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Baird: Exerpts from To Die For Germany

Excerpts from: Baird, J. W. (1990). To Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

1-2—In November 1917 the student, soldier, and youthful idealist Walter Flex ended his The Wanderer between Two Worlds with the thought that “We died for Germany’s glory. Flower, Germany, as garland of death to us!” His benediction glorified all of the sacrificial dead of the war. During the Great War, propagandists and poets alike joined hands in exalting the blood sacrifice of the youth of Germany, thus transforming carnage into ethereal national revelation…Only (in Germany) did heroic death in war become a philosophy of life—indeed, a significant component of the ethos of radical nationalism.

Both high culture and popular culture in Germany were pervaded with the themes of struggle, battle, and death, that is, the redemptive death of the warrior. Nothing was more foreign to this world view than the life of the bourgeois, devoted to pedantic order and the acquisition of wealth, or the values of the worker, mired in materialistic Marxism. Death in battle not only guaranteed eternal life for the martyr but also acted as a resurgent life force for the Father land. Death in combat took on the ennobling force of a sacrament.

4—Eleven thousand young men lie buried in the student cemetery at Langemarck, testifying to the depravity of war. Yet through propaganda and poetry, their graves were rendered sacred shrines. They had not died; instead, their souls had passed the earthly boundaries and had been transfigured. Their blood sacrifice had guaranteed the nation’s future.

The young men of Langemarck became the symbol for all of the German fallen in the Great War. The dead of the Marne, Somme, and Verdun and all of the fighting fronts were subsumed in this symbol of youthful sacrifice. The image of the purity of the young of Langemarck had an undeniable transcendent force. There was the joyous, endless sleep of the redemptive, for they were vessels of divine grace. Eberhard Wolfgang Moller, who won the National Book Prize (1934-35) for his The Letters of the Fallen, concluded his work with an angelic chorus exalting the Langemarck fighters:

Rest, you youths at Langemarck
and wait for the coming of the spring…
you will see Germany once more
and the forests for which you died…
You will flower in your ranks
and the summer will sing over you
of your glory and our gratitude.

12—Years later Wehner mused on the enduring meaning of Langemarck and the Great War. It had been a religious experience for him and for those who had served at the front. Christ’s passion had found its parallel in the deeds of those soldiers, who had sacrificed themselves for the nation. But the tears of Good Friday gave way to the joy of a German Easter and the promise of eternal life. Wehner celebrated this sacrifice in his poem “Vom Blut der Helded Schlagt das Herz der Welt:”

You should neither cry nor grieve,
for our sacrificial blood was life win.
God created death as a brother to life:
The heart of the world beats with the blood of heroes.
We marched before you through the dark gate
and shone for your resurrection.

40—During the Third Reich, Schlageter was remembered as a hero who made a blood sacrifice for the rebirth of Germany…Baldur von Schirach interpreted Schlageter’s life as a symphony to love of the nation in his propaganda. At a Hitler Youth rally at the Dusseldorf National Memorial on Schlageter Day 1934 he said:

As you look at this grand monument, remember that today the cross of Schlageter towers not only over us, but it casts it shadow over all of Germany and this symbol of strength, of spirit, of dedication and sacrifice received its heroic incarnation in Schlageter. He went to his death answering only the call to duty. Here on the spot the dark earth drank his red blood and he was struck down with that cry on his lips which is our call to destiny today: “Oh, you my Germany!”

41—Hitler centered a secular religion on the blood of the martyrs, lending credence to his affirmation that “one can serve Gold only in heroic raiment.” In his demented ideological world based on racial struggle, heroic death was more beautiful than life itself. The Fuhrer was never more at home than when communing with the souls of the dead.

69—Rudolf Hess:

The stream of blood which for Germany is eternal—the sacrifice of German men for their Volk is eternal—therefore Germany will also be eternal.

88—The Horst Wessel saga became a centerpiece of the Kampfzeit blood mythology. On 9 October 1930—on what would have been Horst’s twenty-third birthday—Goebbels gave thanks.

A young man has shown the Movement how one can die, and if need be, must die. And a mother has given us a grand example of how one must ultimately bear pain that seems unbearable, without falling victim to desperation.

By striking the motif of the nobly suffering mother and he martyred son—even for the nonbelieving an understandably poignant subject—Goebbels cleverly drew on a theme popular in Christian worship and cultic veneration. Variations on this motif took varied form.

In an article published on Mother’s Day 1930 in Der SA Mann, Hermann Weiskopf rhapsodized on the love between mothers and sons in the fighting Volksgemeinschaft. It was well know that battle-weary veterans of the trench fighting in the Great War often cried out “Mother…Mother” in their mortal agony.

It was this same devotion that informed the reawakened political soldiers of the SA, he claimed, and would one day inspire all German families joyfully to sacrifice for the nation. The German warrior always carried with him the spirit of his loving mother, and her eyes shone on him even in death. She had bid him farewell in the Spartan fashion as he went off to war, admonishing her son to be victorious or to go down fighting. Above all, she was “blood of my blood.” “This is the real meaning of motherhood—blood loyalty,” Weiskopf submitted, and all true SA men have such a mother.

Heinrich Anacker glorified this blood bond in his poem “Mothers of the Dead”:

Do you know the mothers of our dead warriors?
Have you seen the women wan and transfigured by pain,
They bear their burdens nobly and quietly
Ever ready, to continue the efforts of the dead.
Pale transfigured Mary, Mother of Christ, lives in them,
She who mourned her own son at the Cross,
And his love, his holy service
United them in sacred humility.

“The mothers,” according to Josef Magnus Whner, “are the great nameless ones of the Volk.” Their “sacred grief, the tears of the widows and orphans, will lead to the pain of a new birth, and finally there will arise out of blood and death the new man, the Fuhrer, on whose shoulders rests the construction of the future.” The Reich would arise from the shattered bodies of the dead:

They died, that we might become. Without their sacrifice we would not have been transformed, our heart beats with their blood. The true meaning of their death is our resurrection in the Reich.

145—Gerhard Schumann: Following the Anschluss of his Austrian homeland in 1938:
With an eye to the plebiscite on the annexation, he cast about for an appropriate song
to highlight the propaganda campaign. Having read Schumann’s hymn of praise for the
Anschluss, the Fuhrer called him to his hotel. Schumann was shown into Hitler’s suite.
Hitler soon appeared and asked Max Roth to sing Schumann’s song:

After suffering the wounds of a thousand years
Blood has returned to blood
Bursting through wall and dike!
From the North Sea to the Brenner Pass
Nothing but impassioned believers:
One Fuhrer, Volk and Reich!

Schumann later recounted followed:

It was absolutely quite. Then Hitler walked up to me, took my right hand in both of his, and looked deeply into my eyes for some time, as tears welled up in his eyes. I could hardly keep my composure. Then he turned to Bruckner, his adjutant, and ordered: “This song will be played over all German radio stations until the plebiscite.”

213—Sacrifice for the German people was not to be feared. “Death holds no sting for us,” Himmler affirmed, because individuals die, while the Volk lives on.” Because the men of the Germanic SS were more concerned about the future of the Volk than about their individual destinies, members would “willingly and bravely seek death, wherever that is necessary.”

Life was embraced in death, death in life. Nature itself was the great teacher of political ideology; one need only to observe the annual cycle of the seasons to ascertain God’s meaning for man. The new life of spring was embraced in the death of November. The warrior’s affirmation of heroic death carried with it the obligation to procreate new life, to ensure that the eternal chain would go unbroken.

232-3—In his last letter to his mother, written before his death on the western front in 1940, Hitler Youth officer Ernst Nielsen tried to prepare her for the loss of her son. When the news arrived, he warned, she was not to grieve; rather, she was to affirm the nobility of the cause:

If I die, mother, you must bear it,
and your pride will conquer your pain,
because you have the privilege of offering a sacrifice
that is what we mean, when we say Germany.