What is a compassionate dictatorship

The everyday life of a dictatorship in Germany

“Sometimes an article reads like a parody. An educational moralizing tone is being adopted more and more frequently. "

This is what Antoni Graf Sobanski wrote in 1933 about the German press, which was in the process of being brought into line after Hitler came to power. On behalf of a Polish magazine, the renowned journalist travels to the neighboring country to take a closer look at everyday life in Berlin after Hitler came to power.

Sobanski is cosmopolitan, gay, aristocratic, eloquent, and likes to be ironic. He's actually fond of the Germans. In his “Nachrichten aus Berlin” he points to this again and again - apologetically to desperately -; he had always seen the Germans as a friendly people, especially open to strangers. Yes, he even travels in the hope that it may not be as bad as the foreign press reports critically about Germany. (Incidentally, to his astonishment, this is still available in Berlin without any problems).

Within just one year, Berlin, which is thriving with nightspots, queer life and bars, has developed into a uniform-dominated "Germania" that calls for a boycott of Jewish shops, allows excesses of violence against Jews on the streets and in which people disappear.

Sobanski reports on everyday life, but also on major historical events such as the book burning or Hitler's speech on the Tempelhofer Feld. He describes both from his personal point of view, which conquers the historical distance and the apparently old familiarity of these events. To anticipate: That is what makes the reading so special and extremely emphatic. It's almost like being there live. It is not the view from the retrospective that has long known the horrific outcome of the events, there is no mood of retrospect and reappraisal that can be challenging enough, but always offers the protection zone of being past, and anyway it is far from the aestheticizing images of film and literature. I'm practically sitting on Sobanski's shoulder and witnessing the events, also witnessing his struggle for the correct allocation: "So what should one think of the brutalities of this revolution?" He asks.

Conversely, the question that is most often asked worriedly to the guest from Poland is tellingly: "How do people think about us abroad?"

In what was once a confidential group of friends, Sobanski received a warning kick under the table when he expressed himself critically - a year ago he would have been allowed to do so. The fear is great and the guidelines on how to speak and what to think are overwhelming. The pace at which the new laws are taking effect and lawlessness is being clothed in legal form terrifies him. And Sobanski is always amazed: “Where has the old Berlin humor gone? [...] A few years ago they would all have laughed at the sight of obese men in brown shirts who, when entering the restaurant, wave their arms like a train signal and call out the name of a painter from Upper Austria. "

The Germans, no, he sums up, are not happy. He is all the more happy about small conspiratorial moments, for example when the waitress replies "Grüß Gott" and then whispers: "That is my dearest greeting."

When he burned books, he saw it, albeit ironically, as a hopeful sign that a few students were secretly pocketing their pornographic writings at the last second.

Once he speaks cynically of his "reporter luck" in encountering such terrible cases as that of an American friend: His cousin, the wife of a Berlin architect with "left-wing sympathies", was arrested and only found again in hospital: Her left breast had to be amputated she was "bitten into" during a multiple rape.

But Sobanski also reports of "small, superficial revolts." No more flowers in the afternoon because they all wandered into the Jewish apartments, sent by embarrassed and compassionate Aryans. " And then: "I say clearly: any examples of courage to undermine the boycott on the Aryan side were not reported, and the compassion mentioned was limited to business cards, flowers and visits to Jewish acquaintances."

Any attempt to explain, perhaps secretly cherished, that many people may not have been aware of the extent of the crimes at the time, no longer works after reading this. Back then, it was very easy to know everything - as it is now.

When it first appeared in Germany in 2007, the book was rightly celebrated as a sensation and discovery.

They are precise observations by a wide-awake contemporary witness, written with a strange mixture of ease and urgency, as if language were a tightly stretched rope, as if it couldn't otherwise get over the terrible things that are to be described.

When the Second World War broke out, Sobanski went on an exile through Eastern Europe and Italy to London. There he died of a lung disease in 1941.

Antoni Graf Sobanski, Nachrichten aus Berlin 1933-36, Parthas Verlag 2007, rororo 2009