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Brownshirt Princess

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Lionel Gossman

Part I. Seeking a New Religion: Gott in Mir

3. The Poem

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1Within the body of the Princess’s poem, several prominent themes can be identified, many of them recognizably inspired by Lebensreform, especially in its more völkisch manifestations:

  • creation of a New Man and a New World, liberation from ”unnatural,” life-denying beliefs and social conventions;
  • rejection of modern liberal, capitalist, urban civilization, regarded as responsible for encouraging egoism, undermining community ties, and destroying the nobler human qualities and values;
  • recovery of an authentic native German culture still close to the natural world and uncontaminated by modern rationalism and alienation;
  • repudiation of established religious faiths, especially in the form of an allegedly un-natural and alien transcendentalist and ”legalistic” Christianity rooted in Judaism, in favor of a quasi-pantheist or Gnostic faith, according to which man and nature are infused with divinity and are thus good, not sinful, and which is often presented as grounded in the original ancestral beliefs of the ”Nordic race” and at the same time – though this is not spelled out by the Princess – closely connected with Buddhism and Hinduism (usually assumed to be the belief systems of Aryan peoples related to the Germans1); – cult of the energetic, active, heroic, independent-minded individual, freed from the constraints of a false or alien morality, standing above the crowd, and called on to lead it forward into New Life;
  • emphasis, at the same time, on the larger community or volk and ultimately on the All or Cosmos or Life-Force or God, from which every individual emerges, whether as leader or as led, which lives and acts within every individual, to which every individual ultimately returns, and to which the authentic individual dedicates his entire being freely, unreservedly, and spontaneously – the divine law being not external to the individual, but located within him, not imposed on him from without, but inscribed in his very being, so that his will is identical with the will of the cosmos.

2The poem or series of poems is in effect a conversion narrative, told in the first person. As in earlier Pietist and Puritan conversion narratives, the narrator’s intention was doubtless to present herself as a model to the reader and to lead the latter also toward conversion. The religion to which the speaker in the poem was converted – or rather which the speaker discovers in herself, as the reader is likewise encouraged to do – bears a strong similarity to that outlined in the profession of faith devised by Fahrenkrog for the Germanische Glaubensgemeinschaft and published in the same year as the poem.

  • 2 Cf. the similar tone, a decade earlier, of the poem ”Sehnsucht” by Wilhelm Spohr, who managed to b (...)

3Gott in mir opens on the speaker’s experience of alienation, isolation, and imprisonment in a soul-less modern world. ”Wherever I look, nothing but chains – chains and gigantic, unscalable walls. Unrelenting darkness, heavy silence. Not a single ray of sunshine from the high heavens.” This bleak experience contrasts with the vision of ”a land where love and friendship dwell and where joy reigns in spring-like warmth over everyday life,”2 a vision that fades from view as the speaker, responding to the ”threats and entreaties” of family and friends, temporarily allows ”weakness [to] become the mistress of his/her strength, weariness [to] overwhelm his/ her mind, and baseness [to] triumph yet again.” The first section of the poem ends on an act of revolt – anticipating both that which the Princess herself appears to have carried out as a young woman when (as we shall see in Part II of this essay) she renounced her class in favor of marriage to a commoner and association with a mass political movement, and that of the heroine of her 1942 novel Die Overbroocks, who agrees, though she is the daughter of a distinguished upper-class military family, to marry a poor student and become the mother of his child, in order to save his peasant farmer’s blood line from extinction and restore it to its ancient heritage in the soil of Northern Germany. The speaker in Gott in mir asserts her freedom and refuses to ”allow [her] guiding star to be taken from [her].” ”You were endowed with your own free soul!” she reminds herself. ”You were made to be your own judge of yourself.” The claim is identical to that of Fahrenkrog in his 1907 Volkserzieher article: If God is in us, then the Law is in us, and we have no need of external written laws to prescribe behavior; we are our own judge and our will is God’s will. ”Go, you child of royal birth,” the speaker finally tells herself. Break with family and convention. The ”It is nobler to die than to live as a prisoner.” (pp. 9-10) The temptation to backslide must be resisted: ”Oh, tempt me not! Get thee behind me, Satan! I feel as though the eyes of a world that awaits redemption are on me. If I lay down my arms and go faintheartedly from hence, thinking only of my own comfort, it will be a betrayal. From every bush, from every twig and every leaf I hear the anxious whispering of Nature: ’Is this soul strong enough […] to become a victorious conqueror?’” (Once again the question seems to echo, perhaps consciously, Fahrenkrog’s question in the 1907 Volkserzieher article: ”Are you, German soul, not rich enough to build your sanctuary out of your own primal heritage?”) The speaker’s soul proves strong and rich enough and does not yield. But she appeals to the World-Spirit for added strength: ”No, I must keep faith and bear the burden. I may not think of my own peace and quiet. Great Spirit that floats through the entire Universe, send down new strength to your child, so that she may find the path of thorns that leads to the goal!” (p. 11)

4In the next poem or section, the speaker looks back on her childhood and describes her early spiritual development. An allusion to Parsifal reinforces the ”Germanic” character of her itinerary. ”I was a child, lonely and ignorant, like Parsifal, who set out in search of God.” The child’s untutored mind grasps that ”God is love,” but balks at accepting that he is ”severe and harsh and can be reconciled only through the blood of his son,” through an external mediator; that ”beauty is sin and unnaturalness morality;” and that ”there are clear boundaries between Right and Wrong,” so that the ”guiding star and Law” of behavior becomes ”the command ’Thou shalt.’” (p. 12) This lesson ”entered [her] ear but never [her] heart,” small as she was. Instead, she continued her own search for God and ”after a long and fervent struggle” found him – within herself. As a result, the law of God is no longer external to her. There is no difference between divine law and the law of her own heart: ”The compelling command ’Thou shalt’ has become ’I will.’ And this I know today: God is good.” (p. 13)

5The following poems or sections recount the ”long and fervent struggle” to find God and the blinding moment of insight or discovery.

I lived a dream-life, not knowing in which direction to turn my wavering steps. […] Everything I did was trivial, without significance. Often my arms, raised to God in ardent prayer for strength, sank wearily and despairingly to my side. I was a plaything on the ocean of Time. Every wind blew me toward a different shore. Nevertheless, a prescient spirit drove me to continue seeking: ’Your hour must come, must come!’ It came. And as a flash of lightning from heaven illuminates a fearfully dark nocturnal landscape, so that the smallest blade of grass can be distinguished, an understanding flashed through my heart: a Titanic belief in the God within Man, the God that is unfolded by the human spirit itself.

6In that moment, ”I threw off all weakness and timidity and felt gigantic powers growing within me.” (pp. 14-15) The speaker now realizes that ”every soul is a fragment of the World Soul, broken off and lovingly formed in God’s hands until, in their gentle warmth, it dreamily opens its eyes.” (Perhaps this moment of birth in the warming hands of the Divine was what Vogeler’s frontispiece was intended to evoke). It is then ”sent down from the eternal solar heights,” after receiving ”the hot glow of a flaming kiss” that makes it ”sink into sleep, so that it does not feel the pain of separation from its luminous star-filled home.” Its mission on earth is not prescribed in advance but freely chosen. There is no scriptural law, in other words, no role for a Moses. Nor is there any need of a mediator; salvation is the work of each individual soul. ”God tells it in a soft whisper of the mission of redemption that waits to be carried out on earth, and says: ’How you carry it out, child, let that be left to you. I can only fix the hour when I shall recall the life I gave you, when, delivered from your earthly shell, you will be permitted to return, blissful and free, to your origin, to your father’s heart.” (pp. 16-17)

7The text now moves toward more general reflections on the difficulty of finding one’s true way in a world that fears the light of Truth and jealously guards the habits and conventions that protect it from Truth. The section ends, in the spirit of those advocates of a ”Germanic” religion for whom Jesus and Wotan were indistinguishable, on the evocation of a heroic, rather than a suffering Christ-figure. Many, we are told, wander the earth as strangers, uneasy and discontented throughout their entire lives. They ”heard the call and detected the sprit of God within them,” but they were ”too slothful to bestir themselves and too weak to move toward the goal.” (pp. 18-19) Others, ”scarcely born, had already lost the proud strength needed for struggle and turned only on their own axis. They saunter apathetically and aimlessly through life,” having ”forgotten their divine mission.” (p. 20) Others still ”sallied forth and engaged in the struggle for existence with glowing pride. They bore life’s hardships playfully because they were open to every form of beauty. And at every new bend in their road, they thought they were about to enter the last stretch. […] But the rocks piled ever higher, the climb became steeper and steeper. A deathly silence fell on them.” In this predicament, they hear voices calling them back – those entreating calls of friends and family that the speaker had told of resisting earlier in the poem ’”Come back, you poor, weary soul. We forgive you your youthful errors! Blessed is he who can sleep away all pain in his own home. You cannot change the world or lift it off its hinges. Take the advice of age and wisdom! Renounce the follies of your arrogant youth and we will welcome you home.” (p. 22) The speaker then describes these ”men and women, wending their way homeward because the drive toward higher things has abandoned them.” They are loved by others, but they ”hate themselves because they failed to fend off temptation.” (p. 24)

8The following few sections focus on a particular case, a Christ-figure that could conceivably also refer to some historical individual or individuals from the Princess’s own time. The age did not lack heroic martyrs in one cause or another. Up to a point the narrative might even be applicable to the poet herself as well as to the artist who provided the frontispiece for her book – although Heinrich Vogeler’s search was to take him, politically, in the opposite direction from the Princess. As a successful Jugendstil artist, Vogeler had indeed seen and painted Utopian ”gardens of paradise where others saw barren steppes;” he was an inveterate ”Gottsucher” [seeker after God], especially after he returned from the Eastern front; and his ardent seeking, as noted earlier, had met with hostility and misunderstanding. ”I know of one,” the speaker begins,

whose magical eyes had strange and mysterious depths. He looked with wonder on the bustle of the world; he put his ear with wonder to his own soul; he did not complain that he was not like others…for he saw gardens of paradise where others saw barren steppes. One thing alone tormented him and gave him no respite: incessant seeking and the never-ending question – ’To what end am I on this earth? What was God’s wish when he sent me here?’ And people called him distracted and scolded him as a person of perpetually shifting moods. He took all this without complaint and struggled silently within himself. One belief kept him going: that a certain recollection would be restored to him. And behold, it was restored. He heard the voice whisper once again the words it spoke at his creation: ’Struggle for the divine empire of Love.’ Speechless, shattered, he fell to his knees. ’God, my God, where shall I find the strength?’ Whereupon he heard the divine voice admonish him gently: ’Dear child, the world must otherwise perish!’ – Then warm currents coursed through his veins and his spirit turned to fire, his whole soul swelled up in compassion and with humility he proudly took up the burden.
But when the stupid people saw that he had suddenly become different, that he knew for sure whither the road led and that this road led away from them, they raged and threatened, pleaded and beseeched him by all that is dear to turn back from his devious path. But he only shook his locks mildly: ’Let me be, I must follow the divine voice, for I am a part taken from it! My soul has been endowed with power over the highest things in heaven and on earth. Oh, you men and women, may you come to understand that you too are parts of God’s heart – not servants, but children of royal birth – and that you too must travel the same road!’ But they upbraided him for being an arrogant fool and wrung their hands in anguish. He in turn suffered with them, for he felt that they could never understand him. Most painful to him was that even those who loved him and called him ’Master’ often tried to make him waver, because they did not understand his sacred duty and feared for his beloved life. The day finally came when the henchmen took him, and his dearest friend basely betrayed him. And they beat him and scorned him and they hung him on the sinners’ wooden cross and did not know how they could inflict enough torture on the hated brother. Calmly and in silence he bore all the suffering. This hour, which his earthly body had feared so strongly, found him invincible. Thus the blind crowd killed Christ himself, the shining messenger of Truth, because they could not bear his love. And he had no anger. He had long known that he would have to suffer such pain in order to bear witness in the world to the splendor of God’s glory, before which earthly suffering and joy fade into insignificance. And his dying was joyful and proud, for he did not pass over like a poor sinner, but royally and victoriously, with words of holy love on his lips and in the knowledge that it was his own strength and purity that had enabled him to follow the road right to the end. (pp. 24-29)

9After a blank page, the speaker comments on the destiny just described, emphasizing that it was that of a victorious and free hero, not of a humble and obedient sufferer: ”When the Lord calls such a human soul home to the solar heights, his heart swells in joyful pride that his creature was splendid, […] free, […] and victorious over a world of hate and temptation.” (p. 31)

10The focus now shifts to the meaning of death. Once again the position adopted in the poem corresponds to that of most völkisch religions, including the Germanische Glaubensgemeinschaft. To the taunts of the grim reaper, the speaker responds with the confident assertion that death will be ”a glorious offering to the Spirit, to which I have given my entire life and dedicated all my strength and love” and that dying means simply returning ”to the world soul, from which a creator’s hand once took me.” (pp. 31-35)

11The final sections of the poem take up the themes of sacrifice, morality and the individual’s relation to others, the need to replace a way of life directed toward individual happiness and consumption with one directed toward struggle and creative action, and finally the fundamental obligation to develop oneself to the fullest extent possible, not for egotistical reasons, but in order to contribute to the maximum, even if it involves pain, to the All of which one is a part.

12The value of ”the red flame of sacrifice” is that ”it scorches everything petty, timid, and wavering.” The individual ”in whose heart it has been lighted” becomes capable of acts of selfless heroism and, like all heroes, has to renounce the comforts of easy companionship and ”become lonely as in death.” (p. 37) But through willingness to ”offer the whole heart and every drop of blood in sacrifice” to a meaningful life, the individual becomes ”a bearer of eternal glory.” For ”you no longer live for yourself. Your being, with its little pains and little joys, is woven into the fabric of the new Earth.” Words and actions must now be taken seriously for they affect the entire universe. ”Gentle, blissful dreaming” – such as marked the fin-de-siècle, Jugendstil fantasies of a Vogeler – ”has come to an end. Let every word be spoken in full consciousness of its gravity, let every deed be enacted.” (p. 39) The speaker then calls on all to build and join in a new life, to sweep away the old. ”Away with your weak, moody dreams, your dull, sick symphonies of color, away with feelings unconscious of their endless vacillating! Away with them! Let a fresh storm wind blow. Let your mind’s ideas be clear and sharply drawn. […] Let a bold and virile spirit enter you! You were born for struggle, not for dreaming.” (p. 41)

13Whoever participates in this ”joyful faith” is ”upright and firm in unbending love toward others, […] strength to strength.” Friends are those of similar faith, who ”march in step.” But this joyful, Nietzschean band, this ”new nobility” – to quote the title of a book by the Princess’s friend and mentor in later years, the high-ranking National Socialist government minister R. Walther Darré – should be strong, not presumptuous. The task is not to despise or mock, but to lead and assist the weak. ”Let us spread our hands tenderly and gently under the weary feet of our weak brothers. The laughter on our lips should not be arrogant. Let our entire life radiate goodness.” (p. 43) That goodness must manifest itself, moreover, not so much in feelings and words as in actions. (p. 45)

14If the members of the ”joyful faith” act with goodness, it is ”not because a lord on high commanded that we love even our enemies and promised us eternal bliss if we believed his word with childlike faith. […] Nor is it because one will be met with a tearful look of gratitude. […] Woe to them who are so poor and petty that they must be bought by promises of earthly and heavenly reward. No! Act with goodness only out of Titanic inner strength and inexhaustible, world-consuming love, out of creative will and joyful strength,” out of a spontaneous generosity that pays no heed to past or future, and expects no reward. Once a deed has been done, moreover, it should be consigned to oblivion, as though it had never happened. It should not be an object of reflection or calculation, or a cause of either satisfaction or guilt. (p. 44) We should not be prisoners of the past, but creators of the future. At each moment of our lives we should be free and undetermined: ”stirb und werde!”

15Human beings can perfect themselves only ”through [their] own strength and not through another’s.” We are responsible for our own salvation. No mediator, no obedience to external laws can win it for us. ”You stand alone!” the poem’s speaker tells her readers. ”That word is like a thunderclap! Learn to understand it and you will grow ever taller.” (p. 46) Although ”as a human, you are a pitiful drop in the vast Universal stream” and will be washed away and lose all consciousness of your individuality ”when all the drops are fused into one,” that does not constitute a license to ”throw ourselves away.” Here the speaker evokes the example of a heroic Christ-figure who ”sanctified from on high, and glow[ing] from within, nevertheless sojourned among us – alone, and yet bound in love to the world.” Therein lies the mystery of the new faith proposed by the speaker: ”Be you alone in the midst of the community!” That is to say, do not lean on the crutch of a law, a church, or a mediator; be aware that there is no law, no church, no mediator, only the ”law within us” (as Fahrenkrog had put it), the law of each individual’s being as a fragment of the world-soul. ”If you learn to understand this,” the speaker insists, repeating her earlier words, ”you will grow ever taller. If you learn to understand this, you will fall humbly to your knees.” (p. 46) The poem closes on an un-Christian, Nietzschean reflection on death and, above all, on life as continuous destruction and creation.

Dying is nothing, transitoriness is nothing, it is only a moment, like birthing. Existence is nothing and life is a game, a tiny grain of sand in the divine hourglass of the universe. He alone may lay claim to Being who each day experiences anew ’dying’ and ’coming into being’ – who each day experiences anew the great miracle of having been ordained to bear the sacred torch in pure sacrificial hands before the people and to view the eternal goal in its rosy radiance, while the crowd crawls dully in the dust.

16At times, especially toward the end, the Princess’s poem is too mystical to be intelligible at virtually any level. Most of the time, it propagates values that were to be embraced by many National Socialists before, during, and even after World War II – as well as by later devotees of so-called ”New Age” ideas. A fair number of passages, including several recently quoted, anticipate existentialist ideas popular in the 1950s and 60s. As poetry, it now seems overblown and bombastic. What the fair-minded reader must concede, however, is that, confused as it sometimes is, Gott in mir does convey the impression of having been sincerely felt – as indeed do even the author’s later, blatantly ideological novels, Mutter Erde and Die Overbroocks. Moreover, the rebelliousness of Marie Adelheid Prinzessin Reuß-zur Lippe, her longing for a better, nobler world, her existentialist ethics, and her vision of heroic loneliness and sacrifice were by no means unique to her; nor did they lead necessarily, as they did in fact in her case, to membership in the National Socialist Party. In the aftermath of World War I thoughts and feelings similar to those expressed in Gott in mir were shared by men and women of many political persuasions, including artists, musicians, poets, and even theologians. It is by no means impossible that the future Communist Heinrich Vogeler responded to them and contributed his frontispiece in the belief that he and the author who later earned for herself the sobriquet of the ”Brownshirt Princess” had much in common.

Notes

1 Pantheism is by no means identical with Gnosticism; in some respects the two are opposed. (See Hans Jonas, The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity: The Gnostic Religion, 3rd edn. [Boston: Beacon Press, 2001], pp. 262-64). Opponents of the established religions, however, seem to have borrowed indiscriminately from both. On the startling success of Indo-Germanic scholars in winning acceptance for the idea of a deep, race-based historical connection between ancient Nordic beliefs and those of Buddhism and Hinduism – and in laying the foundations of an Aryan National Socialist religion, see Victor and Victoria Trimondi, Hitler-Buddha-Krishna: Eine unheilige Allianz vom Dritten Reich bis heute. Research into this issue was the main business of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe foundation until the outbreak of war. Just as those who wished to salvage the New Testament for the new National Socialist Germany claimed that Jesus was an Aryan, those who wished to discard Christianity altogether in favor of a race-based Aryan religion argued that Buddha had been a fair-skinned, blue-eyed Nordic type (p. 62 et passim).

2 Cf. the similar tone, a decade earlier, of the poem ”Sehnsucht” by Wilhelm Spohr, who managed to be both a patron of the future Nazi Fidus and a collaborator of the anarcho-socialist Gustav Landauer: ”Auf die Berge möcht’ ich fliehn,/ Fort aus dieser dumpfen Welt,/ Wo der Staub der Erdenmenschen/ Geistesflug gefangen hält./ Fort aus diesen engen Mauern,/ Aus der Stätte düstrer Qual,/ Auf den Bergen, auf den Bergen,/ Da ist Freiheit überall/ […] Um mich her der Geister Weben,/ Und in mir des Geistes Kraft,/ Der zu tatenfrohem Leben/ Weg und Mittel selbst sich schafft.” (Bilder und Stimmungen: Gedichte [Berlin and Leipzig: Modernes Verlagsbureau-Curt Wiegand, 1909], pp. 21-22) Walls and fences, along with the contrast between ”das Wir” (the We) and ”das häßliche Ich” (the ugly I), are likewise a recurrent theme in both the novels and the extremely popular fairy tales of a writer whose career stands in vivid contrast to that of the Princess – the gifted and undeservedly forgotten Hermynia Zur Mühlen, sometimes known as ”die rote Gräfin.” Born Countess Hermine Isabella Maria Viktoria Folliot de Crenneville- Poutet into an old Austrian noble family, Zur Mühlen broke with her family and background to devote herself to the cause of social and economic justice, was a member of the German Communist party in the 1920s, and fought tirelessly all her life against National Socialism, anti-Semitism, and oppression and discrimination of every kind. The impulse to break with the past and the longing for community could lead in diametrically opposed directions, as the contrast between Vogeler and Reuß zur Lippe has already indicated.

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