Scientist and killer: A split life
“Our Russian translator has taken to the struggle against them with exceptional energy,” Heinrici wrote. “In the past three days the translator has managed to capture and finish off 15 of them, including several women. The partisans are fiercely loyal to one another. They let themselves be shot, but do not betray their comrades.”
In another note, Heinrici records that; “On the sixth alone Beutelspacher captured 60 people, including 40 Red Army troops. He managed to bring in twenty of them and finish them off. They hanged one young lad in the town, that is, Beutelspacher relieved the field police of this melancholy task and carried it out himself…”
The young man he hanged was Aleksandr Chekalin. The sixteen-year-old had been an active member of the Soviet underground, and was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1944, the town of Likhvin was renamed Chekalin.
For 70 years nothing was known about who had hanged Chekalin, with the act ascribed simply to anonymous “Germans”.
On 12 July, he was released and set off to meet with his wife, who had managed to be evacuated from East Prussia.
No-one appears to have learned of his war crimes. The year 1945 marked the onset of a Stunde Null (zero hour) for all of Germany. Beutelspacher too had his war-time life ‘annulled’, though thanks to Heinrici’s writings, not completely.
By the late 1940s, Dr Beutelspacher had finished up in Braunschweig, where he headed a department in the Institute of Soil Biochemistry
The USSR, too, showed no interest in searching for the murderer of Chekalin, the Hero of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, Soviet soil scientists gladly visited Braunschweig in Germany, where the urbane Beutelspacher was in high demand as a translator, guide and scientific consultant.
In 1958, he even translated into German a book by the Soviet Professor Mariia Kononova.
Stories about Nazis often serve as a moral prop, a means of demarcating the past from the present. When modern readers contemplate the horrors of the Second World War (or of any war) they can reassure and fortifying themselves with their confidence in their own moral progressiveness.
It is, after all, easy to say, “Here’s the story of another monster. If I’d been in his position, I’d have behaved differently”.
Other people, more cynical, would perhaps explain his acts as having been motivated by revenge. But in post-war meetings with Soviet chemists, this “pitiless avenger” turned into a cordial colleague.
We shall never know whether Beutelspacher ever believed in Nazism, or whether he simply ran amok, encouraged by his impunity in the face of the killings that were so easy to carry out.
Today we like to consider ourselves wiser, better and more scrupulous than the people of the past. Our life-spans have increased, our knowledge of the world has expanded, and numerous gifts of civilisation smooth our personal dealings and brighten our leisure. But no such changes have occurred in our psyches.
This is one of the great lessons of history – the grandiose monument of our humanism is unstable and needs work because it may collapse at any moment.
Losing our humanism it seems has nothing to do with our level of education or intellect; even the most judicious people can become infected with ideas that turn them into obedient weapons of savagery and death.
Впервые публикуются фотографии доктора Ханса Бейтельшпахера, почвоведа, "охотника за партизанами" XXXXIII армейского корпуса вермахта и снова почвоведа.