Season's change in South Tyrol - the poem 'Herbst ist's' and the history of a region

Term Paper, 2007

18 Pages, Grade: 1,8



Season´s Change in South Tyrol
The Poem “Herbst ist´s“ and the History of a Region




In Hitler’s and Mussolini’s game of chess of ideologies, conquer and utopia, South Tyrol can be seen as a pawn – not important in itself, but one strategic piece used by both parties. The aim of this essay shall be to have a closer look at South Tyrol before and during World War II. But as a lot of literature deals with strategies of political power, I want to look at historical events through the eyes of South Tyroleans. The poem “Herbst ist´s” of the 1930s, written anonymously and hidden in Bozen´s Country Archive for almost 60 years[1], shall be central to the following analysis. I will try to show the impact which Hitler’s and Mussolini’s policies had on people’s everyday lives and how this led to a division of the entire society.

The historical background of the region of South Tyrol, beginning with World War I and up until the 1940s, is necessary for understanding the poem “Herbst ist´s”. A summary of them shall therefore form the beginning of this essay.

Italy entered World War I by joining the Entente England and France, even though it was allied with Austria and Germany. It was attracted by prospects of territorial expansion , and were granted South Tyrol, Trentino, Istria and Trent in 1919 by the peace treaty of St. Germain.[2]

A time of grave cultural and social oppression began for the German community of South Tyrol with the rise of the Italian fascists. Nearly two years before the fascists took over the Italian government in 1922, they attacked a German cultural parade in Bozen where a teacher died trying to save children (“Blutsonntag”).[3] This can be regarded as the starting point of hostility between the Italian and German speaking people in South Tyrol. Elias Canetti mentions the importance of a first death for a crowd, to become a crowd of complaint, which changes into a crowd of war[4], which if seen in the context of South Tyrol: if there was no homogeneous German community of South Tyrol against Italians before, it was at the latest formed by this bloody Sunday on April 24 1921.[5] After the fascist overtook control, Mussolini intended to “italianize” the region to unite it with mother country Italy. On the one hand Italians were attracted and supported by the state to migrate to South Tyrol. On the other new fascist policies tried to destroy the German language and culture in the region. German schools and private education in the German Language were forbidden. The entire German administrative staff was replaced by Italians, while Italian became the official language. German surnames, first names, names of towns, villages, streets etc. were replaced by Italian ones, while often the translations left much to be desired. Italy ruled the German press with a great censorship. I have only mentioned the most brutal cultural oppressions, invented and supported especially by the Italian nationalist Ettore Tolomei.[6]

On the basis of such political restrictions it was impossible for Italian and German people in this region to form one community. German people soon began to hope for a liberator to save their threatened culture: Hitler, with his policy of annexation, “Heim ins Reich”; Hitler, whose aim was the revival of Germany after World War I, “die Wiederauferstehung eines deutschen freien Vaterlandes”[7]. But as Hitler clamed already 1926 in “Mein Kampf”:

Weiter ist zu bedenken, daß die Wiedergewinnung verlorener Gebietsteile eines Volkes und Staates in erster Linie die Frage der Wiedergewinnung der politischen Macht und Unabhängigkeit des Mutterlandes ist, daß mithin in einem solchen Falle die Interessen verlorener Gebiete rücksichtslos zurückgestellt werden müssen gegenüber dem einzigen Interesse der Wiedergewinnung der Freiheit des Hauptgebietes.[8]

South Tyrol was sacrificed by Hitler. Unlike Austria or Saarland, which would both be annexed to Germany by 1938[9], he declared in 1939 that the Alps formed a natural physical border.[10] An Italian South Tyrol became the guarantee for the German Italian alliance, for a strong Rome-Berlin axis; the basis which would enable Germany to pursue her annexation policy in the east.

In 1939 Hitler and Mussolini started the “Option”, a referendum through which the population of South Tyrol had to decide whether or not to stay in South Tyrol. Staying meant having an Italian identity and giving up the German language and culture completely. Leaving meant retrieving a German identity, but living in one of the newly conquered territories, chosen and proposed by Germany. Because of the “Option” the German-Italian conflict within South Tyrol changed into an internal German one. Therefore the German community of South Tyrol was divided into two camps: those in favour and those against leaving for Germany. Ideology and propaganda supported the growth of this division, which even split families.

“Herbst ist´s” mirrors a typical situation of this time.

The poem is divided into three parts. It consists of fifteen stanzas with variable numbers of lines and is written in alternate rhyme. However not every rhyme is pure. The first four stanzas form the first part, which describes South Tyrol´s political situation by its natural landscape. The second part, stanza five and six, introduces an old farmer couple waiting for their son; their greeting forms the end of this part. The third and last part of the poem, stanza seven to fifteen, is a monologue, in which the son explains that he will leave the South Tyrol. His speech is formulated in South Tyrolean dialect, which becomes stronger during his argumentation, reflecting his enragement. In the following I will take a closer look at each part, beginning with the first:

Herbst ist´s.

Herbst ist´s und die Blätter fallen

goldig roat auf unser Land.

Graue, schwarze Nebel wallen

um die Rosengartenwand. 4

Regen rauscht durch dunkle Wälder –

fort, du letzter Sonnenstrahl,

und vorbei an Stoppelfeldern

rauscht der Bach durch´s enge Tal. 8

Heißer tönt der Schrei der Dohlen

von der nahen Felswand her.

Alle sollt ihr jetzt noch johlen

denn, Südtirol es ist nicht mehr. 12

Tausend Jahr das Land der Väter

uns vom Hergott zuerkannt

fällt nun wirklich den Verrätern

kampflos in die Räuberhand. 16

This part gives the reader an image of a South Tyrol, which does not exist any more: “Südtirol es ist nicht mehr” (l. 12). The natural landscape in autumn is described with its gold and red leaves falling down (l.1,2). Fog surrounds the wall of a garden of roses (l. 3,4) , rain is rushing through the forest (l. 5,6) and a stream runs down to the valley (l. 7,8). An anonymous voice exclaims emphatically that the sun is gone, “fort, du letzter Sonnenstrahl” (l. 6). But as if it were an ellipse, it provokes the question: forever?

In a literal sense these first three stanzas associates South Tyrol directly with mountainous nature. All of this turns out to be a metaphorical description of its political situation in the fourth stanza. The fatherland was given to “uns” by God thousand years ago (l. 14, 15) and will now be overtaken by the betrayers (l. 15) without a fight (l. 16). The speaker´s regret for this development is shown by his emphatic exclamation. The choice of words like “Verräter” and “Räuberhand” expresses feelings of injustice based on the treaty of St. Germain (see above).

The yet anonymous voice can not believe this development, as is shown by the expression “nun wirklich”(l. 14). These last emotional lines make clear in which way the metaphors of natural landscape represent political view: autumn leads in the end of the year, the end of growth and prosperity, the time before winter brings death to plants and animals: South Tyrol will die. The fog symbolizes the insecure future – a most probably dark one, since it is described as black and grey (l. 3). “Rosengartenwand” is a symbol for South Tyrol´s cultural heritage. It refers to a part of the Dolomite Alps called “König Laurins Rosengarten”, king Laurin´s rose garden. This goes back to a myth in the cultural origin of South Tyrol. Dwarfs fossilized King Laurin´s rose garden and only the red color of the roses survived: the glowing rocks at sunset. But, if grey, black fog surrounds this mountain, not even a glimmer of cultural heritage remains. And as the last sunray is already gone (see l. 6), all hope for cultural survival is gone as well.

Part three of the poem will prove that this symbolizes the situation of 1939, after Hitler assured Mussolini of South Tyrol, as I will show later on. Hitler, who represented the very last hope for many people in South Tyrol (see above) did not fulfill the expectations: he abandoned her without a fight – “kampflos”(l. 16), as the speaker says. Therefore the “Verräter” and “Räuber[hand]” (l. 15/16) symbolize Italy. It was common among German and Austrian people to accuse Italy of betrayal after World War I (see historical introduction above). And since many people in Austria and Germany denied that 1918 was a real defeat, the South Tyroleans especially felt the peace treaty of St. Germain to have been unjust and that Italy had stolen South Tyrol.

While the first part of the poem reflects South Tyrol in its postwar situation through nature, the second part deals with a concrete setting and characters.


[1] Found, published and analyzed among others by Georg Grote (see bibliography: Grote 2004).

[2] For further detail see e.g. Stocker 2006, pp. 9 – 16.

[3] For further detail see Steininger 1999, p. 11 – 13.

[4] Canetti 1960, pp. 152 – 155.

[5] Supported by the Italian government, which did not punish the culprits.

[6] See Steininger 1999, chapter III, pp. 22 – 38. For further detail see also Steininger 1997, chapter IV, pp. 73-94 and Lill 2002, pp. 69 – 129.

[7] Hitler 1926, p. 709.

[8] Hitler 1926, p. 688.

[9] The population of Saarland vote 1935 for the annexation to Germany with 90,7%. This result would serve as role model for the “Option” in South Tyrol in 1939. See Steininger 1999, p.50. Austria was annexed without a struggle in 1938.

[10] Adolf Hitler´s speach in Rome (7. May 1938): “Es ist mein unerschütterlicher Wille und mein Vermächtnis an das deutsche Volk, daß es deshalb die von der Natur zwischen uns beiden aufgerichtete Alpengrenze für immer als eine unantastbare ansieht.” Quotation from Lill 2002, pp. 180,181.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Season's change in South Tyrol - the poem 'Herbst ist's' and the history of a region
University College Dublin  (German Studies)
Strategies of ethnic survival: South Tyrol / Alto Adige in the 20th Century
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ISBN (Book)
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The aim of this essay shall be to have a closer look at South Tyrol before and during World War II. I want to look at historical events through the eyes of South Tyroleans. The poem 'Herbst ist´s' of the 1930s, written anonymously and hidden in Bozen´s Country Archive for almost 60 years , shall be central to the following analysis. I will try to show the impact which Hitler's and Mussolini's policies had on people's everyday lives and how this led to a division of the entire society.
Season, South, Tyrol, Herbst, Strategies, South, Tyrol, Alto, Adige, Century
Quote paper
Carolina Franzen (Author), 2007, Season's change in South Tyrol - the poem 'Herbst ist's' and the history of a region, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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