In the Thicket of the Forest at Artois

Adolf Hitler (1916)

It was in the thicket of the Artois Wood. 
Deep in the trees, on blood-soaked ground, 
Lay stretched a wounded German warrior, 
And his cries rang out in the night. 
In vain ... no echo answered his plea ... 
Will he bleed to death like a beast, 
That shot in the gut dies alone? 

Then suddenly ... 
Heavy steps approach from the right 
He hears how they stamp on the forest floor ... 
And new hope springs from his soul. 
And now from the left ... 
And now from both sides ... 

Two men approach his miserable bed 
A German it is, and a Frenchman. 
And each watches the other with distrustful glance, 
And threatening they aim their weapons. 
The German warrior asks: 
"What do you do here?" 
"I was touched by the needy one's call for help." 

"It's your enemy!" 
"It is a man who suffers." 

And both, wordless, lowered their weapons. 
Then entwined their hands 
And, with muscles tensed, carefully lifted 
The wounded warrior, as if on a stretcher, 
And carried him through the woods. 
'Til they came to the German outposts. 
"Now it is over. He will get good care." 
And the Frenchman turns back toward the woods. 
But the German grasps for his hand, 
Looks, moved, into sorrow-dimmed eyes 
And says to him with earnest foreboding: 

"I know not what fate holds for us, 
Which inscrutably rules in the stars. 
Perhaps I shall fall, a victim of your bullet. 
Maybe mine will fell you on the sand  
For indifferent is the chance of battles. 
Yet, however it may be and whatever may come: 
We lived these sacred hours, 
Where man found himself in man ... 
And now, farewell! And God be with you!" 


The illustration that appears above is Hitler's own and accompanies the poem.  In the surviving four-page manuscript he has written "based on a true event," which suggests that he is recounting a personal wartime experience. If that is the case Hitler would, of course, be the second German soldier. 

In any case, the poem's thematic culmination, wherein each soldier sees the humanity of the other ("these sacred hours / where man found himself in man"), highlights well the truly fratricidal character of the First World War, as well as anticipating the even more destructive war between racial kinsmen that followed. (Irmin)


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