Gerhard Ringshausen: The Resistant Word

2022-11-21 In his new monograph "Das widerständige Wort" (The Resistant Word), Gerhard Ringshausen, professor emeritus of Protestant theology at the Faculty of Education, examines the works of Christian authors critical of the regime under National Socialism.

Christian authors at the time of National Socialism, such as Stefan Andres, Ricarda Huch or Werner Bergengruen, belonged to a group within the "Inner Emigration" - they neither left Germany nor actively resisted, but saw themselves as critical of the regime and also expressed their opposition in literature. Since the sixties of the last century, the Inner Emigration has been accused of being too passive, too little militant. Ringshausen recalls, for example, the reference to Brecht: "These authors did not succeed in making their works manageable as a weapon" - their anti-fascism remained helpless.

Ringshausen does not deny that these authors did not call for resistance, but in his opus magnum he pleads for a more differentiated view. Following his numerous research projects on resistance in the "Third Reich", the theologian uses a wealth of material to highlight the oppositional, critical and also resistant aspects of the poetry he focuses on. He shows how the writers reacted to the developments in Germany, for example by concealing their accusations behind historical metaphors, as Reinhold Schneider did:

At the very end of our thinking [...] stand images so monstrous, so appalling, that the blood wants to freeze in our hearts, and not a day goes by when they do not approach ...". Although this refers to the French Revolution, what was meant was the lawlessness in the Nazi regime that became apparent in the Reich Jew pogrom of 1938, which reached its climax in the Shoa.

Ringshausen vividly shows how the poets try to find literary expression, for example, of distanced rejection as in Siegbert Stehmann's work:

You wander blindly. The abyss is already waiting
With open jaws to swallow the future

to resignation, as in Otto von Taube:

My step on German roads
The last step of the wanderer.
All around the masses are racing,
Who would gladly go with them?
Only apart in the Hagen,
There it still breathes freely.
But he is already beaten.
Soon that too will be over.

Several authors do acknowledge their own guilt, for example Albrecht Haushofer, when he reflects from prison in Berlin in 1944 on what he should have done differently:

i had to recognise my duty earlier,
I had to call sharp mischief mischief -
I have guided my judgement far too long ...

The new publication aims to show that Christian poetry during the Nazi era was neither comfort literature nor escape literature. In doing so, Ringshausen admittedly goes against the common interpretation. But irrespective of what one as a reader thinks of individual interpretations, the work published by BeBra Wissenschaft is worth reading; if only because it reflects the horror of National Socialism and the seductiveness of human beings, and this admonition pervades most of the literature it examines. Most of the authors discussed are unfamiliar to readers unfamiliar with the subject and have often been overlooked by researchers, but Ringshausen writes in such a curiosity-raising way that one likes to Google them while reading. One of the unjustly forgotten poets is Erika Mitterer, in whose motto for the novel "Prince of the World" (Martin Luther's term for Satan, evil) he identifies a point of connection between then and now:

Don't look in the corner where he stood yesterday!
He changes the place and changes the robe,
and a moment ago he was there, today he is already... here.
In the opponent? In the brother? In you ... and in me ...

  • Das widerständige Wort. Christliche Autoren gegen das "Dritte Reich", Berlin: BeBra Wissenschaft, 700 S., hard cover, € 56,00
  • Here you will find more information on Prof. Dr. Gerhard Ringshausen.