The Rise of Nazi Literature in Germany By Malcolm Meyerson “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.” –Winston Churchill, November 7, 1938 It seems impossible to admire a man such as Adolf Hitler in any capacity. To most people, his very name bespeaks a monster, not a person. His trespasses on humanity have gained a legendary infamy, and his Nazi Party has become synonymous with reckless hate. Winston Churchill’s praise therefore appears to be unjustified. However the British Prime Minister was not referring to Hitler’s anti-Semitic doctrines or yet unlaunched war, but to what he did for the German economy and self-image. His actions freed Germany from its repetitive stagnation and unified it after the period of confusion following World War I. The combination of Germany’s nationalism, destitution, and its love of Hitler spawned both the literature of Nazi Germany and the principles behind it. The first real Nazi literature, Mein Kampf, was written by Hitler to address Germany’s severe economic and social problems and offered egress from them. After he enacted many of the plans he laid out in the book, the populace was ecstatic. They loved him for restoring national pride and prosperity. The message of Mein Kampf resonated with Germany’s people because prior to Hitler’s rise, the country was perilously close to anarchy. The defeat in World War I and the resulting Treaty of Versailles had gutted both Germany’s economy and military. All of this created a quagmire of bruised nationalism in Germany that fueled an atmosphere of recalcitrance. Bitter ex-soldiers lined the streets, determined to change something, but lacking a focus for their energy and ire. The feeble Weimar Republic faced an ever-increasing number of
extremist political groups stalking the streets as it battled record-breaking inflation. Then, with the onset of The Great Depression, Germany faced crippling unemployment. Hitler, a former soldier and then a private citizen, took advantage of these problems, blaming them on everyone except the German people, a common strategy among the political parties of the day. The near universal hatred by Germans of The Treaty of Versailles made the signatories targets, and each group railed against its rivals on the political stage. Even though most factions were peddling similar theories, only the Nazi Party managed to take control of Germany. Its success was a result of something that would be a hallmark of Nazi Germany, propaganda. Propaganda is the answer to another question that seems utterly unanswerable from afar. How could the German people allow Hitler to undertake the largest genocide in human history? While anti-Semitism had deep roots in Germany, the country had never before reached the extremes of the Nazis, and most citizens did not hold such radical views. Even more surprisingly, Germany was not the most anti-Semitic country in Europe before the 1930â€™s; the people of France held much more contempt for the Jews. The horrors committed beginning with the antiJewish boycotts and culminating in the concentration camps were all justified to the Germans through propaganda. Though it may seem absurd that the written word would lead to such slaughter, it was truly a powerful engine for shaping human thought and conforming personal will. The constant bombardment of people with an idea can hammer their thinking into its shape, perhaps without them quite realizing the effect. When stories of Jews conspiring against Germany appeared everywhere, and there was little to refute these claims, people began to believe the lies were true. The picture book Der Giftpilz, written by Ernst Heimer and published by Julius Streicher in 1938, provided dozens of fictitious examples of Jewish treachery. As a book of short stories
for children, this book was especially effective since when taught something at a young age, children will often follow it blindly. This particular book, which translates to The Poisonous Mushroom, expressed every Jewish stereotype imaginable in its stories. However, to persuade Germans to initially accept the idea of Jewish racial inferiority, trust had to be established. Hitler, after having returned Germany to a place of wealth and power on the world stage, provided that trust. The Germans loved Hitler for more than just his ability to lead, however. This was readily apparent in some of the poetry written by the Hitler Youth. One line in the poem In Praise of the Führer expresses this sentiment exactly, “My Führer, you alone are the way, the goal!”. The blind praise and loyalty they showered on him and his success was a product of his revitalizing of Germany’s economy and military. As a result the most of the populace held a reverence for him bordering on worship, and he used his influence to sway the masses to his point of view on other issues. Books and poetry were not the only mediums of proNazi literature. The Third Reich’s ideals were also present in German theater at the time. Hanns Johst was a well-known playwright in the 1920s, years before Nazism dominated German politics. His early work showed influence from the movements of impressionism and natural philosophy. As the Nazi Party grew in power, he joined an independent anti-Semitic group and later joined the Party itself. When the Nazis had completely seized power in Germany, he wrote one of the most famous Nazi plays, Schlageter. It was a theatrical performance of the life of Albert Leo Shlageter, a militant hero of the time. The story follows Schlageter’s progression from a student, musing on his place in Germany, to saboteur of the French army as it occupies the Ruhr valley. At this point he is betrayed, captured and killed by the French. He became a martyr to the German people and, capitalizing on this sentiment, the Nazi party memorialized him. The German Communist Party, however, made every attempt to debunk the
legend around him and so alienated certain sects of the German people. Schlageter was a representation of Nazi ideology, one of many works that would be written in the 1930s and 1940s. This genre sparked German nationalism and diverted the passions that came with it to create a strong and cohesive Germany. This method of unification was particularly effective because it harnessed the remnant resentments the aftermath of World War I and gave the German people new purpose. The Nazi Party was a light in the darkness for the German people. All that they had expected during the First World War never came to pass, and the very opposite did in many cases. The messages and ideas in Hitlerâ€™s book excited people, who might not have thought Germany would ever be great again. Schlageter showed Germans what it meant to be patriotic, and inspired them to serve their country, and give everything for it. The Hitler Youth Poetry shows the dedication of the German youth movement of the time, which was influenced by Nazi propaganda. Finally, Der Giftpilz was the German attempt to indoctrinate children from the earliest age possible, and to so deeply ingrain anti-Semitic ideas that they could never believe anything else. The goal of the Nazi Party was to build a civilization to last a thousand years, and to do so they fed off the fears and desires of Germanyâ€™s people. However, to safeguard the Reichâ€™s control of its citizens it needed to intertwine Nazism with German culture, and what better way to do that than through literally re-writing it?