Monday, November 1, 2010

Chilling Schill

Ferdinand Batista von Schill
The other day I read that blond, blue eyed and naïf Siegfried is the last German hero. Indeed, there are these spoilers depriving us of all the others.

What about Arminius, the guy who in beating the invading Romans deprived the German people of civilization?  As historians found out: Herman the Cheruscian was a traitor and  trouble maker within his own family.

Barbarossa was a power-hungry ruler without scruples, lost a war against the pope and died a silly death drowning on a crusade in a brooklet in Asia Minor (today Turkey) as Umberto Eco writes in his novel Baudolino.

Already Heine had knocked Martin Luther from his pedestal describing him as the typical German a tag sufficient to drag a person down.

And now in his book: Die Zeit der schweren Not Günter de Bruyn demounts Ferdinand Baptista von Schill - the man the people at his time hailed as a freedom fighter against Napoleon's tyranny. They mentioned him in the same breath as Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow and Theodor Körner. For de Bruyn Schill, the commander of the 2nd Brandenburg Hussar Regiment, is an uneducated silly imposter although as a guerrilla he had such an success against the occupying forces that his picture frosted in red on cakes was admired in Berlin coffee houses. Aristocratic ladies considered it as a grace to touch his saber. Mind you, already Emmanuel Geibel in his poem Schill described the hero as a man who rode faster than his time, i.e., seeking his glory at a time when resistance of small military units against Napoleon's main forces was simply madness.

On April 28, 1808, Schill left Berlin with his Regiment unauthorized. Once outside the city boundaries he talked to his men leaving the impression that he had an order from the all admired and beloved Queen Luise, Prussia's Jeanne d'Arc. Later Schill simply ignored the King's order to return to his home base. Instead he marched to Dessau on the river Elbe, took the city on Mai 2, and published his proclamation: An die Deutschen (to all Germans).
Schill's Memorial Stone in the pavement on Fährstraße
Napoleon's youngest brother Jérôme, King of Westphalia, put 10000 Francs on Schill's head and sent Danish and Dutch reserve troops commanded by the Generals Ewald and Gratien respectively at the pursuit of the resistance fighter. Schill escaped to the north and entered the city of Stralsund hailed by its Mecklenburg-Polish garrison. By then Schill's troops reinforced by recruiting comprised up to 3000 men but the fight for Stralsund against an overwhelming enemy approaching the city was lost from the beginning. Against all warnings Schill was determined to hold out and said: Better an end with terror than terror without an end an idea drawn from Psalm 73,19: How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

Stalingrad anticipated: On May 31,  Napoleon's troops assaulted the city. Schill fell unnoticed and died his heroic death on Fährstraße. With him he took many a man. It is a crazy and sad story.
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