Howells Archive Olympic Games
This is the third extract from the fascinating family history of Phil Howells that he has kindly sent to me and allowed me to reproduce here.
Olympics at Berlin, 1936: Mother had very little money, and when, in 1936, we went to stay with her parents at their retirement flat in the house of the BUSCHMANN family, Königswintererstrasse 13, Königswinter-am-Rhein, she had no intention of incurring the additional expense of travelling to Berlin. Then she saw cheap, overnight, third-class special Olympic Games rail-tickets being offered. This gave her the opportunity to see her brother Lambert and his wife Reni and their children Fee, Inge and Wolfgang. (Goetz was born three years later.) She took me with her, and I recall to this day sitting on those third class, uncomfortable wooden seats, during that extra long tedious rail-trip, while we were shunted off the main line to allow other trains to pass. Actually, what luxury! How spoilt I was then, when I compare it with some of my wartime cattle-truck Army trips in Algeria and Italy.
Naturally, by that time all the tickets for the games had gone, with only black market ones being sold by ticket-touts for exorbitant prices. At an official office, we did manage to get tickets for an exhibition-game of baseball by two American teams. This gave us the opportunity to see Albert SPEER’s posh new stadium.The weather was fine and sunny, the evening pleasant. It was my first and only live baseball match, and I found it interesting. This fourteen-year-old was further stimulated and amused by the Berlin ‘cockneys’ who, not understanding the game, barracked the players with the children’s ball-game cry of, “Ein, zwei, drei, wer hat den Ball?” (“One, two, three, who’s got the ball?”)
At the end of the match, the German national anthem, Deutschland Über Alles, was followed by the Nazi’s own anthem, the Horst Wessel Lied. Horst WESSEL was one of Hitler’s early supporters who composed the song – a good one. He died, but I have forgotten the details. He was given a great funeral by the Party, only for the Communists to break it up, with the coffin, I was told, being thrown into the street. During the singing of these songs, naturally everyone stood up, and the people in our area, excluding Mother and myself, gave the Nazi stretched arm salute. This was of interest to me, because it made me conscious for the first time of the extent to which external events can exert psychological pressure. Although I did not accept this fascist saluting nonsense, I found it very difficult to keep my right arm down when surrounded by thousands of people who were holding theirs up.
We were about to leave when an announcement was made that if we took our seats again, when it was dark, we would be treated to the dress-rehearsal of a concert of massed military bands which was to be performed in the presence of the Führer the next evening. We had not long to wait. One can still see it, if somewhat dimly, in Leni RIEFENSTAHL’s film of the event. She is still alive today, a centenarian, and very active. Being a good photographer, she would no doubt have been filming on both occasions, at the rehearsal and the final concert, combining the best shots from both evenings.
The ground of the stadium looked fine, with its green turf being complemented exactly by the well-chosen red of the running track. (See Reni Kaumanns painting on page 18 of this section.) Suddenly, all lights were switched off. Only specks of red from cigarettes in the crowd, and the swirling light of the Olympic flame were visible. A military order was barked, and a searchlight picked out an officer on a white horse at the flame-end of the stadium to the left of us. He galloped across the grass in front of us and, reining in suddenly to our right, whirled his horse round to face the way he had come. He then shouted an order.
A mass of army drummers and flautists, playing, followed by the silent brass entered. Accompanying them were other soldiers carrying flambeaux, who marched, some to the right, others to the left, round the arena, until its periphery was lined with the flames from their torches. The phalanxes of the massed bands moved to the centre. Then there was complete silence, both from the military, and the crowd.
One snare-drum commenced a roll, was taken up by another, then another and so on, until the crescendo merged into a gradual decrescendo, and there was complete silence again. After a pause the concert of military music commenced, and very good it was.
The concert ended with the Fackelträger, or torchbearers, removing their steel helmets for a soldiers’ hymn. This was followed by the national anthem, but I cannot recall whether the Horst Wessel song was played on that occasion. I have seen many military spectacles, but I do not think I have witnessed any better than that one. It did make me feel, however, that so many musicians must represent quite a fair-sized army. Following WW2, I was informed by Germans that that was the ‘bluff’ to give the impression that the army was of greater strength at the time than was actually the case.
Another military parade which Mother and I saw was the changing of the guard at the Ehrenmal, where the body of an unknown soldier was buried. (In England, our unknown warrior from the First World War lies in Westminster Abbey.) The Berlin building was small and classical in design with Doric columns. An everlasting flame was burning from a lamp set in the floor. The roof had a large circular aperture, open to the sky, for the light to stream down to the grave. I stood by the roadside kerb, with the passing troops performing the Paradeschritt, or ‘goose-step’, as we British called it. I wondered what effect this was having on their leg-joints and spine. Their face-muscles were juddering up and down.
On previous occasions, when staying at Falkensee, we used to hear the Army practising on the machine gun range at Döberitz. At Hutton, Essex, we heard the British Army practising the use of the same type of weapon at Warley Barracks, since demolished. The 1936 Olympia Village was built at Döberitz to house the athletes. I have seen a picture of the propaganda minister, Josef GOEBBELS, together with army staff officers, inspecting the ‘village’ just before its official opening. It had, of course, been designed as barracks, ready for the coming war, just as the Autobahnen were designed for speedy military deployment, and not merely for the pleasure of those few members of the bourgoisie who, in those days, owned motorcars.
Lambert, Reni, Fee, Inge, Wolfgang, Mother and I visited the place. I was wearing my Brentwood School blazer, and was sometimes thought to be a participant in the games. Walking back from Döberitz, I suddenly felt a stinging pain on the left side of my neck. A coach-load of Japanese athletes were passing, and one had thrown an unripe plum at me. They were all laughing and waving. The vehicle was travelling at speed, and I thought it a brilliant shot. I wonder what has happened to that chap. Did he come through the war unscathed, I wonder? And how many of the Fackelträger in the stadium survived the war? One sunny winter’s day at the end of 1944, in an orange-grove near Pontecagnano in southern Italy, I came across a single German war-grave. The soldier had obviously been buried where he fell. At its head was a wooden cross with the man’s steel helmet on it, but no name. Was this perhaps one of the Fackelträger? – or that single snare-drummer?
When Jesse OWENS, the champion US sprinter won his event in the presence of Hitler, and the Führer left in order that he did not have to shake hands with a black man, I recall, as a fourteen year old youth, feeling very disquieted, but no one else in the family made any remarks about Hitler’s behaviour.
Benito Mussolini’s career ended in 1945 when he was captured by partisans and, together with his mistress, was shot. In Milan their bodies were hung up by the feet like cattle-carcases.
He was still in exile in Holland, and would not have been allowed to attend the Olympic Games even had he wanted to negotiate with the ‘braune Pest’, as the upper classes frequently called the Nazis. He exercised physically by sawing logs. I saw a photo of this. Here the flags of the competing nations are displayed together with another version of the Olympic Flame. The sunshine was too bright, however, for it to register on the film. That day the breeze, sufficient to move the flags, and require a woman to hold her straw-hat in place, was a pleasant relief from the usual heat of the Berlin summer. The Royal Palace was to have a lifespan of a further half-a-dozen years, before British and American bombing wrecked it. The Government of the Communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany) later completed its demolition. Photographed by my mother, Hannah Howells, with a camera to be ‘liberated’ by US soldiers nine years later. Ah well, all part of life’s rich pattern! As the Ancients already knew, there is only one permanent thing in this universe, and that is change.
It was the same with the persecution of the Jews, as though, both in England and Germany, one does not worry too much about those people whom one does not like anyhow. I think it was also part of the middle class, ‘comfortable mind’ attitude which prevailed, encompassing the whole of life. People just thought about their own particular private sphere. One did not make waves. Anything outside the immediate interests of family and friends was simply ignored – Folk-time, in fact. (See Section 12)
In the text, I selected Erich Mühsam as my representative example of the many victims of the Nazis. It would have been interesting to have asked him what he thought of the above quotation, but the Jewish pacifist had already been tortured and murdered by government officials a couple of years before the Olympics took place. The Third Reich was actually rather considerate, having regard for the feelings of the visiting foreigners. They stopped their active anti-Jewish policy for the duration of the Games.
Members of the BDM (Bund deutscher Mädchen = League of German Girls, the female side of the Hitler Youth) congregated outside the Kaiser’s palace, where another example of the Olympic flame burnt. The Stars and Stripes of the United States, and the Union Flag of Great Britain hang with the Swastika of Nazi Germany. These two countries were responsible for reducing the palace to rubble half-a-dozen years later. The Americans in particular were ‘ higher-striving’ – their planes flew at a considerable altitude. Beneath the veneer of this German window-dressing, ably shown in these few photos, there was the ever increasing misery, torture and killing in the camps.
From left to right they are: Gisela Arendt (Germany), den Ouden (Holland), Lohmar (Germany), and Selbach (Holland). Four years later, countrymen of the German members of the team, without warning, rained down bombs on the Dutch city of Rotterdam. How were these two young Dutch women affected, I wonder.
From left to right: Kaiser (fly-weight gold-medallist), Miner (fly-weight bronze medallist), Vogt (light heavy-weight silver-medallist) and Runge (heavy-weight gold medallist.)
I recall asking Herr Miner for his autograph. He surprised me by seizing my shoulders and whirling me round in order to use my back as a writing-desk. I still have my autograph-album which Mother gave me when I was aged about twelve. I had not previously heard of such a thing. I expect she had in mind her own schoolgirl’s ‘Poesie-Buch’. Herr Miners must have signed some other paper, as his signature is unfortunately not in my book.
The Feel Good Factor. In 1936, there was a feeling of exhileration and confidence about the future of Germany among the Kaumanns and their friends. Many private houses flew the bright red Nazi flag, designed by Hitler himself, with its black swastika on a white disk, making a colourful display – surely one of the most successful house-logos ever? Most people were delighted that the days of depression were over in Germany, and one felt a certain joyousness in the air. This feeling is well presented in Gellately’s book, page 3, as follows:
‘One well-spoken middle-class woman, wife of a prominent historian of Germany, neither of whom incidentally were Nazi Party members, stated in a recent interview how “on the whole, everyone felt well”. She remembered how she “wanted only to see the good” and the rest she “simply shoved aside”. She feels even now that most Germans “tried at the very least, even when they didn’t agree one hundred percent with the Third Reich or with National Socialism, to adapt themselves. And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time…. We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”’
I have seen a photograph of Dr Josef Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda, conducting senior army-officers round the new buildings. It was, of course, designed as army-barracks for World War 2. (Above)This photograph records our visit to Döberitz. Hannah Howells photographs her sister-in-law, Reni Kaumanns, taking the photo. Next follows Mother’s brother, Lambert Kaumanns. Then aged forty, and a reserve officer from World War 1, he was called up to invade Poland three years later. His youngest daughter, Inge, is in front of her sister, Felicitas ‘Fee’. Next is fourteen year-old Philip Howells. In front stands Wolfgang, Lambert’s son, who was to be killed on the Russian front at the age of 17.
This sums up for me the atmosphere of my 1936 holiday in the Rhineland and in Berlin. It is the way I found my Kaumanns grandparents, Johanna and Philipp, their son Lambert and his wife Reni, and their teenage children, Felicitas and Inge, with Wolfgang well on his way to that status. (Goetz was not born until 1939, the month before war erupted).
Hitler had a brilliant finance-minister, Hjalma SCHACHT, who realized sooner than most that being on the gold-standard was not a true indication of a nation’s wealth. (He had stabilized Germany’s currency in 1924.) The wealth of a country, at that time, resided in the manufacturing of its workers. Today, other factors such as brokerage, tourism, etc., play their part. One of his measures to stop the flow of German currency abroad, was to impose currency-export controls on German tourists leaving the country. I was amused to remember this when, after World War 2, the British Labour government also imposed currency-restrictions on British holiday-makers going abroad.
Schacht was a close friend of that fascinating eccentric, Sir Montague NORMAN (later Lord Norman) the Governor of the Bank of England. In fact Norman was godfather to Schacht’s children. During World War 2, the two men met in neutral Switzerland to discuss what is in fact ‘trading with the enemy’. Naturally you trade with your enemy, or rather, opponent. (Personally, your enemies are always on the side to which you belong.) If he has a surplus of a commodity you require, then you trade the surplus of another commodity he requires. Sound good sense! You can then both keep the war going.
The Nazi government used the pleasure-garden as a parade-ground. The giant granite bowl was covered by the podium from which assembled people were harangued.
During the 1930s, we had a German lawyer, a Dr BUJAK (say Booyak), visit us when on a short cruise to the Thames. He was allowed to take the equivalent of ten shillings ashore. (Luncheon at an average restaurant would cost about seven shillings.) Mother, Donald and I, with our guest, were taken to lunch at a London westend restaurant by Grandfather G.J.Howell(s). It was somehow typical of the paradoxes governing my boyhood, being taken to a ‘swank restaurant’ – to use a 1930s American term – but having to travel there on a cheap Green Line coach ticket, as my ‘single mother’, to use the modern idiom, hadn’t the money for the three rail tickets. GJH could be very generous on occasions, and he helped Mother out of an embarrassing social predicament.
The above photograph shows Hannah Howells taking her boys from Brentwood, Essex, to London, on an economy Green Line coach ticket, to meet Dr Bujak. She carries that ever present leather camera-case, still (2002) before me, and now containing my digital camera-batteries. Mother holds a fox-fur. The head of the animal had glass-eyes. Simulating its lower jaw, there was a clip, to hold the tail, forming a loop to encircle the wearer’s neck. The colours, light blue (for Cambridge University), white (for virginity, perhaps?) and dark blue (for Oxford University), of the Brentwood School ribbons on Don’s and my straw-boaters have not photographed well. Photo taken c1935/6 by a fellow passenger using Mother’s camera. I enjoy the sculptural quality of the combined bonnet, headlamp, mudguard and wheel of the coach.
No mention was made in 1938, either by my German relatives or my English ones, of the train-loads of refugee German Jewish children, who were brought to Britain without their parents. In fact, I only learnt about them after the war when I met some of them, or people who were involved with their reception.
Von der Grün, on page 241 in the above book (pocket-book version SL345), describes life in the POW camp in the USA, where, unlike us soldiers, they had bed-sheets!! He mentions the legend of der Dolchstoss, the stab-in-the-back to which I referred previously. He points out that a new one was emerging among his fellow soldiers, after they were shown films of the atrocities committed by Germans. “Wenn das alles der Führer gewusst hätte, dann……” (“If only the Führer had known, then….”) He met men of his own age (he was born 1926) who believed that the war would have been won had Hitler been informed of everything which occurred in the Reich. (Mind-massaging seems to be a preoccupation of human beings.)
Before aerial bombardments put an end to it, it was a good idea to have shares in the armaments factories of opposing countries. The longer the war lasted, the more money you made. Nowadays, the UK having lost the greater part of its motorcar-industry (why? Germany hasn’t), to a great extent the only way we can maintain our present standard of comfortable living seems to be by exporting arms made at home. (I note that the Volkswagen factory, which the British army revived to make ‘Beetles’ after WW2, and which subsequently bought the Bentley firm, is to issue a ‘mini’ Bentley in about three years time.)
IBM. Since writing the above, I have read extracts from the book, IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin BLACK, published 12 February 2001 by Little, Brown. These appeared in The Sunday Times, 11 February 2001. The author researched the subject in connection with his parents’ deportation. They were Jewish.
Before the days of computers, IBM, under its autocratic, anti-semitic chairman, Thomas J.WATSON, supplied a very efficient card-punching filing system, the HOLLERITH card-sorting machine, which they leased to the Nazi government of Hitler’s Third Reich. This enabled them to speed up the registration of Jews, as they were able to home in on individuals. In some areas it was so efficient that the prisoners were able to walk off the trains and straight into the gas-chambers. Most of IBM’s staff preferred not to know. IBM also refused to co-operate with Black, but he was obliged by a university which allowed him to study IBM documents.
Soon, there was an outcry against IBM, especially when the United States of America came into the war, but being sound business people, they set up an independently operating German subsidiary named Dehomag. IBM were also able to keep in touch through Switzerland. At the end of the war, IBM collected its machines and its money. Much better than owning a factory.
I am sure that Sir William BEVERIDGE, (later Lord) when compiling the Beveridge Report in 1944, promising the country a welfare state after the war, must have been influenced by the Nazis. I recall during the cold-war, the ex-prime minister, Harold MACMILLAN, stating on TV that we borrowed ideas from our adversaries, the Communists, just as they borrowed ideas from us.
Hitler failed. Why? Apart from the immorality of the various travesties of justice, and the disgusting Final Solution, exterminating the Jews, he did not entirely think in 20th century terms, but was still wrapped up in 19th century ideas about territorial conquest by the military. After World War 2, Germany gained power by the hard work of its labour-force, brilliant economic planning and an export drive. (Hence Bentley being Volkswagen owned.) Moreover, their trades unions were not ‘anti-boss’, as were the British ones. They were very ‘pro-boss’ and co-operative to make things hum. The unions’ representatives sat at conference tables with management, and drove very hard bargains to get a good slice of the economic cake. All these qualities were already beginning to make their mark in 1938. British manufacturers having ‘sat pretty’ since the Industrial Revolution, which gave them the chance to forge ahead when the rest of Europe was in disarray due to the Napoleonic wars, were beginning to worry about German competition. London buses carried posters, ‘Buy British!’ My aunt Doris and Grandfather would enquire, when making purchases, “Is it British made?” (A hint, perhaps, of the coming ‘Pforzheim-syndrome’ mentioned below?)
Hitler and his self-seeking militarists, impatiently wanting immediate results and self-glory, and arrogantly underestimating the potential power of their opponents, resorted to armed aggression. I have mentioned that Hitler hoped to acquire his territories piece-by-piece, but finally had to confront a great war. Still believing that he could succeed with the new situation as he had done with the mini-aggressions, which were mainly political, he took command of the army. I can fully understand the British WW2 generals who stopped a proposed plan to assassinate Hitler. They feared that someone competent would succeed him. His military obduracy, when debating situations which demanded utmost flexibility of movement with generals such as Guderian, is well illustrated in Antony BEEVOR’S brilliant book, BERLIN – the downfall 1945. (See bibliography above.)
When I pointed out certain discrepancies to my German grandparents, I recall Oma being quite upset, and asking why I was always running down Hitler. It was not that I was always running down Hitler in particular. I was a teenage schoolboy who was very interested in discovering the world I was entering, therefore constantly asking disconcerting questions, both in England and in Germany. I might add, I was equally slapped down for my pains in both countries.
Translation by PH.
“Be strong in suffering, do not wish for the unattainable or worthless; be satisfied with the day as it comes, seek the good in all, and have joy in nature and in people, just as they are; for a thousand bitter hours, console oneself with a single one which is beautiful, and give always ones best from the heart and understanding, also when no thanks are awarded. Who learns that, and can carry it out, has greater happiness, freedom and pride, and his life will always become finer. He who is distrustful, commits an injustice against others, and damages himself. We have the duty to regard every person as good, so long as he does not prove to us the opposite, the world is so big, and we people so little: therefore everything cannot revolve around us alone. If something damages us, which hurts us, who can know whether that is necessary for the needs of the whole of creation. In everything in the world, whether it is dead or breathing, lives the great revealed Will of the almighty and all-knowing Creator; we little people lack only the intellect to understand him. As everything is, so must it be in the world, and as it is also desired: everything is good within the meaning of the Creator. Irene Kardaetz. 11 February 1919.”
Following the mass slaughter of World War One, which had ended exactly three months previously, here we have a decent young woman trying to come to terms with life and death, but still in the anthropocentric and anthropomorphic manner descended from the Middle Ages. In view of what we now know from modern science, it is time we faced reality and grew up. Life on this planet Earth is fundamentally based on a “food chain”. There was no Creation, but there is constant creation. Look at the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope photos of galaxies in collision. (Careless driving?) They scatter detritus of stars, gas and dust over areas sometimes thousands of light years across. The gas, dust and rubble gather together to form new stars with, no doubt, new planets allowing carbon based life-forms to develop. I am not sure that the ‘life force’ needs carbon and other chemicals in a ‘macro’ form. Surely it is possible for it to exist in other forms of subatomic particles in quite high temperatures. See Colin Pascoe’s note on page 7 in Section Five.