From the publication of his World War I memoir, Storm of Steel, in 1920 until his death in 1998, Ernst Jünger was a significant part of the German literary scene. But Storm of Steel also attracted criticism for its aestheticization of violence and romanticization of warfare—and praise from, among others, Josef Goebbels. Jünger served as an officer in the Wehrmacht during World War II, spending most of the war in occupied Paris, where he had a chance to socialize with the likes of Pablo Picasso. Reviewing Jünger’s memoirs from that period, recently published in English translation, Andrew Stuttaford describes his disturbingly ambiguous relationship to Nazism:
Jünger’s principal objection to the Nazis, at least initially, stemmed, unusually, from their pragmatism. While Hitler was wooing the bourgeoisie, Jünger was roaming in the ideological space where far left and far right meet, championing a machine-age Sparta.
Nazi anti-Semitism was less of a problem for him. To be sure, Jünger mocked both its paranoia and its “science” (“sheer nonsense”). He also argued that anti-Semitism was “not an essential issue” for nationalists, but this cagey formulation fell far short of outright condemnation. . . . In a 1930 article for the Süddeutsche Monatshefte, Jünger conceded that Jews could be German, but only if they abandoned their Jewishness. This was a notion, despite some ugly phrasing (brushed off in 1982 as “sins of youth”), irreconcilable with Nazi doctrine, but more poisonous than Jünger would acknowledge even a half-century later: “The whole question changed because of the concentration camps.” Really?
Jünger’s growing disgust as he begins to discover the extent of Nazi genocide manifests itself in the journals from late 1941 onward, meaning that, if his chronology can be trusted, this well-placed and acute observer was unusually slow on the uptake. . . .
Jünger left Paris on August 14, 1944, after placing a bouquet of flowers on his hotel-room table and “distribut[ing] tips.” He returned to Germany (this edition of the journals concludes with American troops arriving in his home village), but for him Götterdämmerung was merely an interlude. He re-emerged as a leading literary figure in the new, democratic federal republic, but was never of it.