by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels regular contributor
A few years ago, while researching my book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (PublicAffairs, 2013), I received exclusive access to the papers of one of my subjects, US Army psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley. Among the many unexpected documents I found in the archival collection kept by the Kelley family was a handwritten manuscript of poetry.
Its author was Baldur von Schirach, the longtime leader of the Hitler Youth movement and a former governor-general of Vienna. At 38, he was the youngest of the 22 top German leaders and high-ranking military officers held by the Allies at the end of World War II for trial by the International Military Tribunal on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. More than most of the other defendants, in Kelley’s judgment, Schirach seemed remorseful for his role in the Nazi atrocities and capable of rehabilitation.
While in prison, Schirach turned to his hobby of writing poetry as an escape from boredom and depression. Sometime during the fall of 1945 he submitted for Kelley’s review a poem entitled “Dem Tod” (“To Death”). It sufficiently impressed Kelley to keep it among his personal papers. Here it is in English translation:
Your dark eye I have so often seen
That you have become like an old friend to me.
When the bullets scourged, you stood at the mark
And looked at me. To the left and right fell
My neighbor. Yet you turned away.
I greeted each grave later, all alone.
When the bombs burst from the sky,
You drew to me, the house’s silent guest.
Yet you have not done your work on me.
I know, my friend, that your eye is on me.
Although perhaps a self-absorbed work, it undoubtedly conveys meaning and feeling. Many of the captive German leaders had inflated literary pretensions — particularly Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, and Albert Speer — but Kelley believed that Schirach’s poetry showed more merit than the writerly works of his colleagues.
In the end, the Nuremberg judges dealt Schirach a more lenient sentence than some of his fellow defendants. He served 20 years in Spandau Prison, was released in 1966, and died eight years later at the age of 67.
Eastwood, Margaret. “Lessons in Hatred: The Indoctrination and Education of Germany’s Youth.” The International Journal of Human Rights, 2011, Vol.15(8), p.1291-1314.
Kater, Michael H. Hitler Youth. Harvard University Press, 2006.