Diary of a Man in Despair (New York Review Books Classics)
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Friedrich Reck might seem an unlikely rebel against Nazism. Not just a conservative but a rock-ribbed reactionary, he played the part of a landed gentleman, deplored democracy, and rejected the modern world outright. To Reck the Nazis were ruthless revolutionaries in Gothic drag, and helpless as he was to counter the spell they had cast on the German people, he felt compelled to record the corruptions of their rule. The result is less a diary than a sequence of stark and astonishing snapshots of life in Germany between 1936 and 1944. We see the Nazis at the peak of power, and the murderous panic with which they respond to approaching defeat; their travesty of traditional folkways in the name of the Volk; and the author’s own missed opportunity to shoot Hitler. This riveting book is not only, as Hannah Arendt proclaimed it, “one of the most important documents of the Hitler period” but a moving testament of a decent man struggling to do the right thing in a depraved world.
‘Nul tisséerand ne sait ce qu’il tisse’ . . . a quotation which of course throws a great deal of light on the tragedy of a Reich formed without regard to geography. The ‘form’ (to use a Spenglerian concept) of this nation required that it avoid the expedients of industrial expansionism and capital investment. Everything that has befallen us since derives from the time when the Prussian oligarchy took industrial capital for its concubine. This is responsible for the breakdown of all the basic
brightly painted metal of the court purveyors’ shields, and finally a completely unforgettable scene: on one of the strange stone animals in the Lenbach Fountain, old Mūhsam, looking not too unlike a winged Assyrian ox with his berry-brown beard, holding forth rapturously to an enraptured throng. . . . That was the revolution in Munich. In Munich, just after the turn of the century, it was the custom for officials charged with the issuance of driving permits to appear for the tests wearing top
class. In fact, he is perhaps less common among the workers than among certain sections of the bourgeoisie who do not at all live in crowded conditions. In addition, I observed that in the two precedents for the contemporary situation known to us—Imperial Rome and the Inca state prior to the landing of Columbus—this sudden, violent transformation into a mass-man horde was not at all indicative of robust health. It was symptomatic of decline and fall, connected, in the period of decline at the
found in the ruins. Again, I merely cite the fact, without either affirming or denying. But I myself recently had an experience which seems to me to deny explanation without making use of the transcendental. When I was a young man, the great conservative, von Heydebrandt, a colleague of my father’s in the Reichstag, had taken some notice of me. In the autumn of 1918, he retired from the political arena, and I lost sight of him, and did not think of him again until a night in October 1924, when I
made their appearance in every town and village, empowered to enter and search any house at any hour of the day or night, to commandeer living space. Since they also have been put in charge of ‘Labour Allocation’ they can, at their own sweet will, force any woman whom they decide is not ‘committed’ to perform ‘voluntary labour’. This is what happened at our house: Like a bolt from the blue, without prior announcement of any kind, without knocking or ringing the bell, there appeared in the