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
“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.”
“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.”
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 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.
“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:
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.
tag: Christmas, WW2 German Propaganda