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Anna Haag and her Secret Diary of the Second World War

A Democratic German Feminist’s Response to the Catastrophe of National Socialism


Edward Timms

How was it possible for a well-educated nation to support a regime that made it a crime to think for yourself? This was the key question for the Stuttgart-based author Anna Haag (1888–1982), the democratic feminist whose anti-Nazi diaries are analysed in this book. Like Victor Klemperer, she deconstructed German political propaganda day by day, giving her critique a gendered focus by challenging the ethos of masculinity that sustained the Nazi regime. This pioneering study interprets her diaries, secretly written in twenty notebooks now preserved at the Stuttgart City Archive, as a fascinating source for the study of everyday life in the Third Reich. The opening sections sketch the paradigms that shaped Haag’s creativity, analysing the impact of the First World War and the feminist and pacifist commitments that influenced her literary and journalistic writings. Extensive quotations from the diaries are provided, with English translations, to illustrate her responses to the cataclysms that followed the rise of Hitler, from the military conquests and Jewish deportations to the devastation of strategic bombing. The book concludes with a chapter that traces the links between Haag’s critique of military tyranny and her contribution to post-war reconstruction.
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Introduction: Fragments of History in the Raw


‘The contemporary witness is the enemy of the historian’, observed our sceptical visitor from Berlin, Professor Wolfgang Benz. We were discussing at Sussex the unreliability of reminiscences recorded many years after the event. ‘But personal testimonies with an authentic dateline are especially valuable’, was my reply. In my hands was the diary kept by a German-Jewish schoolboy named Ernst Stock in Paris during the spring of 1940, recording the panic as the Wehrmacht broke through French defences.1 Testimony of this kind helps historians to capture the immediacy of events, provided they follow the fundamental principle of diary research: back to the manuscript! By this means the authentic diary can be distinguished from various forms of ‘diary memoir’, composed at a later date on the basis of pre-existing notes. Diaristic narratives of indeterminate origin often make compelling reading, but – as Professor Benz noted in his introduction to the ‘Aufzeichnungen’ of another German-Jewish refugee, Hertha Nathorff – they contain reconstituted elements that are ‘not in the strict sense a diary’.2

Handwritten diaries are time capsules that register impressions of a specific moment from a clearly defined angle in a concise historical format. In the words of Myrtle Wright, a Quaker who chronicled her experiences in Norway under the German occupation, the authentic diary entry is ← 1 | 2 → ‘a fragment of history in the raw’.3 Of course we must beware of what Alexandra Zapruder (defining wartime diaries as a genre in her anthology Salvaged Pages) calls ‘the romantic illusion of...

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