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).
Edited by Wilfrid Bade and Wilmont Haake
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 empty.
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 not you.
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 in turn.
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 at Driffield...
[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.]
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 sacrifice 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 the Führer.
“...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 age!”
“...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!”
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 sol dier 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 reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]
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