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26/10/2007

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

David Litchfield on the Rechnitz massacre

Quite a stir was caused this week by an article by British journalist and author David R. L. Litchfield dealing with a massacre of 200 Jews that took place in Rechnitz, on the Austro-Hungarian border, shortly before the end of World War II. In it, Litchfield asserts that the massacre was a form of amusement for the Nazi guests of Margit von Batthyany, daughter of and partial heir to the German Thyssen industrial family. Originally published in The Independent, the article appeared in translation in the FAZ. This translation omitted, however, not only anecdotes about Margit's purported sadistic sexual appetite, but also Litchfield's assertion that Margit too was handed a weapon and invited to take part in the massacre.

The other papers reacted cooly to the story. The massacre has been common knowledge since several of the culprits were tried in Austria in 1946. In 1994, Margaretha Heinrich and Eduard Erne shot "Totschweigen" (Wall of Silence), a film about the massacre. And in 1998, Austrian historian Eva Holpfer once more described the events and the shamefully lenient sentences handed down at the trial (here her essay in German as a pdf file). The newspapers do agree, however, that the Thyssen family still has much work to do in clarifying its involvement with the Nazis.


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26.10.2007

Eduard Erne, whose 1994 film "Totschweigen" (Wall of Silence) deals with the massacre, explains in an interview with Sandra Kegel the difference between Rechnitz and other Nazi crimes: "The events that night bore a similarity to the death march of forced labourers sent in the following days through the villages towards Mauthausen concentration camp. Here the Austrian civilian population had first-hand experience of the Shoa. These things didn't take place in far-off camps, but right in front of everyone's noses. They saw what was going on, they were witnesses, every day. Also in Rechnitz. Because the way to the station led right by where the digging had taken place, and where the forced labourers had been shot. That's why it was incomprehensible for us that suddenly after the war no one wanted to remember where the dead were buried." Erne is also unsure whether Countess Batthyany participated in the massacre: "There have been rumours and attempts at blackmail, but there's no evidence."


Süddeutsche Zeitung 25.10.2007

Whether a "Thyssen countess" participated in the Rechnitz massacre may be of interest to the boulevard press, but not to historian and journalist Stefan Klemp, director of historical research in Germany for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. But he would very much like to know what has become of the true culprits. "Files now being examined at the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Dortmund have uncovered a grotesque and scandalous act on the part of West German authorities. After 1945, SS leader Franz Podezin, the presumed culprit behind the Rechnitz massacre, not only worked as an agent of the Western Allies in the GDR. West German criminal prosecution authorities also enabled Podezin to flee Germany. The case shows above all that it's high time the history of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation were itself investigated."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung 20.10.2007

The massacre of 200 Jews in Rechnitz did take place, writes Joachim Güntner. But far less certain is whether Margit von Batthyany, born Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza, had any responsibility in it, he concludes. In Litchfield's book "The Thyssen Art Macabre," published roughly a year ago (reviews here, here, here), "the responsibility of the Batthyany couple for the massacre of the Jews was still dealt with in a rather reserved fashion," Güntner notes. "What the book does establish is that the couple turned a blind eye to the usual oppression by the SS of the around 600 forced labourers who had been ordered to construct the 'Southeast Wall' (the line of fortifications meant to protect against the advancing Soviet troops - ed). Litchfield now sharpens his tone in The Independent, maintaining that the countess often took willing and sadistic pleasure in witnessing atrocities." Failing that, writes Güntner, Litchfield "would never have made it into The Independent and the FAZ."


Der Tagesspiegel 19.10.2007

For Kai Müller, a direct involvement in the massacre by the Thyssen family has not been established: "The FAZ has gone way out on a limb with this story, which positively crawls with vague 'conspiratorial occurrences.' There is no doubt at all about the veracity of the massacre. An Austrian court imposed light sentences on several participants in 1946. But Litchfield's report fails to specify whether the Margit von Batthyany and her husband were invited to join as accomplices or summoned as witnesses. In fact in his essay, the author fails to prove any direct guilt at all on the part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family."


In other stories
Neue Zürcher Zeitung 26.10.2007

Believe it or not: homosexual comic strip artist Ralf König (see our interview with König, "Cutting off my tongue") has written a comic strip about a heterosexual woman. The new work is called "Hempel's Sofa," and deals with the complex love-life of a psychotherapist. In an interview with Peter Durtschi, König explains how he got the idea: "I've got real problems with the gay ghetto. Once people used to say: 'Come out of the closet.' But as the years go by, it's easy to get the impression that a lot of gays prefer to stay in the closet and make things comfortable in there. Gay magazines deal almost exclusively with gay life - all art, culture and reporting has got gay blinkers. Sure, maybe that's exactly what the younger generation wants and needs, but I've found it all too empty for years now."
Die Zeit 25.10.2007

Claus Spahn managed to hear a great deal of intellectual music "at the level of doubly reflected self-observation" during the Donaueschinger Musiktage. Yet he also heard something truly new, and that was from the Berlin-based French composer Mark Andre. "He knows his way around the border area between noise and tone, and can engage in structurally demanding aural constructions. Anti-eloquence is his compositional style. His approach is carefully tentative and his material is critically examined to the extreme. One hears in his work the feeling of commitment to the complex inheritance of modernity, with every sound containing a rich treasure of experience. Over and above all this reflectivity, his musical creations are immediately penetrating, sensual, and richly imaginative."


Süddeutsche Zeitung 25.10.2007

If the remembrance of the victims of the RAF is not to become a mere ritual, then it is time to consider a documentation centre, demands Jochen Arntz. He feels that too much attention is devoted to the perpetrators, and too little to the victims. "The task of such a documentation centre would not be to provide an understanding of the culprits and their times – there would be no images of the Vietnam War or student protests, and certainly no stylish black and white photos of the young Andreas Baader on exhibition. Instead, visitors would be able to examine the forensic report of the killed policeman Reinhold Brändle. Reading this would make clear how determined these terrorists were to commit murder. After killing Reinhold Brändle with three shots to the head, they continued firing another sixty rounds into his body."


Die Tageszeitung 25.10.2007

Jesse James and the Western have not been reinvented by Andrew Dominik and his film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," writes Andreas Busche in the culture section. He finds the film interesting, however, when understood as a "reply to the rampant cult of celebrity of our time": "The choice of Brad Pitt in the role of Jesse James is a pure stroke of luck for Dominik's film. His performance fuses star personality and the Western icon into a kind of super VIP. Jesse's fatigue is at once Pitt's – his suffering posture reflects his totally smug indifference to the requirements of a glamour-addicted media public for more information. Unapproachable, with dazzling good looks, and weary of our everyday world, he humors his public with grand gestures."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung 25.10.2007

Biochemist Gottfried Schatz explains that we Europeans do not possess the best taste. It turns out that a certain Arthur Fox has discovered that not every person is capable of discerning bitter substances. "Almost every West African, but only about a half of all white North Americans, can identify the powder investigated by Arthur Fox as being bitter. West Africans possess the most genetic diversity of all humans and differ immensely in the variations of their genes. It is most probable that only a small group left the region some 25,000 to 50,000 years ago to settle in Northern Europe, bringing with them only a minuscule fraction of the genetic variation found in West Africa. This is why we Northern Europeans and our descendants must make do with the limited taste repertoire of this small group of African emigrants, and are numb to certain bitter sensations." (See our feature "Children of the sun" by Gottfried Schatz)


Die Welt 25.10.2007

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk expresses her relief at the outcome of her country's elections in an interview with Paul Flückiger: "The Poles are decidedly pro-European. They perceive themselves as Europeans - as West Europeans I'd say. The elections bear this out. Just look at the long queues that formed in front of consulates in Ireland and Great Britain. Many Poles are trying to make a new life for themselves in these countries, but they still have a sense of responsibility towards their home country. I found that very touching. A new Poland is in the making here - one that no longer defines itself in national terms but as a lingual-cultural community." Tokarczuk also points out that election winner Donald Tusk's party programme is very conservative: "I do, however, think it's very unfortunate that Poland lacks a decent left-wing movement. A new generation of left-wingers has yet to emerge here."


Der Tagesspiegel 24.10.2007

Gerrit Bartels portrays the Dutch novelist A. F. Th. van der Heijden, author of monumental novels about his country's society. "In his literary grasp of time, his play with total recall and his attempt to encompass the entire world in writing, van der Heijden is often compared to Marcel Proust. In fact, the author even once admitted not only to having read Proust and Joyce, but to having rigorously studied and analyzed their works. When asked about this, he said, 'They brought the novel so far along that there's no more turning back. Yet, one must be able to return from that point. My literature can perhaps be understood as a constant conflict between modernism and convention.'"


Die Welt 24.10.2007

Felix Müller and Britta Stuff talk with mathematics professor Albrecht Beutelspacher about the beautiful sides, but also about the tragic aspects of his discipline: "The mathematician William Shanks spent his life calculating pi to some 700 digits, at the rate of two weeks per digit. Unfortunately, he made a mistake at one point, and from then on everything was wrong. Luckily that only came out after his death."


Die Tageszeitung, 20.10.2007

Kurt Oesterle has uncovered the background to the difficult father-son relationship of East German dramatist Heiner Müller and his father Kurt. Kurt Müller was a "liberal, anti-authoritarian" Social Democrat and active opponent of Hitler, who paid for his convictions in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His imprisonment isolated the family, for which young Heiner Müller never quite forgave him. In 1951, Kurt Müller escaped to the West. His son, to the contrary, regarded all the hardships of the GDR dictatorship as "legitimate. In his autobiography, he curiously enough justifies this view not with any political, but rather with a personal reason – the dictatorship is directed 'against those individuals who damaged my childhood.' With his father's exodus to the West, the son found the opportunity to increase the distance to his father, in fact, to depict it in absolute terms. The escape of the father only served to prove the son was right after all. The emotional 'fissure' that occurred between Heiner Müller and his father during the Nazi period expanded into a precipice, at least politically. In the severest settling of accounts, the short story 'The Father,' written in 1958 yet only published in 1977, the year of his father's death, is icily laconic in its observations. 'He found his peace in a small town in Baden, paying the pensions to the murderers of workers and the widows of the murderers of workers.'"

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