Project Description

Karte von Hilde an Roland
Kar­te von Hil­de an Roland

The Chal­len­ge: 2014–15 were spe­cial years for con­tem­pora­ry Euro­pean histo­ry: 100 years sin­ce the start of the First World War, 75 sin­ce the start of the Second, 25 sin­ce Ger­man Reuni­fi­ca­ti­on. The­se anni­ver­s­a­ries fell in a peri­od when scho­l­ars in the huma­nities and social sci­en­ces were both chal­len­ged by revo­lu­tio­na­ry modes of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and exci­ted by oppor­tu­nities for inter­ac­tion across new hori­zons. The ine­luc­ta­ble loss of the War genera­ti­on chal­len­ged us to deve­lop new forms for social inter­ac­tion that might con­ti­nue to sup­port cri­ti­cal reflec­tion on ever­y­day life in the Third Reich in the future: ques­tio­ning collec­ti­ve memo­ries of the past and their con­nec­tion to the present.

Hilde, "Ballustradedumm," Meißen, 31. Juli 1938
Hil­de, “Bal­lus­tra­de­dumm,” Mei­ßen, 31. Juli 1938

This Pro­ject: The foun­da­ti­on for this pro­ject is an exten­si­ve collec­tion of love let­ters from two “ordi­na­ry” Ger­mans writ­ten during the Third Reich. This web­site show­ca­ses this extra­or­di­na­ry cor­re­spon­dence but sup­por­ted by various other media: radio, thea­ter, work­shops, and more. The public is invi­ted to respond to the let­ters with their own ques­ti­ons, thoughts, and memo­ries. The goal is a cri­ti­cal enga­ge­ment with ever­y­day life in the Nazi era that is inter­na­tio­nal, inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry, inter­me­di­al, “decel­lera­ted”, and “crowd­sour­ced”. How did the­se two ordi­na­ry Ger­mans respond to the Nazi regime? How did they con­tri­bu­te to the trans­for­ma­ti­on of his­to­ri­cal conditions?

Roland, mit Hilde am Lilienstein, 25. September 1938
Roland, am Lili­en­stein, 25. Sep­tem­ber 1938

The Aut­hors: Hil­de Lau­be und Roland Nord­hoff (both pseud­onyms) lived in small vil­la­ges in Sax­o­ny. They were pious Chris­ti­ans, and “Aryans” in the sen­se of Nazi racial law. Roland was thir­te­en years older than Hil­de and a dif­fe­rent genera­ti­on ent­i­re­ly: he was born befo­re the First World War, while she was born during the Wei­mar Repu­blic. He was also a tea­cher, while she was a labo­rer. During the war, he ser­ved in the Ger­man Navy: first in Schles­wig-Hol­stein, and then in Bul­ga­ria, Greece, and Rou­ma­nia, while she stay­ed at home in Saxony. 

Dem Führer - die Jugend, Propagandapostkarte, Deutschland, 1939, Lithographie, 15 x 10,5 cm, DHM, Berlin, Do 53/34.9, über Die NS-Frauenpolitik, 09.2014
Dem Füh­rer — die Jugend, Pro­pa­gan­da­post­kar­te, 1939, Litho­gra­phie, DHM, Ber­lin, Do 53/34.9, über Die NS-Frau­en­po­li­tik, 09.2014

The Let­ters: Their cor­re­spon­dence is well pre­ser­ved and remains in pri­va­te owners­hip in Ger­ma­ny. Stored in 24 lar­ge bin­ders, the 4,000+ let­ters ran­ge from 1 to 12 pages long, esti­ma­ted at some 900.000 words in total. Their cor­re­spon­dence began in May 1938 and, with some brief inter­rup­ti­ons, las­ted until Febru­a­ry 1946 — that is, through the Third Reich, Total War, and the first mon­ths of the Occup­a­ti­on. Roland wro­te his let­ters in a mix­tu­re of Süt­ter­lin and the old Ger­man cur­si­ve; Hil­de wro­te in a more modern hand but still with some ele­ments of the older styles. During their courtship, they exch­an­ged one or two let­ters per week, but during the war, they some­ti­mes even wro­te more than one let­ter per day.

The Con­tent: First and fore­mo­st, this regu­lar cor­re­spon­dence con­cer­ned their courtship; but their need for self-pre­sen­ta­ti­on wit­hin their rela­ti­ons­hip encou­ra­ged them to descri­be their acti­vi­ties, atti­tu­des, and inte­rests. As can be seen from the let­ter blog, they often com­men­ted on such topics as music, art, film, lite­ra­tu­re, thea­ter, faith, church, choir, rela­ti­ves, friends, fami­ly, vil­la­ge life, gen­der roles, work, care­ers, excur­si­ons, vaca­ti­ons, Nazi poli­tics, war, con­quests, expul­si­ons, and none the least on the cor­re­spon­dence its­elf. While his­to­ri­ans inte­res­ted about their rela­ti­ons­hip to anti­se­mi­tism, ter­ror, and geno­ci­de, the­se the­mes are dis­cus­sed only mar­gi­nal­ly in the ever­y­day life of the letters.

Trug & Schein: The name of the pro­ject deri­ves from one of Roland’s ear­ly let­ters, from 16.05.1938, when he descri­bed the era in which he lived in the fol­lowing terms:

We live in hard times. ​Trug und Schein​, swind­les and shams cloak the truth. Ever­yo­ne wears some kind of mask. Raw lust and cupi­di­ty show up ever­y­whe­re. And it is a stro­ke of luck, a bles­sing, if one can remain strai­ght and unbo­wed, if one does not suc­cumb to tempt­ati­on and can sal­va­ge one’s faith and year­ning for what is good, true, and noble. “(Vgl. 07.05.1942)


Their cor­re­spon­dence bears wit­ness to ever­y­day life in the Saxon cor­ner of the “Alt­reich” – tho­se parts of Cen­tral Euro­pe that were Ger­man pri­or to 1938 – as well as in parts of Nazi-occu­p­ied Euro­pe. May this poi­gnant case stu­dy spark new con­ver­sa­ti­ons about the modern Ger­man past and its place in the present. 

Read more about the scho­l­ar­ly back­ground to this pro­ject here and a list of scho­l­ar­ly publi­ca­ti­ons about T&S here.

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