July 17th, 2009 09:01 AM
To The German Soldiers In The East
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No, I shall die in the prime of my life
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The hand which was raised against the new city builders'
Has been hacked off.
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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