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Hermann Hesse, Letter to a Young German (1946)

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Then there are the simple souls, former members of the Youth Movement, who write me that they joined the party about 1934 after a severe inner struggle, for no other purpose than to provide a salutary counterweight to the savage, brutal elements. And so on.

Others have private complexes. They live in utter misery, they have serious worries, and yet they find paper, ink, time and energy to write me long letters expressing their contempt for Thomas Mann and their indignation that I should be friends with such a man.

Another group consists of former colleagues and friends who openly and unreservedly supported Hitler’s triumphal progress all through the years. Now they write me touchingly friendly letters, telling me all about their daily lives, their bomb damage and domestic cares, their children and grandchildren, as though nothing had happened, as though nothing had come between us, as though they had not helped to kill friends and relatives of my wife, who is Jewish, and to discredit and destroy my life work. Not one of them says that he repents, that he sees things in an entirely different light today, that he was deluded. And not one of them says that he was and intends to remain a Nazi, that he regrets nothing, that he stands by his guns. Find me a Nazi who has stood by his guns when things began to go wrong! These people are sickening!

A few of the letter writers expect me to switch my allegiance to Germany, to come back and help to reeducate the people. A good many more call on me to raise my voice in the outside world, to protest as a neutral and humanitarian against the commissions and omissions of the occupying powers. How can they be so na?ve, so utterly ignorant of the world and the times, so touchingly, embarrassingly childish!

[ . . . ]

I have grown old and tired, and the destruction of my work [ . . . ] has given my last years a ground bass of disillusionment and sorrow. [ . . . ]

Among the good things which I am still able to enjoy, which still give me pleasure and compensate for the dark side, are the rare but undeniable indications that an authentic spiritual Germany lives on. I neither seek nor find them in the bustling of its present culture-manufacturers and fair-weather democrats but in such gratifying manifestations of determination, alertness, and courage, of good will and of confidence shorn of illusions, as your letter. I thank you for it. Preserve the seed, keep faith with the light and the spirit. There are very few of you, but you may be the salt of the earth.

Source of English translation: Hermann Hesse, If the War Goes On…Reflections on War and Politics. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971, pp. 159-67.

Source of original German text: Hermann Hesse, "Brief" ["Letter"], National-Zeitung Basel, April 26, 1946; reprinted in Klaus Wagenbach, ed., Vaterland, Muttersprache. Deutsche Schriftsteller und ihr Staat von 1945 bis heute [Fatherland. Mother Tongue. German Writers and their State since 1945]. Berlin: 1979, p. 51 ff.

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