A Dangerous Encounter
Ernst Jünger will be ninety-eight this year. He was smaller than I imagined. But he looks fit and still remarkably handsome. His head is crowned with thick, white hair, brushed forward, giving his rather hawkish face the sculpted air of a marble Roman senator. Jünger begins each day by jotting down his dreams. Then he takes a cold bath. He recently had a dream about Hitler.
He told me about it at his house in Wilflingen, a pretty Swabian village built around the Stauffenberg castle, which belongs to relatives of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who tried to assassinate Hitler. Jünger’s study is that of a German aesthete in the 1930s: fine Persian carpets, leather-bound volumes of Byron, Wilde, Poe, Hölderlin, Montherlant, the Russians. Recalling his Hitler dream appeared to give him intense pleasure. His watery eyes twinkled and he finished his story with a barking soldier’s laugh: “Hah!”
This was clearly part of Jünger’s repertoire for foreign visitors, part of the Ernst Jünger show, for he produced a sheaf of recent newspaper articles about himself in French and Italian, several of which had the Hitler dream in their headlines. He also showed me the latest addition to his diaries, published in a German literary magazine. And sure enough there it was: “A crash landing at night because of a pilot error. Hitler was there too, the first time he appeared in my dreams—nothing special about him…”
“Nothing special. Hitler, you see, was just a product of his time. Like Napoleon, really, except that he had an even greater potential. He did what we all wanted, and promised so much more: he wiped out the humiliation of Versailles and got rid of unemployment. Then he ruined everything. The problem was his character. A negative character.”
And yet Hitler had spared Jünger more than once. When a top Nazi functionary named Bouhler—who made his name promoting involuntary euthanasia—complained to Hitler about him in 1939, Hitler said: “Leave Jünger alone.” Bouhler killed himself in 1945, but after the war, Jünger was threatened again, this time by German Communists, and Brecht used Hitler’s exact words: “Leave Jünger alone.”1
A German writer who could annoy Nazis and Communists, yet enjoy the support of Hitler and Brecht, must have had something special going for him. Perhaps Brecht and Hitler realized something that simpler believers did not: that Jünger could be useful as a fellow enemy of bourgeois liberalism. Or maybe they were simply fascinated by Jünger’s mystique. If so, they were not the only ones. On Jünger’s ninetieth birthday François Mitterrand paid a special visit to Wilflingen, together with Helmut Kohl. “Mitterrand was sitting right where you are now,” said Jünger, pointing at my chair. “And Filipe Gonzales sat in this chair,” said Jünger’s wife, who was sitting on my left. She is referred to in Jünger’s diaries as “the little bull.” I could see why. She looked tougher than he did. I was asked to admire some photographs of…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.