Friedrich Reck: Diary of a Man in Despair

November 22, 2017

A German conservative and royalist who loathed Hitler and the Nazis and all they stood for and did, kept this astonishing diary up until almost the end of the second world war, though he was to die of typhus in Dachau a few weeks before the end…

He is frequently very scathing and extremely outspoken. Yet he was also one of those who, though disapproving, did not manage to see how far the madness was capable of going and would go – when he writes of all kinds of atrocities he sees or hears of, he comes across as hardened, inured to them – and this is a warning to us now, living in a potentially far more dangerous world…

Keeping this diary was of course incredibly dangerous – even reckless – as he’s warned, but he succeeded in keeping it hidden.

He’s an old-fashioned German, obviously, with both a deep love of his country and a deep loathing of what it has fallen to, and yet all he does is keep a diary? This is one of the thoughts that will occur to any reader, but then one asks oneself, what could he have done? Yet he admires the bravery of the Scholls, guillotined by the Nazis for their opposition – and has taken considerable risk in finding out their story – and he knew some of those involved in the July 1944 plot. He does gradually seem to be moving towards more overt opposition, and indeed it was his refusal to join the Volkssturm that finally drew him into the authorities’ nets; he was denounced, arrested and charged initially with a crime that attracted the death penalty.

Reck’s isn’t the only diary from these times; there’s Victor Klemperer‘s massive tome, Christabel Bielenberg‘s The Past Is Myself to name but a couple. So what’s special about Reck’s book? He’s an Aryan German (Klemperer was Jewish, Bielenberg British) for starters. He knows war is coming, quite early on; he acknowledges that everyone should collectively have acted much sooner – and we all know what a wonderful thing hindsight is – and he’s strongly critical of other countries for not acting sooner against Hitler, which I found interesting because there’s not a lot of overt criticism of other world powers for their inaction in the 1930s. There are shocking details – perhaps exaggerated – of the adulteration of food stuffs during the Nazi era. And his pain and horror at the evils his countrymen are perpetrating is genuine and touching. Although the vitriol against the Nazis and Prussians palls after a while, the book is a real glimpse into the minds of those who didn’t approve; it’s salutary to learn more about such people, even if ‘internal exile’ is as far as they got, and not tarring everyone with the same brush is something many of us still need to learn about…

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