I was lent this book by a friend with the idea that I would be interested in it, given my German heritage. I was interested in this book from the start, but military books always take me longer to read and to understand than fiction. This book is written from the perspective of Siegfried Knappe (one of the authors) and gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a German soldier during World War II. When talking about military maneuvers and strategy, I need maps and diagrams to make it more visual, as I have little comprehension of these kinds of things. That would be my only criticism of this book (other than the typo on page 135 and missing comma on 350). I will point out, with the help of a friend that I had recently discussed this book, that it was published in the 1990’s after Siegfried and his family had escaped post-war Germany and settled comfortably in Ohio. This makes me question the authenticity in his regret of the war and ignorance of the concentration camps we have all heard about.
The story is divided into four segments of time-1945, 1936-1939, 1939-1944, 1945-1949-end of war and surrender, beginning of war, in the depths of war, and prisoner of war. With my difficulty in comprehending military writing, the first section of the book proved to be slow-going for me. However, I found it interesting and never thought of the perspective of Germans surrendering to Russians. It must have been humiliating, deflating, and terrifying, given that the Fuhrer had commit suicide by then and there seemed to be no real leadership after that point. Russians are known for their brutality and lack of ethics in battle; that is what makes them so terrifying. I cannot imagine surrendering to them after breaking a treaty with them and attempting to invade.
Anyway, after I got through the first section, the remainder of the book flowed seamlessly. The reader gets to see what young German soldiers go through as a high school graduate (gymnasium) and Labor Service cadet (two-year service after graduation), all the way through a German military career. Their training was tough, demanding, and tactful, which made the German military the efficient fighting force that they were. The author/narrator gives insight to the opinions of The Fuhrer from some military members that sheds a different light on the German forces. Like many Americans disagree with the Commander in Chief at times, some German officers disagreed with the Fuhrer’s commands but had no choice but to obey. You see, the family of a German officer who displeased commanders were also punished. So, military personnel were forced to agree, unless they had no family, which the author surely did. Imagine that in America? How fortunate we are that we live in a country that does not practice that or have mandatory service requirements.
This book is hard to read at times and a bit confusing to those of us without military interests, but I highly recommend it. It provides another point of view of a time when the entire world seemed to be at war and hatred or contempt for other nations seemed to cover the globe. This is a book worth being patient with, and taking the time to read slowly so that it really sinks in. It is a piece of history that we cannot allow to happen again. We owe to ourselves and our futures to never let its lessons fade away and not be taught. This is a great book for high schoolers to read for another perspective of history that affected the entire globe. I know that I will have my son read this when he is old enough to comprehend war and its consequences.