I am Axel. I am German. I have been living in the UK since 1997. Let me tell you a bit about my family and the story of my two grandfathers during the Nazi regime — one was a political prisoner, the other was a Hitler Youth regimental commander.
My grandparents Erna and Ernst Louis Jarmers ran a mill on the outskirts of Hamburg when Hitler rose to power in 1933. When the war broke out my grandfather was spared front line duty. As a miller he was exempted.
During this time in Hamburg he was not idle though. He did fight, not in the same way as the millions senselessly sent to their deaths in the trenches. He fought the regime, from the underground.
He was not alone, many Germans fought the Nazis from within. For a long time he got away with it. He was a respected personality locally and many Germans in his community covered him in his fight against Hitler.
In 1943, however, someone snitched on him. He was put into “Schutzhaft” (“protective custody”). Imprisonment without a judge or trial. Just rounded up. There were so many resistance fighters in the concentration camps that they even had their own symbols to wear (highlighted in red for political prisoners).
Nazi camp ID-emblems in a 1936 German illustration. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-051-07 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
By 1944 there were 524,000 Germans in “protective custody” and by January 1945 the number had grown to 714,000, many of whom did not see the end of the war.
While my grandfather was imprisoned, fearing firing squats on a daily basis, my grandmother was in Hamburg. Looking after my mother and her two young sisters on her own.
One of the most memorable stories my grandmother ever told me was when she, on her own looking after her three daughters, witnessed the fire rolling down her street brought on through the bombings of Hamburg during Operation Gomorrah in 1943.
Conservative political communications and social media consultant Theodora Dickinson posted a tweet yesterday afternoon — which she has since deleted — with a deeply hurtful comment that treats the victims of the Nazi regime with utter disrespect. Trampling on the graves of my grandparents.
Deleting a tweet does not mean that one is sorry.
Germany has put this gruesome time behind itself. Never forgotten though. Maybe it is time for the British to do the same rather than bringing up the long obsolete picture of the ‘ugly hun’ everytime it suits.
My grandfather survived the war. He was freed by British troops in 1945 — something my family are immensely grateful for. The British liberated Germany and were seen as a force of good. Such vindicative tweet makes me question that.
For us Germans, family history is very rarely black or white. And indeed, this is only half of my family history. Without the other, darker half my family history is not complete.
Nazi Germany divided the country and it was not all good vs evil as it is often portrait today. This is why I also would like to tell the story of my other grandfather, Oberbannführer Helmut Antoni. My grandfather on my father’s side.
Helmut Antoni joined the Hitler Youth as early as 1932 and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1934. The early 1930s in Germany were a time of unrest. The Weimar Republic was falling apart. Fascists were having street fights with communists. In 1932, my grandfather was 16.
At some point between 1932 and 1934, no one really knows exactly when, my grandfather suffered a very traumatic event. His best friend got killed by a stray bullet fired by a communist during one of those street fights.
Whether this event triggered him joining the Hitler Youth in 1932 or the NSDAP in 1934 is unclear. But one thing is clear: it set him on a path. He chose a side.
His CV from 1936 is not very clear on this. What his CV shows though is that by 1936 he had turned his membership into a career. And he saw the time between 1932 and 1936 as a time of battle (“Kampfzeit”).
Albert Antoni’s CV, 1936.
Nazi Germany was great at turning young men into fascist career chasers. And my grandfather was very successful. From a local speaker in 1934 to an international speaker later on, he managed to work himself into the top ranks of the Hitler Youth.
By 1938, he arrived at the top of the Hitler Youth. Between 1938 and 1942, he was head of the foreign division of the Hitler Youth, reporting directly to the Reichsjugendführer Baldur von Schirach.
And my grandfather was a believer.
In 1942, in Freiburg, he was encouraging young Swiss Germans to join the fight for the “Endsieg”, the final victory.
My family history is encapsulating all of Nazi Germany with Ernst Louis suffering imprisonment as political resistance fighter and Helmut as one of Germany’s Top 1,000 Nazis.
Am I proud of Ernst Louis? A bit.
Am I ashamed of Helmut? A bit.
But most importantly, it has made me the balanced person I am now. Brought up by parents teaching me: “Never again!”. With the knowledge that the journey into fascism is not abrupt but slow, and that it can happen anywhere.
Both my grandparents’ stories have taught me one thing: Never again!
With that, I want to close with an all caps:
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.)