Jardins et Routes, Diaries, Vol. I: 1939-1940
Premier Journal Parisien, Diaries, Vol. II: 1941-1943
Second Journal Parisien, Diaries, Vol. III: 1943-1945
The Storm of Steel (In Stahlgewittern) currently available in English.)
Sur les Falaises de Marbre (Auf den Marmorklippen) published in 1947 by introduction by
Ernst Jünger: A Writer of Our Time
On June 18, 1940, Mr. Churchill ended his speech to the Commons with the words “This was their finest hour!” and, that evening, a very different character, in the gray officer’s uniform of the Wehrmacht, sat in the Duchesse de la Rochefoucauld’s study at the Château de Montmirail. Her uninvited guest was a short, athletic man of forty-five, with a mouth set in an expression of self-esteem and eyes a particularly arctic shade of blue. He leafed through her books with the assured touch of the bibliomane and noted that many bore the dedications of famous writers. A letter slipped from one and fell to the floor—a delightful letter written by a boy called François who wanted to be a pilot. He wondered if the boy was now a pilot. Finally, after dark, he settled down to write his diary. It was a long entry—almost two thousand words—for his day, too, had been eventful.
In the morning, he had discussed the risks of getting burned alive with a tank driver in oil-soaked denims: “I had the impression that Vulcan and his ‘ethic of work’ was incarnate in such martial figures.” After luncheon, he had stood in the school playground and watched a column of ten thousand French and Belgian prisoners file past: “…an image of the dark wave of Destiny herself…, an interesting and instructive spectacle” in which one sensed the “mechanical, irresistible allure peculiar to catastrophes.” He had chucked them cans of beef and biscuits and watched their struggles from behind an iron grille: the sight of their hands was especially disturbing.
Next, he had spotted a group of officers with decorations from the Great War, and invited them to dine. They were on the verge of collapse, but a good dinner seemed like a reversal of their fortunes. Could he explain, they asked, the reasons for their defeat? “I said I considered it the Triumph of the Worker, but I do not think they understood the sense of my reply. What could they know of the years we have passed through since 1918? Of the lessons we have learned as if in a blast furnace?”
The absent duchess had reason to thank the man who nosed in her private affairs. Captain Ernst Jünger was, at that moment, the most celebrated German writer in uniform. No catastrophe could surprise him since for twenty years his work had harped on the philosophical need to accept death and total warfare as the everyday experience of the twentieth century. Yet he tempered his assent to destruction with an anti-quarian’s reverence for bricks and mortar, and had saved the château.
Indeed, he had saved a lot of things in the blitzkrieg. A week earlier, he had saved the Cathedral of Laon from looters. He had saved the city’s library with its manuscripts of the Carolingian kings. And he had employed an out-of-work wine waiter…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.