Background: 1940 was a good year for German propagandists. I here
translate three newspaper articles from 97 published in a collection of
articles on the war. The first essay is a satirical report by a German
correspondent who visits the office of the former French prime minister,
Reynaud, who had left Paris as German troops neared. The second describes
a bombing mission over England. The third is a memorial for a fallen German
soldier. Together, they give a feel for what Germans were reading during
the first year of the war.
The source: Wilfrid Bade and Wilmont Haake (eds.),
Das heldische Jahr. Front und Heimat berichten den Krieg.
(Berlin: Zeitgeschichte-Verlag, 1941).
The Heroic Year:
Front and Homeland Report
Edited by Wilfrid Bade and Wilmont Haake
by Walter Best
A Visit to Mr. Reynaud
I wanted to visit you on Saturday, 15 June 1940 in Paris, Mr. Reynaud,
and I did get into your office. My visit was a bit unorthodox, but there
was no one there to announce myself to. Your policeman was very polite
and let me by. When I entered your office, it looked as if you could come
back at any moment. Your chair was still pushed back where you had left
it. The day’s papers were on your desk, and around it were grouped the
chairs of your ministerial colleagues. But they, too, were unfortunately
I was not particularly impressed by entering the Holy of Holies
of French politics. I did not have the feeling of being in a
room in which history had been made. The building bored me rather
quickly. Then I went out on the street and met your people, Mr.
Reynaud. These were men and women who had formerly had the good
fortune to live in the freest republic on earth, but gave few
signs of their happiness. The part of the Parisian population
that did not, like you, Mr. Reynaud, leave the city hurriedly
as we arrived were workers, ill-clothed and hungry-looking workers.
It really would have been traditional for you to die at the
barricades of Paris with the Tricolor in your hand, but you preferred
to leave people in the lurch and run away. Now we are facing
each other, the men of the Leibstandarte “Adolf Hitler”
Division and the men and women of Paris. We sense the shock deep
in their bones and see their complete amazement. Your people
are learning that they were lied to and betrayed. Yelling will
not help any longer. The Germans are there, in Paris, and nothing
could stop us. No Maginot Line, no old and experienced generals,
no ideals of democracy. Now the Parisian people are asking the
German soldiers: “Why, why did the war happen?”
I have been in three European capitals in the last fourteen
days that had to open their doors to German soldiers: Den Haag,
Brussels, and Paris. It was always the average citizen who came
to us with his questions, and had the most bitter complaints
against those who fled their offices at the moment of danger.
Before entering your office, Mr. Reynaud, I experienced the
unprecedented advances of the German divisions, before which
your capital, too, had to give way. During so-called peace, we
heard a great deal about the elan of the French nation. In Paris,
however, I saw only a weary people who wandered listlessly through
the proud streets along the Seine. I also saw the German troops
marching with incomparable confidence to continue the attack.
You cannot stop this attack any longer, Mr. Reynaud, certainly
It would naturally be difficult to explain to your people
the strength that fills the Germans. Perhaps the “victory
wreaths of 1918” had fallen over their eyes and kept them
from seeing clearly what was happening on their eastern border.
The German people, through their Führer, had been asking
questions to the western neighbors, but received no answers.
Today we have it. It is the picture that I saw today on the
Quai d’Orsay: Your empty office with its empty chairs. Real power
does not run away, it can only be removed by a stronger power,
and it prefers to perish rather than run.
I avoided looking at the maps in your office, though I know
you have a particular love for maps. But these maps have become
boring and uninteresting today, just like the atmosphere in this
office. This chair has ceased to have any greatness.
I relieve you of the obligation, Mr. Reynaud, to visit me
Airplanes against England
by Hans E. Seidat
..., 17 August 
For three days we have been reading and hearing about the
great air battles over England. Airports, harbors, and armaments
factories are being destroyed by our squadrons, Our fighters
are having unbelievable success in downing enemy planes. We wonder
how long it can go on. We are eager to get into action, and almost
fear that the victory will be over before we get to do anything.
But when we least expect it, the orders come. After a short
talk with the crew, fully-loaded trucks take us to the planes.
All around, the yellow swim vests and colorful scarves of the
eager crew are evident. Soon, plane after plane takes off toward
England. Our target is Driffield Airfield on the east coast of
central England, one of the most important bases of the enemy
air force. Our mission is to destroy it.
The sky is blue as we fly over land ready for the harvest.
Further formations join us at the coast. Soon we are over the
water. There are planes as far as the eye can see. We have been
waiting for this day! We sing the England Song and others. We
near the English coast, and can be attacked at any moment by
enemy fighters. We watch the skies. There they are! Fighters
to the left! Keep calm! I am behind a machine gun, and keep a
careful eye on the enemy. Now they attack. Our planes maneuver
to make the attack difficult. We start shooting. Now there is
a second fighter. It goes around in a wide curve. Before he
dares attack us, I fire a burst across his nose. The warning
is enough. Tommy does not seem to feel comfortable in the midst
of all our planes. He is being fired at from all sides. Our comrades
are defending themselves. Five of the enemy are shot down within
a few minutes. An intense defense is not enough to stop our attack
on the air base.
A tongue of land extends into the sea. We are over England.
Several clouds kindly give us cover. A few minutes more and we
are over Driffield Airfield. What an attack! We dive through
an opening in the clouds directly above the base. We dive toward
the ground. We can see the details clearly. We see airplanes,
buildings, and there, that is the large hanger. That is our target.
We release our bombs, which plunge rapidly to the ground. They
seem to be magnetically attracted to the target. Now I cannot
see them any more. I watch the ground; there have to be explosions
soon. Will they hit the target? Four huge clouds rise into the
air. Yes! Direct hits! Nothing is left of the hanger. Powerful
clouds of smoke billow up.
We were the fourth plane to attack. Plane after plane follows
us, bomb after bomb brings destruction down below. The hit the
rows of two-engined planes, the hangers and barracks, and tear
huge holes in the runways. Thick smoke is everywhere. To the
right down below, I see a heavy flak battery. But their fuses
are set too low. I have long since exchanged the machine gun for
a camera, to capture the complete destruction of the airfield.
As we leave, we see the munitions depot go up in flames. Far
out to see we can still see smoke and flames over the Driffield
Airfield. We have completed our mission. There once was an airfield
[Note: As best I can tell from histories
of the Battle of Britain, the attack on Driffield on 16 August
was far less successful than this account suggests.]
by Wilhelm Ritgen
I have four letters before me from a comrade, a fellow party
member. They are letters from one of the countless party members
who are serving in the armed forces, all of whom stand proudly
by their words and their ideals, even in the toughest test of
fate and at the risk of their lives. Each was written “On
the Western Front.” The first found its way back to the
homeland during Christmas, the last was written on the Führer’s
birthday. It was written in some disorder, as the French artillery
was making music over the West Wall.
“Each of us carries with us as our deepest treasure faith
in the Führer, in his Führer, in our Führer. There
is no doubt in him!” That is from the first letter, which
sounds eager for battle, soldierly. Every line rings with conviction.
The last line of the final letter says” Heil Hitler!
Everything for the Führer!”
A newspaper article lies alongside the letters. The Iron Cross
was awarded for the highest fulfillment of duty and brave death
as a soldier in the historic battles of May 1940. The same name
that signed the letters is under the simple words: “He died
for Führer and Nation.” It is the same name that followed
the oath: “Everything for the Führer!”
The company buried their noncommissioned officer in the earth
on which he had fought for the freedom of his people and for
the eternity of his faith. He sealed his loyalty with his blood
during an attack. The successful attack, the hammering of the
machine guns, the explosions of the hand grenades, the smoke
of the mortars, these were the worthiest memorial. The death
announcement cites a Reichsleiter of the party in praise of the
fallen political leader, comrade and fellow worker. It is the
most obvious, but also the deepest, that the movement that created
Germany can do for its fallen fighters. The word, the order,
which they all followed, which guided their lives was: “For
Führer and nation
The letters from the front reveal the personal thinking of
a soldier facing the enemy, looking death in the face, but who
carries a faith in his heart that is stronger than death. The
death announcement has transfigured his words, raising them to
the legacy of a fallen National Socialist. The personality has
faded, but as the voice of one of the Führer’s unknown soldiers
he speaks of obligation to the nation. The spirit of the German
people’s army that the Führer created rises victoriously
from the words that a soldier wrote along side his comrades,
in the few minutes he had to spare. He had the urge to say what
moved him, what made him strong, and why he fought with such
pride and faithful confidence.
These are the letters of a young soldier who held himself to the highest
standards. He can no longer speak of the faith he felt and displayed.
I feel that I owe it to him to pass on his undying love for the Führer
and his faithfulness unto death. He is one of the unknown, the spirit
of the front in the historic year 1940.
He did not write about himself. He spoke of the common faith
that sacrificed for victory. He left a memorial to the virtues
of National Socialist fighters that towers immortally far above
his distant grave. He fell convinced of the immortality of the
sacrifice that he made in serving the party, for the world view
that he had experienced and known a thousand times. He has the
right to be heard after his death. The purpose is not to praise
his life and his heroic death over those of his fallen comrades,
rather to make his death obligate the community to be loyal as
he was, strong as he was, faithful as this unknown soldier of
This is his legacy, revealed in his letters from the
front, and from his hero’s grave:
“...In seeing death before our eyes, we often realize
more clearly the meaning of our existence. Nature is a parable
for us. In the middle of winter, everything seems to die and
to have bloomed in vain. Yet the falling of the old leaves is
necessary for the coming of the new ones, and the falling of
the last stalk makes room for the new seeds. Our sacrifice should
and will be the source of new strength for our people, whatever
sorrow and pain may be involved!”
“...In the flourishing of that life we find the meaning
of battle. The fight for a secure future is hard, often seemingly
unbearable. But as bearers of the faith, as true National Socialists,
our obligation is to do our duty and believe in a brighter future
for our people. In hardship and death, we see the foundation
for a new, purified future.”
“...Today our company was between two villages in Lorraine.
All the jokes stopped and our faces were grim. Nature seemed
in accord, with a slow, steady cold rain. It is quiet all around.
We were quiet and deep in thought, since this morning we lost
two comrades who were scouting out an important enemy position.
Some others were wounded. A severely wounded comrade with pale,
but calm face was just carried over from No Man’s Land across
our two lines of barbed wire.
Few words were spoken, but we still talked with each other.
This event turned our thoughts again to the larger meaning of
our fight, for which we must bleed and die if necessary. With
even more determination, we are doing our duty, far from comfort,
family and homeland.”
“... The Führer is the unfailing compass point and the eternal
model for us soldiers out here in the field. However great the difficulties,
however unpleasant the artillery shelling no matter what the task
or mission, we are proud of doing our duty and in being bound personally
to him: The Führer!”
“... Each feels under his protection, and faith in him
is unshakable. The Führer’s determination, his bravery,
his intelligence, and his successes have given even the weakest
the will to win victory with him!”
“...We never forget his name, nor let his ideas fade.
We are not only the bearers of his banner and symbols, but also
of his faith, and as long as one of us remains alive to fight,
he will be ready to fight and die for the Führer.”
“...Well, after six months at the Front, with its many
dangers, I confess as a soldier of Adolf Hitler: It is a joy
to be alive! Above all under such a Führer and in such an
“...That is what is most splendid and beautiful: No one
can take away this Führer who has given German greatness
and victory. His example will live from generation to generation.
From generation to generation, our cry of affirmation will also
remain the same. In it is grounded the will of the entire people
and its confidence in victory: “Heil Hitler! Everything
for the Führer!”
Everything for the Führer. He gave his all, his
blood and his young life. His words are holy for us all. “The epitome
of sacrifice is to give one’s own life for the life of the community!”
This statement by the Führer was the law of his young, yet
These words by a German soldier and fallen National Socialist answer
the questions the world has about the roots of the absolute German confidence
in victory and the irresistible power of our weapons an answer
that leaves no doubt about the outcome of the war. The enemy is fighting
for material possessions that are not really his. The German soldier is
fighting for life, justice, and the eternity of his nation.
This marks the true soldier of a people and of a faith. We
know that they will win not only because they have the best training,
the best weapons, and the beat leadership, but above all because
they have the best hearts.
And if they fall, the show the nation the way to a victory
that they may not experience, but that belongs to them.
They are immortal, and with them also the Reich, for: “As
long as one of us remains alive to fight, he will be ready to
fight and die for the Führer.”
The faith of a fallen National Socialist places an obligation
on all the living.
[Page copyright © 1998 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized
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