To The German Soldiers In The East

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Thread: To The German Soldiers In The East

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    To The German Soldiers In The East

    1

    Brothers, if I were with you-

    Were one of you out there in the eastern snowfields

    One of the thousands of you amid the iron chariots-

    I would say as you say: Surely

    There must be a road leading home.



    But brothers, dear brothers

    Under my steel helmet, under my skull

    I would know what you know: There

    Is no longer a road leading home.



    On the map in a schoolboy's atlas

    The road to Smolensk is no bigger

    Than the Fuehrer's little finger, but

    In the snowfields it is further

    Very far, too far.



    The snow will not last for ever, just till springtime.

    But men will not last for ever either. Springtime

    Will be too long.



    So I must die, I know it.

    In the bandit's tunic I must die

    Dying in the bloody arsonist's shirt.



    As one of the many, one of the thousands

    Hunted as bandits, slain as bloody arsonists.



    2

    Brothers, if I were with you

    Were trudging with you across the icy wastes

    I would ask as you ask: Why

    Have I come here, whence

    There is no longer any road leading home?



    Why have I put on the bandit's tunic?

    Why have I put on the bloody arsonist's shirt?

    No, it was not from hunger

    No, it was not from desire to kill.



    Merely because I was a menial

    And was ordered to

    I set out to murder and to burn

    And must now be hunted

    And must now be slain.



    3

    Because I broke into

    The peaceful land of peasants and workers

    With its great order, its ceaseless construction

    Trampling down crops and crushing down farmhouses

    To plunder its workshops, its mills and its dams

    To cut short the teaching in its thousand schools

    To break up the sessions of its tireless committees:



    Therefore I must now die like a rat

    Caught by the farmer.



    4

    So that all trace of me may be wiped from

    The face of the earth-

    Of the leprosy that is me! That an example be made of me for all ages, how to deal

    With bandits and bloody arsonists

    And the menials of bandits and bloody arsonists.



    5

    So that mothers may say that they have no children.

    So that children may say they have no fathers.

    So that there may be mounds of earth which give no information.



    6

    And I shall never again see

    The land from which I came

    Not the Bavarian forests, nor the southern mountains

    Not the sea, not the moors of Brandenburg, the pinetrees

    Nor the Franconian vineyards sloping down to the river

    Not in the grey dawn, not at midday

    And not as evening falls.



    Nor the cities, and the city where I was born.

    Not the workbenches, nevermore the parlor

    And not the chair.



    All this I shall never again see

    And no one who came with me

    Will ever see it again.



    Nor will I or you

    Hear the voice of wives and mothers

    Or the wind in the chimney in our homes

    Or the cheerful sounds of the city, or the bitter.



    7

    No, I shall die in the prime of my life

    Unloved, unmissed

    A war device's reckless driver.



    Untaught, save in my last hour

    Untried, save in murdering

    Not missed, save by the slaughterers.



    And I shall lie under the earth

    Which I have ravaged

    A vandal without friends.

    A sigh of relief will go up over my grave.



    For what will they be burying?

    A hundredweight of meat in a tank, soon to rot.

    What will come of it?

    A shrivelled bush, all frozen

    A mess they shovelled away

    A smell blown away by the wind.



    8

    Brothers, if I were now with you

    On the road back to Smolensk

    Back from Smolensk to nowhere



    I would feel what you feel: From the start

    I knew under my steel helmet, under my skull

    That bad is not good

    That two and two make four

    And that all will die who went with him

    The bloodstained bawler

    The bloodstained fool.



    Who did not know that the road to Moscow is long

    Very long, too long.

    That the winter in the East is cold

    Very cold, too cold.

    That the peasants and workers of the new state would

    Defend their earth and their cities

    Till we are all blotted out.



    9

    By the forests, behind the guns

    In the streets and in the houses

    Between the tanks, by the roadside

    At the hands of the men, of the women, of the children

    In the cold, in the dark, in hunger



    Till we are all blotted out

    Today or tommorrow or the next day

    You and me and the general, all

    Who came here to lay waste

    What men's hands had erected.



    10

    Because it is such hard work to cultivate the earth

    Because it cost so much sweat to put up a house

    To saw the beams, to draw the plan

    To lay the walls, to cover the roof.

    Because it was so exhausting, because the hopes were so high.



    11

    For a thousand years it was a matter for laughter

    When the works of mens' hands were violated.

    But now the word will go round every continent:

    The foot which trampled the new tractor drivers' fields

    Has withered.

    The hand which was raised against the new city builders'
    works

    Has been hacked off.



    Bertolt Brecht




    I think that this is a very powerful yet flawed work.

    Powerful for the way it conveys the hatred for the invaders and the tragedy of so many Germans losing their lives fighting for conquest and genocide.

    I think the flaw is in the implication that all German soldiers were merely hundredweights of meat, that they were all guilty of being hirelings of murderers.

    That is too easy, and it evades the responsibility of the German stalinists who helped allow the nazis to come to power.

    If the German Left had been organized before WW1, they would have had a better chance of resisting stalinism later, or would have even been able to push capitalism off the stage and all of the killing that followed would have been avoided.

    Because the German stalinists, Brecht being one of them (albeit hating Stalin and not having much choice in his place in history), did not make a revolution, the nazis came to power. It is therefore wrong to blame German workers in the wehrmacht for being hirelings of murderers when his own Party failed those same workers.

    Anyway, it is still a powerful poem and I enjoy reading it.
    By the forests, behind the guns/In the streets and in the houses/Between the tanks, by the roadside/At the hands of the men, of the women, of the children/In the cold, in the dark, in hunger....

    Bertolt Brecht, "To The German Soldiers In The East", stanza 9.

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