German Letters Gripe to Students about War Trials, Russians, Government, Music
A stream of letters covering topics ranging from American jazz to criticism of Russian and U. S. occupation policy has been reaching Harvard students. The correspondence has been growing steadily since January 1948.
This exchange of letters indirectly resulted from a 1947 State Department attempt to promote German-American understanding. The Department inserted a small advertisement in American zone newspapers, stating that Americans would reply to letters addressed to a special drop in Washington, D. C. Officials expected a few thousand replies; in three months they had a warehouse basement stuffed with, over 100,000 letters, and no facilities for their disposal.
Various student organizations offered to help the State Department clean house, and the Harvard National Student Association delegation took on a batch of about 5000 of the letters, coding them by sex, age and interests of sonders; during the process some of the sorters abstracted many of the better letters to follow up on their own.
Among the most interesting of the German correspondents is a 21 year-old veteran named Leio Farber, from Augsburg in Bavaria Farber worked up the ranks through various Hitler Youth groups until he was old enough to serve in an anti-aircraft battalion. "We had many fine but dangerous adventures," he says.
In October 1944 he entered a Navy Officer Candidate School, and was assigned to various naval stations and a submarine on the North Atlantic convey lanes. Farber is particularly bitter about the stretch he served in Denmark. "The Danes suffered very little from war," Farber writes. "All that they had to suffer was the loss of political and economic freedom. . . they had a good living and never any starvation, not like in Germany after the occupation by allied troops." Farber says Germany needs its economic freedom, and suggests the U. S. develop his country as a market for surplus goods, if it is not "afraid for competition."
One writer from the Russian zone has been smuggling out his replies through friends crossing the border in Herlin, although so far he has received American letters uncensored. He is a student who tutors grade-school science during off-hours in his small East Baltic town; he says any belief that the German people are capable of governing themselves is a "joke." The student, who refuses to allow his name to be published because of possible punishment by Russian occupation authorities, cites the Welmar Republic, under which "the German country, with her 65,000,000 inhabitants, was not able to find enough judges for a court of justice."
"The presence of the garrison denies the question. . . of governing ourself; if the political situation remains in its present fatal state Germany will never units as a country and a democracy." He says that most Germans lost their sense of justice under Hitler, although there are some who "have not lost its faith." But these, he claims, are lost in the mass of disillusioned Germans. "And the worst thing in the world is the mass. There blooms the despotism."
Brahms vs. Jazz
Most of the letters are written in the characteristic German inverted sentence structure, for which all the correspondents are apologetic. Many of the writers are surprised at the glimpses of life in America they have picked up through letters, films, and contact with occupation armies; one writer who claims four years of English, describes his surprise at a student's preference for Beethoven and Brahms. "I am surprised to hear that you are fond of hearing classical music. I cannot think that many Americans like to hear it. I guess for them there is no great music but Jazz. So you are likely one of the seldom who hear classical music. Many people go to the music halls as they go to church, boring themselves to death all the while."
Many of the letters list detailed complaints about administration by U.S. occupation officials. One writer, a former member of the Nazi Party, attacks both de-nazification procedures and the Nuremburg Trials. "Teachers. . . are one of the greatest injustices in Germany by the law against Nazlism. This law is undemocratic. Our best teachers were dismissed because they were only in name of the Nazi Party. Many of them were really adversaries of Nazilsm and were not ashamed in its time to point out the right way, but now they must go because they are of the party.
"Why were they of the party? Only in order not to lose their positions and to save their families. . . We undertook all that we could to get our teachers again, but the law was against right. Now we have got new teachers who were never teachers before and mostly big Nazis in the Third Retch. But they were not in the Party! I can say to you that this is a great evil."
He is equally expressive about the Nuremburg Trials. "Why was in the great criminal trial one of the prosecutors a Russian, though the Russians make more criminal actions than Germans have ever made, and all with the knowledge of America. I'm for the sentencing of war criminals, but not only from Germany. I think there could be found many of such kind in very country."
Frequently enclosed in the letters are photographs of the writers and their families; the ex-submariner sent along pictures of all his brothers and sisters and a flock of fiends. The original batch of letters also included a number of apparently well-fed blondes, many stating that "my friends say I am very pretty." A serious paper shortage has made ordinary writing stationery nearly unavailable, especially in Eastern Germany, and the letters frequently arrive written on the backs of carefully folded military maps dating from the Russian campaign or even on wallpaper.
They run to considerable length, neatly panned out in slanting German script; most of them simply describe everyday life--"very ordinary"--and ask questions about America and its people. Many call for student exchanges to enable the countries to "vanish international misunderstanding." And nearly all constantly thank the students who they claim are doing so much "to show us the need to democracy."