on 27 August 2015
I came across this from references in Richard Evans' trilogy of the Third Reich and Germany, and in an American account of the White Rose. Despite quoting him at length, Evans is rather disparaging of Reck, implying that he had to some extent mis-sold himself as a Prussian aristocrat while being more of a nouveau riche upstart. Having looked up various sources, it seems that the 'Malleczewen' was added in reference to the area of his upbringing, but there's no doubting that he was a man of culture, connections and deep sensitivity, whatever his background.
This edition of the diary doesn't seem to differ from any other, in that it begins in 1936 and ends in 1944. There is disagreement about how he died in Dachau (for the period of the journal, he lives in Bavaria) - whether of illness or an SS bullet - but again, the relevant factor seems to be that his life was ended, one way or another, by the Nazis whom he so loathed. Despite an introduction and a foreword by the translator, it isn't clear whether what is published constitutes the whole journal or merely sections chosen by editors. Chapters are headed by month and year, and were sporadically written; nor are they too forthcoming about Reck's daily life or personal circumstances, while encompassing anecdotes past and contemporary, the weather and so on. His tone is scathing: he admits he lives and breathes hatred for the regime that has degraded his beloved Germany, and he has only a dry and bitter humour to help him through it.
The point that Evans makes about his being far from an obvious hero is a good one, in that Reck was a staunch conservative, a supporter of the old monarchist order that inadvertently allowed Hitler the power he craved. He was opposed to both Communism and even the Enlightenment, which he saw as a movement that took the worst of the Renaissance and destroyed the rightful feudal order prevalent in Germany and so much of Europe, with nothing workable to put in its place. Nonetheless, he wrote with absolute clear-eyed condemnation of a state that encouraged brutality and violence, and had reduced its citizens to "bovine masses" who either believed the propaganda without thinking or followed it through fear. Despair describes his external reality, as his friends are hounded into exile or concentration camps, but with the coming of war he gains hope that justice will prevail and there will be a better future. He witnessed many things - the treatment of PoWs, the bombing of Munich and the vengeful fury of the Third Reich on anyone who did not conform - and ultimately didn't live to experience the postwar economic boom, but he succeeded in leaving us his testament to a world turned over to barbarians, and it's as stark a warning as any less personal and more objective accounts in print.
on 17 July 2001
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen's "Diary of a Man in Despair" evidences many traits that would probably justify his description as an unreconstructed reactionary of the old school. He was an admirer (and friend) of Oswald Spengler. He was an aristocrat and a monarchist (although of a Wittelsbach rather than Hohenzollern bent). He thought highly of the inner decency of the Bavarian peasant (although he himself came from Junker origins). What makes this book fascinating is that such a man was also a fervent anti-nazi, whose chief regret was not having shot Hitler when, early in the Third Reich, he had had a chance to do so in a restaurant in Munich. This is surprising to a modern sensibility, which associates mental attitudes such as Reck-Malleczewen's with an innate proto-nazism. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Michael Burleigh has shown in his emblematic "The Third Reich", Hitlerism was a truly revolutionary creed. Its main contenders were on the right, not on the left. We must remember that the conspiracy to kill the Fuehrer in August 1944 was led by aristocrats in the army. A refined, sensitive, individualistic, cultured man like Reck-Malleczewen, having seen the regime's true face from very early on (he owned a palace in Schleissheim, just a few kilometers off Dachau), could never reconcile himself with its vulgarity, violence and inner nihilism. While many "progressives" easily transacted with the nazis, sympathising with many of their worthier goals (such as social security and work for the masses, or a strong Germany for a strong German people) it was left to reactionaries such as Reck-Malleczewen to realize the cosmic evil that had been unleashed, and to wallow in the pits of existential despair at their powerlessness to stop it. In its death throes, the Third Reich managed to take our author with it. He was executed in February 1945 by a single shot to the neck.
I very deeply regret that the diary has but 232 pages, of which 11 (5% of the book) are taken up by a rather tedious preface by Norman Stone. I would very much have enjoyed learning from this wizened sage whose voice booms down from mountains that very few dare to climb. It was the common people, with their simple pleasures, their resentments and prides, their thoughtless ambitions, that provided the backbone for the Third Reich...