Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hymn of Hate

During World War I, "Gott strafe England" was a slogan used by the German Army (and also in Austria-Hungary). The phrase means "May God punish England". It was created by the German-Jewish poet Ernst Lissauer (1882–1937), in his poem Hassgesang gegen England (lit. "Hate song against England", better known as "Hymn of Hate"). In today's Germany, the term is all but forgotten, except by some right wing organizations.

In the hysterical atmosphere brought on by World War I, Lissauer's Hassgesang became an instant success. Rupprecht of Bavaria, commander of the Sixth Army, ordered that copies be distributed among his own troops. The Kaiser was pleased enough to confer upon the author the Order of the Royal Eagle. An informative account of Lissauer and the "Hymn of Hate" can be found in Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday.

Even despite the general atmosphere of condemnation against England for "causing the war", the Hassgesang was not without its critics. The Frankfurter Zeitung was bold enough to denounce the "impotent hatred that spits at us everywhere". With one or two exceptions it was not widely popular among Lissauer's fellow Jews, who had a tendency to identify with England's liberal tradition. The publicist Benjamin Segel said that the poem did not contain "as much as a spark of Jewish sentiment."

The phrase gave rise to the term "Strafing" and to the nickname "Strafer" being given to the British General William Gott in World War II.


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