Not Saussure

December 11, 2006

A German War Christmas

Filed under: Blogroll, history, Religion — notsaussure @ 8:11 pm

A discussion over at The Tin Drummer‘s place touches on the religious beliefs, or lack of them, of the Nazis and reminded me of an interesting site I came across some time ago, the German Propaganda Archive, that has some fascinating material from both the Third Reich and the DDR, that seems to support The Drummer’s suggestion that the Third Reich used and tried to transform traditional religious customs and images for its own secular, ideological purposes.

The archive includes extracts from a 1943 Advent Calendar, the preface to which reads

Nazi Advent Calendar

“Dear German mother! Christmas has always been particularly a festival for children. War and destruction may rage in the world, and everyone, man or woman, in Germany may have to arm themselves with hardness and will in order to continue the battle until victory — yet our children should delight in this most German of all holidays as much as possible. We are fighting this war for our children, for them we are bearing the burdens and dangers, but their eyes should remain bright during the Christmas season, and they should laugh with joy in anticipation and Christmas pleasure…. In most families, the father is in the field, and often they have been forced to leave their homes because of the war. Death’s hard hand may even have torn holes in the family. Still, the German mother will hold her hand protectively over childhood joy and childhood thoughts in this Christmas season.”

German soldiers and treeOne day before Christmas, we have two German soldiers standing by the grave of a fallen comrade, which is covered by a Christmas tree; the text apparently reads:

“In war or in peace, you may never forget the quiet thankfulness and obligation owed to those whose sacrifices enabled you to celebrate Christmas. Therefore, a candle should burn in every home for those most loyal who stand eternal watch on the wide fronts of this war.”

Three lost travellers The picture for Christmas Day itself looks at first sight like a Madonna and Child and the Three Wise Men, but accompanies a completely secular retelling of the Christmas story in a completely different context, about a woodcutter who gets lost in the woods and encounters a soldier, returning from the wars, and a king, lost while hunting.

The site also has extracts from a 1944 Deutsche Kriegsweihnacht, German War Soldiers' Christmas 1943 Christmas, a 200-page Christmas annual of seasonal stories, songs, letters and illustrations, with a similar emphasis on soldiers on the Eastern Front; this illustration of soldiers gathering round their Christmas tree in a dug-out accompanies what purports to be a letter from a soldier’s wife for Christmas 1943, which ends

“And so, like millions of women today, the light of my heart shines forth with joy and love, illuminating the front, brightening the year’s longest night, in which you stand watch and fight for us. That light is within us, and will give us all the strength to find our way to a fresh spring. That is my firm, unshakable faith.”

It’s hard not to be moved when contemplating the bitter irony of this in the light of what Christmas 1943 must actually have been like for the encircled remnants of the German VIth Army awaiting their inevitable fate at Stalingrad.

Hitler admires his Christmas Tree The annual includes a seasonal picture of the Führer admiring a Christmas tree, together with an extract from Goebbels’s 1941 Christmas Eve speech:

“On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather, and place ourselves in the service of the fatherland. At the end of the war, it shall be greater, lovelier, and more impressive. It should be the proud and free homeland for us all. We promise the Führer that in this hour he can rely on his people at the front, at home, and in the world. He leads us. We follow him. Without the shadow of a doubt, we follow him, bearing the flag and the Reich. The flag and the Reich shall remain pure and unscathed when the great hour of victory comes.”

and this seasonal Christmas wreath together with a distinctly un-Christmas-like quotation from Hitler:

Hitler's Christmas MessageAll nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak

The site also gives a translation of a 1937 theoretical article on transforming traditional Christian holidays into something more appropriate to National Socialist purposes and ideals; for example,

we can present it [Christmas] as a holiday of actual domestic national peace, which is in fact without question a critical demand of the National Socialist people’s community, to each individual German. If we make visible the blessings of this actual peace, along with its foundations and requirements, then “Christmas” doubtless can be a high point in the course of the political year. Both according to popular custom and popular view, the Christmas holiday can justifiably be seen as a festival of the nation.

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  1. Let me get this straight – you were nervous about annoying some stroppy get with a website, but have no difficulty admitting that you spend your spare time rummaging through archives of nazi propaganda?

    You’re a strange man, NS.

    Still, a good point well made.

    Comment by Flying Rodent — December 11, 2006 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Why, thank you very much. With hindsight, maybe I should also have tried to tie it in with the papers’ nonsense about banning Christmas which you skewered so well, despite mangling the Latin something horrible!

    You make very fair point about potentially upsetting people, though this Chad character really does seem to be something else — how Longrider managed to keep his cool for so long before snapping is beyond me. I think some activists from minor parties get very frustrated when the bee in their bonnet so signally fails to excite the voters as much as it does them, and they take out their frustration by typing endless confutations and rebuttals in green pixels.

    The German Propaganda Archive is a fascinating — or at least I find it so — and scholarly site about both Nazi and Communist German propaganda — especially the day-to-day stuff. I’ll have to do something about the DDR propaganda in the interests of balance.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 11, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

  3. I think I could put that more succinctly, NS – the internet is chock full of raving lunatics, and many of them have blogs.

    Comment by Flying Rodent — December 11, 2006 @ 11:01 pm

  4. Indeed.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 11, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

  5. Thanks for mentioning the argument at my place, you’ve illustrated one of my points well. It’s certainly easier than my trawling through Richard J Evans again to find them.

    Comment by Tin Drummer — December 12, 2006 @ 9:26 am

  6. Fascinating, Notsaussure. This is an area I’ve also studied and Hitler was certainly not irreligious – he just supported the other side. He’s no doubt with his Master now.

    Comment by jameshigham — December 12, 2006 @ 9:39 am

  7. Fascinating.

    The Nazification of Christmas. The current squabbling doesn’t seem quite so bad now.

    Comment by Matt M — December 12, 2006 @ 12:09 pm

  8. Indeed it doesn’t, Matt (and thanks for the link).

    James, could you expand on Hitler supporting the other side, as you put it? Maybe over at your blog.

    I knew that Himmler was seriously into occultism; or, rather, that his tame guru Karl Maria Wiligut was — I’m not sure whether Himmler actually believed in it or whether it was just another aspect of his heavy metal fantasy life that he acted out along with his chums at Wewelsburg (sobering thought that things might have turned out differently if only he’d had set of Dungeons and Dragons or Wolfenstein 3D to play with, though I suppose the Nazis had plenty of other, more down-to-earth, murderers to run things).

    By a strange coincidence, on googling for a bit more info on Hitler, Himmler and the occult I came across an article in Fortean Times (so strange coincidences are only to be expected) about Wewelsburg. That was quite interesting (they reckon occultism was more of an interior design theme for Himmler than anything else), but the coincidence is that their latest issue apparently has an article about the Nazification of Christmas, too. I wasn’t aware of this when I wrote the piece, and Fortean Times isn’t a magazine I normally read.

    Comment by notsaussure — December 12, 2006 @ 4:38 pm

  9. I used to love the FT but eventually found it a little too sensational or even skeptical for me (not that I’m a credulous idiot you understand).

    In Gitta Sereny’s book The German Trauma she refers to an anecdote about children going for tea to Himmler’s house and being shown, in the attic, a chair made of human bones and other gruesome artefacts. I’ve been unable to find much corroboration for this but I think it functions metaphorically anyway. Himmler, whatever else he was, was no lover of the light side of the force.

    I don’t know what Hitler’s real beliefs were: not many people do. Michael Burleigh thinks it might be pointless to ask, as he thinks there is just a vacuum which the man filled with his own delusions. Ron Rosenbaum has a heartfelt and well written book attempting to delve into the “explaining Hitler” industry and comes out none the wiser at the end.

    The fact is, probably – we don’t know what Hitler’s deepest beliefs or motivations were, other than that they involved him being extremely powerful and making people suffer. Much else is guesswork.

    Comment by Tin Drummer — December 12, 2006 @ 5:32 pm

  10. By the way the argument, whatever people want to write on the subject, on my blog is now closed.

    Comment by Tin Drummer — December 12, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

  11. There’s still so much fascination with Hitler and the Nazis. Perhaps we should all move on.

    Comment by Jeremycj — December 12, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

  12. Yhanks youb67d8bfc451a8dc420f344e19b0c2f72

    Comment by — December 10, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

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