Friedrich Kellner in 1934
|Born||February 1, 1885
Vaihingen an der Enz, German Empire
|Died||November 4, 1970
Lich, West Germany
|Education||Oberrealschule (High School)|
|Children||Fred William Kellner|
|Parents||Georg Friedrich Kellner
Barbara Wilhelmine née Vaigle
August Friedrich Kellner (February 1, 1885 – November 4, 1970) was a mid-level official in Germany who worked as a justice inspector in Mainz and Laubach. During the First World War, Kellner was an infantryman in a Hessian regiment. After the war he became a political organizer for the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which was the leading political party during the time of the turbulent and short-lived Weimar Republic, Germany’s first period of democracy. Kellner campaigned against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. During World War II, working as a civil servant at a small court house, he wrote a diary to record his observations of the Nazi regime. Based on conversations and attentive reading of newspapers, he described the various crimes of that regime. He titled his work Mein Widerstand, meaning "My Opposition". After the war Kellner served on denazification boards, and he also helped to reestablish the Social Democratic Party. He gave his diary to his American grandson in 1968 to translate into English and to bring it to the attention of the public. In the epilogue, the author's grandson Robert Scott Kellner tells how the diary came to be published in German:- German publishers were not interested until in 2005 it was reported in Der Spiegel that former US President George H. W. Bush had looked at Kellner's original notebooks in the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University. He explained his purpose for writing the diary:
- "I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them."
The diary was published in 2011.
Family and education
Kellner was born in Vaihingen an der Enz, a town on the Enz River in southern Germany. At the time of his birth, Vaihingen was part of the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire. Kellner was the only child of Georg Friedrich Kellner, a baker and confectioner from the town of Arnstadt in Thuringia, and Barbara Wilhelmine Vaigle from Bietigheim-Bissingen near Ludwigsburg. The Kellner family could trace its beginnings to when the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, lived and preached not far from Arnstadt. The Kellners were Evangelical Lutherans.
When Friedrich Kellner was four years old, his family moved to Mainz where his father became the master baker at Goebel's Confectionery (Goebels Zuckerwerk).
After completing Volksschule, primary school, Kellner had a nine year course of non-classical study in the Oberrealschule in Mainz. In 1902 he completed his final exams at Goetheschule, which qualified him for an apprenticeship in courthouse administration.
In 1903 he started work as a junior clerk in the Mainz courthouse, remaining there until 1933. He advanced in the administrative ranks to justice secretary, then to court accountant, and in April 1920 to justice inspector.
Military service and marriage
From September 1907 through October 1908 Kellner fulfilled his initial military reserve duty in the 6th Infantry Company of the Leibregiments Großherzogin (3. Großherzoglich Hessisches) Nr. 117 in Mainz. In 1911, he completed an additional two months reserve training.
When the First World War began in 1914, Kellner was called up for active duty as a sergeant and deputy-officer in the Prinz Carl Infantry Regiment (4. Großherzoglich Hessisches Regiment) Nr. 118, in Worms. Within the first month of his return to army service, Kellner was in eight engagements in Belgium and France, including fights at Neufchâteau, Revigny-Laimont, and Rinarville, associated with what has become known as the Battle of the Frontiers. His regiment also fought at the First Battle of the Marne from September 5 through September 12. Under a prolonged bombardment in the trenches near Reims, he was wounded and was sent to St. Rochus Hospital in Mainz to recover. He spent the remainder of the war as a quartermaster secretary for the 13th Army Corps in Frankfurt am Main.
In 1913, a few months prior to being called up for service in the war, Kellner married Pauline Preuss (January 19, 1888 - February 8, 1970), who was from Mainz. Their son, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm (a.k.a. Fred William), who was to be their only child, was born in Mainz on February 29, 1916.
Kellner welcomed the birth of German democracy after the war. In 1919 he became a political organizer for the Mainz branch of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the (SPD). Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, he spoke out against the danger posed to the fragile democracy by the extremists in the Communist Party and the Nazi Party. At rallies near the Gutenberg Museum, which honored Johannes Gutenberg, the founder of the printing press, Kellner would hold above his head Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, and yell out to the crowd: "Gutenberg, your printing press has been violated by this evil book." He would often be accosted by brown-shirted thugs from the Nazi Party, known as Storm Troopers.
Two weeks before Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor in January 1933, and before the beginning of Hitler's murderous purge of his political opponents, Kellner and his family moved to the village of Laubach in Hesse, where he worked as the chief justice inspector in the district court. In 1935 his son immigrated to the United States in order to avoid service in the Wehrmacht, Hitler’s army.
During the November pogrom of 1938, known as Kristallnacht ("Night of the Broken Glass"), Friedrich and Pauline Kellner tried to stop the rioting. When Kellner approached the presiding judge to bring charges against the leaders of the riot, Judge Schmitt instead opened an investigation into the Kellners’ religious heritage. The Kellner family documents, which included baptismal records dating back three hundred years, proved Kellner and his wife were Christians. On November 18, 1938, the district judge in Darmstadt closed the case in Kellner’s favor: “Doubts about the Kellner bloodlines cannot be validated.” A finding to the contrary could have meant imprisonment and death.
The war years
From his reading of Mein Kampf, Kellner believed the election of Adolf Hitler would mean another war in Europe, and events soon were to support his view. Within a few years after coming to power, Hitler abrogated the Treaty of Versailles, re-militarized the Rhineland, expanded the German military forces, and spent great sums to outfit those forces with modern weaponry. Although the leaders in the democracies were concerned about such rearmament, they failed to take action to stop it. On September 1, 1939, in coordination with the Soviet Union, Hitler ordered the German armed forces to invade Poland.
It was on this day that Friedrich Kellner began to record his observations in a secret diary that he entitled Mein Widerstand, "My Opposition". He wanted the coming generations to know how easily young democracies could turn into dictatorships, and how people were too willing to believe propaganda rather than resist tyranny and terrorism.
Kellner did not confine himself to the diary. He continued to express his views, and in February 1940 he was summoned to the district court in Giessen where he was warned by the president of the court, Hermann Colnot, to moderate his views. A few months later he was summoned to the mayor’s office in Laubach where he was warned by the mayor and the local Nazi Party leader that he and his wife would be sent to a concentration camp if he continued to be a "bad influence" on the population of Laubach. A report written by the district Nazi leader, Hermann Engst, shows that authorities were planning to punish Kellner at the conclusion of the war.
Throughout the first two years of the war, Kellner looked to America to provide support for England and France. Numerous entries in the diary reveal Kellner’s belief that Germany had no chance to win if America would put aside its neutrality and do more than just send supplies to England. When America entered the war in 1941, the diary entries show Kellner’s impatience for the Allies to mount an effective invasion of the continent, and to bring the fight to the Germans on their own territory. When the invasion of Normandy took place on June 6, 1944, Kellner inscribed in large letters in the entry of that date: “Endlich!,” meaning “Finally!”
Kellner rarely wrote about his personal situation. He wrote primarily about Nazi policies and propaganda, and about the war. He noted the injustices in the court system, and recorded the inhumane deeds and genocidal intentions of the Nazis. In all of this he considered the German people as accomplices before and after the fact: first voting Hitler into power, and then acquiescing in his abuse of that power.
One of the most important historical entries in the diary was written on October 28, 1941. Most Germans after the war would insist they knew nothing at all about the state-sponsored genocide of the Jews, yet very early in the war Kellner recorded this in his diary, showing that word of atrocities reached the average citizens even in the small towns:
- A soldier on vacation here said he was an eyewitness to terrible atrocities in the occupied parts of Poland. He watched as naked Jewish men and women were placed in front of a long deep trench and upon the order of the SS were shot by Ukrainians in the back of their heads and they fell into the ditch. Then the ditch was filled with dirt even as he could hear screams coming from people still alive in the ditch.
- These inhuman atrocities were so terrible that some of the Ukrainians, who were used as tools, suffered nervous breakdowns. All the soldiers who had knowledge of these bestial actions of these Nazi sub-humans were of the opinion that the German people should be shaking in their shoes because of the coming retribution.
- There is no punishment that would be hard enough to be applied to these Nazi beasts. Of course, when the retribution comes, the innocent will have to suffer along with them. But because ninety-nine percent of the German population is guilty, directly or indirectly, for the present situation, we can only say that those who travel together will hang together.
After the war
The war came to an end for Kellner on March 29, 1945, when the Americans marched into Laubach. Only a few days earlier, beginning on March 23, 1945, in a series of coordinated events between the British and American forces, the Allies had crossed the Rhine River in their invasion of the German homeland. With the approval of the occupation forces, the new mayor of Laubach made Kellner deputy mayor. Kellner aided in the denazification process, which primarily meant removing former Nazis from positions of power in the region. Kellner helped to resurrect the Social Democratic Party in Laubach, and he became the regional party chairman.
Kellner wrote only a few more entries in the diary. In one of the last entries, on May 8, 1945, the day Germany officially surrendered to the Allies, Kellner noted:
- “If now, after the collapse, should any of these lackeys of Adolf Hitler have the insolence to claim they were merely harmless onlookers, let them feel the scourge of avenging mankind …. Whoever cries about having lost the Nazi system or wants to resurrect National Socialism is to be treated as a lunatic.”
Kellner served as chief justice inspector and administrator of the Laubach courthouse until 1948. He was appointed district auditor in the regional court in Giessen until his retirement in 1950. For the next three years he was a legal advisor in Laubach. In 1956 he returned to politics and was Laubach’s leading councilor and deputy mayor until he retired in 1960 at age 75.
On July 19, 1966, Kellner received compensation from the Federal Republic of Germany because of the injustices committed against him during the time of National Socialism. The compensation ruling included this statement:
- “Kellner's political opposition was recognized by the ruling powers and they took measures against him. In a memorandum dated June 23, 1937, they noted that Kellner had not been active enough for the National Socialist movement, and that he has caused disturbances with the local party. Further, the incidents in the year 1940 (the threatened incarceration in a concentration camp) had really an unfavorable effect. It was Kellner's open opposition to National Socialism which prevented possible promotions and damaged him in his service.”
Kellner and his wife arranged to have their son, Fred William Kellner, sent to the United States in 1935 out of concern he might otherwise have to fight for Hitler. Fred William returned to Germany in 1945 as a member of the U.S. Army. He was unable to cope with the devastation he witnessed, and in 1953 he took his own life. He is buried in the American Legion Tomb in Neuilly, France, on the outskirts of Paris. Fred’s son, Robert Scott Kellner, grew up in a children's home in Connecticut. In 1960, while in the United States Navy and traveling through Germany, Robert Scott Kellner located his grandparents, Friedrich and Pauline Kellner, and learned of the existence of the diary. In 1968 Friedrich Kellner gave his diary to his American grandson to translate and bring to the attention of the public. He believed his observations during World War II could have meaning in the increasing hostilities in the world brought about by the Cold War with Communism, and the proliferation of neo-Nazi cults.
Decades later, Robert Scott Kellner would use the diary to combat the resurgence of fascism and anti-Semitism in the twenty-first century, and to counter historical revisionists who would deny the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. He offered a copy of the diary to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has referred to the Holocaust as "a myth" and has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." In his offer to Ahmadinejad, Kellner said: "We need to renounce ideologies that do not uphold, above all else, human life and personal liberty." Friedrich and Pauline Kellner spent their last few years in Mainz, where Kellner had first begun his service as a law administrator and a political activist. He served as a volunteer legal advisor in Mainz from 1962 until 1969. After Pauline's death on February 8, 1970, Friedrich returned to Laubach for the remaining few months of his life. He died on November 4, 1970, in the regional hospital in Lich, not far from Laubach. He was buried at the side of his wife in the Main Cemetery, Hauptfriedhof, in Mainz.
My Opposition consists of 10 volumes with a total of 861 pages. The volumes are sheets of accounting paper bound together by string. There are 676 individually dated entries beginning in September 1939 through May 1945. More than 500 newspaper clippings are pasted onto the pages of the diary. The diary is written in a script called Sütterlin, the old German handwriting which was banned in 1941 and replaced by modern Latin lettering to make German easier for the conquered nations of Europe to read and understand.
There are separate pages written in 1938 and 1939, considered preliminary pages to the diary, that explain Kellner’s intentions. He meant for his observations to detail the events of those years, and to offer a prescription for future generations to prevent what occurred in Germany during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, when a fledgling democracy willingly embraced dictatorship to solve political disputes. Kellner foresaw Germany’s defeat, and warned against a recurrence of totalitarianism. He prescribed unrelenting resistance against any ideology that threatened personal liberty and ignored the sanctity of human life.
The complete diary was published by Wallstein Verlag (on German Wikipedia) in Göttingen, Germany, in 2011. It consists of two volumes, approximately 1,200 pages, with over 70 illustrations and photographs. The title is "Friedrich Kellner, 'Vernebelt, verdunkelt sind alle Hirne,' Tagebücher 1939-1945."
Reception of the diary
The diary’s first public appearance was at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, where it was on display to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the war in Europe. It has since been exhibited in other museums in the United States and in Germany. In October 2007, an exhibit of diary facsimiles was at The Great Synagogue of Stockholm, in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2010, the original diary was displayed in an extensive exhibit at Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin and Bonn, Germany. A permanent Kellner exhibit is at the Heimatmuseum in Laubach, Germany. Coincidentally, this museum is located on the same street as the courthouse where Kellner wrote the diary.
In Giessen, where Kellner worked as district auditor from 1948 to 1950, the Holocaust Literature Research Unit of the Justus Liebig University of Giessen has established the Kellner Project. The director of the group, Dr. Sascha Feuchert, considers Kellner's work one of the most extensive diaries of the Nazi period.
A number of major universities in the United States, such as Purdue, Columbia, and Stanford, have offered to make the diary part of their libraries. The directors of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., have also requested the diary for their archives.
In 2007 CCI Entertainment, a Canadian film company, produced a documentary film entitled My Opposition: The Diaries of Friedrich Kellner, which interweaves the stories of Kellner and his American grandson. The documentary had its American premiere at the George Bush Presidential Library on September 26, 2007. It was shown in the theater of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the United Nations on November 10, 2008, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
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George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Friedrich Kellner exhibit. Retrieved 2007-05-14
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"Iranians visit Israel's Holocaust Web site". Reuters. January 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-31. "Jews are alarmed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who since coming to power in 2005 has drawn international condemnation by describing the Holocaust as "a myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map.""
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- "Vernebelt, verdunkelt sind alle Hirne". Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, Germany.
- George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Friedrich Kellner exhibit. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
- AdsD, Heike Wächter (2009-12-14). "Friedrich Ebert Stiftung". Fes.de. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
- Heimatmuseum, Laubach, Germany Friedrich Kellner exhibit
- "Arbeitsstelle Holocaustliteratur will Kellner-Tagebücher veröffentlichen". Arbeitsstelle Holocaustliteratur am Institut für Germanistik der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen. Retrieved 2007-02-25.
- Documentary: “My Opposition: the Diaries of Friedrich Kellner.”
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