Sylvia Merrill Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Sylvia Merrill

Furlough: A Picture of Life in Fascist Germany

(February 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 6, 5 February 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Franz Hoellering, in his novel, Furlough, has performed a courageous task. In the face of the propaganda campaign for a hard peace for Germany which followed the Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin demand for unconditional surrender, the author of Furlough has written an eloquent story of the sufferings and resistance of the German people under Hitlerism.

“The German people must pay for the war,” and they don’t mean only in dollars and cents. Who are to surrender unconditionally? Who are to be made slaves (the Russian formula)? Who will be the victims of the dismembered and de-industrialized Germany? Who are to be made to suffer unto the seventh generation? Why, the people, of course! And who are these people? Hoellering shows us.

Strata of Nazi Society

Hans, a Nazi youth fighting on the Russian front, shoots a comrade who curses the war, steals his furlough papers and goes home. This act, a contradiction in this patriotic youth, who should desire to fight on, is sub-consciously motivated by a desire for security and human warmth and kindness. Leni, his girl, is the antithesis of the horror he is living through. Through Hans we get an insight into every strata in German society.

We see the Nazi Party officials with their doubts about the possibility of victory and desire to save their necks and their privileges and easy living. We see their fear of the more staunchly Nazi of their cohorts; the SS men, whose brutality and corruption are so apparent in their decrees against the black market, which continues to flourish because, undoubtedly, they are getting their cut.

There is Von Kraus, typical of the big industrialists living on their estates, privileged, building up their investments abroad in case they should have to flee; ready to compromise, because if the Russians conquered “he would become a commissar, his knowledge would be indispensable, but after his experiences with the Nazi Party, that was not to his taste. On the other hand, if the British and Americans came first and their system survived, the question would be now to link up with them, how to unite with them in the most profitable way, dividing the spoils with them, if necessary, but remaining the master on the bridge.”

The aristocrat puts it most clearly in her conversation with the big industrialist who has attained a high place in the Nazi state machine by virtue of his early support of their movement:

“Ten years ago we, and you, placed the criminals in power. Why? Because we felt ourselves too weak to suppress the people any longer. They reached for our privileges and we did not want to give them up, though we had no right any more – if we ever had – to keep them. We armed bandits and gave them prestige. They terrorized the people into war through which we hoped to save ourselves. It was a great plan; it seemed to work. But now we know – it has failed.”

And the workers, whom Hans sees intimately through his family. They have been turned into people whose sole function is production for the war machine. Work and sleep and eat, if you can get the food, is the level of existence. Leni has been turned into an old woman by the gruelling work and vicious speed-up. But the greatest change is that she has become an oppositionist while Hans has remained a Nazi.

While the brutality and efficiency of the Gestapo has created silence among the workers and precluded any resistance movement that can function in a coordinated manner, forcing opponents of the regime to isolated acts of heroism and sporadic outbursts here and there, a growing hatred has caused men and women to raise their eyes and seek for some sign in his neighbor’s. They help the war prisoners, the Jews, put sand in the machines as conditions become unbearable. But there is no mass action yet. Each effort to break through the wall of terror results in victims for the Gestapo.

Awakening Resistance

Even the staunch Nazi, Hans, is forced to continue the duplicity of action, occasioned by his first act of stealing the furlough paper. Once he is away from the front, where it is “kill or be killed,” he must proceed to live. In order to do so he must buy soap on the black market, lie to his Nazi Party SS leader about his thoughts; his most human emotions; about the fact that he was in the priest’s house the same time that the woman arranged for the dropping of anti-war leaflets on the crowd; and so on endlessly. His every act is in contradiction to his professed beliefs. But he cannot tear himself from his Nazi ideas which give him some hope and fight, to turn to nothingness.

Leni realizes that words will not convince him. Action will. She sacrifices her life so that Hans becomes a deserter and fighter against the war and fascism. In a crowded railway station she calls out to the soldiers not to go to the front. “Fight your real enemies, the Nazis. Down with war! Down with the Fuehrer!”

These are the people to whom the world must look to put an end to fascism. The Big Three offer them only continued horror.

Sylvia Merrill Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 April 2016