The magazine exudes surprising balance, intelligence and a spirit of reconciliation. The memories of the German actress were also published in Czech under the slightly misleading title of Margaret Schell: The Diary of Prague 1945-1946 (most of the book does not refer to Prague).
The introduction describes the May uprising, the shooting, the arrival of revolutionary guards at her Prague apartment and the move to a meeting point for the Germans, from where she reached Strahov and Bistrita. It does not rule out violence against the Germans, which even civilians occasionally carry out in revolutionary days, and mentions that Soviet soldiers come and seek internment for a purpose clear to all. But Shell was rescued by a Czech guard who told the soldiers that they were only sick in the room.
The degree of self-reflection that Shell is capable of is admirable. Imprisoned and stripped of her civil rights, she wrote in her diary: "Can we wonder what happened to us? For example, when I listen to the story of a man who has been in a concentration camp for seven months! But while people live with hatred and a desire for revenge, it will not be better in the world. One day a really great nation has to come and say: Enough such shameful actions! It must start again, with peace and without revenge! "
Some of the expelled Germans shocked the author when she acknowledged that some of the German auxiliary guards were doing worse in their collection camp than their Czechs – perhaps because of bad conscience. Who knows what these diligent helpers did during the war.
Specifically, he calls Werner: "Werner, the bitch, was also in charge and he was in charge of the work and he was directing our work, even though he was also interned. His wife is Czech, but there are other reasons for such benefits. In any case, it has become increasingly popular with Czech chiefs, harassing us as much as possible. Beautiful character! He is scarier than any Czech leader. "
But most of Margaret Shell's memories are not occupied by quarrels or cruel incidents that clearly were not a daily reality for her. Rather, it is a detailed description of the life of the vacuum-killer camp in the timelessness of when the old order collapses, but there is no new hope. Everything is spinning. Every day fatigue of food, cigarettes, clothes, laundry detergents and tedious manual labor in farms or in the kitchen. And in the evening fear and uncertainty. Where are the relatives? When will the camps be completed? And if it's over, where to go? Won't we end up in Siberia? Various rumors are spreading among the interns who prove themselves again and again incorrect.
But there were also moments of little happiness, small victories in the camp: “At my request, today we were given permission to go to the park. Or to put it another way: "I once again washed and ironed linen and uniforms for several officers. I'm slowly getting wild. This time I took fifteen cigarettes. Excellent! A soldier also gave me two tweezers and a cigarette holder today as a gift I have long wanted. Especially eyebrow tweezers. Although many people laugh at him, I want to take care of myself even in the camp … ”
At the end of the diary, Shell is already in Germany and recognizes home sickness, but at the same time states that "it is necessary to look forward, to freedom". That would be a nice quote at the end, but the most interesting is yet to come – these are the critics of a book published in Germany in 1957.
Dossier of Communist propaganda?
For example, Munich's Wertribenen-Anziger reminds an authentic diary of German actress Schelov "the promotional file of Prague communists". Even more hysterical was the reaction of former actress and writer Olga Barney, who considers Margaret Shell's memories scandalous. The basic principle of her thinking is anger and hatred, while Shell is more a reconciliation, an effort to understand and learn from the tragedy of Central Europe. She is calm, seeing the suffering of the people above as a chain of cause and effect.
Barényi does not leave her thread dry, her fierce accusations take on a comical hue. He reprimands her for remembering the 1945 revolution, when she herself "doesn't break her nose out of the house" (as if other actresses were shooting barricades). She accuses her of downplaying the extent of rape by Soviet soldiers, but Shell has not been raped or her friends, and it is natural that she has not given so much space to the topic.
Olga Barni was most furious when Shell claimed that most Czechs were decent. Nobody wanted to kill her and with one exception no Czech beat her in the camp. Sometimes she was given bread, cigarettes or soap because they knew her as a decent neighbor. Some of Barényi's comments suggest that this is no longer a knowledge of history, but a personal hatred. Maybe she envied her that Shell was an attractive lady and an actress, rather than a "better society" and with some exceptions, people treated her more gallantly. Who knows.
Of course, she remembered her appearance and wanted to wash in the camp. But Barney cannot be forgiven for wanting to bathe when others may have been worse, as well as the stories she tried to hide from forced labor (which, of course, everyone would did).
"After work, they allowed us to bring hot water into a bucket. We were laundering, it was a great gift for us, ”said Shell. Can anyone blame her?
The actress has lost a lot, her privileged comfortable life, a nice apartment, relatives, friends, homeland. She would have a thousand reasons to complain and blame her, yet she could not hate her Czech neighbors, or even the Russians, who were cruel to civilians, and in particular German women.
If, after all the suffering, she managed to break free from nationalism and revenge, maybe we could do it.
Photo: Stanislav Dvorak
Sudeten Rover is a long-running series of cultural and historical articles. Do you have any suggestions on Sudeten topics? Email them to the author at: [email protected]