Sunday, 25 February 2018

Between life and death . . . January 14 1944 . . . Franz Lüdtke’s ‘Ostvisionen’ for Colonisation to the Baltic Coast

I write only the truth . . .

. . . how extraordinary while clearing the family attic, only last week, to find a copy of Goethe’s Faust, published in Leipzig (1920 Insel Verlag), and clearly a souvenir from my father’s duties ithe Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF (General Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) when, during WW2, his rôle was concerned with the military intelligence to be gleaned from the closest scrutiny of captured enemy documents, the specialism of the G-2 Documents Section. 

Am I to believe that it was my father’s own copy, when between its ultra-thin pages I found the 1944 newspaper clipping of the poem you see in my photograph, snipped from the NSDAP’s Völkischer Beobachter?  I don’t think so. 

But I do believe my father retained the cutting as an intimate insight into the psyche of a committed Nazi who, by the precious fragment’s preservation within the covers of Goethe's magnum opus, had – even as the thousand year Reich trembled before the Allies – disclosed evidently his continuing blind allegiance to the romantic völkischen Nationalismus ideology of those demagogues pledged to Führer, Volk und Vaterland.

Oh come on! I hear you protest. Is it possible after seven decades to deduce so much from such meagre clues? I’ll answer in a moment but, first, the poem (according to my own perception of it at the moment it fell into my hands): 

                                       Between life and death

                                       Narrow our path whose hedges
                                       Wreathe destiny and sorrow.
                                       Narrow the highstrung bridges  
                                       That stretch from life to death now.
                                       While other lips were silent,
                                       Eyes spoke with our truer sight,
                                       Our wishes surge ascendent,
                                       Higher, freer in the light.

                                       We stride on hour by hour
                                       Seeking the half-seen footpath,
                                       Yet, from the fields’ young verdure
                                       Sprouts the new sown aftermath.
                                       Destiny? My own? And yours?
                                       Our fate is running like sand.
                                       Life and death a single course
                                       Aloft in the divine hand.

Zwischen Leben und Tod
by Franz Lüdtke

                                       Zwischen Leben und Tod

                                       Schmal unser Weg. Wir pflücken
                                       Kränze aus Glück und Not.
                                       Schmal die wiegenden Brücken
                                       Zwischen Leben und Tod.
                                       Unsere Lippen schweigen,
                                       Nur unser Auge spricht. 
                                       Unsere Wünsche steigen
                                       Höher, freier ins Licht.

                                       Stunde um Stunde schreiten
                                       Wir den helldunklen Pfad –
                                       Aber aus Ackerbreiten
                                       Sprießt die ewige Saat!
                                       Schicksal? Meines? Und deines?
                                       Schicksal verrinnt wie Sand.
                                       Leben und Tod sind eines
                                       In der göttlichen Hand . . . 

A proselytiser for the mystical recovery of a Greater Germany. 

In the divine hand . . .  In der göttlichen Hand . . .  well, the author of this poem, Franz Lüdtke, by these words evokes in my view the statement, some seven years earlier, pronounced by the Reich Minister for Church Affairs, Hanns Kerrl, in 1937: ‘There has now risen a new authority as to what Christ and Christianity is. This new authority is Adolph Hitler.’

Consider, then, the nature of Franz Lüdtke as an NSDAP propagandist, a passionate proselytiser for the mystical recovery of a Greater Germany that would see the Nazi ideology of Lebensraum realised by territorial expansion eastwards, absorbing Poland and encompassing the eastern borderlands that ran from the Baltic states to Transylvania and the Black Sea.

Consider Lüdtke’s Eastward-visionariness – his Ostvisionen – his conviction, as chief of the Foreign Policy Department of the Nazi party, that Ostlande could be recovered from Slavic thraldom for Großdeutschland by the Reich’s triumphant Eastern colonisation.

The significance of the marginal notations in Faust on page 201 by our unknown Nazi Goethephile should then become clear . . . for it is between pages 200 and 201 that Lüdtke’s valedictory poem was pressed by his devotee.

I want to build a thousand bridges.

For, as I removed the cutting of Zwischen Leben und Tod, I read beneath it Goethe’s text, the words of Mephistopheles addressed to Faust, singled out by a jagged pencilled bracket:

                                       Ich wollt indes wohl tausend Brücken bauen.
                                       Nicht Kunst und Wissenschaft allein . . .

                                       I want to build a thousand bridges.
                                       Not by art and science alone . . .

Is there not a mystical connexion intended here by the unknown German reader? Does not the reader of both Lüdtke and Goethe – precariously keeping the faith on January 14 1944, the very day the Wehrmacht are routed and their retreat from Leningrad begins – still believe that the Reich of a Thousand Bridges can yet endure, even though the path to victory crosses a measureless abyss in a treacherous murk – helldunklen – half-lit by enemy tracer fire. 

Notwithstanding this initial interpretation, I yet believe the mood of the poem is suggestive of an almost heretical admission by Lüdtke of leaderlessness insofar as destiny's path is half-seen.

An insinuendo . . . the lisping English reviled.

Further pencilled scribblings identified in Faust yield more of the unknown disciple’s steadfast völkisch-nationalistisch rationale; a rationale moreover coloured by the cultural refinement of Anglophobia and state instituted antisemitism. 

Page 166, for instance, has a marginal checkmark beside a text that leads to the mocking Goethean aphorism . . .

                                       So bringt der West den Schwarm . . .

                                      Und . . . [Sie] lispeln englisch,  wenn sie lügen.

. . . a double meaning that could suggest unholy fiends are set to bring a swarm of evil forces from the West and that they lisp like English when they lie.

Hence one speculates to propose that these characteristic marginal checkmarks against the ‘Swarm of Lisping English’ are pencilled there to draw attention to further significances for the German reader of 1944 . . . namely, the afflicted tongue of Moses, an archetypal speech defect that would doubtless resonate as a redoubled insinuendo . . . the lisp slander . . .  the sly variant of the gross blood libel that impugns Die Juden who allegedly rule England (see Juden beherrschen England, Nordland-Berlin, 1939, below), a revival a millenias-old shibboleth over which Nazified anti-semites could gloat.

A volume from my father’s collection of antisemitic propaganda brought back
from WW2 service overseas and, judging from the over-stamping on the
cover, this 1939 copy of Juden beherrschen England (‘Jews rule England’) was

an exhibit from a mission by T-Force, an operational arm of Twelfth Army
Group, possibly seized by them as evidence in indictments against war
criminals during the Nuremberg Trials at which my father was an
interpreter for interrogations.

Verso . . . the newspaper cutting.

I cannot refrain from adding a footnote

I write only the truth . . .

On the reverse of the Lüdtke poem cutting is a sneering dispatch from Ankara, dated the previous day, referring to the November 1943 Cairo Conference at which Roosevelt, Churchill and Tschiangkaischek determined the Allied position against Japan and the future of postwar Asia. The propagandist’s despatch begins: ‘The Germans must have tremendous power if the Allied military authorities, out of concern for the safety of Roosevelt and Churchill, found it necessary to make their meeting place a veritable fortress.’ 

There is a perverse irony, perhaps, in that usage of ‘Fortress’ when you consider that following defeat in the Desert war, in the very month of the Cairo Conference (November 1943), the Desert Fox, Field Marshall Rommel, his life shortly to end on the orders of Hitler, was appointed commander of Fortress Europe .

See also

See also

For a tragedy of a native German’s alienation in the face of the NSDAP’s inexorable rise to power incited by antisemitism see also my The Eleven Surviving Works of L v. K at the South Bank Poetry Library

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

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