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The Devil's Captain

The Devil's Captain: Ernst Junger in Nazi Paris, 1941-1944

Allan Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: DGO - Digital original, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 140
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  • Book Info
    The Devil's Captain
    Book Description:

    Author ofNazi Paris, a Choice Academic Book of the Year, Allan Mitchell has researched a companion volume concerning the acclaimed and controversial German author Ernst Junger who, if not the greatest German writer of the twentieth century, certainly was the most controversial. His service as a military officer during the occupation of Paris, where his principal duty was to mingle with French intellectuals such as Jean Cocteau and with visiting German celebrities like Martin Heidegger, was at the center of disputes concerning his career. Spending more than three years in the French capital, he regularly recorded in a journal revealing impressions of Parisian life and also managed to establish various meaningful social contacts, with the intriguing Sophie Ravoux for one. By focusing on this episode, the most important of Junger's adult life, the author brings to bear a wide reading of journals and correspondence to reveal Junger's professional and personal experience in wartime and thereafter. This new perspective on the war years adds significantly to our understanding of France's darkest hour.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-115-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Very few, if any, critics of German literature would rank Ernst Jünger among the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He simply does not compare, as a novelist, with giants like Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, or Robert Musil. His signature work,Auf den Marmorklippen, has been often justly praised for its chiseled language and allegorical imagination. But for later generations raised on soaring flights of science fiction, Jünger’s 1939 work must seem brief, rather stilted, and now somewhat dated. In any event, it pales besideBuddenbrooksandDer Zauberberg, Das UrteilandDas Schloss, orDer Mann ohne Eigenschaften. True,...

  5. Chapter 1 The Loner
    (pp. 7-13)

    Einzelgänger. Not only does the German term for a loner have a more syncopated phonetic rhythm, it also has a distinctly different implication. We think of the English expression as describing a person who spends much time alone and who generally prefers to be alone. Yet that interpretation would hardly include Ernst Jünger, who was very much a man of this world, one who manifestly sought and often enjoyed the company of others. At the same time, as the German word literally suggests, he was an individual who habitually chose to go his own way. This independent streak was in...

  6. Chapter 2 The Road to Paris
    (pp. 14-19)

    Germany’s invasion of Poland at the outset of September 1939 marked the beginning of what became known as the “Phony War” (drôle de guerre). After the Anglo-French declaration of war, Allied troops took up positions behind the Rhine and the Maginot Line. Waiting there, they peered across at German units that declined to engage in active combat and refused to budge. Apart from the exchange of sniper fire and a few artillery shells, nearly nine months passed without any notable combat on the western front.

    These circumstances left Ernst Jünger with much time to carouse, read, and ruminate. He spent...

  7. Photograph Section I
    (pp. None)
  8. Chapter 3 Man About Town
    (pp. 20-29)

    Once arrived, Ernst Jünger wasted little time in renewing and expanding his acquaintance with Paris. As his unit was initially stationed at the fortress of Vincennes, on the eastern edge of the capital, he first sought a hotel room at the Porte de Vincennes, whence he could clearly see the obelisk in the Place de la Nation, directly down the avenue to the west, as well as the tip of the Eiffel Tower far in the distance. The following Sunday he moved into a small apartment, with a view of the nearby fort, and passed away a few hours at...

  9. Chapter 4 Dreaming and Musing
    (pp. 30-34)

    Looking back across the time of his first tour of duty in Paris during 1941 and 1942, it is striking how much space in Ernst Jünger’s journal was devoted to dreams. Dozens of entries recounted dream sequences in which Jünger, ever at the center of things, underwent some remarkable imaginary experience, which he hastened, once awake, to record in detail.¹ Even Sigmund Freud, however, would have been hard pressed to reconstruct a coherent interpretation of all these accounts. There are several obvious difficulties in attempting to do so. First, one must always make allowance for Jünger the skillful writer. It...

  10. Chapter 5 Strange Interlude
    (pp. 35-39)

    The route from Paris to Russia of course passed through Germany. As Jünger’s train slowly made its way into the devastated city of Cologne, his thoughts turned once more to the detestable triumph ofAmerikanismus, that great leveler of European culture. Later, as usual, he was met by his wife at the railway station in Hanover and joined her for a pleasant week in Kirchhorst, where he enjoyed reading and gardening as his health seemed to improve. On 10 November1942 Jünger received news of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, without fully realizing that this event would mark...

  11. Chapter 6 Kniébolo and the Nazis
    (pp. 40-46)

    One question has until now been largely deferred: what was Ernst Jünger’s relationship to National Socialism? The origins of an answer naturally lay deep in Jünger’s past and had importantly to do with his fundamental traits as a loner. We saw that he played no part in the uprising of 1918, considering it to be a mutiny rather than a genuine revolution. When the Nazi movement began to emerge soon thereafter, Jünger took a modest personal interest in its strident proclamations of a coming “national dictatorship,” for which neither he nor Adolf Hitler’s party could provide a clear definition. Some...

  12. Photograph Section II
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter 7 The Plot Against Hitler
    (pp. 47-55)

    Ernst Jünger began the new year quietly, reflecting on the previous twelve months of 1943 that began for him in Russia and ended back in Paris. His activities were the usual ones: reading (Hölderlin, Alain-Fournier, and Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”); touring the cemeteries of Clichy and Batignolles; strolling through the Latin Quarter, the Rue Mouffetard, and returning to his room in the Raphael. The first anniversary of his father’s death was on 9 January, which moved him to read the Book of John in the New Testament and to pass the afternoon in the Church of the Madeleine. He...

  14. Chapter 8 Telling Omissions
    (pp. 56-60)

    In retrospect it is clear that Ernst Jünger’s journals are of interest not only for what they tell us about the German occupation of Paris but for what they do not. Just as he had sanitized his memoirs of the First World War through many successive revisions of the original text, so he proceeded likewise with his later journals as he moved from notes and jottings to drafts and then to publications. The final result was a highly stylized account of his experience, not a literal record but a literary recreation of his dual role as actor and author. Thus...

  15. Chapter 9 Immediate Afterthoughts
    (pp. 61-67)

    In August 1944 Ernst Jünger left Paris, but Paris never left him. The city remained in his thoughts, in his dreams, in his imagination, and in his literary works. It seemed almost as if Kirchhorst were an exile for him. In the first weeks after leaving Paris there was little to occupy his attention. Soon mustered out of the army, he assumed duties—such as they were—as the commander of a local militia unit (Volkssturm). But Jünger knew war, and he realized that Germany’s military position was hopeless. Hence he was thoroughly convinced that erecting barriers against American tanks...

  16. Chapter 10 The Correspondent
    (pp. 68-78)

    Ernst Jünger enjoyed an extraordinarily long life that spanned a period from the last years of the nineteenth century to the threshold of the twenty-first. During all that time he remained remarkably intact, a small and slender person, always immaculately groomed and well dressed whether in uniform or out, compact, with an aquiline nose and steely blue eyes. He was a gentleman, a grand seigneur, the perfect representative of a new European aristocracy of merit. If he was not to the manor born, he remained firmly ensconced in an upper class of intellectual superiority. He moved confidently and elegantly through...

  17. Photograph Section III
    (pp. None)
  18. Postscript. Liebe Sophie
    (pp. 79-89)

    It would be a genuine service to scholarship if the archives of Ernst Jünger’s correspondence were edited for publication, especially his exchange with Sophie Ravoux. That day has not yet come. Pending this eventuality, the historian can at least serve to summarize as succinctly as possible the contents of these documents and to quote enough of them to convey their distinct flavor. These letters tell a story—the inside story of Jünger’s affective life—that cannot be found elsewhere. Anyone, however, who approaches them with the expectation of making a sensational discovery is likely to be disappointed. The record is...

  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 90-91)

    To say that Ernst Jünger’s person, his career, and consequently his writings were filled with ambiguity is to stretch the limits of the obvious. For that reason this study of his tours of duty as a German officer during the Occupation of Paris after 1940, the most significant period of his adulthood, began with the wordEinzelgänger, and it needs to end there as well.

    If such a defining notion is to be taken seriously, however, scholarly estimations of Jünger should by all means avoid historical reductionism. A number of researchers, for example, have attempted to portray him as a...

  20. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 92-92)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 93-108)
  22. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 109-111)
  23. Name Index
    (pp. 112-114)
  24. Subject Index
    (pp. 115-119)