Source: SS Leitheft, Year 5, Issue 2
By SS-Ustuf. Gerhart Schinke
Death accompanied, invitingly, along the path the officers and soldiers carried their mortally wounded king from the ferry-house across the Oder bridge to the castle Reitwein. As he lied on the bed, completely alone in the dark room (the officers discussed the day’s misfortune), death beckoned to the king: Follow me, leave the path of suffering and pain. Rest you should from the labors of life. See, I give you rest and peace.
The king’s thoughts circled around the bloodbath of Kunersdorf. In his mind he heard the noise of battle, felt the combined strength of the Russians and Austrians, exhorted his army to fight, but had to recognize that the hounds were too many who wished to hunt the noble beast.
For a moment full consciousness returned. The trembling hand gripped a sheet of paper and put to paper the order to General Fink. When the general then stepped to the sickbed, the king’s pale lips moved. He tried with his last strength to translate the paper:
“The unfortunate army that I turn over to you is no longer in condition to fight the Russians… If Laudon wants to go to Berlin, he could attack and beat it. Wherever possible, resist the peril and hold them up, for winning time is a lot under these desperate circumstances.”
* * * * *
The king lies alone. Darkness fills the room, and in it the hours of the unholy battle come back to him anew: In the feverish dreams horses collapse, warriors die, in his ears the shrill noise of battle roars.
Then the eyelids lift and the gaze falls on the mirror on the wall: The king looks at a white face and glimmering eyes in the shadow of deep hollows. The king wants to scream. Death lays its hand on the king’s shoulder and speaks softly, very softly, kind words, in order to tempt him from painful life.
The heart beats tiredly. Since the lost battle the king has taken neither food nor fluid. So, the appearance of death finds it easy to promote thoughts of death. An exhausted body is sooner ready to surrender life.
Behind the form of death suddenly steps the strict face of the father. “Did I think of death, son”, he thinks he hears, “when all my limbs seemed to rip in pain when gout befell my body? My life was only work, worry and pain; there were countless hours when death would have been my salvation. But I was held by duty! Taking the path of duty is what makes a man a man. Only thus do you win the crown of struggle. And know, son, higher than you and I is Prussia!” – Frederick rises up: “Prussia!” passes loud through his lips.
The loyal servant holding watch in the next room peeks fearfully through the slightly opened door. He sees the death sweat on the pale brow of his king and dares to pour a little wine over the trembling lips, and is happy, because the weary life accepts it. With soft steps, the servant leaves again.
Some time passes. The king pulls himself up and stares into the flickering light of the almost burned out candle.
“Life extinguishes like the light”, he thinks behind his high forehead. “Only that light, as a lifeless thing, suffers no pain, no so unspeakable need of body and mind.” Fever again shakes the king. His right arm reaches for the uniform on the chair and pulls out the small silver box. But as he feels the container with poison in his hand, the energies of life begin to give consciousness to the body. Again he thinks he hears his father’s words: “Higher than you and I is Prussia.” The sentence shoots through his brain and his heart. And now, as the king again regains consciousness, the royal soul is also awake. “Should I follow you, death? Will you lead the army from defeat to new victory? Dying is easy in these hours of unspeakable distress. Always choose the harder path, the path of hardness, of iron duty. Only so does a man win the crown of battles.” Just as the king’s mind again thinks such thoughts, does the will to life grow. Another hour passes as the energies converge.
“Prussia needs the will of the king, if the army lies on the battlefields, replacements are hardly trained and the officer corps largely consists of mere lads.” The words he once wrote to Voltaire come to his memory: “I, however, threatened by shipwreck, must bravely and defiantly resist ruin and think, live as king…” He continues the thought, different than in the hour when he put it onto paper – “and may not die. No!” He shouts the last word loud and determined into the room. The chasseur enters the room as ordered. The king sits upright.
“Bring my breakfast!” the king orders the servant. Totally surprised by the utterly unexpected transformation of the king’s condition, he swiftly carries out the command. The king then summons his adjutant. When the highly surprised officer enters the room, he finds the king ready to issue orders.
“So, the situation is not hopeless?”
“Russians and Austrians are divided about the continuation of the conflict with Prussia. Even after Kunersdorf they shy away from Prussia’s daring.
The king’s fire-soul blazes brightly. “Where does the enemy stand?”
“He camps at this hour in the forests between the Oder and the Repener alley.”
“Write to my brother!” the king instructs the officer.
“1 proclaim the miracle of the House of Brandenburg. The enemy could have dared a second battle and ended the war. He did not dare it; our situation is less desperate than it was yesterday.”
While the officer writes down these words, the king, the military uniform now already wrapped around his shoulders, steps next to him. The king taps him on the soldier:
“Imagine what my spirit suffered this night. The scope of my suffering was almost too great. Death seemed salvation. Listen! As death wanted to tempt me out of life in this night, although dying would have been easy, I refused to obey death. In the darkest moment my hand reached for the container that held the poison. Do you know what it means that I now stand here? Often it is easier to depart life than not to die. The harder path in life is always the right one. I have chosen it so that my state will remain intact. That was what duty commanded!”
Sacred silence fills the room. The officer stands at attention in front of the king.
“May the nation’s young note it for all time. There are moments, when death tempts from life before the time. Who then follows death and flees by poison or bullet, is a weakling and commits treason against life!”
The king’s courage and his will to life saved Prussia. The defeat of Kunersdorf was followed by the victories of Liegnitz and Torgau. And Prussia won the Seven Years War.
The Prussian miracle was Frederick himself. The miracle was the idea of duty that was born in Prussia, and his most complete embodiment was the king.