Occasionally you get a glimpse of the tension between occupied and occupier: “she was staring at me with incredible hatred… she met my gaze quite openly with a kind of relish,” he writes after an encounter with a young woman in a stationery shop. But for the most part, it is a journey through Jünger’s metaphysical and literary ruminations (he read a lot); his dreams (a dull topic); and the conversations he had with a spectrum of artists and writers, from Braque and Picasso to Jean Cocteau. Among the most historically interesting aspects is the extent to which Jünger knew about the Holocaust. On June 7 1942, he feels ashamed by the sight of three young girls wearing the Star of David. Seven months later, during a brief posting to the Caucasus, he hears of trains carrying Jews to be gassed in tunnels. There can be no doubt, he notes, that extermination is continuing “on a huge scale”.
ünger is a captain in occupied Paris when the diaries begin, with responsibilities for censorship, something he had recent experience of. Jünger’s loathing of Hitler had been made dangerously explicit in his fable On the Marble Cliffs, written in 1939, which owes much to HG Wells’s War of the Worlds in its account of a peaceful, lotus-eating, culturally sophisticated people crushed by monstrous brutes. When it approached best-seller status, it was suppressed by Goebbels, an act made more painful for Jünger by the parallel success of Mythus, an anti-Catholic, racist rant by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, which Jünger judged “the dullest collection of platitudes imaginable”. Even Hitler objected to its paganism... 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.
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. While Jünger is on a tour of the eastern front over Christmas 1942, a loudspeaker plays ‘Silent Night’ to a backing track of pounding mortar shells echoing through the dark. His ability to sum up war’s jarring juxtapositions remains chillingly precise.
His polished writings should be a compulsory read for anyone interested in the complexity of German nationalism... Their publication in English, fluently translated, is a remarkable moment, presenting a model of how to navigate an age of extremism... The diaries are full of curiosity, the enduring enthusiasm of an autodidact, but they are not suffused with regret, or indeed with warmth... he had kept a studied distance from the chaos of the war, dodged big decisions, but in the final months he was ambushed by emotion.
...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... 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...