w i t n e s s i s a b e l f a r g o c o l e
Horst Lange: Biography
Horst Lange: Diaries
Berlin, December 28, 1939
The day before yesterday, at night, I experienced something which I am recording only after examining it calmly and clearing up all the details in my own mind:
It was an overwrought day full of memories, like a leave-taking from the past life. Friends came for lunch, we rummaged in old letters, showed around my drawings (from student days), spoke of the dead and the living; that evening we visited other people, along with many strangers, and got to talking of those old things again late at night. I was both exhausted and wide awake, excited and sleepy. I had been drinking the evening before, and this evening we drank again, but not enough to make me drunk.
When we got home (just after midnight, at our friends’ I had met someone who was friends with Georg Heym1 and played tennis with him around 1910 – but we talked about it as if it were yesterday!) I stood at the big window and stared out into the bright moonlight, absent and without a single distinct thought, perhaps a touch of yearning for someone I love. I smoked a cigarette and stared into the white flowing cold light. Snow had fallen that afternoon. The woman – I thought of so vividly loves white, white flowers and white dresses.
As I stood there I gradually felt the boundaries of my self expand and finally, so to speak, dissolve; I was transported from myself without knowing where to. Before I realized it, Oda came up to me and put her hand lightly on my shoulder. This touch pulled me back; I came to myself with an agonized, animal sound, a cry of fear and horror. Afterward I stood at my window for a long time and tried to set out once more on this path of which I had taken only the first few steps. I did not succeed.
The next day I learned that Elisabeth2 had dreamed of me in the hour of this transport – Oda was included in the magic circle. She was still reading Marcel Proust and had a photograph of Paris lying on her desk. Elisabeth had dreamed of me and of Heym’s poem “Longing for Paris” (I gave her that Heym for Christmas without having read it yet).
At midday today, around the time when Oda’s father shot himself 20 years ago, a bud from a camellia I had given her for her birthday fell to the ground with a loud crack. Oda was just speaking of her plans for the future. Twelfth-Night haunting. But where is the horror that lies before us?
In a dugout near Krashneva, September 26, 1941
[…] – Cold, restless night. Poor sleep. The bunkers are supposedly lice-ridden. Already you feel the itching. – Cold, gusts of rain. Big, sailing clouds. Constant hunger. I eat shameless amounts. In the morning our artillery on the neighboring hill shoots pointlessly over our heads at the Russians. – Around midday I go to the abandoned village of Krashneva, where our sappers gut the houses, taking planks and beams to reinforce their bunkers. The dead, ghostly magic of the houses, captivating me. The jumbled relics of past life. A cap still hangs on the peg. A string of beads on the ground. Colorful knitted bands to fasten the bast shoes. Schoolbooks (the same everywhere), family photographs, the parents, sons (trouser creases!) and daughters sit there stiffly, holding their breath in alarm. Icons in the corner, next to them the Communist posters, bright, loud and without an iota of taste. Potted plants. Two dead horses in a stall. A barn full of junk (sign of affluence!). Wild cats darting about and wailing hideously like angry household spirits. Beautiful vessels, the ancient, almost Stone-Age forms of jugs and iron pots. All the houses are missing windowpanes. The winter will snow in, the storm sweep through. – In the house gardens, where beets, cabbage, tomatoes and poppies grow, I look for onions without finding any. Birches everywhere, the village must have had an inviting look, like something described by Gogol or the author of “Adventure of a Hunter”3. – I go back, look at my watch and feel a bit uneasy. As soon as I’m over the hill and back in our ravine, the Russians shoot several heavy-caliber salvoes at Krashneva and the path I just took – aiming at the German guns that fired this morning. The shrapnel flies all the way to us. Only later do I realize how lucky I was. One becomes so jaded! Now I’m writing, barely able to read it, by the thin light of homemade wax candles. All the beehives are plundered. –
Bunker. Near Krashneva, September 27, 1941
Cold moonlit night. Thick layer of ice in the washbasin this morning. I go back to the dead village for a little wooden panel with a painting of St. George. A spinning wheel is hidden in a hole in the garden. Will the wheel ever whir again, will a thread leave the spindle? – In our dugout lengths of wonderful hand-woven linen are being used to cover the walls. A little cast-iron stove gives some warmth, bringing hundreds of flies to life. – People are wary when I try to sound them out about their experiences. My task is thankless. There are many new craters at the spot the Russians shot at yesterday. The sight unsettled me. –
Forest camp [near Baltutino, Novo Selye], October 1, 1941
Questioned about that fistfight on the night of September 6/7. The matter was passed on to Berlin. In punishment I am relieved of my post (not at all to my regret!). It must have created a big stir. I cannot yet judge what good it may actually bring, but I am convinced that this too harbors a turn for the positive. In the past few days the memory of that weird, wicked night was always with me. Now and then it rose up before me in fractured images. My forebodings grasp what is to come only as the result of something bad; never do I grasp the bad thing itself before it actually happens. Premonitions are deceptive. One can rely only on reality and its causality. How often have I realized after the fact that the turn for the bad really depends only on a tiny counterweight that disturbs the order and completely disrupts it when it gets out of hand. I long for a clear and unambiguous order, and so far I have not been able to create one, or, when I did gain one for a time, to maintain it. If the consequences of this experience compel me to achieve it by force and to perfect it, I will be grateful, even if this goal can be attained only with difficulties and against great obstacles. In the last few years I have shirked all decisions, in my private life as well. I have always avoided answering for my weaknesses. I welcomed evasions and enjoyed entanglements. The obscurity and vagueness which affected even my way of thinking and expressing myself seemed to be my true element. I missed the turning point which could have brought the possibility of change, or I lacked the concentration to take the necessary steps at the right moment. I was more than happy to let myself be guided by omens which seemed to set my course. The reason was not an inclination toward laziness, but rather a kinship with all that is dark and shadowy. – I always sensed that I could not go on this way without putting myself at great risk in the long run. […] [Omitted in original.Tr.] If I ever go home again, a fundamental change must be made. I will have to start all over from the beginning. Even with my writing, where I was often far ahead of myself. For the time being, if I’m going to be sent back to serve in the company now, I’ll be entering an academy of trivial duties. One thing will lead to another, and in the end, without noticing it, I will be utterly changed (this being said and anticipated not in premonition, but by will and intent!). It is not an easy path, but the results can only be all positive or all negative. “To be or not to be…!” We shall see. – I am writing this reckoning, which I have done often enough in my mind since leaving Berlin, in our tent, where I spent shivering days and freezing nights. The hours crept by, I waited for a decision and was glad that it came today at long last. Day and night the sky is grey and without light. The only diversion here comes from the Russian planes that attack now and then and are driven away with a great racket. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when I get out of here, however big a mess I end up in. I am grateful for the good time I had in V.4. It was like a dream or an idyll. I am not curious about the future, but I am prepared to accept and shape it. Ultimately I’m glad to have lost the special status I’d had so far, for now it will really become necessary for me to prove myself. – Never before have I been as alone as I have since the moment I left V.. I must learn to rely upon myself (in the sense of “being reliable”). I am reading Goethe’s “Campaign,” a great book, a wonderful penchant for order. And now a new chapter begins. I am quite happy, cheerful and relieved.
Ossowietsche [Ovsishche? Tr.], October 9, 1941
Decampment from the forest yesterday morning. In the end one of the self-built huts went up in flames. Destructive drive of the ordinary man who is only too happy to destroy what he has built when he no longer needs it. This forced vagabondage causes a shift in possession and property. – Drive down the crowded road of approach to Yelnya, which was in German hands once before. Russian positions: nothing but primitive little foxholes. No wiring. The first corpses, lying next to the road. That certain kind of immobility and ultimate paralysis. Bloated faces tinged blue and green. The guns still in their hands. Next to them, slow and indifferent, prisoners repair the road. Slightly cloudy sky, cold wind. The convoy moves along in a cloud of dust, fine brownish meal which gradually powders me all over. Unbroken procession of wagons. Countless regimental dogcarts. The weary, sweet-tempered horses. Here and there sick ones led by the halter, walking skeletons, lame and feeble. – Deep anti-tank ditches outside Yelnya. Dynamited bridges being rebuilt. – The road to Dorogobusch. An utterly razed, burned-out village. Only a few remnants of fences and garden plants show that houses once stood here. Charred tree stumps. Seen low against the dust-clouded sun, from the back opening of the truck: a landscape like France in 1917. – Bottlenecks in ravines where the convoys pile up. General yelling and cursing. – Short rest in a small village where we’re supposed to be quartered at first. Stinking poverty. A coquettish girl in a dirty white dress and felt boots – swaying her hips as she crosses the field, on parade in front of the strange men. – Onward, to the next chance of quarters. A village burns in the valley. Lurid red flames against the yellowed birch forests and the soft October blue. – Time and again prisoners in scattered squads, marching back alone. One man on crutches, struggling along step by step. On the whole my comrades are helpful and unmalicious. – We end up in a school (I am writing these lines on a school desk). Natural history collection. Plunder cravings. An old, untuned grand piano alongside microscopes and electrostatic generators. An unspeakable assortment of junk. In no time everything is straightened up and made habitable. Many little makeshift lights when darkness falls. Rembrandt setting. The big space divided up by many little centers of brightness, the figures between them casting long shadows. – Bad night. Fever and ague. – This morning I was in the big light-blue painted two-story church which was being used for agricultural purposes. Vaults below, a built-in bakery barred off to the outside. Perhaps once inhabited by monks. Upstairs, on the second floor, the church itself. Frieze of stars and angels’ heads, barely-recognizable wall paintings. Strange, almost daring structure, commanding the landscape. Crumbling away, defaced, degraded. No bells left in the belfry. Vast panorama of the countryside. Rain- and snow-clouds. Tracks of the vehicles legible on the ground. Forests where there are still scattered Russians (our pickets caught one last night. A shy starved seventeen-year-old. Discussion of his treatment. A bigoted NCO drops the term “master race”). – Big garden with dead fruit trees and plundered beehives. Russian infantry foxholes, some only half-finished. Campfire sites where embers were still glowing when we arrived yesterday. Beautiful, gently sloping forest valley. – Fleeting vision of the idyll which must dwelt in this place earlier, in untroubled times. – Recent realization that the dominant features of Bolshevik propaganda are philistine, on a level with Proletkultur. Without a single flourish of revolutionary élan. The superstition of progress. The delusion of mechanization. The enlightened doll-folk, identically carved and basking in the general good. Mass-produced. – Unfair and irritable because I’m not feeling well. –
Between Spas Demensk and Roslavl, October 11, 1941
Got up at dawn yesterday. It had snowed the night before. Blue-grey morning with brassy yellow light on the horizon. The moon had a huge corona. What a different picture than two days ago on the outward journey, now going back the way we came. A premonition of winter. Bright azure glazed with pink, with dove-grey swaths of haze on the horizon. The road lined by old birches, uphill and down. Out of the truck I’m sitting in, mercilessly jolted, I can see the procession of marching and motorized columns snaking across the low ridges, slow, ponderous. In part our soldiers are appallingly ragged and strangely costumed, mingling with the Russian civilians and prisoners who drive the wagons. The uniformity of the grey, exhausted mass when it has marched past, hardly an individual feature standing out. The same shuffling gait, the same movements. – A village goes up in flames just after we pass through. Cinnabar flames, purple smoke. – Straight through Yelnya, again and again the same scene of destruction. Everything repeats over and over: the stoves left standing, with their glazed tiles. The charred rubble. The caved-in roofs of the little wooden houses, their rafters like dislocated bones. The countless dead horses lining the road (a line of poetry flashes through my mind: “War garlands the roads… with dead goods… the white horse lies becoming like the snow… bleached flesh…”). Various landforms. Treeless plain. Always beneath the thin snow: the red-brown of the loess soil and the unharvested fields. A razed village, nothing left standing but a few outlying sheds and the great ruin of the church. Great clearness, with thin fields of shadow from the first clouds, which are white and massed as if at sea. Villages, villages – in one a crooked little church like a cardboard cutout. Windmills, the glowing, naturally-dyed colors of the women’s clothes. Little bunches of refugees, fragile, packed-full carts – right amidst the procession of military vehicles. Little nodes of resistance, tanks riddled with bullets and burned-out cars – seldom, in a very few places. Anti-tank ditches. Positions hardly suggesting serious resistance. – Wide valley with boggy riverbeds and scattered, dried-up, colorless settlements. – Spas Demensk, a large town, rural, low-lying houses, huge craters from aerial bombs. Over and over the calm and completely uninterested attitude of the inhabitants. The youngsters stand in the doorways and gaze after us without the least surprise, without even a stirring of emotion. In Spas Demensk life goes on as if nothing had happened, amidst rubble and craters. – The ceaseless, uninterrupted flow of our reinforcements. The tangible motion and function of the reinforcement machinery, organized down to the last detail. – Onto the tarmac Roslavl – Moscow. North of it our new quarters: a one-story, filthy, bug-infested residential building. Shock and debate among the South Germans at the sight of the vermin. Cold night with a low, burnished moon amidst the blackness. – The prisoners from Vyazma pass this morning: an immeasurable procession of misery, many civilians, ragged, emaciated, frozen. Dull, defeated. Many old men. Few intelligent faces. A flood of boundless dehumanization. No individuality (like our marching columns yesterday). But the defeated have no backbone left. The pull of fate which the multitudes must follow blind and unresisting.
Spas Demensk; Sunday, October 12, 1941
Marched out yesterday evening. Dusk with prismatic clouds (as if by Feininger5, who took his cubism from nature). The dark town, the smell of burning. The ruins. As always. Slept, freezing, in what used to be a shop (with built-in glass cabinets). In front of the building a toppled Lenin monument (with excrement on its head!). Heard by chance that it’s Sunday. Rudiments of a Sunday mood. Everything looks different, more amicable, a little bit transfigured. Like childhood. Then on to Vyazma. Curiosity. Calm. – Encounter with a demoted sergeant major. Discussion about justice on earth (as if inspired by Brecht). – Who knows what’s now to come? My birth date was written in chalk on the jamb of our last quarters! (Stop heeding omens!) Reserved but not unfriendly parting from the officers. They had a motorcyclist take me to the crossroads. Not without its irony for me.
Vyazma, October 15, 1941
Driving. Driving. Fever. Sickness. Hunger. – Arrived in Yukhnov in the dark on the 12th after a long, torturous journey. En route the same images over and over again: convoys on the move. A prisoner transport led by a Russian first lieutenant in a steel helmet. Downcast. Never lifting their eyes from the ground! Hopeless. With the insignias of all ranks. The many small fires in a prisoners’ camp. March light. Patches of snow. Now and then sweeping view of a beautiful landscape. Forests. A big lake with a monastery church. The earth one knows from books. Gradually the sense of the strangeness of these surroundings is vanishing entirely. I notice differences, make out details which never struck me before. The long train of convoys, grinding to a halt at every tricky place. Were dropped off in the darkness. Went on by foot with our heavy packs. The town is supposed to be 4 km away. Completely hopeless. At the last minute a truck takes us to the town in no time. Nocturnal hurly-burly of the communications zone. (Y. taken just 7 days ago!) Virtually sleepless night in primitive quarters. – Spent hours waiting for rations the next morning. – Over and over the same soldier types, the same fatigue and reluctance. Encounter with an SS man who had fought at Yelnya and spoke badly of the Wehrmacht, as if they hadn’t acquitted themselves well. – A church, magnificent and almost Asiatic in style, a Soviet star mounted on the tip of its twirled spire – degraded to a granary. Neglect. Ruined houses already covered with grass. All the corners full of smashed household effects. The fury that swept over the town. At midday we go look for a vehicle. – Again and again the ineffectual waiting and waving at the edge of the road. – Encounter with the escort of a transport convoy which is supposed to head for Vyazma on the 14th. Second night in Y., once again without sleep and blessed by rheumatic pains which keep waking me up. – In the morning there’s damp snow on the ground. Slow, difficult drive down the muddy road through dense forest. Russian fighter planes sweep down low along the convoy, now and then raining sheaves of machine-gun fire. Toward noon the sun comes through. The sky clears up completely. It still looks like March. The dull birch yellow shines under the snow as if from within. Someone tries to shoot crows. It would all be cheery if I weren’t sitting in the front of the truck with an ague, clenching my teeth to keep from losing control of myself. A large monastery church with a relief of the Madonna above the door in contrasting colors. Turned away from earthly things, a touching image. But languid and too much shaped by sentiment to prevail in the face of barbaric reality. – Sometimes these villages make me think of pictures by Marc Chagall. But there are probably no Jews left alive here. – Large market towns on the Oka. The first orderly marching columns come toward us. A radiant sunset glow, heralding the coming frost. – Deep-cut river valley, the water catches the light. Golden glimmer in the darkness. We can go no further, a division is crossing the river towards us. Confusion. Yelling. Horses barely able to pull the heavy guns. – Given shelter for the night by good-natured Silesians. Little hut. The good-natured old woman has papered her living-room in a starwort pattern. House plants. Two enormous enlargements (landowners?) of photos, a proud and thoroughly Slavic lady with “cul de Paris” and a frilly dress, an earnest gentleman in a high collar, dignified and sly. Shades of Turgenev. People from that time all look so tragic, as if concealing a sickness or a vice that eats away at them from within like a cancer. – The friendly old woman heats water so that I can wash (for the first time in 3 days! What kindness! What a blessing!) I leave as if I had been their guest. Ah, the dear Silesians who look as if they couldn’t harm a hair on a fly’s head and yet are forced to be soldiers. Old men. One of them was shot the night before. The whole area is full of scattered Russians carrying on their partisan operations. – Cold, grey morning. The Russian winter arrives unexpectedly. A snowstorm, growing heavier and denser by the minute. The bitter-cold plain, bare of life. Mounds of dead Russians, snowed over, some with hideous wounds. I see the fabled dead Russian lying in the middle of the road, flattened by the vehicles. I see a completely charred corpse hanging in the skeleton of a burned-out truck, no longer bearing any resemblance to a human body (recalled a photo showing the charred and petrified corpses excavated in Herculaneum and Pompei which I saw before 1914 and which shocked me deeply at the time!). “Drink, oh eyes…”6 – Vast processions of prisoners, many women among them. Pictures of misery, stumbling along in the whirling snow. – Slow progress, often stopped for hours (at a destroyed bridge or a stream). – Suddenly the huge factory buildings of Vyazma loom up in the twilight. Intact city with little destroyed. The shops are plundered: beg a piece of bread (have eating nothing but a single slice of bread since 7 this morning!) – I am writing these words in the straggler collecting point. Commotion of men and equipment. Out-of-tune piano. German hits. Sentimentality. Reluctance. Fever. Tomorrow the new troop!
Vyazma, October 17, 1941
Finally met people from my new battalion. Am sitting in the idyllic tranquility of a peasant house in an outlying region of the city, restful after the unspeakable noise, stink and commotion of the straggler collecting point where I spent the last few nights, observing soldier types who resemble the muzhiks in their lousy degeneracy. But then, there were some who put all their energy into keeping clean. The average soldier, especially among the young ones, is unspeakably primitive, crude and uncomradely. Exceptions are rare and heartening. 3 Baltic interpreters I had a long talk with, reminding me vividly of Oda (the infantile tendency common to all Balts: “Bergengruen7 may be a good writer, but he has a Jewish wife!”) – A simple, good-natured private suddenly seized by a fit of cleanliness when he saw me washing! The non-individual lacks initiative, is seized by the imitative instinct, he wants to blend in, not stand out, he must make noise and have noise around him to prove his own existence, his standards are low and he is calibrated for a very few specialties, certain songs, certain expressions. Questionable camaraderie. Urge to take advantage of the others, egotism, greed, the hankering to play a role. But on the other hand the glaring counterexamples, turned positive. – Several walks through the city. – All the shops plundered. Depressing sights. A striking number of bookshops. A suite of party offices in which senseless havoc had been wreaked. What can’t be used is smashed. Two privates take a desk-lamp and an enormous marble inkstand. The saccharine kitsch of the propaganda posters. Tendency toward bourgeois idealization and movie magic. Voroshilov8 as a Cossak hetman, posed on horseback in a pompous uniform. Attempt on Lenin’s life in the style of a broadsheet. Big wall maps with schematic depictions of the victory and spread of the Revolution. This primitivity can’t be beaten. It shades into ingenuousness, but is not without an undertone of danger. Menace still tangible everywhere. – Just now a big discussion of Russia’s political future among the comrades. Conflicting opinions. No agreement can be reached. One considers the Russians animals. Another has high hopes for the country’s socialist future. A great confusion on the whole. Intelligent young sculptor with an evidently Marxist past. Extremely shrewd views. – Vyazma is a city divided by hills, with many churches, some appallingly run down. Old cathedral with many onion domes and cupolas. Standing apart, on a high hill, surrounded by walls, cloistered. I climb the hill through snow in which there is barely a footprint. An officer crosses my path, looks at me in astonishment. The city sprawls below. The river black in the white valley patterned by fences, trees and houses. Desolation, solitude, emptiness, decay. The jackdaws circle the towers, screeching. Somewhere the wind rattles a loose sheet of tin. I enter the dark, empty halls. Some of the windows are boarded up. It is twilight here, utterly dead. There are a few patches of snow on the wooden floor which the rulers built over the flagstones to make a cellar for grain storage. Two machines with incomprehensible uses stand about looking like banal torture instruments. The wind plays with a piece of paper attached to one of them. Sacks piled up in a corner. An insult to the grandeur of the room. Wooden barriers built down the middle. Rags. A filthy soldier’s cap. A big, empty wooden frame. The stone holy-water font. On the cupolas, angels, God the Father and God the Son smiling down in forgiving clemency, enthroned. Angels hovering in a circle above the filth. The chain on which the candelabra hung, torn down. – Amidst the emptiness the vision of Russian Easter, with many lights, choirs, gold and luster and the song: “Christ is risen!” The brotherly embraces. The kisses. – I cannot resist the temptation to cry “Hallelujah” aloud, modulating. The echo drives me out. – A vast flock of crows over the city, screeching as they approach. The colors of the houses, set off by the snow. Dull ochre, blue and green. Sleds with wounded Russians. Bled dry, green-pale, starved. Wounded Germans with bullet-riddled tunics, vigorous, cheerful, almost beaming. The convoys, unending, uninterrupted. – Stalin monuments on huge pedestals, pale grey concrete, bombastic. As if cast from a mold, lifeless. Different, more primitive and crude than Breker9, yet reminiscent. On a domed building the meaningful juxtaposition 1812-1912. Probably the town hall. – Begged for food, begged for tea. Comradeship is rare. – The young sculptor believes in socialism and is convinced that we will bring it to the world. The helplessness of reconstructing an old conviction in new forms. Dependency on a once-adopted doctrine. – Tomorrow I will join my unit, whose special mission is to mop up the surrounding woods. Who knows what awaits me. I am prepared for the worst, but quite calm and composed. Where will my guardian angel lead me? Or is he no longer there? – I will write farewell letters and seal them, but not send them yet. –
Berlin, February 4, 1945
Suicide epidemic. A dreadful case involving relatives of a girl who lives in our house. Young SS man poisons himself along with his wife.10 Psychological breakdown after being in Breslau with the Russians already at the Oder line. Resistance simply gives way. The nihilism that is left is too much for weak natures. Makeshift fortifications are being thrown up around Berlin, hastily and haphazardly. These defenses are worth next to nothing. –
I am reading the stories and short prose of Kafka. With a few exceptions, like “An Imperial Message” and “Up in the Gallery” (a piece which made a profound and unforgettable impression on me when I heard it in Berlin in 1926 in the quarters of what was then the Sezession on the Kurfürstendamm, read by an uncommonly fascinating Jewish performer – so profound that even now I hear his voice in my ears as I read), these works have an atmosphere like that of Chagall’s paintings, sometimes even suggesting Kubin11. It strikes me as if Kafka wrote these works not in German but in a completely different language. For the most part they are ethereally abstract and utterly fleshless and without smell or taste. A story like “The Metamorphosis” has all the dislocated and exaggerated consistency of madness. It’s a cold, pitilessly rarified climate, now a frenzy of words and images, now an extremely logical train of thought, always a quarter or eighth tone above or below the normal scale. Admirable in its implacable logic, but alien and completely antipathetic to me. You behold this world as if a hand had set overly strong spectacles on your nose. After a while it hurts, crippling not only the eye, but the ear as well. – The girl in the empty flat. The restlessness of youth. The disappointment at having to live this way. The longing for splendor and warmth. “But I so love to dance!” Rubble all around. The expectancy that something more might come after all. At the end all soft and tender and nuptial!
Berlin, February 5, 1945
First time back in service again – once the distorted and tenuous sense of reality spreads to the military phase, there is no more hope for the external, tactical developments. Any layman can see from the position of the battlefront on the situation map that there can be no more miracles. But the lie carries the day. Even when cold, clear, cool calculation is called for. – Training with bazookas and other weapons, confined to general catchphrases and the assembly and disassembly of the new-type mechanisms. A sorry sight: sergeants and non-commissioned officers are incapable of using or even understanding a machine gun or submachine gun. Cynicism instead of cool-headedness: “When you’re lying on Potsdamer Platz and five T 34s12 come rolling around the corner...” – Just now I heard that the only way to get coffins for the two who killed themselves the other day was to hand over two pouches of tobacco as baksheesh! And the dead couldn’t be buried in their clothes “due to the fabric shortage.” – An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth! The stories of the Jews! –
Berlin, February 6, 1945
In the city: scenes like 191813 Laughable makeshift barricades and tank traps scraped together by Volkssturm14 men using junk and the rubble of the bombed houses. Elderly men (Spartakist lookalikes!) carrying rusty guns on strings, barrel-down. Still, enormously proud of their ridiculous peashooters! – The first signs of the front: filthy soldiers, fantastically draped in camouflage shirts, scarves and other odds and ends; wounded men with blood-soaked bandages; dented, mud-spattered vehicles; refugees with suitcases and bundles (one man with a spent, grey-green face had a mandolin in an imitation leather case – I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his wife carrying a birdcage). The confusion in the subway: frightened, peaked, high-strung women anticipating the heralded air raid (which then didn’t come), flighty, ungoverned movements, lips ready to release hysterical laughter. A witless arrogant old Baltic woman with a true monstrosity of a hat (purple ostrich feathers bobbing coquettishly to the side)! –A caricature in the style of Friedrich Kayssler15 (there’s always a distinct vein of bigotry in such faces, with their pronounced stage physiognomies whose beauty only conceals the inner void which doesn’t even trouble them because they are completely unaware of it). – And a dull, damp, hazy sky over the dying city. But the bushes already have plump buds and will let nothing stop them from blooming!
Berlin, February 8, 1945
Hermann Sch., who used to live in our house, returned from a week in Düsseldorf. Described the disintegration of all bourgeois life patterns. Basement existences beneath the rubble of the houses, complete suspension of all the basic bourgeois principles of property, morals, and the personal separation of the individual from the collective – parties, lots of alcohol, erotic debauchery, rubble and collapse not just on the surface. Could report no sign of a turning point which might lead to a new order. Politically: hopes for a new separatism (Rheinbund16 renaissance!). A notion which doubtless has a certain charm for the Rhinelanders, but is otherwise nothing but sheer, sinister reactionary thinking.
Maria Wimmer’s17 farewell visit; she came from Hamburg to see her friends one more time. Farewell, farewell – it adds up! One knows nothing. One can only hope and believe and cling to one’s faith. When a person must live without a future, it is as if he were snatched from the air and placed in an alien, poisonous element which cripples all his vital expression and drags him down to a more primitive level where he can only vegetate, with bent back and cowed soul, unable to stand upright and grow.
Berlin, February 10, 1945
A walk through the ravaged center of the city, from the Bülowstrasse subway station to the Scherlhaus and back again. Indescribable scenes of destruction. Barricades on the Potsdam Bridge and on Potsdamer Platz. Gaping craters in the streets. Smashed, burned-out tram cars. Now the city is dying, past salvation. The words of the porter at the completely demolished Scherlhaus to a weeping woman: “Hey, be glad he ended up in a mass grave. At least he ain’t alone there.” – Fallen angel on Kochstrasse. It had plunged from a cornice with the palm branch of peace in its hand and lay bedded on the rubble, gazing blind and stony at the sky. – Mannish woman driving a tractor across Leipziger Platz, towing a heavy gun. Hungarian soldiers busy digging, country boys with plenty of discipline in them yet, more than the listless German soldiers.
Yesterday, in the military bulletin: fighting on the eastern edge of Liegnitz. I try to picture what it is like, can’t manage. Everything in me balks at the thought that the frenzy of war has been unleashed in the place where I grew up. My imagination rebels. I can’t get my mind around it. Pfaffendorf and Kunitz and Gross-Beckern and Jeschkendorf... I don’t understand it!
Berlin, February 11, 1945
The military dispatch reports that Liegnitz is in Russian hands. In the afternoon someone calls to tell me. It was to be expected, once the Russians had their bridgehead at Steinau. But still I can’t reconcile myself. Something in me revolts against it. Now I vividly see the deserted city before me, with the foreign, plundering troops. But when it comes to picturing devastations, fires and ruins, my imagination fails me. I never particularly loved the city, but it always embodied inviolability, permanence and absoluteness for me. Now that too is gone. One loses one’s origins, one loses one’s childhood, in the end one is naked and defenseless. The umbilical cord is severed. The flow of blood and nourishment is cut off. The bitter years of complete and utter isolation begin. –
Visited Caspar Neher18 in the afternoon, very emotional conversation about the real and true foundations of artistic endeavor in these times. Again and again one meets people who have left pessimism far behind them and come to the same conclusions as oneself. And that gives solace and new nourishment for one’s own overwrought courage, which easily degenerates into a paroxysm.
Radio proclamation that deserters are not to be given food or shelter. Something that should go without saying is made into a major act by an official announcement, and weariness cannot be abolished with punishments and force. Shameless and foolish and, worst of all, completely lacking in sound instinct!
Berlin, February 16, 1945
An authentic story from the last attack on Berlin, in which Freisler, the president of the People’s Court, was killed. During a letup in the air raid a Luftwaffe surgeon major, whose name is known to my source, is summoned from a bunker to the People’s Court, where several severely wounded people are being pulled from the rubble and laid out side by side. He asks who they are and is told that one of them is Freisler. The surgeon major turns white as a sheet and says that this must be divine justice; two days ago Freisler sentenced his brother to death. With that he turns to go. The story sounds contrived, but when I made this objection, the man who told it to me took the words out of my mouth and swore that he heard it in the same form from an eyewitness. –
From an article “The Opportunity of the Hour” by Helmuth Sündermann in the Völkischer Beobachter from February 10, 1945:
One of the many conflicting stories about the Russian invasion in the east and the confrontation with the enemy all fear the most: during the fighting – German infantry against Russian tanks – the women go to the market with their shopping bags. They negate the war, for them it no longer exists – they go on upholding their old order. – A story expressing more hope than reality! –
Visit from Lichter20. Long conversations about our future, painting, the new things to come. He expressed a thought emblematic of the artist’s attitude toward reality. Only now that his homeland is occupied by the Russians and lost to him, he said, is he able to paint pictures which show the true face of Upper Silesia – only in recollection does a landscape otherwise disfigured, so to speak, by habituation reveal its true face. It is the same process I first went through when writing Black Pasture. It delights me to see all the problems which I once solved for myself recurring with the same intensity in a younger man.
Finished the Kafka book with extreme, growing reluctance. A story like “In the Penal Colony” is the excremental product of a sick imagination. Sadism made into metaphysics. Casuistic psychology building up a perpetual, utterly irresolvable tension. Compulsive spectacles with distorting lenses. Literary psychosis. Nervous degeneration. A world without order. The corset of an eternal torment cutting off your breath. I find it all completely “contre coeur”!
On the irony of our situation: just now, on a Berlin radio station, a comic operetta by Lehar with the following words sung by choirs: “... our homeland is in peril, our homeland is in need...” And that with the Russians outside Cottbus!
1 Georg Heym (1887-1912). Silesian Expressionist poet.
2 Elisabeth: Elisabeth Flickenschmidt (1905-1977), actress, worked with Gustaf Gründgens, among others.
3 Lange later corrected this to read “Notes of a Hunter,” referring to the story collection by Ivan Turgenev rendered in English as “A Sportsman’s Notebook” or “Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.”
4 Evidently refers to the village of Vasilikova, where Lange was stationed in late September.
5 Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), artist active in America and Germany, teacher at the Bauhaus school from 1919-1933.
6 Quote from the poem “Abendlied” by Gottfried Keller: “Drink, oh eyes, as much as the lashes will hold, of the world’s golden abundance!”
7 Werner Bergengruen (1892-1964), popular writer associated with the Inner Emigration, acquainted with Lange.
8 Kliment Efremovich Voroshilov (1881-1969), Soviet People’s Commissar 1925-1940, 1941 commander-in-chief of the North-West (Leningrad) Front.
9 Arno Breker (1900-1991), sculptor, most prominent representative of the heroic style favored by the Nazis. Stalin greatly admired his work, and Foreign Affairs Commissar Molotov attempted to convince him to visit the Soviet Union after the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939.
10 In her memoirs, Oda Schaefer mentions the incident as well: “A relative of Frau K., who lives in our house, arrives from Breslau. He is a young SS man who must have experienced terrible things and has every reason to fear the Russians’ advance. […] One day Frau K. comes into the air-raid cellar, tearful: he took his own life, along with his wife and child. Despite the large dose of sleeping tablets he turned on the gas as well. They lay next to each other on a mattress in the kitchen. Horst and I think of the actor Joachim Gottschalk, who departed this life in the same fashion along with his Jewish wife, and of the writer Jochen Klepper, who also had a Jewish wife and chose this way out, and when we are alone we say: ‘Now the tables are turned!” (Oda Schaefer, Auch wenn Du träumst, gehen die Uhren, p. 313)
11 Alfred Kubin (1877-1959), Austrian artist noted for his dark, surreal drawings and etchings; wrote one novel, “Die andere Seite” (The Other Side) which became a classic of fantastic literature; acquainted with Lange, illustrated his story “Das Irrlicht” (The Will-o’-the-Wisp) in 1942.
12 The standard Soviet tank, introduced in 1941 and superior to any of the Germans’ tanks at that time.
13 Lange appears to be referring to the street-fighting between socialist revolutionaries (Spartakists) and conservative forces which took place in 1918 after the German surrender in World War One.
14 “People’s Militia,” a territorial militia constituted in September 1944. All men between the ages of 16 and 60 capable of bearing arms were compelled to serve in the Volksturm; weapons and training were woefully inadequate and morale was extremely poor.
15 Friedrich Kayssler (1874-1945), actor and writer.
16 Rheinbund, alliance among princes in Southern and Western German princes 1658-68, aimed primarily against Austria. From 1806-1813 the term was revived by a confederation of German princes under Napoleon’s protection.
17 Maria Wimmer (1915 -), actress
18 Caspar Neher (1897-1962), stage designer, friend of Bertolt Brecht. Designed the sets for Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera” (1928) and “Mahagonny” (1930).
19 The Gau was the regional organizational unit of the NSDAP; each Gau was headed by a Gauleiter.
20 Alfred Lichter (1917 - ??), illustrator, illustrated Lange’s novel fragment “Das Lied des Pirols” (The Song of the Pirol, 1946).
Diaries of Horst Lange © Dr. Eberhardt Horst