Alibijude (Alibi Jew)

2011

 

A photograph (digital print height 71,37 cm x width 101,46 cm (edition of 7)
(Edition of 7: height 43 cm x width 61 cm)

Insurance Value 3,000 & 2,500 Euros

 

In the spring of 2011 I took part in the exhibition “Kunst und Gedenken. Kölner Künstler/innen mit Arbeiten zur Auseinandersetzung mit dem Nationalsozialismus" (Art and Remembering - Cologne Artists and Art on National Socialism) in EL-DE-Haus, the National Socialist Documentation Centre, Cologne. Ingeborg Drews, who had been a friend of Wilhelm Unger, gave a talk on the life and career of my great uncle, as part of the accompanying programme. A discussion ensued in which a member of the public accused the newspaper magnate Kurt Neven-DuMont, now recognised as having been a former Nazi, of having profited in his support of Wilhelm Unger, whom the visitor named an “alibi Jew”.

According to an article in 2006 by Peter Kleinert in Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhine Newspaper) online, Kurt Neven-DuMont, who received The War Merit Cross with Swords 1st Class from Goebbel’s Reichspropagandaministerium (Propaganda Ministry of the Third Reich) in 1944, had challenged the Nazi leader in an article of 1st January 1933, the New Year edition of the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne daily newspaper):

(…) “Hitler is important (…) He shouldn’t position himself outside the gates ofpolitics, but should shoulder responsibility by putting the positive energies of his movement to good use, in practical politics.”1

Kleinert had written about a report on the Neven-DuMont research by Ingo Niebel, which disclosed that Kurt had not only been a Nazi party member, but had also acquired several houses from Jews under pressure to sell inexpensively; these Jewish people were later deported, or escaped with their lives, to flee Germany. Alfred Neven DuMont took over the publishing house M. DuMont Schauberg, in 1953. Such facts have not only been glossed over by the inheritor of this empire, DuMont moreover, additionally sued the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and Niebel for their - what he considered to be, defamatory claims2. According to the book reviewer Florian Triebel however, Manfred Pohl, who was also originally called by the DuMonts to give evidence in the trial, more recently came to the same conclusions as Niebel in his publication of 2010: M. DuMont Schauberg: Der Kampf um die Unabhängigkeit des Zeitungsverlags unter der NS-Diktatur3.

 

***

 

In EL-DE-HAUS, the seminar participant’s anti-Semitic choice of expression “alibi Jew” came as a shock to me. The discussion in the Nazi Documentation Centre opened up many questions for me, however. Had Germans, especially former Nazis, been so without credibility that they had required at least the consensual support of Jews in order to function in post war Germany? Was the need for position and in order to prove themselves in a new post war culture, so great that Jewish survivors felt themselves bound to associate with at least the allies of criminals responsible for their downfall? Was this proffering of the hand towards former Nazis a form of reconciliation, or forgiveness that some Jews extended? Or was it purely a survival tactic, which forced Jews to cohabit with a people that had cast them out? Could Jews and former Nazis in Germany not move forward without each other’s mutual support? When I exhibit and publish in Germany, am I too an alibi Jew?

 

***

 

Having fled Nazi Germany to England, the British authorities then deported Wilhelm Unger, as “enemy alien”, to an internment camp in Australia, on the “Dunera” ship. After the war, during which both of Wilhelm’s parents survived Terezin, despite the fact that two of his sisters, Ella and Grete had been murdered in concentration camps, Will decided to return to Cologne and become involved in the reconstruction of the city. He and my grandfather Alfred organised care packets, became intermediaries between the Christian and Jewish communities in Germany and the extended communities of Great Britain and Germany. After escaping Germany, even though Alfred then suffered internment by the British on the Isle of Man, he later made London his home, as well as Cologne; Will’s base was to be only in Cologne.

Alfred Unger had been awarded the Schiller Prize in 1930 for a theatre piece he had written in Berlin; later he did not take up a career as dramaturg in Germany but became a translator of German literature in England, while also working as European correspondent for various German-speaking radio stations and newspapers. Not many Jewish artists from Nazi Europe were emotionally able to again become creative, let alone successfully establish themselves in another country, with a wholly different language to master.

Both Unger brothers had made a promising start as literary figures, in Germany, before WW2. This course of life was however, frustrated by the events of the war and finally hindered by the consequent psychological scars. Alfred and Wilhelm were nevertheless in a position to undertake many out of the ordinary undertakings. Wilhelm had, for instance, been co-founder of the Germania Judaica Museum in Cologne.

But it was both the Unger brothers, who negotiated with American authorities on behalf of the publisher Kurt Neven-DuMont, guaranteeing him a new license for the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger” newspaper, after the war. The media publishing house M. DuMont Schauberg has in the meantime become the fourth largest in Germany, having also bought shares in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. As author and journalist, who had been the editor for the arts section of the Kölnische Zeitung in the 1930’s, Wilhelm Unger wrote for the “Kölner Stadt Anzeiger” newspaper for his entire post war career, his feuilleton consisting of literary texts and theatre criticism. Will was a well-known and well-loved Cologne personality, who regularly held a salon at his modern penthouse flat, in Vogelsanger Street, where artists, writers and architects would discuss astrology, or matters of life and culture.

For their altruistic post war activities in Germany, Wilhelm and Dr. Alfred H. Unger were awarded the “das Große Bundesverdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany) respectively in 1969 and 1983.

 

***

 

The photograph, which I have named Alibijude (Alibi Jew), originally taken by the journalist Helmut Koch4 is one that I acquired from my mother and kept, long before her death in 1998. It is fortuitous that I still have this image at all, for the bulk of the families’ photographs went missing when the Historical City Archives of Cologne collapsed, in March 2009, due to negligence on the part of various official bodies. Along with the loss of this large Archival museum, much unpleasant evidence of recent German history will also have been mislaid, temporarily at least, a fact, which has resulted in many crocodile’s tears having been openly shed.

My reason for having put this particular photograph aside for myself was because it epitomised the strangeness of the times - it is a sign of the time. The photo was taken during the Cologne Carnival of 1955; my grandparents Alfred and Nina Unger, stand to the left wearing evening gowns decorated with fake carnival medals (my grandmother’s looking like a fake Star of David). In the foreground is the young heir to the newspaper throne, dressed in traditional, pseudo medieval garb as the Carnival Prince. At the centre of the photograph, being clasped by the Carnival Prince are my great-grandparents, Flora and Samuel Unger, who are in their 80’s. They were survivors of Terezin, two of whose children had been murdered in the camps. They appear bemused in the image, forlorn – where the Prince smiles, their faces are unsmiling. Flora, having escaped the Russian pogroms of the 19th Century, by fleeing to Germany with her mother as a child, wears no carnival garb on the occasion of this press photo call, but a simple scarf with paisley design. The enforced performance is a travesty.

Behind the Carnival Prince and his father, Wilhelm is conspicuous by his absence, he appears to be hiding - one sees only his forehead and hair.

Postscript:
In January this year (2012), my aunt Annette Pringle (neé Felske) came over to Cologne from the USA, after the death of her brother Gerd. They were both born before the war. She told me that she had found a copy of the very same photograph that I recently adopted to make an artwork of, amongst her brother’s possessions, but was surprised at my interpretation of the image - living in Boston Annette had not yet heard of the Neven DuMont scandal some 6 years ago. She informed me that the Neven DuMonts had done much to assist family members who were in hiding in Cologne, during the war, something that I had not been aware of, so that I must again review this complex, symbiotic relationship, between our family and that of the Neven DuMonts.

I would like to thank Dr. Jürgen Müller for discussion and advice in the development of the accompanying text to Alibijude.

Tanya Ury

 

 

1 Aber irgendwann zwischen 1933 und 2007 dürfte der Sohn erfahren haben, dass die Kölnische Zeitung von Kurt Neven DuMont schon in ihrer Neujahrsausgabe vom 1. Januar 1933 unter der Schlagzeile „Auf Hitler kommt es an!“ den Nazi-Führer aufgefordert hatte, nicht „vor den Toren der Politik stehen (zu) bleiben“, sondern „die Verantwortung zu tragen“ und „die positiven Kräfte seiner Bewegung in die Waagschale der praktischen Politik zu werfen“. Article by Peter Kleinert, Neue Rheinische Zeitung online (Translation Tanya Ury) http://www.nrhz.de/flyer/beitrag.php?id=11901

2
“A Stale Aftertaste. The Difficult Seach for Historical Truths in the Case of DuMont Schauberg in Cologne – No Case of Press Freedom. “In their legal documents his company lawyers, of the renowned chancellery Linklaters Oppenhoff & Rädler, talk about “defamatory claims” in their lawsuit against Kieser and Kleinert.” (Translation from German Tanya Ury) http://mmm.verdi.de/archiv/2006/07-08/journalismus/schaler_geschmack

3 (The Fight against the Independence of the Newspaper Publishers under the Nazi Dictatorship) Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2009. 543 S. ISBN 978-3-593-38919-6

4 Information on the back of the photograph: Helmut Koch. Bildberichterstatter (photo Journalist), Köln-Klettenberggürtel 78, Fernruf (long distance call): 212313 Presse-Haus (PRESS HOUSE).