One of the interesting things I learned from reading Nicholas Steingardt's The German War (see my review) is that the Nazis created a cult of the nineteenth century Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (number 2 on my list of the 10 greatest German poets). This evolved throughout the Third Reich but reached a climax in 1943 with a celebrations throughout Germany commemorating the 100th anniversary of the poet's death. How this rather obscure, emotionally hypersensitive German poet who had only contempt for his fellow German "philistines" became transformed into a spiritual Führer of the German Volk - the "purest of pure" the "most German" of all German poets - is a fascinating story. What interests me here is that the peak of the Hölderlin cult coincided with the realization among most Germans that the war effort was lost. Steingardt writes:
"Listening to Hyperion's Song of Fate (DV note: from Hölderlin 's 1797 novel Hyperion oder Der Eremit in Griechenland ) provided a glimpse into the abyss, a retreat into reverie, a safe haven into which readers could surrender - momentarily - and marshal their own inner, moral reserves. Hiding the war behind a veil of lyrical abstractions this literary canon helped 'apolitical Germans' to reinvent themselves, unwillingly to be preached to by the Nazi hacks, but at the same time blocking out the possibility that the war would confront them with immediate moral and political choices. Instead, they ransacked their cultural heritage to help bear its burdens."
So, while Schiller and Kleist were the poets of German military success in the early days of the war, Hölderlin was the poet of German military defeat. Still, the Nazis kept positioning the Third Reich as the fulfillment of Hölderlin's vision. Here is the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg writing in the Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte:
Es war die Tragik Hölderlins, dass er sich aus der Gemeinschaft der Menschen lösen musste, ohne dass ihm die Gestaltung der kommenden Gemeinschaft beschieden war. Er blieb ein Einsamer, ein Unverstandener seiner Zeit, der aber die Zukunft als Gewissheit in sich trug. Er wollte eine Wiedererlebung, kein neues Griechenland, aber er fand im Griechentum die nordisch-heidische Lebenshaltung wieder, die in dem Deutschland seiner Zeit verkümmert war, aus der jedoch allein die kommende Gemeinschaft wachsen kann... Und der Kampf um die Gestaltund des Reiches aber is das Ringen um die gleiche Tat, die Hölderlin nicht tun konnte, weil die Zeit noch nich erfüllt war.
But while the Nazis were promoting Hölderlin as a spiritual forerunner of a national-socialist Volksgemeinschaft, the poet also served as inspiration for those who would try to sabotage the Nazi regime. Steingardt writes about how Sophie Scholl, the leader of the White Rose student opposition group, revered Hölderlin. Likewise Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of the failed 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler, saw in Hölderlin the prophet of a "secret Germany" which had been perverted by Hitler and the Nazis.
With the collapse of the Reich, the cult of Hölderlin lost its appeal, especially to the troops returning from the front. Günter Eich expressed his disgust in his famous 1946 poem Latrine:
Irr mir im Ohre schallen
Verse von Hölderlin.
In schneeiger Reinheit spiegeln
Wolken sich im Urin.
(Mad in my hearing echo verses of Hölderlin in snowy pureness clouds are reflected in pools of urine.)
Here is a recording of the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger reading Hölderlin's poem Der Ister.