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Thomas Harlan

Die Akte Rosa Peham


"here's my photo, a radiant twelve, thirteen year old, my old one, my image, my sailor, my suit, my ribbons, my blue ones, two, flapping, my cap, my golden one, my beloved one, my exception, my eagle of my navy, my lozenges, braids, silver angles, my proud ones, my sewn-on ones, on upper arms, over shoulders, my lanyard, my plaited red-white hanging something of the troop leader, of the troop at sea, my sea, my dark, marine-blue one, my Hitler-youth one, my journey, cargo, my miles, my ship's radio, my quaking, my look, gait": images from his childhood in Nazi Germany. The author is Thomas Harlan, born in 1929. The period covered by the novel 'Rosa' and the radio play 'Rosa – The File Rosa Peham' is that from 1942 to 1993 and it is acted out on different narrative levels. Documents, letters, phonographic recordings, reports and interrogation records reveal hideous events in a breathless staccato.
The genesis of ‘Rosa‘ was a long one. “In the early sixties, the author Thomas Harlan stumbled during his research into war crimes in Poland across rumours about the village of Kulmhof, where the Germans tried out the technology of mass murder several times. Three hundred thousand people were murdered there. The place itself has not changed, wrenched forcibly from the indifference of the earthly, there grew on it a jungle like a metaphysics of remembrance“, remarks Steffen Kopetzky in Süddeutsche Zeitung when talking about Harlan's 'Rosa'. "The text is like the eternal moment of a precise nightmare".
Harlan's 'Rosa' is the opposite of a balance sheet and anything but a conclusion, the text is a linguistic-notional struggle with a hideous material, with a landscape of crime: "Just where, in the autumn, mushrooms grew as big as hats, the stroller through the forest noticed nothing of the soil's difficult breathing; the fast, almost furious draughts of air emitted by the acid earth were only heard by those in the know, who placed their ear on the moss and, when no-one else was there, listened to the sounds which reminded them of soundwaves of empty, rustling snails' horns and instilled fear in them.“
It was here, in Chelmo (Kulmhof), that the bodies of Jews who had been gassed were buried in mass graves in the woods in 1941 and 1942. As the graves rose and the stench began to emerge, a contingent dug the bodies up again, burnt them and crushed the bones into powder.
The collaborator Rosa Peham and Józef Nayman live in a hole in the ground near Kulmhof. Rosa is the former fiancée of Franz Maderholz, the paymaster at Kulmhof. The victims' ashes fill the ground of the clearing which has been Rosa's home since the end of the war. Franz went missing while fighting the partisans in the karst mountains before Triest, Rosa joined up with Józef in 1948, he has a dark past. The first-person narrator tells of the first encounter with the characters Rosa and Józef:
"Through the raging snow there wafted a plume of smoke: thin and hardly distinguishable from the flakes, at the end of the grave site (...) it curled high into the air and escaped. And for some considerable time yet, with thunder and lightning behind us and with the unspoken martial law which still weighed heavily upon everyone even as we stomped through new snow like a command not to move, we followed the column of smoke, which drew further and further away from us and then disappeared in the driving snow, before suddenly a horse emerged, the horse also snow-white, enormous, body and haunches in front of us with cropped tail, a white steed, a mare standing, tied by rope to the stovepipe sticking out of the snow stack, as a guard so it seemed, in front of an opening which led directly down into the earth to Józef."
The documentary film-maker as novelist: Harlan's electrifying prose deals with his own history. His father's name, that of the film-maker Veit Harlan ("The Jew Süss“), is not mentioned in the novel. But proximity to power is a major component of the first-person narrator's childhood memories:
"Climb into the black Horch; chauffeur a ladies' man from the air-force. Drives without a word (saying only "a surprise for you", barely mumbled) along the Königsallee, then Kaiserdamm, the Victory Column, Linden, Unter den, into the Leipziger Straße, where staff were already lying in wait (?), salesmen, saleswomen, the personnel manager of the Wertheim store were waiting and keeping the store open (?), the mighty, six-storey giant, bathed in light even from afar, and, then over the empty night street together with all the dark, wretched remnants of an otherwise slumbering society who were out and about at this time with no air-raid warning: dogs, beggars were no more, milkmen, dustmen, draymen lugging barrels, hurling themselves suddenly into the daylight, and finally then, racing, like with a flashing blue light, stopping, Josef who, only on my account, I knew it, I was proud, had given them the shock of their (mangy, I thought) lives, a shock none of them would forget in a hurry. (Me.) I was allowed to pick out what I wanted at "Märklin". I wanted the 00-gauge miniature railway. Three locomotives. Five sleeping cars. Twenty cattle trucks. A travelling prison. Station (x 2). Wagons. Rocks; rivers to cross; soldier-like stationmasters, conductors, railway workers of synthetic resin, coloured, Saint Gotthard Pass, big, as high as my room. I wanted a room, but didn't say. Josef spoke with the adjutant, sent for in the meantime, sleepy. Without an adjutant Josef did not speak to people. For people, store department manager, Schubert translated. Then journey home, lights out, behind me. Early next morning, Latin. The Gestapo car, which observed the false steps of the minister at irregular intervals, stood at the corner of the Königsallee, black and silent as ever. Josef made fun of it. Jokes were allowed. Today he slept until twelve. When I arrived home, it was my birthday. The picture on the table, in Christmas paper, framed in silver, genuine, heavy, as broad as a hand. In the photo there was: My dear Tommy. Dr. Goebbels.“
Just as the sequences of childhood that flash in Harlan's 'Rosa' are sharp, so complex, impenetrable and vast is the narrative as it presents itself in its entirety. Harlan's descriptions do not have a conclusion, they are processes, form strands around events which lead from the darkest past into the here and now. Things past?
"The story ended before it began. The fact that there was nothing between the beginning and the end, not even silence, and that this absence, possibly even of pain, could be something other than nothing surprised only those who had never told a story without fearing that all words they wanted to take hold of had missed their meaning and there, where they stood above the abyss, as though on cliffs at a dizzying height, enticed by the depths, they had died of their inability to launch themselves into the void".

Herbert Kapfer

Text: Thomas Harlan
Adaptation: Michael Farin
Music by: Helga Pogatschar
Voices: Karin Anselm, Sophie von Kessel, Axel Milberg, Bernd Moss, Heiko Raulin, Manfred Zapatka
Sound engineer: Hans Scheck
Sound editor: Susanne Herzig
Assistant of the Director: Anja Scheifinger
Pre Production: Andrea Fenzl
Design: Daniel Kluge
Executive Producer: Christiane Klenz
Directed by: Bernhard Jugel
Producer: Herbert Kapfer / Barbara Schäfer / Angela di Ciriaco-Sussdorff

Produced by: Bayerischer Rundfunk / Westdeutscher Rundfunk 2001

intermedium rec. 011
ISBN 978-3-939444-12-1
Very few CDs left
30.- €


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