Lytton Study Group - Hans Litten

The Lytton Study Group
Hans Litten

[from The New York Times, Oct 6 1940]

A Man Who Brought Hitler to Court

"Beyond Tears" Is the Memorable Story of Hans Litten

BEYOND TEARS. By Irmguad Litton. Introduction and Epilogue by Pierre van Panson. Forward by His Grace the Archishop of York. Preface by W. Arnold-Foster. 325 pp. New York: Alliance Book Corporation. $2.75.

So swiftly do events march that it seems a long time since our indictment of Hitler's Third Reich was based chiefly on its internal cruelties. Yet it was only in 1935, or thereabout, that we were harrowed by a series of books concerning the prison camps of Germany, of which Karl Billinger's "Fatherland" was perhaps the most important. That first shock has passed -- to be replaced by a greater one -- but the indignations which it evoked has surely not atrophied. Even now, when we are preoccupied with more immediate disaster, it is possible to be moved and stirred by a book such as Irmgard Litten's "Beyond Tears," which recalls those earlier horrors.

Hans Litton, whose long Gethsemane his mother records in this story, was a young, liberal, humanitarian lawyer who rose to prominence in the last days of the republic. Though his own tastes were simple, almost Franciscan, the Littens were people of culture and wealth who moved in the most distinguished intellectual circles. Hans's father was a brilliant Professor of Law at the University of Koenigsberg; Hans himself was trained originally as a scholar. Non-Jewish, possessed of every advantage of birth and education, one would have thought him to be one of the privileged and immune. Even when he was arrested on the night of the Reichstag fire, his family were not too seriously alarmed. Misled by the fiction of "protective custody," they could not believe that any real harm was intended to him.

Hans Litten, however, had incurred the enmity of the Nazis not only through his humanitarianism, his championship of the workers, but because he was so passionate a defender of the principles of justice and law at a time when both were being deliberately undermined. More fatally, he had aroused the undying hostility of no other than Hitler himself when he forced the latter, in 1931, to testify at a trial of some Storm Troopers. Thus it was that his mother's patient, valiant efforts to effect his release were foredoomed from the start to failure. Though Frau Litten fought magnificently, using every resource of influence and intelligence, she could not rescue Hans from the torture and creeping death which Hitler himself had ordained for him. Even a petition on his behalf, signed by a number of eminent English lawyers, earned only a bitter, wordy rebuke from Josecim von Ribbentrop!

So, as his family's first hopefulness fades, one learns how Hans Litten was shifted from one prison, from one camp to another, sometimes encountering moderately good treatment, more often being subjected to special brutalities. Very early in his career as a prisoner Hans was tortured so cruelly that he never fully regained his health. One eye and one leg were permanently injures; his jawbone was fractured, many of his teeth broken off. Small wonder that when he wrote his mother, shortly thereafter, asking her for poison she was only too ready to smuggle it in to him. It was not, however, until years later, in February, 1938, that Hans actually committed suicide -- if, indeed, he did. Meanwhile there was the long horror of the concentration camps, broken by his mother's frequent visits and by occasional gleams of hope. There was his persisting courage and serenity, his dwindling physical strength.

Vividly as Frau Litten has pictured her son's life in prison, the atrocities which he witnessed, the stratagems by which he and his fellow prisoners communicated with the outer world, this part of her story is hideously familiar. The real kernel of her book, the thing which sets "Beyond Tears" apart from others of its kind, is the tale of Irmgard Litten's own unremitting struggle to somehow, in some way, save her son's life. Ceaselessly she pestered the Gestapo, forcing from them a reluctant admiration for her sheer stubbornness and audacity. Ceaselessly she strove to at least ameliorate Han's bitter tale if she could not win him his freedom. One of the most significant things in the story is that Frau Litten had access to half the important people in Germany -- to Blomberg, to Goering, to easily a dozen others. If they could do nothing for her, what chance had lesser men?

"Beyond Teats" is lacking in any grace of style. It is a stark, factual record, based on letters and unforgettable memories, stripped of the emotionalism which one could both expect and forgive. Its very reticence, however, is a telling point if its favor. Because this story is told so simply and undramatically its impact is the more pronounced. One could wish that there were things different about it -- that Frau Litten had dwelt more fully on Hans's legal career -- but its shining integrity outweighs minor defects. "Beyond Tears" is no literary masterpiece, but somehow it conveys with almost unendurable poignance what men in out time have had to suffer and surmount. Such stories are dateless. Coming as it does belatedly and in the midst of present crisis, "Beyond Tears" is still hauntingly relevant. Edith H. Walton.

[from Wikipedia --]

Hans Litten

Hans Achim Litten (June 19, 1903 February 5, 1938) was a young lawyer, born in Halle, who had represented anti-Nazis at nearly all the important political trials after 1929.

In May, 1931 he had even subjected Adolf Hitler to a two-hour cross examination in a case concerning two workers stabbed by stormtroopers. He was not forgotten, and, on the night of the Reichstag fire he was aroused from his bed, arrested, and sent without trial to Spandau Prison. From there he was moved, despite efforts by his mother to free him, to Sonnenberg concentration camp. From Sonnenberg he passed to the notorious Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where his treatment was later described by an eyewitness to his mother.

He survived this ordeal only to be sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was reported to have hanged himself after five years of interrogation and torture. His mother Irmgard Litten wrote a book about his ordeal titled in English, "Beyond Tears." The book by Benjamin Carter Hett: "Crossing Hitler", depicts Litten as a towering hero facing and exposing Hitler in court, as reported in detail in major German newspapers at the time.

When East and West Germany were reunited, the lawyers association of Berlin chose to call itself the Hans Litten Bar Association. Every two years a lawyer is given the Hans Litten Prize by the German and European Democratic Lawyers Association. The Israeli lawyer Leah Tsemel and the American lawyer Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, have both received the Litten prize.


Hans Litten Prize
Awarded From
Democratic Lawyers of Germany

Lawyers for both East and West Germany agreed to name the country's bar association after Litten. In 1931, Litten was a 29-year-old lawyer who represented two workmen stabbed by Hitler's Nazi Storm Troopers. Litten grilled Hitler on the witness stand for two hours, and the Storm Troopers were convicted.

Hitler never forgot his embarassing cross-examination or Hans Litten. On the night of the Reichstag fire, February 28, 1933, the SS arrested Litten. He was considered an enemy of the state, and held in 'protective custody' without charge. For years he was transferred from camp to camp, from Spandau to Dachau, where he was tortured and subject to mock executions. After enduring five years of detention and torture, Litten committed suicide in 1939.

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