Rwanda and Germany, 2 countries with genocide experience

Josef Pröll: The son of German genocide opponents

A genocide took place not only in Rwanda but also in Germany: The holocaust is the genocide against approximately 6 million European Jews during the Nazi regime between 1941 and 1945.

Many Germans supported the mass murder against the Jews and the national socialist regime that committed it. However, there were also opponents.

Josef Pröll’s parents offered resistance at that time and were sent to concentration camps as punishment for their commitment. In the meantime, their son is over 60 years old. The topic „genocide” has not let go of him for all his life.

 

 

„Could we talk about a different topic at lunch today for a change?“

Josef Pröll tries to ask as a teenager every now and then. But his request remains without success. The life of his family revolves around the holocaust.

Even decades after the end of the Nazi regime, his parents and their acquaintances are sitting at the kitchen table to talk about their painful experiences at the concentration camps.

„Most friends had either endured the same camp as my father or the same camp as my mother“, Josef Pröll says, who was born in 1953.

The son grews up surrounded by the terms “death camps”, “national socialism” and „right-wing extremism“.

Today, he admits:

„For me, this was really a difficult situation.“

His father is a member of the communist party, his mother prints leaflets against the war

His parents Anna and Josef Pröll and many other family members offer resistance during the time of the Third Reich.

His father is a member of the communist party that commits itself against the national socialist regime, his mother prints leaflets against the war in the 1930s.

Anna Pröll later justifies her courageous commitment against the Nazi regime with the words:

„You just had to be able to look in the mirror again every morning.“

Both are sent to concentration camps for their commitment. In contrast to other family members, they survive.

But the crimes they became victims of lie over their lives like a heavy, dark shadow.

Old Nazis in leading positions, former Nazi opponents unemployed

Also because the German post-war society holds an attitude towards the Nazi opponents that is anything but friendly.

„Now that the prisoners are let out of the camps, we need to lock our flats very carefully“,

Anna Pröll remembers their neighbours’ reaction to the family moving into their new flat.

 

The wedding picture of Anna and Josef Pröll shows the young couple in their best dresses smiling into the camera
Josef Pröll’s parents Anna and Josef Pröll on their wedding day in 1938. Both held resistance against the Nazi regime in Germany and were arrested in concentration camps. @Josef Pröll

Whereas the opponents are highly appreciated and treated as guests of honour in France, they remain stigmatised in their home country.

In contrast to many old Nazis that quickly achieve leading positions again, the Pröll family, stigmatised as former prisoners of concentration camps, is hardly finding work.

They even needed to request a moving in permit, before they are finally allowed to settle down in Augsburg, their town of birth.

Everyday life dominated by the holocaust

Considering their seemingly superhuman courage and the challenges of their everyday life, the teenager Josef Pröll is facing difficulties distancing himself from his parents and developing his own personality.

„I appreciated them so highly that I pushed myself aside all the time.“

Even when choosing his partner, his parents’ opinion is more important to him than his own. If his girlfriend doesn’t appeal to his parents, she will be ditched.

It was only at the age of around 40 when he had finally understood that letting his life be dominated by this crime even until his grave was unhealthy, he says.

Civil courage as a family legacy

He is liberating himself from the topic of the holocaust step by step and is thus finding his own way of dealing with the past of his parents.

He is now living near Augsburg, has a wife and children and also appreciates the positive features his parents taught him.

For example, he does not allow others to take him off-track, even if this has negative consequences.

Pröll remembers how, as a 19-year-old member of the army, he was grilled for half a day by the military spying agency because he had traveled to the former GDR (editor’s comment: At that time, Germany was divided into two parts: The German Democratic Republic was one of them).

„This was why I didn’t get to the so-called security level 1. That’s a level every soldier has. In this situation, my knees were trembling. But this was the first time I acted courageously and felt what one needs to muster for that“.

Remembering the history of national socialism so it was not in vain

Josef Pröll has given himself the commitment to pass the legacy of his now passed away parents on to the next generations.

He goes to the memorial place of the concentration camp Dachau approximately three times a week and explains to the visitors what atrocities the Nazi regime committed there until 1945.

 

Josef Pröll at the memorial site of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. He points at a display board which explains the different types of inmates between 1933 and 1944.
Josef Pröll works as a visitor’s guide at the Dachau concentration camp’s memorial site in Southern Germany where more than 40 000 people were killed during the German ‘Holocaust’

Most importantly, he wants to bring across in what a cruel way the prisoners were robbed of their dignity in the concentration camp within a very short period of time.

Starting at the camp’s gate with the sign „Work Brings Freedom“ as a symbol of loosing one’s own freedom to the degrading registration procedures.

„All hair of new-arriving prisoners was shoved, they were then sprayed with a pesticide and got concentration camp clothes. The injustice that took place at this very moment is indescribable“.

To make sure that injustice of this kind will not repeat itself in the future, Josef Pröll commits himself to the wish that society gets more conscious of values such as human dignity and civil courage.

„My target vision is that when I pass this history on to the next generation and encourage people to offer resistance against such crimes, people will come to the conclusion that such crimes were not in vain, that people did not die in vain“.

The quotations of Anna Pröll were taken from the German documentary film „Anna, ich hab’ Angst um dich“ (2002, in German) that Josef Pröll produced in cooperation with the historian Wolfgang Kucera about the life of his mother.

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