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Oskar Maria Graf: Anton Sittinger [Anton Sittinger]
Oskar Maria Graf was an early opponent of the Nazis and this book, while more critical of the sort of German that led to the rise of the Nazis, rather than being an open attack on the Nazis (though it is also that), could not be published in Germany in 1937 and was, in fact, published in London. Surprisingly, it has never been translated into English.
The book starts in 1917. Anton Sittinger and his wife, Malwine, live in Munich, where Anton works as a postal inspector. Anton is pompous and arrogant, always putting his wife down, though she still very much looks up to him. Above all, he is self-obsessed. For him, it is not character that counts but thoughts and interests. He despises novels and similar light reading, reading only the serious German philosophers (only the most difficult philosophers, as he says). He endlessly regales his wife with his thoughts and theories, which she does not fully comprehend. The war is going on and things are hard but Anton is more concerned about his own comfort than the fate of Germany in the war. His mood and welfare depend on his getting a good meal so Malwine has to spend time going out to the country to try and obtain food, which is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, at least of the quality that Anton expects for his meals, with lots of ersatz products.
Anton is so upset about what is going that he becomes ill and, while he is ill, Malwine suggests he should take an early pension (he is forty) and that they should retire to the country. He initially rejects the idea and then considers it. For the time being, with the current situation it is not possible. Malwine urges him to buy war bonds to help the German cause. He is reluctant to do so but does, to a certain extent. He is worried – rightly as it turns out – that he will not get the money back. Indeed, when that does happen, he blames Malwine for making him invest in the war bonds. We later learn that he has been hoarding gold. Malwine is initially shocked but when he tells her that without this money, they may starve, she comes around. There is now considerable social unrest in Munich (and elsewhere in Germany) as there is no food and there are demonstrations and riots. Things get worse when the war ends, with the threat of revolution and major social upheaval. Graf gives us an excellent portrait of events in Munich. Anton, of course, does not like this.
Before she had married Anton, Malwine had a suitor, Franz Eibenthaler. However, her parents had considered that he was unsuitable and Anon was much more suitable. He had been fighting in the war but now that the war is over, he comes to visit them. He comes regularly, eating up their limited rations. Anton is not happy about this but cannot see a way to getting rid of him. He then decides that, whenever Franz comes, to ply him with food and more food. When Malwine complains that she is finding it difficult to obtain food, he blames her for inviting Franz and Franz is kept away. The situation in Munich is getting worse, with assassinations and major rioting. Malwine presciently says Zur rechten Zeit ist immer der rechte Mann gekommen [At the right time, the right man has always come forward.].
But they move out to the country. And they hate it, at least Anton does. Things go wrong. It is cold. it is wet. It is too cold. It is too hot. He is ill. However, things do start to get better and he does enjoy his walks out in the country. Malwine says he should make friend with the neighbours, though he is not too impressed with them but does manage to get seriously drunk with them. When he does meet them, he is not always happy with their political discussions. Ein Beamter hat sich nicht um zu Politik zu kümmern [A civil servant should not get involved in politics]. When the Munich Putsch takes place, he is very happy that Hitler is defeated.
His drinking companions, while not initially pro-Nazi, believe that Germany’s problems are caused by the Reds, the Jews, France and lack of discipline, i.e. more or less what the Nazis thought. But when they ask Anton for his opinion, he replies that he does get involved in politics. But there are days when Anton just stays at home, pacing up and down or reading the newspaper. However, one thing does annoy him. He sees an announcement for a talk on Nazis issues – by Franz Eibenthaler. He thought Franz had gone out of their life (though we know he has written to Malwine). The talk leads to some disruption in the town and there are arrests. The fortunes of the Nazis vacillate during this period but Malwine continues to support them and Anton to sit on the fence.
Graf sums up Sittinger’s view as follows. Menschen wie Sittinger gibt es in allen Ländern Abertausende…In manchen Zeiten heissen sie ‘du’ und ‘ich’ [There are thousands and thousands of people like Sittinger in every country… In many cases they are called ‘you’ and ‘I’] He goes on to explain that we would all deny being Sittingers. They are the selfish people, entirely concerned with their own comfort and well-being. They do not want change but everything to be as it was in a glorious past. They look down on the people less well-off, the ordinary labourer and the poor, not least because they see them as a potential threat to the established order. Because of this they are not real democrats, but more often straightforward reactionaries and often monarchists. They will accept a dictatorship if their own life-style is not affected in any way. It is they, Graf, is firmly convinced, who are responsible for the rise of Hitler and other dictators.
The book ends soon after Hitler takes power in 1933 (the book was published four years later when, of course, Hitler was still very much in power) and, inevitably, the Nazis take over the town and arrest the people they consider as Reds. Anton does not like it, not because of what the Nazis do but because they disturb his equilibrium. Graf does not hold back his views. The Nazis are second-rate thugs and the petit bourgeoisie accomplices of these thugs. Given the period when he was writing, we can hardly expect him to have an objective or measured view. He certainly drives his point home, barely letting up in his criticism of Anton Sittinger and the Nazi supporters. Certainly, for people from the English-speaking world, it is a fascinating account of how the Nazis came to power, not in a vacuum, but with the complicity of many of the German people. Given the subject matter and the fact that it was originally published in London, it is somewhat surprising that it has never been translated into English.
First published 1937 by Malik-Verlag
No English translation