Fifty years after the war, an anniversary edition of “Goethe in Dachau” by Nico Rost
was published. The book is based on the diary entries the writer was able to make
during his imprisonment in Dachau. In it, he states that he was able to distance
himself from the violence and misery by immersing himself in the works of great writers
like Goethe and his contemporaries.
From 1926 to 1933 Nico Rost worked as a correspondent for Dutch dailies and weeklies
in Berlin, where he traveled in literary circles. He made no secret of his leftist
sympathies and his great objections to Hitler's National Socialism. His arrest was
unavoidable and in 1933 he was imprisoned in the new Oranienburg-Sachenhausen concentration
camp. Under pressure of the international journalist community, he was released,
with the proviso that he leave Germany.
During the war, in 1943, he was rearrested in Belgium due his communist sympathies.
This time he was transported to Dachau.
It is remarkable that Rost was able to read much in the camp. After a lot of attempts
he was able to push through into the small camp library, where he finds books of
the great German writers. Goethe is his favorite. He reads and rereads everything
he can get his hands on that is written by Goethe. That is what he writes about in
It is exceptional that he was able to write, because that was impossible for most
other prisoners. The run-of-the-mill prisoner was constantly chased by the SS and
Kapo's and had absolutely no privacy in the barracks and therefore did not have the
opportunity to do so.
After the liberation, Rost goes to live in Wiepersdorf, in communist East Germany.
His diary is published in 1948 by the East-Berlin publishing house “Volk und Welt”
(People and World). The authorities consider the criticism of the blatant anti-Semitism
of Polish prisoners, as expressed in the book, painful to the Polish allies.
They are also offended by the attention the book pays to the reasoning of Catholic
Slowly but surely, Rost's position becomes untenable. His comings and goings are
closely watched by the secret state police, the Stasi. In 1951 he is kicked out of
the country as an “undesirable”, all his manuscripts and his entire library are confiscated.
It will be years before he has everything again. His book is placed on the “index”
in the DDR, his friends turn their backs on him and he has to accept that he has
become a “persona non grata”. He goes back to Holland, where he works as a journalist
and translator of German literature.
He is one of the founders and was on the Board of the Nederland Dachau Committee.
As such, he played a large part in the establishment of the “Gedenkstätte Dachau”.
Goethe in Dachau; a striking episode in the book is the passage where the writer
and another prisoner think up this game by which a question is posed about how Goethe
would have behaved if he had also been imprisoned in Dachau.
The story goes like this: Goethe is arrested because he wrote a denigrating article
in the Paris magazine “Le Globe”, wherein he expresses himself about the theories
of the “Rassenforscher” (race enforcer) Professor Gunther. He is there for two years
now, because he - according to the indictment - dragged the name of the national
socialist science through the mud.
More than likely, Goethe would have been a Kapo of the Hospital, and he would be
very prominent. The way he treated the SS would probably be very diplomatic and circumspect,
but in such a manner that from our point of view, one could not fault him. And, of
course, he would have received permission to grow his hair long.....