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
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."