Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Some stray thoughts on Vorwärts! Vorwärts! (The song of the Hitler Youth)

While I have the work I did on the subject a couple of days ago still in mind: I see that British critics of the HJ (Hitler Jugend; Hitler Youth) during the war described it as "education for death". And there have been academic articles that identify Fascism/Nazism as a death cult too. And if you look at the last line of the first verse of Vorwärts! Vorwärts! (below) you can see why. HJ members were encouraged to give up their lives for Hitler if need be.

But is it really fair to condemn that? Consider two other well-known statements: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Is Christianity a death cult? Early Christians certain did often lay down their lives for their faith.

And what about: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country"? (Originally said by Pericles and recycled by JFK in his first inaugural). Was JFK inaugurating a death cult?

Neither quote is an exact analogue of what the HJ asked of its members but throughout history it has normally been seen as heroism to give up one's life for others and I personally see the sadly misled young members of the HJ as walking in that tradition. The only pity is that their dedication was so badly abused.

They in fact thought that they were fighting for Freiheit und Brot (freedom and bread). We forget in our age of affluence that an abundance of food for all is a quite recent achievement. Hunger was just around the corner for most people throughout history. And Hitler did promise to banish that danger via his policy of Lebensraum. And hunger is an urgent need so fighting for "bread" was a much more important goal in the time of the HJ than it is today. Hence its prominence in their song.

But perhaps the most interesting bit in Vorwärts! Vorwärts! is that the HJ also thought they were fighting for "freedom". Freedom from what? Basically, freedom from Jewish oppressors, I think. It was a fantasy of course but one that was widely believed at the time. The prominence of Jews in all walks of life in prewar Germany certainly helped foster that illusion.

And the flag of the HJ heralded "the new time". I can remember the days in the 50's, 60s and even 70s when "new" was a Leftist catchword. The "new" theatre or the "new" school would be understood by politically aware people as being on the far Left. So, as far Leftists, the Nazis presented themselves that way too. That tyranny and collectivism are as old as the hills was somehow ignored. But for a long time people did think -- or hope -- that Fascism and Communism were something new, improved and positive. I think it was the obviously sclerotic state of the old Soviet union that eventually caused the Left to abandon their propaganda about being "new". Though I suppose that "hopey change" is just a variation on it.
Uns're Fahne flattert uns voran. Our flag flutters before us
In die Zukunft ziehen wir Mann für Mann We trek into the future as man for man
Wir marschieren für Hitler We march for Hitler
Durch Nacht und durch Not Through night and hardship
Mit der Fahne der Jugend With the flag of youth
Für Freiheit und Brot. For freedom and bread
Uns're Fahne flattert uns voran, Our flag flutters before us
Uns're Fahne ist die neue Zeit. Our flag is the new time
Und die Fahne führt uns in die Ewigkeit! And the flag leads us into eternity
Ja die Fahne ist mehr als der Tod! Yes the flag is more to us than death

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