In 1939, Friedrich Kellner, a German opponent of Hitler, began to document his impressions of the Nazi regime and its crimes. The resulting diary was published in German in 2011, and will soon become available in English. Among other things, the text offers evidence of what ordinary citizens of the Third Reich knew about their government’s activities. Matt Lebovic writes:
Kellner . . . wrote 676 entries [in the diary], drawing from numerous sources and a formidable knowledge of history. . . . Some of Kellner’s information came from sources that were widely available, including the Nazi-party broadsheet and illegal radio broadcasts. To gather other [information], Kellner questioned people and sifted through gossip, attaching more than 500 newspaper clippings along the way. A potent sense of anger fills Kellner’s diary, directed not only at the Nazis but also [at] his fellow citizens and the world for allowing Hitler to rise.
As the Nazis spread terror across Europe, Kellner documented atrocities the regime sought to hide. To put current events in context for future readers, he made pointed references to Hitler’s tome Mein Kampf, on which he was an expert. Among other crimes, he wrote about the “mercy killings” of disabled Germans at Hadamar and “retribution” killings carried out against civilians in occupied countries.
Kellner’s accounts of the Holocaust were concise, including his report on an early Jewish “action” in Poland. “A solider on leave [in the small central German town where Kellner lived] said he personally witnessed a terrible atrocity in the occupied part of Poland,” wrote Kellner in 1941. “He watched as naked Jewish men and women were placed in front of a long deep ditch and, upon the order of the SS, were shot by Ukrainians in the back of their heads, and they fell into the ditch. Then the ditch was filled in as screams kept coming from it.”
A few weeks later, Kellner wrote about “Jews being transported somewhere” and “treated worse than animals” along the way. In another entry, he reported on the deportation of specific Jewish families from his town.