Father-son relationships are interesting things to be sure. There’s not much that would make me throw my Dad under the bus. I think being a leader in the slaughter of millions would be an exception to that. Apparently not for this man, Horst von Wachter whose father Otto von Wachter was that leader. Financial Times Magazine has an interesting profile of Horst proving yet again thatdenial is a powerful force.
Schloss Haggenberg is an imposing 17th-century baroque castle about an hour’s drive north of Vienna and a little short of Austria’s border with Slovakia. Built around an enclosed courtyard, it stands four storeys high, a foreboding stone structure that appears impenetrable aside from the large, double wooden doors at its front. It has seen better days.
For the last quarter century the schloss has been the home of Horst von Wächter and his wife Jacqueline, who live in a few of its many sparsely furnished rooms. Without central heating, the bitter cold is staved off by wood-burning fires and the odd electric heater, improbable under crumbling baroque cornice-work and the fading paint of its walls.
In one room, under the rafters that support a great roof, Horst has kept his father’s library. He has invited me to look around the collection. I extricate a book at random from a tightly stacked shelf. The first page contains a handwritten dedication in a neat German script. To SS-Gruppenführer Dr Otto Wächter “with my best wishes on your birthday”. The deep blue signature beneath, slightly smudged, is unforgiving. “H. Himmler, 8 July 1944”.
The signature’s power to shock is heightened by its context. The book is a family heirloom, not a museum artefact. It was offered to Horst’s father as a token of appreciation, for services rendered. It draws a direct line between Horst’s family and the Nazi leadership.
One floor down, in the main room used by Horst as his study, he has gathered some family photo albums. Horst is equally generous and open with these. They contain the stuff of normal family life: images of children and grandparents, skiing holidays, boating trips, birthday parties. Yet among these unsurprising images, other kinds of photographs are interspersed.
A single page offers the following: August 1931, an unknown man is chiselling around a swastika carved into a wall. Above this is an undated photograph of a man leaving a building under a line of arms raised in Nazi salute. The caption reads “Dr Goebbels” – Hitler’s propaganda minister. Another image records three men in conversation in a covered railway yard or perhaps a market. Under this undated photo are the initials “A.H.”. I look more closely. The man at the centre is Hitler, and next to him I recognise his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, who introduced Hitler to Eva Braun. The third man I don’t know.
Go read the whole thing.