Background: Horst Wessel became the most prominent martyr of the Nazi Party. He wrote the words to the song which became the Nazi Party anthem, the Horst Wessel Song: “Raise High the Flag.” In this essay, Goebbels reports on his death, and begins the process of turning him into a kind of Nazi saint. The article is dated 27 February 1930.
The source: “Die Fahne hoch!” Der Angriff. Aufsätze aus der Kampfzeit (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1935), pp. 268-271.
It was late in the evening and I was enjoying the rare pleasure of reading a good book. I was relaxed and at ease. The telephone rang. I picked up the phone with trepidation. It is worse than I expected. “Horst Wessel has been shot.” Trembling with fear, I asked: “Dead?” “No, but there is no hope.” I felt as if the walls were collapsing around me. It was unbelievable. It cannot be!
A few days later. I step into the small hospital room on the ground floor and am shocked by the sight. A bullet in the head has done terrible damage to this heroic lad. His face is distorted. I hardly recognize him. But he is happy. His clear, bright eyes shine, though we cannot talk for long. The doctor has ordered him to keep calm. He only repeats a few words: “I am happy.” He does not need to say it. One sees it by looking at him. His young, bright smile overcomes the blood and wounds. He still believes.
I sat by his bed on a Sunday afternoon as streams of visitors came until evening. One can hope. He is improving. The fever has dropped, the wounds healing. He sat up part way and talked. What about? A foolish question! About us, about the movement, about his comrades. They stood outside his door today, and one after the other came by and raised his arm to salute the young leader for a moment. “I could not bear it otherwise!”
I look at his hands, which are now small and white. His strong nose stands out in the middle of his face, and two bright eyes sparkle. But the fever is back? He cannot eat, his strength gradually declines, though his spirit remains fresh and alert. He is not allowed to read. He may only talk. It is hard to obey the warning look of the nurse. Will I ever see him again? Who knows! If blood poisoning does not develop, everything will be OK.
A lonely mother sits outside. Her face reflects a question. “Will he make it?” What can one say but yes? I try to persuade myself and others.
Blood poisoning develops. By Thursday, there is little hope. He wants to talk with me.
The doctor gives me a minute. How hard it is to walk past the death watch into the room! He does not know how serious his condition is. But he senses it may be the last time: “Do not go away!” he begs. The nurse relents, and he is comforted. “Do not lose hope. The fever comes and goes. The movement, too, has suffered in the last two years, but today it is hard and strong.” That consoles him. Come back!,” his eyes, his hands, his hot dry lips, say, as I leave with a heavy heart. I fear I have seen him for the last time.
Saturday morning. It is hopeless. The doctor is no longer allowing visits. He is hallucinating. He does not even recognize his own mother any longer.
It is 6:30 Sunday morning. He dies after a hard struggle. As I stand by his bed two hours later, I can not believe that it is Horst Wessel. His face is yellow, the wounds still covered with white band aids. Stubble shows on his chin. The half-open eyes stare glassily into the eternity that we all face. The small cold hands lie in the midst of flowers, while and red tulips and violets.
Host Wessel has passed on. His mortal remains have given up struggle and conflict. Yet I can feel almost physically his spirit rise, to live on with us. He believed it, he knew it. He himself put it in words: He “marches in spirit in our ranks.”
One day in a German Germany, workers and students will march together singing his song. He will be with them. He wrote it in a moment of ecstasy, of inspiration. The song flowed from him, born of life and bearing witness to that life. The brown soldiers are singing it across the country. In ten years, children will sing it in the schools, workers in the factories, soldiers on the march. His song makes him immortal. That is how he lived, that is how he died. A wanderer between two worlds, between yesterday and tomorrow, between that which was and that which will be. A soldier of the German revolution! Once he stood with his hand on his belt, proud and upright, with the smile of youth on his red lips, always ready to risk his life. That is how we will remember him.
I see endless columns marching in spirit. A humiliated people rises up and begins to move. An awakening Germany demands its rights: Freedom and prosperity!
He marches behind them in spirit. Many of them will not know him. Many will have gone where he now is. Many others will have come.
He strides silently and knowingly with them. The banners wave, the trumpets sound, the pipes sound, and from a million threats the song of the German revolution resounds:
“Raise high the flag!” [This was the opening line to the “Horst Wessel Song,” a poem he had written that became the Nazi Party anthem.]
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