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

http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2018/01/review-ursula-krechels-landgericht.html

Landgericht

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.”

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/ursula-knechels-landgericht/comment-page-1/#comment-306

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.

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

      https://mhzchoiceblog.com/first-look-redemption-road/

      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.”

       

“Our Souls at Night”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Souls_at_Night_(film)

We watched this movie yesterday. Peter and I, we both thought it was a good one.  I read the plot in Wikipedia and it says beautifully in a condensed way everything about the theme of the movie.  I copy here the plot the way I found it in Wikipedia:

“Louis Waters is a widower. One evening he is visited by Addie, a widow who lives next door. She invites him to sometimes sleep over – platonically – talking in bed to combat loneliness. They try it out, and like it. The community finds out, but assume it’s a sexual relationship. After Louis’ coffee shop friends make a joke, Louis walks out mad. Addie’s friend Ruth asks her a few questions. To stop the gossip, the two have Sunday lunch together at a restaurant.

Addie’s son Gene dumps his seven year old child Jamie with her. Louis helps her care for him, sets up his train set and gets Jamie a dog. The boy even sleeps with the elderly couple in a real family setting. After Gene learns of the relationship, he takes Jamie back even though his wife has left him. Louis and Addie go on a trip and get around to having sex.

Addie falls down and ends up in the hospital. Her son wants her to move in with him and Jamie. She decides that family must come first and the couple spend their last night together. Both she and Louis are back to sleeping alone. So Louis sends her the train set and a cell-phone. After getting into bed, she calls him and they start talking as old friends. And the movie ends.”

Cast

. . . . .

“The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2017.[6] It was released on September 29, 2017 on Netflix streaming. ”

Personally I do like movies that deal with relationships among people, be it romantic relationships or family relationships or important friendships. There is some of all of this in this slow moving movie.

I guess there are all sorts of ways to combat loneliness in old age. It seems to me we are bound to feel lonely without some significant personal contacts. 

 

How to keep Track of Time?

How to keep Track of Time? Yes, how do you do this? Eighty + years of impressions, incidents and experiences, having seen so many different places, having met so many different people. Does it all become a blur in the end?

For young people time often seems to drag on slowly, slowly. But ask any elderly person, the answer is, that time passes awfully quickly. What is a week? A week, well, a week just flies away. I try to recall what we did last week, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four weeks ago. Four weeks ago? Is it four weeks ago that we stayed in Sydney for a few days for our daughter’s  wedding? Is it two weeks ago that we travelled to Benalla to stay there for a week with our son? What about doctor’s appointments? Did we have three different doctor’s appointments during the past week? Quite so. That is, I met another specialist for the first time last week, and Peter also met another specialist for the first time last week.  Peter also saw his GP, the one that he has been seeing for many years. He was the first one who explained to Peter that according to some test results a ‘tumor’ ought  to be investigated. Some 18 months later he looked at some other test results and concluded that there were some problems with his heart. And so it goes.

On one of Benalla’s Walking Tracks with son Martin

We left Benalla on Monday on the night train from Melbourne, arriving Tuesday morning back home. At 9 am on that day we left again for my doctor’s appointment in Wollongong, going to Wollongong by bus. We both felt rather tired after having spent a night sitting up on the train! Anyway, the following day, Wednesday, Peter saw his GP who is now in Corrimal (not in Dapto anymore). I went along with Peter. The visit at the Corrimal Medical Centre was over quickly. So well before lunchtime Peter drove us to the Leisure Coast fruit shop in Fairy Meadow where we did some serious shopping.

http://lcfruitanddeli.com.au/

Thursday would have been the day for my slow movement exercises here in Dapto. But I felt awfully tired and gave it a miss. I felt that it was really good for me not to have to do anything on that day! Peter however felt on that day well enough  to locally do a bit of shopping  to get the ingredients for a quark cheesecake. And in the afternoon he actually did bake this cake while I was resting in the bedroom. – This cake baking seems to have been a kind of relaxation for  him.

Friday morning Peter found the time to go through the whole house with the vacuum cleaner. Then he went off to Wollongong to see the surgeon who may do a heart bypass operation on him. It turned out,  before he is about to do this, Peter should go for some more scan tests!

I stayed home on Friday. After having done some wiping of the floors, I did get some lunch ready and I  also made preparations for my afternoon visitors. It was my turn to have the four ladies over for our Friday afternoon games of Scrabble and Rummy. Also on Friday, our daughter Monika dropped in at 5,30 after work. Talking to our daughter about a lot of things was a good finish of the day.

And yesterday, Saturday, was a very good day too: Our daughter Caroline and son-in-law Matthew came to visit!

Is it only two more weeks to Easter Sunday? So it is, and I am looking forward to some family visits at Easter time!

 

Diane Keaton Movie: Hampstead

Peter and I saw today this Diane Keaton movie about Hampstead. Peter had first to go to the Private Wollongong Hospital for an appointment with his podiatrist who is fitting him some insoles. These insoles might help him with his walking. The podiatrist spent with Peter a bit over an hour. It was already 11,45 when we left the hospital. This left us less than half an hour to make it to the GALA in Warrawong to see the movie. But we were lucky. We still made it on time. This movie was well worth seeing. I am glad we did make it.

 

http://villagecinemas.com.au/movies/hampstead

 

 

“Starring Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson, Hampstead is a heartwarming romantic comedy set around the beautiful Hampstead Heath in London, a quiet piece of countryside in a vast metropolis. Living in a lovely old apartment on the edge of the Heath, American widow Emily Walters (Keaton) feels like she is drifting aimlessly through life. Then she meets Donald (Gleeson), who has lived harmoniously on the Heath for 17 years in a ramshackle hut. When property developers attempt to destroy his home, Emily steps up to defend Donald in the escalating battle and soon finds that, despite his gruff exterior, there is something special about this gentle and unconventional man.”

Human Flow review – Ai Weiwei’s urgent look at the scale of the refugee crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/31/human-flow-review-ai-weiwei-refugee-crisis

Gorgeous shots in Greece, Calais and elsewhere, many filmed from drones, create a visual tone poem that proves both epic and highly human

“The international co-productions of the mid-20th century often boasted myriad shooting locations in far-flung places. Who would have guessed the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei would pick up where moguls such as Sam Spiegel left off.

Ai’s new film, Human Flow, while certainly epic in scope, is not exactly meant as entertainment. This is an urgent, deep soak in the current refugee crisis. There has been no dearth of documentaries about this topic, but this one comes closest to understanding the totality of the issue. . . . .”

I copied the above from The Guardian

 

My father, a stranger from North Korea

 

http://www.dw.com/en/my-father-a-stranger-from-north-korea/a-18542325

“Loved, Engaged, Lost” – A documentary that tells the love story between women from former East Germany and North Korean men sent to the former Communist nation for studying. A relationship with painful consequences.

Film Verliebt Verlobt Verloren Die Familie

The eyes of the protagonists in Sung-Hyung Cho’s “Loved, Engaged, Lost” reveal that their roots do not lie in the former German Democratic Republic, at least not entirely. They grew up with their mothers in the ex-Communist nation, but their fathers come from North Korea.

The men were sent to East Germany by the North Korean government during the 1950s – some of them during the Korean War – to attend university and later use their knowledge to re-build their war-torn nation.

During their stay, however, some of the men entered relationships with East German women. But the children born out of these relations did not see their fathers for long, as the men were ordered to return to their homeland in the 1960s, resulting in a break-up of the families.

A documentary film made by Sung-Hyung Cho, which premiered in Germany on June 25, tells the stories of these families and takes a look at their lives. Although there is no precise figure on the number of families affected, the director is aware of 18 such cases. In a DW interview, Sung-Hyung Cho talks about the idea behind the film and her experiences in making it.

Film Verliebt Verlobt Verloren Sung-Hyung ChoSung-Hyung: ‘It wasn’t easy at first to win over the support of the protagonists’

DW: What was the idea behind the film?

Sung-Hyung Cho: The story of Renate Hong was very popular in South Korea. In 2006, her story became the talk of the town after a South Korean historian – who had conducted some research in Jena about the relationship between North Korea and East Germany – met Renate Hong by chance.

She narrated her story, and he propagated it on the Internet. The response was overwhelming. The Koreans were blown away by the sad but beautiful love story.

Most Koreans, myself included, know the story. Moreover, I was greatly interested in knowing and better understanding former East Germany. I also wanted to know more about North Korea, even if only indirectly.

How did you manage to find the films’ protagonists?

DW RECOMMENDS

North Korea says it has been hit by its worst drought in a century, resulting in extensive damage to agriculture. DW speaks to German food aid agency Welthungerhilfe about the situation on the ground. (17.06.2015)

It wasn’t easy at first to win over the support of the protagonists, especially given that this is both a painful subject and an unsolved issue for most of them. It was especially hard for them to reminisce about their past relationships.

As a result, many didn’t want to be reminded of it, let lone talk about it. In addition, they were cautious and distrustful of the media.

However, the fact that I’ve been regularly attending the meetings of these German-Korean families helped me in terms of slowly earning their trust. A couple of years later, they probably asked themselves when this Korean woman would finally shoot the film about them.

Do you know of stories in which children got to meet their fathers and their love for each other stood the test of time?

The Hong family eventually managed to track down the father. Renate and her sons ultimately traveled to North Korea for what turned out to be a very emotional, touching but also peculiar reunion following so many years of separation.

In your view, how do these children, who are now grown-ups, feel about their North Korean fathers?

Just like anywhere else, this depends on the child. What they all have in common is a longing to get to meet their respective fathers or at least learn something about their lives. They are very curious, asking themselves who the man is, what he has achieved and whether he is even alive. But tracking these men down is often extremely difficult.

How do the women mostly remember their former partners?

In different ways. Some decided at some point to distance themselves emotionally and go about their lives as if their partner had died. Others, however, tried to keep the memory alive and to simply come to terms with the situation. And then there are others who decided to actively track them down.

Film Verliebt Verlobt Verloren Das WiedersehenThe story of Renate Hong was very popular in South Korea

To which extent does the children’s Korean background play a role in their daily lives?

Those are their roots. And even though some of these parents remain unknown to them, these roots remain and simply do not disappear. It sometimes plays a bigger role and sometimes a lesser one. But the father’s influence is always reflected in the children’s physical appearance.

Have you yourself tried to track down and contact one of the fathers?

This was mainly done by the children. There are even German-Korean associations to assist in this regard.

Is there a single story that has touched you in a special way?

Each story is extremely touching in its own way, so I can’t just pick one. The story of the Hong family was the first one I ever heard, but then came so many others and each one of them was moving and touching.

Born in South Korea, Sung Hyung Cho is a Germany-based editor and director, known for Full Metal Village (2006), Endstation der Sehnsüchte (2009) and 11 Freundinnen (2013).