by Dr. William Thomas
I took the trouble to read Rob Schmidt’s article in the Newspaper Rock under the title “Rob questions Winnetou movie”. Let me just say that I was more than disappointed by the presentation of the writer Karl May [1842-1912]. The whole approach of Mr. Schmidt and that of the participants in the discussion suffer from one unforgivable flaw – that is to judge events which happened one hundred and thirty one years ago from the present day point of view. This is a common mistake not tolerated of course in any serious study of past events by critical scholars.
Rob Schmidt’s contribution to the discussion – given just one example out of many similar – states: “Winnetou’s Apaches are phony” does not resemble the true situation at the time of Karl May writing his book. Mr. Schmidt has no doubt read and heard of the Western Apache in Arizona, a legendary place in the Little Colorado Valley, north of their historic range, where they claim to have once lived in company with the Navajo and Pueblo peoples. This has been clearly described in the book by Thomas E. Mails: “The People Called Apache” [A Rutledge Book Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1974] in many pages in there. I trust Mr. Schmidt is familiar with this study. There were Pueblo dwelling Apache!
Mr. Schmidt fully subscribes to the negative stance towards Karl May, which still tries to present itself in the US. This could be traced to the article published in 1940 by Klaus Mann in the US entitled “Cowboy Mentor of the Fuehrer.” Let us review the facts: Karl May died in 1912, long before anyone heard about Hitler. Karl May became as a matter of fact Hitler’s victim. Hitler was given, when German Chancellor, as a present the collection of Karl May’s books. In his youth Hitler read the Indian stories and some of the Orient adventures. Hitler most decidedly did not read May’s “Et in Terra Pax.” In his superficiality Hitler skimmed the adventure parts but deeper ideas of humanity did not touch him at all. Where Karl May finished – in the literary heights – some readers could not follow him at all. Hitler was one of them who could not follow him any longer. This did not stop Hitler from quoting May at inappropriate moments. Karl May was one of the “voices crying in wilderness” in Germany to live in peace and tolerance with other people. Bertha von Suttner, the first female Nobel Prize winner for peace, admired Karl May and the message of peace in his writings. The perversion of the World War One from which Hitler emerged was contrary to all noble ideas Karl May stood for in his literary output. Hitler certainly was not a “student of US history as well as May’s books” – there Mr. Schmidt is totally wrong.
The other thing, which I found to be most unprofessional and disturbing, is the opinion expressed by a participant in the discussion one Alexander Scrimgeour [Reuters September 16, 2001]. Scrimgeour ignorance of the subject comes through in his own words: “Some psychologists have diagnosed him (i.e. Karl May) as suffering from dissociative identity disorder, which can cause people to have highly developed multiple personalities.”
Scrimgeour continues: “Hitler also had severe personality disorder. No wonder he admired May.” This is in the first instance incorrect and secondly untrue and painful. Scrimgeour clearly does not know what he is talking about. In my book [“Karl May a Medical Casebook” Nemsi Books 2006] I have described the medical part of it. The Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID] is treatable and Karl May did not suffer from it after his release from prison to which he would not have been sentenced nowadays. The DID is a reaction to life situation from which there is no escape. As far as Hitler is concerned there is no consent what he suffered from. The general idea is that he was a person with “moral insanity” – that means genuinely and incurably bad. To compare Hitler with Karl May is maligning and cruel considering the vast abyss between their moral make up and polarity of ideas on war and peace. Clearly Scrimgeour does not know what he is talking about.
The discussion presented here by Rob Schmidt could go on and on – the weakness of it is that almost all the participants did not read – by their own admission – Karl May’s original versions themselves. They may have heard of them – but not read them. May I remind them that the first translation of May’s book appeared in the US in 1898? [Taggart M.A.: “Winnetou, the Apache Knight” and: “The Treasure of Nugget Mountain.” Benzinger Brothers USA 1898.]
Nothing could be further the truth than the Rob Schmidt’s statement: “He [i.e. Karl May] never was popular in the States, probably because of his description of the invading white Christian savages.”
And further Schmidt states: “May reinforced the Euro-American mindset among his readers, whoever they were or are. That includes Germans in general and Hitler in particular.”
The derogatory statement about “Christian savages” could certainly be objected to and debated on the basis that a few fanatics and crooks of Christian education background did not represent the Christian values? The second argument by Schmidt of “Euro-American mindset … in general and Hitler in particular” is a pre-historic Brontosaurus of a thought not worth discussing in the 21st century world of global outlook; it is a throw-back to Nazi times most unfortunately traced to the regrettable article by Klaus Mann from 1940 from the middle of WW2 when the enemy was Nazi Germany. There is none most objectionable statement in the Schmidt’s debate than the following: “Old Shatterhand helps the white man conquer by subduing the ‘bad’ minorities (Indians, Jews) for the greater good.” This is taken out right from the anti-Nazi propaganda of WW2 vintage and attributed wrongly and maliciously to Karl May who fortunately died in 1912 long before the Nazis entered the world scene. It is just the opposite Karl May stood for and expressed in his books – stated in the introduction to “Winnetou I.” – and whoever wrote the words just quoted either did not read the Karl May’s book or is deliberately concealing it.
I do not know who is the racist here when I read the following in the Schmidt’s debate: “I’m not sure what “May’s America” means, but based on Winnetou I, it’s a place where whites are generally superior to Indians. Where minorities like Indians (and Jews?) are so degraded they deserve to disappear.” This is all contrary to what Karl May wrote in the Introduction to his book – just the opposite! Is it racism in reverse, which is propagated in the debate? Is this an unsubstantiated blind hate based on racism only because Karl May belonged to a different nationality when they were the enemies in the past wars? And where do the Jews come into it? Were they just thrown into the debate to put down Karl May because he was born in Saxony [and died in 1912 before the Nazis came into power]? Is it fair to brand Karl May responsible and answerable to all the crimes perpetrated by Hitler’s Nazis despite his quest for peace [in his book “Und Friede auf Erden!” i.e. begging for “Peace on Earth” shortly before the outbreak of WW1] and standing for equality of races?
This and similar ways of discussion on Rob Schmidt’s pages are becoming disgusting. The preoccupation with hatred and the ostracizing of an author on the basis of falsely acquired preconceived and wrong ideas from the past, based on mistaken and insufficient knowledge of the subject discussed is to be objected to and strongly opposed. “I care only that Hitler may have read and absorbed May’s message of white superiority—the message plainly evident in Winnetou.” Such malicious statement falsely accuses Karl May of being racist and connecting him with Hitler is bordering on the absurd – any discussion with a person of this view is futile! How did this and similar ideas come into the heads of certain people? Is it still the Klaus Mann’s article being kept alive by individuals who out of ignorance do not like Karl May’s message of peace and universal brotherhood? One wonders!
In answer to whoever wrote the following biased statement: “Shatterhand is just an arrogant, deceptive, attention loving guy who writes a lot boring stuff about him before he starts about our beloved Winnetou.” Any further discussion would be trivial, such talk is on the level primary school boys. To overcome prejudgments of the past and attempts to present Karl May writings in America to be connected with the evil of the Nazi regime in Germany is on the same level as calling Karl May a criminal because of his DID, which disappeared after his release – it is caused by misinformation and prejudice of people who dare to discuss the problem and are found to be ignorant of the basic facts from the life of this great author. The reverse racist statement can clearly be seen in the quote from the Schmidt’s discussion: “Winnetou speaking flawless English, wearing a white man’s robe, or reciting ‘Hiawatha.’ An Indian is Shatterhand’s equal only if he becomes as white as Shatterhand.” This is not what Karl May said. His Old Shatterhand became equal only when he grasped and accepted the Native people’s customs.
Such and similar vicious denigration and ridiculing of Karl May’s creation embedded in the Schmidt’s webpage is beyond limits of normal tolerance to each other’s artistic creation: “Winnetou is a nobody. If he travelled to Washington or London with Shatterhand, people would treat him as a sideshow, a curiosity, or a museum piece.” The present has shown the opposite to whoever wrote the previous statement. May’s books are still the favorite books sold and the “vox populi vox dei” seems to be on the side of his readers. Rob Schmidt’s approach to Karl May and his books is more than negative. It seems to be an attempt to turn Karl May into someone he never was and to make him unacceptable to the American public by falsely accusing May of having some connection with Hitler – which is ridiculous. Let us hope Rob Schmidt will read “sine ira” the May’s original writing in the English translations of today and recognize who Karl May was and what he stood for in life and in his books.