Nazi family history put to good use by Inge Franken

Inge's father

Related Stories

Inge Franken is a sprightly 70-year-old who lives in an apartment on two floors in Berlin. She has a task, a mission. She tours schools educating children about her - and their - country's dark history.

She shows the class a photograph of two young boys (see photo) who pose in Nazi regalia, and she seeks reaction. One has his chest puffed out in pride, the other seems reluctant. It is for today's children to decide which they would rather be.

If the school visit goes well, she says, a child will say that he or she is going home to ask the parents and grandparents what happened in the war in their family. It makes Inge feel that she has set people thinking and asking.

She was spurred to this mission by her own past, a past hidden in a suitcase - and her mother's mind.

Inge Inge was 40 when she read letters detailing her father's activities during the war

She was only two when her father died in the Siege of Leningrad, so she never knew him, or knew him only through the letters that her mother would read to her on Sundays.

"She said, 'Come, sit down. I will read some parts of father's letter. You should know him because he is not here and you can't see what a wonderful man he was'."

Letters from the front

But Inge the child noticed gaps, sections that her mother skipped over, and those gaps nagged her for decades into adulthood. At the age of 40, she asked her mother if she could read the letters in full.

What she discovered was that the gaps were detailed descriptions of bad events in which her father seemed to be implicated. He was a committed Nazi who joined the party in 1933 and an officer on the Russian front, and he had clearly been involved in terrible things.

"More than 30 partisans are hanging on the trees," one letter said. There was a sense of pride in his letters at the might of the German war machine.

Start Quote

My mother was a proud widow because she was widow for the Fuhrer, for the leader, for Hitler”

End Quote Inge Franken

"I phoned my mother and she said, 'Oh Inge. I didn't want you to read this because it was terrible'."

Over the years, Inge's mother, herself, had undergone a rebirth. When war broke out, she and her husband were both staunch Nazis, and when her husband died she had grieved with pride.

"My mother was a proud widow because she was widow for the Fuhrer, for the leader, for Hitler," says Inge.

She had a certificate from the Nazi authorities telling her that her husband had died "in the struggle for the freedom of Greater Germany". She kept photographs of him taken in uniform on the Russian front, his chest puffed out in pride.

Boys in Nazi regalia Inge uses this picture of two boys in her lessons on moral choice

And, then, with total defeat, she found she had lost everything - her home, her husband and her ideology.

And shame gradually came to her, helped by her daughter, so when Inge asked her about the events in the letters, her mother was very ashamed.

Jewish connections

The discovery prompted Inge to help the descendants of Holocaust survivors and victims to find their history, and also to talk in schools.

"When I started to make connections with Jews in Germany and elsewhere, my mother said, 'You are doing this for me, too'."

Throughout Germany, there are people like Inge, seeking out the painful past - tending cemeteries and synagogues, creating museums, simply documenting.

Arthur Obermayer, who is Jewish, used to visit Southern Germany with his wife to trace their families' pasts.

Nazi certificate Inge's mother was initially proud of her husband who died in the Siege of Leningrad

"In every town, we found people who on a volunteer basis were preserving Jewish history and culture," he says.

"And they were doing it just because they felt that as Germans it was the right thing to do, because they felt that there was no other constructive way they could respond to Germany's horrible past."

Inge has called a family meeting for this summer. "In my family it was a long time before we could talk about the family history because a lot of the family have been Nazis," she says.

Will it be an easy, amicable meeting? "No," she roared. "People my age say: 'Why are we talking about it? Everybody knows what happened in the family'. And then the next generation says, 'Father, you never told me. I knew nothing about the family background'.

"But now they can come. They can listen. They can read a lot of letters and documents.

"And people are coming. Young people are coming".

It should be said that Arthur Obermayer feels great hope for Germany. Inge, too, says that much is being done. A past is being confronted - painfully.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Europe stories

RSS

Features

  • Nigel Farage (left) and Douglas CarswellWho's next?

    The Tory MPs being tipped to follow Carswell to UKIP


  • A painting of the White House on fire by Tom FreemanFinders keepers

    The odd objects looted by the British from Washington in 1814


  • President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference on 28 August.'No strategy'

    Obama's gaffe on Islamic State reveals political truth


  • Chris and Regina Catrambone with their daughter Maria LuisaSOS

    The millionaires who rescue people at sea


  • Plane7 days quiz

    What unusual offence got a Frenchman thrown off a plane?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.