Michael Wieck

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Michael Wieck (born 19 July 1928) is a German violinist and author. He was the first violinist of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1974-93. In 1989 Wieck published a memoir, Zeugnis vom Untergang Königsbergs, in which he related his and his family's sufferings under the Nazis and, after the German defeat, under the Soviets. This moving story has been translated into English and Russian.

Biography[edit]

Wieck was born in Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia. He is the son of two Königsberg musicians who were widely known before the Nazi era, Kurt Wieck and Hedwig Wieck-Hulisch. They were founders of the popular Königsberger Streichquartett (Königsberg String Quartet).

After consultation with a local rabbi his Jewish mother and his Protestant, but in religious matters indifferent, father had decided to bring up their children, Michael and his sister, Miriam (born 1925), as Jews and enrolled them with the Jewish congregation in Königsberg. According to the Halacha a person born from a Jewess, who is no outspoken apostate (e.g. convert to another religion), is Jewish by birth. This differs from the non-religious Nazi racist categorisations of half, quarter or smaller fractions of Jewishness or Aryanness, respectively, which are completely alien to Judaism. Following the 1935 Nuremberg Laws (article 5, sentence 2) this caused Wieck and his sister not to be categorised as Mischlinge, but as Geltungsjuden ("Jews by legal validity"). Their mother was categorised fully Jewish.

After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 they experienced the gradual ramping up of anti-Semitic discrimination and oppression. They were first ejected from public schools and sent to Jewish schools. They were later forbidden to attend classes at all, and Miriam was sent to a boarding school in Scotland in 1938 (Kindertransporte), taking the place of another girl who had gone to the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Michael Wieck was compelled to work in factories. In mid-1941 Wieck celebrated his Bar Mitzva in the small Orthodox synagogue Adass Jisroel (עדת ישראל) of Königsberg, the main Jewish place of worship, the New Synagogue, had been destroyed in the November Pogrom of 1938.[1] During the pogrom perpetrators had vandalised the interior of the Orthodox synagogue hall, but spared it from arson because it was no separate structure but inbuilt in a building also used for residential purposes. Later on the congregation could restore a prayer hall in the building and used it until the few remaining German synagogues were prohibited to function.[2] The Wiecks experienced the pain of parting from emigrating close Jewish siblings and friends throughout the Nazi era but most terribly when the government started systematic deportations of Jewish Germans and Gentile Germans of Jewish descent to ghettos and concentration camps in October 1941.

However, because Wieck's parents were a mixed marriage – Kurt Wieck had no known recent Jewish ancestors – they were spared from deportation and ultimately genocide, unlike most members of Königsberg's Jewish community, the history of which dated back four centuries. Although the Wiecks experienced isolated acts of kindness from a few of their non-Jewish neighbours, they were tormented by others, and life became more and more difficult for them as the war dragged on.

In late August 1944, during World War II, Königsberg was repeatedly fire-bombed by the Royal Air Force, and much of the city's center, including the medieval castle and the 14th century Königsberg Cathedral, was destroyed, gutted or heavily damaged. "The people of Königsberg shall never expunge these nights of terror from their memory," Wieck wrote.

When the Red Army conquered Königsberg on April 9, 1945, after a bitterly fought siege lasting nearly three months, the city had become a vast graveyard of rubble. Of the 316,000 people who had lived there before the war, perhaps 100,000 survived, and Wieck estimated that about half of these were to die of hunger, disease, or maltreatment before the last Germans were allowed (or forced) to leave in 1949-50. The Soviet authorities declined to recognize the few surviving German Jews in Königsberg as victims of the Nazis, and initially treated all German-speakers as enemies.

Wieck's incarceration in a Soviet prison camp near Königsberg-Rothenstein, and the story of how he and his parents barely managed to eke out an existence thereafter in Kaliningrad – as the city was renamed on in July 1946 – occupy the second half of his book. In 1949, the Wiecks finally were allowed to go to the Soviet Zone of occupation in truncated and divided Germany. Wieck left the Soviet zone as soon as possible and lived first in West Berlin, where Gentile paternal relatives had survived. Thereafter he lived for seven years in New Zealand, before returning to Germany and settling in Stuttgart.

In his memoir, Wieck muses on human nature and speculates on ultimate causes and the nature of the deity. Although he retains a strong emotional attachment to Judaism, he ultimately espouses a kind of deism, alluding to "a definite feeling of something 'lying behind it all' that always resists being put into words." Regarding human nature and humankind’s potential for good and evil, he says:

In 2005, Wieck was awarded the Otto Hirsch Medaille – an annual honor given to persons who have served the cause of German-Jewish reconciliation. The award commemorates Otto Hirsch (1885-1941), a German-Jewish lawyer and politician from Stuttgart who was imprisoned by the Nazis and ultimately tortured to death at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Michael Wieck: Zeugnis vom Untergang Königsbergs: Ein "Geltungsjude" berichtet, Heidelberger Verlaganstalt, 1990, 1993, ISBN 3-89426-059-9.
  • Michael Wieck: A Childhood Under Hitler and Stalin: Memoirs of a "Certified Jew," University of Wisconsin Press, 2003, ISBN 0-299-18544-3.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Wieck, Zeugnis vom Untergang Königsbergs: Ein «Geltungsjude» berichtet (11990), Munich: Beck, 82005, (Beck'sche Reihe; vol. 1608), pp. 84seqq. ISBN 3-406-51115-5.
  2. ^ Michael Wieck, Zeugnis vom Untergang Königsbergs: Ein «Geltungsjude» berichtet (11990), Munich: Beck, 82005, (Beck'sche Reihe; vol. 1608), p. 81. ISBN 3-406-51115-5.