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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, 2021

  • 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 Commander of the Most Noble Order of the Three Lions (GKCL), Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dept. of German Studies, The University of Arizona

  • Interview with Fritz Häber (Sample Stories)

    Tape-recorded at his home in Zwickau in 1990

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - How he became a blacksmith apprentice (click on the image to listen to Fritz telling the story - close captioning is available in English & German)

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - How he found a way to send a letter home from the POW camp (click on the image to listen to Fritz telling the story - close captioning is available in English & German)

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    POW Stories by Fritz Häber - His recollection of being in an execution squad (click on the image to listen to Fritz telling the story - close captioning is available in English & German)

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    Bernd Häber - Publisher

    My decision to publish

     

    As Fritz’s grandson, working with his diary helped me to connect the dots to other materials, like the diaries of my great-grandmother Meta Häber, additional documents in our family’s possession, tape-recorded interviews, and my personal knowledge of my father’s life.

     

    Once I got my hands on the diary few years ago, I decided to publish it. In 1990, I convinced my grandfather Fritz to sit down at his home in Zwickau for a tape-recorded interview. I asked him mostly about our family’s history. Among the stories he told, he also talked about his war experiences and his imprisonment as a POW. During the interview, he showed me records of his writing, including the diary, in which he had documented memorable episodes of his life. Though the interview recordings did not provide sufficient materials to write about his life, the reappearance of his complete diary changed the game.

     

    My decision to publish the diary in the United States has to do with being an immigrant who came to this country from Germany in 1996. I was born in East Germany, grew up under a one-party Communist government, and experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990. I want to share this story with English-speaking readers who are interested in German history but may often assume a West German narrative.

  • 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 (in progress), 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 book front cover.