Friday, November 9, 2018

Herr Wendriner Under the Dictatorship / 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

Today is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or, as it is also called, Pogromnacht that happened on November 9 1938 in Nazi Germany. The famed Weimar writer Kurt Tucholsky gives you an early glimpse of these times in this piece from 1930, printed in Die Weltbühne.

Didn’t I tell you not to talk so loud? There are storm troopers outside the cinema… can’t you see? Get out now. How much is it? I guess it’s not going to rain, it’ll hold up. Come on in. And shut your mouth now! Oh, I beg your pardon… Be quiet now. Where are our seats… ? First row… wonderful. All right—put your coat down over there, now your… give it to me.
“Previews. That’s only a preview. We’ve seen that one anyway—it’s… Regierer! Say, that’s a good one! What are you doing here? What, in the boxes? Oh, well, the upper crust. hee, hee.… Oh, on passes. No kidding? Say, Regierer has two extra tickets he couldn’t use. Welsch is coming too. Let’s join them in the box. Wait, we’ll come and join you… here… take your coat for a second… . Ah! Here we can talk at least.
“That was the newsreel. Parade in Mecklenburg. Big crowd, huh? Plenty of militia in here—you know, it actually feels like something is missing when they’re not around. It does. You get so used to them. Fine looking fellows, some of them. Hell, I think it’s kind of nice, come to think of it. Isn’t it, Hannah? There’s something festive about it. Sure there is. Well, Regierer, what’s with you? What do you say? We’ll see? That’s what I always say. You know, things don’t look so bad to me. When did I see you last? Two months ago… in September… . Well, there you are. Remember what a panic that was? You can’t help feeling relieved because it’s over… now at least you know what’s what. Some atmosphere we had then… my wife put me to bed for four days, that’s how run-down I was. Who would have thunked? Here on the Kurfürstendamm there wasn’t a sign of anything. Say, look—that’s Gebühr, Otto Gebühr. They say he had an offer from France a while back; they wanted him to do Napoleon. He wouldn’t do it. He says the only part he’ll take is Dr. Goebbels or perhaps Frederick the Great. Good actor. Real big right now. Big time for me, too! I… I voted Staatspartei that time because somebody had to take responsibility… and the party had the right outlook. That’s right. Did Welsch really vote Centre? Meshuggeh. I’ll ask him later. Anyway, things aren’t so bad. I‘ve been talking to a businessman from Rome and he says, compared to Rome, this country is positively free. You’ve got your yellow pass, haven’t you? Sure, we’ve got our yellow pass. Ten years? I’ve been living in Berlin for over twenty years, so they gave it to me right away. Intermission now. Shush! Say, take a look at that dark-skinned fellow down there! Some Polish Jew, I’ll bet… lemme tell you something, with kikes like that there’s a reason for anti-Semitism. Take a good look at him. Disgusting fellow. What surprises me is that he’s still around; why don’t they kick him out?… Well. I can’t complain. On our street everything’s in perfect order. We’ve got a very nice storm trooper on the corner, a real nice fellow. When I go to work in the morning, I slip him a cigarette—he salutes as soon as he sees me coming; salutes my wife too. What did they do to you? What is Regierer saying? They knocked his hat off? How’d that happen? Well, in that case, my good friend, you’d better raise your arm! The way I feel about it is, if that flag’s our national symbol you’ve got to salute it. Shush! Powder keg? I guess so. Do you think I feel quite safe? Every morning my wife rings me up at the office to see if anything is wrong. So far nothing has happened. Say, that was good just now, did you see it? The fellow pretended to be blind when he’s actually deaf. Well, lemme tell you something… you shouldn’t speak his name out loud… I’ll tell you. About this H.—even if he does come from Czechoslovakia—he sure knows the German mind. At any rate, we have order. That’s one thing we’ve got. As long as you’re a citizen and got your yellow pass, nothing happens to you… you’re under the protection of the state… they’re very logical about these things. One thing you’ve got to admit: they know how to put on a show. Fantastic! What? Like the other day on Wittenbergplatz. The way they came marching up with their flags and all that music. Under the Kaiser it was no bett… . Welsch! You’re a little late! Half the picture is over. Sit over here. No, not on my hat! Sit on Regierer’s hat… it’s not so new.
“Nu, Welsch, what’s what? Let’s have a look… now I can see you better. You look fine. Say, is it true you voted Centre? Here come two from Security. Shush!… It is true that you voted Centre? Meshuggeh. Sure, the Centre did have Karewski on its list, but that’s Jewish business. We… not so loud! Keep your voice down, that’s all I ask. Don’t get me into trouble—times are too serious for that. After all, they’re perfectly right in expecting us to maintain a certain decorum in public. Perfectly right. It’s starting again. That’s Kortner—see, they let him act. I’m telling you, it’s really not so bad. Don’t you agree? Of course you do. Cute little number—take a look! We were just talking about H. With him at least you know he isn’t going to break into your safe. With the Communists I don’t know. Or rather… I know too damn well. Yes, right now they can’t move a muscle; they’re out flat. Serves them right, too. My dear Welsch, a politician’s business is to be successful; otherwise he’s no politician. The same goes for a businessman. That’s realpolitik. Let one handle politics and the other the realities. Am I right?
“Newsreel again? Well, why not? Shush! When they’re showing those pictures, you shouldn’t talk. Let them have their fun—it’s not so bad. Anyway, it’s good camera work; the other day we saw him from quite close; he was standing there with his lieutenants… No! Goebbels is out… Didn’t you know that? Yes, sure he’s very popular. Maybe that’s why. H. keeps his eyes open. Goebbels wanted to speak in the Wintergarten… but they wouldn’t give him a permit.
“Today it was a little weaker. A little weaker. Why? With the stock exchange, it’s no use asking. The stock exchange has a nose… don’t ask why. Those fellows have a flair; when things go well they don’t say a word and make money, and when things go wrong they drive everybody meshuggeh. Afterward they’ll tell you they knew what was going to happen all along. Charming picture, take a look! Say, did you see that? Those French soldiers running in all directions… ? No, that couldn’t happen in Germany. What was I saying? Well, even if some people are beefing, if you ask me, the thing has its good side. How so? What do you mean? What has that got to do with the war? What has the Young Plan got to do with the war? Go on! Did we start the war? All we did was cheer. And when it was over we didn’t have any butter. Aw, don’t tell me. Since when does a nation have to pay for losing a war? It’s bad enough we lost it; the other side won, let them pay for it! My dear Welsch… I have… I am… shush!
“I expected… my dear Welsch… I expected certain things just the same as you did. All right. And now that I see it isn’t the way I expected, I’ve got to admit that this system has its good side too. I mean, it has its historical justification—go on! You can’t deny that. It has its… that is, I mean, the city does look different. And the foreigners will be back soon enough, out of curiosity. You’ve got to hand it to them: those boys have something. I don’t know what it is, but they sure have got it.
“That’s the end. So let’s go home. Oh yes… the Horst Wessel song first. What are you gonna do—you’ve got to take part in it. The English sing their national anthem after the theatre, too, so we Germans sing a different song… . Marschiern im Geist in unsern Reihen mit.… Oh well.
“Beg your pardon… tsk, tsk, tsk… it’s raining. So, it’s raining after all.
“Wait a while… maybe a taxi will come along. You wait under the marquee; I’ll watch for a taxi. That’s not a Sturmtruppführer, it’s a Gauführer… .
“I know the insignia. Get out of the rain. When it rains you should take shelter. Do we have to get wet? Let other people get wet. Here comes a taxi.
“Shush! Get in.”

Germany? Germany!
Satirical Writings:The Kurt Tucholsky Reader.

By Kurt Tucholsky
Translated by Harry Zohn
Foreword by Ralph Blumenthal

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