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Ideologies of War
In November 1917, the soldier and youthful idealist Walter Flex ended his The Wanderer between Two Worlds with the thought that “We died for Germany’s glory. Flower, Germany, as garland of death to us!” His benediction glorified all of the sacrificial dead of the war. During the Great War, propagandists and poets alike joined hands in exalting the blood sacrifice of the youth of Germany, thus transforming carnage into ethereal national revelation. Only in Germany did heroic death in war become a philosophy of life—indeed, a significant component of the ethos of radical nationalism.
Only weeks before unconditional surrender, on April 7, 1945, Donitz called upon all naval officers to fight to the bitter end: “In this situation one thing matters: to continue fighting despite all the blows of fate. Fanatical will must enflame our hearts. Anyone who does not behave thus is a scoundrel. He must be strung up with a placard tied around him: ‘Here hangs a traitor’.” Military police and SS units patrolled behind the lines to catch and kill any soldier who might be suspected of desertion. Any soldier who was apprehended and was unable to provide the necessary identification, or who was suspected of desertion, faced hanging or the firing squad.
It seems incontrovertible that the tide had irrevocably shifted against the German war effort in fall of 1942—with the battle of Stalingrad. At Nuremberg, Jodl would sum up that “earlier than anyone in the world, Hitler anticipated and knew that the war was lost.” Unwilling to negotiate. Hitler wanted “to fight to the death.” All this leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the machinery of destruction and annihilation went into high gear at the very moment the war was lost. The Wehrmacht fought for three years and the nation was mobilized in a total war effort notwithstanding the Nazi and military leaderships knowledge that this war effort would not make a difference in the eventual outcome of the war.
Hitler called on the ideology of sacrificial death in his political testament written just before his suicide on the 30th of April 1945: “May it become part of the code of honour of the German officer that the surrender of a district or of a town is impossible, and that the leaders must march ahead as shining examples, faithfully fulfilling their duty unto death.” Through the suicides of Eva Braun, and Joseph and Magda Goebbels, a connection can be drawn to the undercurrent of death, ruin and sacrifice which had been so masterfully constructed by their Führer, who managed to create possibly the greatest act of the Totenkult, the ideological “suicide of the nation.”
To serve a Volksgemeinschaft, to live a life of camaraderie, to believe in the German people and Hitler as the German Fuhrer—these were ideals pressed into the minds and souls of German youth. “Our freedom was service”: this line from a Hitler Youth song reflected the ideal of devotion to the community–even to the point of death. Hardly any song sang by the Hitler Youth did not celebrate death in the service of the community. “Laugh, comrades,” one such song proclaimed, “our death will be a celebration.” And why? “Germany must live, even if we die,” went the refrain, “We dedicate our death to you as the smallest deed.”
The poet Wilhelm Ehmer wrote that the sacrifices of the dead were “not an end but a continuation.” The tome of humanity would forever feature the story of the German Volk, written in blood as a memorial to the greatness of their struggle. The blood of the dead used to write the eternal record of human history mandates that the living not betray the sacrifice. Berliners are bearers of the banner of the Reich—to die may be their honorable duty. Berliners should not fear this duty, but rejoice in their ability to participate in the “full force of renewal.”