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For week ended January 30, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

LDS Church Member Discovers, Reconciles with Relatives Nazi Past
Salt Lake Tribune 30Jan00 P2
By Bob Mims: Salt Lake Tribune

Frederick Kempe, veteran foreign affairs correspondent, editor and associate publisher of The Wall Street Journal Europe, is the author of Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany (Putnam, 1999). Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Kempe had for many years ignored his father's old Army footlocker and the German heritage that remained a part of an uncertain past. Until he opened it, Kempe could not start the odyssey of self-discovery that brought to light the meaning of dog-eared, underlined, Nazi pamphlets and a father who had been baptized a Mormon in the River Elbe in the 1920's,

Kempe, who currently resides in Brussels, was stunned at the contents of the footlocker. "Had he been anti-Semetic? A racist? If so, how did his views change with time and experience," Kempe thought. Fulfilling a promise, made to his father Friz, who died in 1988, to write a book about post-World War II Germany, Kempe began searching through the musty memorabilia two years ago. The photographs, stamps, yellowed letters and scrapbooks proved an act of self-exploration.

"I wanted to do this for my father...but I was also absolutely fascinated with (Germany). How many countries in this world have this much brilliance, Beethoven and Goethe, and also this much brutality in their history?" "After years of denying my own Germanness, I would have to confront it. I sensed my father's presence as I began to sift through his things."

The contents of the footlocker raised questions for Kempe. Had his father, Fritz, ever been a Nazi? "I love him deeply and will always do so," he said. "He was an extraordinary man. It only made me wonder what he was thinking during the Third Reich." Turning to a Jewish friend for help, Kempe remarked, "I thought I was clean. I knew I had German blood, but this stuff had nothing to do with me."

Kempe concern for his father's involvement soon paled as his research uncovered a darker family secret. His great-uncle, Erich Kramer (not his real name) had been one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party in Germany. He was considered a vicious, sadistic thug who was possibly a murderer.

While researching his book, clarity came to Kempe through interviews with educators and students, politicians, clerics and rank-and-file citizens. Kempe researched the newly opened archives of the Stasi, the former communist East Germany's secret police. Here he was handed a single, thin file compiled on former Nazis. On the cover was a photo of Kempe's great-uncle. The bold headline read: "We kennt diesen Mann?" (Who Knows This Man?)

Kramers was characterized as "one of the most brutal" of Nazi Brownshirts, a man "considered guilty of committing crimes against humanity." There were testimonies from camp survivors implicating his great-uncle in acts of brutality that included beatings and possibly fatal "gunpoint" confessions.

At the end of WWII, Kramer was captured and spent five years in a Soviet prison camp. Kempe found a postcard Kramer had written to his son Franz, stressing the importance of his Mormon Sunday School lessons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and National Socialism, Franz Kramer told Kempe, had been his father's two greatest passions. Kramer was arrested in Germany in 1950, but escaped further punishment. The former Nazi remained free on bail provided by his local Mormon mission president. Kramer devoted himself to genealogy until his death in Germany in 1983. Kempe's own father left the LDS Church for his native Lutheranism life in his life.

Kempe's, late mother, Johanna Schumann Kempe, was also a German Mormon who emigrated and met her husband in Brooklyn. She played a decisive role in Americanizing her son and three daughters. "Growing up in Utah was possibly the best preparation for being a journalist on the world stage. I grew up with the right values, with people respecting each other," he said. "Coming into the world as naive as I was, I had great wide-open eyes to see everything and report everything."

"There's a great danger in journalism of cynicism. You don't want to be too naive, but if you...always expect the worst from people and events, then you have no chance at all." Giving credit to his cousin, Franz, who pleaded to change his and his father's names, Kempe agreed. "He's so distraught, like a man standing before the gallows, that I can only consent." It was an act of compassion that gained Kempe a steadfast friend and powerful literary partner. "I've become incredibly close to him now, and he has in fact translated my book into German. As it turns out, he's a real wordsmith, a beautiful writer."


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See Also:

Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany
More about "Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany" at

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information