Nuremberg, the castle of the Nazi trial, where writers and reporters stayed -

Nuremberg, the castle of the Nazi trial, where writers and reporters stayed -


Uwe Neumahr in his book tells of the large group hosted in the Faber-Castel residence to follow, shocked, the Nuremberg hearings: there were Hemingway, Dos Passos, Erika Mann...

BERLIN — Erika Mann wrote for the English newspaper Evening Standard and pretended to be American. Writer and daughter of Nobel laureate Thomas, who in 1933 had chosen exile in Switzerland, treated Germans with contempt and disgust: «Bad and wretched people», he defined his compatriots. But it wasn't just the shame of calling oneself German. Posing as a US citizen, she had more access. Like when she managed to interview Ilse Hess, the wife of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's former dauphin and one of the defendants, who, not knowing who she was, spoke to her with an open heart and without filters.

Who had nothing to be ashamed of was Martha Gellhorn, famous war correspondent and second wife of Ernest Hemingway. Before meeting with her husband in Nuremberg, she had pretended to be a nurse and had managed to land in Normandy with the allied troops, which she had then secretly followed (female journalists were not allowed in the war) reporting first the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camps and Dachau. She said of the Germans that "they have a gene out of control, but I don't know what gene it is"

Ernst Michel, the only survivor of theAmong the journalists covering the trial, he was sent for the German agency Dana and signed his dispatches "Special Correspondent Ernst Michel, Auschwitz No. 104995", the number that had been branded on his arm in the extermination camp. Hermann Göring, who resorted to all his histrionic cynicism in a futile attempt to save himself, invited him to his cell and began to talk to him in friendly tones. Michel only resisted for a couple of minutes, then ran away: "I couldn't bear it any longer," he said of that encounter.

The trial of the Nazi leaders opened on November 20, 1945 in Nuremberg
and ended on October 1 of the following year. Envoys from almost thirty countries descended on Franconia to recount the event of the century: the first time of an international criminal court called to judge the horrors of Hitler's war, the extermination of the Jews of Europe, the crimes against humanity.

With the city almost completely razed to the ground, however, it was not easy to find accommodation for such a large press body and for so long. The authorities of the American occupation zone therefore thought of commandeering a still standing castle, not far from downtown and belonging to the Faber-Castell dynasty, transforming it into accommodation and workplace for the journalists in charge of following the work of the Allied Military Tribunal. It was a gloomy building, built in the style of an eclectic and heavy historicism: «The castle of Frankenstein», it was immediately defined by its guests, who had to live there for months and never stopped making fun of that «German atrocity».

But what guests! Besides Erika Mann, Gellhorn and Hemingway, there were also Alfred Döblin, Eric Kästner and Wolfgang Hildesheimer. And then John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Rebecca West, William Shirer, Louis Aragon, the Paraguayan Augusto Roa Bastos and the Chinese Xiao Qian. And again, the future Chancellor Willy Brandt and Markus Wolf, the man who as head of East German spies would have placed the mole in his office that would have forced him to resign. «To this day it has never happened more that so many famous writers from all over the world have been brought together under one roof», where «world literature and history have met», writes Uwe Neumahr in Das Schloss der Schriftsteller, the writers' castle, which has just been released in Germany by CH Beck and in Italy will be published by Marsilio. The book reconstructs the extraordinary microcosm that brought together refugees and Holocaust survivors, famous novelists, war veterans and reporters, adventurers, hard-core militant communists and great correspondents of the major American newspapers, «all united by the search for answers, like that catastrophe could have happened, what kind of people the defendants were and what they had to say in their defence.

And also united by a daily life made up of passionate discussions, personal dramas, meals together, furious quarrels, jealousies, runs to the first of the few free telephones, endless all-night drinking and dancing parties, such as Christmas, when the tree was decorated with bottles of liquor and during which a chandelier fell on the head of Markus Wolf, sent by the Soviet authorities, who followed the trial for East Berlin radio, occupied by the Red Army.

Neumahr's is not just a book of tasty and enlightening anecdotes. As the author says, at the center of his work there is also "the absence of words and the literary relationship with the unspeakable". They too, the writers who descended to Nuremberg, masters of the word and artists of metaphor, had a lot of trouble, sometimes scrambling to find the lemmas capable of describing the horror that was told or shown in the classroom. «In front of these films about the concentration camps, one can't finish an article that fits together», is one of the phrases attributed to Eric Kästner. And in a report for the "Evening Standard" dedicated to defenders, Erika Mann wrote that "going home pale-faced, instead of sleeping, they should brood over how it is possible to defend the indefensible". Many times Jewish journalists were seen leaving the room in indignation and shock.

Yet, according to the author, the fracture lines of the next conflict could already be glimpsed in the reports from the Nuremberg trial, when the Iron Curtain identified months earlier by Churchill would have definitively descended on Europe, divided in two by the Cold War. Hope that the peoples' court would usher in an era of democracy and shared values ​​quickly faded under the iron heel of Stalinism.

Willy Brandt, the exiled socialist, covered the trial for the Norwegian media. His articles were sober, written under "an emotional tank" according to Neumahr, of which the future chancellor would only speak many years later. Brandt was against the thesis of "German collective guilt" and argued that it was necessary to punish the guilty, but then a new beginning should be dared by uniting the "best Germany", where all the enemies of Nazism would gather. This democratic patriotism of his would not have spared him the accusation of "communist" and "traitor" at home.

But such a formidable team of journalists was the cause of instability and annoyance even for the Nazi criminals, not used to the free press, which had been trampled on and suppressed in the Third Reich. Even the imperturbable Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, the man who managed to deceive the judges about his full involvement in the planning of the Holocaust by getting away with twenty years in prisonhe said "outraged" in his memoirs when he learned that British reporters had organized a
, accepting bets on who among the defendants would be hanged and who would not. The lottery was very successful. But it seems chand about him they were all mistaken.

March 17, 2023 (change March 17, 2023 | 08:48)

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