America

Everybody in Germany agrees on two factors that were of utmost importance for the surprisingly quick recovery of the country´s economy after the devastating destruction at the end of WW II: First the introduction of the “Deutsch Mark” in the currency reform of 1948, second: the money that flowed into Germany for four years, beginning in 1947, through Marshall Plan channels. Most people are also quite willing to declare that Germany was the only country in Europe that received billions of dollars, while only a trickle might have gone to countries such as France and Britain. The error is based on a wide-spread misconception. Many Germans, blinded by self-pity, felt the Marshal Plan was some sort of “Wiedergutmachung” – a compensation — on the part of the US. They thought they had been treated unfairly through the first few months of the American denazification program. They, the ordinary Germans, guiltless in their own eyes, had to go through one or several humiliating question and answer sessions, whereas people in high positions went unscathed. In the eyes of these Germans, the Americans finally realized that ordinary Germans who had just stood by during the Nazi period were really America’s most eager students, and eventually allies. This is in

stark contrast, of course, to the near-universal view, in America at the time, that the Marshall Plan was an act of pure generosity, or to American fears that such aid might foster a future rival.

Morgenthau and Marshall were two names that were tossed back and forth during family gatherings, But the name Morgenthau — he stood for those in the US government who had wanted to turn Germany, a highly industrialized country, into an agrarian and pastoral state — was already fading out. (“It´s a Jewish name, isn´t it?” my uncle Richard slyly asked. Richard, a very kind, very generous uncle, also a card shark and a hard-drinking man, at times displayed a streak of anti-Semitism, which everybody else tried hard to ignore.)

My private Marshall Plan consisted of an American library that I began to frequent in the early 60s in Darmstadt. As my father worked for the German railroad, our family could get reduced train tickets. Even I, with my meagre pocket money, could effortlessly buy a ticket for a half- hour ride to the otherwise dull city of Darmstadt, and delve into the wealth of books at the US library there. And it was a lending library, all for free. After some random searching I gave my heart to two authors whose stories and novels I devoured: Hemingway and Steinbeck. For the most part these were translated books, but you could also rent some of the American originals. One of those I have in front of me now, and yes, I must admit, I didn’t return it in 1963. It survived several purges of my bookshelves that took place every time I moved. The book is John Steinbeck´s “Of Mice And Men”. When I looked into it just now I was surprised to find two stamps I had not previously noticed. One, on page two, says “War Prisoners Aid. World´s Committee,” and is followed by a boldly printed “YMCA.” At the bottom it says: “Geneva, Switzerland”. The second stamp, right smack on the dust jacket, says quite simply: US Censor 10631. So this book, apart from its content can tell quite a story.

Published in New York in 1937, it came to Europe, maybe in the late 40s, spent some time in Switzerland, and only after an American censor, maybe McCarthy´s infamous friend Roy Cohn himself (who was sent to Europe on a self-imposed special assignment – to “clean up” American-run libraries), had given his imprimatur, before it reached me. And made me an addict for a while of “socially critical” stories.

The American library of Darmstadt was housed in a virtual waste land, as the city was only slowly being built up again. In late September of 1944 the city had been the target of one of the most horrible bombing raids ever by the Royal Air Force, when 99% of the inner city was devastated, and more than half of the population had lost their homes. What did I notice when I took the tram from Darmstadt´s main railway station to the huge column of the Grand-Duke of Hessian in the centre of the city, where I was heading to? Ruins, empty windows, stretches of only provisionally secured buildings, but also heaps of sand and gravel and cement, for the reconstruction work, were so much part of my childhood, along with people with only one leg, one arm and emaciated looking men begging for money, that I felt nothing special about Darmstadt. This and a teenager´s capacity of staying aloof, to live in his own world, helped me find my way through the rubbles of what once was a splendid medieval German city. I was more at home in that library.

There weren´t only books offered but there were also several boxes filled with long-playing records. Just by chance I came across a field of music that was completely new to me. It was Dave Brubeck, it was Louis Armstrong, it was Benny Goodman, it was Gene Krupa. What a treasure! And I was allowed to take those LPs home, one at a time. There the Jazz people had to share the turntable with, of course, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. (And also with my first record of baroque music, presented to me by our priest, but that is another story.)