Archive for September, 2009

Reflections on one month of German History Buzz

My first post at German History Buzz appeared on 3 August 2009. As I think back on the site’s first month, a few things come to mind…

This is fun

I finally have the outlet that I have wanted for my deep interest in Austrian and German history. I finally have a reason for pulling the old books off the shelves, thumbing through them, making notes, organizing my thoughts and writing about them. I’m not just doing it for fun now; I’m sharing with whomever comes by and has a look. Whether it’s just one visitor or one thousand, someone out there — someday — will probably stumble across what I’ve said and perhaps even make some use of it. That’s more fun than sitting around reading and thinking, “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then doing nothing with the information.

This is difficult

Fun though it is, it is often also difficult to write a blog post. Thinking of something and typing it are the two easiest steps. The hard part comes when…

  • … I want to include material from other sources. This typically requires research either on- or offline. When offline, it means moving my head back and forth from the source material, be it a book, newspaper, or what have you. When online, this might mean a lot of switching back and forth between browser windows, copying and pasting, etc.
  • … I want to include one or more photos/images. I’ve chosen a WordPress template that really demands images, as you’ve no doubt noticed. I like the look of it, but it sure does require effort. First I need to find an image; and not just any image, since I will only take one that I may legally use. After finding a legal image, I need to crop and resize it to fit the correct dimensions for the template I’m using. That means saving the image locally, firing up image editing software if it’s not already running, cropping and resizing, re-saving the altered image, uploading it to the blog and copying its URL so I can refer to it.

It may not sound like a lot, but the time spent on these tasks seems to add up quickly.

This requires discipline

As the last section described, the creation of a single blog entry can actually be fairly difficult. Well it’s even more challenging when you want to do it several times per week! This requires discipline. My discipline, like that of others, goes up and down. This is no doubt reflected on the site!

I or We?

If you have read a lot here, you may have noticed my inconsistent use of the first person singular and plural. I started off with a lot of “we”, entertaining the idea that some day one or more other people might contribute to the site. Therefore I thought maybe “we” was appropriate. But, in fact, I noticed I felt uncomfortable every time I typed it. So I’ve stopped. New material contains only the first person singular unless there is a particular reason for the plural.

Traffic is hard to get

At the one month point, I get less than 20 visits per day to the site. I’m not surprised about that, given the niche quality of the topic and the fact that a blog absolutely needs inbound links from other web sites in order to even have a chance to get a respectable Google page rank. At the moment, just one external site links to me, and Google doesn’t even seem to have noticed it. So it could take a long, long time before I ever — if ever — get traffic to the site. But that’s fine, because just the act of writing about history is fun for me. So I’m going to stick with it no matter what. Of course, more visitors could help with the issue of discipline which I talked about above; a healthy readership certainly provides some motivation. But either way, this site shall remain alive with fresh content coming out on a fairly regular basis.

In the Hausarchiv: Friedrichrodaer Zeitung, 28 August 1915

In the Hausarchiv: Friedrichrodaer Zeitung, 28 August 1915

Amateur history nerd that I am, I’m quite pleased to have married into a family which has retained all sorts of books, newspapers and magazines dating from about 1920 onwards. The “In the Hausarchiv” series gives an occasional look at the things I’ve come across in our own “house archive”.

I’m a day late with this week’s “In the Hausarchiv“, as I usually do it on Wednesdays. But this week we have something even older than 1920, the year which I usually indicate as being the earliest for material in the Hausarchiv. I was quite surprised when I came across this newspaper from 28 August 1915. More surprising was that it is not Austrian, but rather German, which makes it an unusual find here in our house.

The newspaper is from Friedrichroda, Germany. I was not familiar with the town, but thumbing through the newspaper made it clear that it’s famous as a Kurort, a place where one might “take the cure” thanks to its natural springs and such. Perhaps a member of my wife’s family “took the cure” in Friedrichroda in 1915 and then again in 1917, because I found a second issue of the Friedrichrodaer Zeitung dated 9 July 1917. Or perhaps someone bought these issues years later at a garage sale or flea market. Who knows.

From the historical perspective the issue is interesting because it comes from the second year of the First World War. It contains several short notes about the progress of the war, including, for example, a notice that the British vessels the “Commander Boyle” and the “Bert Boy” had been destroyed by the German navy. I found the demise of these vessels listed on the website called and it looks as though they were indeed destroyed on 23 August 1915, so five days before this issue of the Friedrichrodaer Zeitung. Only such good news about the war appears in both of these issues that I have of this particular newspaper. That’s not surprising, given the fact that war censorship was in effect — and not just in Germany.

wir_halten_durchOn the front page of the 1915 issue featured here in “In the Hausarchiv” is a poem called “Wir halten durch” (“We persevere”). I’ve placed an image of the poem here in this article. Here is a hasty, non-rhyming, non-rhythmic prose translation:

Though millions of warriors may fall on the field of battle,
Their dying lips shall murmur:
Germany, stand fast like a castle of stone,
Persevere, you courageous warriors!
O Persevere!

And though many hearts may beat in sorrow,
Every German calls out his holy oath:
Germany, stand fast like a castle of stone,
In struggle and hardship, we persevere –
We persevere!

01 September 1939: Other Quotations

01 September 1939: Other Quotations

Below is a collection of quotations concerning the German attack on Poland in September 1939. Not all quotes are from 01 September, but they reference the events that began that day.

You and your men must have plenty to do now. I just can’t grasp that people’s lives are now under constant threat from other people. I’ll never understand it, and I find it terrible. Don’t go telling me it’s for the Fatherland’s sake.

Sophie Scholl to Fritz Hartnagel, 05 September 1939, in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (US, UK, CA, DE [eng], DE [deu]).

Finis Germaniae

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, upon hearing that the final order for “Operation White”, the attack on Poland, had been given by Hitler. In An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945, by Anton Gill. (US, UK, CA, DE [eng])

The inhabitants are an unbelievable rabble, very many Jews and very much mixed population. A people which surely is only comfortable under the knout. The thousands of prisoners-of-war will be good for our agriculture. In Germany they will surely be useful, industrious, willing and frugal.

Claus von Stauffenberg, reporting from his service in Poland. Here we see a Stauffenberg clearly not yet committed to resistance. From Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944, p. 115.


I do not have the impression that our friends the Bolsheviks are using kid-gloves. This war is truly a scourge of God for the entire Polish upper class. They ran from us eastward. We are not letting anyone except ethnic Germans cross the Vistula westward. The Russians will likely make short work of them, since, as is well known by now, the real danger is only in the nationalistic Polish upper class who naturally feel superior to the Russians. Many of them will go to Siberia. [ibid.]

On 1 September 1939 there were no scenes of enthusiasm, no cheering crowds in Berlin like those in Munich in which Hitler had heard the news of the declaration of war twenty-five years before. When he drove to address the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House at 10 a.m., the streets were emptier than usual. Most of those who turned to watch the line of cars accompanying the Führer stared in silence.

Allan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 547. (US, UK, CA, DE [eng], DE [deu])

I am asking of no German man more than I myself was ready to do throughout four years. There will be no hardships for Germans to which I myself will not submit. My whole life belongs henceforth more than ever to my people. I am from now on just the first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was the most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.

Adolf Hitler quoted in Bullock, p. 547.

Question: You believe then that Hitler did not realize in September 1939 that he had started a World War?

Albert Speer: From what I observed, I had to assume that this was not his intention. He intended to carry his plans one step further, as with Czechoslovakia.

On the other hand, there is this consideration. From the standpoint of the balance of military power, 1939 must have been the best year to start a war, better than two or three years later.

Albert Speer responding to questions under interrogation. From Richard Overy, Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945, p. 331.

01 September 1939: Tragedy

01 September 1939: Tragedy

It was a strange morning. Silently we stepped back from the radio that had projected a message into the room which would outlast centuries, a message that was destined to change our world totally and the life of every single one of us. A message which meant death for thousands of those who had silently listened to it, sorrow and unhappiness, desperation and threat for every one of us, and perhaps only after years and years a creative significance. It was war again, a war, more terrible and far-reaching than ever before on earth any war had been. Once more an epoch came to an end, once more a new epoch began. Silently we stood in the room that had suddenly become deathly quiet and avoided looking at each other. From outside came the unconcerned twitter of the birds, frivolous in their love and subject to the gentle breeze, and in golden luster the trees swayed as if their leaves, like lips, wished to touch one another tenderly. It was not for ancient Mother Nature to know the cares of her creatures.

Once more I wandered down to the town to have a last look at peace. It lay calmly in the noon-day sun and seemed no different to me from other days. People went their accustomed way in their usual manner. There were no signs of hurry, they did not crowd talkatively together. Their behavior had a sabbath-like quality and at a certain moment I asked myself: “Can it be that they don’t know it yet?”

I recalled our old soldiers, weary and in rags, how they had come back from the battlefield, — my beating heart felt the whole past war in the one that was beginning today and which still hid its terror from our eyes. Again I was aware that the past was done for, work achieved was in ruins, Europe, our home, to which we had dedicated ourselves had suffered a destruction that would extend far beyond our life. Something new, a new world began, but how many hells, how many purgatories had to be crossed before it could be reached!

The sun shone full and strong. Homeward bound I suddenly noticed before me my own shadow as I had seen the shadow of the other war behind the actual one. During all this time it has never budged from me, that irremovable shadow, it hovers over every thought of mine by day and by night; perhaps its dark outline lies on some pages of this book, too. But, after all, shadows themselves are born of light. And only he who has experienced dawn and dusk, war and peace, ascent and decline, only he has truly lived.

From Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (US, UK, CA, DE [eng], DE [deu].)