|Paris Peace Conference where|
the Treaty was signed
President Wilson’s Versailles Peace Treaty with Germany was signed on June 28, 1919. His main objectives were to create the League of Nations, and to achieve disarmament of all nations. It turned out, however, in spite of President Wilson’s opposition, that the practical demands of the French and the British became the chief architects of the peace. Germany, by now defeated and demoralized, was forced to pay reparations at a level that was impossible for Germany to afford. Hunger, starvation and complete demoralization resulted.
One of the early, devastating results was inflation. The new conversion rates were announced every Tuesday; I believe it was at noon. My father, as all other employees, was paid in paper money. The old German Mark was replaced with printed currency of such values as thousands, millions, and billions of marks. My mother would meet my father at the office when he was paid, and would immediately buy whatever food was available before the value of the money would go down even more.
|Kids making kites out of useless currency|
Opa remembered the day Hitler was elected, he was 12.
On that fateful day my father was late coming home from work. My mother had supper ready, so when he finally came, she asked, “What kept you?”- “Haven’t you listened to the radio?” He replied, “Hitler has been appointed Reich Chancellor.” (That was a position in the German government equivalent to President in the U.S.) My sister started to cry; my mother left the room. I asked my father, “What does that mean?” He looked at me as sternly as I had ever seen him and said, “Son, that means another World War!”
|Hitler being appointed Reich Chancellor|
We were interrupted by music from the street. We looked out, and here came a torch parade of Nazi Brownshirts and Blackshirts (SS) marching down the street, celebrating the Nazi victory. They had a band, and they were singing. Among the songs they were singing was the “Horst Wessel Song,” that translates into something like this: “When the Storm Soldiers march to battle, they march with high morale; but when Jewish blood will squirt from our knives, things will go twice as well.”
Opa remembers the schools closing after Hitler was elected FOR TWO MONTHS. Can you imagine? Teachers just had to deal. Students probably were fine with it. But when they arrived back to school it was to brand new curriculum, brand new books jam-packed with not-so-subtle Nazi propaganda.
When they opened again, there were major changes in the curricula; primarily, there were entirely new textbooks. One new course was added in most schools: Genetics, with the aim of showing the “superiority” of the Aryan race over all other races; particularly, of course, Jews, Gypsies, Negroes, etc. Even songbooks were changed. One very popular German song is the “Lorelei,” which is based on an old German folktale. The song was written by Heinriche Heine (one of my favored authors) who was a Jew, and the music was composed by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdi, also a Jew. The new songbook stated, “Author unknown, composer F.M. Bartholdi” (Bartholdi is not considered a Jewish name, but “Mendelssohn” most certainly is.)
|5th Grade Biology Nazi Book|
I wonder if Opa’s ability to see past this propaganda was in part because he was not so desperate and impoverished like many of his fellow Germans. Or perhaps having a mother who was Jewish and clearly not vermin helped his perspective. I think it was largely due to the education and world-knowledge that he was exposed to with a teacher for a mother and a newspaper editor for a father. Or maybe, even more important, was the courage necessary to resist.
It is not a new or uncommon idea that if you work hard enough, fight hard enough, struggle hard enough, you will be successful. The problem begins when you must push weaker people aside, or under, in order to come out on top. The Nazis had no concern for the weak, the goal was to rise up despite all costs. You might be standing on skulls, but you will be the epic evolutionary winner. And according to the Nazis, this is something to be proud of, that nature INTENDED. And when you’ve been at the bottom, the idea that you are destined to be the best is hard to resist.
Opa resisted. And I thank him for that legacy.
As we entered school, there was a teacher at the main gate, and we were required to give the Nazi salute (outstretch the right arm and say “Heil Hitler”). I couldn’t bring myself to do that, and normally found a way to enter through another door (which we really weren’t supposed to do), or go early. One time my head teacher was at the entrance. It was too late to back out, so I just walked in and ignored him. He called me into his office and chewed me out. He said, “Doeppner, I understand your feelings, but I don’t like being ignored. The least you can do is give me an old-fashioned “good Morning” when you come in.” The next day, when I went through the door, I said, “Good morning, Dr. Widder.” He said “Heil Hitler,” and winked at me. (It took a tremendous amount of courage for him not to report me!)
|German boys giving the Nazi Salute, Sept 1933|
One time, there was an outdoor meeting attended by the “bigwigs:” There were Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and, as guest of honor, Mussolini. The first two rows were occupied by the SS (“Schutzstaffel,” the infamous Nazi organization responsible, among other crimes, for most of the Holocaust murders). Then came two or three rows of us high school students, and then the public. During all these speeches, which seemed to last forever, I had only one thought: Wouldn’t this be an excellent time for France or England to drop a bomb on this place? No such thing happened, of course, and we were bused back to our schools.
After graduation from high school, I was called to the police, where my passport was stamped “for identification only; not valid for foreign travel.” The reason: I was about to be drafted into the German Army!! I decided right then to leave Germany illegally...Courage.