Ursula Knechel’s ‘Landgericht’, review by David Vickrey



This is what David Vickrey writes:

“I’ve always been interested in Exilliteratur – books by or about writers and artists forced to flee Germany during the Nazi era.  Much, of course, has been written about the exile community in Southern California – including Michael Lentz’s terrific Pazific Exil (2007). Anna Seghers wrote about her exile in Mexico in Ausflug der toten Mädchen, and many of Hilde Domin’s poems deal with her exile years in the Dominican Republic.  But very little has been written about the German exile experience in Cuba – which is one reason I was keen on reading Ursula Krechel’s Landgericht (literally “District Court”), which won the German Book Prize in 2012.  The central figure in the novel, the Jewish barrister Richard Kornitzer, is forced to flee the Nazis and finds sanctuary in Havana for ten years.

But Landgericht is also about homecoming – returning to the “scene of the crime”, to the country that cast Kornitzer out and wrecked his family forever.

Life was good for Kornitzer and his wife Claire in the Weimar Republic.  He was a talented young lawyer and judge with a brilliant career ahead of him, while Claire was a successful businesswoman, with her own advertising agency that created and placed ads in the booming German cinema.  Together they lived in a chic apartment in central Berlin and had two children.  But things quickly went downhill once the Nazi’s came to power: Kornitzer was forced out of his job and could no longer practice law, Claire, although of Aryan background, had her business stolen from her because of her marriage to a Jew (which she refused to renounce).  Soon it was clear that Richard and the children (Halbjuden) were in mortal danger.  The children were sent to England via the Kindertransport  while Richard was able to secure safe passage to Cuba – without his wife Claire.

Ursula Krechel takes the reader back and forth in time.  The book opens with Kornitzer’s return to a ruined Germany after 10 years in exile, hoping to resume his career where it had been suspended by the Nazis.  He is given a post in the provincial civil court in Mainz – a city that had been 95% destroyed by the allied firebombing.  And the descriptions of the deprivations of those early postwar years are well done.  Kornitzer quickly learns that the Third Reich never really ended: his colleagues on the bench in Mainz are all either former members of the NSDAP or Mitläufer.  Kornitzer is treated as an outsider – both as a Jew and because of his special status an Opfer des Faschismus.  And he is not alone as an outsider in new “democratic” West Germany.  Krechel often brings real historical events and figures into the novel.  Such as Philipp Auerbach, a Jew and former chemist who survived Auschwitz and who after the war worked tirelessly for restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes.  Kornitzer watches with great interest as Auerbach is persecuted by former Nazis in Bavaria.  Eventually he is unjustly convicted and imprisoned by a court comprised of ex-Nazis, and commits suicide.  Kornitzer cynically sees what is necessary to succeed as a Jew in postwar Germany:

“Am besten war es, man verhielt sich mucksmäuschenstill. man tut seine Arbeit, man fiel nicht auf, gab sich nicht als ehemaliges Mitglied einer Spruchkammer, als Jude, als Trauernder um Philipp Auerbach zu erkennen, gab keinen Anlass, antisemitische Äusserungen, Taktlosigkeiten, Nadelstiche auf sich zu ziehen. Am besten, man war wortkarg, sah nicht nach links und nicht nach rechts und tat seine Arbeit.  Am besten, man war tot.”

I very much enjoyed the middle part of Landgericht, which deals with Kornitzer’s exile in Havana. Life for the German/Austrian exiles in Cuba was hardly a tropical vacation.  Many ended up in a jungle detention camp where conditions were deplorable.  Kornitzer is able to find work as a secretary for a corrupt attorney and fares somewhat better than his compatriots.  Ursula Krechel obviously conducted quite a bit of research on Cuba in the 1940s and its treatment of European refugees.  Eventually Kornitzer meets and falls in love with a young school teacher.  The affair produces a daughter – Amanda – who Kornitzer never has a chance to see before the war ends he returns to Germany.

Kornitzer becomes frustrated and embittered by his inability to get ahead in the “new” postwar order.  His children are now more English than German and are estranged from their parents.  Claire’s health was ruined after her business was confiscated and she was forced to work in a dairy during the war.  Kornitzer pursues every legal and bureaucratic channel to recover the life that was stolen from him  – the back and forth with the various courts and agencies becomes somewhat tiresome to the reader.  But Ursula Krechel makes one brilliant move towards the end of the novel: Kornitzer is bitter that he was passed over for a promotion and in a public court hearing reads out Article 3 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz):

Niemand darf wegen seines Geschlechtes, seiner Abstammung, seiner Rasse, seiner Sprache, seiner Heimat und Herkunft, seines Glaubens, seiner religiösen oder politischen Anschauungen benachteiligt oder bevorzugt werden.

(No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.)

That simple act of reading out loud a passage from the constitution is viewed as scandalous, and Kornitzer is forced into early retirement.  He spends his retirement relentlessly seeking restitution and – despite an appearance by Amanda – dies embittered man.

This novel would have benefited from a good editor – it is about 150 pages too long.  Nevertheless, Landgericht  is an important novel and deserves an English translation.  Landgericht was a recently made into a two-part film for television, which hopefully will be available to American audiences at some point.”


2 thoughts on “Ursula Knechel’s ‘Landgericht’, review by David Vickrey”

  1. Thanks for the review of this very interesting story. I was quite interested in the book after watching the two-part (3-hour) video entitled ‘Redemption Road’ via streaming on MHZ Networks in German with English subtitles.


    1. Hi Bill, I thank you for mentioning this video. I found it here:


      Now Streaming

      It says: “Redemption Road, a two-episode limited series based on the novel Landgericht by Ursula Krechel (which was translated into English as State Justice, so as not to be confused with Redemption Road, a 2016 thriller novel by John Hart, nor with Redemption Road, a 2010 limited release feature film …The two episodes are beautifully directed by Matthias Glasner (Blochin), and star German fave Ronald Zehrfeld (The Weissensee Saga, In the Face of Crime) and the fantastic Johanna Wokalek as a married German couple, Richard and Claire, dealing with the trauma and subsequent fallout of Nazi persecution. He’s Jewish, she’s not, and – good news! – neither of them die in the war! Neither do their children! No one ends up in a concentration camp! Sounds great, except… well, agony is relative, but it’s still agony.”

      In the review something interesting is mentioned about the German constitution!

      Article 3 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz) says:

      “No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.”

      Vickrey says: “The central figure in the novel, the Jewish barrister Richard Kornitzer, is forced to flee the Nazis and finds sanctuary in Havana for ten years. . . .”

      After his return during the postwar years “Kornitzer is treated as an outsider – both as a Jew and because of his special status an Opfer des Faschismus. And he is not alone as an outsider in new “democratic” West Germany . . .”

      “That simple act of reading out loud a passage from the constitution is viewed as scandalous, and Kornitzer is forced into early retirement. . .”

      Yes, so much about how people may be treated in the new “democratic” West Germany!

      This is what it says further on about the movie:

      Redemption Road presents something of a unique perspective of the life of German Jews in WWII. By now, we’ve absorbed accounts of the Holocaust, historical and fictional, delving into Nazi atrocities of imprisonment, starvation, unfathomable physical abuse, and murder in the camps. Less often told are the stories of the people who, through foresight or luck, managed to get out, to escape their homeland as their citizenship was revoked, and their livelihoods taken away. Richard, a district judge who has devoted his life to the rule of law, sees the writing on the wall and, just in time, sends his little children to England as part of the kindertransport.

      With subtle horror, the show captures the utter nightmare and surreality of what it must be like for a parent to see their children taken from them, not knowing what will happen to them, not knowing if they’ll ever be together again. How could anyone survive the distress? For a person such as Richard, devoted to logic and order, the lost decade and mental toll in the face of the injustice of it all, is severe. His family stays alive, but at what cost? If you were obsessed with A French Villagehere’s a look at the war’s aftermath from another angle.

      The road back
      Having outlasted the war, Richard makes a return to Germany that was just as painful as his exit, and is reunited with Claire. Will putting the pieces back together prove futile? Is there any hope that justice will be served for the millions of fortunes destroyed, families torn apart and innocent lives lost in the name of war? Is there any point in seeking acknowledgment of the decimation done to so many? What does it take to make a life worth living after you have merely survived evil inflicted on you by your own country? These are but a few of the questions asked by Redemption Road as its characters go on with their lives, separately and together, seeking answers.”


Donald Trump’s administration is after Julian Assange and it serves as a warning to us all


“WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being aggressively pursued by the Trump administration, despite Donald Trump’s enthusiastic embrace during the 2016 election campaign.

Mr Trump famously declared “I love WikiLeaks” during the campaign as WikiLeaks began rolling out a series of leaks damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Mr Assange — an Australian citizen — is now charged with 17 counts of espionage and one count of hacking and faces a possible 175 years in jail if he is eventually extradited to the United States and found guilty.

The Obama administration also looked at the possibility of charging Mr Assange with espionage but eventually decided that a prosecution under the espionage act would be too problematic.

They concluded that if the US courts could charge WikiLeaks with publishing the classified information, they could also charge The New York Times.

The Trump administration obviously doesn’t feel The New York Times problem is so acute.  .  .  . ”


Aged Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

We have all the information about nuclear plants. What I know about them, especially those that are not well maintained, really scares the shits out of me. Well, there are obviously other people that are as scared and concerned as I am. To what avail? Why isn’t the shutting down of these dangerous plants a priority?


Hollywood Stars, Grassroots Activists, State Senator, Mayor & Major Organizations Ask Gov. Newsom to Fully Inspect Aged Diablo Canyon Nuclear Unit One Before it Re-Fuels


High Speed Rail?


The following I found in Wikipedia. So, to this day ‘High Speed Rail’ does not exist yet in Australia!

High-speed rail[edit]

Based on the definition of a minimum top speed of 200 km/h in passenger service, High-speed rail in Australia does not yet exist, but there are proposals for high-speed rail (HSR) infrastructure in Australia (also known as very fast train projects) – several proposals have been investigated since the early 1980s.[7]

Various combinations of the route between MelbourneCanberraGoulburnSydneyNewcastleCoffs HarbourGold Coastand Brisbane have been the subject of detailed investigation by prospective operators, government departments and advocacy groups.

Phase 1 of the A$20m HSR study was released on 4 August 2011.[8] It proposed a corridor similar to the 2001 study, with prospective stations located in Melbourne, Tullamarine, Albury, Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Newcastle, the Mid—North Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane. The cost for this route was estimated at A$61 billion, but the adoption of more difficult alignments or cost blowouts could raise the cost to over A$100 billion.[8] The report urged the authorities to acquire land on the corridor now to avoid further price escalations.[8]

Work on phase 2 of the study started in late 2011 and culminated in the release of the High speed rail study phase 2 report[9]on 11 April 2013. Building on the work of phase 1, it was more comprehensive in objectives and scope, and refined many of the phase 1 estimates, particularly demand and cost estimates.

Other proposals[edit]

Less ambitious proposals have included a minor 9.2-kilometre (5.7 mi) Jindalee Deviation mentioned in a 2006 Ernst and Young Report. Naturally a slow evolution consisting of many short deviations which can provide benefits sooner will not be equivalent to a few large deviations which could provide bigger bypasses and greater benefit. However more ambitious proposals come with greater risk of projects being delayed or cancelled.

Over the years a number of deviations have been proposed for the track between Junee and Sydney, including between Glenlee and Aylmerton (known as the Wentworth Deviation), Werai and Penrose, Goulburn and Yass (Centennial Deviation), Bowning and Frampton including a bypass of Cootamundra (Hoare Deviation), and Frampton and Bethungra (removal of the Bethungra Spiral).[10] The proposals would replace 260 kilometres (160 mi) of winding track with 200 kilometres (120 mi) of straighter, higher-speed track, saving travel time, fuel, brake wear and track maintenance. However the Australian Rail Track Corporation have only documented plans for a handful of minor deviations to be completed by 2014.[11]

Bob Brown: Hawke was our environmental prime minister

Bob Brown with Bob Hawke in February 1983
 Tea for two in one of Hobart’s parks: Bob Brown with Bob Hawke in February 1983, the month Hawke became Australia’s 23rd prime minister. Photograph: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Bob Hawke was the environmental prime minister of Australia. His legacy includes Landcare and the listing of the Queensland’s Daintree wet tropics, Shark Bay in Western Australia, Uluru-Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory, the Gondwana rainforests of the New South Wales-Queensland border region and large extensions to both the Northern Territory’s Kakadu and the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage areas.

The latter was in contention in 1989 after the “Whispering Bulldozer”, the Tasmanian Liberal premier Robin Gray, lost office to Labor’s Michael Field and myself, leading the five Greens holding the balance of power. We Greens negotiated the expansion of the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area by more than 600,000 hectares to include such iconic wilderness as the Walls of Jerusalem, Central Plateau, Denison River Valley. At the end, Field had had enough and called a press conference to announce the outcome. I did not go.

Bob and Hazel Hawke with Karen Alexander and Bob Hawke at the Franklin River protest in Melbourne
 Bob and Hazel Hawke with Karen Alexander and Bob Hawke at the Franklin River protest in Melbourne. Photograph: Ross Scott

Instead, I was on the phone to Hawke’s office arguing that the eastern end of Macquarie Harbour – some 40,000 hectares – should also be included. Hawke agreed so that most magnificent part of the harbour, including Kellys Basin, the mouth of the Gordon River and the convict ruins on Sarah Island, is, these days, a natural delight free of otherwise inevitable industrial fish farming, for hundreds of thousands of people catching cruises out of Strahan.

After taking over leadership of the Labor party before the election in 1983, Hawke committed to saving the Franklin River. The Wilderness Society’s peaceful blockade of Gray’s dam works threatening the river had seen thousands of people come to Strahan and more than 500 go to Risdon jail. In Melbourne, at a rally of 15,000 people, Hazel Hawke famously put on “No Dams” earrings and Bob made an ironclad commitment to stop the dam. On election night, 5 March, he made just one specific commitment: the dam would not go ahead but those affected would be duly compensated. He carried through on both promises.

One US outdoors company recently put the Franklin at the top of the world’s 10 most desirable whitewater rafting adventures. Had Hawke and Labor not won that election the river would now, instead, be a series of dead impoundments.

Hawke’s next masterstroke for the environment was to replace Barry Cohen, his first minister for the environment, with Graham Richardson. Never before or since has such a powerful figure on Australia’s political landscape held this portfolio. There could not be a greater contrast with the present minister, who has been absent from the 2019 election campaign.

The Melbourne rally
 ‘Hear the crowd roar’: the Melbourne rally. Photograph: Ross Scott

Richardson told environmentalists that if he was going to take action he needed to “hear the crowd roar”. So the late 1980s and early 1990s were perhaps the greatest period of public involvement and environmental advance in Australia. This was not without contention. Richardson faced a jeering anti-environmental mob at Ravenshoe in northern Queensland on the way to the Hawke government having the rainforests given world heritage status and protection.

In Tasmania, Richardson, working with Hawke’s office, made repeated visits to back that 1989 extension of the Tasmania wilderness world heritage area against mounting opposition from loggers and miners and the state government. They stopped the polluting Wesley Vale pulp mill project after a huge campaign led by a farmers’ daughter, Christine Milne.

Of course, Hawke did not please us all the time. He backed uranium mining and flirted with Ronald Reagan’s proposal to test MX missiles over the Pacific Ocean. He backed off on a treaty with Australia’s First Nations when the proposal came under fire from the Western Australia Labor premier Brian Burke.

A Hawke masterstroke was to accept the proposal of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Phillip Toyne and the National Farmers’ Federation’s Rick Farley to set up Landcare. This became a beacon of global interest in government-funded repair of rural lands and rivers. That Landcare and general environment spending has been gutted in recent years highlights the loss of vision in Canberra since the great environmental innovation era Hawke ushered in.

Key to Hawke’s environmental success was his listening ear. He knew the Australian public was keen on protecting nature and he made himself open to direct liaison with environmental leaders. He was a tough negotiator but he and his staff opened an ear to the environment, which has been finally closed altogether by the Morrison government.

Richardson was the first environment minister to alert cabinet to the onrush of climate change. Decades later, at the 25th anniversary of the saving of the Franklin in Hobart in 2008, Hawke lambasted the Coalition’s lack of concern for the heating planet:

And as you look at the arguments and the positions of political parties today you see a complete replication of what we experienced back there in 1983. The conservatives: they never change, they never learn. What was their argument back then? You can’t do this, it will cost jobs. It will cost economic growth. You can’t do it, you mustn’t do it.

Hawke did it and, were he prime minster in 2019, I reckon the very unpopular Adani coalmine proposal would be headed for the bin.

With Paul Keating in the fray, Hawke joined the French government in leading the world – against Bush administration misgivings – to formulating the Madrid protocol which protects Antarctica from mining industrialisation.

Perhaps Thursday night’s Southern Aurora, visible across southern Tasmania, was nature’s accolade for the life of a natural champion.

 Our wide brown land: ‘We’ve hit rock bottom’ – video
Sophie Taylor-Price and Blanche d’Alpuget

 Bob Hawke’s granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price and his widow, Blanche d’Alpuget, at his memorial service in Sydney. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

And this is what Sophie Taylor-Price had to say:

“I grew up in the shadow of a giant. All the reflections shared today reinforce that his greatness was one of a kind. However, his blood is my blood and his story has become part of my story. When I was four years old, I sat by my grandfather’s knee in 1989 when he addressed the nation on climate change. It is actually one of my first memories. Having spent my entire professional career working in climate change and sustainability, you could say that that night rubbed off on me.

However, it is only in recent years, with the passing of my nan and pop, that I’ve truly reflected on just how their values have shaped mine and what I carry forward.

Of all the things said about Bob these past weeks, there is one story that, to me, speaks to the legacy that is most relevant to the future of Australia. For both what was achieved and what is possible, in 1989, Bob was handed some cabinet papers, requesting Australia’s support to open Antarctica to mining. He was horrified. But he was told that years of international negotiations could not be unwound. It was a done deal. “Bugger that” he said.

Refusing to sign, Bob courted the world with an ideal for something greater, better and fairer. Enlisting global eco champion Jacques Cousteau, the Hawke/Keating government determined to set about changing the world’s mind, and they did.

In 1991 the Madrid protocol was executed, making the last great wilderness on earth a place devoted to peace and to science, protected from exploitation. Now, that is legacy.

To me, this tells the greatest of stories. It speaks of pop’s values of fairness and equality, and his love and his faith in the brotherhood of mankind. It speaks of true leadership and his willingness to be unpopular and to listen to unpopular truths. Thirty years ago I sat by his knee and he implored us to take action on climate.

These past months, he expressed such great sadness that we have failed to do so. He saw it as a collective failure of our nation that we have traded short-term interests over intergenerational equality.

He would say that the foundations of excuses we cling to are fragile and will inevitably collapse. We must stop delaying the cost of change now, for all we do is load our future citizens with a debt that they cannot repay. Let us listen to the children and young people who parade their courage and conviction, because their tomorrows will be affected by our actions today.

Many tributes have been shared today, but truly honouring my grandfather means reflecting on his achievements and applying his values to the future choices we make.

Let us take to heart his courage, borrow his optimism and mirror his love for the brotherhood of human kind.

In his twilight years, pop was a gruff old bugger at times. I imagine that if he were here today, he would look at me with love and with fierce pride and with a twinkle in his eye, say in his grumpy old man voice, ‘Well, get on with it then.’

So, that is my path. It was both his gift to me and my enduring tribute to his legacy.”




 Bob Hawke’s granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price says Australia has failed his environmental legacy.

Bob Hawke’s granddaughter has delivered a searing critique of Australia’s progress on tackling climate change while praising the former prime minister for his visionary work.

The former Labor leader’s many achievements were highlighted at a state memorial service in Sydney on Friday where granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price argued his most relevant legacy was protecting the environment in the face of resistance.

Ms Taylor-Price said one of her earliest memories was when, as a four-year-old, she sat by her grandfather’s knee in 1989 as he addressed the nation on climate change.

“Having spent my entire professional career working in climate change and sustainability, you could say that that night rubbed off on me,” she told the Sydney Opera House audience.

That year, Mr Hawke was handed cabinet papers requesting support for opening up Antarctica to mining.

“He was horrified,” Ms Taylor-Price said on Friday.

“Bob courted the world with an ideal for something greater, better and fairer.”

Instead of signing off on the plan, the then prime minister set about changing the world’s mind, and in 1991 the Madrid protocol was executed and Antarctica was protected.

“Now, that is legacy,” his granddaughter said.

In contrast, current Australian leaders have failed to take action on climate change and Mr Hawke expressed disappointment regarding that fact before his death.

“He saw it as a collective failure of our nation that we have traded short-term interests over intergenerational equality,” Ms Taylor-Price said.

“He would say that the foundations of excuses we cling to are fragile and will inevitably collapse.”

To truly honour Mr Hawke would mean applying his values to “future choices”, she said.

Australian Associated Press