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    Fritz Häber - The Complete Diary

    16 Months in an American POW Camp

     

    16 MONTHS: FRITZ HÄBER – THE COMPLETE DIARY tells a lesser-known story of World War II from the perspective of an “average” soldier who reluctantly fought on the wrong side of history. After first attempting to warn others of the dangers of the Hitler regime and avoiding the draft for years, he succumbed to his fate in 1941 becoming a Wehrmacht soldier until captured by the Americans in 1945. Through a rare window into the life of this father of six and devout communist, we witness the extraordinary character, rational mind and unbowed strong belief in survival that aided his perseverance. He endures formidable physical and emotional challenges and the betrayal of his trust, yet still maintains a high moral character. This unique story takes the reader’s imagination directly to the scene of the action, and it feels that, through this diary, Fritz spins an invisible thread of hope despite his struggling circumstances, no matter how hopeless they seemed.

     

    Let’s get to the essence of it: The military and political collapse with all its accompanying circumstances was so horrible for both the German people and us as soldiers that the majority of people stopped believing in anything. If we are to continue with such an attitude, life would not be worth living. This can’t be. Hence, we need to trust and believe in the future, neither blindly nor fanatically, but following a complete reversal of our thinking, deliberate and consciously by scrutinizing ambiguity. If we all could do that while still in captivity, we will do a lot for our people. Because it is not about the one or the other individual or, even more reprehensibly, just about the ME, it is about the long-standing imperative to form a society, about all of us, and about us as the people and our continued existence as a people.”

     

    Fritz Häber, page 54, on September 10th, 1945

  • INTRODUCTION (Excerpt)

    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:

    • How was it possible for a member of the German Communist Party – Fritz joined in 1931 – to serve in the Wehrmacht, the German fascist army, during the war?
    • What was his motivation to join the German Communist Party in the first place?
    • As a sincere proponent of communist ideals, why did he decide to stay put in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after he was expelled by the East German Communist Party in the 1950s for allegedly participating in a war crime?

    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, 2024

  • Original Diary (Sample Page)

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    Page 54 of the original diary

  • PHOTOS & DOCUMENTS

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    Fritz with his mother Meta and his father Emil and his dog Mucki in 1920

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    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

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    Fritz as wrestler (likely early 1930s)

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    Fritz (in the back with cap) at farmer Arno Schmidt's farm after his release from prison in 1934

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    Fritz (right) as a mechanic (Montagehelfer) at Thyssen-Dresden constructing a factory building for the Auto Union in 1935

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    Fritz with farmer Schmidt's horse - related to the Gaul-Leiter story

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    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

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    Fritz as POW working as a welder in an American car repair shop in June of 1945

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    Fritz loved smoking cigars (picture taken likely in the 1950s)

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    Fritz was a hard-working man in every profession he held

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    Writ of summons for Fritz to appear in front of a judge on May 24, 1934 charging him with treason

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    Fritz as senior citizen (at the time of the tape-recorded interview in 1990)

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    Indictment (page 1) from August 18, 1933 charging him with 'overturning the constitutional order by violence'

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    Indictment (page 2) from August 18, 1933 charging him with 'overturning the constitutional order by violence'

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    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'

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    Concentration camp release paper (official certificate) from May 4, 1933

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    Fritz as a Wehrmacht soldier (year unknown - likely taken between 1941 and 1945)

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    Affidavit of Fritz certifying that he told nothing but the truth about his military services authorized by the Americans 

  • Epilogue (Excerpt)

    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.

  • Book Endorsements

    "It is rare that we have access to the thinking of German communists who find themselves serving in Hitler's army and, after the war, return to East Germany to seek rehabilitation by the German Communist government. The diaries by Fritz Häber, written when he was a POW in an American camp, open a rare window into such a life. Those diaries found their way into the hands of his grandson, who had grown up in East Berlin and now resides in the United States. A must-read for anyone interested in the myriad ways ordinary people resist and get implicated in dictatorial regimes."

     

    - Björn Krondorfer, Director, Martin-Springer Institute & Endowed Professor of Religious Studies, Dept. of Comparative Cultural Studies, Northern Arizona University

    “When I translated this diary, it quickly grew on me, and then I was spellbound. I had never read anything like that; a powerful eyewitness account about the last days of WWII by a young German soldier who was then taken into captivity and had to suffer through many months of malnutrition, cold, fear, boredom, claustrophobia, and many other pains that tend to come along with a prisoner-of-war experience. It strongly reminded me of my father who went through a fairly similar destiny, though he hardly ever told us much about it. These memoirs continue to haunt me; and whenever I feel hungry or thirsty, I remember Fritz Häber who had to handle horrendous conditions as a prisoner of war. His diary takes us directly to the situation on the ground, and this time from a German perspective, the loser’s side. Anyone who would like to gain a balanced view of the life of German soldiers before and after the end of war ought to read his memoirs.”

     

    - Dr. Albrecht Classen, University Distinguished Professor - Grand Knight Commanderof the Most Noble Order of the Three Lions (GKCL)/Grossritterkommandeur - Director of Outreach - Faculty Member of: Dept. of German Studies + Affiliate Faculty Member of Religious Studies, Judaic Studies, Institute for LGBT Studies, ALTA at the University of Arizona

    "Insight into one man's struggle offering us a betterunderstanding of our own awareness - On one level this an excellent and riveting account of one man's struggle in having to fight a war on behalf of a political system in which he doesn't believe. This fight leads to his captivity in a POW camp. Fritz Haber's journal captures with eloquence the hardships, indignities, fear and loneliness of a POW internment. Through all this we see clearly coming through his words a decency and strong belief in doing the right thing and always trying to be the best he ccould be. On this level, the book offered me the understanding that there can be good where we can always be conditioned to expect evil. Rarely do we allow ourselves such insight into the thoughts and feelings of someone our history has taught us to be the enemy. It brought back to mind a book I read in high school many years ago, Sharks and Little Fish. It was an English translated German novel about World War II service on a German submarine. I can't remember the details of the book but I never forgot the meaning for me that there is humanity on all sides of conflict. Fritz Haber's diary brought this awareness back to me and I thank the author for giving us the opportunity to experience it.”

     

    - Stans Amazon Review - May 2024

    "A Compelling & Heartwarming War Story - Rarely does oneget the opportunity to get a true sense of what it must have really meant to experience fascism and war so close as this story told by Fritz Häber. This book is a true page turner written in a way that takes the reader right to the place of the action providing vivid images and exciting details. Fritz - an ordinary German - who states that his diary should serve for his children "as an example of how human destinies can get easily mixed up" shows an awe-inspiring personal power of endurance not knowing when (if ever) he will see his family again. At the same time, he shares with the world that he decided - about 30 minutes before he and his fellow Wehrmacht mates get captured by the Americans in late April 1945 - to make breakfast for everyone with eggs and pancakes and to bury in the near woods "eighty bottles of Schnapps and a box with canned meat in the ground so that we can retrieve them later at a convenient time". What a character - what a story - what a book! Worth reading from front to end!"
     

    - A Big Fan Amazon Review - June 2024

    "Fritz Haber's diary provides a new perspective on World WarII - Like all American school children, I grew up hearing "our" side of Hitler's rise to power and World War II. I have met Jews who survived the Holocaust and American men and women who contributed to the war effort. Bernd Haber's publication of his grandfather's diary - written while he was interred in an American POW camp, provides a new perspective on the war that largely defined the 20th Century in the US and Europe. It is important to understand that many soldiers in Hitler's armies were not "true believers," and many - like Fritz - were more concerned with their families left behind. In these times of forever wars, it feels ever more important to come to terms with the stories of people who operate at the behest of those who compile the official history of events."
     

    - Nancy O. James Amazon Review - June 2024

    "A German Soldier's Perspective during WWII - I couldn't put it down! Bernd, who grew up in East Germany, and now lives in the United States,had his grandfather Fritz's World War II-era diary translated into English. Reading about Fritz's experiences during WWII gives the reader a better sense of how difficult life was for Germans and how good people are forced into impossible roles during wartime. Prior to the war, Fritz describes how he had to change jobs frequently due to layoffs from the lagging economy. He was eventually conscripted into the German military despite his previous arrest and membership in the Communist Party. He describes his wartime assignments, constant moving while in the military and as a POW, obsession with getting enough food and water, physical hardships, self-motivation to problem solve and make life better for fellow soldiers, long periods of time without hearing from his family, and determination to be a good and compassionate human being. In addition to Fritz's diary, the forward,introduction, epilogue, and letters provide great insight into human nature, WWII, parallels to today, and the continuing propensity for world leaders to become dictators."
     

    - SJS Amazon Review - June 2024

    "Bill Buckmaster - Radio Talk Show Host of the Buckmaster Show (KVOI in Tucson/Arizona) discusses "Fritz Häber - The Complete Diary: 16 Months in an American POW Camp" with Dr. Albrecht Classen (University of Arizona in Tucson) who translated the diary, during the interview on June 19 in 2024. - Permission to publicly broadcast given by Bill Buckmaster on 6/27/2024." ==> Link

    "Journals of War, Peace, Love & Hope - Very little is written of or available in the US to learn of the treatment of German prisoners of war in Europe during and briefly after World War II. Fritz Haber’s journal pages begin after surrendering to the American forces during the waning months of the war and begin when commanding an anti-aircraft searchlight emplacement in France. Fritz was thirty-one years of age with six children when drafted in 1941 after several deferments and even after having spent a year in prison for being a proponent of communism vs Nazism. His journals mention many hardships as a soldier of the Nazi Wehrmacht including poor training, hunger, bad weather, meager to miserable quarters and insufferable commanders. There were also a few fortunate times of blind luck and of plenty given by townspeople and farmers of his countrymen. Corporal Haber was a junior commander often put in charge of training men and women soldiers to move, assemble, repair, fabricate and operate occasionally sabotaged searchlight equipment. Yet through all he preserved and was consistently devoted to his fellow troops and a highly competent leader even though not a follower of Hitler's, Nazi dogma. By mid-1944 the US Army was ill prepared to manage the unexpected multiple thousands of German prisoners either captured or surrendered. No permanent POW camps had yet been established so Fritz and his fellow prisoners were forced marched from temporary camp to temporary camp while enduring constant fatigue, hunger and thirst from meager rations provided for their needs until more permanent camps were established, yet even then it persisted. Initially General Eisenhower ordered his troops to subscribe to the Geneva Convention’s rules for humane treatment of all POWs and I was often surprised to read of the freedoms given prisoners including pay for work and in Fritz case a leave to visit his family and even more surprised that he returned to the camp, ever loyal to helping care for the needs of his fellow soldiers. This says much to me about the content of his character and also of our troops who endured so much physically and mentally during and after combat for being loyal to their commanding officers. Of course there were incidents of abuse, both from prisoner to prisoner and from their captives, but all things considered in comparison to the Nazi POW camps it was more Hilton than Auschwitz. Many more interesting missives of survival and enduranceduring the war and after surrender are revealed in Fritz Haber’s fascinating, often loving journals including the back story of Bernd Haber’s decision and assistance received in publishing his grandfather’s story. A story that historians across the globe need to read, appreciate and share a seldom heard anecdote of a WWII German prisoner of war." Peace, love and hope to us all, amen.

     

    Darrell H. Sage Amazon Review - July 2024

  • Interview with Fritz Häber (Sample Stories)

    Tape-recorded at his home in Zwickau in 1990

    ==> Click on each picture image below to listen to Fritz telling the story in German

    ==> Turn on close captioning to follow and read the English translation in parallel

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - How he became a blacksmith apprentice

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - How he found a way to send a letter home from the POW camp

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - His recollection of being in an execution squad

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    Bernd Häber - Publisher

    My decision to publish

     

    In this book, which is both a diary and a memoir, you will meet my grandfather, Fritz Häber. As a child, he was just my grandpa, a jovial, vigorous, warmhearted man, whom I would visit during the occasional holiday vacation. It was only later when contentious, life altering, family events were revealed to me that I realized Fritz had served in Hitler’s Wehrmacht during WWII, one of the most tumultuous and violent time periods of world history. I had so many questions.

     

    Although his part in this global drama can beconsidered minor, he extensively documented his experiences and shared his astute reflections on everything from human psychology to political philosophy. Like many history buffs, I have spent countless hours reading about high level diplomacy and watching documentaries that detail the technical and military aspects of war, but it was not until reading Fritz’s diary that I could fully imagine both the momentous decisions he made and the drudgery of being a reluctant soldier.

     

    Fritz, an antifascist, not only warns “human destinies can get easily mixed up” during war, but also reminds us to pay attention to forces that might interfere with our lives in unexpected ways. I am excited to now share his story with you.

  • A Special Thank You

    As the publisher of the diary, I'd like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the special support of this project by:

    • Björn Krondorfer - Director of the Martin-Springer Institute at Northern Arizona University and Endowed Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies for writing the Foreword and for his valued advice on this book project and his endorsement.
    • Albrecht Classen - University Distinguished Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Department of German Studies at the University of Arizona for translating the original German diary into English and for his endorsement.
    • Hans Häber & Uwe Häber - for their letters and for providing related photos & documentation
    • Geneva Häber & Helena Häber - for their feedback & guidance and for reviewing, commenting on and proofreading all parts of the English version of the diary.
    • Kellen Vu - for designing the initial book front cover.

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    Book Reading Events

    - June 19, 2024 at 6 PM at the TREFFPUNKT - 14325 N 79th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

    Registration Link

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