By the Lake

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The quiet street is bordered by sumptuous villas, surrounded by trees. Some of the buildings are ancient, although meticulously maintained, probably pre-1914; others are more recent. Most have views over the lake, for this is what would be described, in England, as a well sought-after, leafy suburb. It has been so for a long time, ever since, in the 1850’s, the industrial growth of the Reich, and of its capital city, pushed the wealthy and entrepreneurial to seek the peace of these shores.

We drive past the painter Lieberman’s house, now a museum. Lieberman died in 1935, a confused and broken man, at the start of the worst episode in German, and European, long history. His widow, then aged eighty, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, and killed herself with veronal. We park the car in a spacious space, a few steps from the “lion”, and from the Villa Marlier.

Kaufmann Ernst Marlier, a charlatan who made his fortune selling fake slimming pills to the gullible German ladies and gents, acquired the land and had the house built for himself in 1914. The house is set on an artificial hill, constructed at great cost, to ensure a view over the lake, and an elegant formal garden. This is a vast, comfortable place, well suited to the – then –  wealthy owner who could afford it. We are told (*) that Marlier, after many unpleasant encounters with the law, sold his property in 1921, and finally disappeared without trace in Switzerland. The next owner, Herr Friedrich Minoux, was another one-time lucky businessman, with political ambitions, and who was not so successful under nazi rule, not fault of trying. Minoux had specialised in acquiring jewish businesses at fire-sale prices and built his financial success thereupon.he could not however avoid bankruptcy and sold the property for 1.95 million Reichsmark in 1940.

And so it is that, against strong competition from other nazi supremos, including Doctor Goebbels himself, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and future protector of Boheme-Moravia, acquired the Marlier house. There, on 20 January 19942, took place the conference that sealed the fate of millions of European citizens, caught in the nightmare of deportation and extermination on the East front. It is said that the real decisions regarding the “final solution” had already been taken, at the onset of the war, and were, anyway, already written into the “book’s” dreaded pronouncements.

By 1942 Heydrich had been made the über boss of all police and repressive forces in the Reich (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), and in the occupied territories. There is little doubt that the conference, as well documented in the “protocol” meticulously compiled by Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, was at most an endorsement and logistical settlement of the already determined final solution. The fifteen “functionaries” who participated, were in fact, Heydrich himself apart, no decision makers. As the said, many times later, and still during the trial of Eichmann, they obeyed orders…

The exhibition in the house, is superbly, and mercilessly laid out, from the nineteenth century nonsense, pseudo scientific racial absurdities, through the first world war and the fierce repression of the revolution, to the early fascistic violence of the frei Korps in the 20’s, to the onset of the nazi regimes, the logic of the first KZ, the liquidation of the “socialists” within, and finally, the war. There is plenty of sober evidence of the handy work of the Einsatzgruppen, Heydrich’s babies, the massacres of communists and jews, the good citizens of Lithuania, and other proud nationalists, butchering their neighbours with iron bars, under the watchful and impassive eyes of German soldiers. There is plenty of evidence of the cowardice of various collaborating European governments, including France’s Vichy, that managed to deport some 70,000 French citizens and refugees, in less than five years. Over half of the eleven million Europeans, objects of the conference, lost their lives. But, of course, this does not count Germany’s estimated eleven millions military and civilian dead, and the losses of the victorious USSR…

We looked out of the dining room bay windows, where once Reinhard Heydrich stood, surrounded by his fellow “functionaries”. We walked out on the beautiful terrace Marlier had built.

Then, we walked along the awakening lake shore, observing that the ice had melted. A heron flew by, in the woods we saw a wild boar. A beaver colony is evidently hard at work on some trees. So was a woodpecker. Peaceful walkers were taking pictures. So was I.

(*) I am in debt to Deutschlandradio for the programme “Gebt mir Sand, Wasser und Gold, Die lange Nacht von der Insel Wannsee“, for the historical information upon which this post is based.

The photography is from our visit to the Wannseeconferenz Haus in February 2017.

 

 

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