Ott on Jünger, 'A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945'
Ernst Jünger. A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. 498 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-12740-0.
Reviewed by Sandra Ott (University of Nevada Reno) Published on H-War (November, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53983
Ernst Jünger's war journals offer unique insight into the German experience of occupied Paris, the eastern front, and the Allied bombardment of Germany. Four of the six war journals are presented in English, for the first time in their entirety, in this volume: Jünger's "First Paris Journal," "Notes from the Caucasus," "Second Paris Journal," and his "Kirchhorst Diaries." They make a most welcome addition to the existing English-language literature on "the German side" of occupied France and violence on the eastern front. This English translation also provides a counterpoint to the English translation of Jean Guéhenno's Diary of the Dark Years: Resistance, Collaboration, and Daily Life in Occupied France (2016), a well-known account of the occupation from a French perspective.
Jünger's war journals are neither memoir nor diaries. They consist of constantly reworked texts, a collage of observations and reflections about the books he read, the French and German people with whom he socialized, the mundane and the horrific events that he experienced or heard about, and the natural world (especially beetles) that he soclosely observed with immense pleasure.
In "First Paris Journal" (February 1941 to October 1942), Jünger often seems to live at a remove from the war. He visits the leading salons of socialites, fellow intellectuals, and artists (including Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, among others). Considerably privileged during his first military posting, Jünger served under General Otto von Stülpnagel and then Heinrich von Stülpnagel, who participated in the attempt to assassinate Hitler. Jünger often socialized with Hans Speidel, who was also involved in that failed plot, as well as with French admirers of Hitler and high-ranking Nazis such as Carl Schmitt and Werner Best. Yet, as Elliot Neaman observes in his foreword to this volume, Jünger "operated on the edge of politics in Paris, rather like a butterfly among both resistors [sic] and collaborators" (p. xvi).
A self-proclaimed outsider who never joined the Nazi Party, Jünger refers to Hitler as Kniébolo, "repressive devil." Jünger opposed flagrant anti-Semitism and sometimes acted opportunistically to save Jews when the level of risk seemed to be acceptable (p. xvi). In early June 1942, he encounters the yellow star for the first time and is "immediately embarrassed to be in uniform" (p. 69). In July 1942, when he sees Jews arrested for deportation, Jünger reminds himself never toforget the "unfortunate people who endure the greatest suffering" and, on this occasion, claims that his uniform "obligates [him] to provide protection wherever possible" (p. 76).
Jünger appreciated women. His lover, Sophie Ravoux (to whom he never refers by her real name), appears often in the Paris journals as an intellectual companion. Although Jünger makes no mention of his wife's threat to divorce him, an entry in March 1943 suggests that marital troubles brewed: "A word to men. Our position with respect to two different women can resemble that of a judge pronouncing a Solomonic verdict, yet we are also the child. We deliver ourselves into the custody of the one who does not want to cut us in half" (p. 172).
Jünger's seeming detachment from the war and his easy access to pleasures end when he serves briefly on the eastern front. Bleak landscapes, deprivations, and acts of violence impress him deeply. Jünger's writing is at its best when he captures the jarring devastation of war. He hears of a German sergeant "who had picked up a [Russian] nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old lad overnight out of pity; in the morning, he was found with his throat cut" (p. 135). Jünger observes the remains of a "towering railroad bridge" with driftwood rammed up against it, a huge structure moving downstream. "Among its trestles hung trees, wagons, gun carriages, even a dead horse dangling by its halter among the branches of an oak tree. Set among these titanic dimensions, the animal looked as tiny as a cat" (p. 142). Jünger hears of a Russian found at the edge of the road with his legs blown off. "Because detonators were discovered on him, he was immediately executed—a gesture that may have mingled humanity with bestiality, but which correlates with the decline in our ability to discriminate moral categories" (p. 151).
Returning to Paris in February 1943, Jünger resumes a more pleasurable lifestyle, though it is now punctuated with air-raid sirens and bombs. Leaving the city abruptly in mid-August, he makes his way back to his wife and home in Kirchhorst. By late November bomber squadrons distract him from his books and beetle collections. When an aircraft crashes near his house, Jünger watches two parachutes drift over his garden. "One was so low that the man hanging on it was as close as someone you'd meet on the street" (p. 262). In January 1945, news of his teenage son's death in action marks a watershed in Jünger's life, when "the things, the thoughts, the deeds before and after are now different" (p.380).
Jünger died in 1998 at the age of 102.
. Allan Mitchell, The Devil's Captain: Ernst Jünger in Nazi Paris, 1941-1944 (New York: Berghahn, 2011), 1.
. Ibid., 41.
Citation: Sandra Ott. Review of Jünger, Ernst, A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. H-War, H-Net Reviews. November, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53983This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.