A Democratic German Feminist’s Response to the Catastrophe of National Socialism
My interest in diaries as a historical source was kindled by an international conference entitled ‘Dear Diary: New Approaches to an Established Genre’, hosted by the University of Sussex in autumn 2001. My primary focus, as Director of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, was on diaries by Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, notably Anne Frank, Victor Klemperer and Etty Hillesum. At that stage, I was only dimly aware of the significance of anti-Nazi diaries written by ordinary Germans as a historical source.
My Sussex colleague Sybil Oldfield had once mentioned that her grandmother, a democratic German pacifist, had kept a diary while living in Stuttgart during the Second World War. ‘What ever happened to your grandma’s diary?’ I asked one day. ‘It was deposited at the Stuttgart City Archive’, she replied. But a few days later she appeared at our house in Brighton carrying a bulky package. ‘Look what I’ve found in the wardrobe!’ she exclaimed. It was the 500-page carbon copy of a typed transcript from the original diaries, covering the years 1940 to 1945, prepared by Anna Haag for publication after the Second World War. Since no publisher could be found for such an unsparing chronicle of everyday life during Germany’s darkest years, the typescript had been gathering dust for almost seventy years.
As I began leafing through those flimsy fading pages, I was completely captivated. Here was a woman diarist whose entries evoked the trauma of surviving the Nazi...
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