Wilhelm Pleyer and the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft

by Allen Knechtmann

"Has there ever before been a government which cared so much for the arts that poets could participate immediately in the great events of the era? And as the first civilians to follow the soldiers and victors?!" The Sudeten German poet Wilhelm Pleyer posed these questions in his diary, published under the title Dichterfahrt durch Kampfgebiete [A Poet's Journey through Combat Zones], in the evening of July 19th, 1940, after a reception in the hall of the "European Court" in Baden-Baden in preparation for a guided tour of the battlefields and sites of the just concluded Battle of France. And in pondering such questions, he illuminates a badly misunderstood aspect of the German National Socialist state: the relationship of the regime to the arts. To the vast majority of people, their minds poisoned by decades of Jewish propaganda, National Socialism is synonymous with barbarism and disdain for the arts, but, as Wilhelm Pleyer intimates, the reality was the exact opposite.

As the vanguard and guarantor of a new, healthy and dynamic Germany, the National Socialist German Workers' Party had a very keen interest in art. Throughout the twelve years it was in power, the party strived diligently to attract to its ranks the surviving paragons of past German cultural greatness, such as Richard Strauss and the family of Richard Wagner. And this outreach was an important effort to incorporate the past achievements of German culture in the new Volksgemeinschaft, the national community of all Germans. But at the same time, the National Socialists desired to expand the sources of artistic talent beyond the patronage of the snobbish crust of the upper middle class and the wealthy and into the rich sources of folk music and folk literature. The urgency of this effort was heightened by the fact that industrialization and commercialization, and their accompanying social atomization, were threatening to condemn this folk art to oblivion. The National Socialists desired not only to preserve this heritage before it was lost, but also to revitalize it, in the expectation that ordinary Germans would develop their own artistic inspiration and cultural appreciation.

Wilhelm Pleyer's origins as a the son of a blacksmith in the Erzgebirge along the northern frontier of Bohemia were just the sort of credentials National Socialism esteemed. In his autobiographical poem "Familiengeschichte [Family History]" he describes his roots as follows:

My forebear wandered far from German land
And in the Erzgebirge smithed and burnt coal,
Smote the glowing ore -- as did his ancestor without name
And all who came after him are hammerers and smiths to this day.

Born in 1901, he was too young to have seen service in the Austro-Hungarian army, but he was a young man, just embarking on life's adventures, when the implacable Versailles Treaty changed his life permanently. Virtually overnight, he found himself, along with his Sudeten German friends and family, a citizen in a new Slavic state which at best found its German minority an irreconcilable irritant in the ethnic fabric of the Czechs and the Slovaks, and at worst considered the Sudeten Germans visible reminders of the worst aspects of the Habsburg rule which had just ended. Frustration in trying to resolve what was unresolvable, thanks to the simplistic boundaries of the new states fashioned by the Allies and compounded by their stern refusal, a cynical perversion of the idealistic mantra of the Fourteen Points� proclamation of the right of self-determination, to permit ethnic Germans outside the new borders of Germany to reclaim their birthright and heritage, created new tensions which occasionally boiled over into open violence. For this reason, Pleyer simultaneously felt very keenly the hostility of the Czechs and the indifference of the Weimar Republic to the privations of not only the Sudeten Germans, but of all the Eastern Germans beyond the borders of the German state.

From this dual pressure arose one of Pleyer�s most remarkable aspects, his intense devotion to the idea of Gro�deutschland, Greater Germany. Much attention has been shed on the desires of German nationalists within the Reich itself to incorporate areas inhabited by ethnic Germans into the Reich from 1919 until the Second World War, usually in a manner designed to propagate the falsehood that, except for a few troublemakers, Germans living in non-German states were for the most part happy, well contented and well treated by their ethnic neighbors. And while this version of affairs paints a very favorable picture for the supporters of the Versailles experiment in nation-building, and for our latter-day social experimenters of the New World Order, it simply does not correspond with reality. The complaints and concerns of the Sudeten Germans, the Silesian Germans, the Russian and Ukrainian Germans and the Baltic Germans were legitimate, and they were utterly ignored by the arrogant politicians of the Western plutocracies who ruthlessly enforced their hopelessly simplistic notions upon tens of millions of people they had never before even seen.

To understand the longing of the ethnic Germans to be reunited with their landsmen in Germany proper, one must understand the depth of feeling incorporated in the National Socialist concept of Volksgemeinschaft. To Americans, an amalgamation of the various European ethnic groups supporting an increasingly untenable population of non-Whites, an ethnically homogeneous community as the basis of nationhood is almost inconceivable on an emotional level. Yet without this ingrained sense of belonging, White Americans face almost certain racial annihilation within two hundred years. Fortunately, however, it is at least possible to understand national community on an intellectual level, with the hope that an emotional basis can be formed from the abstract understanding. Correcting this social atomization and instilling the educational foundation in White Americans for the fostering of a European racial community in the United States, accordingly, is one of the great goals of the National Alliance.

Pleyer, of course, understood the longing for national community, and he rendered his feelings into verse with his poem "Gemeinschaft." He did not conceive this existence as some utopian paradise along the lines of a Marxist workers' state, but rather as the bond necessary for a society to struggle upwards in fulfilment of its racial destiny. He envisioned the overall aspect of this struggle with the lines: "Brother, you are to be a hero, but without glory." He addresses his reader as "brother" because without the rootedness which comes with a sense of nation-racial belonging, existence could not realistically extend beyond the self, and the connection of the present with the past and with the future would be meaningless beyond an abstract conception of the more mentally gifted members of a society. The last four lines of "Gemeinschaft" express this understanding:

At the iron, mass
Grave of the nameless,
We find together,
One in the One Spirit.

Pleyer was one of many ethnic Germans who longed to be reunited with his German landsmen in spite of the prohibitions of the despised Versailles Diktat. In 1932, at the low point of Germany's prostration, he composed a poem entitled "Deutschland ist gr��er [Germany is Greater]," in which he reminded his readers in a scolding way that there were "thirty million Germans beyond the narrow borders of your German Reich!" And in his "Denk's Deutscher! [Consider this, German!]" he accused his landsmen in the Reich of complacency to the fate of their cousins abroad:

Consider this, German, in your cozy house,
Who keeps you there!
Many brothers are caught in the turmoil
At the edge of the German world.

These were fighting words, reflecting the dangers of ethnic conflict and Bolshevik persecution, and they betray the emotional intensity of the struggle in which so many Germans found themselves embroiled thanks to the thoughtless Versailles Treaty. And, of course, these emotions profoundly affected the National Socialists, who understood all too well how far Germany had declined in the world in less than twenty years, and how helpless they were, at first in any case, to extend a familial hand of assistance to their suffering cousins. The painful knowledge of the fate of the ethnic Germans was the impetus behind Adolf Hitler's decision in October 1938 to rescue the Sudeten Germans from their unbearable privations and persecutions, and then, after the war had begun, to rescue first the Germans in Poland and the Baltic states, and then those in Bessarabia and Bukovina. And Pleyer's strident rhyme and poignant prose played a key role in educating Germans in the Reich of the situation of the ethnic Germans in the East.

As the campaign to reclaim the ethnic Germans from the East intensified in the darkening months before the opening of the war with the Soviet Union, Pleyer lent his perceptive ear to the stories of his racial kinsmen returning to the Reich after centuries of colonization. Thanks to the efforts of men of letters such as Pleyer, the emotional nature of the resettling of the ethnic Germans has been preserved for the inquiring souls of posterity to ponder and, in retrospect, to lament. One of the most poignant accounts of the resettlement effort was his short story "Das Kind und die Kuh [The Child and the Cow]," which commemorated the devotion to her milk cow by an unknown peasant girl caught up in the turmoil of the resettlement from Bessarabia in 1940. "The trek was arranged under a hard law," in which, Pleyer reminds his audience, only draft animals, above all horses, could be brought back with the resettlers. "The remainder had to be left behind; they were exchanged for things which could more easily be brought back." The tenacity of the young girl's love for her cow, however, enabled her to overcome the "hard law" and emerge united with her beloved animal after the trek reached its destination in the Fatheeland. The moral of this story was the essence of the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft -- love, devotion, sacrifice for others in the knowledge and expectation that should the tables be reversed, it would be reciprocated -- and a touching display of the German love for animals.

With this story Pleyer foreshadowed in a historical sense the far more horrific floods of German refugees, many of them these same ethnic Germans, before the ravenous onslaught of the Red Army in 1945. But at the same time he also foreshadowed in a literary sense the stories of Ingrid Rimland, especially her novels The Wanderers and Lebensraum. And while there is a sharp degree of difference between the severity and tragedy of the two treks, both were precipitated by the menace of Bolshevism. That the first trek was humane and well cared for and the second brutal and barbaric can be attributed solely to the ability of the National Socialists to control the respective courses of events. Moreover, lest it be alleged that Pleyer could not empathize with the sufferings of the refugees from the East in 1945, it should be remembered that his own Sudeten German community was forcibly expelled from Bohemia after the war.


(c)2001 by James Allen Knechtmann. No part of this essay may be reproduced without the author's written permission.


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