victory in death

jugend virgiss nicht deiner gefallenTranslation: “Youth, forget not your fallen fathers and brothers.”


One of the most paradoxical aspects of National Socialism is that, while planning for a German future founded on the principles of victory, superiority, and cultural glory, a parallel ideology developed—one obsessed with death, ruin, and martyrdom—which helped bring Hitler’s Germany to its apex, and then to its ultimate climactic end.

Inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner, neo-Romanticism, monumentality, and Volkish ideology, a popular culture was crafted in Germany built on sacrifice, hero worship, and fascist aesthetic politics. Volkishness emphasized a connection to nature, folk traditions, and man’s rootedness to his ancestral homeland; these concepts were essential in creating an alternative to urbanism and industrialization.

dead-soldiers2Hero worship and “The Cult of the Fallen Soldier,” represent the clearest and most affecting examples of the paradoxical nature of Hitler’s dream for Germany. Following World War I, most Germans had a clear understanding of sacrifice as realized through the blood of their young soldiers. As this postcard seems to suggest, the blood of the war dead enriches the fecundity of the ancestral German soil.

This is especially true for the “Myth of Langemark,” an important battle for the ethnohistory and death iconography of World War I.

In what became know as the “Kindermord” or “The Massacre of the Innocents” took place during the first battle of Ypres at Langemark, Belgium on October 26, 1914, where enthusiastic and inexperienced students came fatally face-to-face with battle-hardened British soldiers.

As the myth goes, hundreds of young German soldiers, many of them from every German university, marched into no man’s land to their deaths, all the while singing the Deutschlandlied. To the veterans of Langemarck, the battle came to stand for victory out of defeat, a spiritual or moral victory gained by self sacrifice, a victory of innocence and youth pitted against hard professionalism, a victory of idealism in the service of the nation.

Thousands of young men were slaughtered, but the myths surrounding their deaths became an essential part of the Totenkult (culture of death): a powerful civil religion that ultimately ended in ideological national suicide and widespread immolation at the end of World War II.


war dead medal.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Richard Wagner’s Götterdammerung


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4 Responses to “victory in death”

  1. 1 Frank Manning
    February 25, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    This year, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the two bloodiest battles in the history of the world: the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. On February 21, 1916, the German army began its offensive against the French fortresses at Verdun, the anchor of the eastern part of the trench line that extended across northern France from the English Channel to Switzerland. The aim of the German commander, General Erich von Falkenhayn, was to “bleed France white”. The battle raged on into November 1916. No one knows for sure how many young Germans and Frenchmen perished in the carnage. Estimates range from 700,000 to 1,200,000 total killed. Artillery was the primary tool of slaughter. Most of the victims were blown to atoms. Even to this day bone fragments are regularly unearthed in the killing fields around Verdun. To relieve the pressure at Verdun, the British army initiated the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. On that day alone some 20,000 British soliders were killed, the bloodiest single day in the history of warfare. The outcome of both ghastly mass slaughters was the same: Nothing gained. The French held Verdun, and the German line further west, along the Somme, did not crack. Some 2 million lives squandered for basically nothing! This kind of pointless carnage went on, day after day, for four long years. That was the true tragedy of the First World War, a totally unnecessary conflict fueled by greed and imperial ambition. A whole generation, the flower of their nations, decimated. No wonder it gave rise to a Totenkult in the country that ultimately lost the war.

    • 2 matt
      February 26, 2016 at 7:49 am

      Your post sent me scrambling to the net for more info about these horrors. Admittedly, I’ve never had much interest in WWI, so was appalled by the numbers you referenced. It was noted at http://www.verdun-douaumont.com that in the approximately 300days of battle, that more than 26 million artillery shells were fired, roughly 6 per square meter of battlefield. This resulted in more than 300,000 missing persons. The ossuary at Douaumont hosts the bones of an estimated 130,000 unidentified individuals, as well as more than 16,000 graves. Though shocking in its immensity, it is nearly unimaginable, is’nt it?

      • 3 Frank Manning
        February 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm

        If you want to delve into the full horror of the Battle of Verdun I urge you to read the book “The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916” by Alistair Horne, which was originally published in 1962. It is considered a definitive work on the subject. There are many outstanding books about the Battle of the Somme. The one that gave me nightmares is “Somme” by Lyn MacDonald, from 1983. Both are available at Amazon and other outlets. The immensity of the carnage of World War I is indeed unimaginable. More than 10 million killed, with little to show for it but the bloody revolutions of the 20th century and the seeds of the most destructive conflict in world history.

      • 4 matt
        February 26, 2016 at 4:59 pm

        Thanks for the book references, Frank. I’ll search them out this weekend.

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