4th Nov, NCH, London.
In a room overlooking one of the most beautiful Georgian Squares in London, Masterclassers lifted the lid on the extraordinary history of the Gestapo. The class was led by Professor Frank McDonough, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Third Reich whose work has most recently focused on the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police. The masterclass took a simple format. A general introduction on the myths and reality of the Gestapo was followed by an analysis of several Gestapo investigation cases, each carefully chosen for what it revealed about the Gestapo’s workings, membership, politics, strategy and effectiveness.
First up was the transcription of the Nuremberg Trial of Dr Werner Best, chief of Department 1 of the Gestapo – the office responsible for its administration, recruitment and legal affairs. Frank was ably assisted in this recreation of Best’s trial by Sam Willis who played (extremely convincingly) the part of Best and the testimony revealed a great deal about the realities of Gestapo power.
There followed several more case studies including that of Herr Hof, an alcoholic wife-beater denounced by his set-upon, revengeful wife; a Russian worker raped by the commander of her labour camp; a travelling book salesman denounced for listening to the radio by a nosey neighbour; a drunk communist sympathiser; the tragic story of a Jewish woman who hid an escapee from the Riga ghetto; a German soldier who met his lover by chance on a train, but whose curious subsequent behaviour led to his arrest; a dressmaker believed to be a communist spy; the curious tale of a picture of a Native American drawn onto a toilet door of a factory in Essen; and a Protestant Pastor having an affair with the wife of a German soldier.
Through a discussion of each of these cases the curious mind-set and workings of the Gestapo were laid bare. Discussion was vibrant and Masterclassers left enthused with the potential of the subject for discovering the vivid and extremely personal histories that lie within the broader structure of one of the most fascinating institutions ever to have existed.