Conditions inside Nazi Germany were changing. The repercussions of the 20 July bomb plot against Hitler were still playing themselves out. Public trials of men suspected of being associated with the plot demonstrated how the regime would crack down. In an increasingly paranoid atmosphere there was now even less chance that any anti-Nazi remarks might be ignored, people had to be very circumspect about what they said.
The threat to Germany’s borders now seemed very real. In response the Nazis were establishing a “People’s Militia” – the Volkssturm. Conscription papers for all between 13 and 60 had already been sent out, an inaugural meeting would be held by Reichsführer SS Himmler on the 18th October – the new force would be under control of the Nazis rather than the Wehrmacht.
For Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a Bavarian aristocrat, former soldier and noted author, there was no longer any leeway for his outspoken comments about the Nazis. It had probably been only a matter of time before he was apprehended. However, when arrest came he suddenly realised how seriously his case was being treated :
And on the thirteenth, a beautiful, burning-hot day in October, I was myself arrested.
At six in the morning — that hour so beloved of all secret police officials — I heard the bell ringing rather loudly, and saw below our Seebruck gendarme, a good soul, who explained apologetically that he had come in performance of what was for him the unpleasant assignment of conveying me to the Army jail at Traunstein.
I confess that I was not greatly concerned. Four days before, I had ignored a so-called ‘call to arms’ for service with the Volkssturm, citing an attack of angina pectoris. Immediately thereafter, however, I had gone like any good citizen to regional headquarters to explain, and the opinion there had been that a man who had only just received word that his son was missing in Russia might well be believed regarding illness.
I made a mistake. Deception, the burning-hot autumn day with its gay colours; deception, the tact, bordering almost on shame, of the gendarme. We crossed the river on our way to the train, and the melancholy with which my womenfolk waved to me from the house made me thoughtful. A couple of hours later I knew that this was, indeed, more than a little warning.
The gate of the Army post closed heavily behind me. Between me and the bright autumn day there was a fence and a highly martial guard. I was standing in a guard post filled with the smell of leather, sweat, and lard, the chief personage of which was a young Swabian sergeant — a man with that peculiarly Germanic combination of choler, activity, and exactitude which never rings quite true, and which has caused so much evil in the world.
I telephoned the major who was officer-in-charge. A voice so frigidly vindictive that the quality of it emerged quite clearly out of the receiver told me that I was not there to ask questions, but to wait.
Then I happened to see a young officer I knew bicycling across the compound. I called to him, but when he came refrained from taking his hand because, as I explained, I had been arrested and so, in the jargon of the old Kaiser’s Army on the Eastern Front, I was ‘lousy’. He laughed, gave me his hand, and himself telephoned. As the crackle sounded from the receiver, he grew pale. He hung up, and then informed me, several degrees more formally now, that I was charged with ‘undermining the morale of the Armed Forces’. He bowed and left.
The penalty for ‘undermining the morale of the Armed Forces’ is the guillotine – the guillotine, on which the condemned man, as I heard recently, is granted the single act of grace of being blinded by a thousand-candlepower light just before the blade whistles downward, with the aftermath being one of the Lysol bottles of an anatomy class.
In the meantime, however, evening had come on. The guard post was now a dark box. I was locked up.
The cell is two paces wide and six feet long, a concrete coffin equipped with a wooden pallet, a dirty, evil-smelling spittoon, and a barred window high up on the wall. By climbing onto the pallet I can see a minuscule piece of the sky, the barracks compound, a section of the officer quarters, and behind, a pine forest: a pine forest of our lovely Bavarian plateau, which has nothing in common with this frenzy of Prussian militarism, this pestilence which has devastated Bavaria.
So much for the window. On the walls, the inevitable obscenities and calculations of time still to be served — in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, even. Then, a veritable flood of Soviet stars, which gave the idea that the entire Red Army had been imprisoned here. And lastly, scratched into the concrete with a key, perhaps, the words, so very applicable to me: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I read this, and darkness envelops me. This was written by a man as close to death as I am.
It is true that not one word has been said to confirm this idea. And yet, I cannot help registering the fact of this venomous animosity, which is intent on finding something against me, and would make of an ignored draft notice a matter for the hangman.
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen had a lucky escape this time. Friends in high places secured his release. It was only a temporary reprieve however. He was arrested again in December 1944 and sent to Dachau concentration camp. He was shot in the back of the neck on February 16, 1945.