Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

How Icelandic Writing Fell out of Fashion in the Age of the Volkswagen

So, what happens to best-selling author Gunnar Gunnarsson’s public after his archetypal stories of Icelanders living in a raw, Nordic landscape …

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… fall out of fashion in the new, post-war Germany that is partly an American colony and partly a Soviet one …

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The Social Unity Party of Germany Grows into a New Kind of Party

Well, that’s what they thought back in the 1950s.

… looking to the future because the past is probably a pile of bricks out in the street?

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Downtown Berlin in the Early 1950s: a Cold War Battleground

With Baltic Gemany lost, there’s not really much interest in looking to the North anymore.

This is the era of re-imagining Germany on a European cultural, rather than a nordic cultural foundation (Well, in the West, at any rate,) and especially not on the military or racial foundation of the 1930s and 1940s.

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500 Years of the Gutenberg Bible

Stamp from the New Post-War State of the German Communities (West Germany)

This is the era of sausage stands springing up in the ruins.

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Bratwürst Stand, 1952

Women start to take charge of things, after the men messed up big time.

This is the era of the canoe on top of the Volkswagen and the first communist cardboard car.

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The Height of Modernity

What you get for reading too many Westerns. Especially after trying to drive to Smolensk in much the same get-up (The Volkswagens of the early 1940s were kitted out as amphibious assault vehicles … i.e. jeeps!)

This is the 1950s. Here’s what Gunnar’s readers are snapping up at kiosks little different from that sausage stand above.

jackkellyFBI Agent Jack Kelly: There is No Mercy

Hilgendorff: Millions Have Already Read Him

Herman Hilgendorff (Actually, H.C. Müller or Kurt Müller) wrote nearly 1000 books (!!!): most of them Westerns, FBI crime novels and British spy novels. (Long before the World War II Agent Ian Fleming spoofed the genre with his James Bond pulp novels.) Müller was one of the few crime novelists not banned by the Third Reich. And what is in these books that drew the Germans to them, and away from Gunnar’s more thoughtful, physical and eternal visions? This alternate book title (a cheap 60 cent edition) ought to show you …

44033835Jack Kelly, FBI Agent, at the Controls of the Robot that is Trying to Shoot Him

Does the robot look like a man? 100% Only Jack Kelly can tell the difference.

And who has constructed these robots? Why, a so-called Mr. Carefree, who promises to remove pain and suffering from people’s lives, for cash, in a process which usually involves underhanded death and destruction to someone else, a man who remains hidden and unknown, because he fronts even himself as a robot. And who is he? A hateful man. A theatrical agent from the 1930s. Yeah, this guy, you got it:

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Joseph Goebbels, Third Reich Propaganda Minister

Any film made in the Third Reich was cleared by him.

Any book published in the Third Reich was published by Goebbels. Here’s one of those books:

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Advent in the Highlands, by Gunnar Gunnarsson

This is the edition approved by Joseph Goebbels.

Here is “Mr. Carefree” with with one of his robots.

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Ah, But Which is the Robot and Which is the Real Mr. Carefree?

And then there’s the artist who sculpted the robots. Is he the German everyman? Is he a resurrected Jew, freed from the camps? Is he this man?

220px-Gunnar_GunnarssonNo, that’s just Gunnar, living on in a Europe that had left its own images for ones from Asia and America. Meanwhile, HIlgendorff continued to rewrite the Nazi period in his pulp novels, under the concealment of  the popular images of a new, non-European age. It’s fascinating to watch modern Europe birthing itself in the darned things. Oh, and who is Jack Kelly, really? Aha, look again:

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I bet he loved sausages.

 

 

Gunnar Gunnarsson Secret Agent: the Transcripts

In 1940, the writer Gunnarsson went to Germany on a book tour, for which, among other things, he has been called a Nazi. I’ve been giving you photography that will be the heart of the book I’m writing about him, but there is a point at which his story as a man of the land clashes with the affairs of the world, and it was here, in the moment just before this photograph was taken …

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Iceland-Danish Author Gunnar Leaving his March 1940 Meeting with Hitler 3 Weeks Before the  Invasion of Denmark and Norway Source: http://fornleifur.blog.is/blog/fornleifur/entry/1257968/

From left, Hinrich Lohse, Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein, Head of the Nazified Nordic League Literary and Film Club of Lübeck, of which Gunnar was a member and under whose auspices he was on this tour (Lohse was soon to become Kommissar of the Baltic States as well), a hidden man in civilian clothes, Gunnar, two SS Officers (likely Werner Best, later the Nazi administrator of Denmark, and Otto Baum, later head of the Das Reich Division of the Waffen SS), and an SS guard.

What was said inside that building that could make Gunnar so upset? I have been working on this for a few days now. Here’s my theory: in 1928, Gunnar went on a cruise to Atlantis (Ireland, Madeira, Teneriffe, Lisbon, Morocco, Seville, Mallorcca) along with, I believe, this soon-to-be-prominent Nazi-era photographer and photographic pioneer …

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Frerk’s 1928 Book About a Cruise to Madeira, Tenerife, Lisbon, Morocco, Seville, Mallorcca…

There’s a big story about the Atlantis idea, but let’s just say that it was a huge fad at the time in many circles, including Nazi ones, that the continent of Atlantis (and its ‘advanced spiritual civilization’) had sunk into the mid-Atlantic in a volcanic explosion, leaving only the islands and cities mentioned above, plus Iceland. This isn’t that story. It is, however, the story of Gunnar’s decision to become a spy, without mentioning it to anyone, and to do so by writing cables back to Denmark that used literary language that could easily double as criticisms of the Third Reich’s racial policy. I believe that  Herman Wirth, one of the architects of that policy, may have been on the cruise, and I believe it was that voyage that the “non-existent” Luftwaffe installed and tested a prototype ship-launched fighter plane, disguised as a mail-delivery plane. At any rate, read Gunnar:

 “It’s good for one’s health to get off the ship. From the cool of the ship and the shadows of the quay, one rises on smooth, wave-beaten steps of stone into the deafening sunshine. The humming of the sun and the murmuring of the sea boil together in one’s head; one becomes dizzy. Out of the boiling light, a pair of heavy palms suddenly cut themselves; there they stand, with their blank green, sharply drawn against a blinding white wall.”

Gunnar, Islands in a Great Big Sea, 1936 (originally published in Copenhagen’s Politikken, 1928)

Sure, it could just be the words of a man on a romantic cruise with a woman who was not his wife, enchanted with the landscape, in love, and catching a glimpse of exotic green trees in a stunning landscape, not the need to escape from the odd, racist environment of the ship’s dining room conversation, or the security personnel in plain clothes (or not). Still, the book doesn’t really read like that, and his next books, Vikivaki (1932) and “The Good Shepherd” (1936) read as parables, which can be read anyway you want, depending on your prejudices. “The Good Shepherd” certainly was. It was used as propaganda by the Germans, the British and the Americans, and then at the close of the war was among the books that suddenly read as secret condemnations of the Nazis, published from within the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. At any rate, more on that story later. There is a third text, even less widely distributed, and that’s the speech Gunnar gave in 44 Third Reich Cities before meeting Hitler, whose support of Gunnar’s books [albeit as propaganda material for a Scandinavian annexation] had made Gunnar very rich. I believe this speech, called “Our Land”, was a correction to the message in “The Good Shepherd”, and was intended to correct the propaganda aims to which that book had been put despite Gunnar’s efforts to keep it as a message of peace extended to all men, regardless of their politics. A passage from this text is just below. When you read it, remember that Gunnar’s friend from the pre-Nazi Nordic League, Fritz Höger, who had wanted to be the Reich’s leading architect and redesign its buildings along North German (ie Danish) lines, had lost out to Albert Speer, who was responsible for the monumental, kitschy architecture that came to represent the Reich (including the building in the image above). Here goes:

“What is necessary is to open the eyes of Icelandic youth to Icelandic nature and its beauty. Not as if they don’t see it; but do they know what they see? Have our youth been lead to understand clearly for themselves, what goes well within our Icelandic landscape and what less so? At the very least one sees no sign of it in the newest of Icelandic buildings and the way people carry on through the country and even, at times, in the villages themselves. It pains one to see the way the land is mishandled and alienated through tastelessness, through kitsch, which will lead only to a a weight on the people themselves and bring disrepute to our land and our people. It is far better to view the inner life of people in the way it views itself, without outside direction, than to do so with words and discipline. To see the right path from these roots is more important than one might think from a distance. And, at any rate, one sacrifices little if one holds to taste and good manners. And if it ever should be time to talk of sacrifice, our land has already earned it completely, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete, so long as these things are not put into an order that no longer give any cause for rebuke.”

I believe that Hitler heard that exactly as he was meant to, behind his tiny desk in its huge room like a concert hall in the Chancery in Berlin, where he usually greeted heads of state. He would have heard this…

“What is necessary is to open the eyes of German youth to German nature and its beauty. Not as if they don’t see it; but do they know what they see? Have your youth been lead to understand clearly for themselves, what goes well within their German landscape and what less so? At the very least one sees no sign of it in the newest of German buildings, built by that idiot Speer, with his head in Italian clouds, and the way people carry on through the country and even, at times, in the villages themselves. It pains one to see the way the land is mishandled and alienated through tastelessness, through kitsch, which will lead only to a weight on the people themselves and bring disrepute to our land and your people. It is far better to view the inner life of people in the way it views itself, without outside direction, than to do so with words and discipline. To see the right path from these roots is more important than one might think from a distance. And, at any rate, one sacrifices little if one holds to taste and good manners. And if it ever should be time to talk of sacrifice, your land has already earned it completely, and Höger’s and my joy at its beauty will never be complete, so long as these things are not put into an order that no longer give any cause for rebuke.”

After all, both Gunnar and Hitler shared a believe in the identity of Iceland and Germany as Nordic states united in brotherhood — they just understood that differently. Here’s Gunnar a little later in the speech (Remember, at this time the British and the Americans hadn’t invaded Iceland and there were no appreciable building projects of any kind, but there were in Germany)…

Few lands that can call themselves populated are so little touched by the traces of time. Here it’s not, as it is in richer territories, buildings and the works of man that make a land appear all-powerful. On the contrary. In the past, the houses stood so simply and artlessly in the land that they were hardly to be reckoned as houses, and human habitation snuggled into the landscape and passed well with it. In recent times, a massive change has stepped in to this relationship, and sadly not for the best. It is sad to see how foreign so many of the new houses appear above their home meadows and how ugly and gauche they clash with the Icelandic valleys, among its rivers and against the strata of its mountains. Regrettably, out of tastelessness, which they are also anchored within, springs only decline and bad fortune.

Again, neither of these two men were stupid (That Hitler was evil is another matter), they shared a symbolic language, and I believe that what Hitler heard went much like this:

Few lands that can call themselves populated are so little touched by the traces of time as Germany. Here it’s not, as it is in France and Italy, buildings and the works of men [the Nazi Party] that make a land appear all-powerful. On the contrary. In the past, the houses stood so simply and artlessly in the land that they were hardly to be reckoned as houses, and human habitation snuggled into the landscape and passed well with it. In recent times, a massive change has stepped in to this relationship, and sadly not for the best. It is sad to see how foreign so many of Speer’s Greek palaces and your new Autobahn bridges appear above their home meadows and how ugly and gauche they clash with the German valleys, among its rivers and against the strata of its mountains. Regrettably, out of tastelessness, which they are also anchored within, springs only decline and complete and utter defeat and destruction.

In both of these speeches, a tiny change, well within the compass of the title “Our Land” and Gunnar’s relationship with the audience to which he was speaking, bring out an amazing subtext. Gunnar’s 1930 novel “The Black Cliffs” demonstrate that he had the depth of writing skill and the depth of psychological understanding to attempt to pull this off. Can any of this be proven? No, hardly. It does, however, make absolute sense. If it is in any way true, however, Gunnar’s reputation as a early-to-mid-twentieth century writer needs to be reassessed. If this is what Hitler got out of those speeches, the conversation inside that building, of which Gunnar never mentioned a word, would not have gone well. Any other writer who had tried to use his authority as a writer (and none were more famous or sold better or were more beloved than Gunnar) to trump Hitler’s had wound up in Buchenwald, even Ernst Wiechert, whose Baltic folktale novels were very similar to Gunnar’s nordic  ones. If such a half-veiled threat had been made, and was accepted bluntly and openly rather than as the psychological suggestion I think it was intended as, Gunnar’s expression would have been understandable, especially given the company he has on those steps. Here is that photo again:

gunnargrimaceGunnar Gunnarsson: A Man Trying to Broker Peace?