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the Complete Review
the complete review - diaries

A German Officer in
Occupied Paris

Ernst Jünger

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To purchase A German Officer in Occupied Paris

Title: A German Officer in Occupied Paris
Author: Ernst Jünger
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: (1949) (Eng. 2019)
Length: 427 pages
Original in: German
Availability: A German Officer in Occupied Paris - US
A German Officer in Occupied Paris - UK
A German Officer in Occupied Paris - Canada
Premier et second journaux parisiens - France
Strahlungen: I and II - Deutschland
Irradiazioni - Italia
Radiaciones: I and II - España
  • The War Journals, 1941-1945
  • German titles: Strahlungen I: Das erste Pariser Tagebuch. Kaukasische Aufzeichnungen and Strahlungen II: Das zweite Pariser Tagebuch. Kirchhorster Blätter
  • Translated Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen
  • Foreword by Elliot Neaman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating if limited and idiosyncratic experience of the Second World War

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 14/12/2018 Edmund Fawcett
New Criterion . 12/2019 Andrew Stuttaford
New Statesman . 20/2/2019 Paul Lay
The NY Rev. of Books . 27/6/2019 Adam Thirlwell
The Spectator . 19/1/2019 Alex Colville
The Times . 21/12/2018 Roger Boyes
TLS . 12/1/1951 Michael Hamburger
TLS . 11/12/2018 Ritchie Robertson
Wall St. Journal . 15/2/2019 Dominic Green
The Washington Post . 16/1/2019 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "Now translated into English for the first time, his second world war diaries show readers a middle-aged Captain Jünger as he revealed a private self, no doubt with an eye to eventual publication: camera-like, complicit, revelling in civilised pursuits by day; weary, frightened and guilty-feeling at night. Aphorisms, philosophical half-thoughts and religious musings jostle with odd, though seldom funny, dreams. Small pleasures flank sudden horrors. Jolting images appear and vanish as if on the surface of a lake. None of it adds up. No line is drawn or balance struck. Jünger, the political conservative who scorned modernity’s disorder, wrote a very modern, unconservative prose. (...) For English-speaking readers who do not know his work, A German Officer in Occupied Paris shows the many sides of this complex, elusive writer." - Edmund Fawcett, Financial Times

  • "But however uneven or bizarre some of the entries, the overall structure of the journals -- free-flowing, chaotic, and kaleidoscopic -- works. Together they act as a mirror reflecting a world where the center had not held." - Andrew Stuttaford, New Criterion

  • "With the publication of these extraordinary, sometimes hallucinatory diaries. English speakers have the chance to read one of the great witnesses to 20th-century Europe’s catastrophe. One whom, they may judge, cast too cold an eye, on life, on death." - Paul Lay, New Statesman

  • "His single intense talent was for the spiky sporadic note form of a journal, something that proceeded in leaps and zigzags through moments of pure observation (.....) The surface of these journals seems to be all luxury and champagne, a pointillist flurry of elegance (,....) (W)hat's revealed through the enforced montage structure of Jünger's journals -- their commitment to linear notation -- is the problem of how to think within a catastrophe and the difficulty of maintaining any kind of true perspective. (...) It's this dedication to style and surface in the midst of destruction that is at once so dazzling and so dispiriting in his writing" - Adam Thirlwell, The New York Review of Books

  • "Whereas Storm of Steel’s narrative distils the author’s best ideas, sieved through hindsight, the journal is a jumble of both perfectly formed and half-baked ones. Not every thought a man has is going to be worth reading, whatever his intellect. But gold shines amid the dross. (...) In many ways, the journals are On the Marble Cliffs made flesh -- Jünger’s ‘I told you so’. (...) He omits anything that would make him appear a villain. An ongoing extramarital affair in Paris is barely hinted at. But neither does he try to look a hero, omitting how he passed on to Jews information of upcoming deportations, buying them time to escape." - Alex Colville, The Spectator

  • "Herr Jünger himself is, above all, an anti-specialist; he is not so much a novelist as an amateur philosopher, amateur theologian, amateur scientist, soldier, political theorist and aesthete. However extraordinary the combination may appear, it accounts for the originality and the importance of this writer. (...) The fascination of these war diaries lies in the hidden links continually discovered by Herr Jünger's penetrating and resourceful mind; an event, however interesting in itself, is never merely an event but a symbol and a symptom of some larger or deeper issue. (...) It is difficult to indicate either the scope or the depths of these diaries. Strahlungen is full of the unexpected" - Michael Hamburger, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In his diaries, Jünger, though prey to depression, attains a perspective on these events from his extensive knowledge of literature and history. (...) (T)hese diaries are not only a remarkable document of the time, but bring us close to a strange but highly original person, always capable of a fresh response to the natural world, the atmosphere of Paris, and the hideous events that force themselves on his knowledge. Many of Jünger’s texts have an inhuman chill; these diaries reveal his humanity. The translators have given us a fluent, idiomatic English text, with only a few, though striking, slips. (...) Readers will also find indispensable the introductory biographical essay by Elliot Neaman" - Ritchie Robertson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Always intended for eventual publication, the journal eschews soul-searching and avoids anything overtly confessional. In its entries Jünger records his dreams, migraines and depressions, describes his interaction with Parisian artists and aristocrats sympathetic to the Germans, closely inspects every flower and insect he encounters and obsessively reflects on the human condition. (...) Some critics argue that his transcendental-mystical bent tends to aestheticize horror and suffering, which to some extent it certainly does. Still, Jünger himself deserves to be honored as a serious, if morally and politically complicated, European humanist." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A German Officer in Occupied Paris is, somewhat surprisingly, the first translation of Strahlungen I-II -- Ernst Jünger's The War Journals, 1941-1945. Jünger, a decorated World War I hero, was already internationally well-known before the time covered in these diaries, his memoir of that First World War, In Stahlgewittern (1920, but repeatedly revised) already translated into English -- as The Storm of Steel -- in 1929 (and more recently, in Michael Hofmann's 2003 translation, as Storm of Steel).
       The English title is a more prosaic-descriptive one than Jünger's own grandiose original ('Radiations'); it's also a bit misleading -- both because while Jünger was stationed in Paris for most of the period covered, significant sections are devoted to his time on the Eastern Front (one of the four sections is: 'Notes from the Caucasus') as well back home in Kirchhorst by Hannover (both on leave and then for most of the final section, the 'Kirchhorst Diaries'), as well as because, while Jünger certainly was a high-ranking German military officer, these diaries only very limitedly present him in that function. Indeed, A German Officer in Occupied Paris is not, first and foremost, the account of a Nazi at/and his work. Instead, it is a diary of personal experiences, observations, thoughts, and dreams (yes, Jünger records a lot of his dreams) by someone presenting himself here as rather incidentally if dutifully involved in the apparatus of state- and war-machine. Certainly, war intrudes -- and, on his travels to the Eastern Front, the bombings of Paris, and then the looming (ever-closer ...) German defeat, he's confronted with war front and center --, but on the whole one of the most shocking things about this record is how comfortably and casually Jünger goes about life, mingling in Paris literary salons, buying books (oh, what books !), and conducting his affairs -- more often of the intimate-personal kind (not that he's in the least explicit about those), especially with 'Doctoresse' (Sophie Ravoux), rather than the professional ones. Yes, there are times and places of great deprivation and hardship (and cold) -- but there are also those dinners at Maxim's.
       [The German edition of Strahlungen I-II now includes the previously separately published Gärten und Straßen (diaries covering 1939-1940; first published 1942) and Die Hütte im Weinberg (diaries covering 1945-1948; first published in 1958, as Jahre der Okkupation). Later diaries of Jünger's, originally published as Siebzig verweht, are now also published as Strahlungen -- volumes III through VI.]
       A German Officer in Occupied Paris is not a detailed day-by-day intimate diary, but more like notebooks in which Jünger records events, meetings, and thoughts that strike him. Sometimes he does describe his actual activity in some detail, but mostly he's quite general; the focus tends to be on his impressions of people, books, and general circumstances. He also records many of his dreams -- often in greater detail than his professional duties (which, quite honestly, remain vague and opaque: mostly, it's unclear just what exactly he is tasked with and what he spends his days doing professionally): "Dreams bring me hope for the future, give me security", he admits at one point, and given the real-life nightmare growing around him one can understand his clinging to them -- though one has to note, he long puts on a damned good show of not being too perturbed by the German catastrophe that is soon tightening like a noose.
       (The dream-descriptions are, like most everything, quick and to the point; some are interesting in context as well, and a few are simply little gems on their own -- not least: "Was present at a meal where Socrates was also invited. He was a small man, thin, with short hair, a gaunt, intelligent face; he wore a gray, well-cut suit".)
       There are suggestions and glimpses all along of a general despondent gloom, but Jünger rarely elaborates on them, keeping things succinct:

     Many of the letters I receive take on an ominous, eschatological tone, like cries from the deepest regions of the vortex, that place that gives us a glimpse of rock bottom.
       At times, his turns away from the war around him are almost comical in their (admitted) willfulness -- not least in this beautiful scene from the times of height of the Allied bombings, in February, 1945:
     Discourse at the garden gate:
     I: "things are lively in the air today."
     Neighbor: "Yes, they say Osnabrück and Chemnitz have been destroyed."
     But I was talking about the mosquitoes that were buzzing around for the first time.
       A number of people are referred to by pseudonyms, even as their identities aren't in the least hidden by them: Jünger's wife Gretha is called 'Perpetua', his mistress 'Charmille' and 'Doctoresse' -- and Hitler is referred to only as: 'Kniébolo'. Beyond that, Jünger name-drops right and left, as he moved in what might otherwise be considered very fine circles -- otherwise but for the fact that we're talking about Nazi-occupied Paris, and more than a whiff of collaboration hangs heavily over these, such as the salon of Florence Gould. Jünger socializes with Céline and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, as well as Paul Morand (The Man in a Hurry, etc.) and Jean Cocteau; he visits the studios of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque (yes, both hung around in Paris during the war years) -- "two great painters of our age", he acknowledges. And Max Beckmann -- denounced as a degenerate artist by Hitler and laying low in the Netherlands -- sends his greetings via a mutual acquaintance.
       Among the most remarkable scenes is the visit he makes in July, 1944 to the house of art collector Jean Groult, with its incredible collection (all still on site at that time, in and alongside the "Pompeiian galleries, terraces with parrots and ringneck doves"). Jünger also mentions:
The coal shortage is a nuisance. The household requires a staff of more than twenty.
       Jünger has many interests. He is old-school social, many of his days filled with making and receiving visits. He is cultured -- interested in theater, music, art -- but also of a scientific bent, with a great interest in entomology. As to the political -- he's more of the historical-sweep school than concerned with (or willing to go on record about ...) most of the war-warped politics of the day, though he's certainly less than thrilled with what Hitler has wrought (even as he sees the seeds of a possible great revival in the coming destruction). Among the more interesting-cryptic notebook entries is one from August, 1942, when he writes: "Destroyed papers in the morning, including my plan for an effective peace that I had composed last winter"; one wonders what he had in mind .....
       He is, above all, a bookish man -- and delights in what Paris has to offer in this respect, from the books he can buy to the general literary ambience. As late as January 1944 he takes the time to visit Verlaine's grave -- and is impressed to find a bouquet there: "Not every poet still has fresh flowers on his grave after fifty years".
       When he's due to go east he laments:
     I shall miss the world of books; I have spent precious hours in it -- oases in a world of carnage. Walking along either bank of the Seine represents perfection in its own right; time flows by easily. It's hard to imagine how to improve on this, and it would not be anywhere near as beautiful if the books cost nothing.
       He frequents the books stalls and the antiquarian shops -- and picks up some nice odds and ends, casually noting, for example:
     Went to Berès in the evening, where I looked at books. I bought the old Malleus Maleficarum [Hammer of Witches] by Sprenger in the Venice edition of 1574. The purchase would have excited me more twenty years ago, when I was studying hallucinogens along with magic and Satanism.
       Jünger's choice of reading can be eclectic, and is certainly wide-ranging: "I am reading the back issues of Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Insektenbiologie [Journal of Scientific Entomolgy], alternating with the Jewish War by Flavius Josephus" (6 December 1943) to the December 1944 mention that: "I've begun to read about the quite topical subject of shipwrecks" or picking up the journal Zalmoxis, where he's impressed by two articles by Mircea Eliade ("Every sentence contains fecundity"). Mostly, however, it's literature he immerses himself in. Jünger often makes brief notes about the authors and books he is reading, sometimes little more than asides but generally quite interesting. He rereads Faulkner's Pylon: "because it describes the abstract hell of the world of technology with such precision" (a particular concern/bugbear of his), and finds Malraux is one of those: "rare observers with an eye for the war-ravaged landscape of the twentieth century". Washington Irving's Sketch Book is: "one of those works of great literature that I have neglected for too long", while he is stymied by Dumas' (misspelled here as 'Alexander, sigh) novels:
The annoying thing about such texts is that their author avoids describing nuanced and gentle impressions while recording and exaggerating lurid ones. Reading them is like walking through meadows thronged with larger-than-life blossoms, while grasses and moss are absent.
       Beginning with Brave New World, Jünger goes through an Aldous Huxley phase, never quite won over (finding his: "lack of structure tiresome") but acknowledging that: "Huxley -- the precise observer and analyst -- delivers the scientific scaffolding of our era" and suspecting that he just might "enjoy posthumous recognition". Jünger sums up:
His is a case of an anarchist with conservative memories who opposes nihilism.
       Jünger notes how the conditions of this war affect him (and, presumably, others) as reader: "One feels that huge numbers of books will not cross those custom barriers of the mind that he erects" He can turn to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America ("Amazing insights are to be found there"), Adalbert Stifter ("the Hesiod of the moderns"), and Kipling ("His later dandyism combines with a good knowledge of all those aspects of morality and amorality that are necessary for dominance"). Appropriately enough, he dips into Pepys. The Other Side-author Alfred Kubin ("that old sorcerer") sends him a couple of things, and he reads Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes and the decadents Octave Mirbeau (praising Torture Garden: "for clearly delineating the beauty and savagery of the world") and Huysmans.
       The one author he returns to most often is Léon Bloy -- "not yet a classic writer, but some day he will be" --, who fascinates him:
His mind has a certain condensed quality of something boiled down, like a soup made from extinct fishes and mussels whose flavor has intensified. Good to read when the appetite has been destroyed by too much bland food.
       Part of the attraction seems also to be Bloy's: "shockingly powerful hatred, which can vie with Kniébolo's own"; ultimately, Jünger sums up:
Bloy is like a tree rooted deep in a swamp yet producing sublime blossoms at its top.
       This, of course, also reflects Jünger's own situation, as he finds himself mired in a world of rot yet continues to reach, long for, and embrace the simple-beautiful.
       Jünger also gets quite caught up in Bible, reading it closely, especially in the latter stages of the war. Religion is not put at the fore here, but belief is important to him; still, it's striking when, at one point, he seems to lose all other faith and suggests:
     Of all the cathedrals only one remains -- that built by the dome of our folded hands. In that alone lies our security.
       Jünger is also hopelessly old-fashioned in his clinging to ideals of nobility -- one reason for his disdain for Hitler, who represented anything but. It allows him to have a glimmer of hope for the future: out of destruction tradition can arise again. The war brought about a: "decline in our ability to discriminate moral categories" -- but not just the war, but the whole technological approach brought to it, and brought to society in general. Jünger sees an epic failure here, technology the worst (or at least most mishandled) of advances:
As a product of the purely masculine intellect, it is like a predator whose overwhelming menace mankind has not immediately recognized. We have foolishly raised this animal in close quarters with ourselves, only to discover that it cannot be domesticated.
       So also, for him, war is being fought all wrong, on a fundamental level:
I am overcome by loathing for the uniform, the epaulettes, the medals, the weapons, all the glamour I have loved so much. Ancient chivalry is dead; wars are waged by technicians. Mankind has thus reached the stage described by Dostoevsky in Raskolnikov. He views people like himself as vermin.
       How far his delusion goes can be seen when he meets a fan -- "one of those readers who was introduced to my works as a child and has grown up with them". Yes:
For me it is a pleasure to see how young people who have learned from me can get right to the point. The fate of Germany is hopeless if a new chivalric order does not emerge from its youth, and especially its workers.
       So also he mourns those who pay the price in the aftermath of the failed attempt on Hitler's life on 20 July 1944, the German officers of the old school: "of the last chivalric men, of those freethinkers -- the very people who are superior to the others, whose feelings and thoughts are but petty emotions".
       Jünger does not mention Hitler particularly often -- understandably cautious, too, though the observations he makes are astute, from how: "Propaganda takes precedence over everything else" to Hitler's reliance on: "dissension, partisanship, and hatred". So also, he finds:
In brief, the nineteenth century was a rational one, while the twentieth century is sectarian. Kniébolo feeds on this -- hence the complete inability of the liberal intelligentsia even to perceive where he stands on matters.
       As the tide turns to inevitable defeat, in the summer of 1944, he observes:
The leadership is trying to promote hope in new and unknown weapons because they are incapable of new ideas. The complete lack of judgment shown by the masses as they permit themselves to be deceived into s a state of euphoria remains remarkable.
       By the time he hears Hitler's New Year's address in 1945 Jünger sees only the abyss:
This descent into ever-darker regions is horrifying -- it is a meteoric plunge from the sphere of salvation. Destruction must inevitably grow from these chasms and fire spew forth from them.
       As the war winds down, even Jünger can't ignore the collapse around him. There's the fear of harm to loved ones at home, as the Allied bombing raids reach there as well. There's the personal tragedy of his son falling, late in the war, on the Italian front. And yet, as he notes while taking the train in the spring of 1944, passing by a succession of bombed-out cities: "It is horrible how quickly we grow accustomed to the sight."
       Early on, Jünger delineates and admits what he believes (or hopes ?) his record will amount to:
     Concerning this journal. It captures only a certain layer of events that take place in intellectual and physical spheres. Things that concern our innermost being resist communication, almost resist our own perception.
       Yet in this odd mishmash, there's much that is personally revealing too; certainly a good (if not fully three-dimensional) picture of the man emerges.
       Far-ranging, A German Officer in Occupied Paris is an odd picture of the Second World War. There's much that Jünger is careful about revealing -- understandably, too, since his writing could be held against him at any time, if it was inspected. Still, it's striking when he writes about learning in October 1943 about the mass-killings of Jews, by gas and other methods: it's information that appalls him, yet he then also goes no further in probing it, and it does not seem to lead him to question his own role in this horrible machine of death any more than anything else had, or will.
       In an endnote the translators note that some factual (dating) errors in the text suggest: "an occasionally erratic chronology of personal material", and in his Foreword Elliot Neaman gives the example of Jünger's account of climbing to the roof of the Hotel Raphael as Paris was being bombed -- the problem being that on that date: "On 27 May 1943, however, there were no air strikes over Paris". [In an unfortunate proofing-slip, Neaman writes 27 May 1943, when of course the entry is from 27 May 1944.] Jünger's account certainly seems carefully -- cautiously -- constructed, but what misrepresentations there might be don't seem overly significant: that this is a intensely subjective (with all the limitations that implies) work surely is a given. This is more a book of impressions -- one man's impressions -- and while Jünger restricts himself to aspects of his life (i.e. leaving much of his professional work out of the picture), even this limited picture is certainly an intriguing one, both regarding his person, and the environments (Occupied Paris; the Eastern Front; near-provincial Kirchhorst) he describes.
       It appears the German title of these diaries -- Strahlungen -- comes from how he imagines the reading experience might be seen in these heightened times (or perhaps in some future (when the hated technicians have made advances in even this area)) -- and suggesting, also, how he imagines or maybe even wants the reading experience already to be for these writings:
     Books in name only, but actually psychological machines to manipulate people. The reader enters a chamber and gets a dose of cosmic radiation. After reading the book, he becomes someone else. Reading, too, is now different -- it is accompanied by the awareness of danger.
       Jünger's chivalric world-view will hardly convince, and readers are unlikely to be changed anywhere near as much as Jünger might wish or imagine (unlike those youthful, impressionable Germanic readers of his earlier work he encounters ...) but, even for all its limitations, A German Officer in Occupied Paris is a remarkable slice of World War II, and makes for fascinating reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 January 2019

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A German Officer in Occupied Paris: Reviews: Ernst Jünger: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Ernst Jünger lived 1895 to 1998.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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