Adolf Hitler – speech in the Berlin Zeughaus
March 10, 1940
It is at a solemn hour that the German Volk celebrates its Heroes’ Memorial Day today. With more justification than ever before in the past twenty years can one step before the spiritual eye of those who once, as courageous sons of our Volk, sacrificed themselves for the future of the nation, the greatness and inviolability of the Reich. What once resounded as empty phrases of an unworthy posterity has today become an expression of proud gratitude by a worthy present. After an unequaled victorious campaign in the East, the soldiers of our Field Army’s divisions, the crews of our ships, the fighters of our Luftwaffe, are henceforth prepared to take up the defense of the Reich in the West against the enemies of old with the same sense of duty, the same obedience, as true to their orders as soldiers of the Great War. Behind them stands the homeland, cleansed of elements of disintegration and fragmentation. For the first time in our history the entire German Volk steps before the countenance of the Lord Almighty to implore Him to bestow His blessings on our struggle for existence.
The struggle of our soldiers is a hard one. Insofar as we comprehend nature and have gained insight into its ways, we know that just as life, to sustain itself, demands sacrifice time and time again to bear new life and deals out pain to heal wounds, the soldier is the foremost representative of life itself. At all times, he represents the cream of a people. He places his life at risk, and gives his life if need be, to render possible and to secure the life of his contemporaries and hence of posterity. In the hour in which Providence shall come to weigh the intrinsic worth of a people, he steps up before the Lord Almighty to face trial by ordeal.
And through him, the nations shall be weighed. They will be judged either too light and hence they will be erased from the book of life and the book of history, or they will be deemed worthy enough to create new life. Only he who himself had the opportunity to fight under the most adverse of conditions, who himself saw death’s shadow pass him by time and time again in years of struggle-only he can measure the greatness of the risk taken by the soldier, only he can appreciate the graveness of the sacrifice. The instinct of survival has engraved upon mankind universal principles for the evaluation of those who were willing to give up themselves so that the life of the community should be sustained.
Mankind places the idealist in opposition to the repulsive egoist. And when it despises the one as a coward, then its gratitude for the other is all the greater in the subconscious realization of the sacrifice brought. It glorifies him as a hero and raises him above the mass of other, indifferent phenomena. No one has a greater right to celebrate its heroes than the German Volk! Given the most precarious geopolitical location of its lands, it was possible to assure the existence of our Volk time and time again only thanks to the heroic mustering of its men. And if we have enjoyed a historic existence within these past 2,000 years, then we did so only because men were willing, time and time again within these 2,000 years, to place their lives at risk for the community-and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives. Every one of these heroes gave his life not in the mistaken belief that he would deliver future generations of this duty. All the achievements of the past would be for naught should only one future generation lack the strength to make similar sacrifices. For the life of a nation resembles a chain without end until the day one generation decides to sever this link and thereby brings to an end the course of evolution. No one has the right to celebrate heroes who is not himself capable of such conviction.
No one has the right to speak of tradition who is not himself willing to enrich this tradition through his own life and works. This principle applies to all peoples just as to all statesmen. And it applies to soldiers no less than to generals.
From within the sacred halls of this building, relics of an incomparably glorious past speak to us. They were fought for and sealed with the blood of countless German heroes. We have no right to enter into this hall unless we bear in our hearts the solemn resolve to be no less valiant than the bearers of these weapons, of these emblems, and of these uniforms before us. The risking of his life was no less difficult for a musketeer in the Seven Years’ War than for one who, 1,000 years before, as a German knight, fought off the hordes of the East to protect the German lands. And it was no less difficult than that demanded of us today. The power of decision, the cool daring courage of the great statesmen and warlords of the past were not less than those expected of us today. Then, too, the gods loved these great statesmen and warlords only because they attempted and demanded the apparently impossible. Hardly one of the great battles in the history of our Volk and, above all, in the history of Prussia, already betrayed its likely outcome at the beginning. Based on numerical and material superiority, many an action seemed destined to success, only to end in defeat due to the lack of spirits of the fighters. Conversely, many others which seemed doomed from the very start, based on all human intuition, entered into history as glorious victories.
The secret of the miracle of life will never reveal itself to the pale theoretician.
He will always see amiss the mighty formative force of existence that he himself most sorely lacks, namely: willpower, boldness in making and carrying out decisions.
And thus we commence this day of commemoration of our heroes with a feeling of new, inner dignity. Not with heads bowed, but rather with heads carried high and with pride we greet them, conscious that we are their equals, capable of the same achievements, and-should this be necessary- willing to take upon ourselves the same sacrifices.
What they once fought for, we now fight for ourselves. What was noble enough a goal for them to fight and, if necessary, to die for-every hour will find us braced for a like deed. The faith which inspired them has grown within us. Whatever life or destiny might deal to the individual among us, the existence and future of the community takes precedence over it. There is something which carries us further yet than in the ages past, namely, the realization of what it was that many earlier ages unconsciously were forced to fight for: the German Volk! To be allowed to live within it is our greatest earthly good. To belong to it is our pride. To defend it in unconditional loyalty even in the worst of times, is our fanatic defiance. The greater the dangers surrounding us, the more precious this treasure of our community seems to us. All the more important is, therefore, the realization that in its development and promotion lies the strongest raison d’etre for German survival. Now that the outside world of plutocratic democracies has declared the wildest of campaigns against National Socialist Germany and has pronounced its destruction as the loftiest of war aims, then this simply reaffirms to us what we already know: the thought of a National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft alone has made the German Volk especially dangerous in the eyes of our enemies, because it has made it invincible. Above all differences of class or rank, profession or confession, and above all the usual confusion of everyday life, looms the social union of the German man, irrespective of caste or origin, based on blood, forged in communal life throughout thousands of years, bound together by destiny for better or for worse.
The world desires our dissolution. Our answer to this can be but a renewed oath sworn to the greatest community of all time. Their aim is the disintegration of Germany. Our avowal of faith is German unity. They hope for the success of capitalist interests, and we will the victory of the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft! In nearly fifteen years of laborious work, National Socialism has delivered the German Volk from its state of tragic despair; in a unique historic work, it has uplifted the conscience of the nation and has driven away the wretched specter of a defeatist capitulation; it has built the general political foundations for a rearmament. In spite of all this, I stood prepared throughout the years to extend my hand to the world for a true understanding. They rejected the idea of a reconciliation of all peoples based on equal rights.
As a National Socialist and a soldier, I have always upheld the principle of securing the rights of my Volk either in peace, or-if necessary-in a fight.
As the Fuhrer of the nation, the Chancellor of the Reich, and the Supreme Commander of the German Wehrmacht, I live today for the fulfillment of one great task: to think of the victory, day and night; to struggle for it; to work for it; and to fight for it. If necessary, I shall not spare my own life either in the realization that this time around the future of Germany shall be decided for centuries to come.
As a former soldier of the Great War, nevertheless, I have devoutly pleaded with Providence to accord us the grace of closing honorably this last chapter in the great struggle of nations (Volkerringen) for the German Volk. Then the spirits of our fallen comrades shall rise from their graves to thank all those whose courage and loyalty have now once more atoned for the sins committed in an hour of weakness against them and against our Volk. Let our avowal of faith on this day be a solemn oath: the war forced upon the Greater German Reich by the capitalist rulers of France and England must be transformed into the most glorious victory in German history!