I learnt in discussions at home with papa that during the 1920s, the German economy had been supported by loans from American banks, as it couldn’t stand on it’s own feet after World War I. After the Wall Street crash of 1929, the Americans wanted their money back and called in the loans. Apparently, America gave Germany ninety days to start repayments. Due to the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles imposed on them at the time, Germany could not pay and, as in America, German businesses failed which worsened the conditions of unemployment and poverty in the country at the time.
It was during this time that we had our coming out ball so morale was low and we all didn’t feel like celebrating because we knew of many people that had lost a lot of money and had their businesses shut down. Both of us had young men from school to escort Rosy and I and it was during this time that I had my first crush on a girl, not on the boy who took me to the dance. It reaffirmed to me what my sexual preferences were.
We had our 18th party in Hanover at our Grandparents house. Many of our friends and friends of my parents and grandparents came to share the day with us. It was a glorious sunny day and we were able to have it outside in the garden with all our favourite food and drinks aplenty. My Granny and grandfather had laid out a number of tables and chairs. The tables had embroidered cloths with exquisite Camille style peony centrepieces at each table. She must have borrowed some tables and chairs from neighbours as I had never seen so many at one time in the garden. I never forgot how splendid my party was and the enormous black forest cake Granny brought out to the garden for Rosy and I. I remember so much about that day but what really stood out for me was Joe and William coming to Hanover and meeting someone very special that I had admired for a long time ever since I saw his first painting, ‘Marzella’ at the art gallery.
My father had recently met Ernst Kirchner in a cafe in Switzerland whilst having lunch. He was there to attend a Swiss Orchid Society meeting. As I have said before, my father is very friendly and talks to everyone so when he sat down at the table in the cafe, he saw Ernst sitting across from him at another table and began to talk to him. Apparently, they hit it off immediately. Ernst was a German expressionist painter. My father knew that I would love to meet him so as a surprise he asked him and his partner Erna Schilling to the party. Later, I discovered he was born in 1880, older than my father but not that much older. I first saw his paintings when I was about twelve and since then have been a huge fan of his paintings. My favourites were ‘Marzella’, ‘Street, Berlin’, ‘View from the Window’ and his self-portraits. He was one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke or “The Bridge”, a key group leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th-century art.
He was motivated by the same anxieties that gripped the movement as a whole. He had fears about humanity’s place in the modern world, its lost feelings of spirituality and authenticity. After WWI, illness drove him to settle in Davos, Switzerland, where he painted many landscapes, and, ultimately, he found himself ostracised from mainstream German art.
We talked about the mood in Germany, which was grim. The worldwide economic depression had hit the country especially hard, and millions of people were out of work. Still fresh in the minds of all of us was Germany’s humiliating defeat twelve years earlier during World War I. The Nazi party had gained some attraction in the 1920s, and I heard my father say to his friend, that in the federal elections of this year, following the Wall Street Crash in New York of 1929, the Nazi Party won 107 seats in the Reichstag (the German Parliament), becoming the second-largest party.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis waged a modern whirlwind campaign in 1930 unlike anything ever seen in Germany. Hitler was travelling our country and only two weeks before, had been in Hanover delivering dozens of major speeches, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. He made us all feel ill at ease because he promised so much and spoke loudly and aggressively. It wasn’t long before we all noticed that plastered posters were suddenly everywhere and millions of special Nazi newspapers were being delivered to all the homes in our city.
The Nazi Party came to power in 1933 and Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, imposing discriminatory laws against the Jews. Adolf Hitler founder of the Third Reich promised change and gave the German people hope at a time when they were still recovering from WWI and other poor economic decisions. They were desperate for relief. In 1933, 6000 000 Germans were unemployed. Their dynamic leader reduced unemployment and instigated massive work projects and as the economy improved, it gave new hope to the German people and they started to believe and embrace in this Leader unaware of the atrocities to come. Before the War started, my grandparents and parents told us, “that in the beginning they were taken by him even though they had concerns and he had some good ideas to improve our country. Our Germany was going to be prosperous. We started to believe that everybody was going to have food and money again.
In 1935 the mandatory Nazi Labour Service Camp for all young men which involved a sports programme was created to curb unemployment in an event to circumvent the ‘Treaty of Versailles’ which forbade German military conscription after WWI. Hitler offered ‘The Sports Badge Programme’ to these young men which was Hitler’s way of secretly creating an Army preparing men for War. It wasn’t just about sport and doing work but there were military components incorporated into the programme, like small calibre shooting, camoflaging, terrain evaluation, estimating distance and front line training. Every young man was forced to go to the Labour Service. You had to prove yourself physically to be part of the movement that was growing in Germany. Some young men were not all Nazi sympathezisers but they knew they couldn’t leave or speak their mind for fear of what might happen which was ultimately death and not just for the young man but for his family as well. So many kept quiet. There were many ordinary Germans who went along with the regime but that didn’t mean they were keen Nazis.
We understood why some people got behind Hitler in the beginning but in 1939 when the War started, our happiness was over. We were definitely anti-Nazi.
Aldolf Hitler named Joseph Goebbels, his trusted friend and colleague, to the key post of minister for public enlightenment and propaganda. Joseph Goebbels was a master propagandist of the Nazi regime and dictator of its cultural life for twelve years. He called for organised violence against Jews, their homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany. Their is much written about him which show his tortured psyche and his insatiable will to lead the Nazi party to power for his own personal gain at the cost of millions of lives. Goebbels’s anti-Semitism was one factor which brought him closer to Hitler, who respected his political judgement as well as his administrative and propagandist skills. Aside from Hitler, he will be remembered as one of the greatest criminals the world had ever seen.
The Jews were made to paint signs on their shop windows that they were Jews and on the footpaths. Their stores were being broken into and luted and so many lost everything. The Nuremberg laws, which broadly speaking deprived all Jews living in Germany of any rights as human beings. I heard that in the early years it was not strictly enforced and differed very much from city to city and district to district. These laws could be applied at any time, depending on the official in power. In 1938, the Nazis took over the first country, Hitler’s birthplace of Austria, which ended the beautiful life in Vienna. The Jewish population began to see that death was now encircling them. We heard many of our friends and neighbours were following Hitler much to our dismay and disgust. I heard my mother say that her girlfriend’s father had committed suicide a week ago, suffering from depression. The uncertainty that filled the air, the misery and increased poverty that he was living in because he had lost his job a month before and because of the increasing political instability.
I could tell Ernst wasn’t a well man as he smoked repeatedly, suffering a smokers cough and he was suffering from shortness of breath when he spoke. We talked passionately about painting and our favourite painters. I mentioned to him that I believed, “Fauvism was particularly directing his palette” and felt it was directing mine as well. He didn’t really answer me in length but he did say to me that it was new ways of creating art, reinvigorating and reinventing the medium that he was interested in. Like me, he loved the impulsiveness in creating art with flat areas of unbroken, often unmixed colour with gestural lines, simplified forms full of energy.
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labelled as “wild beasts”, Fauve artists favoured vibrant colours and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
My father told me after Ernst left the party, how happy he was that he made it. He thought he was one of the most kindest and most interesting person he had ever met. When he was in Switzerland, he was invited to his studio and could see he was a real and amazing artist, a bohemian in the true sense of the word. An atmosphere full of paintings lying all over the place, drawings, books and artist’s materials much more like an artist’s romantic lodgings. He also fell in love with his paintings and drawings and was very moved by him as a person and by his amazing paintings that he new would stay with him for the rest of his life. He gave my father one of his self-portraits, signed and dated it at the back which made it extra special. My father had it on his wall in his study for the whole of his life. He cherished it.
As the Nazi party took power in Germany, it became impossible for Ernst Kirchner to sell his paintings. In 1933, he was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. He became increasingly disturbed by the situation in Germany, writing: “Here we have been hearing terrible rumours about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last 20 years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me”.
When the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s, he was also a victim of their campaign against “Degenerate Art.” He became even more depressed and ill and on 15 June 1938, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in front of his home in Frauenkirch. Three days later, Kirchner was laid to rest in the Waldfriedhof cemetery, Munich in Bavaria, Germany. It is one of the larger and more famous burial sites of the city due to its park like design and mausoleum of well known personalities. We all went to the funeral to pay our respects and as sad as we all were, we were also pleased that he was laid to rest in a beautiful setting. Erna continued to live in the house in Frauenkirch and often wrote to my parents a couple of times a year until her death in 1945.