ever so carefully. “The Japanese were trying to surrender. Beaten and crushed like we were. The truth is that Braun’s Ami bomb killed the Japanese as a message to the Russians. Not to win the war more quickly. And as a test on real people. That’s why they used it… Why, the Amis would have bombed their ally Russia instead of Japan if they’d had it a bit earlier.”
“Cynic! Anyway, Papi, why this street now?”
“No matter. Just point out where she lives. On Hohenzollernplatz … I seem to remember. Hey, oh, my God, would you look at that. Even a metro station here on the Platz. I loved this street. But it’s so different today The architecture resplendent, the cafés … and now the traffic that wasn’t here before. And the metro station right here. The best city transportation in the world!”
“No, Papa, she doesn’t live on the square. She has a small flat in a famous apartment building farther down … at number 58.”
“You’ve been there often, I suppose?” he added looking off down Hohenzollernstrasse as if distracted. Which he was not.
“Yes, many times.”
“Hannah, please listen to me. You have to stay away from there. Let her come to your place … but I hope you will avoid Hohenzollernstrasse 58.”
“Papa! Why? Why would you say a thing like that? What is it? Are you jealous?”
“Hannah, my dear daughter. Please! Just stay away from her house. It’s a hunch. Things are not what they seem, I know how some things work in this country.”
“Well, you seem to know something I don’t. Much more. So tell me. Then, well, we can talk about it.”
“The thing is, Hannichka, we don’t always tell everything about ourselves, do we? Maybe there’s more to the story. Doesn’t she have a man friend … at her age and so beautiful … with the world at her feet?”
“Oh, Papi, don’t be so … so albern. So silly. I don’t either … have a man friend, I mean. Not right now. Not since … well, not since Milano.”
They stopped in front of number 58. Hannah pointed out a third floor window. “Erica’s tiny apartment! Great location, no? I just love this street.”
“How many apartments are on her floor anyway?” Helmut asked, studying the width and depth of the building and humming to himself EEErikà. “Maybe … just maybe she has more space than it seems.”
“What do you mean? She has two rooms, the one that faces the street, then her bedroom and bath and the kitchen.”
“Maybe there’s an adjoining apartment. Something bigger. Have you ever seen her neighbors?”
“No, but I don’t get what you’re driving at? I know you have reservations about her … but why your interest for the other apartments around her? Or is that your old intelligence syndrome showing?”
“Well, Hannah, I do have my past to deal with. But then there’s also my work today. Erica told me she knew Renato Curcio in Trento … also his wife, Mara Cagol. She also knew Alberto Franceschini. The Red Brigade founders! Then here in Munich appears this beautiful girl named Erica Valente from Trento. Lives most of the time in Munich. Is not even Italian, but Austrian. Has no official job. Happens to be bi-lingual like you, German and Italian. Keeps disappearing. I would bet she knows Andreas Baader too … and Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin. Ask her about that… And they’re all—the real RAF warriors—but all in prison.
“So now a second generation Red Army militants—and Red Brigadists, too—have taken over. And I fear they’re supported by Gehlen-Gladio-NATO-American infiltrators who have different tasks altogether. They’re the real danger for you. A police contact told me that even they have orders to go easy on them … on the second generation. And Hannah, these militants seem more terrorists than revolutionaries. They’re more violent, too … and less ideologically driven. They don’t care a whit about moral restrictions. Nothing counts but them. And, Hannah—also their controllers. Controllers do exist. And controllers have their controllers … many from across the Atlantic. Believe me. So that’s why I ask you to stay away from here. You never know!”
“So what? You like the Baader-Meinhof people … at least in your articles you never criticize them. You don’t call them terrorists, as others do. You criticize our government, say they’re all Nazis. So Papa, where do you really stand?”
“Well, aren’t they? I am for RAF. For the real Red Army Faction. But I am NOT for those who become shock troops for the fascist government … and for America’s interests. Nazis or would-be Nazis actually run things again in our country anyway … and it’s spreading. This is all so rotten, Hannichka. Just so rotten … at the very core. Evil. Bad for Germany. And to think I went to Stalingrad for this! And thousands of kids were there too. Kids went to die in Russia on orders from these people. Adult Germans were guilty, yes. Many! Most! They didn’t just permit Hitler and the Nazis. They became supporters. They shared Nazi victories. Read our writers today. Read Böll. Read Günther Grass. Read Ulrike Meinhof! Nazi hosannas filled the squares of Germany, then the squares and the piazzas of Europe. Sang their songs. The good soldiers sang Erika, about a little flower, a Blümlein in the heather, EEErikà, und das heist… EEErika, even if thinking of a girl back home. And people sang the Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel Lied, Die Fahne Hoch, die Reihen fest geschlossen, nearly all arms raised in the Nazi salute. Believers. Kam’raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,/ Marschier’n im Geist/ In unser’n Reihen mit.
“They were the system … along with a lot of other Europeans and Americans. Americans perhaps more than others. But we Germans did much more than just go along with it. We were on the front. German people were the Nazi system …”
“But not just in Germany, Papa. Oh, no. We’re not the only guilty.”
“We? You are not guilty at all. Erica is not guilty. Your generation is not guilty. Mine is the guilty generation. And not only Germans. Nazis all over Europe and America helped the center. Where do you think all that money and support came from? Anything to smash Communism in Russia. Twenty-six million Russians dead, the Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals and the political dissidents.
“But also many seventeen and eighteen year olds and younger, Germans and Russians, Italians and Romanians, paid for Nazism with their lives in the East. I had a friend in Stalingrad, who’d been a history professor before the war, in Cologne. He was sick on the subject … especially after we all knew the war was lost: Just wait! he said. They’ll be back. Give them a foothold, just leg room, and they’ll return, like Erika flowers in the spring, He knew his stuff. The most prescient person I’ve ever known. So today, just as he predicted, the Nazis and their heirs are back! Everywhere. Actually they never left. After all that, they’re back in power.
“Nazis are again in German politics today. In government. In business. And many are slipping into the academic world. Many in journalism. They’re sneaky, join secret societies, take bribes carefully. But they’re there. Where I worked before we escaped to Italy, in the Gehlen Intelligence Org, they were all ex-Nazis. Still Nazis. But the Americans there, with their good humor in their bright smiling faces, they were the worst Nazis! Those with all their blessings, with their exceptionalism and their exoneration from the rules of others. And they’re still that way! The SS is back. They didn’t talk about it but they were that way. When I interviewed war prisoners returning from Russia, Germans like me, they were afraid I was the SS. In Montagna where you grew up, our Romanian friend became a double, a double agent, sent back to Communist Romania … by Nazis. A big wheel there today … and he works for us too. Trust is the word in today’s world, Hannah. Trust. But nobody has it. Trust, I mean. Trusts means mistrust. Deception. Trust is an extant word. An unspoken word! Nobody trusts anybody. You know what the greatest modern discovery is? The traitor! Politically correct traitor. That is to say that a traitor is not necessarily your enemy. Not at all. In fact he’s your potential friend. Why? Because in our age, and where I once worked, you want to send him back to where he came from … as a double! So trust now means untrust. Crazy world, Hannah, dearest. Crazy! Your mother likes to say that the ‘whole fucking world’ is right-wing. Actually she uses the word ‘Nazi’ instead of right-wing. People like Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin understand. They are right. And yes, I feel, uh, well, I feel sympathy for them. No, I feel much more than mere sympathy. I feel love for them. But still, I don’t want to see you in jail with them now … though like many people, I admire those who take that extra step … like Ulrike and Gudrun … and rebel against the whole system. The whole politically corrupt, Nazi-inclined, Ami-subservient system.”
“Papa! Papa! You paint a black picture! A black picture of people … and of my country. A country I’m just now trying to discover.”
“That’s both good and bad. Good you are learning the truth. But you must be careful. Very careful. Ok, Schatz, I agree. And there are things in life worth suffering for. Going to jail for. In some cases. But not needlessly. You can’t help your country from a padded, sound-proof isolationist cell like Stammheim … unless you’re a martyr. Unless you’re like Zoya the Russian partisan in Russia: ‘You can’t hang us all.’ In a cell like where they’re holding Ulrike Meinhof. Oh, yes, she’s a hero … for today. For a few people. For more than a few. But tomorrow even they too will have forgotten her. And her sacrifice will have been in vain.”
“Wait! I have an idea. What do you say—if you can stay away from your canvases long enough. Let’s get your mother and lunch today at the Osteria Italiana over on Schellingstrasse. In memory of former times. Va bene?
“OK, but Erica is returning this morning. Supposed to come around noon … if she gets back from wherever she was.”
“Good, she’s invited, too,”
OSTERIA ITALIANA-HITLER’S FAVORITE MUNICH RESTAURANT
“Beautiful, lovely ladies! Here we are in this fine restaurant that they say Hitler loved. Opened in the early thirties, I think. Nazi place? I don’t really know. But the food is good. For years it was the only Italian restaurant in old München-Stadt. Speaking of Nazi places—words seldom spoken these days—we have to understand the situation in this country after the war … in order to understand ourselves. To understand other Europeans, and other peoples of the world. That’s the key. The Nazi was the key evil. The ur-Nazi, I mean to say. We know who they were! And I don’t mean the Aryans. … and, uh, I really do love RAF!” he said, looking at Hannah, but, thinking of Erica. And that song, und das heisst ERIKA!
He felt his loquacity on his lips. The power of pre-lunch vodka, he admitted to himself. The strength of one hundred camels in the courtyard, he thought, quoting to himself the writer Paul Bowles. The women stared at him curiously. Ute, too, but she nervously, urging him to lower his voice.
Helmut peered around the room of big windows, green curtains and red carpets spread here and there over polished parquet floors. He felt they all considered him some newly discovered caveman. Or a madman. The Munich effect, he called it.
The restaurant was quiet. Whispers from all corners. A tinkle of glass against glass. Heads bent over plates of pasta. Everyone pretending they didn’t overhear him. Here and there a nearly finished tiramisu, an espresso, or simply hypnotically blank white whiter than white tablecloths. He hoped his words hurt. He hoped he wouldn’t be welcome another time. No one wanted to hear the words being spoken across the room for all. Words that should remain unspoken.
“Young people of the postwar left are really pissed off at the older generation,” Helmut added. “Official denazification was a farce. Former Nazis hold positions in government and the economy. The Communist Party was outlawed in 1956. Ex-Nazis everywhere, right down to the local level. They love the judiciary. Everybody knows. Adenauer, the first Federal Republic chancellor until 1963, even appointed a former Nazi as Director of the Federal Chancellery. Conservatives run the media—the important mass-circulation tabloids are controlled by the same conservatives that permitted Allied-U.S. occupation of the country and organizations like that of Reinhard Gehlen where I worked. I used to go to certain offices in the I.G. Farben building in Frankfurt miraculously untouched by Ami bombs. Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader should have bombed it instead of the department store! Europe’s biggest, an early multinational, used slave labor from Auschwitz while producing Zylon B to kill them in the gas chambers. Now office space for the victors. Oh, I.G. Farben was never their enemy … but an ally. So I know what they were doing after the war. Still full of Nazis. This time Ami Nazis. Then and then and then, then came the Grand Coalition between our two main parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists of the SPD controlling 95% of the Bundestag. And the former Nazi Party member, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, was chancellor. The real left was horrified. All that meant alliance with NATO and the USA. And then in 1972 the neo-Nazis passed a law, the Radicalenerlass that banned radicals or those of “questionable” political persuasion from jobs in the public sector. And still, there was the reality of the association of large parts of the postwar allegedly denazified society with Nazism. No wonder …”
“Still, Papa, Why RAF? Why all this violence? Why are Germans killing other Germans?”
“Why the violence? People remember that in the 1960s—while we were in Italy—German students engaged in endless debates about the use of violence. There were great demonstrations right here in Munich, too. I took the night train for one of them. Oh, yes, we need a movement, they said. Oh, but please, no violence. Peace marches should be more serious. But what did that mean? Longer columns marching over greater distances? More placards? Louder voices? General strikes? But still, just no violence. Why no violence? Nobody wanted war again.
“Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhhof and Gudrun Ensslin stopped dancing and drinking champagne and took to smashing that comforting air of non-violence. The RAF of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof made those comfortable peace marches seem like afternoon tea parties. They exploded that nice tea party atmosphere in Germany … in Europe. Paris 1968 happened. And they threw cobblestones and called police pigs. But then RAF changed that, too. They show the necessity of violence for the revolution many wanted. RAF was the vanguard … the one Lenin meant. Quite legitimate, some Germans came to think.
“Why the violence, you ask?” Helmut’s voice had gradually risen.
Ute tried to shush him.
But Helmut Seifert was on a roll.
“RAF people rightfully call my generation pigs. The Auschwitz generation that wanted to kill all of them, too. And so Andreas and Gudrun and Ulrike armed themselves and then killed, too. Officially RAF killed some thirty-four people from the time of its founding in 1970 … and twenty-seven of their own fell.”
“Papa, for God’s sake. Lower your voice. They’re all listening.”
“And that my dear is a problem. All the people here listen and whisper… But they’re horrified and ashamed, too. They know it’s true. They’re disturbed, Not by my voice. The good German people never raise their voices. The good people don’t—like these here … the good law-abiding people keep their voices down. So you don’t know their real thoughts, they too are unspoken.
“But here’s another thing: just imagine if they had raised their voices after the war. What might have happened here in, say the 1950s and 60s, if there’d been no U.S. military-CIA occupation? It’s hard to know for certain but we Germans have to try to understand. The right people have to speak louder, too. For what has happened here is now happening all over Europe … And that, my dears, is what our Europe is all about. A Europe ‘run’ by the USA … without even the fiction of NATO or European Union, both staggering around in confusion … already on the verge of collapse. But a Europe without Ami occupation? How would it be? We should try to picture it.”
“So how would it be?” Ute, Hannah and Erica talk all at once. People around the room looking their way … ever so discreetly … whispering one to the other, overhearing but not really understanding the words.
“Different. I like to think so. I think of a Germany in some kind of a union of European peoples.”
“But we have a union!” Ute adds.
“We have a union of bureaucratic governments and institutions creating ever new bureaucracies staffed by super-paid Nazi-inclined bureaucrats. We need something different from what we have … on this, this gradually disappearing tip—just a tip, mind you—of the huge Eurasian continent. We’re not even a continent. Not at all. We’re just a tip of land in the world of the planet Earth.”
“A real union of European nations is what thinking people want for Europe,” Ute said. “Germans, Italians and French.”
“But that’s not what reformers do,” Hannah added with a sigh.
“But it’s what revolutionaries demand,” Erica murmured, looking at the table and fiddling with a dessert spoon. “I suppose the first step has to be what you said, Herr Hartmann …”
“Helmut! I’ve told you over and over, Erica, my name is Helmut. That’s another thing we have to get rid of … our exaggerated German formality. Are you too, of all people, going to call Ute, Frau Journalist Hartmann?”
“Sorry! But I meant it as a sign of respect. Anyway, Helmut, I agree.” Then lowering her voice even more: “First, shut down NATO and send Ami troops home, then denazify all of Europe! And pay up for our past imperialism! Then we’ll see who Europeans really are … if they will finally pay in full for the past centuries of Euro-imperialism. There! Well, now I’ve said it.”
The others stared at Erica in silence, She lifted her eyes. Helmut locked his eyes into hers for long seconds before he said: “Thanks for that Erica. I understand … uh, I understand you. We’re in complete agreement. And moreover, we have to keep in mind that thus far this RAF is a very European kind of thing … chiefly a Central European matter. Do others know about our secret war here in Germany, in Italy, too? I doubt it. Or not much … or don’t understand it.”
Another moment passed before he chuckled and added: “Ironic that this conversation is taking place in Hitler’s favorite restaurant. The Italian restaurant in Munich, in Germany. And we just wanted a good Italian meal. Turned out better than we could have hoped for.”
He looked around the table nervously. Around the room. For something to hold onto. “Uh, anyone for another espresso? Or should we order another round of Stalingradskaya vodka?”
ULRIKE MARIE MEINHOF
«Wirft man einen Stein, so ist das eine strafbare Handlung. Werden tausend Steine geworfen, ist das eine politische Aktion. Zündet man ein Auto an, ist das eine strafbare Handlung, werden hundert Autos angezündet, ist das eine politische Aktion. Protest ist, wenn ich sage, das und das paßt mir nicht. Widerstand ist, wenn ich dafür sorge, daß das, was mir nicht paßt, nicht länger geschieht» Ulrike Meinhof.
(You throw a stone, that is a crime. If a thousand stones are thrown, that is a political action. You set one car on fire, that is a crime. You set one hundred on fire, that a political action. Protest is when I say I do not like this or that. Resistance is when I act so that that which I do not like, no longer occurs.)
For Helmut Seifert the young journalist turned revolutionary was a hero: Ulrike Meinhof, born October 7, 1934 in Oldenburg (Germany), died May 9, 1976 in Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart). Journalist, revolutionary and co-founder of the Red Army Faction. She would be celebrated in song, literature and film because she lived intensely and died like a corralled steer, a prisoner of the state against which she fought. Officially, a “suicide; for Helmut Seifert she was assassinated by the state … strangled and hanged during the night on the bars of her cell window .
She wrote in an essay in number 14, 1968 of Konkret about the Frankfurt department store fire set by Gudrun Ensslin: The progressive moment in a department store fire is not in the destruction of the goods; it lies in the criminality of the action … in the breaking of the law. (Das progressive Moment einer Warenhausbrandstiftung liegt nicht in der Vernichtung der Waren, es liegt in der Kriminalität der Tat, im Gesetzesbruch.)
And in the national weekly, Der Spiegel, number 25, of 15 June 1970:
“Naturally we call cops pigs. We say the one in uniform is a pig, not a person, and so we have to fight him. That means we cannot speak with him for it is wrong even to speak with such people, and naturally shots may be fired.” (Wir sagen, natürlich, die Bullen sind Schweine, wir sagen, der Typ in der Uniform ist ein Schwein, das ist kein Mensch, und so haben wir uns mit ihm auseinanderzusetzen. Das heißt, wir haben nicht mit ihm zu reden, und es ist falsch überhaupt mit diesen Leuten zu reden, und natürlich kann geschossen werden.”)
Again in the Osteria Italiana.
Helmut and Ute together with Hannah and Erica were sitting this time in a secluded corner table of what they all now ironically referred to as “Hitler’s favorite restaurant.” Only a few days had passed since the suicide-murder of Ulrike Meinhof. Erica looked shaken, bewildered and fearful. Helmut thought RAF, he thought Erica. Never Baader-Meinhof Gang. RAF it was. And Erica was somehow involved.
After a long silence while he gazed at only sullen faces around them, all seeming to be looking at him and waiting, he suddenly shouted: “Ulrike Meinhof was in the direct anti-systemic ideological line of Rosa Luxemburg and Sophie Scholl. Ulrike paid with her life for her anti-imperialism and anti-Nazism—as did Sophie and Rosa—not for her crimes. They are heroes. RAF, I mean. Or nearly all of them. One problem is there are always traitors. And traitors are dangerous,” he said, looking hard at Erica. And in his mind seeing Hannah’s friend’s name written with a “c”. Not the Germanic “k”. Though it would change nothing, nor would it bring Ulrike back to life, still he often imagined Erica, too, as heroic.
“Ulrike led a normal life before her fateful choice for violence. She loved dancing at balls in the Hotel Vierjahreszeiten in Hamburg and drinking expensive champagne. She was sentimental in a bourgeois way” Helmut said, (just as later the artist Gerhard Richter would define her in his comments about his fifteen-painting cycle of RAF leaders, October 18, 1977 .
“But Ulrike’s mind worked in a different manner,” Helmut goes on, unrelentingly. “She thought we Germans had to change. She couldn’t accept a neo-Nazi Germany. As a student she turned every subject upside down. She was disturbing. Eventually, she became an editor at the Communist magazine, Konkret, married its publisher, Klaus Rainer Röhl, had two children. Pages on folio heavy stock of the bi-weekly were plastered on the walls of student rooms … like those of Che Guevara today. Editor-in-chief-ship of Konkret was not enough. She wanted action. Violence was necessary. But Klaus didn’t share her beliefs. They divorced and the magazine dissolved over the use of violence. (7)
“And Ulrike? Disgusted with the inertia of the left, she joined what became the RAF, went to Jordan for arms training with the PLO and returned ready for action. Armed attacks on capitalist symbols and U.S, military bases—likely the latter marking her ultimate downfall. After two years of preliminary hearings she was sentenced to eight’s year imprisonment. Eventually however she, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Karl Raspe were jointly charged with four counts of murder, fifty-four attempted murders and criminal association, But before the trial’s conclusion Ulrike was found hanged in her cell on May 6, 1976. She would have gotten a life sentence as the others did. Though she officially hanged herself with rope fashioned from a towel, many Germans never believed it. Her burial in Berlin-Mariendorf six days after her death turned into a demonstration of four thousand people.
“Ulrike Meinhof died young but she left behind a long legacy of writing and films by leading filmmakers like Margaretha von Trotta (8).… but also sadness and desperation in our German state.”
HELMUT’S NOTES: ANDREAS BAADER AND THE ROTE ARME FAKTION
First of all, Seifert—as Helmut liked to call himself—keep in mind that RAF was a group of revolutionaries, not terrorists. Not a gang of criminals. Second, RAF was run by extraordinary and courageous women—women like also Sophie Scholl during Nazism in Munich, women committed to social-political change—unlike the Red Brigades in Italy run chiefly by men, but who, like RAF, were also revolutionaries. Third, RAF like the Red Brigades was violent. As Gudrun Ensslin wrote: “Violence is the only answer to violence.” And: “This is the Auschwitz generation, and there’s no arguing with them!“
Gudrun Ensslin became one of the most “wanted” persons in Germany. She was born in 1940 in the village of Bartholomä in Baden-Württemberg, the daughter of a Protestant Pastor. At age eighteen she studied a year in the USA in Warren, Pennsylvania, then did American and German studies in the University of Tübingen. After a first marriage and the birth of a son, she met Andreas Baader, widely called a criminal from Munich. He became the man of her life. Student protest against the visit of the Shah of Iran was then a turning point: the acquittal of the policeman who shot and killed a young student, Benno Ohnesorg, outraged her and she moved farther and farther left and opened battle on the “fascist” West German state. She and Andreas fire bombed a Frankfurt am Main department store, for which they were arrested in 1968 and sentenced to prison. Gudrun appealed the sentence and was released in 1969. She bolted and went underground and helped Andreas escape. At that point the die was cast.
In May of 1970: she wrote: I like the great things you can buy in a department store. But when you have to buy them in order to stay unaware, comatose, then the price you pay is too high.”
Consequently, as the existence of RAF became known for its robberies and violence, the media referred to it as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. In reality, like Josef Vissarionivich Djugashvili (Stalin), they robbed banks to finance their new organization, the Red Army Faction. Andreas and Gudrun were in action until 1972 when they and other RAF members were again arrested.
In a way, the state’s ferocious response to RAF legitimized them … a disproportionate response. People who might have thought they were just a minor criminal group, an annoyance, became aware of them. People then learned a lot from the great Stammheim show trial of the RAF members. People learned their government considered the RAF such a huge threat to society that it was ready to limit civil liberties to stop them. Actually, (and here Helmut’s notes were underlined: Actually, the Baader-Meinhof Group trial was a false flag operation. For the damage done by RAF was slight as compared to the day-to-day crimes of a whole society. The government reaction to the group’s actions was massive. So how could average people be dismissive of them if their government spent so much energy into stopping them … then killing them? The Baader-Meinhof trial of Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Karl Raspe—after they had been in isolation for three years—lasted over a year, up to the time of Ulrike Meinhof’s death in prison. From May 1975 it went on: hordes of lawyers and judges many of whom ex-Nazis; official leaks to the press of illegally taped conversations between defendants and lawyers; a specially-built courtroom on the grounds of Stammheim Prison. For the people this was more than a show trial. It was a theatrical presentation intended to sway a whole nation.
Andreas Baader and companions were all prisoners in Stammheim. In isolation. Sound proof cells. The second RAF generation had taken over the action outside. They were even more violent. Doing what they could for the release of their jailed companions, in 1977 they abducted the President of West German Industrialists and an ex-SS officer, Hans-Martin Schleyer and offered an exchange. The government refused. So they hijacked a Lufthansa Boeing737 on October 17, and landed in Mogadishu and tried to negotiate with police from there. But no deal. No negotiations with terrorists! Finally, Special Forces erupted into the parked plane, saved the passengers and killed the “terrorists”. As payback, RAF killed Schleyer. Then on the very next day, in the Stammheim prison, Baader and Gudrun Ensslin were found dead in their cells and a third, Jan-Karl Raspe died in a hospital. The two men were shot, Gudrun, strangled with the cable from a loud speaker and hanged from her cell’s window bars.
The official version of suicide has never been popularly believed in Germany. People believe they were executed, as did I, Helmut Seifert Hartmann: “They were assassinated by the state.”
The night of October 18, 1977 came to be called ‘Death Night’, the night three key members of the first generation of the Red Army Faction died in mysterious circumstances in the Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart. (Helmut Seifert like the author believes he was murdered by the state.) A fourth survived severe stab wounds. The high-jacked plane, the special forces assault in Mogadishu, the death of the revolutionaries, and the murder of Schleyer a former rabid SS officer, marked the climax of the German Autumn and the RAF attacks on the Nazi-infested state.
The author finds the most fascinating the figure of Gudrun Ensslin, Baader’s companion and co-founder of the urban guerilla “army” … and one of those who died on Death Night. One of the two women who made RAF. For her the RAF embodied the essence of “the duty of resistance” to the U.S.-created German Federal Republic. Helmut too now saw it for what it was: contrary to popular thought of Germany as a shining example of post-1945, he saw West German democracy as an ex-Nazi led society. Gudrun’s history was the history of her era. The German society the USA had wanted in Germany from Nazism’s very beginning back in 1933. The society of those Nazi protégés of the USA who were never denazified. Most likely undenazifiable. Whose Nazi past was ignored. They were RAF’s blood enemies.
“Hannah! Erica! Ulrike Meinhof was in the direct anti-systemic ideological line of Rosa Luxemburg and Sophie Scholl. Ulrike paid with her life for her radical anti-imperialism and anti-Nazism—as did Sophie and Rosa—not for her crimes as such.”
“They are heroes. RAF, I mean. nearly all of them. One problem is there are always traitors. And traitors are dangerous,” he said, looking at Erica. And in his mind always seeing Hannah’s friend’s name written with a “c”. Not that the German ‘c’ would change anything or bring Ulrike back to life, but Erica with a “c” it remained.
(1)Literary historian and critic Nicola Chiaromonte’s major work is one long commentary on the role of fiction: the novels of Stendhal, Tolstoy, Roger Martin du Gard, Malraux, and Pasternak. “Only through fiction and the imaginary,” he writes, “can we learn something real about individual experience. What we learn is that individual experience refutes historical optimism. Chiaromonte contends that the works of Stendhal et al. make up a tradition: the antihistorical novel, in which the idea of History as rational and progressive is shown to be an illusion. From his own experience in exile in the twenty years of Italian Fascism, Chiaromonte could write this: “In the beginning there was the lie.” He believed that the sense of history begins in the lie, “an irresistible prevalence of the false over the authentic, of betrayal over loyalty, of cowardice over courage.” His lifetime theme was the relationship between man and the event, between what one believes and what happens to him. Some of his essays included in his collection, To Believe and Not To Believe (Credere e Non Credere), were presented at Princeton in 1966 when he held the Christian Gauss Seminars On Literary Criticism. No one has ever before linked these authors in quite this way; whatever the merits of Chiaromonte’s argument as political philosophy, as literary criticism it is a brilliant conception.
In Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma the young Fabrizio del Dongo sets out to join Napoleon’s army. What happens is his farcical search for the war: he is robbed and jailed as a spy, taken in by a woman who outfits him in a dead Hussar’s uniform and sends him off to the battle at Waterloo. Fabrizio wanders around the battlefield, alternately delighted and horrified, never comprehending what is happening and if this is really war. And in fact the event as Stendhal describes it is incomprehensible— even, it seems, to Napoleon and his marshals, who gallop around with little purpose or effect.
Though Chiaromonte does not mention Camus in his essay The Paradox of History, he was influenced by The Rebel; in Rome he spoke to me of his admiration for Albert Camus. Chiaromonte concentrated on art and literature. He did not appreciate high-flown prose style and programmatic detail. Like Camus he stressed limits and consequently Mediterranean mèsure. Together they are the dernier cri of 20th century literary radicalism: their attempt to derive from art a criticism of politics and an explanation of the apparently inexplicable history of this century.
(2)Helmut still sees Europe the way it had always been and as he thought it was supposed to be. He had lived a life in which the mad visions of a few became the delusions of many, the illusions of the masses and the tragedy of a people. Such was also the foreign image of Old Europe, which in reality was even more corrupt and colonialist-imperialist with an irrepressible predilection for war. Yet, tourists loved it that way, just as did some of Europe’s own intellectuals as well as artists of the world who felt Europe was the only place to be. That variegated multiethnic semi-continent of Europe was a world. The so-called Iron Curtain that came down to mark the start of the Cold War after WWII only reinforced the continental image of this incomprehensible Europe, with an enticing ideological taint of danger attached.
(3)At the end of WWII in 1945 the East European expert Major General Reinhard Gehlen became part of the CIA which promptly organized and financed the Gehlen Group, or Gehlen Org, for intelligence and espionage activities against the USSR. The spymaster Reinhard Gehlen had ties to extreme rightist organizations like Stepan Bandera’s fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists; Romania’s Iron Guard and the Ustashe of Yugoslavia. After Hitler fired Gehlen during the war in Russia because of his negative reports, Gehlen buried in watertight cans his files on the Red Army. On May 22, 1945, Gehlen and top aides surrendered to the American Counter-intelligence Corps. Since the USA needed Soviet military experts, Gehlen was removed from prisoner-of-war rolls and placed in charge of a group of Germans gathering intelligence for the USA. Unrepentant Nazis occupied key posts in his CIA affiliated, anti-Communist “Gehlen Organization” headquartered in Munich-Pullach. Many people in Munich knew about the Gehlen Org but no one cared a whit. Later, the CIA named Reinhard Gehlen the first chief of the Intelligence Service of the U.S.- occupied German Federal Republic of West Germany, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND, 1956-68. During the Cold War period he was always a loyal executor of U.S. policies. General Gehlen was a very smart cookie. He died in 1979 in Starnberg near Munich.
(4)Nazi Germany annexed Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, in September 1938 with the agreement of the Czechs who wanted to get rid of the two to three million ethnic Germans living there and with the agreement of the Allied powers of Great Britain and France. Hitler’s troops had already marched into Austria in March 1938. Both annexations were part of Hitler’s policies of uniting European Germans and expanding the territory (Lebensraum) of his Fourth Reich. These millions of Sudeten Germans—many of whom well-disposed toward Nazi Germany—were resettled in Germany proper. In this story, Helmut Hartmann is one such.
(5) Nicolae Ceausescu (1899-1989), a Romanian Communist politician, member of Politburo from 1954, President of the Romanian Socialist Republic from 1967-1989. During the Romanian anti-Communist Revolution in 1989 that exploded in the big city of Timisoara with its strong Hungarian minority, on December 22 of that year he and his wife Elena Ceausescu were arrested in the small city of Targoviste near Bucharest, tried for genocide in a show trial, and executed on Christmas Day of 1989. The author remembers well a planned midnight bus trip to Romania organized by Hungarians for foreign journalists in the country at the time, departure from Budapest on December 22. The trip was cancelled at the last minute because of the intensity of the fighting when everyone moving was a target by one or the other of the many diverse factions. I, like other journalists present in Budapest, was relieved we did not go, though I have always wondered who gave the order not to send us there. Now I wonder if my conceptual Ramon found refuge in America as did a long line of Nazis after WWII. Possible but not probable. Maybe he is back in Montagna that he so loved.
(6) The renowned German painter, Gerhard Richter painted a cycle of fifteen works of the Baader-Meinhof leaders in the infamous Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart shortly before their deaths, and some after they died, all murdered by the state, as popularly believed, or, officially, by their own hand. Known as 18 October,1977 the works were shown in a widely publicized exhibition in the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Three young German radicals, members of the militant Baader-Meinhof Group, were found dead in a Stuttgart prison; they were pronounced suicides, but many people suspected they had been murdered. Gerhard Richter, one of the most exceptional and highly regarded artists of the second half of the 20th century, created these paintings eleven years after this traumatic event. They are among the most challenging works of the artist’s career, and one of the 20th century’s most famous works on a political theme, still highly debated and unsettling to this day. The paintings are based on newspaper and police photographs of moments in the lives and deaths of the four leaders of the Red Army Faction (RAF), the German left-wing revolutionary group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. The bodies of the three principal RAF members were found in the cells of the German prison of Stammheim where they were incarcerated. Richter’s reworking of these documentary sources is dark, blurred, and diffuse. The cycle begins with a canvas based on a studio portrait photograph of Ulrike Meinhof, journalist turned radical ideologue, an image that shows her as young and vital, but also, as the artist described, “sentimental in a bourgeois way.” Paintings 2 through 7 shift tone abruptly, offering up the dead in paintings based on forensic photographs. There are three images of Meinhof, her body seen close-up, after she was found in her prison cell, the wound on her neck left by the noose visible, though softened by Richter’s blur—as if he wanted to provide a buffer protecting us from the trauma of seeing it or offer her a modicum of privacy in death. Two paintings show Andreas Baader, splayed on the floor of his prison cell as he had fallen after shooting himself with a gun smuggled into the prison. Paintings 8 and 9 depict the interior of Baader’s empty cell, the first showing his overflowing bookcase, and the other the record player that was reportedly used to smuggle in the gun with which Baader shot himself, so that these tokens of a classical cultural inheritance and knowledge take on a malevolent aspect. And one picture depicts Gudrun Ensslin, whose body, hanging from the bars of her prison window, was discovered on the morning of October 19. Our shock at seeing these corpses, bodies rendered lifeless from self-destructive violence, Richter suggests, may reflect the way we have weaned ourselves away from recognizing death with “our nice, tidy lifestyle.” appreciation of [our time], to see it as it is.” Paintings 10 and 11 show the arrest of Baader and Meins as it was broadcast on television to an audience of millions, with Meins forced to undress in front of the rolling cameras to show he was unarmed, the trace of his figure a tiny vertical blur in Richter’s canvases. Paintings 12, 13, and 14 offer a trio of police images of Gudrun Ensslin in prison uniform in a photographic lineup, one in which she has enigmatic smile on her lips. And, finally, 15, the largest, depicts the funeral and burial of Baader, Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe, another leader of the group. While Richter had previously chosen images related to Germany’s recent history—he was among the first to introduce subjects from its Nazi past into artworks—he hadn’t done so in many years. The October cycle was, as he put it, “a reversion” in both topic and technique. In remembering this particular episode he touched on a topic that was still raw, still taboo in public dialogue despite the omnipresent media images that served as source material for the paintings: the dead terrorists remained largely unacknowledged, unmentioned, unmourned. “I was impressed by the terrorists’ energy, their uncompromising determination and their absolute bravery,” Richter reflected on this cataclysmic climax of opposing forces. “But I could not find it in my heart to condemn the state for its harsh response. That is what States are like, and I have known other, more ruthless ones.” Richter may have felt this ambivalence particularly keenly. He was born in Dresden in 1932, the year before the Nazi rise to power, and witnessed the devastating bombing of that city as a young teenager. His first experience as an artist was in the newly founded German Democratic Republic, where he was trained in the propagandistic realism , but—with several trips to the West, including one to take in the great postwar showcase of international art at Documenta in Kassel—he crossed over permanently in 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was erected. His dual formation, split as it was between East and West Germany, left Richter highly attuned to the tensions, ironies, and fractures between two ideological systems, and harboring a deep skepticism about doctrines of any kind. “It was”, he wrote in 1988, “a profound distaste for all claims to possess the truth.” Richter acknowledged how profoundly unsettling he found the events around the Baader-Meinhof Group: “The deaths of the terrorists, and the related events both before and after,” he reflected, “stand for a horror that distressed me and has haunted me as unfinished business ever since, despite all my effort to repress it.” Perhaps as a way of processing things, Richter began to collect materials related to the group, holding onto “a number of them” for years before he began painting the October cycle, filed under the heading of “unfinished business”. In fact, over 100 images related to the Baader-Meinhof Group appear in Atlas, Richter’s ongoing scrapbook-like compendium of photographic source material. When he began working in earnest on what would become 18 October 1977, Richter drew some of his source images from newspapers and magazines or snapshots of television coverage—markers of the pervasiveness of media coverage of the Baader-Meinhof Group during their violent reign and in its aftermath. But others, taken from police photographs, were far less readily available, and serve as tokens of Richter’s preoccupation with the topic and his determined research efforts in preparation for painting. The pictures of Ensslin offers no background information that would convey a politically charged meaning for the picture. The woman appears at first isolated and alone. However, the confrontation 1, confrontation 2, confrontation 3 – contain a plethora of sides to be perceived. Richter slows down the progression of cinematic frames to an absolute standstill in the confrontation sequence. We see Gudrun Ensslin turning to engage with the viewer in the first piece, then looking at those who are taking her picture, and then turning away with a downcast head. Each picture portrays the same woman revealing different sides of her face while obscuring her meaning. If these frames showing an image were sequenced in milli-seconds as in a film, then perhaps her mouth would move or her eyes would convey a sentiment… Richter destabilizes our view of Ensslin by making this very refusal to make meaning into the focus of the work. He punches holes into any possible meaning that the woman could express by leaving the viewer with a refusal to reply which is initiated by Ensslin’s refusal to speak in the first place. As a result, the appearance of the pictures is the focal point, or lack thereof, in Richter’s art. He intends to paint the appearance of reality thereby capturing the multiple facets of the «passing-by» of experience. However, Richter anchors this moment of passing-by in attaching it to the empathetic experience of man in the confrontation series which appears attached to the viewer through the empathetic experience: «art serves to establish community. It links us with others, and with the things around us, in a shared vision and effort». Her moment of passing-by announces our perception of the art in which we confront what she has already seen. Thus, her experience finds its anchor in the viewer’s gaze..
(7) After Ulrike Meinhof’s arrest in 1972, Hermann L. Gremliza founded a new far-left Konkret magazine based in Hamburg for which he wrote the introductory column and to which a long line of German leftist intellectuals have contributed: such as Heinrich Böll, Daniel Cohn-Bandit, Rudi Dutschke, Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Jürgen Elsässer. Günter Grass, Sahra Wagenknecht.
(8) Films: In 1981 Margarethe von Trotta’s feature film, Marianne and Juliane, is a portrait of the incarcerated Gudrun Ensslin. Five years later, Sabine Wegner played Ensslin in Reinhard Huff’s Stammheim, a detailed account of the trial against Ensslin, Baader, Meinhof and others. In that same 1986, Corinna Kirchhoff played Ensslin in Markus Imhof’s The Journey. In 1997, Anya Hoffmann was Ensslin in Heinrich Breloer’s award winning TV drama, Todespiel. Gudrun Ensslin was played by Johanna Wokalek in Uli Edel’s 2008 film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, the adaptation of a non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust. Wokalek’s performance was a nomination for the 2009 German Film Awards and a Bambi award as best German actress. The film was chosen as Germany’s submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for the 66th Golden Globe Awards. Wer wenn nicht wir (If not us, who), in which Lena Lauzemis plays Gudrun Ensslin, won the Alfred Bauer Prize and the Prize of the German Art House Cinemas at the Berlin International Film Festival of 2011.