After 5 years of conflict of the Great War, the world was devastated. Germany lay in defeat after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1921, the Allied Reparations Commission, mostly controlled by the French government, demanded that reparations were to be paid on the part of Germany of amounts surpassing £7,000,000,000. In 1922, there was a massive wave of inflation that swept the German economy, and as a result, many people were left penniless and unable to buy the necessities of life. At the end of 1922 the German Mark was worth absolutely nothing.The people were hopeless and frantic to survive.
“It was such a desperate time that the people would follow anyone who would provide them with work, bread, and a bright new future”1. Political and economic unrest in Germany uprooted many of the old parties in parliament and made way for now more extreme groups. The NSDAP (later to be known as the Nazi party) was one of these new radical groups struggling for power in the sea of turmoil that was now called Germany. They were lead by Adolf Hitler, a shrewd and cunning man with excellent skills in public speaking.In 1929, the world markets crashed and a global depression began. The Germans were one of the hardest hit due to their already “knife edged”2 economy.
Most of Germany’s foreign investment came from the United States, and as soon as the markets crashed America pulled all its money back home. In between the years of 1930 and 1932, the German unemployment rate was running as high as 33%. Hitler and the Nazi party promised full employment for the German peoples, and in the next few elections the Nazi party gained popular support, most of this support coming from the unemployed and impoverished.In 1932, elections were held and the Nazi party gained 230 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the largest party. On January 30th 1933, President Hindenburg reluctantly offered chancellorship of Germany to Hitler. Hitler accepted this with open arms.
The new Nazi Germany looked for its “Enemies of the State” within the borders of Germany; these enemies included Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, and artists of various types. One of these artists was Enrich Maria Remarque, who wrote the epic anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front, which depicted the horrors of war from the point of view of the ordinary soldiers.In the 1930’s, Remarque’s books were banned in Germany by the government for voicing anti-German opinions. As well, at the same time in Poland, the book was banned for being pro-German. All Quiet on the Western Front was among the works ordered to be publicly burnt in 1933 by the Nazis.
Shops were ordered to halt selling his books. It was later made into a film in which the premiere was disrupted by Nazi gangs; Remarque was accused of pacifism. In 1938, Remarque lost his right as a German citizen at a time when many people were stripped of their citizenship.He had moved to Switzerland in 1932, and in 1939 he immigrated to the United States, where in 1947, he became a citizen. The start of the Second World War was on the horizon, and the devastation of nations and its people were soon to follow.
The ideals of the Nazis were spreading, and a novel like Remarques just would not do in the world of Nazism. All Quiet on the Western Front was censored and burned because the book promoted pacifism and other anti-war sentiments, while the Nazi’s promoted the honour and glorification of war.When war is depicted today, it is seen as a horrible thing that is unwanted in our society. War is a terrible event when life is thrown away needlessly, as shown in All Quiet on the Western Front. “To me the front is a mysterious whirlpool. Though I am in still water far away from its centre, I feel the whirl of the vortex sucking me slowly, irresistibly, inescapably into itself”3.
The horrors of war were ever-present in their trenches. The young eighteen-year old soldiers were in the rear were always conscious of the front, which loomed like a storm waiting to swallow them on their return to it.War is portrayed as it was actually experienced, with an unromantic version of fear, butchery, brutality, and meaningless death. This is the essential depiction that World War I needs in order to be properly represented, more so than any other war before it. The Great War completely altered and manipulated people’s conceptions of military conflict in a whole new manner with unimaginable levels of carnage and violence. During the Battle of the Somme, there were over 1,000,000 casualties collectively on both sides of the front.
These ideals that had been characterized in the novel were not held dearly to the Nazis.They hoped to glorify war and promote the courage and bravery that comes with participating in such a great cause. Nazi propaganda would tend to romanticize what war was all about, emphasizing the adventure, glory, honour and patriotic duties that were instilled upon every member of the Nazi regime. The horrors of war were no consequence to the Nazi’s, for they fought for the fatherland and the Fuhur. The Nazi’s propaganda machine was quite powerful, which kept the ideals that the regime wanted the people to hear, and discarded the rest.Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, explains the core of this.
“The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it”4. As Goebbels states, the people were convinced to back the Nazis in their idealism as well as support for the party itself. This does not hide the fact that many of the sons of Germany would die for the fatherland, rather that they would die with honour, courage, and bravery.Many of those who did not die initially or later on from their wounds would have lost more than a leg or an arm, but a piece of their soul from the rages of war. Nazism was more than ideas simply set out by Hitler and his followers; it was a way of life.
This aspect is yet another that was kept away from the eyes and ears of the German people, in order for them to think that war is not as terrible a thing as it actually is. The truth would be covered up by the teams of propaganda that worked around the clock to try and brainwash the people into thinking whatever was told to them.Even many of the Nazi soldiers had gone to such extreme points that they had almost turned into mindless fanatics. When Hitler made the armed forces swear an oath of allegiance directly to him in 1934. In order to do this he had to kill Ernst Roehm, the leader of the SA, and dissolve them, and integrated them into the new German army. Since the armies allegiance was totally to Hitler, many of them were still fighting for their country but at the same time they were fighting for Hitler himself.
The soldiers had almost turned into fanatics to the Nazi cause, especially amongst the ranks of the SS.Their minds had already been altered to such an extent that the terrors of war seemed almost natural to them. The effects of war on the body as well as the mind take their toll as men are subjected to the thought of death at any moment. This is particularly prevalent in the novel for the view is from soldiers fighting on the front, not being sure if they will survive the next few moments. As well as being physically harmful, this kind of stress and trauma wreak havoc on the nerves of a human being. Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades–words, words, words, but they hold the horror of the world”5.
The conditions that the soldiers were also forced to fight in conditions that can only be described as appalling. Trenches were filled with mud, rats, and the remains of the dead, whole or not. The soldiers would go without any sleep or food for days on end, proper medical care was also in short supply, along with ample clothing in which to protect themselves from the elements.Remarque shows us the effects that all these things have on the soldiers.
The only way that they would be able to deal mentally with the world around them was to disconnect themselves from their feelings, suppressing their emotions and accepting the events that occur around them, no matter how horrid they may be. Being this disconnected from society, and themselves destroys a soldier’s humanity. For example, Paul becomes unable to imagine a future for himself when the war is over, as well as not being able to remember what his life was like before the conflict began.