Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Last Hour

I have spent weeks translating parts of a book in German (Der Letzte Stunde) written by a Lutheran pastor and social worker, Harald Poelchau.  He was the Lutheran chaplain at Poltzensee Prison in Berlin, where many of Hitler's enemies (over 1,000 between 1933 and 1945).  In the book, Poelchau focuses on members of the Red Orchestra, a resistance group that passed on information to the US and USSR, wrote pamphlets and flyers, and helped to smuggle Jews and Communists out of Hitler's Germany. 

Assuming that German copyright laws are more reasonable than the ones here, I'm going to post the translation, in pieces, on this blog.  I was unable to find an English translation anywhere; the original German was at the New York Public Library.  It begins with Poelchau's dedication, and a brief autobiography.  It was printed in East Berlin in the late 1940s.  Poelchau was flirting with Communism at that time (though he later changed his mind and went back to the West), so there are sections that read like cheerleading for Stalin.  But it helps to remember that the West let many Nazis slip through its nets, which if you were in the resistance (as Poelchau was) cannot have been pleasant to witness.

Here's the beginning:

“There are probably times, during insane times, when it’s the best of men who hang.”
Albrecht Haushofer, d. 13 April 1945

p. 8  It was a little prison house, with 300 inmates, and three social workers to care for them.  Each had a hundred prisoners to care to.  So each social worker got to know his people thoroughly, their crimes and humanity were his particular study.  Krebs is an advocate of the modern, strict execution.  So he had the first Sunday prisoner walk out.  He did not wear an official uniform.  Krebs had never once had an escape occur.  The press responded screaming, naturally, over these “humanitarians.”  Krebs was undeterred in his view.  He knew than in human society you can only love human nature.

            My application hit the mark and was without fault.  In Thuringia they did not want a theologian, but a social worker.  1931 is when the political situation changed.  There was little prospect of work for a social worker with progressive principles to work undisturbed in prisons.  I reported hastily for my second theology examination in Berlin, for the duration of 1932, and applied for a place as prison minister at Tegel.

            It was the right instant.  The new regime cleared Thuringia of progressives, drove Albert Krebs underground and put social workers in the power of the dictator’s Nazi schemers. 

            When I was prison chaplain, I had great freedom of movement and more power to fight against it.  I had attained my appointment."

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