Friday, 3 January 2014

Book Review - Diary of a man in despair by Friderich Reck

Diary of a man in despair by Friedrich Reck, Translated from the German by Paul Rubens, Afterword by Richard J. Evans.

New York : New York Review Books, 2013                             ISBN 9781590175866

Friedrich Reck was a minor German novelist active in the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote simple stuff, somewhere between airport fiction and Morris West. Not the sort of author I would normally read, but this is not a normal book. Reck was an arch conservative, and an arch-enemy of Hitler. Those two phrases don't seem to sit right together, although he wasn't the only German conservative to hate the Nazis - but he was the only one to write something like this.

This is not a diary in the sense that Victor Klemperer wrote a diary, more a set of meditations on the state of Nazi Germany and the War that carry the date they were written. Reck apparently kept these writings very secret, and they weren't published in Germany until 1947. Reck himself died of typhus in Dachau in February 1945, having been imprisoned on a charge of "insulting the German currency".

What is fascinating about this book is how prescient Reck was about the fate of Germany. He was an aristocrat by nature, if not by title, and loathed "mass-man", which he noted was not a phrase interchangeable with "proletariat"; realising that it was the lower end of the Middle Class from which came the masses who followed the likes of Hitler, and who were debasing what Reck saw as true German culture.

He saw clearly that despite the Nazi claims to be true Germans, they were in fact in thrall to the technocracy - the likes of Krupp and Farben - and were busily destroying their much-loved German countryside to enable German industry to build the war machines required by Hitler for his madness.He sees Hitler himself as almost a cypher, describing him as a man "without the slightest self-awareness and pleasure in himself, that he basically hates himself, and this opportunism, his immeasurable need for recognition, and his now-apocalyptic vanity are all based on one thing - a consuming drive to drown out the pain in his psyche, the trauma of a monstrosity." and later "There he sat, a raw-vegetable Genghis Khan, a teetotalling Alexander, a womanless Napoleon, an effigy of Bismark..." what Reck did see in Hitler was the death of Germany as he knew it, through being eliminated by the Nazis or by Germany being crushed in war.

He had much to say on modern developments, believing the Prussians and technology were to blame for the state of the world, with Prussian bloodlust combining with the ability of technology to raise the common man leading to a destruction of higher feeling in Germans. His writing and turn of phrase are wonderful, forceful and inventive. "...and the masses sensing that they are doomed, they will, no doubt, strike out against everything that is not mass-like, but is, simply, 'different'. In Germany, whose Hitler regime is simply a massive attempt to prolong the existence of mass-man, the target will be that small elite which has done more harm to this regime with its principled 'No' than all the Chamberlain policy of impotence and endless appeasement. I believe that our martyrdom, the fate reserved for our little phalanx, is the price for a rebirth of the spirit, and that realising this, we can hope for no more good during what remains of our ruined and brutalised lives on earth than that there may be meaning to the manner of our deaths." This was written in September 1937, when Chamberlain, and not only him, did indeed still see Hitler as someone with whom they could work.

In 1942 Reck was already predicting the German regime's downfall - "This war based on the revolt of the masses may destroy the Gothic cathedrals and silence forever Bach's 'Chaconne': but a horde of degenerate football players will not survive the fire they started."

Reck also includes some great little pieces of gossip about the leaders of the Third Reich (mostly incorrect), and throughout his writing are descriptions of small acts of defiance by normal Germans against the Party. From his essay written in February 1943 - " The news of the Anglo-American landing in Africa spread with a speed that amazed me. Despite the ban on listening to the Allied radio, the news spread within an hour, And I was even more amazed, that gray November day, to see the reaction the news produced. Everyone seemed glad about this decisive change in the course of the war, which meant the defeat of his own country, and Bavarians [Reck owned property in Bavaria and this is where the diary was written] had the added consideration to ponder that the fighting must eventually reach the Alps.....Everyone sensed that a ghostly hand had nailed the death warrant of the Nazis to the wall, and this had as salutary an effect on the bad as it did on the good."

His entry concerned with the July Plot is a scathing attack on the Prussian military caste, who Reck blamed for nearly everything that was wrong with Germany: turning their back on the Kaiser in his hour of need (not that Reck has much good to write about Wilhelm in this tome); supporting Hitler for their own purposes; and now when the going got tough again, looking to get rid of their latest master.

As 1944 rolls on, Reck writes more and more of arbitrary arrests and executions, and the death throes of the regime, the Diary ends in October of that year with Reck's own arrest, and initial release, before his final incarceration. There is a useful Afterword in this edition by Richard J. Evans, which throws some useful light on Reck and the circumstances of the writing of this Diary.

At the time these were the railings of a prophet in the wilderness, but they are now a valuable insight into the development and denouement of the Hitler regime from an interesting viewpoint.


Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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