Interviewing Erich Lüth reflecting on Hamburg while Studs Terkel was in Germany
BROADCAST: Apr. 20, 1967 | DURATION: 00:38:32
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Studs Terkel We continue with our series, one that, to me, was a very fascinating one, my own observations, let's say, off-the-cuff observations, while spending time in Germany when I flew Lufthansa several weeks ago, primarily--I repeat this because I know people tune in on occasion to the program and [don't want?] to hear the entire series. Spent five days in Hamburg to the north, five days in Munich to the south. Remarkable difference, as you might say, in the tempo of the people, aside from the dialect itself. Hamburg, where I am today, this is some three weeks ago, it's my last day in Hamburg, talking to Erich Lüth, whom you may have heard for the past two days. Just before we speak to Mr. Lüth, the obvious comment I think that can be made is that there is no one conclusion you can come to. This is the same observation made by a number of observers of various journals and magazines who've been visiting Germany. There is no one opinion, but there seems to be a feeling, unanimous, that the great gap is between the generations, the three generations, you might say, those who were adults in the '30s, those who were young children, and those born since 1945. Mr. Lüth himself, we'll talk about him in a moment. Part Three of the conversation with him. I think there'll be time, too, for some reflections I made in my hotel room in Munich the day before I was leaving. Just to establish Erich Lüth, he's 65 years old, has retired as the press chief of Hamburg. He became press chief at the end of the war, 1945, speaks of his background, his whole feelings as an enlightened man in the middle of a totalitarian society at that time. Little pockets, little phases of humanity he saw in the midst of all the horror, Holocaust, his sense of helplessness, his sense of shame. Also Mr. Lüth has played a tremendous role in remuneration, compensation for the Jews and he played a role in the detente, you might say, between Israel and West Germany, too. He's a key figure. And today we come to another theme toward the end of this conversation I ask about the young. This seems to be the key now, the very young, and so we pick up the conversation where we left off yesterday. Now we come to the question which is really, I guess, the subtext to everything I'm doing. What do you think the young people are thinking of today? You were saying they're satisfied with the past, you mean there is no, they don't care about the past?
Erich Luth Yeah, and because the history of the truth of history and many facts of our history are unpleasant and even terrible, and therefore they prefer to live in a vacuum and it's impossible, and therefore our teachers, our education, our universities have to bring back--
Studs Terkel The tape. This was I'd--I apologize, I was right near the end of the tape. And Mr. Lott is still continuing. I just turned, remember I was with [Meyer?] and turned the tape right over at that moment. The question, of course, is one that is universal and not uniquely German at this moment. The question of those born since 1945, sometimes described by various commentators as "children of the bomb," "children from the year zero," a phrase that Rudolf Augstein, editor of a quite remarkable weekly, it's called "Der Spiegel", you've heard of, it has a circulation of 600,000. Hamburg, you know, is the press center of Germany. Here most of the publications are--their offices are editorial offices and the presses are, there's a huge area called the "Pressehaus" and there is not only the empire of Axel Springer, who is the great newspaper tycoon of Germany, edits Die Welt, with a circulation of, what is it, six million. I think it's the sixth largest circulation in the world. Four million. But there, too, are the enlightened weekly journals such as "Die Ziet" edited by Countess Donhoff, "Der Spiegel", a variety of papers and magazines from Hamburg. We continue with Mr. Lüth.
Erich Luth Schools, teachers, professors, and universities. And ministers, too, have to bring back the young generation in Germany to an understanding of their own history. May I quote a parallel? Each nation, each people has to live in a house. In this it needs the roof of the house, and the sleeping room and the kitchen and everything to win the future. But this house is built on a fundament, is built on earth. But if you take make one part of the fundament--
Studs Terkel Foundation.
Erich Luth Of the foundation and if you replace this foundation and fill it with a vacuum, then the house has to break down, and the foundation of the house of the nation is the history, the history of the nation. And so, the youth, the young generation, cannot and is not entitled and is not allowed to say we take distance of all what our parents and grandparents did. One of the misdeeds of the parents is to give life to their children. So the contact and contacts between children and parents cannot be--yeah, cannot.
Studs Terkel Aren't you dealing, really, with the core to almost everything? Continuity. There must be a continuity, that we must know our past. Again, the Santayana quote. In order for--If we forget the past, we are doomed to relive it in the future. Come to this. And do you find the young saying, "Since we are guiltless, we've been born after the war, we want nothing to do with it." And so they say--well, how is it in the schools? Is the time of Hitler taught or talked about in schools?
Studs Terkel We should point out, by the way, when Mr. Lüth uses the word "clever," I've noticed this in European countries, not just Germany, but all over, "clever" is not meant in the American sense: Shrewd, slick, clever intelligent, you mean.
Erich Luth Yeah. You see, there is another schizophrenic problem it is in Germany. Many teachers had to join the party. In one case, the whole organization of teachers in one of our [landers?] was collectively brought and led into the Nazi Party. Well, the--some of the teachers said, "Going out now would lead to the end that I have to give up. My school boys and my work and my class. I want--I prefer to continue with my lessons." Others followed by conviction. In the meantime, they saw what happened. Now they feel embarrassed. They haven't been courageous enough to resist. We all haven't been very courageous. And now it's a psychological point. Shall they say to their pupils, "The man who is teaching you has been a coward." So. Some half-heartedness begins to act. And so it is not the right relation between a good deal of the teachers and the facts.
Erich Luth Yeah.
Erich Luth Yeah.
Studs Terkel Of
Erich Luth Embarrassment.
Erich Luth Yeah.
Erich Luth Textbooks, a lot of text books, not all of them are good enough, but we had excellent films. We had excellent television programs, and these television programs and film programs are shown to the pupils and to the school boys. But there is another problem. You can overdo. It's a question of the right doses. And if you tell too much, and if you protest too loud, then the pupils like to say, "Oh, if you criticize this man, we don't know, this man Hitler and his followers. If you criticize him so much, then perhaps there is more subs--
Studs Terkel You're talking about maybe this guy might be attractive if those who are their forebears, who have been not courageous, who have played this role of standing by, maybe then this guy they criticize, maybe he's got something. Sort of in a sense of rebellion, a rebellion, a perverse kind of rebellion. Possibly.
Erich Luth An exam, practical again. Eichmann in Jerusalem. It was reported very carefully in our newspapers, in our broadcasting programs, in our television programs. But after the case lasted for weeks and months, the sum of publication and the number of misdeeds has been so great, that people got exhausted. They couldn't stand it. Also, I couldn't continue reading it, so it was interrupted for a while. But just after the interruption of the reports began, Jewish friends asked me, "Isn't it terrible that the Germans don't want to continue listening to the truth?" And my answer was, the truth has been reported hundred times and thousand times. Now the capacity of the listeners and the readers is filled more, cannot be standed by a normal and good human being. Give an interruption. Give a pause.
Studs Terkel Pause.
Erich Luth A pause. Give a pause so that when the judgment, the conclusion, the sentence and the explanation of the sentence, comes. The ears and the heads again are capable to receive and to digest it.
Studs Terkel Isn't it also true the horror so overwhelming, figures, six million that become no longer humans but digits, statistics, this too, the horrible problem, that the individual who died is lost and so forth. This psychologically is part of it, too, is it not?
Erich Luth Yeah yeah. Therefore it has been so important that we got the play about the diary of Anna Frank. This play gives without critiques the full truth. And it was a girl as everybody could be on the side of the girl and it's a human being like me. So the young people said. And this individual fate built the bridge of understanding to the abstract and understandable high figure and I experienced it outside in the in the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. There we tried to open a week of brotherhood. And I did not want to go into the city all of Hamburg in the great festival room, but outside to the mass graves and there we had to--I told this story already. There we had, instead of a small group of 20 or 30 young boys and girls, 2000, hundred kilometer far from Hamburg, 2000, and we showed them a place on one of the pyramids, earth pyramids, one of the mass graves and said this probably or possibly may be the place there, where on the front lies and we wanted to lay down flowers, but it was such a long line of young people so that the girls and boys had time to look around and they saw one big pyramid with 800 or 2,000 or 6,000 bodies--
Studs Terkel As you're talking, Mr. Lüth, I see two strings here, then. The kids who want nothing to know about the past. That's it. And the others who are deeply affected. So there are two kinds of youth, then, aren't there? There are the students, too, aren't there?
Erich Luth First, may I only continue that when they got time to look around and saw the other pyramids, they said, "Why bringing all the flowers to this one? We have to decorate all the other graves and we have to honor all the other bodies and we have to bring back the deads which are our deads, which are our brethren. We have to do bring them back in into our middle after we had repressed so long the fact of the mass graves." Well, this happened 10 years ago, in more than 10 years ago. Now, again, a new generation comes up and this new generation brings and presents to us new problems. And a new kind of pedagogy and psychology now we have we who realized the realities we are experienced personally, we saw the eyes of the mad Hitler. We saw the eyes of Goebbels. They didn't see anything.
Studs Terkel So now we come to it. This is throughout, there are three generations involved. Those were adults and parents and who abided and obeyed and kept quiet, and those who disagreed but kept quiet, the parents, their children, who were 10, 11, their children were those who decorated the grave of Anne Frank and the others. But now a new generation comes up, born since the bomb, they're teenagers, 18. So here is the problem you're talking about, the new generation that is cool, the cool, it's were removed from this and want no part. And so, it's this younger one, 18, 19, 20. These are the ones you're thinking
Erich Luth Slightly.
Erich Luth It's not any more our language and we have to look at their lips and we have to try to find an interpretation [German] people who can translate if you live in a family with a young boy of 16 or 14 or 12 or 18, then in the family that's normal, but in the public outside in a changing techno--
Studs Terkel As you're talking, I'm thinking, Erich Lüth, that you and your wife, Annalisa, someday it'll be quite an experience, maybe traumatic. If you went along the--I'm saying this to you, a Hamburger--go along the Reeperbahn and to go into the Star Club where the young beat singers are, I've spent a couple of nights there and these are the kids you're talking about. There are a certain kind of joyousness about them in their own way, but it's a split from the history you're talking about. But what about the students? Aren't there some students, as an American [unintelligible], the young students who are concerned, who are involved?
Erich Luth Oh yes, oh yes. We have really an elite which is helping me and which helps people who work and follow the same line and philosophy and who are ready to fight for human rights. There is a great interest of students and high school pupils who want to meet young people from Israel. They are independent, they are [German], I cannot--
Erich Luth [German].
Erich Luth Well, they are free. They are not under a shadow. They can find the direct way one to the other. They can speak with each other. And because I experience in Israel where I have been now six times already and where, too, I am going a few days later. There I saw the Israeli youth also has no original, no direct impressions. For them, all what happened is past, is history. And for them, the Germans live under a dark shadow, but this shadow is not differentiated. We are not any more, as German people, as German nation, a clear picture, a clear and differentiated reality. We are something vague. We are somehow out of existence and we have to win back our own identity, our new existence as a partner, as a neighbor, as a correspondent, to the Israelian youth.
Studs Terkel You know, as you're talking, Erich Lüth, Mr. Lüth, you're saying something in your own dramatic personal way what correspondents in America have said, "You can't put the finger," you know, say we come back with a clear picture, this is what Germany is thinking. No, there are many strains at work as a result of the rubble, the spiritual, the psychic, the physical rubble, something new will have to emerge, humane one way, represented by men such as you with the students, and to reach those young who are completely cut off from past. And you --Again, I repeat this theme because you, for your sake, I mean, the audience's, that you're saying face up to responsibility so we can learn from that too. Now, I must--a couple more questions before I catch the plane for Bremen, Mr. Lüth, and with you and your good wife, Annalisa, seated here, this very marvelous--how can I put it, that I feel very comfortable with you. A couple of questions: you mentioned "The Diary of Anne Frank", the play, Kenneth Tynan, the British critic, says he never encountered an experience the sort he did in watching "Anne Frank" in a German theater. Did you see it? The play?
Erich Luth Yeah. And first he was disappointed because the book was not sold so much in Germany and he said, "This is a message of my daughter to the German youth. And the German youth doesn't accept the message." And I answered, "This is no bestseller of the first minute. But this really is a message. And it will be accepted step by step, and the resonance will grow and one day you will see that the library of each teenager will have this book as one of the very first and most important." And so it happened. Millions of copies are distributed in Germany.
Studs Terkel Before I say goodbye, there's a copy, a first edition of Lessing's "Nathan the Wise" that you have, was autographed to you by a Jewish friend, and I'd be very proud, pleased, if you would read one of your favorite passages from it, first in German and then translate it for me. We'll find if you could tell me, too, about the inscription on it. This is, what edition is it, it's an old, old--
Erich Luth One of the first prints and the man who was the owner has been a city planner and architect, a friend of Max Brauer from Altuna near Hamburg, and he had to leave during the Hitler time and he went to Istanbul and became the teacher of a generation of young architects of Turkey to reform city planning in the whole country. And Max Brauer called him back after '45, after the [capitulation?] when he himself came back from American immigration, resigned on his citizenship of the United States.
Erich Luth 1779.
Erich Luth Yeah, on a Christian minister because the church in Germany failed. And I confess the same. There went ministers into concentration camp. But if the whole church and all Christians would have been arisen. Is right, arisen?
Erich Luth And I think, "Who is religious? And who believes in the good given from God to all His children? He only can feel and think and believe that all human beings are brothers and sisters and belong to one and the same great family."
Studs Terkel Erich Lüth, living in Hamburg where Heinrich Heine, Jewish poet, lived and wrote, reading from "Nathan the Wise", Gotthold Lessing. Erich Lüth and your good wife, Annalisa, thank you very much for two afternoons with you that I find terribly moving.
Studs Terkel And, thus, the end of the conversation. And about an hour later I took off for Bremen. Erich Lüth. On another tape, it's, oh, about, see, eight days after I saw Mr. Lüth and his wife, and I just left Hamburg right near the end of my trip I was heading for Frankfurt to head back to America, and that's the last day in Hamburg, and I had been in three cities, Bremen, Hamburg, Munich and on the outskirts of Frankfurt talked to a young student whose voice I hope you can hear next week, Joachim Adler, a student at the University of Darmstadt, age 22, with a girl, age 23, named Marlena Schmidt, and this is just reflections. I've been to a Brauhaus, had seen the symphony, the Bavarian State Symphony, Rundfunken, the Bavarian State Radio Symphony conducted by Raphael Kubelik in a remarkable production, offering of Beethoven's Sixth, had been to the Hamburger Staatsoper seeing "The Force of Destiny" done in a very contemporary way. Had been at various places and seen a number of people, young, a few contemporaries of Mr. Lüth, mostly, though, those between the ages of 30 and 40 in addition to the teenagers. And I'm in my hotel room, it's the last night and simply reflecting, a variety, I also spoke with Siegfried Schmidt-Joos, in Bremen, who was the jazz critic there, and he had just written one liner notes for an album of an Israeli couple, Esther and Abi Ofarim, who are apparently the most popular singers in Germany today, their albums sell, oh, a half million and million. And, again, this is part of the paradox. Here are my reflections that night. Thursday night in my hotel room, about 11 o'clock, just came from the platzl, platzl is the small square, a very popular area where the celebrated Munich Hofbrauhaus is, it was in the cellar, with my companion from Munich, Herr Komert, the Hofbrauhaus, perhaps remember the song in [German], you know, the drink. And there you saw faces, you might say, Bavarian faces out of Durer woodcuts, peasant faces, reminding you very much of Ozarkian faces, Appalachian faces, perhaps. DP faces in America, too. Strange feeling in the color of the Hofbrauhaus, Munich, out of Hogarth, out of more contemporary history, too. And somehow you see the faces as American, too. These were working men. Man's, the old man sitting near the barrel. The source of what? Strength, power, forgetfulness, the deer. And then slightly out of it were the more middle-class figures. And then my friend and I went to the Platzl, a restaurant where a Munich folk show was being performed. I was expecting something beerily quaint, instead so very [deft?] performers in Bavarian dialect and political songs and the audience was cheering and laughing. And suddenly I thought of Chicago cafes, of the old Chez Paree, of--there was an Karl Bierl, an old comic was a master on that stage. Remember the Bavarian dialect is considered somewhat countrified. And so the people who came in were middle-class people in this place. The food was excellent. The particular schnapps was from the Bavarian mountains. The beer, Andreas Buch, was quite special. The liver dumplings were quite special. The veal was quite special. Little keg served on each table, and the performers were quite special. They knew exactly what they were doing, even though there was an innocent appearance on the stage. The Bavarian shorts, the feather and cap, the rustic country bumpkin. Yet the stories, the jokes, the songs were sort of double entendre throughout, with laughter from the audience, appreciative. Also political commentary by various figures in the [German]. And then you thought of Joe E. Lewis at the Chez Paree. You thought of Jackie Leonard at Mr. Kelly's, you thought of Alan King at the various places. And then you thought, "Here I am in Munich, and here are people enjoying themselves fully, and here is Munich of recent history. And then you think, "Are they special? Are they different? Or are they reflections of ourselves?" I'm sitting in this hotel room. What do you say. The bulldozer outside is hurt again. They working day and night here. It's a bulldozer within the building of the underground, the subway. What do you say of a country in which the two most popular singers, two of the most, are two Israelis, Esther and Abi Ofarim, who sold a half million albums? Jazz is popular, and jazz is losing ground here as it is in America and all countries to the big beat music. What do you say of a city in which such a variety of the country, a variety of dialect, behavior patterns, all occur, in which one of the leading journalists is a former Countess, enlightened, democratic, Grafin Marion Donhoff of "Die Zeit", in which Rudolf Augstein defies the powers at the time, and when he's somewhat attacked is defended by the young? What do you say of a country in which you still feel funny? Still feel there are strong strains of anti-Semitism at the same time you hear from a variety of sources there is less than other countries, possibly, because of the self-consciousness? Because of a feeling of guilt? What do you say of a country that is wholly fatherless in that a generation of fathers is spiritually, psychically broken? Because the--how shall I say it? The jailers turned out to be the jailed. And the vanquished in this case once were victors, but they were vanquished when they were victors. And so you have this gap as Joachim Kaiser has described, the young critic. Between generations in which the older brother, one is offering the leadership and not the father. What do you say of a country in which the little bar along Reeperbahn, the nightlife section, striptease section of Hamburg, the young beat kids sit. Ingo, apprentice construction worker, Ingo and his girlfriend Grete, and [Birgit Sommer?], who wants to be a popular singer, has a couple of albums, [German] and the two English kids, Ian and Arthur, who were at the Star Club, where The Beatles were, where The Animals performed, and were sitting at the [German], this bar where the music is heard, and you can't tell one from the other because the language is all the same, they all sound British one way or another, and they all speak English one way or another. And what do you say of these kids who say they're helpless, who are non-committed, who want out? Nothing to do, just the joy itself, and who think of the drug and think of LSD as the escape? Of Kalle Freynik, when I first heard him sing "With God on Our Side", thinking he believed it, didn't really, maybe did at the time. And [German], speaking of his father, the Nazi, of whom he has obviously contempt, a 68-year-old man, his father. And Ingo, whose mother and father are communists, all of his table talking. And in both cases they seek a certain kind of freedom themselves, these young, who opt out or don't opt out, at the same time Joachim Adler, this marvelous young boy, [unintelligible] from University of Darmstadt who is committed, a new generation in whom the Countess Grafin Donhoff believes very much. And yet, you know, there are the working kids who are very much like American working kids, the drop-outs, the unskilled, the semi-skilled, the uneducated who will by virtue of cybernetics and automation be declared obsolete. And you think of the '30s, the late '20s of Germany and the streets with a man walking aimless, along comes a man who says, "You are somebody at the expense of somebody else," and you can't help but think of all one face. I'm a little high at the moment on quite marvelous [German] beer and wine schnapps and food, and somehow you realize these are not a unique people. Somehow you realize we're looking in the mirror here. And now it's about 11:10 Munich time, which means about four o'clock in the afternoon Chicago time the same day, and the bulldozers are ubiquitous. And the automobiles are equally ubiquitous and the traffic jams are the same the world over. And somehow you have a feeling we are they and they are we. And let's have another look in the mirror.