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

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.


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

Has withered.

The hand which was raised against the new city builders'

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.