German literature during the Nazi period (1933-45) did not have a real “poetic”. Even as tendencies and motifs, it is not difficult to link it to the currents that preceded it: the sense of overcoming the “I”, the need for the “choir”, for the “collectivity” were already in expressionism, although in this only with universalistic meanings and vaguely, tumultuously humanitarian; in Nazi literature, on the other hand, with a precise sense of reality and with exasperated nationalistic characteristics; so in the neue sachlichkeit (neorealism) there was already the need for an ethical content, the renewed importance of the historical and social environment, the principle of a “collective individuality”, that is, the first idea of mass and “people”; and there were also those who, like J. Roth, had appealed to a return to order in poetic style and language; motifs all taken up (except perhaps the last) from the literature of the third Reich, even if the main representatives of the two aforementioned currents were mostly belonging to leftist and Jewish parties. The novelty, purely of content, of Nazi literature, is this: but the novelty that “collective individuality” was understood in a radically and exclusively national sense, the glorification of reality was only the glorification of German reality,
Three figures are usually indicated as passing and preparing for the new Nazi literature: Rudolf Germany Binding (1867-1938), Paul Ernst (1866-1943), Hans Grimm (1875); but in fact the aristocratic and self-centered personality of Binding, despite his strong sense of the German nation and lineage, his aphorisms of naked and almost cynical realism, and the art that would like to be classic by Paul Ernst, despite the glorification of the German Reich (Das Kaiserbuch) through the ages, they have little to say to Nazi literature; and the same concept of “people” in Hans Grimm, the author of Volk ohne Raum (1926), is very far from the Nazi concept, in that the first is only a people that needs space and that is above all colonies, the other is the people in the sense of the mysticism of blood and race. Even the three formulas: Blut und Boden, Rückkehr zur Scholle, Stamm und Landschaft, with which Nazi literature is usually characterized, rather than laying the foundations for a real poetics, can be used to group together, roughly, some names and some trends. Moreover, of the first hendiad, Blut und Boden, “blood and earth”, which is the most characteristic, the main representatives are two elderly writers, trained before Nazism: EG Kolbenheyer (1878) and HF Blunck (1888): the first who, with his novels on historical figures of pre-reform (Paracelsus, Bruno, Spinoza, Böhme), he created a kind of biological metaphysics, in which the element Blut (“blood”) has great weight ; the second that, in his trilogies (Urväter Saga, Kampf der Gestirne) and even in his fairy tales, dating back to the prehistoric times of Germany, gives so much importance to the Boden factor (“earth”) to determine through this not only the physical traits, but also the actions and thoughts of his characters.(“return to the clod”), apart from the fact that for certain idyllic reasons this art refers to the Heimatdichtung of the end of the 19th century (but there is more resoluteness and “cruelty” than visions), the names of F Griese (Winter), F. Schnack, Agnes Miegel (Geschichten aus Altpreussen), by KB von Mechow, who in the novel Vorsommer also has accents of delicate spirituality, etc.; and around the other hendiadys Stamm und Landschaft, “lineage and landscape”, can be brought together a bit all: in addition to the aforementioned, the Silesian F. Bischoff and the Austrian KH Waggerl, the Bavarian Germany Britting and the Tyrolean F. Tumler. The greatest writer, the most important figure of this period is Ernst Jünger (1895), who with his varied and complex work (of social problems, Der Arbeiter, and even of military technique; of war memories; and above all of poetry: Das abenteuerliche Herz, Auf den Marmorklippen) overcame all these formulas, drew on all trends, even foreign schools of decadence, and yet gave a strong sign of originality to his writings, flashing with new thoughts and very vigilant in form, in a subtle and suggestive mixture of intellectualism and fantasy, discovery of cruelty and hidden pity, of frigid calm and underground romantic impetus. But already in 1942, in Gärten und Strassen, Jünger came out of the preconceptions of Nazi anti-Christian preconceptions and opened up to broader and more human feelings.
The lack of great personalities and true poetics meant that in the early years of Nazism old writers and novelists, already forgotten, but who had held firm on some essential points, were restored to honor: homeland, nation, lineage, heroism; such as J. Ponten (born I883), Emil Strauss (b.1866), Hermann Stehr (b.1864), W. Schäfer (b.1868), the polite writer of the Anekdoten, Rudolf Huch, Ricarda’s cousin, Otto Gmelin (1886-1940), author of historical novels, etc. Only in the following years did the young people bring to a harder light the concepts of race and blood, weaving around them an aura of mysticism, moreover already mentioned in Kolbenheyer and Blunck. In this group, for the strict adherence to the principles if not for the happiness of the artistic realization, the names of W. Beumelburg (b. 1889), JM Wehner, F. Schauwecker among the novelists should be remembered; H. Johst (b. 1890), EW Möller (b. 1906), Germany Schumann (b. 1911) among the poets, the second of which has, in the Briefe der Gefallenen, accents of delicate painful humanity. But perhaps the most important poet of this period is the Austrian Josef Weinheber (1892-1945), who already sang in Adel und Untergang (1920), with purity of style, the nobility of the decline of his homeland and which only later joined the ranks of the poets celebrating Hitler; and Germany Britting, already mentioned as a short story writer, who in his short poems combines a sharply defined style with delicacy of images; and a loner, H. Leifhelm, who lived and died in Italy, far from the Nazi world and whose songs are inspired by a minute Franciscan love of nature. It is natural then that around the topic “war”, which all the Nazi motifs summarizes and sublimates, we can gather a large number of these writers: not only Edwin E. Dwinger who, with his novels of war and imprisonment in Russia, it is perhaps the closest to Nazi ideals, but also P. Alverdes than in the Pfeiferstube has reached accents of poetry, and almost all of the already mentioned. Also Carossa and Wiechert, who are certainly two of the most important figures of the German twentieth century, continued to work, but with an independent address, during this period: Carossa with the memories of his life (Führung und Geleit, Das Jahr der schönen Täuschungen), Wiechert with his extensive work as a novelist (Die Magd des Jürgen Doskocil, Das einfache Leben). Among women, if A. Miegel, who is to be remembered above all as a poet for her Balladen, can consider himself a sympathizer of the Nazi principles, Ricarda Huch, who died in 1947, always remained distant from them; and the greatest Catholic writer who counts Germany today, by virtue of vigor of conceptions and by force of poetic style, remained fundamentally alien: Gertrud von Le Fort (b. 1876). Austria too, apart from the aforementioned Weinheber, Waggerl and Tumler, the latter born in Alto Adige, if one thinks of its two major exponents: R. Kassner, who renewed the principles of physiognomy in modern terms, and Max Mell, author not only of sacred dramas but also of short stories and poems, has remained substantially alien to Nazi literature. On the other hand, some German groups abroad showed a wider participation: the Romanian one around Kronstadt with three representatives: A. Meschendörfer, E. Wittstock and H. Zillich; and Bohemia with the sudetic W. Pleyer. Nor should it be forgotten that the exiles continued to work: Thomas Mann with beautiful novels Charlotte in Weimar (1943) Doktor Faustus (1947); Franz Werfel, with Das Lied von Bernadette and other works; Stefan Zweig, with Die gestrige Welt ; A. Zweig, Heinrich, Klaus Mann, H. Hesse, E. Ludwig, etc.
The difficulty of contacts with post-war Germany, the scarcity of literary production following material and spiritual destruction, make news difficult. Thanks above all to some books published by German authors in Switzerland, one can see a rebirth of the religious spirit by means of some Catholic writers, moreover already known and active for a long time: Reinhold Schneider, who with his sonnets (Die letzten Tage, 1945), sang the destruction of much of Germany in an air of apocalypse; Werner Bergengruen, who in his latest stories (Die Sultansrose, Pelageja, etc.) blends the most varied arguments for diversity of inspiration, times and places, in an atmosphere of Christian understanding; and the latest works of Le Fort (Consolata, etc.). But also the Protestant Wiechert has emphasized in his latest books, alongside the description of the horrors of war and concentration camps (Der Totenwald), the Christian spirit, already so strong in some of his works, written during the Nazi period. And among the newest are: W. Bredel with the stark, terrifying documentation of life in a concentration camp; Stefan Andres, the author of Wir sind Utopia ; the novelist Hans Habe (Wohin wir gehören); the poet Ernst Kreuder; Alfred Berndt, etc.; in addition to Anna Seghers, who returned from Brazil, author of Die Rettung (1947), Theodor Plievier, who returned from Russia, with the novel Stalingrad. In all of them it is an effort towards the nakedness of the word, the frank acknowledgment of the terrible new reality; and alongside accents of despair and despair, there is in many the trembling, but not yet firm hope of less dark skies, of less cruel times.