Gottfried's Letters — 18.10.34
In 1934, my cousin Gottfried Ballin was arrested for involvement in an anti-Nazi resistance cell in Cologne. He was convicted for conspiracy to commit high treason, imprisoned, and eventually deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered. His letters from the prisons and concentration camps where he was held have been collected and I’m attempting to translate one letter a week. This is the fifth letter in the series.
(Stamp: Cologne, October 22, 1934 District Court Section 25)
Cologne, October 18, 1934
Dear mother, I had already written you a letter, but I didn't like it because it didn't clearly express what I wanted to tell you, and since I have endless time here, I am writing to you again. First of all, thank you very much for the linens, coat, and hat. You also got dirty laundry today and you may be surprised at the condition of it, but the bath stove here is broken and we haven't bathed for a month now. The laundry looks accordingly. During the visit, unfortunately, one can only tell oneself the most important things, and so I want to tell you about the less important ones here as well. The translation is progressing slowly because the bad weather makes it so dark in my tiny cell that I can hardly read. Writing immediately gives me a headache, and I prefer to stop. The electric light is only switched on after 6, and by 5 it is already so dark, even when the weather is nice, that I can no longer read. The time is long and I have leisure to think about all kinds of things that one does not think about in ordinary everyday life. The prison and its people are for me a new environment that is well worth studying. Do you know Tolstoy's “Resurrection?” Tolstoy comments there on the prison question, among other things, but I think it's in the third part of the book that he poses the question, “Do prisons have any value at all” The answer he gives is interesting. It comes from a heart that loves people above all, and whom, like Rousseau, he considers naturally good. If you saw the people here, they certainly don't look any worse than the usual street public, and they are swindlers, thieves, burglars, sex offenders and more. Some types of criminals are probably among them, but you see them in just as large numbers, if not more, on the street. I will try to observe here as sharply and objectively as possible; It's always better if you don't just assess and discuss a problem in purely theoretical terms, but can also incorporate practical experience into the considerations. Does man have the right to deprive another of his freedom? Tolstoy says no, I say yes. Don't be guided by personal feelings. Why I say that under very specific circumstances you have the right to deprive someone of their freedom, it would take too long to explain here. Yesterday I reported to the librarian and asked for Lessing's works. I've reserved them and now I'm curious to see if I'll get the books in 8 days. Today I got some reading material again, may God have mercy. It don’t really get why the investigating judge refused me my own books, since I have them both in accordance with Section 87 Paragraph 1 and Section 82 Paragraph 2 of the D.V.O. For me, the books aren't just for relaxation, they belong above all under the rubric: self-employment, which the prisoner on remand is expressly permitted to do in the prison regulations. Anything you can send me, send. Thank you very much in advance. One of the porters from our station was fired yesterday, and I applied for the post to get some exercise. But our station sergeant replied that even though I was the right man for the post, political prisoners on remand should in principle be held in solitary.
Thank you for the money too. I receive a receipt for this 2-3 days after the deposit. I send my best regards to Wolfgang, the Young One, and the other relatives and thank them for the greetings. Winter is fast approaching, there are hardly any vegetables left in the prison yard, and the few brightly colored snapdragons look frozen, just like the prisoners they are wandering around there. When I came here it was so hot that I took off my shirt in the cell, and now the heating is on. I haven't heard anything further about my case. Dr. Caro was with me yesterday, friendly and sweet like at school. So dear mother, write to me about everything: moving, Pussi, Lengfeldsche [the bookstore], Pinos. Send me all the photographs, with and without the cat, in all positions, and send greetings from Gottfried to all the dear people I know. If you send laundry next Wednesday, please just one shirt. Everything else is still plentiful! I received Lessing's works vols. 3, 4 and 8 this afternoon. Thanks very much. But do write about the result of your hearing with the examining magistrate, so that I know once and for all what’s going on with the books.