Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen (11 Aug 1884 – 16 Feb 1945) was a German medical doctor, journalist, well-known theatre critic, and travel writer.

Diary of a man in despairOn 13 Oct. 1944 Reck was arrested for refusing a summons to join the Volkssturm, the ‘People’s Storm”, a force of men mostly over fifty who were ordered to take up arms in a desperate attempt to carry on the battle against the Allies’ conquest of Berlin. He was released from custody but re-arrested on 31 Dec. 1944 for “insulting the German currency”.

Reck was transported to Dachau concentration camp on 9 Jan 1945 where he died of typhus on 16 Feb. three months before the end of the war.

Reck is best known today for his remarkable diary, Diary Of A Man In Despair. It was published in Germany in 1947 but almost unknown until in 1964 it was mentioned as part of a series on “forgotten books” in a German newspaper.

Reck was strongly opposed to Nazism and a vocal critic of Hitler. Early in his diary on 11 Aug 1936, Reck struggled to make sense of why Nazism seemed to be succeeding in Germany.

On 11 Aug 1936, Reck described his experience living under the Nazi regime as “My life in this pit,” saying that, in the pit of Nazi rule,

I have thought hate, have lain down with hate in my heart, have dreamed hate and awakened with hate. I suffocate in the knowledge that I am the prisoner of a horde of vicious apes.

Then Reck posed the question that tormented him,

I rack my brains over the perpetual riddle of how this same people [the German nation] which so jealously watched over its rights a few years ago [before the Nazis came to power] can have sunk into this stupor, in which it not only allows itself to be dominated by the street-corner idlers of yesterday, but actually, height of shame, is incapable any longer of perceiving its shame for the shame that it is.

At the time he made these diary entries, Reck was doing research for a book on the sixteenth century anabaptist city-state of Münster. Starting in 1533 the anabaptists instituted in Münster a religious reign of terror that brought oppression, violence and death to the state. Friedrich Reck, reflecting on this painful period in German history, saw an uncanny parallel between the Münster of the sixteenth century and the Germany of 1936.

Reck’s 11 Aug 1936 entry is remarkable for the prescience of his vision as well as the depth of his insight. At a time when Nazism was still on the rise throughout Germany, and when few felt free to question Nazi hegemony, Reck was able to see, and perhaps to name, the disease at the heart of this vicious ideology.

In his 11 Aug diary entry, Reck made the striking suggestion that Nazism represented the emergence of the unacknowledged shadow side of the German nation. He went on to suggest that one of the functions of art is to expose the underside of human existence and help release in a healthy way some of its dark undercurrents.

I am intrigued by his argument that the arts serve in part as a means for a culture to acknowledge and deal with the underbelly that lurks at the heart of all human constructs.

Whatever we think of Reck’s argument, he offers a timely reminder that it is important for us to be honest about our lives and to acknowledge the potential dark motives that lurk in the depths of every human being and all humanly constructed institutions.

Reck writes:

Friedrick Reck11 August 1936 – I stand before these 400-year-old records, startled by the thought that the resemblance may not be coincidence at all, but may be determined by some frightful law decreeing periodic draining of a psychic abscess. How much do we really know about the vaults and caverns which lie somewhere under the structure of a great nation – about these psychic catacombs in which all our concealed desires, our fearful dreams and evil spirits, our vices and our forgotten and unexpiated sins, have been buried for generations? In healthy times, these emerge as the spectres in our dreams. To the artist they appear as Satanic apparitions. Then, on our cathedrals, the Gothic gargoyles push obscene backsides out into the air, and there creep across the inspired canvases of Grunewald, with beaked nose and claw-foot, the representations of all the vices; those flagellants strike at the Saviour so that the law may be fulfilled, and in the very inevitability of it one feels pity…

But suppose, now, that all of these things generally kept buried in our subconscious were to drive for emergence in the blood-cleansing function of a boil? Suppose that this underworld now and again liberated by Satan bursts forth, and the evil spirits escape the Pandora’s box? Isn’t this exactly what happened in Münster, so conservative before and after the event? Doesn’t this explain how all of this could have happened to a basically orderly and hard-working people, without resistance from those dedicated to the good in life, in the same kind of grim and incalculably vast cosmic convulsion which from the first day of the Hitler regime has not only brought sunspots to affect the weather, endlessly rainy summers to spoil the harvest, and strange crawling things to afflict this old earth, but has also in some unfathomable way turned on its head concepts like mine and thine, right and wrong, virtue and vice, God and the Devil?

I happened to be in Munich recently, just as one of the official festivals, which are by now an everyday occurrence, was being celebrated to the blare of tubas and the rat-tat of drums. I could not get a room at my usual hotel near the station, and found a place to sleep in the Old City, opposite a schoolhouse in which a visiting Hitler Youth troop had been lodged for the holiday period.

I saw one of these boys, who had just thrown off his knapsack, look about him at the empty classroom, I observed how his glance fell on the crucifix hanging behind the teacher’s desk, how in an instant this young and still soft face contorted in fury, how he ripped this symbol, to which the cathedrals of Germany, and the ringing progressions of the St. Matthew Passion are consecrated, off the wall and threw it out of the window into the street….

With the cry: ‘Lie there, you dirty Jew!’