Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
In the GDR people were required to acknowledge an assortment of fictions as fact. Some of these fictions were fundamental, such as the idea that human nature is a work-in-progress which can be improved upon, and that Communism is the way to do it.
Others were more specific: that East Germans were not the Germans responsible (even in part) for the Holocaust; that the GDR was a multi-party democracy; that socialism was peace-loving; that there were no former Nazis left in the country; and that, under socialism, prostitution did not exist.
Many people withdrew into what they called ‘internal emigration’. They sheltered their secret inner lives in an attempt to keep something of themselves from the authorities.
After 1989 Dieter retired from teaching as soon as he could. He was depressed, and required medication. ‘I think one could count him too, as a victim of the regime,’ Julia says. Living for so long in a relation of unspoken hostility but outward compliance to the state had broken him.
The Story of an East German Family by Maxim Leo.
The first Party assembly at the university is a dreadful spectacle. Two lecturers are told to stand at the the front by the board. A comrade rises to his feet and declares that the two of them aren't worthy members of the SED [Socialist Unity Party of Germany] because they have attacked the Party and the working class with their hostile speeches. Their reactionary, revisionist behaviour discredits the whole university.
A comrade whispers to Anne, telling her what's going on. The two lecturers clearly dared to express doubts about the correctness of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. They hadn't actually protested against the invasion, but just asked whether this action by Moscow was reconcilable with the peaceful partnership of the community of Socialist states.
Now one comrade after another gets to his feet and hurls criticism and contempt at the two men. They stand there, heads lowered, as if petrified, and don't dare say anything themselves. They look like rabbits acting dead so that the snake won't eat them straight away.
Later, Anne often returns to that scene. In her imagination the two men are wearing pointed hats and signs around their necks with self-denunciations written on them. Anne finds this assembly so frightening that she undertakes to be even more careful from now on. She understands that conditions at the university are very different from those in the newspaper office where she'd been working. On the newspaper, no one demanded that you believe in what you do. It just needed to work. Here in the university even the purity of thought is checked. Anyone who doesn't declare unconditional loyalty is isolated. Later she sometimes sees the two punished lecturers in the student canteen. They are always alone, no one dares to talk to them or even to join them. They still keep their heads lowered, they are penitents in perpetuity, a warning to others.
Maxim Leo, Red Love: The Story of an East German Family (London: Pushkin Press, 2014) pp. 41-42.
Travellers in the Third Reich
The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd.
There is more than a whiff of all this in a lecture Harold Nicolson (at the time serving in the British Embassy) gave at Berlin University, described by the wife of the British ambassador, Lady Rumbold: He gave a most entertaining lecture in the University yesterday in English, in which he compared the very different character of the English and German. It was half serious and half jesting, and I think left the students high and dry and not quite knowing how to take it. To all of us it was delightful. His description of the English character with its curious shyness, which you meet in no other nationality, was so true.
The Englishman instinctively protects this sensitiveness by growing a sort of shell in the form of a particular kind of manner, and code of ‘good form’, sometimes also a superior air vis-à-vis foreigners, which is all calculated to camouflage his shyness. Harold says the English and Germans will never understand each other.
Story of a Secret State
My Report to the World by Jan Karski
When people started to issue from their houses to go to work, I decided to take my chance. I approached an elderly worker and named the street on which was located the contact point that I had been given in Perpignan. He asked me what language I spoke. When I answered, he informed me by means of signs and a few words of French that I was to go seven blocks ahead and ten to the right.
During this war, I have often noticed that simple people are shrewder and quicker to guess the truth than ‘experts.’
When my guide finished his directions, he looked at me craftily and whispered with a significant smile: ‘De Gaulle, heh?’. ‘De Gaulle,’ I answered. ‘Bien. Bonne chance.’ He waved to me. ‘Merci, monsieur.’ I smiled and continued on my way.
The White Album
Essays by Joan Didion
We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man’s fate. (p.207)
Here at San Francisco State only the black militants could be construed as serious: they were at any rate picking the games, dictating the rules, and taking what they could from what seemed for everyone else just an amiable evasion of routine, of institutional anxiety, of the tedium of the academic calendar. Meanwhile the administrators could talk about programs. Meanwhile the white radicals could see themselves, on an investment of virtually nothing, as urban guerrillas. (p.39)
Born in the GDR
Living in the Shadow of the Wall by Hester Vaizey
When Carola first moved to the West in January 1989, she felt that the world was her oyster. So many choices and possibilities were open to her. Though she had not glorified the West as a paradise, she did initially delight in her new-found freedom.
Soon, however, she came to realize that freedom is relative, and that even within a democracy there are notable limits. ‘Freedom of travel’, she explains, ‘is only possible if you can actually afford it. And how significant is freedom of speech if no one listens to you and you’re not really heard?’
An East German saying goes as follows: ‘When a West German talks fondly of his early years, this is called his childhood. When an East German talks fondly of his early years, this is branded Ostalgie.’
By Svetlana Alexievich
We made jokes – it was a golden age for jokes! ‘A communist is someone who’s read Marx, an anti-communist is someone who’s understood him.’
We grew up in kitchens, and our children did, too; they listened to Galich and Okudzhava along with us. We played Vysotsky, tuned in to illegal BBC broadcasts. We talked about everything: how shitty things were, the meaning of life, whether everyone could all be happy.
Endlessly drinking tea. Coffee. Vodka. ... We talked non-stop, afraid that they were listening in, thinking they must be listening. There’d always be someone who’d halt mid-conversation and point to the ceiling light or the power outlet with a little grin, ‘Did you hear that, Comrade Lieutenant?’
It felt a little dangerous, a little bit like a game. We got a certain satisfaction out of leading these double lives. A tiny handful of people resisted openly, but many more of us were ‘kitchen dissidents’, going about our daily lives with our fingers crossed behind our backs…
The Eagle Unbowed
Poland and the Poles in the Second World War by Halik Kochanski
Often the problems were simple: for example, a broken cable which had been tied together with a piece of string. The Russians wondered why this did not work and thought Stanisław a genius for reconnecting it properly. His success led to a suggestion that he should get a job at the tractor service station where he would get paid in roubles, an obviously attractive proposition because he had a mother, aunt and four sisters to support. He approached the local NKVD man for permission, but was refused. When he asked why, he was staggered by the response: ‘when they think they have learnt everything they can from you, someone will denounce you and accuse you of sabotage, and I will have to arrest you and the saboteur would go free’. The NKVD man only gave Stanisław this helpful warning because he was in love with his aunt, Janka.
The Soviets delighted in their new-found wealth and status and their conduct provided some humour for the beleaguered Poles, such as the sight of Russian women going to the theatre wearing Polish nightdresses or stories of Soviet soldiers washing in the bowls of lavatories and wondering out loud why the water ran so fast.