It is completely unclear why, but it was not until 2013, seventy-five years after the National Socialist pogrom of 9/10 November 1938, that the original of the most important report on the Nazi pogrom was published in German for the first time – Konrad Heiden’s (1901–1966) “Eine Nacht im November 1938”.¹ It is based on reports of eyewitnesses and newspapers of the contemporary German and international press. As far as possible, the editors clarified the anonymously published original sources. In the second part of the book, for the first time since Heiden’s death in 1966, an “Eine Annäherung an Leben und Werk” (Approach to life and work), (42 pages) by Markus Roth provides information about the life of this forgotten author.
However, among exiled writers Konrad Heiden was one of the best-informed connoisseurs of National Socialism. From the very beginning he personally traced the rise of Hitler and of the NSDAP in pubs, backrooms and halls, and studied their writings in detail. He had informants in the highest ranks of the NSDAP. Allegedly Hitler used to wait to begin his speeches until Heiden had been present.
Whatsoever, Heiden’s works were optimally researched, they experienced very high editions and were frequently reviewed. Especially true for his unique Hitler biography of 1936, entitled “Adolf Hitler: Das Zeitalter der Verantwortungslosigkeit – Ein Mann gegen Europa” which was reissued in 2011 by Europa-Verlag. It remains still unsurpassed until today. “Up to 1965, when essential documents were evaluated for the first time which had not been available to him, Heiden’s publications served as a (but often concealed) source and basis for all Hitler biographies and interpretations of National Socialism at home and abroad.2”
However, it remains strange that Heiden’s “Eine Nacht im November 1938” written in German during his French exile in 1939, immediately was published in English, French, and Swedish translations, but that the German original simply disappear into oblivion! For seventy-five years it lays forgotten in the Zurich Central Library.3
However, Heiden’s book is one of the most important contemporary reports of the Anti-Jewish pogrom cynically referred to by the Nazis as “Unternehmen Isaak”4: The reader experiences the drama of the happenings as if he were present. Heiden captures the sentiments of the participants meticulously, portraying objectively, with a keen eye and a burning heart. He politically classifies the events and unmasks the strategic backgrounds: The “public anger” invented by Goebbels and reported to have erupted spontaneously against the Jews, because in Paris a Nazi was shot by a desperate young Jew. This public anger not only did not exist, on the contrary, the people, Goebbels shamefully referred to, did not want the pogrom! Were such sources no longer wanted after the war in order to declare the people guilty? In any case, on that 9 November 1938, SS, SA, and Hitlerjugend units took centrally coordinated action throughout the Reich, at the same time, with the same pattern. The rest was slavish obedience of controlled gangs of racketeers, hate propaganda, and low instincts, as they are to be found in every nation.
The book contains an impressive portrayal and analysis of the National Socialist ideology of emotions which attempted to drown rationality, reason, and human sympathy in “suggestive magic”5 and in “concerted rage” of “bestiality”6. With strong symbols vulgar slogans were spread, fear and hatred and other strong emotions were aroused and directed, especially fantasies of violence and omnipotence. “It may be alright,” one hears Goebbels say in 1934 during the Reich Party Congress, “it may be good to possess power based on weapons, but it is better and more satisfactory to win and hold the hearts of the people.”7
The particular current relevance of Heiden’s book is lying in the portrayal of these socio-psychological processes. Similar and almost identical processes of the present time are constantly appearing to the reader’s inner eye.
Heiden originally titled his report “Nächtlicher Eid” (Nocturnal Oath). For Hitler’s coup failed on 9 November 1923. The Nazis made the 9 November a commemorial day for the “martyrs” of the “movement”. Every year on the 9 November, at midnight, by torchlight, Heinrich Himmler, in the presence of the Führer in front of the “Feldherrnhalle” in Munich, the historical site of the Hitler Putsch, swore in the new entries in the “SS Verfügungstruppe”. In 1938 an anti-Jewish pogrom was set up for this night. It had been planned for a long time. Then there was the welcome pretext, when the 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan shot the Legation Secretary, Ernst Eduard vom Rath, in Paris on 7 November 1938.
Heiden loved Germany. His struggle with the pen, in his own words, was against “Hitler’s un-German despotism”.8
“But nobody has lost his homeland who does not give it up in his heart”. Germany is where Germany’s freedom is fought for. This struggle requires the whole person.”9
When did you hear such words the last time! For Heiden, Nazism is what the Enlightenment – based on natural law – understood as contradiction to freedom: despotism – not a “German” or “European phenomenon”!10
His duty as a writer was always clear to Heiden: “We have to know how our adversary became great and how he beat us.”11
“We do not just have to see what mistakes we made, but also what the enemy did better than we did. We have to admit that the bad thing had been done better than the good one. ... His [Hitler’s] crimes are known; but the shortsightedness and good-nature of those who enabled him to do so are more shameful to us. Here we all are to blame, and he who writes this is by no means excepted.”12
This is very reminiscent of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl’s brother and a member of the “White Rose”, who, during his interrogation by the Gestapo, said: “I consider that in Germany in the period 1918–1933 and especially in 1933 it was not so much the mass of the German people who failed politically, but just […] the intelligentsia. Although in Germany a society of scholars and specialists flourished in all spheres of intellectual life, just these people were not able to correctly repond to the simplest political questions. Just for this reason it is understandable that mass movements with their simple slogans could drown out any deeper ideas. I felt that it was high time that we seriously made that part of the bourgeoisie aware of its political duty.”13 Should we not be more reflective today when hearing the words of these contemporary witnesses?
From Heiden’s perspective, living meant acting: “I dedicate this book to those who do not want to succumb to fate, or do not hope for a miracle, but intend to take the matter into their own hands. […] there remains the natural right of all healthy and living to say: The top is always where I am, and my descendants are even higher.”14 Heiden, a child of the labour movement himself, turned against the authoritarian Marxist left of the Weimar period with its historical determinism, making Hitler great with “historical necessity”, and believing that the communist party would come to power with just the same “historical necessity” when the Nazis had collapsed with “historical necessity”.
History, however, is always an open creation into the future, being shaped by the peoples. Heiden’s historiography does not explain National Socialism either from Christianity or from Germanism, from the “Enlightenment”, or from “science”, or from the bourgeois small family, or from capitalism. He writes history, standing on the side of man, reason, and worthwhile life. His patriotism is a love of homeland and of humans.
For Heiden, Nazism is the absolute end of dignity, freedom, reason, and civilisation. For the National Socialist “Ideology” is just: violence. Heiden called his book a “contribution to the natural history of beastliness.”15 There is no path leading from reason, science, patriotism, Christianity, or enlightenment to Hitler. Thus Heiden is also diametrically opposed to the interpretation of National Socialism by the “Frankfurt School”, and to Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s verdict that Enlightenment is totalitarian.16 Since the late sixties, this has become a dominant interpretation of history among the left and left-liberal intellectuals of whole generations, especially in Germany.
Such dissimulations of his Jewish colleagues – if he had ever known them – were strange to Heiden, a Jew himself. He, a child from the labour movement, takes a stand as a democratic antifascist. His mother is Jewish. Lea Heiden-Deutschmann commits herself to the educational associations of women of Munich and Frankfurt and writes in the social-democratic “Die neue Zeit.” She is a “passionate fighter” and fellow campaigner of Henriette Fuerth and Clara Zetkin and a “tender, faithfully caring and understanding mother”, as it is said in an obituary of her who deceased in 1906. Heiden’s father is a labour secretary in the trade union work and publishes about labour insurance and education of labourers. Konrad, the only son, lives with the caring father after the mother’s early death. The father is very concerned about a trusting relationship with the son. Both parents educate Konrad in the free spirit.
Not least therefore Heiden’s report is pleasantly free from authoritarian Marxist or Stalinist thinking. The new left of the Frankfurt School, or the French left, since Sartre committed to Stalin, would have remained deeply alien to him. And he did not psychologise like the Freudo-Marxists that the sexual oppression of the bourgeois small family breeds National Socialism …
Heiden can be read so well because he does not pursue commissioned historiography, but merely relies on the basics: facts, eye-witnesses, personal experience, testable statements, thoughtfulness, compassion, understanding and penetration based on humans’ reality of life. His only measure is the dignity and liberty of his people and his homeland, as well as the critical use of reason without anybody else’s help. His books need to be part of every history lesson on the issue of the 20th century.
On a clearing at the edge of a grove near East Orleans in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, an undressed boulder carries a simple bronze plaque with the inscription “Konrad Heiden (1901–1966), Writer, Foe of Nazis, ”. It covers Konrad Heiden’s grave as if to protect it forever. Even after his early death, a son of his beloved homeland Germany, which he assisted even in the darkest hours of its tragic history, is a great teacher of history, who is warning us and coming generations: “Nobody has lost his home and who does not given it up in his heart.” •
1 Heiden, Konrad. Eine Nacht im November 1938: Ein zeitgenössischer Bericht. Ed. Markus Roth, Sascha Feuchert und Christiane Weber. Göttingen, Wallstein 2013, in English published 1939 as “The New Inquisition”, Konrad Heiden, The New Inquisition, New York, Modern Age Books u.a., 1939
2 Deutsche Biographie (German Biography) – Online version: Heiden, Konrad (pseudonym Klaus von Bredow, Argus, Schäfer). https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/sfz28743.html#top (27.3.2017) Source: Maser, Werner, “Heiden, Konrad” in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 8 (1969), p. 246f. [Online version]; www.deutsche-biographie.de/gnd116604859.html
3 Heiden, Konrad. Nächtlicher Eid, typoscript, 164 pages, about New Year 1939. Signature: “Ms Oprecht T152” (English publication under the title “The New Inquisition”)
4 Heiden, 2013, p. 36
5 Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Munich, 158th–159th edition 1935, p. 552
6 Heiden, 2013, p. 37
7 Riefenstahl, Leni. Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will). The document of the Reichsparteitag 1934. 1935. [Goebbels at minute 30:33] archive.org/details/TriumphOfTheWillgermanTriumphDesWillens (seen on 2.4.2017)
8 Heiden, Konrad. Geburt des dritten Reiches. Geschichte des Nationasozialismus bis Herbst 1933. 2nd edition 1934, Zurich, Europa-Verlag
9 Heiden, 1934, p. 6
10 vgl. Kriele, Martin. Befreiung und politische Aufklärung: Plädoyer für die Würde des Menschen. Freiburg i. Br. 1980
11 Heiden, 1934
12 Heiden, 1934, p. 5
13 Interrogation of Hans Scholl. In: Verhörungsprotokolle, Munich, 20 February 1943, Bundesarchiv Berlin, ZC 13267, vol. 2
14 Heiden, 1934, p. 7
15 Heiden, 2013, p. 36
16 Adorno, T. W., with Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002. 242.
Futher books by Konrad Heiden, published in English:
Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power by Konrad Heiden, 76 editions published between 1944 and 1999 in 3 languages
One Man against Europe by Konrad Heiden, 16 editions published between 1939 and 1940 in 3 languages
Hitler: A Biography by Konrad Heiden, 56 editions published between 1936 and 1999 in 8 languages
A history of National Socialism by Konrad Heiden, 43 editions published between 1934 and 2013 in 5 languages
The Führer by Konrad Heiden, 5 editions published between 1944 and 2012
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