Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kameraden

Kameraden - Die Wehrmacht von innen by Felix Römer analyses the more than 150,000 pages of logs the US Army accumulated in one of their most secret WWII POW camps, the Joint Interrogation Center in Fort Hunt, Virginia. The prisoners were nothing out of the ordinary, a cross section of typical Wehrmacht soldiers, but their normality is what makes the logs so special.
Apart from being interrogated, the cells of the soldiers were wiretapped and their wardens took extremely detailed notes of their conversation, along with names and as much information about each person as they could possibly gather. This now allows a direct comparison between what was said during the interrogation and what the soldiers talked about among themselves, almost directly after they were taken prisoner. Many sources historians rely on have been written years after the fact or with a personal agenda, but this is fresh and, in their talks among themselves at least, the soldiers are saying what they think and feel.

It's one of the most fascinating books I've read about the Wehrmacht precisely because of that. The author looks at just how politically motivated the men really were, how the tradition of comradeship in the Wehrmacht influenced them, what brought some of the men to take part in not only a war, but in mass murder.
There are some broad trends that stand out: most of the men did not consider themselves political and were rather badly informed about Nazi ideology. Hitler was still considered a great leader by many, though, even in 1944. Men who had grown up during the Weimarer Republik or even the German Empire tended to be more critical of the regime than younger men who had known only Nazi Germany. Only very few men enjoyed or took pride in killing, but many took pride in the efficiency of the weapons and their skill in operating them. There were endless technical discussions and much talk about whose unit was the bravest, most efficient, but the act of killing was glossed over with endless euphemisms.

I do hope that the book will be translated into English because it deserves a wider audience and I hope that it will be read not only by historians, but also by people who want to know what their fathers or grandfathers did and why. The University of Mainz has a database of all the soldiers who were interrogated at Fort Hunt and their relatives can ask to see the logs and files.

Reviews 2013
17th book for the Library Challenge

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