New Jersey. Talking with my grandfather’s in law while looking at old photographs. For the first time he mentions that my grandfather’s brother has been a member of the Waffen-SS. He still remembers unexpected details. I recorded our dialogue.
Neutral Zone/The conversation, 2007, video projection, 6 min., mini-DV
March 2006, conversation with Algi B. (grandfather’s brother-in-law).
Algi(rdas) B., was classified as Lithuanian by German officials during the resettlement process (1939-1941, “Heim ins Reich”). His marriage with Irmgard (grandfather’s sister) was classified “Mischehe” (mixed marriage, german-Lithuanian) and the couple was not considered “qualified for the Germanisation of Poland” and therefore they were settled inside the borders of the German Reich.
In Wolfenbüttel the entire family met after the war: my great-grandparents, my grandfather with grandmother and the two surviving children, all of my grandfather’s brothers. In 1951 Algi and Irmgard with their children emigrated to the USA. By the end of the 50s Edmund (grandfather’s youngest brother, being in his 40s) followed them.
The siblings always stayed in touch. They closely followed each other’s careers and traveled to see each other.
I especially remember the visits of Edmund (“Emo”, died in 1994), my “grand-uncle from America”: proudly I walked next to him through the pedestrian zone of our small town in Lower-Saxony.
In 2006 I visited Algi in New Jersey. Since most relatives of my grandfather had passed away by this time, I considered him my last chance to get more detailed information about the life in Lithuania, the resettlement process and what exactly had happened after 1941. The older relatives who were still alive at this time remain silent – and I don’t dare inquiring beyond their repeated proclamations that they had never heard about anything related with crimes of the Nazi especially the Holocaust.
In New Jersey we sat in Algi’ s daughter’s living room and looked at old photographs. R. (Algi’s son) had selected them for me with his dad. Very unexpectedly and for the first time ever Algi mentions that Emo was a member of the “SS”.
Transcript of the conversation:
Algi: “ah, this was after the war … because Emo wasn’t, Emo was drafted”
Algi: “Emo was with, at, in Oranienburg, near Berlin, in the SS”
Algi: “was there, ehhhm”
me: “in Sachsenhausen, in the camp?”
Algi: “he was a guard, also”
me: “in Oranienburg?”
me: “in the camp?”
Algi: “yes and when the Russians came, he had, with this other guy they, they ran away”
me: “ran away”
me: “oh my God, that”
Algi: “then he came to Wolfenbüttel”
me: “really? He really was, he was in Sachsenhausen? Oh, shit”
Algi: “we were in Wolfenbüttel, the parents came, from Milau already, where the Russians had come already”
me: “mmm, they all came”
Algi: “and then Reinhold’s wife and children came and Reinhold came, was released by France, there, as POW”
Algi: “then he, H. and wife”
me: “yes, and where did H. come from? From Kaunas, or…”
Algi: “I don’t know – he was as translator also in such military Ge… Intelligence or something”
R.: “how do you say – Dolmetscher?”
me: “in where?
me: “ah, ok, secret…”
Algi: “so, when they captured prisoners, H. was called for Russian language”
me: “and then they questioned them” Algi: “yes, when they got Russians, captured, then he interrogated” me: “mmm”
Algi: “because he knew Russian”
me: “hm, exactly”
Algi: “and Oskar, he was in Leningrad there at the front, also as interpreter, practically”
me: “aha, aha – they must have heard and seen quite a lot, didn’t they? I mean, when they interrogated people” (I make a face) mmmm?”
R.: “yes, but that was tough brake there, that they send to the east front”
me: “yes, sure, sure”
Algi: “ah, this photo is in Lithuania still, here also is, I know, Mama is there, Irmgard is there somewhere here”
me: “Oh, yes , here is my grandpa, oh, this is nice – here my grandma… ”
me: “Is this Emo here?”
me: “yes, Why did he go to the Waffen- ehm, Totenkopf-SS? Was he such a convinced Nazi?
Algi: “he was practically drafted already in the resettlement-camp Rogi, he was drafted.”
ich: “mmm, ah there he was drafted, mmm, … don’t you think, he could, could he make a decision about where to go?”
R.: “maybe it was like with me, when I was at the military, they say you must have, you can have non-combat and combat related, I had to, oh well, so I chose and I came.”
He turns toward a new photograph.
me (addressing Algi): “or do you think that he was such a convinced Nazi? Can you imagine that? Can you? I don’t know”
R.: “I personally cannot believe that he”
me: “someone you know that he would do something like this, right?”
R.: “that he would, ehm, that he thinks, he, that, you know, would be doing something bad.”
me: “mmm, yes, but, they did it. Somebody did it, somebody must have been it eventually”
me: “And he emigrated to the US? How did this work out? Didn’t they check? What they had done? Didn’t the US administration check, which Germans?”
Algi: “he emigrated to America, of course he didn’t say it in his papers, that’s obvious and here nobody asked him, nobody said something against him, or something”
me: “mmm, mmm”
Algi: “only, when he was drafted he was, how do you say, drafted – not to the Waffen-SS, he was this Totenkopf-SS, that were those who were guards in such…”
Algi: “concentration camps and things like this. But he didn’t have his blood type tattooed – that would have been – then you can’t say, “I wasn’t’”
me: “right, he wouldn’t have had a chance then, aha” I turn towards a new picture.
me: “Did Emo ever talk about what he had seen there in Oranienburg, Emo, did he tell something?”
Algi: (lifts his arms) “In Oranienburg were the barracks for this Totenkopf-SS, and the camp, that was, I don’t know, was it also in Oranienburg or further…”
me: “yes, a bit outside of Oranienburg”
Algi: “They were brought, he simply had to … watch them.” me: “mmm”
Algi: “yes, he said, that this other, they, so called, they said, you will also be imprisoned (laughs a little), your not on one side of the fence, you are on the other side.”
me: (nodding understandingly), look intensely though the photos, R. does the same
me: “ah, emigration! Ah, so, who gets going? Who is that – Emo? But this is later”
R.: “Emo came on a ship, so…”
Algi: “This is Emo”
me: “Yes? When did he come to America, which year?”
R.: “I don’t know which year, but it was sometime during, what – end of 58 or something?
me: “Ah, that late?”
I turn towards new pictures. After this I didn’t ask any more questions about Emo and I didn’t get an more info about him from my relatives.