Adolf Hitler – speech at the Reichs Veterans Day in Kassel
June 4, 1939
It is for the first time today that I partake in a Reich Warriors’ Convention; the first time that I speak before you, the veterans of the old and of the new Wehrmacht.
The Reichskriegerfuhrer of the NS Reichskriegerbund, Comrade Reinhard, has greeted me, on your behalf, both as a soldier of the World War and as the Fuhrer and Chancellor of the German Volk and Reich. In this, my dual capacity, I wish to return this greeting. As the Fuhrer, I greet you as representative of the German Volk in the name of millions of Germans. These have placed their trust, their personal destinies, and hence the destiny of the Reich in my hands. They have done so not because of a constitutional exigency.
This year especially the German Volk is inspired by a feeling of profound gratitude for all those who once fulfilled the most difficult and noble duty.
As an old soldier, I greet you with the feeling of comradeship, which can reveal itself in the deepest sense only to one who in war experienced the noblest transfiguration of this idea. For the magnificent spirit of manly communion discloses itself in the most captivating manner only to him who has seen it stand the test of time in this, the toughest trial of manly courage and manly loyalty.
When I speak to you today, my Comrades, then I myself relive in my memory the violence of those times which now lie a quarter of a century behind us and which the soldiers of the Old Army in particular have felt to be the greatest in their own human existence and which still have them under their spell today.
Nearly twenty-five years now lie behind us since those spellbound, violent weeks, days, and hours in which the German Volk was forced to stand up for its existence after a period of peaceful, well-protected ascent. Twenty years have now passed since, in spite of an unequaled, heroic resistance, a Diktat was forced on us which, in theory, was to bestow upon the world a new order, and which, in practice, bore the curse of destroying any reasonable order founded on the recognition of the most natural rights to life.
The fateful grandeur of those five years from 1914 to 1919! The jolts and mortifications this meant for our Volk! What suffering followed in the wake of our collapse! What depths of degradation, deprivation, and destitution was Germany to suffer! Still, how enormous a change which this doomed Reich underwent in the end-how it pulled itself back from the brink of imminent destruction and moved towards a renewed rise, regarding which we believe that it shall be better and, above all, more lastingly founded than any similar process in German history! When soldiers gather their thoughts, conversations usually turn back to the years shared. Remembrance allows that to arise anew before their mind’s eye which once constituted the shared meaning of their lives. As in epochs of long years of peace, the daily chores with their harsh demands on a sense of duty and on the bodily ability to perform constitute the sum of memories which are recollected at such gatherings, so, with us, these are made up of the memories of the greatest time with which human beings have ever been confronted on this earth. A quarter of a century then begins to pale before us, and the ever-present force of the most difficult, but greatest epoch in our history, casts its spell on us once more. Whatever the individual among us may wish to exchange from the cherished treasure of these, his dearest recollections with others, it is surpassed by what this period in its entirety meant for our Volk, as fateful as this may well have been for our individual lives. For me as the Fuhrer of the German nation, when engaged in critical reflection, time and time again the question presents itself, which I judge as infinitely important not only for the fate we met with then, but also for the correct fashioning of our future, namely, the question of the inevitability of the events back then.
Twenty years ago, a miserable state leadership felt compelled-as it may well have believed-by an irresistible force to place its signature beneath a document which sought to burden Germany finally with the war guilt.
Scientific research in the meantime has revealed this to be a lie and a deliberate deception. I solemnly undertook to erase this signature-given against better knowledge-beneath the Diktat of Versailles-and have thereby paid a formal tribute to honor. Still, beyond this, we all must realize for ourselves: war guilt is inexorably linked to the presupposition of a war aim. No people and no regime will wage war simply for the sake of waging war. That anyone would stride forth into a war merely for the pure joy of killing and bloodshed-such a delusion can take hold only in the brains of perverted Jewish literati.
What is decisive in this context is that the German Government not only pursued no war aim in the year 1914, but also, in the course of the war, never managed to arrive at a reasonable or even precise determination of an aim to be pursued. The Peace Treaty of Versailles, by contrast, clearly reveals the true war aims of the British and French encirclement politicians: the theft of the German colonies; the elimination of German trade; the destruction of all bases for German life and existence; Germany’s removal from all positions in power and politics. All in all this added up to precisely the same war aim the British and French encirclement politicians still pursue today.
In Germany at the time, regrettably, there were men who thought they need not pay any attention to the extremist proclamations of English papers and English politicians on the necessity of taking away the German colonies, of eliminating German trade, all goals already apparent in peacetime. The World War and the Peace Diktat of Versailles have instructed the German nation differently. What in former times apparently irresponsible journalists pronounced as the sick products of their own fantasy or hatred, became the goals of British policy, namely, the theft of the German colonies, the elimination of German trade, the destruction of the German merchant marine, the powerpolitical nervous breakdown and destruction of the Reich, and by inference the political and bodily extermination of the German Volk. These were the goals of the British policy of encirclement before the year 1914.
And it is good that we should recall now that when faced with these intentions and war aims of our enemies, later to be affirmed in the Peace Diktat of Versailles, the German state leadership of the day was left without direction and, regrettably, completely without any willpower. And thus it came to pass that there were not only no aims in the war for Germany, but also that the necessary German preparations for the war, in the sense of an effective defensive build-up, were never undertaken. And in this the great guilt of Germany in the World War must be seen. Namely, it is the guilt of having facilitated for the surrounding world (Umwelt), through a criminal neglect of German armament, the propagation of thoughts of the destruction of Germany and the realization of these in the end.
In the year 1912, under pretexts incomprehensible to us today, expenditures for the necessary armament were cut; trivial appropriations were stinted; aspiring, honest soldiers banished to the desert; and thereby the convictions of our enemies reinforced the idea that a successful campaign against Germany might well be worth trying. Beyond this, the simple mustering of all men fit for service was conducted only to an insufficient extent and thereby many hundreds of thousands of able-bodied men did not receive training. In critical hours, a high percentage of those who were nonetheless drafted had to pay for this with their lives. All this only reinforces the picture of an incompetent state leadership and therefore the only genuine conception of guilt, not only regarding the outbreak of the war, but, above all, the outcome of the fight.
When in spite of all of this the memory of the World War in particular has become a source of proud reminiscences, this is due not to the all-too-weak armament, the incompetent state leadership, and so on, but to the inner value, the unequaled instrument of the German Wehrmacht then, of the Army, the Navy, and later of the Luftwaffe. In terms of numbers the latter often faced an adversary who was many times superior to it, but who never attained its inner value.
Reflection on and recollection of this great time must make more firm in all of us, my Comrades, one conviction and one resolve:
1. The conviction that the German Volk can only reflect in general on its past with the greatest pride, and in particular on the years of the World War. As the Fuhrer of the German nation, I may never for a second, as a former fighter, admit that anyone in the ranks of our Western enemies has the right to think himself or regard himself as someone superior to us Germans! I do not in the least suffer from an inferiority complex. On the contrary, I regard the memory of the four years of war, which I had the good fortune to experience thanks to a most gracious Providence, as a cause of proud trust in my German Volk and, as a soldier, in my own person, too. Deep inside, these years cause me to long for and desire peace in the recognition of all the horrors of war, and make me all the more convinced of the value of the German soldier in the defense of our rights. Hence threats by whatever party do not impress me in the least.
2. I and all of us have derived from this period the resolve never to allow the interests of our Reich and nation to be as criminally neglected as it was before the year 1914.
And now I wish to assure you, my old Comrades, of one thing: whereas the British policy of encirclement has remained the same as before the war, Germany’s policy of defense has undergone thorough revision! It has already changed in that, at the head of the Reich, no longer is a civilian disguised as a major562 seeing to affairs, but rather a soldier who will wear civilian clothes on occasion! There are no more Bethmann-Hollwegs amongst the German state leadership today.
I have taken care that anyone who has anything to do with state leadership is a hundred-percent man and soldier. Should I nonetheless perceive that the behavior of any one person cannot stand up to critical strain, then I shall immediately remove this individual, whoever he may be.
The Peace Diktat of Versailles did not come about coincidentally. It was the goal of those who throughout the years sought to encircle Germany, and who finally realized this goal.
We have no right to doubt that this same policy is being employed in the pursuit of the same goals today. We hence have the duty to tell this truth to the nation, without much ado, and to strengthen it in its resistance and in its defensive capacities to the utmost. I believe that I am hereby acting in the spirit of those comrades who once, regrettably and apparently in vain, had to give their lives for Germany. Just as I believe that now, twenty-five years after the outbreak of the World War and twenty years after the Diktat of Versailles, the German state leadership and behind it the entire German Volk can for the first time step up to the tombs of our heroes with their heads held high. At the very least, some atonement has been made for the sins once committed against them by weakness and a lack of direction and unity. Hence I expect that the policy to strengthen Germany’s defensive capacities should not only be warmly welcomed by the veterans, but should also merit their zealous support. This policy should not conceive of its goal as a temporary recasting of civilians as military men, but rather of the education in principle of an entire nation to soldiership and soldierly behavior.
It is no coincidence that National Socialism was conceived in the Great War.
For it is nothing other than the suffusion of our entire existence with a true fighting spirit for Volk and Reich. May none of us ever doubt one thing: as soon as the German Volk possesses a totally heroic leadership, it will adjust its own behavior to that of the leadership. It is my irrevocable determination to make certain that the highest political and military leaders of the nation think and act as courageously as the brave musketeer must whose task it is to give his own life, and who does so if he receives orders or necessity dictates as much. The heroic leadership of a nation, however, rests on a conscience compelled by the question whether or not a people shall exist.
When I speak to you in this manner especially, my Comrades, then I can already claim of German history the justification bestowed on him who not only speaks through words, but whose deeds attest to the same spirit and to the same persuasion. And this is why I can share more than any one else in the great comradeship of the eternal German soldiery. And because of this I am happy to be able to welcome you here in Kassel on the Reichskriegertag, as the representative of this soldiership.
Behind us lies the transfigured memory of the greatest time of our Volk and of our own existence. Before us lies the fulfillment of what this time, too, once, albeit unconsciously, struggled for: