The Warwolf


of an extended commentary on the book

The Warwolf

A Peasant Chronicle of the Thirty Years War

by Hermann Löns

as translated by Robert Kvinnesland

(Westholme, 2006)

So, now let me tell the story behind each figure in the abbreviated version of the Löns book passed out to German soldiers occupying the Netherlands during the Second World War. What was the purpose? To inspire the soldiers in carrying out their duties?

Somehow I get the impression that Schmidt, who had this book printed and passed out among the occupying German forces, was sabotaging the occupation. That is why he killed himself on his way to facing Himmler.  That is what I think, but I do not know, of course.  Dead men tell no tales.

One cannot read this book and feel good about being an occupying force. It gives the distinct impression that the Dutch resistance was heroic. The resistance got real active about this same time, leading to severe reprisals (and leading to my father being sent to Germany as a slave laborer). Schmidt thought the reprisals were excessive in terms of the numbers of civilians involved and the severity of their punishments. Good boy.

Perhaps it is best to switch back and forth between the illustrations and the expanded explanations given below for each one.  To make that easier, each numbered figure is linked to its web page on this site, and you will need to use your "return" arrow on your browser to come back here.

Figure 1 "2 fingers one foot"

The background, by the time this scene appears in the full-length book, is that our hero, named Harm Wulf is a married man with children and a successful hard-working farmer in a somewhat isolated part of the heath. A mercenary army comes into the nearby village, Celle, where he happens to be to pay his taxes, and he witnesses the general abuse of peasants by taking their livestock and butchering it for their use, the rape of a twelve year old Gypsie girl, the tormenting of a Jew, and someone stealing his horse. The serving girl warns him that anyone who speaks with them is pressed into service and warns him to leave them alone. But he just has to challenge the theft of his horse. The rabble stops him from taking his horse and calls for the horse-thief to come and testify whether he bought this horse or not. He faces Harm and raises two fingers in the air and swears by the two feet planted on the ground (as he lifts one foot off the ground) that he purchased it. Harm thinks of his wife and children and decides to walk away.

Figure 2, naked girl jumps on Harm's horse

Harm Wulf and his father in law are riding to town on horseback and come three riders who look evil, some more wanders, and finally a wagon with Gypsies. The Gypsy children are naked, dressed that way to make begging more effective, and a thirteen year old girl runs toward Harm and jumps up on his horse behind him. She is naked, and begging. Several naked boys do the same to his father in law. The men push the children away and ride away muttering about how this is not good.

As they ride away they notice that the three suspicious riders they saw before have turned around and are now following them. They ride hard to get back to town for protection.

Figure 3, Harm shoots man with hands raised high

Another army of mercenaries next comes through town and “borrows” three horses from Harm. They had been informed of several wagon loads of oats at a nearby farm by a Gypsie woman and needed the horses to pull them to the next town, Burgdorf. To make sure he gets his horses back, he goes with them. Once at that town the horses are not given back to him and he complains to the unit’s commander, a Colonel. The Colonel slaps him in the face with his gauntlet gloves and says he is not getting his horses back. Harm goes to the local pub and eats and has a drink and is robbed by a soldier who proceeds to drink up all Harm’s money. He gets some advice from the locals” don’t mess with the Colonel, count yourself lucky that you only got slapped. The man is a sadist and likes to torture young girls to death. Next day the troop leaves and Harm is hiding in the bushes along the way. As the Colonel comes by at the end of his troupe, he happens to turn toward Harm and Harm shoots him out of the saddle. He has planned his escape through some soggy peat bogs and they end up not finding him but losing two men in the search, one fell into a hole, the other was shot by Harm when he came close. Harm takes the horses of the dead men plus their money. One of the men was a Sergeant with quite a bit of money, no doubt booty, and Harm decides he has come out ahead and goes home satisfied!

Figure 4, speech to organize resistance

The next time we see Harm is at this clandestine gathering of local farmers getting themselves organized to defend themselves. The speaker is not Harm, it is Drewes, an older gentleman, well respected. He made an impassioned speech saying they needed to kill or be killed, there was no middle way anymore, no one was safe, no one’s family was safe. He showed his walking stick with 117 notches on one side and 32 notches in the other, the “vagabonds, sneak thieves, gypsies, brigands and one traitorous dog” he had helped kill, and the ones he killed by himself, respectively. Harm walked away not feeling good about the idea they become an organized killing force, they were farmers.

Figure 5, all are dead! of the 3 offenders, 2 got away

On his way back from this secret meeting they saw smoke ahead and encountered several burned-out farmsteads with their inhabitants brutally murdered. As he got closer to home his farmhand met him and stammered that all were dead, everyone in his family and his farm help. The boy had been in the woods doing a chore when he saw the smoke over the treetops and ran home to find the place engulfed in flame, some women carrying sacks of booty (the implication is they were Gypsies), and three men eating and drinking in front of the house and laughing about the resistance that had been put up and how easy it was to hack them all to pieces.

The farm boy waited and when they too were ready to leave, the fatter of the three men was in a drunken stupor and the other two left without him. The farmhand then gagged him and bound him and dragged him into hiding, and the next day he and Harm went and finished the man off. The boy wanted a hand in this killing because the fat man had boasted about how he had enjoyed this boy’s sister before cutting her throat. The farm hand had a very good description of the other two characters and had overheard them talk about their next destination.

Figure 6, on patrol in the woods with his farmhand

Harm, his farm hand and a friend went after the two murderers who had killed his entire family. They were gone several months but did not find them. What they found instead were small groups of marauders, whom they ambushed, killed and cleaned of their ill gotten wealth. They returned home laden with money and goods.

Harm and his father in law used the money to build a new farmstead, a new home, and decorated it with the wolf-rune, two parallel ax strokes with another, longer ax stroke connecting the top of one to the bottom of another.

Figure 7, oath taken, cup shared

Harm then organized the very group he before was unsure about, and he did it in his own new home after a nice house-warming party to which the whole extended neighborhood was invited. All the men pledged themselves, drinking from the same cup passed between them as a token of their “all for one and one for all” solidarity. The oath they swore was: “Through Want and Good, through Death and Blood, One stands for All and All for One.” All, it was explained, are those “who live in the moorlands, and are of our kind.” They would now be known as the Warwolves. Harm was the chosen leader and he organized a large observation team that would send signals to announce an incoming hostile party, whatever the source, and thus summon the “soldiers” of the group, a smaller unit but very well trained in the most modern weaponry obtained by their previous defensive exploits. The landscape was fortified with unexpected moats and holes and other traps the brothers would know to avoid.

Figure 8, Harm finds Johanna

Harm and his farmhand were on a reconnaissance mission when they heard a prayer being sung in the bushes. Harm finds a young girl, very beautiful, and very badly shaken by traumatic events. She was traveling with her preacher father, who was coming north since his home town had been taken over by the Catholics and he was forced out of town leaving all his belongings behind him. The few belongings that he could carry were taken by marauders on the road, not very far from where they had found her. Her father had tried to reason with the men and they crushed his skull to shut him up. Then her mother started to scream and they held her head under water at a fountain until she was dead. She does not relate what they did to her, but they drank themselves to sleep and she ran away as fast and as long as she could run. Then she sat down to sing her prayer for help, and Harm and his farm hand showed up. Harm bound up her badly hurt feet and took her home, fed her, and let her sleep.

Figure 9, they sit together during the storm

Harm treated Johanna as a farm hand, as a sister, or as a daughter. She became popular in the neighborhood as a healer of both humans and animals and became the school teacher they had gone without for many years now. One night a great thunderstorm sounded like it was going to destroy the house and she was very frightened and asked Harm to be with her and hold her. They sat in front of the hearth together and she fell asleep in his arms and he covered her against the cold with his blanket.

Apparently they got even cozier together toward morning because when Harm’s father in law came early in the morning, he found her sitting in his lap and said it was about time he married again. The custom then was to show intent to marry by staying a night together and then announcing the intent to marry to the local preacher. The local preacher was not so local, but came by and married them and Harm was happy again, as was Johanna. They had twins together, and Johanna just barely survived the births.

Figure 10, 2 bad guys hung with dog and pig

One day word came from the Warwolves’ spies that the two who had killed Harm’s family, including his first wife Rose, were passing through the nearest town and Warwolf friends were keeping them in place with drink and feigned interest in their tall tales of rape, mayhem and brutality. They asked for names and took notes. All the Warwolves, 111 strong, set up a hanging site in a clearing near the town and hung a bad dog and a pig, and prepared two nooses between the two animals. Harm’s friends got the men very drunk, and as they stumbled out of the inn bagged them, literally, and carried them on horses to the hanging site. They waited from dusk to dawn to make sure the two were sobered up enough to realize what was happening. They were accused of a long list of murders of elderly men, many women of all ages, and also children of several ages. The victims were all named, based on the drunken confessions, no boasts, of the previous evening. Harm, as leader, pronounced judgment and they were hung. The sign attached to them read:

“We are One Hundred Eleven

Warwolves by name,

These are two dogs and two pigs,

To us, all the same.”

Figure 11, picks up abusive drunk by his belt

Sometime later Harm received a triple tax notice from the local Duke, Christian, who kept dithering about which side to be on in this war while both sides destroyed his people and his tax base. Harm went to try to plead the case for his fellow farmers, who were just barely surviving. When he came into Celle and tried to get an appointment to see the Duke, he was turned away by some functionaries just carrying out the Duke’s orders to not let anyone in to see him about the new tax levies. Coming back through town from the ducal residence he witnessed a drunken man abusing a woman he wanted to have submit to him, and she clearly wanted nothing to do with him. Harm reached down from his horse and grabbed the man off the ground by his belt and tossed him into some bramble bushes. Much cursing erupted from the bush and the woman hurried away mumbling her thanks. This was witnessed by a local countess who praised his action and asked why he was in town. He told her, and said he had not been able to get appointment with the Duke. She told him to come back the next morning and it would be quite different. It was, and the Duke praised Harm’s town’s self-defense actions and asked if he was a Warwolf, which Harm would not confirm or deny. The Duke relieved his small town of taxes for five years, but only if Harm swore for them that he would see to it they would tell no one.

Figure 12, sees sign in the sky

After dinner, Harm stepped out of his house because his two dogs were growling. Turns out he could now also hear a wolf howling in the woods, and decided this was no threat of the type he feared.

Then he looked into a brilliant red sunset, and to his astonishment a great black wolf-rune appeared in the sky for a few moments and then faded away as the red of sunset turned to darkness. Harm took this as a good omen, he felt it meant there would be a need for the Warwolves a time longer, but then no more, peace would come!

Time to move on to page 6.

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