1

I recently shot through Manstein's Verlorene Siege in its English translation and am curious as to what is the precise or intended meaning of its title. With my rather limited knowledge of German, I can't exclude any of the following two possibilities:

  1. Victories that could have been won, but were let to slip away as a result of mistakes.

  2. Victories that were won in vain, with their spoils being later lost as a result of subsequent defeats.

Both interpretations seem to make sense in the historical context and in view of what the narrative is about. For example, Manstein wrote that Hitler had halted the attack at Kursk prematurely, a decision Manstein called "tantamount to throwing away a victory." And, on the other hand, we all know that Nazi Germany won remarkable victories in the initial stages of WWII, but those victories were later lost.

I looked on the Internet as to what is the mainstream interpretation of the title, but got conflicting results. On the one hand, in his book about Manstein, Marcel Stein has a chapter entitled The break-off of 'Citadel' - another 'lost victory'? We all know that the Operation Citadel wasn't a victory for the Germans. On the other hand, an article in Spiegel seems to interpret verlorene Siege in the second way:

"Verlorene Siege" heißen die Nachkriegserinnerungen des deutschen Generalfeldmarschalls Erich von Manstein, ein Buch voller Rechthaberei, ohne tiefere Einsichten in den verbrecherischen Charakter der Hitlerschen Ostexpansion. "Verlorene Siege" - unter dieser Überschrift ließe sich aber auch die Geschichte der sowjetischen Sieger nach 1945 beschreiben: die Ukraine, das Baltikum, Polen, die Tschechoslowakei, Ostdeutschland - alle diese 1944/45 mit gewaltigen Opfern eroberten Länder hat Russland aus seinem Machtbereich verloren.

In this excerpt, the article's author refers to Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany as verlorene Siege of the USSR, pointing out that those states have slipped out of the Russian sphere.

My question: From the standpoint of the German language, what can be said about the matter? Is there anything in the flavor of the word verlorene that makes one or the other interpretation more natural, at least in the context?

  • 1
    Your selection of German literature (displayed in multiple questions in this forum) is rather disturbing. Why focus on Hitler and his co-criminals when doing linguistic studies? – Christian Geiselmann Jul 19 at 12:49
  • @ChristianGeiselmann : It's great that we have a common view on Hitler and his associates. Don't worry, I won't fall victim of his rather primitive rhetoric. At my university, we students are given freedom as to what books to choose and write essays about. I enjoy reading serious historical books. Hitler's books (Mein Kampf and Zweites Buch) are so much talked about, so I was curious to read them with my own eyes. – Mitsuko Jul 19 at 20:12
  • 3
    Thanks for the explanation! - As I noted elsewhere already, a really useful (and even inspiring) thing to read is the critical edition of Mein Kampf published in 2016 by Institut für Zeitgeschichte (a research institute in Munich). There you have both the original text, plus lots of explanations as for the origins of Hitler's ideas, and all his mistaken assumptions, misinterpretations and faulty science in his thoughts. - Triggered by your questions here I took my copy out of the bookshelf and read a bit in it. I was surprised how many naive assumptions are there hidden in the text. – Christian Geiselmann Jul 19 at 20:47
2

If you only take the title, there are various possible interpretations as you explained in your question. But if you read the book, you will see that your interpretation 1. is the correct one. Manstein attributes the military collapse of the German army to Hitler's military incompetence (Hitler was officially the supreme commander). Actually Manstein wants to exculpate himself and the general staff. But he was an essential gear in the whole machinery.

Perhaps a better title would be "Verschenkte Siege".

Anyway, you should not read Manstein's book without seeing the context. Perhaps some defeats could have been avoided ("lost victories"), but the war could never have been won. And, more important, the war was not a "normal war" (sorry for that inappropriate expression), but its final aim was to exterminate the states of Eastern Europe and their human population. Hitler's aim was to gain "Lebensraum im Osten" (living space in the East). The German army was not a shelter of military honour as many people have claimed and still claim, but Hitler's instrument to achieve his criminal intents.

As a supplement to Manstein's book I recommend to watch the movie "Downfall" (in German "Der Untergang").

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    And as a complement to Hitler's "Mein Kampf", which you (Mitsuko) seem also to be reading, I recommend the recent critical edition by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Munich): That's Mein Kampf split into two heavy tomes, where every line of Hitler's collection of thoughts and ideas is reviewed critically both for their origins, and for historical facts. Which helps a bit to not fall victim to the plethora of wrong presuppositions about basically everything, starting from Habsburg history to genetics. Still the layout of the book is such that you can easily read the original text solely. – Christian Geiselmann Jul 19 at 12:53
3

First of all: I did not read the book and I think no one should, since it is the memoir of a self-exposer/showoff and (likely) war criminal who found mistakes in warfare only with others. I won't add a link, but whoever wants to read it ... you will find it online.

The book has three "acts", "I. Der Feldzug in Polen", "II. Der Westfeldzug 1940" and "III. Im Kampf gegen die Sowjetunion". With this in mind "Verlorene Siege" may refer to all the victories (taking of Poland, France + huge parts of Russia) which where lost at the end of the war. As you said in your second guess.


But I think your first interpretation could also be correct. Wikipedia says

Manstein, who commanded the south German sector forces in 1943, complained that Operation Citadel, the offensive against the Soviet forces in Kursk, was delayed too long for the German force to break through. He also wrote that Hitler had halted the attack prematurely, a decision he called "tantamount to throwing away a victory". According to Manstein, Hitler (whom he praises and criticises, occasionally referring to him as "that dictator") did not allow the detailed planning of large-scale military operations. Manstein wrote that in 1943, a draw could have been achieved on the Eastern Front by bleeding the Red Army dry if the generals had been allowed to operate properly.

He talked about battles that could be won but were lost. Of course it wasn't his fault every time, but that of other generals. As @amadeusamadeus said you could call these "Entgangene Siege".

But to be honest: "Verlorene Siege" is by far the better title and oxymoron than "Entgangene Siege"

| improve this answer | |
1

If we would take only the title itself, we would be able to rule out your first suggestion as intended main meaning, since "victories that could have been gained" would be entgangene Siege. However, it's not impossible that Manstein used this phrase that rings somewhat similar as a stylistic device, as others conclude from the context (I don't know the content of the book well enough to judge).

Your second suggestion could be true:

  • Victories whose implications were later lost.

I would, however, suggest another meaning:

  • Victories that were indeed gained, but turned out to be a defeat in fact (like a Phyrric victory)

Note that there are even more possible meanings: just as lost in English He's lost, verloren can also mean lorn or doomed. So Verlorene Siege can also be interpreted as:

  • Victories that always were in a minority, 'lost' (lorn, lonesome, dispersed) in the overall battle
  • Victories that had always been doomed, without prospect of leading to an overall victory

Manstein (or whoever chose the title) was probably aware of these manifold meanings and went actively for the contrast verlieren vs. siegen.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks a lot. So you can't say verlorener Sieg to characterize the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final, right? In that game, Bayern Munich had a 1-0 lead until the very last minute, but then conceded two goals and lost the match. Something similar happened to Bayern Munich again in 2012. Can't I say: Diese Spiele sind verlorene Siege des FC Bayern München. It doesn't make sense in German, right? – Mitsuko Jul 18 at 14:52
  • 1
    @Mitsuko Right (in my opinion)! Verlorener Sieg definitely means that a victory was gained first and then 'lost' (in whatever meaning as explicated above). Hence, it doesn't make sense to call those matches verlorene Siege des FC Bayern as the club didn't win them at all. – amadeusamadeus Jul 18 at 15:29
  • @Mitsuko While I stick to what I said above in regard to the usage of verlorener Sieg in standard language, I cannot rule out the possibility that Manstein was aware of this and still used it in said meaning as a stylistic device. I edited my answer accordingly and pointed out that my answer is not based on the content of the book, but just on the linguistic properties of its title and how it can be understood idiomatically. – amadeusamadeus Jul 19 at 7:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.