The Haarmann Case: Remapping the Weimar Republic

By Kavaloski, Joshua | German Quarterly, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

The Haarmann Case: Remapping the Weimar Republic


Kavaloski, Joshua, German Quarterly


I

The publication in 2010 of the German-language graphic novel, Haarmann, written by Peer Meter and illustrated by Isabel Kreitz, offers an opportunity to examine critically a recent shiftin the way that the period in German history known as the Weimar Republic is remembered and represented. After all, it does not mark the first attempt to reimagine the case of Fritz Haarmann, a serial murdererwhowas active in Hannover during the years immediately following the First World War.A reliable source for factual information about the case is the book from 1925, Haarmann: Die Geschichte eines Werewolfs, written by journalist, philosopher, and cultural critic Theodor Lessing. Born in 1879, Friedrich "Fritz" Haarmann grew up in a dysfunctional lower-middle-class family and had an antagonistic relationship with his father but a fervent devotion to his mother. At the age of 17, he was arrested for indecencies with minors and briefly confined to a psychiatric clinic in Hildesheim, where he was first diagnosed with "Geisteskrankheit," according to Lessing (33). This was only the first in a long series of institutional incarcerations. In 1902, he enlisted in the military but was soon discharged for being "dienstunbrauchbar und teilweise erwerbsunfähig" as a consequence of his mental illness (37). Haarmann was spared military service in the First World War: "Man darf es als Glücksfall betrachten, dass Haarmann ein Jahr vor Ausbruch des Weltkrieges eine Zuchthausstrafe von 5 Jahren erlitt" (45). Haarmann's first confirmed murder was committed only a few months after his release from prison in 1918. Over the next six years, until his arrest in June of 1924, he killed at least 24 people, but some estimates of thenumber of victims are much higher.1 He was tried and found guilty in December of that same year and executed in April 1925.

What makes the Haarmann case remarkable is not merely the body count. Haarmann was a pedophile whose victims were all boys and young men ranging in age from 11 to 23.Hereportedly killed many of them by biting them in the neck and strangulating them while in a state of sexual arousal.2 In addition, there were numerous indications that Haarmann butchered and sold the flesh of some victims to unwitting acquaintances and customers in Hannover. The horrific circumstances behind what Lessing calls a "Fleischfreundschaft" could never be substantiated because, well, the evidence had been consumed (97). Due to the atrocious nature of the murders, there was the perception at the time that Haarmann transgressed not only German law but also the enlightened norms of European civilization. After the discovery of his crimes, he was frequently described as a werewolf, a vampire, and a beast: "In the average publications Haarmann was demonized from the very beginning, stigmatized as outside human society ('unmenschlich,' inhuman), and labeled as the dangerous other" (Waltje 125). The perception of him as an inhuman outcast was belied, however, by the fact that he had led an unremarkable and quotidian life in Hannover before he was revealed as the murderer: "Haarmann war die Verkörperung einer verarmten, durchschnittlichen Kleinbürgerexistenz" (Siebenpfeiffer 215). Although he had little money, photographs show him to be a well-dressed man, and acquaintances reported that he was generally respected in his milieu. There was thus a distinct disparity between his outward appearance of normality and his bestial deeds. This paradox has proven to be a source of morbid fascination for writers and artists who have grappled with notions of humanity in their works about Haarmann and the murders he committed in the aftermath of the war.

After his arrest,Haarmannquickly became infamous throughout Germany, and the public's thirst for information could barely be slaked by the flood of pamphlets, newspaper reports, and other popular publications.3 Many of these texts were lurid and over-embellished in order to serve their authors' goal of making a quick profit. …

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