Claus Victor Bock

The Independent has Jeremy Adler’s obituary of Claus Bock, a former professor of German at London University, who survived the war in hiding in Amsterdam. I missed his autobiography (1985).

Bock’s record of the war years was published in 1985 as Untergetaucht unter Freunden: ein Bericht. Amsterdam 1942-1945 (“Underground Among Friends: a report. Amsterdam 1942-1945”). The memoir tells how he disappeared from the official records by feigning suicide, which left him free to go underground, chiefly with the help of the German writer Wolfgang Frommel, a charismatic figure in the resistance group associated with the George circle. Frommel both arranged the practicalities of survival, and inspired the extraordinary literary activity by which those in hiding filled their days.

Frommel hid Claus and others in the house of his friend, the Dutch painter Gisèle van Waterschoot van der Gracht, on the Herengracht in the very centre of Amsterdam. In a chilling episode Bock recounted, the place was searched. A German officer detected a clear sign of the stowaways, but then, after exchanging glances with Frommel, promptly ordered his men to leave. The situation was depicted by another friend who took refuge in Holland, the German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann. In Beckmann’s war-time triptych Actors (1941-42), the left-hand panel recalls the scene: Frommel confronts a helmeted soldier; Giséle hovers in the background; and beneath the floorboards or stage, the feet of some hidden boys appear, including those of the young Claus Bock.

I think I heard that Bock was hiding in a piano when a German officer looked him in the eye, but maybe my memory is playing me tricks. I most certainly didn’t know this was referred to in a Beckmann painting.


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Hergestellt in Deutschland/Origem: Alemanha

Translators are a race apart/Dolmetscher scheuen Seife und Sonnenlicht

Norman Birkett on the interpreters – of course referred to by him as translators – at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, as quoted by Mrs Boyo in The Daily Scorch:

…translators are a race apart – touchy vain, unaccountable full of vagaries, puffed up with self-importance of the most explosive kind, inexpressibly egotistical, and, as a rule, violent opponents of soap and sunlight…

She continues:

To this one might add “incompetent lechers, virtuosi of halitosis and inept propagandists of shopworn views”. The wretched hygiene, real and political, of the translator is a function of his irrelevance. Like religion, democracy and chocolate wrappers, he serves only to hinder progress towards one’s chosen goal.

and concludes that we should all speak the local languages, for example:

English, French and German would apply in our European case. One, for example, could speak in English while your interlocutor replied in French – each at his ease.

Those unable to learn these languages would hardly have opinions worth conveying to others, and the sums saved on the cabals of interpreters could be usefully spent on improving vocational education.

She quotes Tyutchev’s (Tiutchev’s) Silentium – here translated as ‘The word, pronounced, is a lie’, but Tyutchev was not above translation himself (I know nothing of his relation to soap and water). And I had no idea Minima Moralia was available in an English translation on the Web.

Thanks to kalebeul

Erwin Wickert

The death of Erwin Wickert, aged 93, was reported recently. Nearly all the German papers gave the impression that his career started in 1955, thus Der Tagesspiegel has more, and so does Wikipedia.

Last year I bought his Mut und Übermut. Geschichten aus meinem Leben. I got it secondhand from It cost 80 eurocents – the postage was 1.95. This was on a tip from Trevor, who had encountered Wickert in another incarnation.

It’s interesting to read excerpts from a life spanning the Nazi period. There’s period as an exchange student in the USA in 1935, when it was still isolationist, including a talk with a professor of politics comparing the style of the USA and Nazi Germany; crossing the country on goods trains with the hobos (with photos); in Japan in October 1945, an encounter with an American soldier who, on a six-month course for officers, had stayed in the same room Wickert had had at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

I didn’t find an English obituary of any length, but Dickinson College a couple of years ago linked to a Deutsche Welle article in English, ‘There is Good and Evil in Every Nation’ on Wickert and John Rabe.

LATER NOTE: An interesting article on Wickert by Sherri Kimmel in the Dickinson Magazine, the magazine of the college Wickert attended in the USA, based on her interviews of him at his home in Germany in recent years (see comments).

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