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The War Journals, 1941-1945

by Ernst Jünger & translated by Thomas S. HansenAbby J. Hansen

Pub Date: Dec. 18th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-231-12740-0
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

The wartime notes of a German officer and writer.

In 1920, Jünger (1895-1998), who had emerged from World War I as a decorated hero, published Storm and Steel, recounting his experiences as exhilarating and the war itself as mythic. As historian Elliot Neaman writes in an informative foreword, the book and subsequent essays “established Jünger’s reputation as one of Germany’s foremost authors of the war generation.” As the Nazis rose to power, Jünger found himself opposed to their racist views and refused to become involved in Nazi politics. Nevertheless, he served as an officer throughout World War II; in 1941, he was posted to occupied Paris. Jünger’s war journals convey in sensuous, lyrical—yet often chillingly detached—prose daily life in the French capital as well as dire conditions along the Eastern Front between Germany and Russia and the privations his wife and family endured at home in Germany. In the journals of 1941, the war seems far off, except when Jünger hears bombs burst in the distance or is required to witness executions. “My first inclination was to report in sick,” he admits, “but that seemed cheap to me. Furthermore, I thought to myself: maybe it is better that you are present rather than someone else.” Through these journals, we see Jünger consorting with resistors and collaborators, intellectuals and artists, drinking champagne, dining in sumptuous restaurants, and accompanying other officers to nightclubs, where naked women perform. Wandering around the city, he combs through antiquarian bookshops, stops in at galleries, discusses literature with friends, and acutely observes plants and flowers change with the seasons. He recounts in detail his dreams, nightmares, and musings on war and the “moral passivity typical of modern man.” He characterizes Hitler as a madman and his followers as complicit in a cult of hatred and tyranny. As the Allies prevail, however, he sees that success “is making them ruthless” and vengeful, deepening his condemnation of war.

A unique historical testimony.