A selection from Charlotte Beradt’s Dreams of the Third Reich.
Beradt was a journalist in Germany when Hitler took power and, inspired by the first dream below “set out to collect the dreams the Nazi regime had generated”—which she did until she left the country in 1939. She published a few of them in 1943, in an article called “Dreams under Dictatorship,” but the book was not published until 1966. She notes that she “deliberately omitted all dreams involving violence or any physical expression of fear” and provides one short example: I awoke bathed in sweat. As had happened many nights before, I had been shot at, martyred, and scalped—had run for my life with blood streaming and teeth knocked out, Storm Troopers constantly on my heels.
I have included the date where Beradt provides it and her description of the dreamer.
(1933), “a man of about sixty and the owner of a middle-sized factory”:
Goebbels was visiting my factory. He had all the workers line up in two rows facing each other. I had to stand in the middle and raise my arm in the Nazi salute. It took me half an hour to get my arm up, inch by inch. Goebbels showed neither approval nor disapproval as he watched my struggle, as if it were a play. When I finally managed to get my arm up, he said just five words—”I don’t want your salute”—then turned and went to the door. There I stood in my own factory, arm raised, pilloried right in the midst of my own people. I was only able to keep from collapsing by staring at his clubfoot as he limped out. And so I stood until I woke up.
(1934), “a forty-five-year-old doctor”:
It was about nine o’clock in the evening. My consultations were over, and I was just stretching out on the couch to relax with a book on Matthias Grünewald, when suddenly the walls of my room and then my apartment disappeared. I looked around and discovered to my horror that as far as the eye could see no apartment had walls any more. Then I heard a loudspeaker boom, “According to the decree of the 17th of this month on the Abolition of Walls…”
(1933), “a cultivated, pampered, liberal-minded woman of some thirty years, with no profession”:
First dream: In place of the street signs which had been abolished, posters had been set up on every corner, proclaiming in white letters on a black background the twenty words people were not allowed to say. The first was “Lord”—to be on the safe side I must have dreamt it in English. I don’t recall the following words and possibly didn’t even dream them, but the last one was “I.”
Second dream: I was sitting in a box at the opera, dressed in a new gown, and with my hair beautifully done. It was a huge opera house with many, many tiers, and I was enjoying considerable admiration. They were presenting my favorite opera, The Magic Flute. When it came to the line, “That is the devil certainly,” a squad of policemen came stomping in and marched directly up to me. A machine had registered the fact that I had thought of Hitler on hearing the word “devil.” I imploringly searched the festive crowd for some sign of help, but they all just sat there staring straight ahead, silent and expressionless, not one showing even pity. The old gentleman in an adjoining box looked kind and distinguished, but when I tried to catch his eye he spat at me.
Third dream: I knew that all books were being collected and burned. Not wanting to part with the old pencil- marked copy of Don Carlos I had had ever since schooldays, I hid it under the maid’s bed. But when the Storm Troopers came to take away the books, they marched, feet stomping, straight to the maid’s room…They pulled the book out from under the bed and threw it on the truck that was to take it to the bonfire.
At that point I discovered that I had only hidden an atlas and not my Don Carlos —and still I stood by with a guilty feeling and let them take it away.
(1933), “an elderly woman mathematics teacher”:
It was forbidden under penalty of death to write down anything concerned with mathematics. I took refuge in a night club (never in my life have I set foot in such a place). Drunks staggered around, the waitresses were half naked, and the music was deafening. I took a piece of tissue paper out of my pocketbook and proceeded to write down a couple of equations in invisible ink, and was frightened to death.
(1933), “a middle-aged housewife”:
A Storm Trooper was standing by the large, old- fashioned, blue-tiled Dutch oven that stands in the corner of our living room, where we always sit and talk in the evening. He opened the oven door and it began to talk in a harsh and penetrating voice…It repeated every joke we had told and every word we had said against the government. I thought, “Good Lord, what’s it going to tell next—all my little snide remarks about Goebbels?” But at that moment I realized that one sentence more or less would make no difference— simply everything we have ever thought or said among ourselves is known. At the same time, I remembered how I have always scoffed at the idea that there might be built-in microphones, and still didn’t really believe it. Even when the Storm Trooper bound my hands with our dog’s leash and was about to take me away, I still thought he was joking and even remarked, “You can’t be serious—that just can’t be!”
(1933),”a woman, a milliner by trade”:
I dreamt I was talking in my sleep and to be on the safe side was speaking Russian (which I don’t know, and anyway I never talk in my sleep) so I’d not even understand myself and so no one else could understand me in case I said anything about the government, for that, of course, is not permitted and must be reported.
(c. 1933), “a young man”:
I dreamt that I no longer dream about anything but rectangles, triangles, and octagons, all of which somehow look like Christmas cookies—you see, it was forbidden to dream.
(1934), “a forty-five-year-old eye doctor”:
Storm Troopers were putting up barbed wire at all hospital windows. I had sworn I wouldn’t stand for having them bring their barbed wire into my ward. But I did put up with it after all, and I stood by like a caricature of a doctor while they took out the window panes and turned a ward into a concentration camp—but I lost my job anyway. I was called back, however, to treat Hitler because I was the only man in the world who could. I was ashamed of myself for feeling proud, and so I began to cry.
(no date), “a twenty-two-year-old girl, whose delicately formed, almost Semitic nose dominated her face”:
On the Baltic Sea, on a ship that is swimming with the current, but where it goes nobody knows…Am carrying a large folder containing my papers wherever I go, because after all, I’ve got to prove I’m not Jewish despite my nose. All of a sudden my papers are gone. I cry out, That’s the most important, the very most important thing I’ve got. While screaming I realize they’ve taken them away from me—the men who run the ship have deliberately taken them. I begin to search for them, though secretly and unobtrusively.
Someone whispers, “There’s no point in doing that—you simply can’t” …Suddenly I see my dog, but only his shadowy form, not alive. So they’ve taken him, too—all that remained of the old days when I could relax and enjoy life…Great outburst of tears: fourteen years I’ve had him, for fourteen years I’ve cared for him…Again someone tries to calm me down, whispering that I should keep still and for heaven’s sake not attract attention.
At this point I awoke with a start, but fell asleep again and went on dreaming: The atmosphere on the ship is becoming more and more sinister. I’m afraid to sit down anywhere, and with every step I take I ask myself: Are they against me? Are they scrutinizing me?
I find myself alone with a handsome officer— blond, so he belongs to the right sort of people. He comes up to me, looking embarrassed. I ask him about the disappearance of my papers, and he becomes even more embarrassed. I discover I’m to be shot. I beg him to let me escape. He: Out of the question. Desperately I begin to flirt, to kiss him. He: What a shame, such red lips. Suddenly I realize I’m on a Danish ship. We agree I should swim back to the German shore. So I want to return in spite of everything.
I jump into the water, hide in one of the wooden sheds that are standing all about in the water, watch various groups of Hitler Youth hike by, and think how much I would like to join them.
On land. Am greatly relieved at the sight of German customs uniforms. Saved. Then I notice that my whole family is being brought ashore. My mother —Grandmother and Aunt, too. But Uncle, I ask, where is Uncle? “They’ve shot him—they’ve shot all nose-suspects. They’re only taking non-suspects over to the other shore.” I begin to cry, calling “Uncle!” At that moment I see the father of one of my childhood friends reading a farewell letter from his son— his son had a large nose.
Meanwhile, more and more non-suspects and their belongings are being brought ashore. My clothes, too. Not my papers and not my dog. Right, I think—after all, I’m one of those who’ve been shot. And even while still dreaming it occurred to me that I ought to make a note of this dream.
(no date), a “girl who from early childhood had been accustomed to hear her hair described as ‘raven- black'”:
Sunday in Tiergarten Park. Blond people out strolling everywhere. I overheard someone say to his companion, “Emma is having trouble with her tenants. They steal like—” I was mortified, knowing he would say, “like the raven-blacks”—and then he said it.”
(no date), a student:
There was a ball going on on all floors of a large building, but the people in our group, the Suspects— degenerate artists and performers, one-time socialists, and relatives of concentration camp inmates—were sitting in a small attic room, dressed in ordinary clothes, and were poking fun at the people arriving downstairs in their evening clothes and uniforms. I sneaked downstairs and overheard someone say that the whole house was charged with tension and, as a result, fire had broken out on the stairs to the attic. “The Suspects have to be saved!” I yelled into the bedlam. But they only shrugged, “Why shouldn’t the Suspects go up in flames?”
(no date), “a middle-class housewife”:
Every night I kept trying to rip the swastika off the Nazi flag, all the while feeling happy and proud of myself, but in the morning it was always sewn on tightly again.
(1934), “a twenty-nine-year-old woman who was part of a group which produced and distributed an illegal newspaper”:
In my hallway I found five small piles of little handbills, ten to a pile and only five words on them, stuck through the slot in the door. I don’t recall the five words, but they very cleverly managed to tell a whole story: someone had given something away, two people had already died as a result, and more would have to die.
At first I was quite calm and thought the whole thing was the sort of advertisement that goes to every house. Then I thought it over: the handbill was only three or four centimeters large, and not printed. No, it was not even run off on a mimeograph machine like our newspaper…The handbills had been printed with a child’s printing set, therefore intended for a very few persons, probably as a warning to a small group. Suddenly there weren’t five small piles any more, only a single one. All at once it dawned on me that I wasn’t safe anymore—I was the one they were meant to warn.
My dream had various acts like a play. After I had very reluctantly realized that it had to do with me, Act Two opened with my attempts to save myself. I set about it quite logically. To begin with, I wanted to secure the safety latch but couldn’t because all the screws were loose. Then I realized it was high time to escape. I peeked through the window—I could see figures patrolling down below.
So I had to crawl out over our balcony, which I had camouflaged by painting the geraniums brown, though I thought to myself as I climbed out that they only looked like autumn, not like Nazi. My father came up from the back of the apartment and called out, “You can’t do that—that’s foolish.” Went on climbing without giving him the satisfaction of a single reply. Foolish? What does he know about it? (He of course knew nothing about my underground activities.) I climbed effortlessly from balcony to balcony, and in spite of the urgency I tipped over a couple of Nazi flags that stood rolled up on one of the balconies.
I landed right in the middle of the tables at a sidewalk cafe located on the ground floor of our apartment house. I ran inside, into vast rooms decorated with pictures of Hitler, one of which I knocked down as I tore past. What now ? The patrols would arrive any minute.
At this point Act Three of my dream began. I saw two men huddled together in conversation. My mind worked fast. The two whispering men must have something important to discuss. Went closer, caught how one of them said, “Got to protest transaction” (using the word transaction as a cover). The other man whispered back, “Can’t be done.” I squeezed between them, laid a hand on each one’s shoulder, and cried out, “We’re old opponents of the party, so we’ve got to protest!” I had two reasons for doing this: first of all, I wanted to throw the patrols off my track, and second, I figured that when I yelled and ran, the two men would have to join me and run along for the good of our cause.
Part Four. And they really did come running with me, half provoked into it and half compromised. I wasn’t alone any more. We ran through the vast rooms, pictures of Hitler right and left, running in step with all our might, quite spontaneously. “We’re old opponents of the party, so we’ve got to protest.” And then simply, “We’ve got to protest!”
People began to look up, at first only a few, then more, and many faces showed approval. But not a one joined us. Through hallways, then some more rooms, pictures of Hitler everywhere, running and crying out, “We’ve got to protest!” Completely intent on what we were doing, with all our strength, for we knew that once we got going we had to gather up more to run with us or the game would be up. And so we went on yelling and running, running in step and crying out, “We’ve got to protest,” dozens, it must have been a hundred times.
Then I awoke totally exhausted and still had to go on chanting a few times, “We’ve got to protest.” Even during the day I felt the urge to repeat it now and then.’’
(1943), “Sophie Scholl, the well-known student condemned to death for resistance. [The dream] occurred the night before her execution”:
It was a sunny day, and I was carrying a little child dressed in a long, white gown to be baptized. The path to the church led up a steep hill. But I was holding the child safely and securely in my arms. All of a sudden I found myself at the brink of a crevasse. I had just enough time to set the child down on the other side before I plunged into the abyss.
(1936), “a middle-aged housewife”:
I was visiting some good friends in a small town somewhere in Brandenburg. That evening there was a party in my honor. The next morning, as we were having breakfast together in a very warm and friendly atmosphere, talking about the previous evening, a neighbor woman walked in and came right out and said, “Your party last night was too big and too long.” (Someone who had heard this remark in a small town had reported it to me verbatim, which is probably why I dreamt the whole thing.) “And on top of everything else there were people there who don’t say Heil…” I burst out, “That wouldn’t have mattered.” Whereupon my friend said, “Oh, quite to the contrary—that would have been altogether inconceivable!” When the neighbor woman had gone, my friend gave me an awful upbraiding—she had completely forgotten all she had said ten minutes before when she was assuring me of her friendship and affection, and she forced me to leave immediately, before anyone discovered the truth about me. She literally threw me out onto the street, without even telling me when the bus ran (there was no train). I stood helplessly at the bus stop and couldn’t understand what was going on—couldn’t figure out how she could make such a quick transition from one attitude to another.
The bus finally came and was full. I got on and, facing the passengers who were all staring at me in silence, I called out loudly, “Heil Hitler.”
(no date), a man:
I went into a shoe repair shop. I said, “The soles on my last pair of shoes are worn out.” “Don’t you know,” replied the shoemaker, who was holding a brand new pair of shoes, “that only Storm Troopers can get new shoes?” “I’d heard about that,” I said, “but I can’t believe it.” “I can put you into a detachment made up only of people who otherwise don’t have shoe soles,” he said in a very friendly tone, “and when you join up, you get two pairs of soles right off.” And he added in an even friendlier tone, “And I’ll give you, let’s see—three pairs right now because you’re a man we need.”
“I ran away, but while running my tattered soles fell off.
(no date), “an elderly woman”:
I often dream of Hitler or Goering. He wants to do something with me, and instead of saying that, after all, I’m a respectable woman, I tell him, “But I’m not a Nazi’—and that makes him like me all the more.”
(no date), “a thirty-three-year-old housemaid”:
I was at a movie, a very large and very dark theater. I was afraid—actually wasn’t supposed to be there—only party members were allowed to go to the movies. Hitler came in, and I got even more frightened. But he not only let me stay—he even sat down next to me and put his arm around me.
(no date), “a young salesgirl”:
Goering wanted to feel me up at the movies. I told him, “But I’m not even in the party.” He said, “So what?”
(no date), “another housewife”:
Many people dressed all in Nazi-brown were sitting crowded together at long tables that had been set up on the Kurfiirstendamm [a main boulevard in Berlin]. I was curious, so I sat down, too, though at a distance from the others—at the end of an empty, solitary table…Then Hitler appeared, dressed in evening clothes to please people and carrying large bundles of leaflets which he distributed hastily and carelessly, tossing one bundle at the end of each table, and the people sitting there passed them on down the line. It looked as if I wouldn’t get any, but suddenly he made a complete departure from the way he had been doing it and carefully placed one bundle in front of me.
With one hand he gave me a single leaflet, while with the other he began caressing me, starting with my hair and then on down my back.
(no date), ” a Jewish doctor”:
I cured Hitler . . . the only one in the Reich who was able to…”How much do you want for curing me?” asked Hitler. “No money,” I told him, whereupon a tall, blond young man in Hitler’s entourage snapped, “What! you crooked Jew—no money?” But Hitler said in a commanding tone, “Of course, no money. Our Jews are not like that.”
(1935), an assimilated Jewish lawyer in his early fifties:
I had gone to a concert and had a reserved seat, or at least I thought I had one. However, it turned out that my ticket was only an advertisement, and someone else was sitting in my seat. Many other people were in the same situation. With heads bowed, we all slowly left the concert hall by the center aisle, while the orchestra began playing, “We have no abiding home here.”
(1935), “a thirty-five-year-old housewife” with a Jewish husband:
While out for a walk we heard a rumor in the streets that people should keep away from their apartments because something terrible was going to happen. We stood across the street and looked longingly up at our apartment where the blinds were drawn as if no one lived there.
We went to my mother-in-law’s apartment, the last place left to go—up the stairs, but we discovered strange people living there now—could it be the wrong building?
We went up the stairs in the building next door, but it, too, was the wrong one—a hotel. We came out by another door and tried to find our way back, but now we couldn’t even find the street any more.
All at once we thought we’d found the house we so badly needed, but it was only the same hotel that had confused us once before. After we’d gone through this unnerving run-around for the third time, the woman who owned the hotel told us, “It won’t do you any good even if you do find that apartment. This is what’s going to happen. . . .” And in the manner of Christ’s curse on Ahasuerus [the legendary Wandering Jew], she pronounced:
There comes a law:
They shall dwell nowhere.
Their lot shall be
To wander ever through the streets.
Then she changed her tone and, as if she were reading out some proclamation, droned: “In conjunction with said law, everything previously permitted is now forbidden, to wit: entering shops and stores, employing craftsmen . . .” Right in the middle of this horrifying scene something trivial occurred to me—now how was I to have my new suit made up?
We left the hotel and went out forever into the dismal rain.
(1936), “a housewife in her early thirties who was living in Berlin”:
After traveling a long while, I arrived in New York. But one could only stay there if one climbed the face of a skyscraper. Only those who had been baptized were exempt, and people’s comment about them was, “The little Nazis are very nice and reliable.” So they made distinctions here, too.
I never knew which way to go and was always taking the wrong turn. My poor husband, I thought —this is exactly the way he always imagined it would be.
All at once I found myself on a narrow, hilly road. Watches, necklaces, and bracelets were lying right and left in the snow. I would have loved to have taken something, but didn’t dare, thinking it was surely left there by the “Office for Testing the Honesty of Aliens” and maybe they’d expel me if I took something. Or was I simply in an altogether forbidden place and would be expelled anyway?
I wasn’t able to find the entrance to the language school and didn’t know where I should sit. I was the only one standing while all the others sat in their proper places. I didn’t have the book all the others were reading and didn’t even know its title. When I was standing at the entrance to the school, my first impression was that it looked old and ugly —back home schools were much nicer…
Then we were asked to give our age. “Does one have to?” I asked the teacher. “Yes, one does,” she replied. I said, “Back home no one has to do anything.”
I stared out of the window while I cried—saw a landscape that was reminiscent of home and was beginning to feel somewhat comforted when the teacher said, “Not only do the little Nazis look decent—they’re the only decent people among you.”
(1960), “a German woman [who] was but a child when the other dreams in these pages occurred”:
I noticed a pile of letters lying in the vestibule of the apartment house where I live. They were addressed to me and almost all had been opened. One of them—the envelope and letter were lying separately—was still moist and limp from the steam. I wondered why today’s censors didn’t use more scientific methods, and I began complaining to the doorman who was standing nearby.
There was another man standing next to him, a small and thin and inconspicuous man with carefully parted hair who was wearing a black suit of some sort. He said, Yes, that was quite right, he had come on account of this business with the letters. That seemed all right, and I told him I was glad and was just about to explain what had happened.
He stopped me: “Show me your identification papers.” I said, “But really, everyone in this building knows me—I’ve lived here for years, and the doorman. . . .” But he demanded, “Your papers!”
And then he straightened up, growing taller and taller, and his suit was no longer just any black suit but the black suit, with insignia that gleamed and sparkled.
Oh no, I told him—he hadn’t any right to ask me for my papers unless he showed me his authorization. After all, I was the one who had cause for complaint. “And I’m a free citizen.”
He slapped me back and forth across the face and repeated: “Your papers!” And I said, no, no— and then he said, “It doesn’t matter anyway. We know you and what you are,” and he slapped me again. And he grabbed my wrists and bound them with the elevator chain.
And I said softly and sadly, more to myself than aloud, “And I had hoped I would have been able to recognize your kind immediately when you returned. It’s my own fault I wasn’t able to.”
Then I began to scream, clinging like any normal human being to the desperate hope that someone would come and help me when I scream. But I knew that now no one could ever come, never again.
English translation by Adriane Gottwald
Undated Anti-Nazi Poster: “The Third Reich? NO!”