Archive for the ‘kristallnacht’ Tag

Remembering Kristallnacht

The night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi GermanyThe night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The Kristall/crystal part of the name refers to the broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, businesses and synagogues. Jewish homes, schools and hospitals were ransacked, damaged and destroyed. Over 250 synagogues and 7,000 businesses were attacked. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The event was widely reported, pretty much as it was happening, largely by foreign journalists working in Germany. With what impact is a moot point.

Kristallnacht was made possible by the support, funding and protection afforded the National Socialists by corporate Germany. Five years earlier (on 20th February 1933 at the palace of the President of the Assembly on the banks of the Spree in Berlin) 24 leading industrialists had attended a meeting with Hitler and Göring. In the wake of it they coughed up money and other support. In doing so they cleared the way for the rise of the Nazis and ultimately Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. This key event is brilliantly spotlighted in Eric Vuillard’s Prix Goncourt-winning novella (récit) The Order of the Day/L’Ordre du Jour.

The brands at that meeting included:

  • Allianz – the insurance and financial services multinational which sponsors the stadium of our local rugby team, Saracens
  • Opel – their cars are now sold in the UK under the Vauxhall brand – they’re even sold in Israel, under their own name
  • Bayer – the multinational pharma company with the motto “We exist to help people thrive” – wrong people in 1933
  • BASF – whose tapes I used to use to make mixtapes as a teenager
  • Agfa – whose film I used to use as a budding teen photographer
  • Siemens – the multinational manufacturer with the motto “Ingenuity for life”
  • IG Farben – broken up after the war on account of having supplied the gas for the gas chambers among other evils – the main successor companies are Agfa, BASF, Bayer and Sanofi (motto: “Empowering Life”)
  • Telefunken – a tellies and hifis name from my youth

So the brands (and their logos) long outlived the Jewish businesses with the broken shop-windows, the people who ran them and the congregations that filled those synagogues.

A great irony is that another sledgehammer wall smashing event took place in Germany on 9th November – the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

allianz_logo-history

The evolution of an eagle-based logo

Allianz-logo

The Eagle has Landed

Logo_Hitler nazi eagle

Nazis loved eagles too – this eagle is looking the other way

Opel-logo-2009

Blitzkrieg means lightning war

second-world-war-nazi-germany-the-waffen-ss-symbol

Nazis loved lightning too

bayer-logo-1904

A cross-based logo (1904)

Logo_Bayer

The cross has persisted

Nazi-NSDAP-Logo

A cross-based logo – Hackenkreuz (= hook cross)

BASF-logo

IG Farben (which created bad chemistry) morphed into BASF among others

IG_Farben_Logo

IG Farben dissolved after the war

ig farben luftschutz helmet

An IG Farben Luftschutz helmet – oddly familiar

AGFA-Logo

Another recipient of IG Farben

Siemens-Logo

Life?

SANOFI-Logo

Life? Another recipient of IG Farben

Telefunken logo

Lightning strikes thrice

 

Back to the Fatherland 2

…so I headed down to the city museum – nothing from the 20th century covered, they pointed me to the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig (Forum of Contemporary History) – that covers from 1945 onwards focusing on the GDR. So by any standards a big gap in their city history, the 30s and 40s an official blank. But I had a break through. In the back of the museum shop I found a facsimile map of the city from 1938 – the year my grand-parents got the helloutta here and arrived in London. Promenadenstrasse wasn’t renamed after a Soviet leader but after an artist socialist by nature, Käthe Kollwitz, her inherent empathy for the less fortunate evident throughout her life’s work. As soon as I’d figured out how the old map mapped onto the new I headed over. The route took me from the old town hall past the famous Thomaskirche, last resting place of JS Bach, and then past the site of the Community Synagogue of Leipzig, burnt down on Kristallnacht in November 1938. They burnt the place down and then charged the Jews for the demolition costs. The lost 14,000 (not including never-to-be descendants) are commemorated by the empty chairs of the congregation in dull bronze set out on a flat blank concrete base. When I got to 16 Promenadenstrasse where my paternal grandparents lived from (I think) 1935 to 1938 that too was flat, blank, empty. A carpark, albeit a tranquil one shaded by trees and bathed in dappled autumnal light on my special visit. I can see from no. 14 the kind of building it probably was, a typically elegant Leipziger apartment in a tasteful neighbourhood. My grandfather was always a snappy dresser – like my youngest brother and my older son (that gene skipped me for better or worse) – so I can picture him easily in these streets.

The view from No. 1 Nordplatz

Next stop was Nordplatz, slightly further out from the centre, where he lived as a bachelor with his older sister’s family. No. 1 proved to be all present and correct, with a beautiful view over St. Michaelis church, a Gothicky affair built between 1901 and 1905, and the green beside it. Another smart apartment building where I stood on the threshold trodden by Nat Gewurtz (later Gee, 1938 was a good year for dumping German surnames) and his sister Else Wolf, peering in to the interior which has evidently been revamped in recent times. I was glad to see he’d enjoyed such a beautiful and calm home. From there to Promenadenstrasse – then next stop 5 Highbury Grove.

My next stop was the address on the Nazi birth certificate, 84 Biedermannstrasse, Sankt Elisabeth Krankenhaus, the Catholic hospital where my father was born. It was only a few blocks south of MDR (Mittel Deutsch Rundfunk), the main broadcaster in the region where I spoke yesterday on Crossmedia and Broadcaster Online Strategy to an audience primarily of factual film-makers which also included a State Minister of Saxony and the President of German/French broadcaster Arte. I spoke among other things about Surgery Live, which I reckon many of them thought had come from another planet. Seven Days was from another galaxy. From the feedback I received afterward it seems my passion for the possibilities of interactive, networked media and the boldness of our ambition at the very least landed home even if the out-thereness of Channel 4’s approach and the freedoms of British culture were somewhat alien to some of the Euros. I should have mentioned another of my projects which I also spoke about in my presentation, One Born Every Minute, because that would have given me an easier segue back to the maternity unit at Sankt Elisabeth Hospital. On arrival it was clear it has been recently refurbished so fear of disappearance returned. I found the maternity unit now in a clean modern block. A chat with the receptionist soon established that the original maternity block still stood and as I roamed the corridors of the art deco building I stumbled across the original foundation stone dated 1930. That meant when my father was born there it was an equally state of the art set-up. An irony of course was that he never got to see the place himself again after his blurry-eyed first days. He died a few years after the uprising that started in Leipzig and ended with the Fall of the Wall, never getting/taking the opportunity to come back.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of days with the presence of my grand-father and father around me. I see a tiny sticker on the wall of the hospital saying “I will wait for you” (in English). I spot a sparrow (my favourite bird, rather thin on the ground these days in England) hanging around. A warm autumn sunshine shines down from a perfect azure sky the whole weekend, contrary to the usually reliable information on my WeatherPro iPhone app, created by German-based MeteoGroup with a Teutonic regard for precision.

{2nd photo courtesy of Leipzigpost}

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