The last consequence

March 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

When chasing the tail of treachery in youth, one cannot go past the twentieth century when the battle against absurdity (an individual in society trying to come to terms with society & existence) was dramatised externally by the world wars. Young men were depended on to fight, the young women to roll up their sleeves. What was required of them was to take part in a war that was inherited (ideologically). Generally, the survival instinct & duty-binds were enough to satisfy the immediate hesitations of the sceptics — for a war to eventuate, conflicting aims are not enough.

At last, the sins of the fathers were too great to accept freely any notion of inherited sin; there is a coincidence between the growth of atheism & this notion of youthful desertion. Although patricide was a subject broached from time to time — most famously in The Brothers Karamazov — a literature of young disapproval of the old begins to develop steadily. Perhaps the greatest single sentence of this literature is to be found in André Gide’s first novel: “I sign this letter with that ridiculous name of yours, which I should like to fling back in your face, & which I am longing & hoping soon to dishonour” (The Counterfeiters 1925, 15). Theories of the carnivalesque & decrowning became interesting suddenly. The underdog’s boots are confused the soldier’s. Film noir sprouts to reassess the hero.

A disarray of order was the new prescription, the re-adjustment of seeing. The young had to make schism with the false importance placed onto the world by their forebears. They couldn’t explain one another, but tried nevertheless. They continue to do so.

[The remainder of this post is a coarse translation of an article by Michael Mielke, first appearing on November 27, 1999 in Die Welt. It tells a story that particularises the above motif.]

The Suicide Club

The calling doctor is no longer of any use. Hans Stephan, a 19-year-old assistant chef, is pressed up behind a bedroom chest. Günther Scheller, a pupil of the same age, heaves deeply on the floor; he will also be found dead, beside the point of a revolver. Yet another person is in the room: Paul Krantz, 18-years-old. He wanted to see for himself, but wasn’t the one to pull the trigger.

The police investigation, which followed the doctor’s arrival, could not compellingly reconstruct what happened on the 28th of June 1927 in number 72c of the middle-class Alberchtsstraße in Berlin-Steglitz. Nevertheless, or perhaps for that very reason, the reports were submitted as a “Steglitzer School Tragedy” — a story which quickly became known all over the country. A “Sensational trial”, a hellish media spectacle, followed with that common strain of prejudice…

The “Steglitzer School Tragedy”  put forward the following question: why such youths from a socially secure sector would kill. Altogether suddenly. Seemingly without reason. Flooded — perhaps — by a deluge of feelings. Overpowered — perhaps — by a remarkable longing to die.

Just so began the 28th of June 1927 for the five youths staying at the Scheller apartment in Berlin-Steglitz, rather peaceful. They had the residence to themselves. The Scheller parents are in Denmark on business. The night before, 16-year-old Hilde Scheller slept with Paul Krantz. The illegitimate child of a cleaning lady, Paul does not belong to this Milieu; he has been accepted into higher education for his literary talents. & so the lascivious, bourgeois daughter has an incomparable attraction for him. He writes stormy poems for her. Of course, the next night she turns to another, the soon-to-be-shot Hans Stephan. Hilde’s brother & the former best friend of Hans [a euphemism], Günther, cannot speak highly of him. He would prefer to spit on Hans Stephan.

Jealousy & revenge alone can hardly be ground enough for Paul & Günther, overnight, drunk, passing a cigarette between them at the Kitchen table, to begin to plan their deaths, a revolver beside them. They plan each detail meticulously, writing suicide notes. “I will shoot Hilde first, then Günther, once Günther has shot Hans Stephan”, Krantz’s letter to a school friend reads. “Don’t laugh. This is the last consequence for one who is already dead to life.”

From the courthouse hall, there is a photograph: Paul Krantz, “surrounded”, as the author, Arno Meyer zu Küingdorf describes it, “by heavy, important people”. Küingdorf had discovered the photo & news article about the “Sensational trial” in Schmökern State Library, in an old yearbook — from then on, the writer couldn’t escape the image. He went over hundreds of trial documents, read old newspapers, studied legalistic writing, to find in them something about the trial of the “Steglitzer School Tragedy”. It fascinated him how topical the problem was 70 years on: “The loss of direction for young people, the apparent falling out with teachers & parents, also the willingness to use violence, are all common phenomena of today.”

Such questions & this research is the basis for the book The Suicide Club (Reclam, Leipzig). A text which is weaved out of fictional elements by Küingdorf (inspired by the real-life characters) & extracts from police reports, letters & journal entries. At the heart of it all are the poems of a young Krantz. Here, in an attempt to understand death, there is already an affinity with the deceased students:

“…on the floor lies the corpse of my friend Robert Krause,
slowly from the wound flowed his blood onto the grey earth.
Beside him with a still-staring gaze of him who he has killed
as the cigarette goes out, with a shake, in the hand of murder…”

Magnus Hirschfeld, who had examined the defendant at the time, spoke before the jury about “the irritability of the pubertal nervous system”; from “a spirit of precociousness & an unripe body”, the combination of which had a “fatal effect”. Paul Krantz’s lawyer, Erich Frey, used the words of Goethe in his defense: youth is just once “a drunkenness without wine”…

[The article continues trying to explain away youthful foolishness & ends with a brief biography which describes Krantz’s self-imposed exile — from the celebrity brought on by the trial — in France, the US, & eventual return to Germany. Krantz continued to write under the name Ernst Erich Noth; he died on January 15, 1983, a relative unknown.]

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