Ludwig Renn: Nachkrieg (After War)
In his first book, Renn described his experiences as a soldier in World War I. As the title of this book states, this book describes his experiences after the war. It starts where the previous book left off. His troop has returned to Germany. While it is a defeated Germany and one or two characters do make much of this, beyond that there is not a strong sense of defeatism and of despair. Indeed, apart from a woman complaining in the bakers’ that she is not getting her fair share of bread, there is little evidence of hardship. What we do see immediately is a challenge to the social order. Communism and socialism are on the increase. The soldiers, for example, demand and get a soldiers’ council which has considerable say in who their commanders are and other such matters. There is, indeed, considerable antipathy towards the officers. Much of the early part of the book is concerned with the role of the returning soldiers – are they there to maintain order or to assist in social change? Renn himself remains with his unit and is asked if he will stay on permanently, to which he more or less agrees, not least as he has no other prospects. However, despite his good relationship with the men (he is elected to be unit commander), discipline remains a huge problem. The men consistently smoke on parade when told not to. When they are protecting the town centre from possible attack against revolutionaries, they often seek excuses to go off duty – because their girlfriend is expecting them, one man, because he has to do his grocery shopping before the shops close and another to pick up his watch which is being repaired.
Renn is appointed head of the Security Battalion, which means protecting government buildings and people. Things are going from bad to worse. The soldiers and officers are in dispute but there also disputes between the different factions, such as the communists and socialists. Renn’s battalion has to intervene, though order and organisation are sorely lacking at the top. For example, they are sent to guard one group and wait and wait, with nothing happening and with the volunteers eager to go home to their wives and girlfriends. They are warned of an imminent massive communist attack, aided by the Signal Corps, but nothing happens. When Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are killed, murdered as some said then and as we now know to be the case, things take a turn for the worse.
Renn is then appointed to be in charge of the Castle but his life certainly does not become easier. The war wounded attack the War Ministry and the minister is killed. With the German Revolution now in full swing, there is chaos and fighting everywhere. Renn and his troop have to protect the Government from the communists, not an easy task, not least because of the chaos within the government. Eventually things calm down and Renn has time to study before becoming, as the real Renn did, a police officer. But the problems are not over. The Kapp Putsch takes place while Renn and his police colleagues are in a training camp, one they are sharing with an army battalion that supports Kapp and Lüttwitz. Inevitably there are clashes between the rank and file and the officers and Renn himself has problems reconciling the differences.
The book ends fairly abruptly, sometime after the Putsch, with Renn still a police officer. Though perhaps not as good as its predecessor, not least because we get a lot of detail about the toing and froing while Renn is trying to defend the government, it is still a fascinating first-hand account of a period which is not so well-known outside Germany, when Germany changed and its course for the next twenty-five years was set.
First published 1930 by Agis-Verlag
First published in English in 1931 by Dodd, Mead & Company
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir