When I emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1996, I was aware of the fact that my grandfather, Fritz Häber, had been imprisoned for 16 months in an American Prisoner of War (POW) camp after World War II. He briefly mentioned it in a tape-recorded interview I conducted with him in 1990. During the interview, he permitted me to read excerpts of the diary that he had kept while he was interned.
Reading these excerpts made me want to read these chronicles in their entirety. Although more than 20 years passed before I was able to get my hands on the chronicles again, once I did, they turned out to be a fascinating read that triggered larger questions:
Compared to many of my fellow German countrymen, I am quite fortunate to have access to personal family documents as well as written and verbal testimony that discuss life in Germany during this time period. It has allowed me to come to terms with my family history in a surprisingly transparent manner.
For decades after the war, it was an absolute taboo for many families in postwar Germany to discuss the sensitive subject of the brutal fascist German reign. While children wanted to understand what had happened, incessantly asking their parents and grandparents, many kept it a secret in fear of exposing involvement in war crimes or, at a minimum, complicity with the Nazi regime, no matter how it came about. It was only after the insistence of postwar generations that people eventually began to open up about their lives between 1933 - 1945; in some cases, this discussion initiated a healing process and gave closure to wounded souls and the conscience.
I very much hope that the story of my grandfather Fritz Häber inspires and encourages readers to become interested in their own family’s history to better understand the decisions their ancestors made when facing life-changing challenges, regardless of place and circumstance.
At last, I am delighted to be able to share this diary with the public because it opens a rare window into a thrilling personal account and unique perspective of World War II.
(c) Bernd Häber, 2021
Original Diary (Sample Page)
Page 54 of the original diary
PHOTOS & DOCUMENTS
Fritz with his mother Meta and his father Emil and his dog Mucki in 1920
Fritz (as toddler in front) with his mother Meta and his father Emil, his brothers Kurt and Otto (twin brothers to the left and right), a cousin Marie, his sister Anna (with glasses) and his sister Lene (next to him) in 1912
Fritz as wrestler (likely early 1930s)
Fritz (in the back with cap) at farmer Arno Schmidt's farm after his release from prison in 1934
Fritz (right) as a mechanic (Montagehelfer) at Thyssen-Dresden constructing a factory building for the Auto Union in 1935
Fritz with farmer Schmidt's horse - related to the Gaul-Leiter story
Fritz' family in likely 1941 (6 of 7 children); Left to right: Karl, Kurt, Herbert (oldest son), Lore, Linda (wife), Hans and Peter; Fritz jr. was born in 1944
Fritz as POW working as a welder in an American car repair shop in June of 1945
Fritz loved smoking cigars (picture taken likely in the 1950s)
Fritz was a hard-working man in every profession he held
Writ of summons for Fritz to appear in front of a judge on May 24, 1934 charging him with treason
Fritz as senior citizen (at the time of the tape-recorded interview in 1990)
Indictment (page 1) from August 18, 1933 charging him with 'overturning the constitutional order by violence'
Indictment (page 2) from August 18, 1933 charging him with 'overturning the constitutional order by violence'
Written confirmation that he was taken in to protective custody on May 26, 1933 charging him with 'endangering the social order due to his support of the communist movement'
Concentration camp release paper (official certificate) from May 4, 1933
Fritz as a Wehrmacht soldier (year unknown - likely taken between 1941 and 1945)
Affidavit of Fritz certifying that he told nothing but the truth about his military services authorized by the Americans
This diary of my grandfather, the diaries of my great-grandmother, as well as the tape-recorded interviews with both my grandfather and my father allow me to draw from a well of stories and to assemble the pieces of my family-history. Compared to many historic accounts about life during wartime, my ancestors were not afraid to share sincere accounts of how their lives were back then, excluding literary frills and unnecessary decoration.
I’d like to leave readers with a note from Herbert Häber, my father and eldest son of Fritz, who, after I decided to publish his father’s diary, shared a sentiment with me. Just a few weeks before he passed away in April 2020, he remembered having sent letters as a 15-year-old to his father in the POW camp in France, but did not remember of what he had written. He stated: “Having now had a chance to read my father’s references to these letters in his diary reminded me of how my occupational history came about. Thankfully, he had decided for me to neither become a coal miner nor an actor, but eventually a journalist as he recognized my sophisticated use of the German language in my writing. And for that, I will eternally be thankful to him."
In loving memory!
A Letter from Hans Häber - Son of Fritz (Excerpt)
Who was Fritz Häber? He was my biological father. I was the sixth of seven children in our family – six boys and one girl. Being at an old age now and having been a miner, a farmer, and a journalist throughout my long, professional life, I realized early on that my father was, first and foremost, a German communist. Not like the official "textbook version" as often portrayed in history books, but one who genuinely wanted - again and again, no matter life’s circumstance – to demonstrate his conviction in word and deed, free from "hollow phrases" that were quite common in the GDR.
Essentially since 1954, Fritz Häber was a communist, without flaunting the party membership book. Rather, he was one with a good heart and a clear mind as he genuinely believed in Marx and Lenin - the godfathers of the communist movement. During 1954, his fellow party comrades labeled him, in a blunt Stalinist manner, a "traitor of the cause" for having taken part in a shooting squad, acting under order, during his time as a soldier in the Werhmacht. They conveniently overlooked the fact that – at that time during the war – he was suspected of spreading communist propaganda, which was punishable under martial law. Serendipitously, it never came to a trial because the Third Reich collapsed shortly thereafter, due to the advancement of the American and Russian armies on German soil.
A Letter from Uwe Häber - Grandson of Fritz (Excerpt)
My Second Chance
Grandparents. They grew up together with us, shared in many moments of our lives. Memories still present, and yet, already faded. As we have grown up, the questions that we want to ask them today are different. However, they are not with us anymore. All stories of their childhood and adolescence, adventures of their time, irretrievably gone!
And, I did not dare ask them.
And yet today, 75 years later, we hold his diary in our hands. Why did he write it? Did he do it for himself or did he want to say, "This is how it was then, this is what I had to go through – do not forget about these times, never!"
In memory of my grandfather, this book is therefore my second chance to connect with him once more.
Interview with Fritz Häber (Sample Stories)
Tape-recorded at his home in Zwickau in 1990