This month, let’s meet Karlrobert Kreiten, a German-born pianist who held Dutch citizenship. Considered one of the most promising young musicians in Europe in the 1930s, Kreiten made his radio debut at the age of eleven, and would go on to study in Vienna and at the Stern Conservatory (today incorporated into the Berlin University of the Arts). After an acquaintance of his mother heard Kreiten make negative comments about Hitler, he was denounced to the Gestapo. On May 3rd 1943, hours before he was due to perform a sold-out concert in Heidelberg, he was arrested in his hotel and brought to the Gestapo HQ in Berlin (where the Topography of Terror museum now stands). After a ‘trial’ presided over by the notorious Nazi judge Roland Freisler, Kreiten was sentenced to death and executed, despite enormous protest, on September 7th, at 27 years old.
If you’ve taken a Cold War tour with me, you’ll already have heard this recommendation, but it’s worth repeating that Anna Funder’s ‘Stasiland’ is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the complex and recent history of espionage, mistrust and betrayal in this city. Funder, an Australian journalist based in Berlin and Leipzig in the mid-90s, intrigued by the enormous surveillance operation undertaken by the East German Ministry of State Security, wondered to which degree citizens of the DDR had submitted to the organisation’s authority, and how they may have resisted it. Funder encounters numerous ex-Stasi who are willing to talk, and with unexpected humour and pathos she teases out the stories of those who worked for this insidious organisation.
This month’s hero is the lawyer Hans Litten, who represented political dissenters during the Nazi dictatorship. In 1931, Litten subpoeanaed Adolf Hitler as a witness in a trial of a group of right-wing thugs. For three hours, Litten rigorously questioned Hitler on the legality of the National Socialist Party and on its violent practices, leaving him rattled. Following Hitler’s inauguration as Chancellor, Litten’s friends urged him to flee Nazi Germany, but he refused to abandon the activists who might need his legal assistance soon. Hitler’s revenge came soon: on the night of the Reichstag fire, Litten was taken from his bed into ‘protective custody’ and sent, without trial, to Spandau Prison in Berlin. After stints in several concentration camps, Litten committed suicide at Dachau on February 5th, 1938. He was 34 years old.
This month’s book is the lengthy but utterly gripping “Travellers in the Third Reich” (2017) by Julia Boyd, a chronicle of experiences of visitors (including Charlie Chaplin and Lloyd George) to Nazi Germany. This marvellous read speaks for itself – I’ll say little more than that those of you who have travelled to Berlin to explore Third Reich history will find it absolutely fascinating to read about the reactions of tourists (largely American and British) to the Berlin of the 1930s and 40s!
During the rebuilding process of the Saxon city of Dresden, these darker stones were salvaged from the rubble of the original church (destroyed during WWII) and relocated in exactly their original positions.
This month, let’s discuss Rosa Luxemburg, whose life was cut short by right-wing troops in early 1919. Born in 1871 into a Polish Jewish family, Luxemburg grew up to become a Marxist theorist, peace activist and revolutionary socialist who would go from the SPD (Social Democratic Party) to KPD (Communist Party of Germany). Alongside her comrade Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg founded the Spartacus League to oppose Germany’s entry into the First World War, and would speak out vehemently against the country’s shift to the right during and after combat. On January 15th 1919, she and Liebknecht were murdered by the ‘Freikorps’, war veterans, many of whom would join the bourgeoning National Socialist movement. With the outbreak of violence on all sides out of control, the parliament would soon depart from Berlin, and assemble in Weimar as the eponymous Weimar Republic began – in chaotic conditions.