[eng]My grandad the Nazi

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Roel R.
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[eng]My grandad the Nazi

Bericht door Roel R. »

Dan Tetsell grew up with an uncomfortable family secret - his grandfather was an SS officer. The more he's got to know about him, the more Dan realises his grandad was, in many ways, just an ordinary guy. And that's what's worried him.


Lots of people find their grandparents embarrassing. Maybe they pretend to be hard of hearing, maybe they have a weird fondness for boiled sweets. Or maybe, like my grandfather, they were a Nazi.

I don't mean a Nazi in the jobsworth sense. No, unfortunately, my grandfather Kurt Martens was in the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the premier regiment of the Waffen SS.

Kurt was killed or went missing during the fighting around Prague castle sometime in early May 1945, so I never knew him. In fact, my mother was born a few months after his death/disappearance, so she too never got to know the man.

All we really had is the image of him in his uniform - the sly, boyish smile at odds with the double lightning flashes and death's head cap of the SS.


If grandfather could not only stand aside while bad things happened but actively take part, then it could happen to any of us

For many years, ever since as a child I really discovered the magnitude of the Holocaust and began to associate it with my German heritage, my grandfather's actions have held a slightly disturbing fascination for me. Here was a member of my own family involved, even at a very low level, with the defining horror of the twentieth century and I'd never got to ask him that age old question: what did you do in the war, grandad?

Growing up half-German has its fair share of drawbacks. I'm marked out by my Germanic pronunciation of marzipan, for giving Porsche two syllables and for putting an F and a V in Volkswagen.

Children in the late 1970s and early 1980s, raised on a diet of Bank Holiday war films, seemed unable to grasp the concept that Britain was no longer at war with Germany. In playground games of soldiers, I was always the Nazi hordes and - bizarrely by extension - Darth Vader's storm troopers.

Unpleasant subject

But behind all this lay the real nature of my family's involvement the events these games mimicked. Until I began really researching the subject, my mother and I never really talked about it. Not so much a taboo subject as an unpleasant one.

It's only in the last year that I've set about trying to find out if, to put it bluntly, my grandfather had been a war criminal.

As a soldier he seems to have been a steady hand, promoted three times, decorated twice including the Iron Cross. This means he was never a concentration camp guard or a member of the Einsatzgruppen death squads.


I can't see how he couldn't have been involved at some level, even if that involvement was just driving a truck and turning a blind eye

However, again and again there are reports - some substantiated, some unsubstantiated - of the Waffen SS and the Leibstandarte in particular being involved in the execution of civilians and prisoners of war. As a non-commissioned officer I can't see how he couldn't have been involved at some level, even if that involvement was just driving a truck and turning a blind eye.

Ever since the end of the war, debate has raged as to the actions of the Waffen SS - between those that see them as no better than the rest of the SS and those that view them as soldiers, no better and no worse than any other fighting unit.

The Nuremberg Trials declared the Waffen SS an illegal organisation, but membership alone was not enough to mark someone as a war criminal - they had to be accused of a specific crime. Of course, my grandfather didn't live long enough to be accused of anything, so we have no way of knowing. As a non-commissioned officer he is too small a cog to show up in most official documents.

Fascinating insight

The most tangible reminder of him, therefore, are the photographs he left behind. The German army during the Second World War was famous for, among other things, its rapacious appetite for amateur photography and my grandfather seems to have been no exception.

A few years ago my mother uncovered a few rolls of undeveloped film that my grandfather had brought back with him while on leave from the front. They are a fascinating insight into a angle on the war we rarely see - the Waffen SS at play.


One of the family photos showing Kurt Martens on holiday in Paris
A sightseeing tour of Paris; swimming and football; a visit to the war cemetery at Verdun; fraternisation 'On The Town' style with three French girls; young men posing proudly in their uniforms or lounging jokily against a shot-up staff car smoking a cigarette.

Looking at these photographs it's impossible to avoid what one always hopes wasn't true about the Third Reich - these men are not monsters. No matter what sort of gangsters, charlatans and psychopaths they may have been following, the vast majority of the German people, even the vast majority of the Waffen SS were normal people.

In fact, my grandfather liked football and swimming, he seems to have been more normal than I am. And his two last letters home speak of a loving family man desperate for the war to end so he could return to his pregnant wife and young daughter.

And that, I suppose, is why I find this microscopic story of an insignificant part of the Third Reich so fascinating. If it shows that my grandfather can not only stand aside while bad things happen but actively take part, then it could happen to any of us. It's a lesson that's been taught again and again, but in this anniversary year it's worth hearing again.



Dan Tetsell's show Sins of the Grandfathers will be running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 4-28 August.
vincent
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Bericht door vincent »

is het niet granddad?
ik vind het persoonlijk nogal een rare titel, hij zegt dat z'n opa geen nazi is maar toch beweert de titel anders.
Ik heb er geen kracht meer voor
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Harro
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Bericht door Harro »

Martens Kurt 20.06.1918 - 05.03.1945
Martens Kurt 23.06.1906 - 07.02.1945
Martens Kurt 02.08.1907 - 15.04.1945
Martens Kurt 14.03.1908 - 17.09.1945
Martens Kurt 12.09.1926 - 19.04.1945
Martens Kurt-Ernst 04.09.1921 - 03.1945

Maar geen één met een SS rang, gevallen begin mei en/of gevallen in Praag. Als hij in Praag sneuvelde was het trouwens niet met de Leibstandarte. Die was op dat moment in de omgeving van Wenen. Er kwamen nogal wat mannen van de LAH in andere SS eenheden terecht dus dat is opzich niet vreemd.
De geschiedenis is het heden gezien door de toekomst - Godfried Bomans
"Wilders die weer wat uitkraait over criminele allochtonen: in zijn wereld is dat een pleonasme" - Alexander Pechtold
siggel
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Bericht door siggel »

waar haal jij die feiten allemaal vandaan harro? ik geloof je gelijk en twijfel niet aan wat je zegt. maar waar leer je zoiets en waar vind je die dingen??
ben zelf ook een belangstellende, maar nog lang niet zover
groetjes
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Harro
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Bericht door Harro »

De geschiedenis is het heden gezien door de toekomst - Godfried Bomans
"Wilders die weer wat uitkraait over criminele allochtonen: in zijn wereld is dat een pleonasme" - Alexander Pechtold
siggel
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Bericht door siggel »

en bedankt harro!!!!
vriendelijke groeten.
ron
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Dodo
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Bericht door Dodo »

Het zou mij niet verbazen als er een alias is gebruikt in dit verhaal.
"However, the German infantry halted abruptly after finding and drinking a large cache of kirsch liquor in a garage along the route"
The Lorraine offensive 1944
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