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.
A break from Nazis and Stasi for this month, to recommend you a book which I devoured in two sittings during my recent trip to Belgrade: John Waller’s ‘A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518‘. During the stiflingly hot summer of that year in Strasbourg (in the region of Alsace, now French territory, at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations) what can be perhaps described as the world’s longest rave would take place. Over 400 would become entranced, many dancing themselves to death. Waller examines this and other seemingly-spontaneous instances of ‘choreomania’ to produce a truly fascinating account of a most intriguing phenomenon!
Since this month heralds the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Berlin Airlift (more on that below), the hero has to be Colonel Gail Halvorsen of the US Army Air Forces. On approach to Tempelhof Airport, Halvorsen’s signal of dipped wings was the alert for young Berliners to watch out for handmade parachutes stuffed with candy to appear from the sky! Other pilots soon joined in, and it’s estimated that ‘Operation Little Vittles’ would deliver 23 tons of sweets by air, via 250,000 mini-parachutes to the citizens of beleagured West Berlin. Halvorsen also orchestrated ‘candy-drops’ in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and more. Born in 1920, he lives today in Utah.