18 April, 2017.
Review: A clean, well-lighted place. A private view of Sweden, by Kathleen Nott.
This was the first book about Sweden in English that I managed to find after I came to work in Sweden. It was published in 1961, the year I came to do practical work experience under the IAESTI exchange scheme.
Nott had live for a few years with her husband in Stockholm as a housewife, returned to the UK and worked as a journalist for the Observer. She then decided to write about Sweden by going there again.
On the boat she observed that the Swedes were busy being well-dressed and very formal, though good-looking. I guess she could have ended the book there since the rest of the trip rather merely elaborated on how formal and how boring the Swedes are.
Sweden was in the midst of spending the vast sums they made during the war and similar sums they were making selling to a Europe that had no factories. Even so Nott found them to be absorbed in discussing their problems and how they might solve them. That is the “what” that the short-time journalist can ascertain. I was much later to discover by chance the “why” of this perpetual whining.
Nott describes the series of festivals and parties that occur throughout the year. She finds them as curious and dull as I do. The Swedes just don’t seem to indulge in conversation and as practice makes perfect a formalised festival is about what you must expect. Some, like crayfish parties, mean you drink a lot of vodka and then Swedes become over-talkative, though this is hardly conversation. Once again, Nott does at comment that the women are very beautiful and the men very tall and very attractive. In fact, I began to wonder if Miss Nott didn’t find the women a mite too attractive, but in the beginning she met mostly women so I suppose that comments on women would be more common that comments on men.
She meets Professor Ohlin who finishes the conversation by saying, “You see, Miss Nott, our people is rather dull”. Not perhaps what you want to read in a book that is a series of travel essays.
I was working during the week and went to Stockholm to see some family friends of my father, the head of the Swedish submarine fleet. They had a son my age, 21, who had just returned after a year working on a Swedish Lloyd ship. When I arrived he threw open a suitcase filled with money and said, “That is a year’s wages and you and I are going to spend it”. My monied friend seemed to know all the Stockholm aristocracy and he worked his way through his little black book, phoning girlfriends to find out who was still available after his year’s absence. After he found two we went out on various jaunts while I tried in vain to get my partner into bed. I found them to be as beautiful as did Miss Nott, so this was frustrating, but I experienced the summer festivals she described. Swedish girls could, I found, drink far more vodka than I could manage so I was left feeling unwell at the end of the party while everyone else was disappearing into the bushes or to an apartment somewhere. Though well-dressed the men had a revolting habit of vomiting half-way through a party to return refreshed and ready for more revelry. I had, too, to consider that I had to be down a mine four hours away by train at 5 a.m. while the young Swedes could sleep it off in their summer cottages.
Nott discussed the Swedish suicide rate, a subject Swedes always brought up, but which both she and I were to polite to mention. There was always the same explanation that Swedish suicides are always reported while other countries do not, a current explanation for the high frequency of rape. ”Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”, as Alphonse Karr once wrote.
Nott notes the Falu red houses and the copper roofs on public buildings. This was before the Swedes set about destroying every building of architectural merit in the 1960s. I have since learned that this was set in motion by Marxist immigrants from the pogroms in the SSSR. These were members of the Jewish Labour Bund, a secular Jewish Marxist movement from Lithuania, Poland and Russia, who had seized the levers of power in Sweden. They were backed by poorly-educated socialist party members who had risen in the wake of the defeat of the Third Reich when the Swedish conservatives who might appreciate fine architecture were still reeling. Many palaces from the eighteenth century were pulled down by excavators to be replaced by granite-faced bank bunkers.
Nott goes with the head social worker on a night expedition to find tadpole prostitutes. Rosaline von Ossietzky-Palm and Nott find they had been to the same English girls’ boarding school, an experiment in extremely ‘free’ schooling. All they see are big American cars, also a sign of post-war luxury, cruising around looking for girls who want to drink vodka and be impregnated. “The important thing is to establish contact,” Rosaline von Ossietzky-Palm says.
She was the daughter of Carl von Ossietzky, the 1935 Nobel peace prize winner. Carl had received the prize for revealing in 1929 to the Allied Control Commission that the Weimar Republic was breaching the terms of the Treatment of Versailles by training an air force in Germany and Russia. He was tried for treason and imprisoned. When the Nazis came to power he was sent to a concentration camp, tortured, and killed in 1935. The Allies had tried to convict war criminals after the First World War, but had failed as no German court would convict them, an embarrassing debacle. They, and especially the British, were thus wary of acting on Ossietzky’s information as they expected any action against the Germans to end much as their actions against war criminals had ended. Appeasement did not begin with Neville Chamberlain.
Nott had herself been a social worker in London’s East End, though Mrs v. Ossietzky-Palm did not ask her what she had done. I have also found that even if I ask a person what they do or have done they never ask me what I have done, or seem to have the slightest curiosity. This apart from “What do you think of Sweden?”, which is really again a request for discussing themselves, or at least their country. I was a part-time journalist for some ten years and found that you could find out everything about everybody as everything about you was in the public domain. I thought perhaps that the Swedish lack of curiosity was due to this availability, but in practice few bother to find out anything about others. The Swedes are simply not interested in other people.
During the night trip Nott finds that Rosalinde seems to think that, given time and enough ‘contact’, her tadpoles will realize that work is the only worthwhile way of life even though they live just as well without it. Today the Swedes are trying to persuade half a million Muslim refugees of the same thing, even though they would lose money by working.
A Swedish farmer would soon starve to death if he did not work throughout the summer months cutting hay from water meadows for winter fodder, and cutting timber for winter fuel. Winter with sub-zero temperatures and snow can last from October to May. However, refugees are houses in the rent-controlled ‘panel’ Soviet-style apartment blocks placed around every town during the sixties and seventies. These were needed for industries desperate for workers who were at work all day. Now, no one needs Swedes with only high school education, let alone Muslims who cannot read or write Swedish. Every Swede is unionised and paid extravagant amounts of money with endless holidays and a plethora of days off with pay for a wild variety of reasons. They are unlikely to give up their jobs to admit Muslims. Even so the belief in work as the meaning of life lives on.
Nott finally wonders whether the social workers she meets ever examine their own motives for what they do, as this seems to her to be ever less apparent.
The first time you read a book you find out about others. Reading a book a second time reveals much about oneself. The same text seems to have changed its spirit, its inner meaning entirely. You are no longer the centre of the universe, but a mere speck, a dot in eternity.
Nott goes to Dalecarlia, to Lake Siljan, to Leksand. She discovers that there are no porters and finds, as I did, that one should have one’s baggage in the luggage van by way of an extremely complicated system which is not explained, as nothing ever is in Sweden. A youth who offers no help with the luggage explains that the last taxi has gone. I remember that it then took two weeks to book a taxi in Stockholm. I did not know this and had to borrow a Canadian friend’s Porsche to drive to Arlanda. Scared of this monster, I drove it with my fiancée in second gear all the way. Nott knows no foreign friend and therefore arrives, hot and sweaty because of a slight limp, at her hotel.
If there is no wind in the summer it is hot and sticky. If there is a wind it is cold as the lakes and rivers that are everywhere in Sweden are still cold. Winter temperatures be as low as minus 20 in the northern part, and minus 10 in the southern part. It is overcast throughout most of the winter creating depression in many, a condition called by the slang term ‘Lapp illness’. When I first arrived at the mine in the norther tundra part where I was to work I told people that I thought it would be better if the workforce were flown up from the south by helicopter for a working stretch of a couple of weeks followed by two weeks off back in the south. Swedes looked askance at me.
Nott sets out to find an eccentric in Sweden. She runs into the problem that there is no word for an eccentric. Still, she arrives at a vegetarian school where the headmaster believes that children should be educated at home which he does with his own children. That eccentricity has now been eliminated so that everyone must send their children to a comprehensive school. High taxes of between 34 % and 55 % for most people and VAT at 20 % mean that few can afford to send their children to private boarding schools. There are only two of them anyway.
Leksand apparently has churches with onion shaped cupolas on the top instead of spires. Why? wonders Nott. I once saw such a church at Upper Torneå on the border with Finland which once belonged to Russia. The Swedish Lutheran Church has always been able to charge a poll tax on its citizens. So churches are usually clean, light and pleasant. Nowadays new ones outside look like a factory or a storage building. I sang in a church choir for thirteen years and visited a great number of churches in small towns and villages. Unlike English churches then they locked them so people only went to church when they had business there. And the clergy seem to treat what they do more as a job than a calling. They have a trade union which determines their salaries and holidays and arranges their insurance. No rumpled surplices in Sweden will you find.
Nott is in Leksand for a modern miracle play that is performed every summer. The population dress up in traditional dress and Nott wonders whether they wear these clothes all the time. Some did around 1900 when the resurgence of the romantic movement meant that many went back to wearing dress based on local costumes from a hundred years earlier. Today, there are many traditional dance groups who have revived dances similar to the Scottish reels I learned as a teenager.
Nott travels up to the Northland to visit the Kiruna iron ore mine. I have frequently visited this mine, either taking visitors with me who had first visited the Boliden mines where I worked, or as a member of one of state boards on which I sat as Bolidens representative. The Kiruna mine is shallow and wide and, as mines go, comfortable. You can drive into it in a car. Nott’s account differs little for the many I have heard. She remarks on the simplicity of the locals, the down-to-earth twopenny plains as she calls them. This refers to the cheapest grain type there is, called maize in England and corn in the USA.
On her way to the mine she passes the local state monopoly liquor store and discusses the drinking habits of the Swedes. Oddly enough this system is still in place nearly sixty years later. So many organisations and temperance movements owe their existence to the enormously tax revenues from this monopoly that it has become impossible to remove. Many a drunkard of both sexes owes a good living to being on the board of one of these.
Nott also arranges to go on a trip into Lappland, or Sameland as it is called today, with the provincial or area doctor, Einar Wallqvist. Oddly enough she never mentions his name which rather disproves her claim to being a journalist. Perhaps she was put off by the many ways such a name can be spelled in Swedish if she only had heard it. Einar is the name of one who fights in Odin’s army and means literally ‘one of the army’. They are the spirits of fallen warriors and they fight alone. Wallqvist is made up of ‘wall’ or ‘bank’ and ‘twig’ or ‘branch’. Many Swedish surnames are composed of common geographical features, partly to avoid the traditional method of taking one’s father’s Christian name and adding ‘son’ to it as all ‘son’ names are extremely common. The ‘W’ is also spelled ‘V’ and both are sounded as a ‘V’. The ‘q’ is also spelled ‘k’ and is sounded as a hard ‘ch’ or a ‘k’. The second ‘v’ is in the name and can be spelled ‘u’ although it is sounded as a ‘v’. Some even vary the way they are spelled, although that is less common now. Getting the name spelled correctly can be the hardest part of a letter to a Swede.
They leave at the urgent request of a Lapp in a village ten miles from Kiruna for an old man who needs help urgently. He had ‘gone nuts’ in the words of the doctor. Nott notices the monotonous forest which is really a plantation as the timber has been farmed for centuries, and then the endless, featureless flat tundra with nothing in sight as far as the eye can see as they bounce alone the dirt road. They arrive at Jukkasjärvi, a Lapp settlement which in winter now is the place with the Ice Hotel. On arrival the family eye the visitor up and await some statement. I have often been the object of such silent regard, being expected to utter something. Nott tries some Swedish which satisfies the family. Finally, the madman comes in. As soon as he sees the doctor he takes to his heels into the woods. The doctor gives chase and returns with the madman, now calmed. He takes off his clothes without being asked and lies on the narrow settee, a special type which can be made up as a bed. Nott did not notice it, but the doctor was doubtless paid with some silver object as the Lapps did not use Swedish money. They traditionally obtained silver by trading it for reindeer furs. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries taxes were paid in Sweden in furs. Silver was of high value, lasted and could be transported in the narrow ledges used by the Lapps in winter.
On their way back the doctor ran out of petrol. I myself have done this once when travelling to a mine deep in the heart of Lappland towards the Norwegian border. I was using one of the company’s cars and the transport division had forgotten to put an extra can in the car. Nor did I have the sleeping bag I also had in my own car. I was in trouble as it was in winter and the temperature was twenty degrees below zero. The car was warm when the engine was on, but without petrol it was also twenty degrees below zero inside the car. I only had the winter military overcoat which I had bought at a sale in a town near Boliden. I did not know it at the time, but it was the same overcoat which the German armies froze in on their way to Moscow in 1941. Nott’s doctor did as I did; patiently sat down to wait. In my case the road was packed white snow with high snow banks towering above the car on each side. Cars seldom used the road. A car arrived at the doctor’s car after half-an-hour and stopped as they always do in the Northland to see what the trouble was. The driver agrees to drive back the few miles back to Kiruna and to ask a taxi to drive out with a can of petrol. Soon, all was well. In my case I wondered what would happen if a car did not pass in a couple of hours. German tourists on survival trips for youngsters to the Northland often died as their tasks were unrealistic. The Germans misunderstood the situation: the task was to survive as things were and you were properly equipped since the unexpected happens, not to arrange problems in advance.
On another occasion in the summer my wife and I travelled into the hinterland towards the hills near the Norwegian border in a Volvo 404, the black sedans that looked like pre-war American cars. The water hose to the radiator split after a hundred kilometres. We trudged a few hundred yards up to an old traditional farmhouse off the highway. My wife was in the summer dress of the time, a yellow shift that ended just below her knickers that was in fact a longish T-shirt. Four weird-looking men who were obviously brothers sat on the kitchen top, silently eyeing us up. Yes, the oldest said they had in fact a spare hose as they had an old Volvo 404 in a field behind the farmhouse. He left to get the hose while two others left room for my wife on the kitchen top. These two sat on the bench where I sat, eyeing my wife and not, I hoped, her knickers. I wondered if she might get raped. I considered, though, that they had lived alone in an isolated farmhouse long enough getting on without seeing a woman to find the sight just one of curiosity rather than of lust. Physically, they looked deranged, but were clearly clued up enough to know in detail how a Volvo worked. My wife, an outgoing, cheerful young woman, asked them what they cooked. They smiled, grunted and nodded towards the wood-fired stove as though everyone cooked the same food in Sweden. I suppose they bought a barrel of pickled herring for the winter, and ate bread from the wheat they grew in the summer. Perhaps they shot elk in the summer. The eldest son returned with the water hose which I compared with my split one. It was identical, but in one piece. They did not ask if they could mount it, assuming I suppose that they thought everyone knew how to fix a Volvo 404. The price was exorbitant, about the price of new piece of hose, so I assumed we were not the first ones to have broken down near the farmhouse. Part of the point of an isolated farm is that can swap services with its neighbours and we had nothing but money we wanted to trade. Anyway, my wife was in one piece so I handed over the money, thanked them profusely, and left.
Nott’s doctor had not money with him so he borrowed some from Nott and they drove back to Kiruna.
Back in Stockholm, Nott stayed with her wealthy hostess and attended another festival with reflections on the Swedes. I began to tire of the stories as I now know that Nott’s wealthy hostess was only representative of about one thousandth of the population. Nott, however, also returns to her impressions gained during her stay in Sweden while her husband was working. She met men mainly as the husband of women she knew at dinner parties. She, as I did, heard of the suffering the Swedes went through during the war as Swedish ships had to escort German freighters carrying the iron ore from the Northern port of Luleå down through the archipelago to Germany. The German freighters were within the three mile limit and thus avoided attacks by Soviet submarines from across the Baltic. Since the Swedes made the Germans pay for everything provided to the Germans I see this as crying all the way to the Wallenberg bank. Fortunately, they did not know that the Wallenberg brothers, Jacob and Marcus, owned and ran the factories which used the labour from the Auschwitz concentration camp. The I.G.Farben shareholders had sold the company to the Wallenbergs to avoid being confiscated should Germany lose the war by turning a German company into a company owned by a neutral nation. Such losses had been experienced by many German companies after the First World War. I.G. Farben was an enormous conglomerate, roughly similar to I.C.I. The German word ‘Farben’ means ‘colour’ in English. The women and children of Polish and Jewish families were gassed to death as most know, while the men between 14 and 60 were worked to death in the Wallenberg factories surrounding the extermination camp. Germany lacked oil. Nor did it have access to the rubber of the plantations in Malaya. The largest camp, at Monowitz, sometimes called Auschwitz II, sometimes Monowitz, provided labour for a gigantic plant to produce synthetic rubber and petrol from coal called the Buna works. Buna is an acronym for Butadien Natrium, a chemical used to produce synthetic rubber. About 10 000 workers were needed to run the plant. When the men became too weak to work after about three to four months they were sent to the extermination camp at Birkenau. About 40 000 Jews thus died working at a plant owned by Swedes each year. The Americans attempted to confiscate the hundreds of German companies that had used a Swedish ownership during the war, and to indict Jakob and Markus Wallenberg. The strategy of the brothers was to negotiate and to delay with a defence based on legal niceties. Churchill’s speech in 1946 referring to an iron curtain descending over Europe changed the strategy of the Allies to one of supporting Western Germany rather than of confiscating German Companies.
The details of the Swedish support to Nazi German only became fully available after an enormous search into hundreds of archives by two Dutch researchers in 1961. I.G. Farben was formally sold to the Wallenberg concern. However, there are a secret, written agreement that the shares in I.G. Farben would be sold back to the original shareholders within two years of the war ending. Wallenberg would receive the dividends of the company throughout the period they owned the company and they would run it as owners.
I.G. Farben is only one of several large Swedish companies such as S.KF. which makes roller bearings, and Bosch which makes starters for motors, which used this construction. It has been called ‘cloaking’ ownership.
No Swede wishes to discuss this or indeed any other support to the Germans. However, Sweden and Swedes including workers were extremely wealthy after the war. In 1938 owners and workers signed an agreement not to strike unless a detailed series of negotiations had first taken place. It was clear in 1938 that there would be plenty of money for all if Swedish factories could continue to supply the Third Reich without production being disturbed by strikes. This agreement might well be described as a contract by Swedish industry to supply Nazi Germany with anything they might need from Sweden. This covered a vast range of primary products such as iron ore to finished factory products such as bullets and dynamite.
The Swedes thus had the money to travel around Europe, but were viewed with suspicion and often perceived as Germans as Swedish is a Germanic language and the Nordic peoples look Germanic. There was a series of small encyclopaedic books produced each year containing details of Swedish life and the production of various goods in Sweden. These were called ‘conversation’ Encyclopaedias and every educated Swedish family had a subscription for these. However, the openly revealed the high levels of production during the war which had to go somewhere and Germany was the only outlet. This problem came to a head when the Swedish Council, which likes to call itself the Swedish Institute, was to produce its usual brochures, films and programme in the years immediately after the war. The British Council performs a similar task. As well as attractive Swedish blondes dancing around maypoles there were films and accounts of cultural achievements and of industrial and factory production. When I was eight years old I saw a film of timber being floated down an enormous river to a sawmill and was fascinated. The problem for the Labour government was how to avoid showing achievements which might invite questions about the war. The socialists wished to promote the ‘Swedish Model’ of state care from the cradle to the grave only looking into a Utopian future, while the industrialists who provided much of the finance for the Swedish Council wished to show the past and present achievements of Swedish industry to produce export orders. Films were produced and discarded. In the end the socialists prevailed. The term ‘information’ could easily be changed by those receiving it to be ‘propaganda’ as it had a distinctly Marxist and Soviet flavour. So the word ‘enlightenment’ was to be used instead throughout, both in information to foreigners and to Swedes.
Nott’s dinner couples during the fifties had usually been Swedish business executives during the war and faced the same dilemma. Conversation was, as I myself found, formal and I wondered why Swedes were so afraid of saying just what they mean. My father-in-law had been the designer from 1932 of a plant to extract copper, zinc and gold from the mines where I worked. It included a gold refinery. I wondered after reading the book on cloaking on where my father-in-law imagined the bins of dental gold that were refined to Swedish stamped bars came from. German engineers helped build the plant and provide equipment. The whole family of my in-laws spoke fluent German and often had German dinner guests. My wife described lining up for the two boys to shake hands and for her to curtsy. Most of the gold came initially from German captures of central bank holdings in the nations that were conquered in rapid succession. The capacity of the Swedish refinery was in fact far in excess of anything my mines produced. Sweden offered no credit to the Germans as did the Swiss and shipments of gold arrived continually after central bank holdings had been emptied and transformed into neutral Swedish stamped gold. The Reich Bank gold was melted down and re-stamped as Swedish gold. When I studied Political Economy in Sweden in 1969 I asked what holdings the Swedish currency was based on. The lecturer replied that the Swedish central bank had no holdings, and that the Swedish currency was backed by Swedish production capacity and the competence and education of the Swedes.
Nott’s dinner party couples always drank too much and the husband lapsed into a diatribe about problems, everything being the fault of the Socialists or of the Jews or Olaf Palme. Swedish National Socialist leanings had been transformed into Socialist Nationalist leanings, thus saving the wealthy workers. Company Swedes and Swedish officers were left to nurse their disappointment in silence and only thirty years later was the Right able to publicly make their case with any chance of success. In the meantime, every town, large or tiny, was provided with an indoor swimming pool, indoor tennis courts, a library, after-school classes in music, singing or any subject you wished. There were and are associations with excellent finances for travel and camps for everything under the sun. This flood of opportunity was later to emerge as international Swedish successes in swimming, tennis, music and internet systems.
On her second visit to her wealthy lawyer couple in Saltsjöbaden Nott gives some clever insights into the matter of Swedish crypto-boredom, as she puts it. They work hard, are on the way to somewhere, but never arrive.
A friend who had been to Sweden once described the Swedes to me as like eggs: they are hard on the outside but once you break the shell there is nothing inside.
I was well-aware of all this on my second reading of the book and I began to find it a drudge. However, the story suddenly sprang to life at the very end.
Nott had on her return to England written a couple of articles about Sweden in her paper, the Observer. These had apparently been entitled ‘A clean, well-lighted place’. They had mostly dealt with Nott’s visit to the social workers’ night patrol, something Nott describes as the Vice Squad. To a post-war English readership the term Night Patrol sounds rather military and I can understand Nott finding some other term. And they were indeed looking for teenage prostitutes, then an illegal business. The leader of the Night Patrol, Ms von Ossietzky-Palm, felt affronted and insulted by the articles. She pathetically writes that ‘We represent a section of an official institution, the municipal child council of Stockholm’. The English reader does not care much who they represent; the Feudal System is long-dead in England.
She went through the articles in detail, self-righteously explaining every description which she deemed derogatory. Nott mentioned that the patrol ‘was whisked away in a high-powered car’ which I suspect was a Volvo Amazon, then certainly a high-powered car. My fellow-student and I saw many of them being whisked past us as we tried unsuccessfully to hitch-hike through Sweden to our mine. I had not met a social welfare officer in England by 1961, but I expect they at most were provided with a bicycle by the council. I was, though, surprised that all the mine workers I worked with then had new cars, and that even the students I met had new Volkswagens. This would have been of interest to a British readership.
Nott’s main criticism was a more subtle one, though. She felt that the Night Patrol all believed that psychologists and psychiatrists really had a firm grasp of what the psychological ‘norm’ was. I have several acquaintances who are social workers, one who ceased being a manager because he felt he could do more good just by simply being himself among those at the needy end of society, Utopia not yet having been attained. I have another acquaintance who strangely enough now has Ms. Rosalinda von Ossietzky-Palm’s post. Little has changed, except that Swedish eccentrics at the bottom of the pile may still have a chance of retaining their individuality. This because my acquaintance seems to spend much of her well-paid time and taxpayer’s money on being on holiday or on holding courses at home and abroad at spa hotels with a large jacuzzi.
The Luftwaffe over Sicily: a squadron leader’s diary (In Swedish). "Messerschmitts over Sicily: Diary of a Luftwaffe Fighter Commander" (Stackpole Military History Series Paperback)
By Johannes Steinhoff
I bought this book because my father was on an escort aircraft carrier in Operation Torch that landed Allied troops in North Africa, and he also took part in Operation Avalanche where the Allies landed at Salerno. His service in the Mediterranean spanned the period of this diary. The aircraft on his carrier could have been the aircraft that attacked Steinhoff’s squadron, first in North Africa in Tripoli where the Germans were driven out to Sicily, and also when the Germans were in Sicily. It would be interesting to hear the account of a German after the many British books I had read.
I was also on an Outward Bound trip to climb Mount Etna in the 1950s and know the landscape, Catania and Toarmina which then had not changed since the war.
The German original, or perhaps the English translation has been translated to Swedish which detracts little as Swedish is a Germanic language and little has been lost in translation.
In June 1943 Steinhoff was stationed at a small airstrip at Trapani after the squadron hastily fled from Tripoli. The Messerschmitt 109 fighters were intact, but they had left most of their spares and some of their mechanics behind. They had taken one mechanic crammed into the back of the aircraft by removing the plate behind the pilot. I was two years old at this time, and as we had pilots billeted on us knew them as surrogate fathers.
A fighter pilot has to be determined, skilled and an egotist, pathologically entirely directed towards shooting down his opponent. His personality is that of the twelve-year-old, especially with regard to avoiding the realization that he may be killed as well as kill. He is a narcissistic predator. This type of person is often a pain in the neck, but are the only type that survive as pilots although they are incompetent in social situations. Steinhoff seems to have been no exception. Even though he writes well and honestly he fails to mention a girlfriend and he appears to have no interest in women. These often only serve as a mother figure. The kill is his only interest.
Hermann Goering, the arch narcissist is Steinhoff’s chief and his role model, at least until Goering turns nasty when the war turns against the Luftwaffe.
There is a photograph of Steinhoff on the inside cover taken after he had been shot down and burned in a jet Messerschmitt. Here Steinhoff looks more like a slightly comical clerk than a fighter pilot due to his facial reconstruction. Photos before the accident show a man that looks like a German foreman on a building site with the gleam in his eye of a man who has never faced failure.
He had a great many kills to his name after campaigns in France, Britain, Poland and Russia against vastly inferior planes and pilots. In Sicily however, the Allies had an enormous number of four-engined Boeing 24 flying fortresses to bomb Sicily and a great many fighters to cover them, usually Lightnings and Spitfires.
He initially seems vaguely confused by the change in the fortunes of the Luftwaffe, but carries on as before. Much has not changed. If he needs a new machine one arrives, if new parts are needed they arrive, if he needs more fuel that arrives. The main shortage is of experienced pilots. Newly-trained ones seldom last more than one or two missions. The population of Greater Germany of fifty million supplied thousands of seventeen-year-olds who could be thrown into the war effort.
Hitler’s strategy was of slave labour for the factories, mines and forests. His ally to the North, Sweden supplied weapons-quality iron ore, minerals, arms, explosives, timber, furs and a host of other materials as well as a protected testing ground for prototypes. His strategy of confiscating the property of Germany’s half a million Jews enable him to buy these goods from his northern ally. For a few years Stockholm became the centre of the diamond trade, Germans selling stolen Jewish diamonds through Swedes to the rest of the world.
The oil wells in Rumania continued to supply the oil required.
About 800,000 German men became of military age each year. It is this supply that became the bottleneck to Germany’s conduct of the war by the time of the Sicily campaign. In 1943 there were twice this number of casualties, mainly on the Eastern Front. Hitler chose to have German women primarily as mothers of the master race and initially did not encourage them to join the forces as was the case in Britain.
The protagonist and main character is Steinhoff. This usually causes a reader willy-nilly to side with them. However, it was easy for me to remember that Steinhoff was fighting for the Fuehrer as he frequently mentioned him. I myself grew up in the shadow of families devastated by the Germans so that I could not forget them.
I had not been aware of the dominance of allied air power in 1943, but this appears to have been overwhelming. The moral of Steinhoff’s squadron slowly crumbles. Senior German officers began to blame pilots for defeats and accused them of showing too little will-power. This is in marked contrast to the attitude of senior British officers when the going seemed hopeless.
Finally Steinhoff is forced to retreat with his squadron to Italy.
Perhaps the main difference between this German airman and British airmen was their behaviour when things went against them.
Steinhoff spent three years recovering from burns after a crash in 1945. He would have gone through the denazification process that all Germans went through after the war. This process was to see if the German was a Nazi or had been a Nazi and if so to educate him in democratic values.
He writes a section at the end when he joins the West German Air Force. Here his writing is formal and stilted and uninteresting official jargon.
This is an interesting account of a part of the war where my father’s contribution on an aircraft carrier might directly have caused Steinhoff’s crash and his flight from Sicily.