When Albert Speer broadcast to the German nation in May 1945 to explain the decision of Admiral Dönitz, Hitler’s successor, to surrender, he declared that the destruction visited on Germany by the war ‘can only be compared to that of the Thirty Years War. The decimation of our people through hunger and deprivation must not be allowed to reach the proportion of that epoch.’ The German civil war of 1618–48, fought between Catholics and Protestants, and between the Habsburg emperors and mutinous princes below them, has been one of that nation’s innermost memories, even if the longevity of the European peace since 1945 has removed some of its potency. The pain of recollection was deepened in the nineteenth century, first through the influence of Schiller and other Romantics, who had dwelled on the suffering and destruction, and then by the movement for German unification, which blamed the war on the jumbled and archaic machinery of Habsburg rule.
Seventeenth-century testimony vindicates the later lamentations. Jacques Callot’s engravings of 1633, The Miseries of War, record the pillage, murder and rape visited by soldiers on Lorraine, the territory where the death rate may have been highest. Two decades after the war its horrors were remembered in the soldier