Siddharth's Reviews > Diary of a Man in Despair

Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2019-wishlist, historical, non-fiction, disturbing, wartime

This is the diary of a man in Nazi Germany; a man who is hellbent on documenting the changes he is seeing in his country, as they occur. He maintains this diary at quite a high risk of being caught and punished for it, and yet none of his writing is softened because of that. One of the few things he does, and that too for the safety of others and not for himself, is some-times shorten their names and refer to them using a single letter only.

The diary starts in May 1936 and ends in October 1944. One of the most striking things about world war 2 I kind-of knew but didn't really understand fully until I read this book is that the World War was not fought in a single place, it was fought in several places, as several battles. Often overlapping with each other with one side ahead in one place and the other winning at the other place. The confusion of what is going on in Germany, at the war front, in other countries, is apparent in his writing. His writing often shifts to focus on what is internal to him, rather than focusing on the external. He is disgusted with the way the language has changed. He is stunned at the faces of these leaders, faces that wouldn't have been "respected by anyone, let alone the highest officials of Germany, not by the door man or the cleaning women". He refers to the lack of understanding of the German people at what they are enabling; he refers to how children have grown wild; he talks about how the food is lacking; how the food that _is_ there is bad; how the summers are filled with rain and the winters are colder and longer than ever before; not one does he talk about sunlight in the book.

The book has a deeply depressing tone. He is going about his life, traveling from the town he is living in to Munich and Berlin, meeting friends, having dinner in restaurants; but there is hardly anything he is thinking about. The hate runs like a constant tape played on a loop in his mind. Every page is about his hatred of the German establishment, the change that has come about in a few years, the "mass-man" who will walk with a million people off a cliff just because everyone else seems to think that's what the "Fuhrer" requires them to do.

I want to quote two paragraphs:

Nationalistic history-writing: In Germany, the lies have a blonde character. Nationalism: a state of mind in which you do no love your own country as much as you hate somebody else's. ... The following is a quotation - "Tragedy is a condition first discovered by te Pope for the subjection of mankind. But that is the provoking thing about these people: they foist this barbarism on us, and then try to make us content with it by having us adopt their own mass-man inability to distinguish between things. We are to end by no longer knowing that the whole of their 'technical comfort' amounts to nothing more than one gigantic swindle ... Or do they really think they are going to stop us from making distinctions and reduce everything to dead level - equate a Brueghelian feast of the past with a modern meal out of cans; the rewards of an auto trip with that of a walking tour; the costly silk stockings of yesterday, and the rayon stockings of today's office girls - all calculated to turn the beholder into a misogynist.

Following a series of articles placed by Goebbels in the newspapers, the wife of a tenant came to see me in fear and trembling. In Jesus' name, how was she to protect her children? They were all going to be dragged off to be raised in English, American, or Russian orphan asylums, according to newspapers! Nota bene, this woman spent several years in America, as a laundress; she still speaks a little English, and she has a number of quite warm recollections of Boston - yet she believes these stories about the foreign devils. Really, this people, only yesterday so intelligent and discriminating, seems to have been overcome by a disease of the mind. They noe believe everything they are told, provided it is done with sufficient aplomb.

The whole book concentrates less on making sense of what is happening, in favor of actually trying to convey what was happening then to a reader far in the future who will find it hard to believe that such things can happen anywhere, let alone in their own country. Reck's hatred of the high-ranking Nazi officials and certainty that they will be punished mix into a single near-theological certainty that what is going on is disastrous, will stop some day soon, and will have consequences that people several centuries henceforth will have to reckon with. To this end, Reck has an excellent quote:

Certainly, we are going to sit in judgement on the visible individuals who pulled the strings here, certainly the wood for the gallows on which I hope to see Hitler, Goring, Goebbbels, Papen et al., hung has already been thoughtfully put aside. And certainly, too, all of us Germans will have to take our Cross upon our backs and carry it through the Dark Valley of Sorrow before the Absolute is attained. But is there a nation today so lacking in perspective as to deny the possibility that such a mass psychosis could at some time in its hitory occur within its own boundaries? Do people really go so far as to accuse unarmed German intellectuals of lethargy when, during the first two years of the Hitler regime, at least, the British Cabinet, with every possible weapon at its disposal, was itself too indolent to smoke the brown rats out of their holes?

P.S. Rather coincidentally, I started reading this book just as I got on a flight to go on a trip to Italy! It was my first time traveling to Europe, and I had a 3-hour lay-over in Munich. I bought the paperback that I have nearly 6 months ago, in February.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2019 – Shelved
February 11, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
February 11, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-wishlist
August 14, 2019 – Started Reading
September 2, 2019 – Shelved as: historical
September 2, 2019 – Shelved as: non-fiction
September 2, 2019 – Shelved as: disturbing
September 2, 2019 – Shelved as: wartime
September 2, 2019 – Finished Reading

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