Background: This is one of Goebbels’s last speeches, delivered over the radio on 28 February 1945. The war was lost. The Russians were plunging into German territory from the east, the Americans and British from the west. He has no credible argument for victory. Instead, he resorts to what Ernest Bramsted called the “lure of historical parallels.” If Frederick the Great had pulled victory from defeat, so also could Germany. As he had regularly said before, it was victory or death. In his diary, Goebbels pats himself on the back: “I listened to myself again. The content and style are excellent, and I expect at least some effect, even if I was naturally not able to provide positive results, always the best argument.” If ever the term “empty rhetoric” applied, it was to this speech.
The source: Joseph Goebbels, “Wir lassen nicht von unserem Anspruch auf Leben und Freiheit,” Völkischer Beobachter (Vienna Edition) pp. 1-2, 1 March 1945. The issue is available on ANNO.
We Will Not Surrender Our Claim to Life and Freedom
by Joseph Goebbels
As I speak to you over the radio after a long interval to give an overview of the current military and political war situation, it is not because there is particular reason to do it today. Instead, I want to give you an overview of the war, which in recent weeks has taken a troubling course for us, and to do that from an appropriate distance.
This is a fast-moving age in which sometimes events occur and changes result that ordinarily in world history might take a year, or even a decade, making it all too easy for people to lose their view of the larger situation, to confuse cause with effect, wishful thinking with facts, misfortune with hopelessness, and crisis with catastrophe, leading them into a maze of spiritual and intellectual confusion from which they can see no escape.
If a people fighting for its life makes this fateful mistake, even briefly, it is worse than a lost battle. The main task of political leadership is to focus the people’s eyes not only on the facts, but also on opportunities and chances, thereby rendering them immune to moral weakness and disease, things that are understandable in such bad times as we experience today, but that would be extremely damaging to the victorious continuation of this greatest historical battle for the life, happiness, and future of our people.
To begin with the overall war situation from a military perspective, the successful Soviet offensive from the Baranow bridgehead has caused a sudden change, one that is to our disfavor. The Soviet military leadership gathered Bolshevist shock troops in overwhelming superiority at this dangerous spot. After the heaviest, bloodiest, and costly battles they succeeded in driving deep into the German east, creating a situation for us that is extraordinarily threatening. I do not need to talk about that. Each of us has known that for a long time and the daily OKW reports and our newspapers are not concealing it.
Our situation, therefore, is extraordinarily tense, but it is not at all without prospects. We are in a military crisis today that in many ways is similar to that which the Soviet Union faced in late fall 1941. Moscow was nearly surrounded and Leningrad was surrounded, but the situation was mastered. The whole world saw their cause as hopeless then, with the exception of the Soviet leadership itself.
Everyone will remember that England got through a similar crisis in late summer 1940, when our armies stood at the Channel coast and the German air force and U-boats were destroying British armaments production and shipping, even though it took them years of effort. We need not look too far back in history to find parallels for the current situation of the Reich. Even the previous course of this war proves that with indisputable persuasive force.
In short, we can conclude that the mishaps and misfortunes that have come upon us are very painful, but in no way require giving up our victory and thus facing the dissolution of the Reich and the biological extermination of the German people. Prussians do not give up that quickly, or in this case to put in in a more appropriate way, the Germans do not stop shooting that quickly. We have established a new defensive line in the East that has an improvised nature appropriate both for its immediate purpose as well as for future operations.
It is clear that we will and must retake the areas that we have lost; when and how naturally cannot be discussed in public. But our determination to do that is firm and unshakable. Our enemies are boasting too early, as has so often been the case in this war when they thought they had broken the back of the Reich. The war is not over and it will not end in that way.
Our people with its ninety millions has recently been reminded of its fate if its military or political powers of resistance failed by the terrible examples of indescribable Bolshevist atrocities in occupied areas to the east. If even a spark of honor and life will remains, it will never give up its cause and lay down its weapons. It is fighting for its existence wherever there is the opportunity. After the German people’s almost legendary achievements in war moral and bravery in this titanic struggle, both at the front and in the homeland, who could say it lacks strength and determination?
The enemy has given us a clear preview of what he would do to us if we fail. The world’s ears may be deaf to the agonized cries of millions of tortured people, raped both in body and soul, that Bolshevism has taken into its pitiless arms in Europe’s north, east, and southeast, and now in the east of our own fatherland; our own ears, however, have become keener.
Each German knows that the terrifying reports from the east, so horrible that the pen has difficulty describing them, are no invention of German war agitation, but rather horrible truth that freezes the blood in our veins. International Jews and their eager allies around the world are trying to soften things, but have no success with their rotten statements than its not all that bad and things will somehow work out.
We are not like the proverbial calves that choose their own butcher. We are defending ourselves against a bloodthirsty and revenge-seeking enemy, using every means at our disposal, above all with a hatred that knows no limits. He will have to pay for what he has done to us. Thousands of German women have not wept in vain, begging for the lives of their children as lusting soldateska from the steppes fell upon them, treating them as wild game, even less than that, subjecting them to indescribably shameless physical and spiritual mistreatment, laughing devilishly as murdered babies lay at their feet. We Germans!
Is there anyone among us who in the face of such horrors, which the human brain ordinarily could not even imagine, but committed thousand-fold by monsters in human form, dares to come before his national leadership with the demand to quit and allow such enemies to work their will on our entire people?
Resistance at all costs
I need not say more about this question. Such thoughts are too absurd to take seriously. Who does the enemy think we are? If we behaved in such a way as they expected, we would have really deserved the miserable treatment we were threatened with at the recent Yalta Conference. No! We will resist at all costs, displaying fanatic fighting determination at the front and in the homeland, supported by the suffering but in the end triumphant community of our people. We hold fast to our people today because in this terrible time it is our only protection and foundation. As with our fathers so often in our history, we will also break the Mongol storm attempting to drive into the center of Europe.
We will defend ourselves against them with fanatic rage and vast hatred. The sagas will be able to say of us, as of those before us, that the dead after the heavy battles of the day rose in the threatening nights to fight again in the air. We are not ashamed of the defeats we have suffered in this titanic struggle. They were possibly only because the European West and the plutocratic-Jewish USA provided flank attacks for the Soviet Soldateska, tying the hands with which we even today could drive Bolshevism to the ground.
The plutocrats equal the Soviets in their bloodthirsty hatred and plans for revenge against Germany. However often have they vainly tried tried to break through our Western front with costly frontal attacks, they keep trying.
The Shame of our Century
The eternal shame of our century will be that Europe, faced with the gravest danger from the East, was left shamefully in the lurch by its western countries. They debased themselves so far as to spur on the storm from the depths of Asia and attempt to destroy the last protective dam against which that storm might break.
We did not expect anything else. Through long and systematic subversion, International Jewry so poisoned the public in these countries that it is no longer able to form its own thoughts, much less its own conclusions. Look instead to the German people, desperately resisting and damming the spring floods from the depths of Asia, while simultaneously attacked and tortured by sadistic enemy air terror in the West and facing one enemy attack after the other to the South, their last efforts, often using its last strengths defending, silent, without false pathos, obeying the command of higher historic duty, triumphing over the forces of darkness with stoic heroism, left alone by nearly all its European friends and allies, yet defending its threatened right to life through determined and bitter battle. This is truly a picture of overpowering greatness against which even antiquity can offer few equals.
If in the end we must dig with our fingernails into our earth, If we must sacrifice all that remains of our possessions, if the sorrows and miseries seem to have no end, we will not give up our just claim for the life and freedom and future of our people. We would rather die than capitulate.
This attitude fills not only the German leadership, but also our entire people, aside perhaps from a few inferior creatures that we, once we recognize them, will coldly and pitilessly execute. Such an attitude also gives us the strength to master all the huge and towering difficulties of the war.
How often has the enemy believed that he has thrown us to the ground and how often have we sooner or later ruined his calculations! Is that not one more proof that all crises can be mastered if one does not give up, but fights against them courageously and indefatigably? Enemy air terror rages against our cities and provinces, reduces people’s homes, churches, schools, and cultural monuments to soot and ashes, tortures our people to its limits and seeks to turn its homeland into a desert! And what has the enemy accomplished? Only that we hate him deeply. Is there even one of us who says that we must bow to his terror, regardless of the consequences that would follow?
A young German girl recently stood before an American military court because even in enemy-occupied territory she was not willing to stop serving the fatherland. British newspapers reported that in the face of immediate death she behaved like a heroine. She turned her accusers into the accused, throwing with righteous rage their crimes against our homeland in their faces. To each response she answered: “The German people will bear all suffering in order to create a new world!”
Our enemies will not understand that; they cannot understand it. They are at home with bad ideas and views. We all know that this girl spoke in our name, that here face to face with our torturers was not a paid or official representative, but rather a child of our people who expressed for our whole people our holy hatred and our deep contempt. Even hardened journalists in London could no longer deny that our cause is the better and more humane, and that we have won the moral victory all along the line.
I may be speaking only for myself in this case, but I know that uncounted millions of Germans, especially those who have suffered the most in this war, mothers and children on treks, those bombed out, those who lost their son or brother or father in the field, above all our soldiers at the front, who join their passionate yes when I say that I am firmly and unshakably convinced that victory will come at the end. If that were not the case, the goddess of history would be only the whore of money and a cowardly worshipper of numbers, that history itself would have no higher meaning, and that the world that allowed the war’s terrible pain would have no deeper right to exist any longer, that life in it would be worse than hell, that I would no longer think it worthwhile to have lived, neither for myself nor for my children nor for all whom I loved and with whomI have fought for so many wonderful years for a better and nobler human existence, that I would gladly and with joy throw such a life way, for it would deserve only contempt. The only thing to regret would be to buy continued existence by cowardly subjection.
History Was Always Just
Has history ever given humanity occasion to think and judge in that way? No. She was always just in the end when peoples gave her the opportunity to be just. She tested those that she called to the greatest deeds, always in the hardest and most terrible ways, and only when they were at the edge of desperation did she bend down graciously to them to give them the victory wreath. When and how has she given us reason to assume that she has changed her ways? She has stayed the same. Peoples and human beings may change, but she remains eternally the same. If she tests us today and weighs for a long time to whom she should give the last victory and thereby the final triumph in this great struggle of peoples, we may not complain. Frederick II had to fight for seven long long and bitter years for his very life and that of his state, sometimes under the most hopeless conditions. With bitter and injured pride he fought against fate that only battered and tortured him, but at the end raised him up as one of the great men of history, making small, poor, and persecuted Prussia into the core of the new German Reich that today stands in the footsteps of that single king’s heroic achievements and fights for the spiritual leadership of our continent.
If we act today as Prussia did then, we may expect the same triumph at the end of this war.
The boasting war leaders on the enemy side who fell with ten-fold superiority on a people relying only on itself will not go down in history after this world-spanning battle between peoples. Instead, it will be the man who led this people, who always raised it again and stopped its enemies from reaching their goal by throwing it to the ground.
I know that there are many, and not the worst of us, who after saying that will ask how under the present conditions, when we are threatened from all sides, how there can be new opportunities for victory. I do not hesitate to answer that question soberly.
Our armaments and agricultural potential has suffered greatly from the setbacks in the east. Everyone knows that. These losses are not, however, so great that we can continue the war only for a short time. We will need to be more economical than in the past.
We face the necessity to restrict our war life even further, to simplify our armaments production, to use more of our human potential at decisive points, and to use improvisation internally to accomplish that which was formerly a matter of thorough planning.
That does not have to be harmful. The air war always shows what one can accomplish in this way. Things happen because they have to happen.
We need to display skill and flexibility that may not correspond to our deepest nature, but can be extraordinarily valuable. We need to make preparations that will enable us to recover the lost territories as quickly as possible. A crisis is not overcome by resignation, but rather in most cases by life will. This indomitable life will is seen in some sick people who, on the edge of life and death survive the critical moment. We have to do that today as a people.
That must be a matter of self control for us personally, but also for everyone in our vicinity. That will lead to an enormous increase in our national feeling of strength that can and will have decisive significant at this time.
We are like the marathon running who has completed 35 of 42 kilometers. He will never be in the same condition as when he started. Sweat streams down his whole body, and his eyes begin to blur. He fears that at any moment his heart or lungs will fail. Several times he has passed a competitor, only to be passed in return. The enthusiastic cheers of his friends at the starting gate have faded. He runs depending only on himself, through lonely desert areas under a pitiless sun. His internal tempter urges him to give up and desert his flag.
The only defense is iron will to persevere. Each sign of weakness encourages his opponent and reduces his own chances. Everyone is as weary as he is, but no one wants or or will show it, since it only endangers his own chances. He must continue to run at any cost and under any condition. Even if he collapses after being first to the finish line and only barely hears the applause of the crowd that is as fickle as fate, he is the victor, he will receive the wreath, the physical and spiritual pain will too be forgotten, but triumph and success will remain.
Those who reply that what we are suffering is not comparable certainly are correct. We were forced into a war both unique and without comparison. I would be the last to to deny that enemy air terror has become inhuman and hardly bearable. That is true, but there is worse, and that we would learn if we bowed to the destructive will of our enemy.
The Enemy is Also Suffering Blows
They, too, are receiving blow after blow from us. They also find the unbroken use of our V weapons unbearable. That will greatly increase. They face a revival of German U-Boat warfare, from which they judging by their statements have no idea what to expect. Enemy shipping is stretched to the limits as enemy military campaigns have broadened. It may have a deeper impact with enormous consequences for the enemy’s chances.
In short, things always are at the knife’s edge at the key points, the crisis points, of a war. A single gram of success of failure can often tip the balance of fate one way or the other, one reason more for us to to stand like the oak resisting the storm. It may be overpowered in places, giving way here or there, but never falling, never sinking. Our enemies are not demigods. We face their greater numbers with our greater worth. We have to do that. They will never overcome us if we remain firmly and unshakably resolved never to give in, to bear everything, rather than to mortgage and sell our lives without any prospect of regaining a life worthy of human dignity.
Are things any better in the enemy camp? No, not at all! The Soviet Union itself estimates its total losses at over fifteen million. Even they cannot accept such a loss of blood without the worst consequences for their chances in the war. Their soldiers that we have captured are as weary of the war as possible and are driven on only by the hope that they are near victory, with only a short distance to go. We must make this distance long, very long, and as costly as possible. They will have a rude awakening from their brave dreams after a military defeat. Even the stolid tenacity of the central Asian race finds its natural limits somewhere. As countless historical examples prove, that has always been the defiant self-assertion of the Germanic race, when it remains aware of its value and sees the crises that surface during battle not as cheap opportunities for resignation, but rather as dearly purchased opportunities to increase and broaden their own strength.
There is no evidence in this war to suggest that that is for the first time not the case in this war. Bolshevism is carrying out a true work of the Devil, but in the end Lucifer, thrown down so often in the past, will again be thrown into the dark abyss.
The USA’s Sacrifices
It is true that the USA has been relatively unaffected by the war in Europe. But what does that matter in the end! Their divisions are still suffering the bloodiest losses in their attacks against our western defenses. For how much longer? American casualties in this war are already twice as high as in the First World War. USA President Roosevelt may take pleasure in this kind of war, but the question is whether his soldiers do as well. They have experienced suffering and misery throughout Europe, and hundreds of thousands of them have had to pay with their lives. Their president lied to them, claiming we threatened the Western Hemisphere, and is piling up his corpses in Europe. Neither he nor his people have even the slightest chance of harvesting the the fruits of victory, even should they win. Bolshevism will gather them, just as it has in the central lands of Europe and in its eastern and southeastern regions.
Those Anglo-American soldiers who do not remain dead on the battlefield would return from this so-called third world war infected with a world-weary desperation that would provide the best foundation for a Bolshevist world revolution. The planet would drown in blood and tears, and the last people would sigh their last sigh when they remembered that we predicted the misfortune, but were prevented by criminally short-sighted enemy war leaders from stopping it.
Those would be two possible outcomes to this war of fate if our enemies reached their goal. England is hardly worth mentioning in this connection. It has given itself up for lost. Generations of British children and grandchildren will curse for decades and centuries the present English prime minister, whose hate-filled eyes are no longer capable of seeing the real and essential interests of the British Empire. He runs amok, blindly stabbing whatever his knife can reach, not seeing, probably no longer able to see, that as a leading USA senator recently said, England has become Europe’s little appendix. It has been outplayed by its stronger allies and driven into a corner where it uses its natural strength for their interests. In the end it will also lose its world empire.
An American reporter wrote a few days ago that England is bone-weary, and that London is at the moment the unhappiest and most desperate city in the world. That is understandable given that Great Britain has no war goal any longer, except perhaps satisfying the bloodthirstiness of its prime minister. After the end of the war this land will face a landslide of social, economic, and social crises that has already begun in its dominions. Because of their heavy casualties in the west, the Canadians are beginning to conclude that the war makes no sense for them. Thousands of soldiers have deserted, leaving their motherland that has been deserted by God and all good spirits to its well-earned fate.
Increasing V Launches
England will continue to destroy our cities. That greatly pains us, but it does not kill us. Our increasing numbers of “V” launches that are reaching ever greater parts of the British motherland will give our answer. Roosevelt is the laughing outsider. The last ships of the English merchant fleet will over time become the prey of our new U-boats. England did not wish it, but brought it about. At the end of the war it will stand before the ruins of its former wealth, power, and happiness. We are a young and growing people. We will deal with the damage done by the war. England is a shrinking people. It will fail at the endeavor. Europe will have peace, which only London has always disturbed, an expensive peace, but will last for all time. Our continent wants and must find a way to inner unity. Since that did not happen with England, it must happen without it.
One can only laugh with with pity when British newspapers boast that Germany will be occupied by the English until at least 2000. What stupidity! If things go as there are now, English will have scarcely 20 million inhabitants, although the diplomats in the Foreign Office will still be writing papers on how Germany must be educated to democracy, and our grandchildren will ask in surprise what that is.
The world around them then will be clear, clean, modern, rational, realistic, lacking all facade, which was always a political tool that England was solid master of. The peoples of Europe need only took to Poland to learn what they may expect from England; nothing but phrases and blows once the Moor has done his duty.
No, this enemy coalition of Bolshevism and plutocracy has no part in our coming world. Hatred of the Reich is holding it together. Inflexibility is a bad counselor in peace, even more so during war. We do not fear this hatred. We have been threatened in so many ways that we have become deaf to it. The enemy announces all sorts of painful proceedings and investigations against the leaders of the Reich to prove their presumed crimes, promising death sentences in every possible way. We don’t even laugh contemptuously. First, we will win. That will make all their childish scribblings, which are not even worth the paper they are printed on, moot. Second, for our enemies who hate us, the misery and misfortune that would forever fall upon our people would be so great that that our people’s leadership in this struggle would have only one choice, to die an honorable death. Those, however, are not the worries we have today. They involve only the successful continuance of this life battle unit it reaches a happy and victorious conclusion.
We defend ourselves against these infernal threats with the armor of our steadfastness. We hold our weapons even more firmly, determined to use them whenever we can, with with all the cold hatred and burning fanaticism of which we are capable. Any German, soldier or civilian, man or woman, boy or girl, who thinks otherwise has no honor! One will have to search for him with [Diogenes’s] lantern through the land. No one will ever find us ready to sign our own death warrant and wait with resignation until it is carried out. Good, we will have to continue to suffer, but the suffering will at least have meaning.
We will stay proud and defiant because that is how it must be, because it is a transition to joy and triumph, because we are hard and unforgiving against anything and everything that threatens us in our life.
The Spirit of Frederick [the Great]
I need not rely on historical examples to give our people the strength needed for such an attitude toward the war. It finds it in its own heart. It is wholly carved today from the same wood as that old Prussian who gave the world the not only his name, but also the political concept of Prussianism. It is the attitude not discouraged by any misfortune that a seemingly superior fate may present, but rather bravely and defiantly resists it, that fears no danger, but rather looks it straight in the eye and thereby provides the foundation for overcoming it.
Where was there ever a nobler embodiment of that than today in our whole people at the front and in the Homeland, in the east, west, north, and douth, and in the heart of the Reich? In happier times we frequently said that we were a a generation in Frederick’s tradition. Now we must prove it. And when we do it, like poor and deserted Prussia under its lonely king, we will overcome the superiority of our enemies. We will have our own Hohenfriedberg [one of Frederick the Great’s major victories] in which we the defy the enemy coalition, even though it spans half the globe, and just as the glorious banners bowed then before Frederick, so today will they sink before the work of of a man who with proud consciousness of duty did the work of an historic creative genius, not for himself, but for his people. We will know how to thank him.
With the Führer Facing Life and Death
He had our trust and our love during times of peace. Today we give him the full proud defiance of the German people’s soul, burning hatred against our enemies, and our oath for unchangeable and lasting loyalty through life and death, come what may.
Out people today is undergoing its hardest test. I do not doubt for a moment that it will pass it. Things will be desperate when the final decision falls. We fear it not. We are accustomed to disappointments. Nothing can shake us any longer. Yet we also expect proud victory on all battlefields and against all enemies.
The tragedy of 9 November 1918 will never be repeated. Our enemies will wait in vain. Even in the bitterest hour they will find in us not the slightest sign of weakness. We face them cold-bloodedly and filled with hate, at the front and in the homeland. Both have become worthy of each other, the homeland in suffering and labor, the front in battle and bravery. No soldier may listen to the enemy, none may desert his post or position, even if it costs his life. Behind him stands his people, millions of women and children, who depend upon him and trust him.
No man and no woman, no boy and now girl at home may grow weary in fulfilling their hard war duties, which must be carried on even under the hardest conditions. The whole people has to excel itself in its fighting enthusiasm, in its faithful fanaticism, and in the bravery of heart and soul.
The Führer is a shining example in our eyes. He is and will remain the great historical figure of this titanic struggle between people, even for our world of enemies once the fog of war dissipates and they see clearly. His is fighting a good battle with his people.
Setbacks are No Shame
They have long been ashes; he, however, the great and lonely king, stands as he did then when he had to defend himself, mocked, scorned, written off, defeated a thousand times, declared dead. Yet today he is the decisive personality of the eighteenth century in our eyes, the genius of steadfastness. Follow his example, you Germans, and know that today the nation is led by a man determined to do the same whatever happens to assure your lives and those of your children for all times!
The world may be shouting vain cries of triumph, but it may now and again have to ask if the premature judgements that it likes to make today will stand before history, or whether they will fail amidst the whirlwind of events like those at the end of the Seven Years War, as he who did not waver under danger, but rather held the flag even more as he firmly leads suffering humanity to new shores and a better future.
I have said what I wanted to say. I know that our people understands me. Our soldiers at the front will again take their weapons in hand and our workers and farmers in the homeland will return to their vice, machine, and plow to do their duty, their hard duty. I would like to leave them with the famous words that the Great King wrote to his sister Amalie at one of the critical points of his great war. These words are our guide in these days and weeks.
“Ignore,” he said, “I beg you, the events of the moment. Think about the fatherland and remember that its defense is our first duty. Should you hear that one of us has suffered misfortune, ask if he died in battle. If that is the case, thank God. There is only death or victory for us. One or the other is sure. Everyone here thinks that way. Do you wish that everyone sacrifices his life for the state, but not that your brother sets the example? Oh my dear sister, there is nothing to hide at this moment. Either the pinnacle of fame or destruction! The coming campaign is like the Battle of Pharsalus for the Romans, Leuctra for the Greeks, Denian for the French, the Siege of Vienna for the Austrians.
These are epochs that determine everything and change the face of Europe. One may be subjected to terrible accidents, but afterwards the heavens clear and it becomes bright again. That is our situation. One may not doubt, but one must face each event and do what Providence suggests calmly, without pride after success, without humiliation after setbacks.”
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