Cross without love

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Cross without love is Heinrich Böll's first novel , written in 1946/47 and published posthumously in Cologne in 2002.

It tells the story of the Catholic Bachem family. The SS henchman Hans Bachem atoned for the guilt he had incurred in the Rhineland on the Eastern Front . After saving the life of his unencumbered older brother, the Wehrmacht soldier Christoph, he dies of his own free will. The book is also a romance novel. The love of the married couple Christoph and Cornelia Bachem survived the misery of the war years .

In 2004 the translation of the work into Russian appeared: Крест без любви (Krest bes ljubwi).


What is meant is the swastika in the flag of the National Socialists .

time and place

In 1933 the action takes us to a major German city on the Rhine, in 1938 to a Prussian garrison town and from 1939 to 1945 to the western and eastern fronts.


February 1933

Hermann and Johanna Bachem have been married to each other for 25 years. Grete, Christoph and Hans are the couple's children. The father works as an architect. For the first time in his life he is supposed to build a barracks. The 21-year-old Hans graduated from the university. Three of the mother's brothers died in the First World War . The almost 50-year-old loves her children, especially the two boys, “absolutely unconditionally”. Christoph and his mother, the two deeply religious, even pious people in the book, despise Hitler , who has seized power . In contrast, Hans has dedicated himself to the new rulers.


Hans tells his mother that he won't "do anything bad". And yet Hans, the SS man, arrested Christian youth, including Christoph's friend Joseph. Joseph remained imprisoned in the concentration camp until 1945 .

Christoph is called up to the 3rd Company of the 86th Infantry Regiment . When the supervisor asks what he is, Schütze Bachem replies: “I am a person”. Christoph, "hopelessly unmilitary", will never learn to carry out a single order from Sergeant Schwachhulla. For two years Christoph has to endure the horrible "senseless fuss", the "aimless lovelessness" behind barracks walls. But resourceful and hardy, as this nonchalant soldier is, he creates - against the declared will of his military superiors - astonishing freedom. In his garrison town, Christoph wins the love of the beautiful young actress Cornelia Gluck. He sleeps with her.


Christoph's mother, who a few months later is allowed to visit her son, who has since become ill, approves of the relationship and proposes marriage to the two. The Bachems and Cornelia's mother celebrate the wedding with the bride and groom on the day the war begins.

Even when Christoph was thrown back and forth between different theaters of war through Europe in the following three years that he lost his courage to face life, the connection to his brother did not break. He asks Hans to find out how Joseph was doing in the concentration camp. Finally, Hans is "released for conscription" by the SS. At his own request, he becomes an infantry officer on the Eastern Front. Towards the end of the war, the two brothers met at Stalikonowo for the last time. Christoph had been picked up by the SD when he had handed over groceries etc. to three Russian women. The arrested soldier is to be brought to court martial. In his position as local commander, Hans helps his brother to escape after he has provided him with papers. Hans committed this crime because he admired the love of the couple Christoph and Cornelia as something he had never known before. In addition, Hans cannot forgive himself that he never had the courage to say no to those in power at home from the start. Hans is shot for falsifying documents and helping to escape.

With a shot leg, Christoph manages to get hold of a bed in a hospital train . He reaches Cornelia in the east of the empire , but loses her again while fleeing from the advancing Red Army . Now 30 years old, Christoph's face has turned gray. He cannot find Cornelia in the crowd of refugees. In April he reached his dying mother in the Rhineland. The father has already died. Christoph is taken prisoner. When he is released, he sees a survivor again: Joseph. Christoph dreams that Cornelia survived.


  • All power in this world is the devil's .
  • Our whole life is only hope .

Edition history

Sander suspects that Böll wrote the manuscript from July 1946 to March 1947 “in a kind of writing frenzy”.

In mid-June 1947, Böll sent his novel to the publisher Johann Wilhelm Naumann in Göggingen . The occasion was a competition in the Christian magazine "Neues Abendland" . The author got the manuscript back in 1948 with the notification that the Wehrmacht had been painted too black and white and that the examination of National Socialism was insufficient.

In 1993 the manuscript came to light. The text first appeared in 2002 in Volume 2 of the Cologne edition of Heinrich Böll's works.


In 1948 Böll wrote about the novel to Ernst-Adolf Kunz: "Without this drudgery I would probably never have come to work, never had the courage and never discovered that I could get anything on my feet."


  • After 1945 the war topic was not in great demand. Böll's work was all too often rejected.
  • FAZ and SZ
    • Review under the title “Passion in the trenches” in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 8, 2003: The reviewer accuses Böll of narrating rich in contrasts.
    • “The longing for a real chair” is a review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on October 9, 2002: Böll's style is described as a conglomerate of Expressionism , Art Nouveau and Wandervogel .
  • A review by H.-Georg Lützenkirchen is almost a “novel of saints” . The conclusion: the novel wants too much.
  • 11 pages text excerpt : Tobias Seitz also sees the novel as an act of language finding after the war.


First edition
  • Árpád Bernáth / Robert C. Conard / Frank Finlay / JH Reid / Ralf Schnell / Jochen Schubert (eds.): Heinrich Böll: Werke. Cologne edition 1946/47. Volume 2: Cross without love . Kiepenheuer & Witsch Cologne 2002. 560 pages, ISBN 978-3-462-03148-5
  • Heinrich Böll: Cross without love. Novel . dtv Munich October 2006. 344 pages, ISBN 3-423-13497-6
Secondary literature
  • Gabriele Sander: Böll and literary modernity in: Werner Bellmann (Hrsg.): The work of Heinrich Böll. Bibliography with studies on early work. Westdeutscher Verlag Opladen 1995, 292 pages, ISBN 3-531-12694-6
  • Werner Bellmann: The work of Heinrich Böll. Bibliography with studies on early work. Westdeutscher Verlag Opladen 1995, 292 pages, ISBN 3-531-12694-6
  • Henning Falkenstein: Heinrich Böll . Morgenbuch Verlag Volker Spiess, Berlin 1996. 95 pages, ISBN 3-371-00398-1

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. see e.g. B. Quelle, p. 118, 5. Zvo: "the devilishly inverted cross"
  2. This is most likely Cologne. Böll disguises the place: He does not mention the name Cologne in the text and gives suburbs ( Mertenheim , Quelle, p. 64, 3rd Zvu and Viktorsberg , Quelle, p. 259, 9th Zvo), which are located elsewhere in the "action space" Europe exist, but not with Cologne.
  3. Falkenstein, p. 13, 20. Zvo: Böll made the acquaintance of the Wehrmacht in July 1939 in the Osnabrück barracks.
  4. Falkenstein, p. 13, 11. Zvu: Böll took part in the campaign against France in 1940.
  5. Falkenstein, p. 14: At the beginning of 1943 Böll came to the Eastern Front and was seriously wounded in the battle of Jassy in the summer of 1944 .
  6. Source, p. 55, 15. Zvo
  7. Source, p. 56, 6. Zvo
  8. Source, p. 341, 8. Zvo
  9. Source, p. 105, 12. Zvo
  10. Source, p. 322, 6th Zvu
  11. Source, p. 342, 12. Zvo
  12. ^ Sander in Bellmann, p. 73, 3rd Zvu
  13. Bellmann, p. 15, 11. Zvo
  14. Böll's first manuscript comes to Marbach ,, published and accessed on October 31, 2018
  15. Bellmann, pp. 15 to 16
  16. Falkenstein, p. 49, 17. Zvo
  17. Quoted from the review by H.-Georg Lützenkirchen
  18. Bellmann, p. 16, 6. Zvo