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The Witness House : Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg Trials
Autumn 1945 saw the start of the Nuremberg trials, in which high ranking representatives of the Nazi government were called to account for their war crimes. In a curious yet fascinating twist, witnesses for the prosecution and the defense were housed together in a villa on the outskirts of town. In this so-called Witness House, perpetrators and victims confronted each other in a microcosm that reflected the events of the high court. Presiding over the affair was the beautiful Countess Ingeborg Klnoky (a woman so blond and enticing that she was described as a Jean Harlowe look-alike) who took great pride in her ability to keep the household civil and the communal dinners pleasant. A comedy of manners arose among the guests as the urge to continue battle was checked by a sudden and uncomfortable return to civilized life.The trial atmosphere extends to the small group in the villa. Agitated victims confront and avoid perpetrators and sympathizers, and high-ranking officers in the German armed forces struggle to keep their composure. This highly explosive mixture is seasoned with vivid, often humorous, anecdotes of those who had basked in the glory of the inner circles of power. Christiane Kohl focuses on the guilty, the sympathizers, the undecided, and those who always manage to make themselves fit in. The Witness House reveals the social structures that allowed a cruel and unjust regime to flourish and serves as a symbol of the blurred boundaries between accuser and accused that would come to form the basis of postwar Germany.
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October 11, 2010
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Excerpt from The Witness House by Christiane Kohl
There was a certain aura of gloom about the house, and yet it seemed very much more welcoming than anything Ingeborg Klnoky had seen over the last few weeks. Its faade had an oddly patchwork appearance. Traveling bag in hand, the young woman was standing outside it on a late August day in 1945, blinking into the morning sun. After all she had gone through, the little villa in the wood was like a haven of safety that might at last offer her shelter. Yet at the same time she felt vaguely afraid of the new challenge ahead of her.Inside the house, Elise Krlle was standing at the window, examining the new arrival with some suspicion. The countess was blond, very blond. Elise's son Gerhard, a bright boy of thirteen, was to remember her very clearly later: "She looked like Jean Harlow," he said. "The beautiful sinner type, you might say." The Krlle family's house, like the neighboring buildings in the street, had been camouflaged from air raids with splotches of brown and green paint. Whether it was thanks to these camouflage colors, or the rather remote situation on the outskirts of the city, we cannot know, but here in the suburb of Erlenstegen, in any case, they had remained relatively unscathed by the bombs, although the Old Town of Nuremberg itself was reduced to rubble. There was nothing but ruins to be seen down on the banks of the Pegnitz River; half-timbered houses centuries old, adorned with fine carving, had collapsed into dust and ashes like sacks of flour slit open.