Heidegger in the Black Forest
The following text is a translation of an address that Heidegger gave to his students commemorating the tenth anniversary of the the “heroic” death of Albert Leo Schlageter, a young German student at Freiburg who was executed by firing squad in 1923 for attempting to sabotage elements of the French occupation army in the Ruhr. After the Nazis’ rise to power, Schlageter was immortalized as a patriot and a hero, celebrated for his noble sacrifice. Throughout, Heidegger appeals to the notion of the Volk, singing maudlin hymns to the notions of courage and the will, to struggle and sacrifice. But also notice Heidegger’s pastoral references to the natural landscape of surrounding Freiburg as he tries to stir up feelings of one’s ties to “blood and soil.” All this is part and parcel of Nazi ecologism.
(May 26, 1933)
In the midst of our work, during a short break in our lectures, let us remember the Freiburg student Albert Leo Schlageter, a young German hero who a decade ago died the most difficult and the greatest death of all.
Let us honor him by reflecting, for a moment, upon his death in order that this death may help us to understand our lives.
Albert Leo Schlageter (1894-1923)
Schlageter died the most difficult of all deaths. Not in the front line as the leader of his field artillery battery, not in the tumult of an attack, and not in a grim defensive action — no, he stood defenseless before the French rifles.
But he stood and bore the most difficult thing a man can bear.
Yet even this could have been borne with a final rush of jubilation, had a victory been won and the greatness of the awakening nation shone forth.
Instead — darkness, humiliation, and betrayal.
And so, in his most difficult hour, he had also to achieve the greatest thing of which man is capable. Alone, drawing on his own inner strength, he had to place before his soul an image of the future awakening of the Volk to honor and greatness so that he could die believing in this future.
Whence this clarity of heart, which allowed him to envision what was greatest and most remote?
Student of Freiburg! German student! When on your hikes and outings you set foot in the mountains, forests, and valleys of this Black Forest, the home of this hero, experience this and know: the mountains among which the young farmer’s son grew up are of primitive stone, of granite.
They have long been at work hardening the will.
The autumn sun of the Black Forest bathes the mountain ranges and forests in the most glorious clear light. It has long nourished clarity of the heart.
As he stood defenseless facing the rifles, the hero’s inner gaze soared above the muzzles to the daylight and mountains of his home that he might die for the German people and its Reich with the Alemannic countryside before his eyes.
With a hard will and a clear heart, Albert Leo Schlageter died his death, the most difficult and the greatest of all.
Student of Freiburg, let the strength of this hero’s native mountains flow into your will!
Student of Freiburg, let the strength of the autumn sun of this hero’s native valley shine into your heart!
Preserve both within you and carry them, hardness of will and clarity of heart, to your comrades at the German universities.
Schlageter walked these grounds as a student. But Freiburg could not hold him for long. He was compelled to go to the Baltic; he was compelled to go to Upper Silesia; he was compelled to go to the Ruhr.
He was not permitted to escape his destiny so that he could die the most difficult and greatest of all deaths with a hard will and a clear heart.
We honor the hero and raise our arms in silent greeting.