Herbert Meier

January 2, 1911 - ?

Herbert Meier was born on 2 January 1911 at Wolmirstedt beside Magdeburg.. Having studied philology at Halle and Jena, he chose a medical career. He started military service in 1937, taking part in the French campaign and then being sent to the Soviet front in 1942. In August 1944, as medical officer for the 93/II Armoured Battalion, he bravely evaded capture by the Soviets, while most of the 13th Armoured Brigade were caught or killed. Meier himself was wounded on 28 August 1944. After a weekʼs hiding and flight, he reached German lines in the Székely Country, then served as chief medical officer of the 13th cavalry.

His wife learnt of his fate from Sergeant Josef Nachtmann, a unit orderly who wrote to her on 9 April 1947:“I was with your husband on 11 February 1944. My task was to move out of Budapest 80 of our wounded and several hundred wounded from other units behind the lines. Your husband was in one armoured car as a medical officer. The commander, aide-de-camp and other men were with another car. The rest were on foot. These lightly armed cars were unable to get through the local fighting. The armoured car was hit by a Molotov cocktail; your husband and the others jumped out, including the driver, Ewald Flebbe, and Hermann Gäbele. These two put the fire out and brought the car back. Gäbele had suffered very severe burns. There behind the lines they gathered again for an infantry advance. Your husband was still there. However, he must have fallen during the new advance. So I was told by Gäbele months later, when we met quite accidentally as Russian prisoners of war. However, Gäbele himself had not seen this either, only heard it from others in the captive hospital. Gäbele and Flebbe didn’t go out on the new attack. I saw nothing with my own eyes as I was dealing with wounded some distance from where the Breakout took place.

Of course such reports by colleagues aren’t necessarily accurate, but that can give very little hope to you that the situation was otherwise, much as I’d like it to be. Even if it’s taken as clear that not every prisoner of war in the Soviet Union had a chance to write letters, most did so. Indeed your husband as a doctor would have been used in his profession, during which there would clearly have been a chance of sending you a message. This reduces the minimal hope still further.

I myself spent a year and a half as a Russian prisoner of war and was released sick six months ago. Quite by accident, colleague Gäbele was placed in the same camp as I was. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to give any information. Gäbele is certainly still in captivity. I don’t know his address, but he lived somewhere in Magdeburg. Flebbe too is still somewhere in Russia.

I think you have long ago reckoned with this possibility and so I can at least lift the trying doubts from your heart. However difficult it may be, it’s possible to live with such news after a long time. Don’t think as you read my plain account that I don’t feel for you!”

The widow caught up with Flebbe with much difficulty, seeking him in Magdeburg through a relative. According to the relative’s report, Flebbe came from “a simple and kind family, the old address was still correct. He got your letter, but couldn’t answer it as he didn’t know exactly what had happened; he asks you to understand this. All he could say was that Heinz had separated from him despite his entreaties. He was healthy and in good temper and could have gone with him, as there weren’t any specially great duties any more. He doesn’t understand the whole thing. He mentions a telegram that your husband still sent; this would have been his last message. He spoke enthusiastically of Heinz, having gone through so much with him. He can’t say anything positive, but sends you is hearty good wishes. Brace yourself and think of Albrecht!”

Heinz-Jürgen Severin, lieutenant in command of the 2nd Brigade, wrote to the widow on 7 October 1951:

“I myself spoke in the unit’s front line on 11 February 1945 to your husband, who wanted to break out of the siege with Captain Pabst. I broke through with my Brigade but we failed to reach the German lines, being taken prisoner two days later, from which I returned home in April 1949…. It was impossible, after the first unsuccessful break-out attempt, to return to the others, as the communications no longer existed and only larger or smaller groups were following up their own ideas. However, the distance was 90 km and it wasn’t forgotten that the Breakout was a dire struggle costing a ghastly number of lives. Personally I wasn’t in close contact with your husband, as we, with Lieutenant Schmiess or the older officers didn’t get on well with Lieutenant Pabst and your husband’s place of service meant he always had to be with him. Nachtmann and I take the view that your husband would certainly have been used as a doctor in prisoner-of-war camp if he he’d been captured, and he would then have had a chance to write.”

Meier’s son, Wolfgang Meier, who was in touch with his own father, wrote:

“He also tackled me as a psychoanalyst on the process of digesting the past over generations. I’m greatly interested in the dynamics of the process of fending off the past. Indeed my dead father still plays a big part in my life ─ sometimes the dead live on in their habits more than the living. My mother told tales of my father throughout her life, though hardly anything remained of him but a cigarette case, a few photos, a student’s cap, and his last letter from Budapest at Christmas 1944. Later his younger sister, who lived five years longer, cleared up certain points. For instance, that he believed firmly in the system. Presumably there were expressions of this in his letters. My mother destroyed them all apart from that Christmas letter, which I still resent in her. She certainly wanted to do what was right, but in doing so she passed on to me an insecure and ultimately untrue image of my father.

Apparently my father had often said he was taken prisoner ─ this fitted into the Hitlerite expectation that the last shot had to be used for suicide. Not till very late on did I ask myself what a soldier who did so thought seriously were his responsibilities to his wife and children. Nothing?

These days as psychoanalysts we must deal with another virus, a mental one that’s spreading in a remarkable way. This virus, an ideological disease, awakens historical memories. History they say never repeats itself, but that’s true only in part. There’s repetition of some dynamic processes that rest partly on very old customs (such as the leadership cult) to be found in the social sphere. Not as such, but as a dynamic model. For instance growing collective denial of the truth, found not just in relation to the corona virus. Fictional views of the world and community creativity with no relation to the truth also typify the national socialist period. These days there is found to a still greater extent fictionalization of the truth reinforced by interwoven medial processes. This is a long story, one factor in it being certain fears hiding themselves behind others.

Actually my own work deals with the psychology of a wartime-child generation to which I too belong. When I think of my earlier friends, wartime children now mostly dead, I can say ─ though I too have changed much ─ that our parents’ inhumanity passed onto us a dose of inhumanity that needs battling against one way or another.”