Demidoff - oder von der Unverletzlichkeit des Menschen
Ein getreuer Bericht geschrieben und gezeichnet im Jahre 1942

by Erich Kuby (pseudonym Alexander Parlach), Paul List Verlag, 1947
 
Demidoff - or on the invulnerability of the man
A true report written and sketched in 1942

See below some of the sketches from this book.

From Mein Krieg about this book:

(Pg. 225) [During the long months in Demidoff I lived in circumstances which allowed me to write especially great detail. I also sketched a lont, puting line beside line, with patience. In 1947 I published with the List Publishing house a modest echo of the book plans which failed during the war, a small volume of texts and drawings with the title "Demidoff – or on the Inviolability of the man." The selection I decided upon then only partially coincides with the selection which I now consider appropriate for the times.]

This was Kuby's first published book. In 1947, it was still dangerous to express the views he held, so he used the pseudonym Alexander Parlach. During the war, these same views, even when semi-contained, had gotten him courtmartialed and eventually sent to military prison for 9 months, of which he served only half due to the intervention of the prison commander, Captain Kaletta, who also prevented him from being subsequently sent to a field punishment unit which would have amounted to a death sentence. Because of a radio play he wrote in 1954 about the Defense of  Fortress Brest (in 1959 incorporated into the chronicle Nur noch rauchende Trümmer or "Nothing but Smoking Ruins"), he was accused in 1955 of diffamation of character of the general in charge of the defense of Brest, but acquitted in 1959. Kuby had been present in Brest as an ordinary soldier, and simply wrote the truth. Much – but not everything – had changed in the 12 years between the publication of the two books. In 1961 Kuby really dumped on the Wehrmacht and in great detail, but in the relatively safe form of a thinly disguised roman à clef, Sieg! Sieg! (published in English in 1962 as "Sitzkrieg of Private Stefan") about his experiences in the first campaign (Kriegsreise) in France.

These books are based on his letters sent mostly to his wife, but also to friends, and on some of their responses. In 1975, when he brought out his monumental chronicle Mein Krieg (My war – Notes from 2129 Days), he revisted the first French campaign, Demidoff, and Brest, but in condensed and somewhat softened form. This was now 30 years later, but he still felt he had to take some, but just some of the acid out of his pen. All of his war correspondance would, according to Kuby, fill up ten thousand pages. This material must belong to his second wife, Susanna Böhme-Kuby, who is still alive and lives in Italy. How much dynamite is still there, waiting to be set off?

I have translated here into English the (bookjacket) preface of Demidoff, and the postscript, and I present also some of his sketches from the book. I am translating as well some passages or episodes not present in Mein Krieg.

Preface: (bookjacket)
INSTEAD OF A RESUME, its premature announcement

One ought to beaccustomed to reporting about one's own life. However, it is one thing to help to feed the burocracy with one's modest contribution of irrelevant data, for example born on 28 June 1910, but quite another to provide relevant information about oneself that will interest normal people such as you dear readers.

If one recounts the life of Alexander the Great in the manner of our schoolbooks, then the nine-year long school slumber will not be interrupted for one moment. In fact, I was so fast asleep that I only woke up after the scholastic train had passed me by.  I was awakened by reproaches, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, left the mind-numbing institution, and only returned in order to take [and pass] the final examination. When Gottfried Keller [19th century Swiss author of a Bildungsroman (Der grüne Heinrich) whom Kuby admired] casually writes in a letter that his sister again successrully stored some piles of firewood through the winter, then we forget neither the wood nor the sister for the rest of our lives, even though she was without a doubt an insignificant person.

In other words, the life of any person can become relevant for us, if we get to look at it through a good magnifying glass. If I were to say that my family originated in Bavaria and Swabia – whereby a grandmother from Hamburg must also be mentioned – regardless of the unpleasant consquences for me resulting from the revelation of such a foreign background to the Bavarian civil registrar – that in itself would explain very little [a classic sentence written in the style of Gottfried Keller]. If, however, I were to describe the farm on which I grew up during the First War [WW1], an hour's walk from the nearest village, the smell of the warm bogs through which the winding footpath led to Hugelfing where it joined the dusty highway at a wayside cross (before which I, inappropriately anough for a protestant, doffed my green pointed hat), – yes, if I were to describe in detail this long journey through thirty years, of which not even the smallest part has escaped my memory, then such self representation would make as much sense as any careful depiction of a person which can only be brought to life in indivuals.

I may hardly doubt that it will some day come to a "true report" of this sort, because I don't believe that I can write anything but autobiogrphy in the widest sense of the word. Until then we should, however, participate in the course of events and learn what is in store for our people, that is, for my generation which had the good fortune to be so placed in our century that it could have been raised and formed between the wars and, therefore, wasn't completely unprepared for the temptations with which the criminal regime drew in its accomplices. He [Hitler] named these accomplices "Volksgenossen" (fellow member of the German tribe), something I will never and under no circumstances be. A.P.


NACHWORT (Postscript, pp. 134-48, in the process of being translated here in its entirety)

pg. 134

I believe I owe the reader a postscript from which he learns how these notes came to be and what kind of role they play in the author's military career. This period makes up a sixth and therefore not unimportant part of his life thus far. It is also perhaps not unnecessary to explain the reasons which caused me to publish my letters from Demidoff at this time – although the most important motive is expressed in the book's subtitle. At the beginning of October 1939, in a Signal Corps barracks near Potsdam, I was issued an orginally Czech uniform stiff with dirt and made of Manchester velvet as training under garments. At the end of May 1945, as I returned home from 9 months of [American] captivity, I was wandering through a French occupied village near Karlsruhe, when a woman ran after me and said: "Come with me, I have an old pair of pants for you. You can't go any further in uniform, or the French will snatch you up!"  I left my uniform with her, and the war for me was over.
Between these two dates I wrote letters day by day – with the exception of days spent together  – to my wife also to other to many other people. I kept a diary with short entries, and from 1941 on I kept an occasionally more detailed record which in spite of my culpable, but never actually punished recklessness I preferred to not entrust to the military postal.
From this remaining sediment of the war I have taken a very small part in order to write "Demidoff." For its publication I have edited out all strictly personal material, and only occasionally made use of the first person in order to remind the reader that he is dealing with fragments of letters. I add to them, under the appropriate date, a few diary entries. In condideration of the documentary nature of the report I originally intended put these parts in italics. However, that would have lent an emphasis and importance which they do not deserve. An attentive reader who.....(translation in progress)

pg. 135

is used to listening for the rhythm of the sentences will figure out in any case where the letter ends and the diary begins.
Whoever has read this book knows that I don't pretend to be an illustrator. When I nevertheless inserted into the text a selection of my Demidoffer sketches, I did so because they support, despite all of their insufficiency, the only conscious and intended bias of my war notes, the bias toward the truth. That's the way it was, and that's the way I was, thought, felt, acted and didn't act.
The special circumstances in Demidoff laid the foundation for a report that almost reads like neatly composed fiction. It was a time in which things didn't go for me either particularly well or badly, a time in which the war shaped my life – which was certainly not the case for the entire six years – without claiming the main role in my notes because of genuine combat experiences. From the point of view of a soldier, Demidoff was a stroke of luck; it was a break in the war,  accorded me otherwise only in connection with the degrading conditions in the homeland barracks from which everyone (except for the most miserable creatures) wished to escape to the less comfortable but freer circumstances of the front. It is not by chance that I select the letters from this period at a time when newly fed nationalist tendencies, born of desperation, are proliferating.
Our nation, less ready than ever to let itself be guided by rational considerations, works itself up into a mood in which its most recent history seems to be shrouded in a golden mist. Even the war of 6 years is already the object of the general tendency to embeillish the past and blacken the present. Of the soldiers who have recently taken off their uniforms or changed their colors, not a few would be ready to put them on again while convincing themselves and others that "everything wasn't all that bad." Nothing would be less appropriate than to counter such currents (which render the laying of new foundations

pg. 136

completely impossible) with horrifying war stories which, even it they were literally true, could be dismissed with the objection: Well, yes, that sort of thing did happen, but.....Otherwise we were marching forward victoriously, barely aware of the enemy, or we lay in Russian, French, Serbian, or Norwegian Demidoffs, killed time, had enough to eat, drink, and smoke, and all was well or at least a thousand times better than the misery we have now – and that which wasn't so good we didn't see, or we ignored it. And therefore it is perhaps not too late to take a good look.

                                                          *

During my first year as a soldier, toward the end of  the French campaign, it didn't occur to me that my letters would be read by other eyes than the ones I saw before me as I wrote. In September 1940 I left Le Creusot to go on leave. At home, on a hill above Lake Constance [Bodensee], friends convinced me to make excerpts from the collection available to a wider circle of readers.* They knew about the letters because my wife had occasionally read to them parts of the letters. After I returned to France I landed in my 50th profession a soldier: The Signals Unit 3, in which I had been promoted to Private first class, assigned me to write its history [Neither this passage nor the relevant passage in Mein Krieg makes clear whose idea this was.]
[...]
The commander of the 3rd Signals detachment in Frankfurt/Oder, whose intellectual thirst I satisfied by supplying him with cheap novels, had compelling reason to make himself known to his contemporariesbecause of his two victorious campaigns, in Poland and then France. With a sculptor

*[The following passage indicates that Kuby was planning the war chronicle at least a half year earlier.]
Mein Krieg (pg. 32) [Vom 27. Februar bis 12. März 40 bekomme ich Urlaub, wir verbringen ihn in der bereits halb ausgeräumten Berliner Wohnung. In diese Tage fallen verschiedene Begegnungen mit Dr. Jürgen Eggebrecht, Lektor der Hanseatischen Verlagsanstalt vor dem Krieg, 1940 jedoch bereits Zensor im OKW als Kriegsverwaltungsrat (pg. 33) mit goldenen Kragenspiegeln. Im Dom-Hotel in Köln habe ich in diesen Tagen ein langes Gespräch mit dem Leiter des Insel-Verlages, Prof. Kippenberg, darüber, ob es eine Möglichkeit gebe, die Zeit realistisch darzustellen und die Darstellung dennoch unter den gegebenen Verhältnissen zu veröffentlichen.] [translator's note: birth of the manuscript "Kriegsfahrt durch Frankreich" – before the invasion of France, original title]



pg. 140

Die intensive Beschäftigung mit meinen Briefen, die ohne jede Tendenz ein Spiegel meiner Tage waren, belehrte mich, daß ich nicht die Taten des "Führers" anzushauen brauchte, um zu erfahren wohin es mit uns hinauswollte, sondern nur das Sein der harmlosen Burschen, mit denen ich die Stube, das Grabenloch und das Essen teilte. Ich begann zu ahnen, das die Diktatur eine Herrschaftsform ist, in der die Geschicke eines Landes von der Dummheit und von den Begierden der Masse bestimmt werden, während in allen Staaten, in denen die "Demokratie" funktioniert, zwischen Massenwahn und Führungstat überaus kunstvolle, überaus wirkungsvolle Filter gespannt sind.

The intensive work with my letters, which were an unprejudiced mirror of my daily life, taught me that I didn't have to observe the deeds of the "Führer" in order to learn what we were heading toward, but rather the harmless fellows with whom I shared  the barracks, the foxholes, and the food. I began to realize that dictatorship is a form of government in which the destiny of a nation is determined by the stupidity and the passions of the masses. On the other hand, in all states in which "democracy" functions, there are in place extremely artificial but nonetheless highly effective filters between mass hysteria and acts of leadership.

pg. 142

Wenn ich zuweilen mit Bitterkeit registrierte, wie sich alle in blinder Verzückung ihr Grab shaufelten, so wurde daraus nicht bleibende Verbitterung:...

When I occasionally bitterly observed that they all, in blind ecstasy, dug their own graves, nevertheless my bitterness didn't remain permanent;....

pg. 145

Dasselbe Volk, das 1933 bei Todestrafe hätte gemäßigt wählen müssen, um sich auf der Spitze der Welwirtschaftskrise in einem labilen Gleichgewicht zu halten bis die Krise durchgestanden war – und damals radikal wählte um endlich seine Todesehnzucht zu erfüllen und die Höllenfahrt anzutreten – wählt in einer neuen h-storisichen Stunde, in der nur eine radikale Entscheidung den Weg zu einer neuen sozialen Ordung frei gemacht hätte, gemäßigt in dem verzeifelten Bestreben, ein paar Trümmer  aus dem Schiffbruch zu retten; die Rest des Besitzes und den gerupften, scheußlichen Balg eines [preußischen] Adlers."

The nation should have voted in 1933, despite the threat of revolutionary terror, for moderation, in order to maintain itself in precarious balance at the height of the world wide economic crisis until the crisis had passed. Instead it voted for radicals in order to fulfill at last its death wish [emphasis mine]and to begin the descent into hell. Now, in a new historical epoch, in which only a radical decision can clear the way to a new social order, has voted moderately in the desperate attempt to save some flotsam from a shipwreck, the remains of its property and the disgusting, plucked skin of a [Prussian] eagle.