German citizen’s WWII diary detailed what was to come
In the 20th century, one head of state was able to garner the ardent approval and support of 99 percent of his country’s citizens. The leader was Adolf Hitler.
It’s something to think about the next time a U.S. presidential candidate claims he or she can unify the country.
The 1 percent of opposition in Germany during the Nazi regime included a low-level courthouse administrator in Laubach. Somehow, Friedrich Kellner was able to see the cruelty and inhumanity of the Nazis and the blindness of his fellow German citizens.
Kellner kept a diary from 1938 to 1945, which has now become “My Opposition,” a book published by Cambridge University Press. The diary has had some previous exposure in the United States, thanks to the efforts of the author’s grandson, Robert Scott Kellner, mainly in exhibits that included one at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station.
Kellner was able to shield his diary during the war years and keep his opinions to himself, barely, to prevent being shipped off to a concentration camp. There were some close calls.
This diary is far different from the other famous World War II diary, that of Anne Frank in Amsterdam. Teenager Frank recorded the day-to-day life of a Jewish family in hiding. Kellner, hiding in his own thoughts and writings, was a grown man with extensive geopolitical knowledge of his day.
Kellner was able to decipher nuanced phrasings in German newspapers to interpret the true nature of the war, from France’s and England’s failings in the early years to the unwise move by Hitler to invade Russia to the changing dynamics in Italy and Africa.
His writings reflect an uncanny understanding of the U.S. military challenges against Japan, but mostly he had clear insights on the impending doom of Nazi Germany as early as 1939-40.
“Fuel is our problem child,” Kellner wrote in October 1940. “The deepest well is empty. We were always dependent on many kinds of raw material, which we imported in huge quantities even during peacetime.” Few in Germany, perhaps even among Hitler’s staff, possessed that kind of insight.
Kellner was blunt in his assessment of the Germans around him. “Hitler is trump. Everything and everyone must submit,” according to this translation from the German language. “For the time being, he (Third Reich men) intoxicates himself with the heroic deeds of others,” Kellner wrote in November 1940.
Assembled by Robert Scott Kellner, the book includes translations of newspaper clippings his grandfather kept in his notebooks and the commentaries the grandfather added. Some of the clippings were obituaries of fallen German soldiers. Author Kellner lamented the needless deaths because of Hitler’s folly.
The brave diary also proves that German citizens knew early on, mainly through word of mouth from Nazi soldiers visiting family and friends, of the widespread slaughter of Jews and others in concentration camps.
Long before June 1944, many Germans such as Kellner understood that the war could turn on an Allied breach of the Nazi’s so-called Atlantic Wall, which finally happened at Normandy. Most Germans believed the wall could not be penetrated, but Kellner realized it could, and that German defenses within “Fortress Europe” were weak and would collapse.
It’s difficult to believe that decades after WWII anything new and valuable could be published or exhibited. Kellner’s diary is a necessary cornerstone addition to the vast WWII library.