24 Chalfont Road, Oxford.
2nd. January, 1946.
Dr. iur. Fritz R. Pringsheim,
Statement concerning Carl Langbehn
LANGBEHN was one of my pupils in Göttingen with whom I soon came into contact end who was my friend until April 1939 when I left Germany. I soon became aware that he was a young man of great gifts, but at the same time one in danger. He was the son of an "Auslandsdeutscher", a German living in a foreign country; born somewhere in South America if I correctly recollect, in any case a boy for whom it seemed difficult to subject himself to the restricted and narrow life in the after-war-Germany.
The simple life of a "bourgeois" without any opportunity of adventure and danger seemed boring for him, and I was very glad that nevertheless he paused with good success his two examinations, Referendar in Celle, Assessor in Berlin. Meanwhile he made his degree as Dr. iur. in Göttingen under my special guidance and became my assistant in Göttingen.
He was a charming young man, full of good humour, vigorous and interested in many good things, often a little desperate and doubtful if he would have a chance to show that he could achieve. He was an intimate guest in my house, a friend of Mrs Pringsheim and my boys, always helpful and with pleasure prepared to every service he could do.
As he felt responsible for his mother who was as poor as he himself he could not afford to follow his wish to begin his career as a civil servant, but had to become solicitor. As a young man who worked for a poor salary in a solicitor's office he had once to represent the solicitor who took a 4-weeks holiday and left to him cases of minor importance only. But since he fell ill during these weeks, more difficult cases had. to be handled by Langbehn.
This was his chance. He worked so well that the solicitor after his return offered him a more permanent co-operation. Langbehn accepted., but under the condition that his salary would be doubled.. The solicitor at once agreed. Afterwards he told me that he owed his best instruction during this time to a Jewish solicitor.
When I left Göttingen for Freiburg our connection became more loose, but I was always in correspondence with him. It may have been in 1933 that I read in the newspapers that he defended a German minister of the republique against an accusation made by the Nazis that he had embezzled money belonging to the Hindenburg-Trust which this minister had administrated. I have forgotten his name.
The accusation was of course a pretext to remove this man, and I won the impression that it was rather courageous to take over the defence against the Nazis in such a well-known case which lasted for more than a year and was at last decided by a High Court, As far as I remember the accused was not acquitted; such a decision was almost impossible at this time; but he was condemned to a very moderate punishment only, which was declared to be expiated by the imprisonment on remand.
When I met him later L. told me that he had been asked by two members of the Communist party to defend the leader of their party, Torgler, if I am not mistaken, in the lawsuit in connection with the burning of the Reichstag; that he had been prepared to defend him and had several conferences with theme two men; until they brought him a cheque in Dutch guilders to a Dutch bank, saying that after having defended Torgler he would probably not be able to stay in Germany, and that the high amount of the cheque was meant to be used outside Germany.
Langbehn was so offended by this offer and the pre¬sumption that he should defend Torgler for money and not only for the sake of protecting justice, he was so shocked by the supposition that he would not be courageous enough to stand the risk that he cut short the discussion and refused to continue the preparation of the defence. This story characterizes the man. I don't know at what time he became a member of the Nazi party.
I conjecture he jointed the party because he thought that with its help a new Germany could be built, that as a member only he could influence the political direction and that he would be strong enough to withstand measures and tendencies dangerous and detrimental for Germany. What so many others pretended to intend by joining he really felt.
I saw him again when we came to live in Berlin after my dismissal from my chair in Freiburg. We found him cheerful, unchanged, trusting us and full of hope for the future of Germany. He lived in a charming house in Dahlem which showed his great esteem for art, his good taste and the modesty so rarely combined with new wealth.
His young wife, beautiful and highly cultivated, charmed us. Three delightful children were gratefully and seriously educated. He had meanwhile become interested in copyright and similar legal matters and prepared a new scientific book on t his subject. He was the legal adviser, I think, of the Ufa, the great German Film Trust. His office in the Neue Wilhelmstrasse showed all the comfort of a successful barrister. Since then we often met in 1937 and 1938, found in his house several interesting guests from various circles and saw him in our house in Wannsee. He never concealed from me his membership and was always eager to hear my opinion and to discuss frankly political aspects.
We mostly disagreed, but I had never any doubt about his sincerity and honesty. His reasoning was sound, without prejudice, though of course tainted by the Nazi creed; he did not accept all the principles, was an open adversary of the race theory and of exaggerated nationalism. For a long time he hoped that the initial diseases of the new regime would more and more disappear, and that a strong and peaceful Germany would consolidate the first successes For me he always showed good friendship and confidence.
So when in October 1938 I began to expect personal persecution I advised Mrs Pringsheim to ask for his help in a case of emergency. When I was brought to a concentration camp in November, Langbehn was not in Berlin. After his return Mrs. Pringsheim went to see him.
He at once declared that he would do everything to set me free, but asked for strict discretion. He promised that he would go at once to see an influential man and that I would be free in a few days. One and a half days later I was released.
Afterwards he told us that he had gone the same afternoon to see Himmler, had declared to him that the whole action was criminal; that Himmler was roused to anger by this remark, but that he replied that Himmler could send himself to a camp, but would not change his conviction by such an act. That in any case it was impossible to imprison innocent people, and especially such a man as his teacher Pringsheim for whom he could take every guaran[tee]. Asked if he could promise that I would leave Germany within ten days he answered that ten weeks would be necessary.
After this report he asked us not to disclose his name. He could do such a thing once only in his life. From this moment he was always in touch with me and helped me when my passport was seized by the SS. In my presence he rang the staff of the SS, told them that I, his friend, sat opposite him at his desk in his office, that they knew how interested he was in my case, and asked for the reasons of taking away my passport.
After many excuses they informed him and helped me to get back the passport. All this happened at a time at which it had become highly dangerous for everybody to be connected with and interested in a man of Jewish descendance.
The last of our numerous political discussions, just before I left Germany in April, 1939, concerned the political future. He told me that he often visited England because he belonged to a strong wing in the party which recommended an agreement with England. Germany, he said, was now strong enough to discuss without fear the whole future with England as a free and powerful partner. An agreement between these two nations alone could bring peace to Europe.
It was high time to discuss frankly and honestly all remaining problems and to arrange definitely the few still open questions. Germany possessed now everything she needed, the future belonged to consolidation and to winning back the trust of the world. Some influential members of the party did not share this view, but he hoped that their resistance could be broken. On his next visit to England he would be delighted to see us in Oxford. These were his last words.
I did not hear from him since, until some months ago I read in a Swiss report of the plot against Hitler that Langbehn had been hanged by the Nazis, and that he had been the man who had tried to win over Himmler and his friends for the revolt against Hitler.
I emphasize that I do not excuse Langbehn's membership. It is almost impossible that he participated in the crimes committed by the party, but in any case he helped the Nazis. But I fully understand his attitude. He was a young man who was dissatisfied with the fate of his country, became more and more desperate, felt that he could do something better than win success for himself only. He was so full of energy and good will that he could not exclude himself from the future.
He made up his mind to co-operate in the forming of German polities. At the same time he would never give up his own conviction and not partake in any bad action. He was courageous enough to risk much. His death for the good cause has expiated his errors. If this description of the man and of his life by an intimate friend can help his wife and children to find some relief outside Germany, I would be very thankful to be able to contribute to this aim.
signed F.R. Pringsheim.
(Source: Allen Dulles papers, Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton, box 37, file 1; no changes except for minor spelling corrections and the insertion of paragraph breaks.)
Ripping the Veil Wide Open