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biography - second world war

ernst jünger at the westwall

Ernst Jünger at the Westwall, 1940.

Jünger was mobilised with the rank of Hauptmann in August 1939 and was placed in charge of an infantry company of the 19th Regiment. From November 1939 until May 1940, his company was stationed on the Westwall on the Franco-German border, first at Greffern, then at Iffezheim.

The Second World War was not one of action for Jünger. He was no longer felt inclined to battlefield heroics, least of all for the Nazis. Neither did the march into France between May and July 1940 on foot behind the Panzers involve much in the way of actual fighting. Rather, Jünger's action was limited to a cultivated and detached observation and to saving the cultural treasures of Laon from the excesses of the German army.

In 1941, after a period of time on guard duties with his company in Paris, Jünger was transfered to the staff of the German Army Commander for France, General Otto von Stülpnagel, having made the acquaintance of Colonel Otto Speidel, the Chief of Staff. Jünger worked at the Hotel Majestic and lived at the Hotel Raphael next door. He was responsible for work on "Operation Sealion", the planned invasion of Great Britain, censoring letters and monitoring relations between the Army and the Party. In the winter he started work on the first draft of Der Friede.

ernst jünger in paris

Ernst Jünger in Paris.

With the publication of Gärten und Strassen in 1942 and its rapid translation into French as Jardins et Routes, Ernst Jünger won a good many admirers in Paris. A list of acquaintances reads almost like a who's who of French culture under the occupation: Sacha Guitry, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Jouhandeau, Paul Leautard, Celine, Gaston Gallimard, Paul Morand, Banine, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Montherlant, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Florence Gould. Notable figures such as Gerhard Nebel and Gerhard Heller also figured. Jünger was, moreover, also involved in the fringes of the Stauffenberg bomb plot - if not directly, then certainly as a figure of intellectual inspiration through Der Friede which was starting to circulate illegally.

Jünger undertook a journey to the Eastern Front in late 1942/early 1943. This was either to sound out the Officer Corps or to keep him out of the reach of the Paris Gestapo. Jünger certainly enjoyed the protection of the Army, as they published Myrdun: Briefe aus Norwegen in 1943, after Junger had been offically banned from publishing after refusing to delete a sly, critical reference to the 73rd Psalm. However, Jünger's diaries Strahlungen reveal both a dandyesque interest in antiquarian books and a search for certainty to overcome the lethal abyss of life under National Socialism, a search which prompted him to read the Bible in its entirity.

In many ways, 1944 was the end of Ernst Jünger's war. He was dismissed from the Army in the aftermath of the July bomb plot and its murderous reprisals. The most devastating blow was struck by the death of his son, Ernst, in Carrara in Italy on 29 November. Ernst Jnr had been sent to a punishment battalion by a court martial for organising subversive discussions in his unit.

In 1945, whilst Der Friede with its calls for European renewal on the basis of a new post-nihilist theology was circulating, Ernst Jünger remained in Kirchhorst. As commander of the Kirchhorst Volksturm he insisted that his ragged militia not resist the American advance.

Meanwhile, his position was in the balance as De-Nazification procedures were started by the Allied Occupation forces.

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