German War Literature:
Research Rough Draft
07 January 2013
German War Literature:
How effective did anti-war and-Nazism writers articulate themselves?
Historical time periods are in most cases themes of literature and inspire writers; to express their opinions; to reflect these periods ; and to enlighten people. So literature and history have been always grown together interdependently. Similarly, one of the most inspireful era is time interval between World War I and II. As the narrator of Böll's satire, Christmas Not Just Once a Year writes, war had enormous effect on the writers of wartime:
During the years 1939 to 1945 there was a war on. In wartime there is a lot of singing, shooting, talking, fighting, starving and dying -- and bombs are dropped, all disagreeable things with which I have no intention of boring my contemporaries. I must merely mention them because the war had a bearing on the story I wish to tell (qtd. in Reid 2).
Almost every German artist wanted to articulate his/her view on war in different ways, but how exactly did they raise their voices? Nevertheless, their views of wartime differ. On the one hand, some authors wrote against either Nazi ideology or war; while on the other hand some writers wrote in favor of either Nazi regime or war. However, German writers against Hitler or war articulated themselves better, because even though it is prohibited to write against the government, they were courageous enough to criticize leaders and to discuss people's attitudes and point of views towards war, and the conditions of wartime.
Most important act of these writers was satirically criticizing on how the leaders faltered their lands. In such restricted environment, they did not want to explicitly comment on why the leaders failed and which features of leaders deceived people, yet they achieved to convey their opinions effectively. Exemplarily, Bertolt Brecht writes in his poem “Hitler-Chorale” “Now thank we all the Lord/Who sent us Adolf Hitler” (qtd. in Ewen 286). It seems that Brecht actually praises Hitler “who’ll clear away the dirt” as the poem continues, but why would he want to do that even though he compares Hitler’s helpful big mouth with a weapon and a shield as the poem continues with “So great a help was his big mouth, /A weapon and a shield …” (286)? Mostly he wanted to conceal his satire and to be seen as if he praises Hitler, yet he wants to mean the other way. Probably, under the oppression of Nazi government, the best and most effective way was to inexplicably express one’s ideas. So he did not want to directly give his message to the reader, and thus chose a satirical way to write his poems under the control of Nazis. In this sense, one cannot deny the reality that Hitler’s big mouth manipulated big audiences in order them to participate in war. Probably his mouth was more useful than a weapon, because it did not only lead death of people, but it brought dirt to the Germany and German reputation. What Brecht asserts is the opposite of what Gerard Shuhmann argues in “Lied der Kämpfer”s last strophe “Those of us now marching in the iron columns do so without questioning. /We are the fist of the Führer” (qtd. in Murdoch 107). However, in Shuhmann’s view, people must accept what Hitler’s big mouth was saying without hesitation, whereas Brecht warns the reader that Hitler gets what he wants by talking nonsense and will corrupt the nation. Also what Shuhmann suggests should not be the way an educated person, especially a poet, should think. Since an educated person should question and should not believe in everything especially the leaders say, one should acknowledge Brecht’s satire against both how easily people believed in Hitler and how Hitler’s big mouth affected crowds of people.
Similar to Brecht, Thomas Mann also discusses the hypnotizing effect of leaders and the eventual reaction against this by the citizens. In Mario and the Magician, Mann wants to convey how leaders in general entailed to fail, by showing that after charlatan, Cipolla, hypnotizes Mario in order to kiss him, Mario becomes conscious again and kills Cipolla with a piston (qtd. in Robertson 111). Mann wants to show that no matter how these leaders or charlatans manipulate people, people will be soon conscious again. What Mario does is a rebellious act, which many German writers one way or another achieved too, because by continuing to write no matter what the leaders made it impossible to do, they wanted to abolish the effect of the leaders which prevented the people to become conscious. Also by doing this, they called every German intellectual to spread the truth.
Another important act against war was to criticize people’s changing attitudes during wartime. To do so, German writer’s reflected people’s thoughts and how people perceived everything that belongs to wartime. Hence Brecht’s protagonist soldier of Drums in the Night ,Andreas Kragler, faces with animosity from his people. His fiancé’s father, Balicke, refers Andreas “Beasts. Beasts. If anyone asks, Why beasts? You eat human flesh, and you must be crushed.” (qtd. in Ewen 106). By discussing the meaning of soldiers, Brecht wanted to criticize people’s changing attitudes towards soldiers. In making this criticism, Brecht basically warned his readers that even Nazi poets called young men to war fields, one cannot deny the effects of war on these men. When soldiers come to their hometowns, they feel alienated from their people. This is not the only effect, but even they must be the ones that should be extolled, soldiers are abased as if they haven’t done anything for their country. Additionally, by showing how others react to Andreas differently than most readers would have predicted, Brecht claims that people who are not courageous enough to fight denounce soldiers. On the other hand, in Nazi poets’ view, going to war was something holy and these young men became heroes during war fields as favorite writer of the Nazis, Stefan George, argues “the new Germany was a place for heroes and force” (Waller 224). Heroes he means only consisted of “man he exalted” not the “woman he degraded” (224). Heroic act is therefore, something they encourage people to commit. Brecht actually took his side against Nazi poets and as a reaction, Brecht refutes George’s attitude towards heroism in the war fields, by showing the unwelcoming, degrading attitude of Andreas’ people.
Other different aspect of change in people’s attitudes is the effect of corruption on the personal relationships. In The Excursion of the Dead Girl, Anna Seghers creates every character for different solid purposes. Every character has pieces of war in them and is affected by Hitler’s regime, relinquishes old friendships and starts to judge others. As Seghers writes, by willingly abiding by the laws Marianne puts her effort so that Hitler and the new movement succeed. Marianne’s husband Gustav Liebig, who has a leadership position as an “SS-man”, encourages other people to believe in “Hitler’s one Volk”. Marianne provokes Gustav, when he reports Leni’s husband Fritz, who defies joining SS and participates in illegal printing (Maier-Katkin). People like Marianne and Gustav, prioritize state and for them friendship and empathy have less value. Once-close friends, Leni and Marianne, as a result of war, become separated and their relationships cannot be the same as before the war. People like Marianne who support Hitler sells their friends in order to be seen law-abiding and orthodox to Nazi ideology. However, Seghers maintains that even though Marianne and Gustav steadfastly believe in everything Hitler says and approves, at the end, they are killed like every other supporters of Hitler.
Other point Seghers tries to impose is the Aryan race against Jewish conflict that led the relationships between different races to deteriorate. German people segregated Jewish people and whenever they saw Jews, they insulted them. In Seghers’ view, this conflict is way too pointless, because it deteriorated relationships between close friends. This change in relationships can be observed in The Excursion of the Dead Girl, when Nora supports new racial laws that designate to differentiate the Aryan Germans from Jews. Even though she used to adore Jewish teacher Miss Sichel, she and her classmates immediately start calling her belittling names like "Jewish Pig" (qtd in Maier-Katkin). Seghers’ characters thus are victims of race difference and hypnotizing effect of Hitler and Nazi socialism. Characters affected by Hitler see the world as black and white because they are under the influence of Hitler. As a result, even though the characters are in favor of Hitler, they are obliged to death too. This way, Seghers emphasizes that such a mentality that Hitler imposes on the citizens is mal-functioning. However, according to Gottfried Benn, a nationalist poet, in order to maintain “The Order”, one must follow the “principle of Race” and he asserts that German Youth scarified himself for this purpose (Frank 117). Benn is mistaken in his view that only one race-Aryan Race-, pure German blood, must prevail in one country especially in Germany, because he overlooks the fact that it would only lead to a society that lacks humanity, close feelings and generous attitude towards other races. As Benn would not agree upon, Seghers insists upon that cold bloodily betraying close friends and bias against Jews will bring German nation nowhere.
Addition to people’s alternating manners, Anti-Nazi artists also warned people that nationalist attitude of countries could not lead the nations to a better place. To show his irritation, in Mario and the Magician by Thomas Mann, a family becomes irritated by “xenophobic and nationalist attitudes of Italians” and wants to end their holiday in Mussolini’s Italy (Robertson 111). Mussolini’s Italy’s attitude is an inexplicable reference to other nationalist countries -especially to Germany. Not being able to directly criticize Germany, Mann chooses to comment on Italy meaning actually Germany. Contrary, Nazi poets like Heinrich Anacker, calls people “to arms rather than a call to political unity” (Murdoch 106-7). “When we are marching and singing, with firm step and tread /what, are you not with us, brother? /The cry is urgent in your ear, too: ‘You must join, too!’” (qtd. in Murdoch 106-7). They wanted the German nation to unite and become as one. This nationalist attitude was also same in Italy and other countries. Mann clearly shows how he repudiated this attitude in any sense, because according to him, this urgent cry was irritating and unwelcoming and people had to welcome each other no matter from which country they come. Nazi poets’ claim to form a nationalist and united Germany is therefore questionable. In his view, Murdoch’s attitude is to fail and people would soon become annoyed by this ethos.
Another damage Hitler left behind in people’s attitude was propaganda for children. Literary material and posters had major effects on both children’s minds and attitudes. Children exposed this propaganda even in books. In 1940 in Germany, child’s first reading book has been officially published and contained one passage targets to “Jungvolk— the most junior branch of the Nazi youth movement, for ten- to fourteen-year-olds”: “Here they come with their brown shirts… We salute the flag and shout: Heil Hitler! How well they march! How loudly and clearly they sing ‘Our Banner Waves Before Us!’ ” (qtd. in Murdoch 101-2). Nationalism and sense of war wanted to be imposed on children’s minds. In other words, they believed that children from early stage of their lives must be manipulated by using literature. By describing how merrily Nazi youth celebrate Hitler and his soldiers, Nazi writers explicitly wanted to divert the children’ energy and focus to the war and Nazi ideology. Nazi writers were in some points right when they wanted their youth to become aware of the war. However they were not fully aware how they transformed the youth into an emotionless, cold-blooded and savage crowd.