Martha Gellhorn’s April 1945 report titled “Das Deutsches Volk” takes the reader through a German village scarred by the war in Europe. While describing her diverse observations and accounts in great detail, Gellhorn also offers commentary on the dichotomy between German nationality and loyalty to the Nazi party. This was report was well timed, given that the war in Europe ended in the following month and the issue of treatment of Germans after the war became an important issue. Martha Gellhorn was able to see this likely future, and conveys it in a compelling anecdote.
Gellhorn begins by introducing the main theme, describing how around her, there were Germans who weren’t Nazis. These Germans are welcoming to the Americans and truly believe they have done nothing wrong at all. Then, the narrator uses a technique of recalling past events in her present story. She describes the units returning after losing many men. In the proceeding award ceremony for the surviving leaders, Gellhorn chooses to mostly highlight the German civilians looking onto the American ceremony. She then says that “it makes little or no difference to anyone around here whether these Germans are Nazis or not,”
Gellhorn mentions that the Germans seem to live normal lives in the villages in which the report takes place in spite of their own army becoming the enemy. The German civilians are shown to be opposed to the Nazi regime, like the Burgermiester who said there would be war again if the Americans did not occupy Germany for fifty years. Gellhorn continues to narrate the German civilians who contrast the Nazis. The flower vendor comes across as one of the most poignant examples. Despite losing most of his family in the war, he continues to provide his services for the little pay he receives. This is thought provoking for readers, making them consider how much German citizens themselves lost by the hand of their own government. This consideration is revisited when Gellhorn describes the German women lined up outside of the destroyed houses. It brings up the theme again, and it adds to the already sad perception of how the Nazis have mistreated their citizens.
Gellhorn portrays this while also showing the intolerance others have for all Germans, not just Nazis. This is apparent in the final dialogue between the New Zealander and the Welsh boy, followed by the narrator assuring the reader that they are not the same as the Nazis.
In this report, Martha Gellhorn crafted a thought-provoking narrative with her subject matter. This is made more powerful, however, with her writing style. Gellhorn uses many elements of the new reportage of the era to not only report on an event, but to convey an argument. Her use of the first person gives her more authority as she writes. The way she uses dialogue, imagery, and characterization allow her article to be read more like a story, rather than just going on and on with descriptions of an event. Gellhorn clearly has a message that she wants her audience to consider: the difference between German civilians and the Nazi government. Her article makes this a more personal issue by describing realistic people in an empathetic way. For those reasons, this story shows the essence of Martha Gellhorn.
This article analyzed the report titled “Das Deutsches Volk” in Martha Gellhorn’s book THE FACE OF WAR