In My Brother's Shadow, by Uwe Timm


An elegy without excuses
(Filed: 20/03/2005)

Daniel Johnson reviews In My Brother's Shadow by Uwe Timm.

One of the creepiest Lieder in Schubert's last song-cycle, Schwanengesang, is The Double (Der Doppelgänger), set to a poem by Heine. The narrator returns to a scene of his youth, where he encounters a shadowy figure below the window where his beloved once lived. In the distraught features of this "pale companion" he recognises - to his horror - himself.

There is something of this nightmarish quality in Uwe Timm's powerful memoir of the elder brother he lost in the war. The author was only three when his brother, Karl-Heinz, was killed on the Russian front, leaving behind only a few letters home and a fragmentary journal. Uwe's dim recollections and recurrent, disturbing dreams of the pale youth who volunteered for the SS Death's Head Division, never to return, led him to reconstruct the story of his family during and after the war. The tone throughout is tender but unsentimental. And in the hands of Timm, now a distinguished writer, this domestic drama serves as a microcosm of the German catastrophe.

Uwe grew up overshadowed by his dead brother and the Third Reich, to which the "brave boy" had been sacrificed. While their mother blames the Nazis, "that bunch of rogues", and is able to overcome her grief, their authoritarian father had placed all his hopes in Karl-Heinz and, despite desperate attempts to keep up appearances, never really recovered from his death. Having briefly flourished in the "economic miracle" of the early 1950s, the father then fell into debt and alcoholism, before suddenly dropping dead in his office.

Only long afterwards, with his mother and sister both dead, does Uwe dare to investigate what his brother might have been up to in the war. He likens this process of opening up the past to the grisly tale of Bluebeard, a story which as a child he had never been able to hear to the end. The clues his brother left behind are suggestive. The diary records, for example, the demolition of houses to pave roads with dismantled stone stoves - thereby leaving Ukrainian families homeless in mid-winter. The last entry says: "I don't see any point in recording the cruel things that sometimes happen." Even after vainly seeking Karl-Heinz's grave in Ukraine, Uwe cannot do more than guess at the atrocities concealed by the dead man's diary or his jocular letters home.

In one such letter, just after finding himself in the midst of what turned out to be the Germans' decisive defeat at Kursk, Karl-Heinz fantasises about "finishing off" the Russians with "ten times as many SS divisions". Without irony, he then denounces the British air raids at home: "If only they'd stop that filthy business. It's not war, it's the murder of women and children - it's inhumane."

Shortly afterwards, the family is bombed out when the RAF destroys Hamburg. The bitterness of their loss - of home, of son, of national pride - was repressed after the war, as was the loss of thousands of others, but in recent years such resentments have resurfaced. The Germans have embraced the cult of victimhood, and the Nazis are no longer to be demonised. Even Hitler must now be depicted humanely, as he is in a new film about his last days, The Downfall. On the occasion of the recent anniversary of the destruction of Dresden, even respectable, liberal newspapers denounced it as a war crime.

Uwe Timm has no truck with such apologetics. He does not make the old excuse that his brother was just "carrying out orders". Those who refused to carry out mass executions were rarely punished; they were the true heroes. Karl-Heinz was not one of them. He was just a cog in the Nazi killing machine. Without pardoning the unpardonable, this elegy for a dead brother attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible. In vain.

Daniel Johnson is writing a history of German thought.


In My Brother's Shadow

Uwe Timm tr by Anthea Bell

148pp, Bloomsbury, £12.99

ISBN: 0747573913

The cruel things that sometimes happen
(Filed: 20/03/2005)

Kate Chisholm reviews In My Brother's Shadow by Uwe Timm and The Bonfire of Berlin by Helga Schneider.

Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, members of the generation born during those years of conflict are beginning to exhume their long-buried memories. The smell of "sweaty leather", for instance, that Uwe Timm associates with his father, home on leave from the Luftwaffe. It was a smell he came to despise, just as he came to despise that whole "generation of the guilty" for what they had done, or rather not done, by their passivity and apathy, in not standing up to the Nazis.

His bitterness was fuelled by the five years during which he grew up with just his mother for company. When his father returned from the war, he was a stranger. And worse. Timm had an older brother, Karl-Heinz, who was killed in action. "My father would fall silent," he says, "and… you could see him wondering which of us might better have been spared."

Timm was born in Hamburg in 1940. Two years later, Karl-Heinz volunteered to fight with an elite corps of the Waffen SS. He kept a diary every day for six months; nothing personal, just brief accounts of what action he had seen in the Ukraine, fighting the Russians. "Combing the terrain. Plenty of loot!" Or the next day, "1 Day's rest, big louse hunt."

What does "big louse hunt" mean? A day spent delousing his uniform? Or something very different? asks Timm.

One day, the diary stops dead, with the words: "I close my diary here, because I don't see any point in recording the cruel things that sometimes happen." There's nothing more. What were those "cruel things"? Was his brother perpetrator or victim?

A few weeks later, Karl-Heinz was wounded and died in a field hospital after having his legs amputated. A small box of belongings was sent back from the front holding the diary (with a pink flower pressed between its pages), his comb (with a few fair hairs still attached) and 10 photographs. How could such an efficient bureaucracy have continued to operate amid such chaos?

Timm wonders how a quiet, dreamy adolescent was transformed into a killing machine who could write of "Ivan smoking cigarettes, fodder for my MG". He is horrified when he realises that those who shot prisoners and ran the concentration camps could have refused. Some did, and were not punished. But most of them obeyed, and "after initial reservations [killed] more naturally, more ruthlessly, more mechanically, every time".

In The Bonfire of Berlin [tr by Shaun Whiteside, 220pp, Heinemann, £9.99] Helga Schneider offers the same, horrible insight into human nature. As a child in Berlin during the last days of the war, she heard her grandfather talk about murder "quite naturally" after killing a man to get food. In an earlier book, Let Me Go, she told of how her mother abandoned her when she was four to go and work for Hitler as a concentration-camp guard. Years later, Schneider rediscovered her in Vienna, with her Nazi uniform still hanging in the wardrobe.

This new book tells of her experiences in Berlin as if she were again that young girl, hungry, dirty, plagued by rats and bedbugs, cooped up in a cellar for months as the city burns. She remembers being taken to the Bunker to meet Hitler: "His pupils gleam strangely, as though there is a goblin moving inside them."

Both these books are short, as if Timm and Schneider have not dared to linger too long with their memories, for fear they might be overwhelmed. But their similarity ends there.

Uwe Timm, a well-known novelist in Germany, is determined "not to smooth it all out in the telling", not to make it easy for us to understand and thereby to excuse, creating a jerky, queasy, unsettling read. Schneider, in contrast, writes with breathtaking sophistication, glossing over the horror and lessening its impact. "Someone went upstairs to find out whether there was any kind of first-aid service for rape victims." In a city on the brink of surrender?

Timm ends by repeating his brother's last entry: "I don't see any point in recording the cruel things that sometimes happen." But he has refused to accept this, and his book is pitiless in its quest for an understanding of those things.



Hard questions put to an older brother
He was a member of the S.S., died in Ukraine and left a forbidden diary

Reviewed by Carey Harrison

Sunday, April 24, 2005

In My Brother's Shadow

A Life and Death in the SS

By Uwe Timm, translated by Anthea Bell


For anyone who wishes to understand the inner turmoil of the German nation during the 60 years that have succeeded its complicity in some of the worst atrocities in recorded history, Uwe Timm's brief, heartrending and exquisitely written memoir, "In My Brother's Shadow," cannot be bettered as a place to start.

The author lost a brother, Karl-Heinz, to World War II, that all- devouring conflagration that left few German families intact. His brother's death bequeathed Timm little more than a hero's silhouette. Who had his brother truly been? Karl-Heinz Timm had served in one of the fighting divisions of the S.S., which also functioned, in a separate incarnation, as Adolf Hitler's handpicked executioners. What had Karl-Heinz seen and known?

This soul-searching journey continues to be a necessary pilgrimage for many Germans, yet is by no means unique to Germany. Every nation, including ours, has known moments when cruel actions by its representatives reveal the unthinkable: that this cruelty was inflicted in the confidence that the nation itself would support the actions in question and that the victims would be readily understood to be less than fully human, less than equal in rights, and therefore fair game. When such things come to light, and they come to light in the history of every nation on earth, its citizens need to be able to share more than shame and responsibility -- they need words that will restore to them the common humanity of all the parties involved, our only available source of reconciliation. This Uwe Timm provides with masterly insight and restraint. In doing so, he offers to help heal us all.

Timm, a distinguished novelist, had long felt a need to address his brother's youthful death in battle, and the impact this had on his family and his own upbringing. In 1942, when Uwe was 2, his 18-year-old brother joined the elite Totenkopf or "Death's Head" division of the S.S. The Totenkopf, along with two kindred S.S. divisions, Das Reich and the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler ("Hitler's Bodyguard") were at the forefront in what most historians regard as the decisive battles of World War II, on Germany's eastern front. There Hitler threw his best fighting units at the Red Army. Ultimately, it was the Germans who were overwhelmed. Karl-Heinz Timm died in Ukraine, after the amputation of both his legs.

For Hans Timm, their father, Karl-Heinz was the irreplaceable, heroic son. This is one of the shadows over Uwe Timm's life, referred to in his title. A greater, longer shadow was cast by the unanswerable questions surrounding Karl- Heinz's death. What, when he joined up -- for reasons of which he never spoke -- did Karl-Heinz know, and what did he think if he knew, as he must have done, about the role the S.S. was playing in the death camps? Nor was the Russian front itself lacking in atrocities. What horrors was Karl-Heinz carrying in his heart and his memory?

Against regulations, Karl-Heinz kept a diary during months of battle. Entries from this journal pervade Uwe Timm's book. They are shockingly and representatively enigmatic -- simply a few scribbled words about the day's events. Here and there, a personal touch: a meal, a comrade wounded or killed, a particular Russian soldier shot, and remembered, by the diarist. Abruptly, the diary ends a few weeks before Karl-Heinz Timm's death, with the terrible, yet still strangely innocent words: "I close my diary here, because I don't see any point in recording the cruel things that sometimes happen."

The question of what his brother knew still tortures Uwe Timm. This question and the one that follows -- what did we know and, if we knew, what did we look away from? -- lay at the heart of German self-interrogation. Karl-Heinz Timm's S.S., the Waffen or "armed" S.S., so-called because of its fighting role, was regarded as largely free of the moral taint attaching to the remainder of the S.S. Yet Karl-Heinz's Totenkopf division was recruited from Dachau concentration camp guards in 1939. What would his brother -- by all accounts an unfailingly brave yet dreamy, gentle and private soul -- have done if he had been transferred to death camp duty?

Uwe Timm has painstakingly studied the literature about Nazi murder, including those that document the shocking fact that German soldiers and police recruits who refused to take part in executions were neither punished nor demoted. This indicts a nation, as Timm acknowledges. Yet his book is no "J'Accuse." It is an unsparing lament, and also an elegy for Timm's parents: a loving, humorous mother, loyal to a narrow-minded, authoritarian father who was saved from becoming a Nazi only by his Hamburg upbringing. To ever-genteel Hamburgers, even to Hamburgers of modest class station, the Nazis were thugs, too coarse for the sons of the river Elbe and its brisk, clean estuarine air.

This is a work written in, and eloquently translated into, quiet, simple language -- quiet in a monitory sense, in the sense intended by Primo Levi in the preface to "Survival in Auschwitz," where he anatomizes his own sublime memoir as "documentation for a quiet study of certain aspects of the mind." Like Levi's, Timm's book is simultaneously personal and philosophical in the highest degree. It never lectures; it takes the reader to the heart of the grief and the puzzlement of a family and of a nation; it is a healing book and one that merits a place on every bookshelf. We all stand in our brother's shadow.

Carey Harrison is a Brooklyn novelist and teacher.

The  TLS n.º 5342/3, August 19 & 26, 2005


From the ruins


Ian Brunskill



Helga Schneider

The Bonfire of Berlin

A lost childhood in wartime Germany

Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside

220 pp. Heinemann £ 9.99 (US $18.15)

0 434 01050 2


Uwe Timm

In my brother’s shadow

Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

151 pp. Bloomsbury. £ 12.99

US: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $18

0 374 10374 7 

In 1997, in the Zurich lectures reworked in book form as Luftkrieg and Literatur (published in English as On the Natural History of Destruction), W. G. Sebald asked why there had been so little discussion in Germany - and particularly in German literature - of the devastation wreaked on German cities by Allied bombing in. the Second World War. Sebald felt that he had grown up “with the feeling that something was being kept from me; at home, at school, and by the German writers whose books I read hoping to glean information about the monstrous events in the background of my own life”. “There was tacit agreement”, he thought,

equally binding on everyone, that the true state of material and moral ruin in which the country found itself was not to be described. The darkest aspects of the final act of destruction, as experienced by the great majority of the German population, remained under a kind of taboo, like a shameful family secret - a secret that perhaps could not be acknowledged even privately.

If such a taboo existed, and not everyone agrees that it did, then Sebald’s lectures helped to break it once and for all. In the years since then - especially with the publication in 2002 of Jörg Friedrich’s contentious historical account of the air war, Der Brand - the wartime experience of Germany’s civilian population has been endlessly, and often rancorously, discussed.

In their different ways, these memoirs by Helga Schneider and Uwe Timm are contributions to that discussion. Schneider’s book is the more conventional, a vivid and often harrowing account of what the subtitle calls “a lost childhood in wartime Germany”. Born in 1937 and abandoned early by a mother who preferred a career as a guard at Auschwitz to the business of bringing up her children (the subject of Schneider’s previous memoir, Let Me Go), the young Helga endures the appalling privations of life in Berlin in the last days of the war. As the bombs fall on a city already reduced to rubble and ash, and the dreaded Russians advance, she is drawn into a nightmare of hunger, tenor, violence, rape and disease. This is a narrative of gripping immediacy, a child’s perspective on the apocalypse evoked with perfect adult recall, sixty-year-old conversations repeated or imagined word for word, in guileless, efficient prose.

Uwe Timm, looking back on scenes from his own wartime childhood in Hamburg, among them the dreadful firestorm unleashed on the city by British bombers in July 1943, is a less confident, more scrupulous narrator. Sebald in his lecture had insisted that “the construction of aesthetic or pseudo-aesthetic effects from the ruins of an annihilated world is a process depriving literature of its right to exist”. Timm might not want to go that far, but he is wary, where Schneider is not, of “the danger of smoothing it all out in the telling. Speak, Memory”.

Born in 1940, Timm had a brother, Karl Heinz, who was sixteen years his senior. in December 1942, for reasons no one ever quite seemed to grasp, Karl-Heinz volunteered for the Death’s Head Division of the Waffen SS. Less than a year later, fighting on the Russian front, he was so badly wounded that both legs had to he amputated. For a time, in the field hospital, he seemed to rally, writing cheerful letters home. Then he died.

Timm’s first-hand experience of Karl—Heinz amounts to no more than a single infant memory of a game of hide-and-seek. But Karl Heinz, in death, remained his father’ s favourite child. He was always there, in his parents’ recollections and their grief, “a boy who told no lies, who was always upright, shed no tears, was brave and obedient. A fine example”.

As the German title of the book suggests —Am Beispiel meines Bruders (“On the example of my brother”) — Timm sees his dead brother as exemplary in more ways than one. In writing about Karl-Heinz, he must write about his father, his mother, his older sister - and himself. The result is a frank and sometimes painful reckoning with family history, with the events and personalities that made him what he is.

It is also, of course, a reckoning with his country’s terrible past; for there are countless German families with histories much like this. Karl-Heinz kept a diary in Russia, which was returned to his mother his other meagre personal. effects after his death. The entries are brief; mostly unreflective, not always easy to understand. Sixty years on, however, one or two of them give his younger brother pause. On March 21, 1943, for instance, Karl-Heinz wrote: “Bridgehead on the Donez. 75m away Ivan smoking cigarettes, fodder for my MG”. That casual description of a Russian soldier as machine gun fodder” makes Timm wonder just what may lie behind the cryptic; slightly sinister references elsewhere in the diary to “louse hunts”- and villages yielding “plenty of loot”. And what about the final entry? “I close my diary here, because I don’t see any1 point in recording. the cruel things that sometimes happen.”

Timm has read and several times refers to, the historian Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, which documents how the unremarkable middle-aged members of a reserve police battalion from Hamburg set about the task of liquidating entire villages in Eastern Europe and slaughtering tens of thousands of Jews. Was Karl Heinz involved in atrocities like that? Timm put off writing about his brother for years, not least for fear of what he might find out. in the end, he has no clear answers to the questions with which he began. He cannot say for sure what Karl-Heinz did, or what, in the same position, he might have done himself. But he has shown, in this honest and moving book, both why and how those questions still need to be asked.



Pieces of a discomfiting past

Dreams, memories mix in bitter account of war

By Edith Pearlman  |  April 24, 2005

In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS
By Uwe Timm
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 150 pp.

Read it in one sitting, if you can. Take it all at once, a pint of beer laced with unripe currants. This bitter memoir, only 150 pages, is constructed as a series of associations. One incident brings to mind another, perhaps occurring earlier, perhaps later. Time's one-way flow is ignored in the swirling brew of anecdote, dream, allusion, and speculation.

''In My Brother's Shadow" is the work of the acclaimed German novelist Uwe Timm. It is the story of a dead boy; of National Socialism and its brutalities; of a Chosen People (the Aryan nation, in this case); of prison bestiality; of marriage and loyalty and fate and illness. It is the story of the author's father. He was often charming, a gifted raconteur. He walked under an unlucky cloud, flashing a silver tongue. He is the latest in the line of feckless fellows who sire brilliant children: père Dickens, père Joyce, père le Carré. Pêre Timm was born in 1899. At 22 he married the author's mother, then 19. Their first child was that common disappointment, a daughter. She was swarthy as well. The second, a beloved pale boy, was born in 1924. The third, also a boy, Uwe, the afterthought, comes in 1940.

In 1942 the older boy, Karl-Heinz, volunteers for the elite Death's Head division of the German Army. In the summer of 1943 he is wounded on the Russian front. Both legs are amputated. By September he is dead.

During the previous July, the father, serving in the Luftwaffe, wrote to Karl-Heinz that their home in Hamburg, along with most of the city, had been destroyed by British bombs. The author reprints this letter augmented with other accounts: how windows exploded one by one; how the bombs sprayed phosphorus everywhere; how people on fire jumped into the canals, but the phosphorus burned in the water, too.

In the postwar years Uwe's father becomes a furrier. His business prospers for a while, then declines. He dies in 1959. Thirty-three years later his mother dies, and soon after that his sister, too; and so the memoirist can at last begin his rueful work. In restrained sentences -- undramatic adjectives, infrequent adverbs, unrevealed proper names -- incidents flame like phosphorus.

The afterthought examines Karl-Heinz's meager wartime diary. In the entry for March 21, 1943, there are two fragments:

''Bridgehead on the Donez. 75 m away Ivan smoking cigarettes, fodder for my MG [machine gun]."

This entry returns again and again to the narration, like an evil bird alighting on the lines of prose. And did Karl-Heinz fire that MG? the younger brother wonders. And the hapless Russian so unwisely smoking -- did he fall? And what was the fair-haired brother thinking? And Ivan -- what was he thinking?

There are some good years for the Timm family. For Uwe's father they come in the early 1950s, when he has money to throw around and customers to impress. His mother spends her long widowhood running the fur business, enjoying almond cake with afternoon tea, occasionally attending the opera. His unmarried sister meets the love of her life in her 70s. She buys new clothes -- red gloves! Timm takes the trouble to record this -- red gloves for a woman whose father did not care for a girl.

And the author's good years? They are not mentioned in the book; instead we see a boy who grows to detest his father and his country's past, who turns toward leftist politics and the repudiation of authority. But in an interview recorded elsewhere Timm tells of an encounter. He is in middle age, driving in Namibia to do research. He becomes lost. He asks a shepherd how to get to the village of Ukamas, and the shepherd gives him directions to a fork. If you take a left you will reach a bump, and ''then you see a big boulder lying there against a tree. The tree is very big; it takes three people to reach around it. When you see the tree, then you know you have taken the wrong way." Timm is exalted by this exchange: describing a path he would never see, the shepherd has shown him a way to tell a story.

''In My Brother's Shadow" describes things the narrator did not see: things pulled from diaries, imagined after conversations, read. He looks for examples of high courage, saying no. He reports tales of a few German soldiers who refused to shoot Russian captives. He cherishes the account of a German officer in uniform who walks the streets of his hometown with a friend, who is wearing his own insignia: a yellow star. And he reports also the story of Babi Yar, where 30,000 Jews were killed by Nazis and not one German soldier said no.

Timm worries about ''the danger of smoothing it all out in the telling." He has avoided that danger in this remarkable work made up of rough tales lifted from individual and collective histories. The episodes are brought into the light, and illuminated. And there, illuminated, is the story -- of a fair-haired soldier, of a good-enough family, of a dysfunctional society becoming first grotesque and then unspeakable.

Edith Pearlman is the author of ''How to Fall," a collection of stories.



DIE ZEIT 18.09.2003 Nr.39



In einer anrührenden autobiografischen Erzählung nimmt Uwe Timm Abschied von seinem Bruder

Von Ursula März

Uwe Timm: Am Beispiel meines Bruders

Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2003; 160 S., 16,90 €

Geschichten, in denen Kleidungsstücke oder Stoffe (wie Gogols Mantel und dessen Adaptionen) eine Rolle spielen, machen hellhörig. Man vermutet, dass sie auf dem Umweg der Allegorie eine Aussage treffen über ihr Verhältnis zum eigenen, zum Erzählstoff – oder über dessen Charakter. Ein besonders merkwürdiger Stofffetzen taucht im Werk Uwe Timms gleich zweimal auf, in der Novelle Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, 1993, und jetzt, in seinem neuen Buch Am Beispiel meines Bruders. Es ist ein brennender, durch die Luft tanzender Gardinenfitzel, der rätselhaft wirkt, weil es aussieht, als gäbe es nur die Flamme, nicht das von ihr verzehrte Material.

Es ist leicht zu verstehen, was Uwe Timm an diesem Bild brennender Luft, das er als kleiner Junge im bombardierten Hamburg sah, bis heute beeindruckt: die schiere Irrealität. Und es ist nicht viel schwerer, sich vorzustellen, wie sie sich im Kopf des Jungen mit einer Gestalt verknüpfte, die im Leben wie in der Literaturgeschichte prädestiniert ist, Gefühle der Unheimlichkeit auszulösen: dem unsichtbaren Doppelgänger. In Timms Fall ist dies der eigene, sechzehn Jahre ältere Bruder Karl Heinz Timm, geboren 1924, gestorben 1943. Er fiel im Zweiten Weltkrieg in der Ukraine, als Uwe Timm gerade drei Jahre alt war. Ein Bruder, den er nie wirklich kennen gelernt hat, von dem es kein Grab und außer einer Hand voll Briefe, einem flüchtig hingeschmierten Fronttagebuch keine Hinterlassenschaft, kein Material gibt. Und der dennoch, als untoter Geist der Familie, immer anwesend blieb, in jedem Seufzer der Eltern, auch nach Jahren noch, bei jedem Spaziergang der Familie Timm und indirekt in jeder Überlegung Uwe Timms zur eigenen Person, denn sie impliziert die Frage: Bin ich anders, als er war oder geworden wäre?

Vielleicht hat es gerade die ästhetische Anstrengung, die für den Autor in dem Paradox gelegen haben muss, ein so stoffarmes Leben wie das des Bruders zum Stoff eines Buches zu machen, mit sich gebracht, dass ihm die Lösung des zweiten Widerspruchs, der dem Buch auf der Stirn geschrieben steht, so natürlich von der Hand ging. Denn es handelt sich bei dem Text um nichts anderes als die Trauerrede eines überzeugten Linken auf einen überzeugten Soldaten der Waffen-SS.

Im Dezember 1942 meldete sich Karl Heinz Timm, blond, blauäugig, 1,85 Meter groß, freiwillig und wird mit 18 Jahren Panzerpionier der SS-Totenkopfdivision. Er stirbt am 16. Oktober 1943 in einem ukrainischen Lazarett an den Folgen einer schweren Verwundung, vier Wochen nach der Amputation beider Beine. An seine Eltern kommt ein Pappkästchen zurück, Kamm, Zahnpastatube, Orden, Briefe enthaltend und das Tagebuch, das der Bruder unerlaubt geführt haben muss; zumal bei der SS war das Tagebuchschreiben an der Front verboten.

Es sind in Kursivschrift von Uwe Timm zitierte quälende Sätze unter den telegrammhaft kurzen Notizen. Von „Beute“, gemeint sind getötete russische Soldaten, ist die Rede, und an einer Schlüsselstelle, auf die Timm mehrmals zurückkommt, von einer, aus professionellem Stolz hervorgehenden Befriedigung des Tötens: „März 21 Donez. 75 m raucht Iwan Zigaretten, ein Fressen für mein MG.“ Uwe Timm graust vor diesem Bruder. „Das war die Stelle, bei der ich, stieß ich früher darauf – sie sprang mir oben links auf der Seite regelrecht ins Auge –, nicht weiterlas, sondern das Heft wegschloß. Und erst mit dem Entschluß, über den Bruder, also auch über mich, zu schreiben, war ich befreit, dem dort FESTGESCHRIEBENEN nachzugehen.“ Und er verurteilt ihn. Der Bruder mag in der Jungschar, in der HJ, von einem Vater, der ihn von klein auf fürs Nieweinen pries, erzogen worden, von der präpotenten Wichtigtuerei 19-Jähriger besonders befallen gewesen sein. Aber er war alt genug, eine Entscheidung zu treffen zwischen tödlich genauem und irgendwie leicht daneben Zielen.

Uwe Timm schränkt diese moralische Wahrheit nicht ein. Nur: Er isoliert sie nicht. Er integriert sie in die Geschichte der Trauer, der eigenen neidvollen Konkurrenz, der Geschichte seiner etwas übertriebenen Mutterliebe, und er verbindet sie mit der Parvenügeschichte seines Vaters, der von Natur aus einem Mann von Welt so stark glich, dass er anfing, sich für einen solchen zu halten und den Halt verlor, als das Pelz- und Kürschnergeschäft nach dem ersten Hoch des Wirtschaftswunders dem Bankrott entgegenschlich. Nicht zu vergessen: die Geschichte der zu kurz gekommenen Schwester, der dritten im Geschwisterbund in der Rolle der ewigen Tochter, der nichts glückt im Leben.

So entsteht, betrachtet man nur die narrative Oberfläche des Textes, die nicht untypische Kriegs- und Nachkriegserzählung einer Hamburger Familie, gestaltet in einer fragmentarischen, sentenzhaften Form aus Episoden, Reflexionen, Zitaten, Geschichtsbetrachtungen. Ein schmales Prosawerk, eine Miniatur, konstruiert nach dem Prinzip einer elliptischen Addition, deren Ganzes die Summe der Splitter und Teile unangestrengt übertrifft.

Darunter, unter der äußeren Organisation des Familienbildes, vollzieht sich noch etwas anderes. Man könnte es eine Gespenstervertreibung nennen. Uwe Timm befreit den Bruder Seite um Seite aus der Aura des Unheimlichen, Irrealen. Das gelingt, indem er das verkürzte Leben des Bruders mit dem Bericht der eigenen Biografie verspiegelt und so mit Realität versorgt. Er zerrt den SS-Soldaten mitsamt seinem ambivalenten Tagebuch nicht zur allgemeinen Bestaunung auf die Bühne. Er setzt ihn ins Parkett der deutschen Gesellschaft des 20.Jahrhunderts und sich daneben. Er ist nicht der Antipode der Geschichte, die er berichtet, sondern ihr Teilnehmer in der Funktion eines nachdenkenden, nachforschenden Chronisten.

Ein deutsches Bruderpaar. Wie groß ist die Schnittmenge zwischen dem Umriss des einen, des guten Deutschen, und dem des anderen, des bösen Deutschen? Das ist die Frage. Sie wird insofern beantwortet, als Uwe Timm das abgebrochene Leben von Karl Heinz Timm ja tatsächlich in vielen Punkten fortsetzte, Kürschner wurde, was der Bruder vorhatte, und in das Geschäft des Vaters einstieg.

Das alles, das Brudermotiv, der Topos vom Nazi als Normalmensch, ist nicht sensationell neu. Auch gedanklich bewegt sich der Text in seinen essayistischen Passagen zur soldatischen Männlichkeit, zum autoritären Charakter, zur genealogischen Psychologie, im Rahmen des Erwartbaren. Sein Hauptmerkmal ist vielmehr das Antisensationelle. Es fehlt diesem wohl Uwe Timms persönlichsten, heikelsten Buch auf höchst sympathische, anrührende Weise alles Manifesthafte, alles Demonstrative, den Leser Bedrängende. Und es fehlt ihm auf verblüffende Weise das Zerrissene. Es entsteht aus einer Situation erheblicher Problematik. Und findet zu einer so ruhigen, gleichmäßigen, beinahe unauffälligen Gestalt des Ausdrucks, wie sie gemeisterte Abschiede und verarbeitete Trennungen hervorbringen. Eine größere Harmonie zwischen der Nähe subjektiv-identifikatorischer Aneignung und der Distanz historischer Beurteilung, mithin zwischen Poesie und Aufklärung, ist kaum denkbar. Die Gespenstervertreibung ist – auch dies gilt für das Leben wie für die Literatur – im besten Fall ein Vorgang der Entneurotisierung. Wie es diesen vorführt und vollzieht, das ist das Interessante an diesem Buch. Es spiegelt eine Bewältigungsfähigkeit, die von Verdrängung so frei ist wie von Verdammung.

Der Zeitpunkt, zu dem dieses Buch erscheint, nach den Auseinandersetzungen um deutsche Kriegseinsätze, ist nicht zufällig, denn es waren Auseinandersetzungen, in denen sich die deutsche Gesellschaft als uneins, aber daneben als beruhigend unneurotisch in ihrem Verhältnis zum Kriegerischen erlebte. Man spürt diese Bewusstseinslage bei Timm. Und ebenso kein Zufall ist die Ähnlichkeit der Haltung Uwe Timms, Jahrgang 1940, mit der etwa gleichaltriger Schriftsteller wie Jürgen Becker, Dieter Forte, auch Alexander Kluge. Sie alle haben den Zweiten Weltkrieg in ihrer Kindheit oder Jugend gerade noch erlebt, sie sprechen wie Zeitzeugen und Nachgeborene in einem.



Erscheinungsdatum 17.09.2003

Die schwierigste aller Fragen

Warum ausgerechnet zur Waffen-SS? Uwe Timm erzählt vom Tod und fürchterlichen Nachleben seines Bruders

Von Klaus Siblewski

Das Buch

Uwe Timm: Am Beispiel meines Bruders. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 2003, 159 Seiten, 16,90 €.

Uwe Timm hat ein kleines, aber überaus wichtiges Buch geschrieben - und das, obwohl er eine Seite seines Themas, und keine unbedeutende, übergeht. Seine Sätze strahlen eine Glaubwürdigkeit aus, die nicht nur dieses Manko vergessen lassen, sondern dem Buch zu seinem ganz eigenen Gewicht verhelfen. Doch alles der Reihe nach. Lange hat Timm gebraucht, bis er den Mut aufbrachte, sich mit dem kurzen Leben seines Bruders zu beschäftigen. Dieser war bei der Waffen-SS, hatte 1943 an der deutschen Offensive bei Kursk in der Ukraine teilgenommen und war, nachdem er schwer verwundet worden war, im Lazarett gestorben. Von ihm konnte Timm bisher nicht sprechen, da er Rücksicht auf Mutter und Schwester nehmen wollte. Erst nach ihrem Tod stellte er die naheliegenden Fragen: Wieso konnte das Leben seines Bruders nur so schrecklich falsch verlaufen, und warum ist er dennoch zu einem Familienidol aufgestiegen?

Timm geht zunächst der ersten Frage nach und entwirft ein entgeisternd-dunkles Psychogramm seines Bruders - mit allerdings auffallend lichten Zügen. Zu den autoritären Charakteren scheint dieser junge Mann nicht unbedingt gehört zu haben. Manchmal war er unauffindbar und tauchte Stunden später wieder auf, was er jedoch getrieben hatte, darüber verlor er kein Wort. Später entdeckt die Mutter, aber da ist Timms Bruder schon tot, dass er sich in der Wohnung ein Versteck eingerichtet hatte und dort Bücher über afrikanische Tiere las.

Es wäre also auch denkbar gewesen, dass dieser Junge seinen sensiblen Welten den Vorzug vor dem Militär gegeben hätte. Vor diesem freundlich anmutenden Charakterbild treten die finsteren Persönlichkeitsbestandteile des Bruders umso schroffer hervor. Warum, fragt sich Timm, hat er nicht wie die anderen Männer seines Jahrgangs (1924) - er ist 16 Jahre älter als der Autor - auf seinen Einberufungsbefehl gewartet, sondern musste ausgerechnet zur Waffen-SS gehen. Die Eltern haben ihn nicht zu diesem Schritt gedrängt, und der Eintritt bei der Waffen-SS war bestimmt keine Kleinigkeit. Man gehörte damit zu den Eliteeinheiten der Nazis (zu der auch die Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler zählte) und verschaffte mit der Waffe in der Hand unter anderem deren Rassenwahn Geltung. Das heißt, man musste Polen, Russen und Juden erschießen. Und dabei stellt Timm mit keiner geringen Verblüffung fest, taugte der Bruder anscheinend nicht einmal sonderlich zum Militärdienst: Bei der HJ jedenfalls wurde er häufiger zum Strafexerzieren geschickt.

Aber Timm verfolgt nicht nur die Geschichte des Bruders. Die Frage, warum sein Bruder zur SS ging, lässt ihn noch auf einen zweiten wesentlichen Aspekt im Zusammenleben der Familie zu sprechen kommen. Vater und Mutter haben sich diese Frage auch oft gestellt, allerdings mit klagendem Unterton. Sie glaubten, ihr Sohn hätte leichter überleben können, wäre er nicht zur SS gegangen. Er hätte ihr Retter werden können - eine Vorstellung an der sie zäh festhalten; diese Erzählung vom Nachleben seines Bruders verschränkt Timm kunstvoll mit Passagen, in denen er dessen Lebensspuren folgt.

Timms Vater nährte in der Familie die Vorstellung vom älteren Bruder als Retter, und musste dabei ein wenig gegen seine eigene Gesinnung verstoßen. Er war nämlich der eigentliche Militarist in der Familie, der - in einer merkwürdigen Spiegelverkehrtheit zum Sohn - unbegabt für das Leben im Frieden war. Er brachte es mit seiner Kürschnerei zwar rasch zu Wohlstand, als aber ab Mitte der fünfziger Jahre seine Improvisationsfähigkeiten nicht mehr gefragt waren, konnte er den erfolgreichen Geschäftsmann nur noch mimen. Gegen seinen Soldatenstolz, er war nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg sogar bei den Freikorps und hätte er von seinem Naturell die Hinwendung seines ältesten Sohn gutheißen müssen, hadert er mit dieser Entscheidung und kultiviert die verheerende Fiktion von ihm als Retter.

Dem Ton nach in einer tagebuchähnlichen Nähe zu seinen Figuren, gelingen dem Autor eindringliche Vignetten aus dem Leben der frühen Bundesrepublik. Die Angst der Familie, sich zu blamieren, sollten sie das Geschäft aufgeben müssen, ist ständig zu spüren; sie hängen am unseligen Tropf ihrer Geschichte. Mit dieser großen Vertrautheit und der Erzählperspektive, die Timm wählt, hängt jedoch eine grundlegende Schwierigkeit des Buchs zusammen.

Selbstverständlich ist es gut zu verstehen, dass Uwe Timm, nachdem er so viele Jahre die Auseinandersetzung mit seinem Bruder aufschieben musste, nun eine radikal persönliche Sichtweise wählt. Allerdings darf bezweifelt werden, dass der verheerende Weg des Bruders sich ausschließlich aus dessen Person und seinem Leben in der Familie erklären lässt. Genauso verhält es sich mit dem gefährlich dumpfen Brüten des Vaters, das die Familie an die Vergangenheit bindet - und nicht nur an sie. Uwe Timm will "am Beispiel (s)eines Bruders" einem Phänomen näher kommen: dem unkritischen Umgang mit der Nazizeit nach 1945 in Westdeutschland. Beides, der Abmarsch des Bruders zur SS und die Idiosynkrasien des Vaters, hatten jedoch auch politische und - das ranzig klingende Wort sei erlaubt - gesellschaftliche Ursachen. Die kann Timm in seinem schmerzlichem Erinnerungspuzzle jedoch nur unzureichend fassen.

Timms Buch muss man deswegen keineswegs enttäuscht aus der Hand legen. Seine Qualitäten liegen gerade in seinem intimen Charakter. Das insistente Überprüfen von Motiven und Empfindungen seiner nächsten Anverwandten verleiht Timms Sätzen einen moralisch rigorosen Ernst, für den man ihn nur bewundern kann.

Er nimmt die Vokabel Verantwortung ernst und sieht, dass auch sein Bruder und sein Vater diese Vokabel ernst genommen haben. Das erlaubt ihm, jenen Handlungsspielraum, den diese Männer tatsächlich besaßen, auszuloten. Dabei gehört es gewiss nicht nur zu den Nebenaspekten, dass Timm ein einfühlsames Portrait von einer Figur in dem kleinen Familienkosmos zeichnet, die in dieser pathologischen Männerwelt nur am Rande vorkommt: das der Mutter. Und damit erkundet Uwe Timm in seinem zwischen Erzählung und Notiz-Sammlung schwankenden Buch jene Grenzen, die noch immer gezogen sind in der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Nationalsozialismus und seinen Protagonisten. Uwe Timm hat in eindringlichen Prosa-Exerzitien die Auseinandersetzung mit unserer historischen Schuld fortgesetzt und verwickelt den Leser in diese Auseinandersetzung. Etwas besseres lässt sich über ein Buch nicht sagen, das die schwierigste aller zeithistorischen Fragen stellt.