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Final night with Das Ungeheuer “The Monster” WE THE CURIOUS vol.2 no.10
Peter Drucker put off leaving Germany—“I did hope against hope”—until the day he attended the first Nazi-led faculty meeting at the university where he lectured in international law. “I went out sick unto death—and I knew that I would leave Germany within forty-eight hours.”
That night, drained, Drucker had just decided to go to bed and begin packing in the morning when he heard his doorbell ring. Outside was someone in the uniform of the Hitler storm troops. “My heart missed a beat,” he says. But it was only Reinhold Hensch.
Drucker didn't know Hensch well. They were both reporters for the same newspaper, but Drucker was senior editor of foreign and economic news, while Hensch covered local politics. Drucker did know that Hensch had a lovely fiancé— “an outgoing, lively, effervescent young woman”—and that, despite it being compromising and subversive for a reporter on a nonpartisan paper, Hensch held membership cards in both the Communist and the Nazi parties. He said it was the only way to get their local news.
Hensch had heard about Drucker’s resignation and had stopped by to ask him to reconsider. Hensch now had the power, he said, to make Drucker editor-in-chief of the paper. Drucker remembers Hensch telling him: “I've spent most of the day at a meeting of the Nazi leadership in which I've been appointed adviser on the press to the new Nazi commissar for Frankfurt…. I shan't keep the editor-in-chief very long. He's a leftist and married to a Jewish wife who is also the sister of a Socialist deputy. There would be a great opportunity for someone like you.” Hensch
encouraged Drucker to sleep on it. He then got up as if to go but sat down again. For five minutes Hensch was silent. When he spoke again, it was about his fiancé, Elise. He wanted Drucker's address abroad so that Elise could get in touch with him when she, too, got out of Germany. “Of course, I had to break it off when Hitler came to power,” he told Drucker. “I moved out of the apartment we had together, back to my parents, but I’ve paid the rent on the apartment until the end of March. I told Elise that she ought to get out of Germany as fast as possible. But she doesn’t know anyone abroad.” Drucker gave his parents’ address in Vienna, and Hensch relapsed into silence again.
“My God,” he burst out at last, “how I envy you! I only wish I could leave—but I can't. I get scared when I hear all that talk in the Nazi Party inner councils, and I do sit in now, you know. There are madmen there who talk about killing the Jews and going to war, and about jailing and killing anyone who holds a dissenting opinion and questions the Fuehrer's word.
“It's all insane. But it frightens me. I know you told me a year ago that the Nazis believed these things and that I ought to take them seriously. But I thought it was the usual campaign rhetoric and didn't mean a thing. And I still think so. Now that they’re in power they’ll have to learn that one can't do such things. After all, this is the twentieth century. My parents think so too; so does Elise. When I told her that she ought to get out of Germany she thought I was mad. And I probably am—they can't mean these things and get away with them. But I’m beginning to be scared.”
“If you feel that way,” Drucker remembers saying, “why don’t you leave? You aren’t thirty yet and have no family that depends on you. You have a decent degree in economics and won’t have any trouble finding work.”
“That's easy for you to say,” he replied. “You know languages, you’ve been abroad. Do you realize I've never been away from Frankfurt, never even been to Berlin? And I have no connections—my father is a craftsman.”
“Look, Hensch, that’s nonsense; who the hell cares who your father is? The father of the editor-in-chief was a prison guard someplace in East Prussia. Arne’s father is a coal miner…. All right, none of us would ever have been invited to a court ball by the Hohenzollerns or gotten a commission in one of their guards. But otherwise what difference can it possibly make?”
“You just don’t understand, Drucker. You never did. I’m not clever, I know that. I’ve been on the paper longer than you or Arne or Becker—you three are the senior editors and I still have the City Hall beat on which I started. I know I can't write. No one invites me to their homes. Even Elise’s father—the dentist—thought his daughter too good for me. Don’t you understand that I want power and money and to be somebody? That's why I joined the Nazis early on, four or five years ago when they first got rolling. And now I have a party membership card with a very low number and I am going to be somebody! The clever, well-born, well-connected people will be too fastidious, or not flexible enough, or not willing to do the dirty work. That’s when I’ll come into my own. Mark my word, you’ll hear about me now.”
Hensch stormed out of the room, but at the last he turned and shouted back, “And don't forget, you promised to help Elise!” Then he slammed the door behind him. For the first time, Drucker went to the door and bolted it shut.
“Then and there,” Drucker later wrote, “I beheld as in a dream what was later to become my first major book.” He was struck by a vision—“a vision of things to
come, of the horrible, bloody, and mean bestiality that was descending on the world.” He wanted to sit down and start typing. Instead he started packing. Winston Churchill, after the fall of France in 1940, would make that first book, which was on the origins of totalitarianism, required reading for all graduating officers. In the course of his long life, Drucker wrote a total of 39 books and, by doing so, became one of the most influential thinkers and writers on management—that is, on how organizations can bring out the best in people.
Drucker never did hear from Elise. And it was twelve years before this, a short item on an inside page of The New York Times, caught his eye:
“Reinhold Hensch, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, committed suicide when captured by American troops in the cellar of a bombed-out house in Frankfurt. Hensch, who was deputy head of the Nazi SS with the rank of Lieutenant General, commanded the infamous annihilation troops and was in charge of the extermination campaign against Jews and other ‘enemies of the Nazi state,’ of killing off the mentally and physically defective in Germany, and of stamping out resistance movements in occupied countries. He was so cruel, ferocious, and bloodthirsty that he was known as ‘the Monster’ (Das Ungeheuer) even to his own men.”
Drucker tells this story for a reason. Hensch, it is true, was presented with extreme outer circumstances—circumstances so unbelievable that, like him, we think them absolutely remote, even impossible. But Hensch’s inner circumstances, his habits of mind, don’t seem all that out-of-the-ordinary. Perhaps, then, a simple poem can make the same point. For what allows a person, like Drucker, to face circumstances but not be overtaken by them?
The Character of a Happy Life
How happy is he born or taught That serveth not another's will, Whose armor is his honest thought, And simple truth his highest skill;
Whose passions not his masters are; Whose soul is still prepared for death, Untied unto the world with care Of princes' grace or vulgar breath;
Who envies none whom chance doth raise, Or vice; who never understood The deepest wounds are given by praise, By rule of state but not of good…
This man is free from servile bands Of hope to rise or fear to fall, Lord of himself, though not of lands, And having nothing, yet hath all.
—Sir Henry Wotton
REFERENCES Adventures of a Bystander by Peter F. Drucker
The poems of Sir Walter Raleigh: collected and authenticated with those of Sir
Henry Wotton and other courtly poets from 1540 to 1650 by John Hannah and Walter Raleigh
WE THE CURIOUS, the free newsletter for people who love learning By Mackenzie Hawkins
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