Ernst Jünger was a German soldier, entomologist, and author who became famous after writing his World War I memoir, ‘Storm of Steel.’ He was born in Heidelberg, Germany, as the eldest among six children in the family. His father was a chemical engineer and an affluent businessman. Ernst turned out to be a very adventurous kid; he defied the comfort of his house and went after adventurous activities. After finishing his initial schooling from Germany and France, he became interested in ‘Wandervogel,’ a movement in Germany in which thousands of youths defied industrialization and embarked on long hikes. Later, in the early 1910s, he moved to France and joined the French Foreign Legions. He enlisted in the German army following the outbreak of the ‘First World War’ and was honoured with several decorations, including ‘Pour le Mérite’ for his services to the nation. Following the ‘Second World War,’ he was criticized for being a silent Nazi Party supporter. He later became a known entomologist and philosopher; he was known for his critique of the materialistic way of life. He wrote the book ‘Storm of Steel.’
Childhood & Early Life
Ernst Jünger was born on March 29, 1895, in Heidelberg, Germany, to Ernst George Jünger, a famous chemist and a businessman; and Karoline Lampl, a housewife. Ernst was the eldest among six children born to his parents, two of whom died in infancy.
His father was one of the richest men in the locality. He had accumulated a lot of wealth in Potash mining and attempted to provide all his children a comfortable childhood. Ernst enrolled at a school in Hannover and later studied at a boarding school in Brunswick.
In 1907, he moved back with his family and attended a school in Wunstorf, along with his siblings. This period had the biggest influence on his psyche. Despite the fact that his parents were successful and he could have easily followed his father’s footsteps toward monetary success in life, he became interested in very different things.
He developed love for adventure during his late teen years. He developed a strong passion for entomology (the study of insects) and travel novels.
In 1911, he joined the ‘Wandervogel’ movement, which was gaining a strong traction among the German youth. Under the movement, the youngsters defied the blatant industrialization and abuse of natural resources and embarked on nationwide hikes to protest. His younger brother also joined him in the movement.
In late 1911, he wrote and published his first poem; he was later hailed as a bohemian poet.
In 1913, he moved to Verdun, in north-eastern France and joined the French Foreign Legion. However, he ran away and was captured in Morocco by the legion. German foreign office intervened and Ernst was freed from his services by the French. He was also sent back to Germany. His father used his influence to get him free.
Ernst was sent to a boarding school in Hanover where he resumed his education. However, the ‘First World War’ commenced in 1914 and Ernst enlisted in the German army.
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The outbreak of the ‘First World War’ inspired Ernst to rejoin the German military; he was stationed on the western front. He had volunteered to be a part of the ‘73rd Infantry Regiment’ and following a rigorous training, he was sent to the Champagne front.
In April 1915, he became severely wounded. In November the same year, he was promoted as lieutenant. As a platoon leader, he became widely famous for his exploits.
Before the end of 1916, he was wounded two more times but every time he got back and fought harder. He was honored with the ‘Iron Cross First Class’ in January 1917 for great exhibition of bravery on the battlefield.
In 1917, he was stationed at Cambrai and was given the command of the 7th Company and was awarded with more honours.
However, in August 1918, he got wounded again - the seventh time during the entire duration of the war. This time, a bullet hit him on the chest, fired by the British army. Germany was also on the verge of losing the war and the victory was next to impossible.
For his unmatchable skills on the battlefield, he was awarded with two more honors- ‘Wound Badge First Class’ and ‘Pour le Mérite.’ The latter was the highest military award in Germany and was only awarded to 700 men during the entire duration of the war. Ernst was the only infantry leader to earn the honor, which was only awarded to high ranking officers.
Throughout his time on the battlefield, he maintained a diary and kept noting his experiences. It eventually formed the basis of his autobiography, ‘Storm of Steel,’ which was a massively successful book. The book was self-published by him in 1920 and its success made Ernst famous among Germans.
Before he was demobilized in 1923, he served as Lieutenant in the German military. He was deeply interested in philosophy and pursued his further education studying botany, philosophy, marine science, and zoology.
He did not like the weak democracy of the Weimar Republic and compared it to the plague. In his book ‘Storm of Steel,’ he further exhibited his more rightist and nationalist ideas when he mentioned war as a mystical experience. He thus glorified war, and was later criticized by the German media and liberals for his ‘problematic opinions.’
In the 1920s, the Nazi Party had started gaining traction among the nationalists. Considering Ernst’s status as a war hero and his thoughts that resonated with the German far-right, the party thought of Ernst as a natural ally. But Ernst expressed no interest in joining the Nazi party. On the contrary, he became a strong critic of Hitler when he suppressed the Rural People’s Movement.
Nazi Party hit back through their propaganda; they tried to prove Ernst a liberal and leftist. When the Nazi party ascended to power in 1933, Ernst was again offered position, but he refused.
Ernst, however, agreed to provide his services to his nation during the ‘Second World War.’ He was accused of anti-Nazi sentiments and was discharged from his duties in 1944.
Following the war, he was accused of being a fellow traveller of the Nazis considering his nationalist past. However, his writings during the ‘Cold War’ years were considered to be conservative, as opposed to nationalist. His articles denouncing materialism also helped him gain a massive respect among German citizens.
He was also a photographer and novelist. He wrote extensively in the magical realism genre, and authored books such as ‘‘Eumeswil’ and ‘The Glass Bees.’ He wrote more than 50 novels.
Personal Life & Death
Ernst Jünger married Gretha von Jeinsen in 1925 and the couple remained together up to her death in 1960. He had two children from this marriage.
In 1962, Ernst got married for a second time to Liselotte Lohrer.
He passed away on February 17, 1998. He was 102 years old at the time of his death.