Background: The Nazis developed an elaborate system of rituals and ceremonies. Their most powerful competitor in this regard was the Church, which the Nazi Party fought hard to displace. One way to do that was to take over Church festivals, giving them new content. This is an example of a speech to be given by party leaders at Easter ceremonies in 1944. The speech was part of a suggested outline of ceremonies to be followed by party groups around Germany. As the introduction puts it: “We Germans celebrate Easter as a festival of spring, which has been passed down to us for millennia from the mists of German time.” There is no mention of Christianity.
The source: “Hinweise zur Gestaltung von Morgenfeiern der NSDAP. —Ostern 1944—,” in Die neue Gemeinschaft10 (1944), 95-98.
The sun rises each morning, whether we are sleeping or already about our day’s work. It follows its appointed course from day to night, from dark winter to shining spring. It holds no secrets. God has made it the servant of life. It gives warmth and blessing. It smiles with the brightest joy. It knows nothing of need or destruction. It shines its face even on scenes of total destruction. Life can never perish according to its laws. It rises, shines, goes down, and returns at the proper time. Only one thing could make it set forever, only one thing could end its eternal light: were our people to lose its pure struggle for life to the hatred of the enemy. The sun then would have to darken its face before the blood of our heroes, and no god could drive away the clouds that would conceal its face.
This morning teaches us that that could never happen, for god gave us each a German heart. It beats eternally for our people, and even death cannot still it. Or would one of us say that the dead are dead, that their hearts died? Let him prepare to hear the voice of this morning. Let him look afar to the hills to see where the sun is born each morning. There have been many festive occasions over the year under heaven’s high vault. None of them raise golden life from the dark ground with such beauty as this day.
A lonely path leads to the hills. Dewy grass shimmers, its roots growing down into the earth. Seeds rest in their wombs. Where the path rises steeply there are low firs, behind them higher ones. Their branches wave in the soft morning breeze. Bushes block the path, stones wet with dew make the way difficult. Dust rises from our footsteps. We climb grassy stones until we reach the summit, and the awakening land offers its morning beauty to the eye.
Field and meadow stand alongside each other. A stream falling from above borders them. Willows sway. Crows land in the branches of the trees, chatter uneasily, and fly back to the forest that borders the north of a village. The meadows shimmer once more with a fresh green, then the houses appear again. One aside another, with strong bright balconies showing through the mist. Facing the open valley to the south, smoke is rising from some of their chimneys. The livestock in the fields and barn are awake and call the farmer. Those higher up are already in the bright morning sunshine. A few clouds drift across the horizon where the sun shines. Whatever has eyes looks toward the heaven’s glow, even flowers and grass. The wind sings, the birds join in, and the bright day comes. Those who follow its path from dawn to dusk see the sun jump for joy. Those who stand on a hilltop to watch the dawn of Easter morning and who know the faith of their ancestors expect the sun to depart its usual ways and leap into the heavens.
On Easter morning life awakens, even that which slept through the harshness of winter, blessing the new green and quickening man and beast. They rise, increasing in strength. And people, drunk with spring, look on in silence. Deep within them is the feeling of which Goethe spoke: “Were not God’s power in us, how could we be inspired by the divine?”
The feeling becomes thought. God nears with the sun. Some, heavily burdened, believed that he was asleep. Now they take new hope. They remember the dark day when they stood on the hilltop in the icy wind of a winter night and looked at the stars, in whose dim light the old year was dying and the new being born. Back home, they lit the candles on the Christmas tree, a wish in their hearts for each one. Whatever had happened, whatever sorrows, whatever joys, whatever had turned out differently than hoped, whatever good had happened sooner than expected, one thing remained true: The sun had begun its road to spring in the dark nights of Christmas, it had opened the door and gone through it to the land rejuvenated by the spring.
Those who stood atop the hills were not alone. They recalled the songs of our people’s singers, those songs they wrote during the awakening of spring, under the Easter sun. In the wonderful silence of the morning they think of Josef Eichendorff’s words: “I feel as if newly created, where have my sorrows gone? What yesterday threatened to overcome me fades today before the morning sun.” Ludwig Uhland raised his voice to sing the song of good comrades, a song of spring: “The flowers do not end, they bloom in the most distant deepest valley. Forget your pain, my soul, now everything will change.”
Goethe’s words, the best that human words can say, round out the choir: “Freed from ice, streams and brooks flow through the spring. The green valleys fill with hope.”
Now we have returned from the hills to the valley.
Let us return to this hall where we are gathered in fraternal unity so see what gift nature has to give us, perhaps an indication of life during war that helps us see the meaning of Easter. There are many among our people, some among us here, to whom this speaks to our depths, who can most deeply understand what life teaches us.
The graying man who has spent the years of his youth under the fire of the First World War took his leave from the wife who had borne him three children. The thunder of battle had already begun. The father left before his two sons. They followed soon. The house was empty. The daughter too, just married, lost her man to the gray host of the army. She moved to a strange city. The mother was alone. The battle spread. She followed it with fear. There was victory on the battlefields of Poland, but the mother had to surround the picture of her youngest son with wreaths, for he had died before the enemy. Time passed, and helped heal the wound.
A bullet found the father near Verdun, where he had fought during the First World War. The mother had to bear it, however difficult it was. When the battle in the East began, the second son joined in, and with him the daughter’s husband, though they were far apart. Letters went back and forth, carrying news to and from the East. As the leaves fell from the old chestnut tree in the courtyard of the family home, the news came of the death of the last son. The mother wanted to lie down herself among the grass and trees of a dying nature, for she had done all she could. She had sacrificed all she had for the fatherland. But as Christmas came and she stood with her daughter at the Christmas tree, she still lit the candles. They are for the dead, she said, to help them find their way to us on this night when life is born. She brought the lost home and grew strong in her faith of what would come.
The following summer as the fruitful harvest ripened, the daughter heard the hard news that her husband was missing in the steppes of the East. She sought consolation from her mother, and found it. The mother, alone in her sorrow, had grown. She consoled her daughter as best she could. When her daughter told her that she was expecting through god’s grace a child as a legacy of her husband missing in action, the mother saw this as a gift of a life which never surrendered. They celebrated Christmas quietly, expecting that which would come, hidden like the sun behind the clouds of winter.
Spring came. As Easter neared, her time came. She gave birth to a boy. In her happiness she realized that life has many voices, and that we can never hear all of them. If the sounds are grim we must bear them, if they are joyful let us hold on to them. We remain recipients, unable to choose what life will give us. Life demanded nothing of some whom the Fatherland called, but took all from others, among them its truest servants. But this remains: Life has many voices, and the least of them is greater than death.
The mother, one of the nameless ones of our people, knowing her daughter was taking good care of the child, went on Easter morning to a hill near the city, the same place she had once gone with her husband and children, to greet the sun. And just as it had been decades before, so was it now. Despite war and misery and tears, the sun rose from the night and send its brilliant good light over all the earth. The mother remembered how her children had looked for Easter eggs under the bushes, heard their happy voices, and returned slowly to her daughter’s bedside, where she was nursing the child. The sun rose over the land, over a strong people.
I believe we know each other better now, for the fate of these two mothers is also the fate of some among us. The details may be different, but the pain is the same, and must be overcome in the same way. We have more right to speak of life than in quieter times, for we find it in the neighborhood of death.
On this morning of hope we may speak of our firm conviction. We may hope because we are strong, because we believe. Our hope is in the victory and freedom of the Fatherland, in the message of our sword. Our hope shines only because we fight. Whatever we may individually hope of life, each may know this: If he does not affirm life when it is in danger, his dreams will never be fulfilled. It makes a difference what we believe, but each must know that.
God is with the brave. That has been proven ever again in the Fatherland’s times of need. This knowledge carries all our hopes for the future.
May the sun of this Easter morning shine in our hearts, may it purify us from every doubt and lead us to value the great and ignore the trivial. It shines over our sorrow and over our deserved good fortune.
Light rises from the darkness, bringing forth life from the dark earth. May we know:
The day is coming when our suffering people will rise victorious over the foe.
We may hope for that, because we are brave.
[Page copyright © 2000 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]
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