Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Brownshirt Princess

 | 
Lionel Gossman

Part I. Seeking a New Religion: Gott in Mir

2. The Epigraph and the Envoy

Texte intégral

1Like the title itself, the epigraph and the envoy of the Princess’s poem are intended to announce and sum up the essential message of the poem or collection of poems as a whole (as, indeed, of all her subsequent work): that there is no absolute barrier between the community and the individual who is joined to it by blood, or between the All and its particular manifestations, or between God and Man, or Life and Death – only constant change and becoming. The epigraph, from the Tales of Rabbi Nachman von Bratslow (1772-1811), a Chasidic text, published in 1906 in a German adaptation by Martin Buber, reads: ”Wer das wahre Wissen erlangt, das Gottwissen, dem ist keine Scheidung über Leben und Tod, denn er hängt an Gott und umfaßt ihn und lebt das ewige Leben wie Gott allein״ [Whoever attains to true knowledge, God-knowledge, knows no separation of life and death, for he clings to God and embraces Him and lives the eternal life, like God alone]. The envoy consists of some famous lines from Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan [West-Eastern Divan] ”Und so lang du das nicht hast/ Dieses Stirb und Werde,/ Bist du nur ein trüber Gast/ Auf der dunklen Erde״ [Until you possess this maxim: ’Die and Become,’ you are but a gloomy guest on the somber earth].

  • 1 On the orientation of Eugen Diederichs’ important publishing enterprise, see the excellent essay b (...)
  • 2 In the Introduction to an edition of texts on Chasidism by Buber, Maurice Friedman noted in Buber′ (...)
  • 3 See George L. Mosse, ״The Influence of the Volkish Idea on German Jewry,״ ch. 4 of his Germans and (...)
  • 4 On Buber and Schwaner, see Martin Buber, Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten, ed. Grete Schaeder, (...)

2It might seem curious, in view of the Princess’s Nordic racialism and anti-Semitism – more explicitly proclaimed later but in all likelihood already embraced by the time of the poem’s composition – that she chose an epigraph for her poem in a Jewish text. In fact, the Tales of Rabbi Nachman von Bratslow – along with other writings by Buber, such as the collection of mystical texts from ancient India to seventeenth-century France (Ekstatische Konfessionen) published in 1906 by Diederichs, who, as we have seen, also published many outspokenly anti-Semitic writers, like Adolf Bartels, Arthur Bonus, and Herman Wirth1 – had become popular in some völkisch circles, largely no doubt because Chasidism seemed to bear witness to the unity of Man and God and to the intimate relation between a people, its God, and its religion.2 Buber, moreover, had written his doctoral thesis on Böhme, had been strongly influenced by Nietzsche, and in his early years at least shared many of the ideas about the relation of race and culture of the völkisch movement.3 He had significant contacts with some of its most prominent representatives and maintained these ties until fairly late. He was in correspondence, for instance, with Wilhelm Schwaner as well as with Wilhelm Hauer.4 As late as the winter of 1932-33, Hauer invited Buber, in the warmest terms, to give a talk at a public colloquium which he had organized in Kassel on the topic ״Die geistigen und religiösen Grundlagen der völkischen Bewegung״ [The intellectual and religious foundations of the völkisch movement] and at which Ernst Krieck, already a prominent National Socialist scholar and intellectual, had also agreed to speak.

  • 5 J. Wilhelm Hauer, Deutsche Gottschau: Grundzüge eines deutschen Glaubens, pp. 4, 22.
  • 6 Karl O. Paetel, Reise ohne Uhrzeit: Autobiographie, ed. Wolfgang D. Elfe and John M. Spalek (Londo (...)
  • 7 Quoted in Cancik, Religions- und Geistesgeschichte der Weimarer Republik, pp. 178-79, n. 12. In 19 (...)
  • 8 See the entry on ”Deutschgläubige Bewegungen” by Kurt Nowak in Theologische Realenzyklopädie, ed. (...)
  • 9 Quoted in Ulrich Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung: Eine historische und soziologische Untersuc (...)

3While Hauer never questions that there is a ״Judenfrage״ [Jewish Question] and came to define history as ״the multi-millennial struggle between the Near-Eastern-Semitic world and the Indo-Germanic world,״5 he appears – prior to 1933, when he sought to ingratiate himself and his movement with the National Socialists – to have imagined that a peaceful solution acceptable to all parties should be sought and, with the help of scholars like Buber, could be found. Many years later, one of his most devoted followers remembered him as a man able and eager to bring together ״Communists and National Socialists, Jews and anti-Semites,״ and to ״build bridges and foster exchange without hostility and hatefulness.״ Hauer, on his side, reminded his young disciple of the value of liberalism. Even though he himself had never been a ״liberal,״ he declared (November 1930), ״it should not be forgotten that the struggle against the enslavement of the conscience and the spirit to orthodoxy and bureaucratism was led by liberalism.״ The young ״ought not to forget that in the end they stand on the shoulders of the men of 1848, who were liberals in the proper sense of the word.״6 In the spirit no doubt of the love of freedom attributed to the Germanic peoples since Tacitus, Hauer held that, while ״it goes without saying that no Jew can be a member of the Deutsche Glaubensbewegung” – since a Jew is not a German – and that ”there can be no compromise on that point, taking that position in no way affects my conviction that every genuinely religious person, of whatever race or volk, is ultimately [in letzter Wirklichkeit] a brother to me.”7 Given that to Hauer the core of religion was a feeling for the divine, a universal ”religiöser Urwille,” [inborn religious impulse] rather than any specific theological doctrine,8 it was possible for a fundamental fellow-feeling with Buber to co-exist in him with actual estrangement and even hostility: ”The innermost core of Martin Buber is oriented to essentials and is of the same nature as mine,” he wrote in a private letter dated 21 January 1931. ”That is: an intense feeling for God. The empirical covering of that [core] is Jewish and is in many respects repulsive to me or in any case alien.” In the same vein, on 2 June 1933: ”I have a relation of complete candor with Buber. When he conveys what is innermost in him, I feel a close bond with him. When he moves away from that and especially when it comes to his notion of the Jews’ being chosen, I stand, as a German, in sharp opposition to him. And he knows that.”9 Buber, in sum, was viewed by some in völkisch circles as a kindred spirit, albeit of an alien race.

  • 10 Klaus Jeziorkowski, ”Empor ins Licht: Gnostizismus und Licht-Symbolik in Deutschland um 1900,” p. (...)
  • 11 Geoff Eley, ”Making a Place in the Nation,” in Eley and James Retallack, eds., Wilhelminism and it (...)

4As for the envoy, Stirb und Werde, it had become a commonplace of Lebensphilosophie – a philosophical outlook in which life, both in fact and normatively, had precedence over thought, the intuitive over the analytical and conceptual, the biological over the mechanical, change or becoming over being and permanence. A reaction against both Kantian and Hegelian rationalism, Lebensphilosophie had become pervasive in Germany by the end of the nineteenth century, thanks in considerable measure to the enormous (posthumous) popularity of Nietzsche (Zarathustra, it has been said, was the single most influential work of the Wilhelminian age10), as well as to popular interpretations of Darwin. Paradoxically, the social and economic condition of the success of Lebensphilosophie was probably the very hectic pace of commercial and industrial development in Germany in the decades following the Prussian victory over France and the founding of the Empire that was denounced by many of the adherents of Lebensphilosophie. As one historian of the Wilhelminian age has put it, ”it was change that supplied the Wilhelmine era’s strongest continuity.”11

  • 12 Avenarius, ”Stirb und werde! In der Zeit der Totenfeste,” Deutscher Wille: Des Kunstwarts 32. Jahr(...)

5Stirb und Werde! Naturwissenschaftliche und kulturelle Plaudereien [Die and Become! Scientific and Cultural Conversations] was the title chosen by Wilhelm Bölsche, co-founder of the Giordano Bruno-Bund and author of the hugely successful Das Liebesleben in der Natur (1898) [Love Life in Nature], for one of his many popularizations of Darwinian ideas, this one published by Diederichs in 1913 and again in 1921, the year of publication of the Princess’s poem. Stirb und Werde! remained a formula to which many educated Germans resorted in trying times. In the last months of the Great War, for instance, in face of the devastating numbers of the dead and the maimed, ’Stirb und Werde!’ was the title given by Avenarius to the lead article he wrote for the October 1918 issue of his influential magazine Der Kunstwart. The inevitability of defeat and national humiliation having become obvious to everyone in Germany, Avenarius asked rhetorically, how many more sons, husbands, and fathers would still have to be killed, how many more civilians would still have to perish from the effects of malnutrition before the reality of the situation was acknowledged. The enthusiastic support of the entire population for the war four years earlier meant that no one was without responsibility; the task, therefore, he claimed, was not to attribute blame but to save the German people and its culture from total destruction, not to look back in anger but to accept the judgment of Fate with fortitude and prepare for new action. Fate, he wrote, requires that Germans kill in themselves that which they adored, that they move on from where they were in 1914, in order to survive – and indeed triumph – as an active, creative, and influential force in the world. ”For all who seek what is most important in the condition of being human – i.e. the strength and joy in action of a well integrated personality – the powerful expression Stirb und werde! now has special meaning.” Germans, Avenarius urged, should look to the future, to the ”countenance of the Superman of tomorrow. […] One moment of history has ended. When the next arises, let it find in us a generation ready to shape it…Stirb und werde! If we truly are the people richest in creative energies, now is the time for us to demonstrate it. Come into being, oh you new manifestation of German-ness, come into being!” [Werde, du neues Deutschtum, werde!]12 Avenarius’s reflections on the theme of Stirb und werde in 1918 are clearly close to the spirit of the Princess’s work of three years later and presage her response later still to the even more catastrophic defeat of 1945.

  • 13 Peter Kratz, Die Götter des New Age (Berlin: Elefanten Press, 1994), p. 307. Wirth claimed to have (...)
  • 14 The report was published by the press of Diederichs at Jena in 1931. (See Siewert, ”Gemanische Rel (...)

6Stirb und werde also figured prominently in the worldview of Herman Wirth, the maverick Dutch scholar who placed his research and erudition in the service of arguments for the superiority of the ”Nordic” race and of the theory that human culture originated in the Arctic North. Supported financially at times by both the publisher of Gott in mir, Ludwig Roselius, and the author, the Princess herself,13 Wirth was selected by Himmler in the mid-1930s to head his Ancestral Heritage research institute [Ahnenerbe]. Summing up the 64-page findings, supposedly based on archaeological and linguistic evidence, of an inquiry into the question Was heißt deutsch? [What does being German mean?], Wirth concluded in 1931 that ”being ’German’ means being ’derived from God,’ being the ’life of God.’ – Life comes from God, from the Time of God, the ’Year’ of God; ’Die and become’ [Stirb und werde], the law of eternal recurrence [die ewige Wiederkehr], is the Revelation of God in space and time, the moral order of the world […].”14

Notes

1 On the orientation of Eugen Diederichs’ important publishing enterprise, see the excellent essay by Gangolf Hübinger, ”Der Verlag Eugen Diederichs in Jena,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft (1996), 22: 31-45. On the ”ambivalences” of Diederichs’ ”alternative Moderne” and the cultural circle around him in Jena, the Sera-Kreis,see also Meike G. Werner, Moderne in der Provinz: Kulturelle Experimente im Fin de Siècle Jena (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2003); Justus Ulbricht and Meike G. Werner, eds., Romantik, Revolution und Reform: Der Eugen Diederichs Verlag im Epochenkontext 1900-1949 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 1999); and Diederichs′ own autobiographical sketches and correspondence, Selbstzeugnisse und Briefe von Zeitgenossen, ed. Ulf Diederichs (Düsseldorf and Cologne: Diederichs Verlag, 1967).

2 In the Introduction to an edition of texts on Chasidism by Buber, Maurice Friedman noted in Buber′s earlier writing on this topic ”the suggestion of mystic unity, […] of the self as part of the all, which contrasts with Buber’s later philosophy of dialogue.” (Hasidism and Modern Man [New York: Horizon Press, 1958], p. 14) In general, anti-Semitic writers sometimes professed admiration for those deeply religious, conservative Jews to whom religion and identity as a volk were one (e.g. Chamberlain, Langbehn, Börries von Münchhausen); their target was the ”modern,” emancipated, individualist, and therefore rootless Jews whose cosmopolitanism and very readiness to assimilate threatened to undermine the racial integrity and völkisch solidarity of the peoples among whom they lived. Quoting Jewish sources may also have been a rhetorical ploy of racist and anti-Semitic writers. The Princess’s husband, Hanno Konopath, refers in his pamphlet Ist Rasse Schicksal? Grundgedanken der völkischen Bewegung (published in 1926 by the notorious extreme rightwing press of J. Lehmann in Munich) to ″what G. Karpeles writes in the volume commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Jewish Order of B′nai B′rith: ′Just as the individual stands firmest on the foundation of the heritage of his fathers, to which he is bound by a thousand fine threads, so too a people can find strong roots only in its own history, its own writing. Here is to be found the secret of its strength…′” (3rd edn., 1931, p. 6) On Münchhausen’s praise of the ancient Hebrews, see my ”Jugendstil in Firestone: The Jewish Illustrator E. M. Lilien,״ Princeton University Library Chronicle, 66, no. 1 (2004), 11–78, at 41–49.

3 See George L. Mosse, ״The Influence of the Volkish Idea on German Jewry,״ ch. 4 of his Germans and Jews, especially pp. 85-92; also the excellent article by Bernard Susser, ״Ideological Multivalence: Martin Buber and the German Volkish Tradition,״ Political Theory (1977), 5: 75-96.

4 On Buber and Schwaner, see Martin Buber, Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten, ed. Grete Schaeder, vol. 2: 1918-1938 (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1973), pp. 52-53, 264. On Buber and Hauer, ibid., pp. 326-29, 457, 473 and Margarete Dierks, Jakob Wilhelm Hauer 1881-1962: Leben, Werk, Wirkung, mit einer Personalbibliographie (Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1986), pp. 202-08, 243-44, 344-45 et passim.

5 J. Wilhelm Hauer, Deutsche Gottschau: Grundzüge eines deutschen Glaubens, pp. 4, 22.

6 Karl O. Paetel, Reise ohne Uhrzeit: Autobiographie, ed. Wolfgang D. Elfe and John M. Spalek (London: The World of Books; Worms: Verlag Georg Heinz, 1982), pp. 30, 185. Paetel, whose second mentor was Ernst Niekisch, the founder and leader of the ”National Bolshevik” movement, quit the NSDAP when it became clear to him that Hitler was not interested in socialism and intended to maintain capitalism. He was subsequently imprisoned by the Nazis.

7 Quoted in Cancik, Religions- und Geistesgeschichte der Weimarer Republik, pp. 178-79, n. 12. In 1949, Buber testified to a denazification court that Hauer was ”a man of deep and serious religious vision, who, like many other truly intellectual and moral Germans, succumbed to the illusion that the National Socialist project offered the prospect of realizing his ideas in history.” (Quoted in Heinz Eduard Tödt, Komplizen, Opfer und Gegner des Hitlerregimes: zur ”inneren Geschichte” von protestantischer Theologie und Kirche im ”Dritten Reich” [Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser, 1997], p. 186).

8 See the entry on ”Deutschgläubige Bewegungen” by Kurt Nowak in Theologische Realenzyklopädie, ed. Gerhard Krause and Gerhard Müller (Berlin and NewYork: Walter de Gruyter, 1981), 8: 554-59, on p. 557.

9 Quoted in Ulrich Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung: Eine historische und soziologische Untersuchung (Marburg: Diagonal-Verlag, 1993), pp. 89, 139. See also Deutsche Gottschau, pp. 10-11, where Hauer claims – following Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, vol. 2, pp. 41-42) – that while the creativity of the Jews in religious matters cannot and should not be denied, the Nordic and Germanic achievement in this area is equal and indeed superior to that of the Jews.

10 Klaus Jeziorkowski, ”Empor ins Licht: Gnostizismus und Licht-Symbolik in Deutschland um 1900,” p. 153.

11 Geoff Eley, ”Making a Place in the Nation,” in Eley and James Retallack, eds., Wilhelminism and its Legacies: German Modernities, pp. 16-33, on p. 31. No doubt rapidly evolving social and economic conditions alone cannot account for the enormous popularity of the idea of Werden [Becoming] in Germany. In an age of industrial expansion vitalist philosophies were popular in many countries, as the impact of Bergson in France demonstrates. Moreover, many adepts of the new Lebensphilosophie were as scornful of the rising industrial, commercial, and technocratic culture of the new Germany as of diehard old conservatives. As has been pointed out, however, opponents of ”modern” liberal-capitalist culture often espoused a ”modern,” Nietzschean-Darwinian cult of ”energy” and ”struggle.” They may thus be seen, not implausibly, as part of the very social and economic conditions they rejected.

12 Avenarius, ”Stirb und werde! In der Zeit der Totenfeste,” Deutscher Wille: Des Kunstwarts 32. Jahr, October-December 1918, pp. 103-04.

13 Peter Kratz, Die Götter des New Age (Berlin: Elefanten Press, 1994), p. 307. Wirth claimed to have demonstrated that ”the course of the development of human culture is the opposite [of what it is usually held to be]: from North and West to East.” (Herman Wirth, Der Aufgang der Menschheit: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Religion, Symbolik und Schrift der Atlantisch-Nordischen Rasse [Jena: Eugen Diederichs, 1928], p. 16)

14 The report was published by the press of Diederichs at Jena in 1931. (See Siewert, ”Gemanische Religion und neugeranisches Heidentum,” p. 135; Hieronimus, ”Zur Religiosität der völkischen Bewegung,” p. 167).

Acheter