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For many young Germans, the “Aryanization” of the Warthegau provided an opportunity to serve their country. Melita Maschmann, who was then in her early 20s and held a leadership position in the BDM (the German initials of the League of German Girls), was among the first to work in the east.

She recalled:

My colleagues and I felt it was an honor to be allowed to help in “conquering” this area for our own nation and for German culture. We had all the arrogant enthusiasm of the “cultural missionary.” . . .

How could young people, in particular, fail to enjoy such a life? It is true that if one visited the eastern parts of the Warthegau it was impossible to imagine oneself to be standing on lost German soil which had simply to be reclaimed for the Reich. This country was Polish through and through. Hitler had not reclaimed it but conquered it in battle. We knew that might had triumphed over right there. In those days we should probably have agreed that “the right of the strongest” had triumphed in the struggle for Lebensraum. . . .

Our existence at that time was for us like a great adventure. . . . All through our childhood the lament over Germany’s defeat in the First World War and her misery in the postwar years had never ceased. I believe that growing up in a country where people’s minds are dominated by such a mood has a fateful effect. Young people do not want to be ashamed of their fatherland. They depend more than older people on being able to honor, admire and to love it.

The fact that we were allowed to perform a kind of “colonization work” in “advanced posts” there healed the wounds which our sense of honor had suffered in our childhood and early youth. Germany required us not merely to do a job of work but to give our entire selves. This feeling rose on many occasions to a sensation of intoxication. . . .

It goes without saying that in this situation we were inclined to romanticize our existence in the “front line,” and developed much of the colonial’s presumptuous arrogance towards the “stay at homes.” . . .

I was the first Reich German B.D.M. leader to be sent to the Warthegau, and for a long time I was the only one. It is true that I had no leadership task—I had simply come to Posen to run the press department for the Regional leadership of the Hitler Youth—but I quickly made close contact with the local . . . B.D.M. leaders and was drawn into their work.1

After Germany conquered the Warthegau region of Poland, members of the League of German Girls moved there to help colonize and spread German culture.

Although Maschmann was at times troubled by the behavior of her fellow “cultural missionaries,” she found ways to rationalize or make excuses for their actions. A former teacher drafted into the Germany army in August 1939 found it harder to do so. Wilhelm Hosenfeld, like Maschmann, was a committed member of the Nazi Party. In October 1939, he was appointed the commanding officer of a camp for Polish prisoners. From the start, he was troubled by what he saw and heard there. By December, he was raising questions in his diary about the expulsions from the Warthegau:

Why are these people being torn away from their dwellings when it is not known where else they can be accommodated? For a whole day long they are standing in the cold, sitting on their bundles, their meager belongings, they are given nothing to eat. There’s system in it, the intention is to make these people sick, poor, helpless, they are to perish.2

In a letter to his wife, Hosenfeld wrote that he was “sometimes ashamed” to be a German soldier. But although he secretly aided some of the prisoners in his labor camp, he did not protest to his superiors about their treatment. The same was true of Herbert Mochalski, a pastor in the Confessing Church who served as a German soldier during the invasion of Poland. He told an interviewer many years later, “I saw horrible things. . . . It is nonsense when a German soldier says . . . that he never saw anything, that the soldiers didn’t know anything. It’s all simply not true!” He went on:

We sat on our trucks and saw it. . . . All right, we could, we should, have protested then, but how? We couldn’t have changed anything. I mean, all that is no excuse. Indeed, we all failed in this respect, that things went that far at all, isn’t that so? And that is the awful thing that weighs on all of us, up to today.3

Citations

  • 1 : Melita Maschmann, Account Rendered: A Dossier on My Former Self (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1965), 73.
  • 2 : Quoted in Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War (New York: Penguin Press, 2009), 30.
  • 3 : Quoted in Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 164.

Melita Maschmann, who was then in her early 20s and held a leadership position in the BDM (the German initials of the League of German Girls), was among the first to live and work in the the Warthegau.

She recalled:

My colleagues and I felt it was an honor to be allowed to help in “conquering” this area for our own nation and for German culture. We had all the arrogant enthusiasm of the “cultural missionary.". . .

How could young people, in particular, fail to enjoy such a life? It is true that if one visited the eastern parts of the Warthegau it was impossible to imagine oneself to be standing on lost German soil which had simply to be reclaimed for the Reich. This country was Polish through and through. Hitler had not reclaimed it but conquered it in battle. We knew that might had triumphed over right there. In those days we should probably have agreed that “the right of the strongest” had triumphed in the struggle for Lebensraum [living space for “Aryans”]. . . .

Our existence at that time was for us like a great adventure. . . .  All through our childhood the lament over Germany’s defeat in the First World War and her misery in the postwar years had never ceased. I believe that growing up in a country where people’s minds are dominated by such a mood has a fateful effect. Young people do not want to be ashamed of their fatherland. They depend more than older people on being able to honor, admire and to love it.

The fact that we were allowed to perform a kind of “colonization work” in “advanced posts” there healed the wounds which our sense of honor had suffered in our childhood and early youth. Germany required us not merely to do a job of work but to give our entire selves. This feeling rose on many occasions to a sensation of intoxication. . . .

It goes without saying that in this situation we were inclined to romanticize our existence in the “front line,” and developed much of the colonial’s presumptuous arrogance towards the “stay at homes.". . . 

I was the first Reich German B.D.M. leader to be sent to the Warthegau, and for a long time I was the only one. It is true that I had no leadership task—I had simply come to Posen to run the press department for the Regional leadership of the Hitler Youth—but I quickly made close contact with the local . . . B.D.M. leaders and was drawn into their work.1

Citations

  • 1 Melita Maschmann, Account Rendered: A Dossier on My Former Self (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1965), 73.

Misioneros Culturales

Melita Maschmann, que en ese entonces tenía un poco más de veinte años, y ocupaba una posición de liderazgo en la BDM (iniciales en alemán de la Liga de Muchachas Alemanas), fue una de las primeras en vivir y trabajar en el Warthegau.

Ella recuerda:

Mis colegas y yo sentíamos que era un honor que nos permitieran ayudar a “conquistar” esta área para nuestra propia nación y para la cultura alemana. Todos teníamos el arrogante entusiasmo del “misionero cultural.”. . .

¿Cómo podían los jóvenes, en particular, no disfrutar una vida como esa? Es verdad que si uno visitaba las partes del este del Warthegau, era imposible imaginarse estar en un territorio que Alemania había perdido y que tenía que ser recuperado por el Reich. Este país era polaco de punta a punta. Hitler no lo había recuperado sino que lo había conquistado en batalla. Sabíamos que podría haber triunfado justo allí. En esos días probablemente hubiéramos estado de acuerdo en que “la ley del más fuerte” había triunfado en la lucha por el Lebensraum [espacio vital para los “arios”]. . . .

En ese momento nuestra existencia era para nosotros como una gran aventura… Durante toda nuestra infancia, el lamento por la derrota de Alemania en la Primera Guerra Mundial y su miseria en los años de la posguerra nunca cesaron. Pienso que haber crecido en un país donde las mentes de las personas están dominadas por ese estado de ánimo tiene un efecto catastrófico. Los jóvenes no quieren sentir vergüenza de su patria. Dependen, más que los mayores, de poder honrarla, admirarla y amarla.

El hecho de que nos permitieran llevar a cabo una especie de “trabajo de colonización” en “puestos avanzados” había sanado las heridas que nuestro sentido del honor había sufrido en nuestra infancia y nuestros primeros años de juventud. Alemania nos necesitaba no solo para hacer un trabajo sino para que nos entregáramos en cuerpo y alma. Este sentimiento aumentó en numerosas ocasiones hasta alcanzar una sensación de intoxicación. . . .

No hace falta decir que en esta situación nos inclinábamos a romantizar nuestra existencia en el “frente”, y desarrollamos gran parte de la presuntuosa arrogancia colonial hacia los que “se quedaban en casa.”. . .

Fui la primera líder de la BDM alemana del Reich en ser enviada al Warthegau y, por mucho tiempo, fui la única. Es cierto que no cumplía con una tarea de liderazgo, simplemente había venido a Posen a dirigir el departamento de prensa para el liderazgo regional de las Juventudes Hitlerianas, pero pronto establecí contacto cercano con los líderes. . . locales de la BDM y fui involucrada en sus trabajos.1

Citations

  • 1 Melita Maschmann, Account Rendered: A Dossier on My Former Self (Londres: Abelard-Schuman, 1965), 73.

Connection Questions

  1. Melita Maschmann asks, “How could young people, in particular, fail to enjoy such a life?” Why did living and working in the Warthegau appeal to Maschmann and other young people?
  2. Why would Maschmann use the term “colonization work” to describe their efforts? How is that connected to the history of imperialism (see reading, "Expansion was Everything" in Chapter 2)? How might it be connected to the term “cultural missionary”?
  3. Do you think that Wilhelm Hosenfeld and Herbert Mochalski experienced the same “sensation of intoxication” as Melita Maschmann? How were their responses to the troubling things they saw similar? How were they different?

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