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89 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are war. Because we are soldiers
I have burned all the cities, strangled all the women, brained all the children, plundered all the land. I have shot a million enemies, laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches, ravaged the souls of the inhabitants, spilled the blood and tears of all the mothers. I did it, all me. I did nothing. But I was a soldier."
Thus begins Willy Peter Reese's "A...
Published on 5 Dec. 2005 by Leonard Fleisig

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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Saint Michael
I have had the great fortune to share correspondence with several veterans of the 1941-45 Russo-German conflict. They too experienced the very particular horrors associated with this ideological war in the East, much of it expressed in their letters to me. Naturally i cannot speak for them, but i doubt if any single one of them would recognize the war in which Reese took...
Published on 7 Aug. 2012 by saint michael


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89 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are war. Because we are soldiers, 5 Dec. 2005
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
I have burned all the cities, strangled all the women, brained all the children, plundered all the land. I have shot a million enemies, laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches, ravaged the souls of the inhabitants, spilled the blood and tears of all the mothers. I did it, all me. I did nothing. But I was a soldier."
Thus begins Willy Peter Reese's "A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944. Winston Churchill may have said that history is written by the victors, but the recent discovery and publication of these memoirs provides some evidence that history's `losers' sometimes also have a chance to contribute. A Stranger to Myself is a valuable addition to our collective memory.
Willy Peter Reese was a recent high school graduate and a trainee bank clerk when he was drafted into the German army in the spring of 1941. The German invasion of the USSR, Operation Barbarossa, began during Reese's basic training. Like many of his fellow soldiers, Reese thought he would be home by Christmas. Reese was quickly disabused of this notion once he found himself in the middle of what may be the most brutal fighting in the history of humanity (or inhumanity). Not only was the war on the eastern front fought between armies but it was a war in which brutality was inflicted on the civilian population on an unprecedented scale. In addition to the Holocaust inflicted on the Jews of Poland, the Ukraine, and Belarus, millions of other Poles, Ukrainians, and Russian civilians lost their lives through hunger or murder, along with millions of Red Army and German prisoners. As noted so aptly in the Preface, Reese found himself in the "greatest abattoir in human history".
This memoir emerged in 2002 and represents the reflection of Reese on life in the abattoir. Reese kept a diary during his time as a soldier. He'd set out his thoughts on every scrap of paper he could find. He would write during lulls in the horror or sitting in an army field hospital after being wounded. He wrote long letters home to his mother and father. Sent home in late 1943 after being wounded, Reese took his diary and those letters home and turned it into a manuscript. He left his manuscript with his mother and returned to the front. He was killed in 1944. His mother kept all his documents as a shrine to her dead son. A Stranger to Myself was published in Germany in 2002 and has now been translated (very capably by Michael Hoffman) into English.
Reese was well-read and considered himself a poet. As such these memoirs are unusual for its florid prose. The writing is not terse but extravagant in its description of Reese' desperate mood swings during his time on the front. However, the ornate prose, which would seem utterly pretentious in a piece of fiction, serves as a stark and compelling contradiction to the horrors that Reese writes about. Reese does not spare himself. He is brutally honest about the loss of his soul, his absorption with the efficiency of killing and his own mistreatment of the civilian population. It may be asserted that Reese did not mention the Holocaust or go into any great detail about the atrocities he saw committed and perhaps committed himself during his time on the front. That is a fair enough comment to be sure. However, after reading this book it is clear to me that Reese's focus was not war on the grand scale but on the war and its effect on him. These are internal, not external reflections. He, like virtually ever other soldier, was concerned first and foremost with his own or her own survival. The big picture is for other people to draw. Looking at it through that lens, Reese's memoirs are frank and brutally honest. He does not praise the war and in fact finds it irrational and unforgivable that his country waged it. Yet at the same time he has no aversion to participating in the fighting and the drinking and the looting that takes place. He displays a certain arrogance towards the people whose land he helps occupy. He wrestles with his demons and lays it out for the reader. Anyone who has seen this horror cannot believe in God he writes, yet he cannot help but think that the sins he and his comrades commit are unforgivable. We see him sink to a depth where it seems there is no turning back, where he stands up from his slit trench in order to be shot by Soviet snipers, only to see his spirits revive a bit when he gets a days rest or finds a bit of food to eat.
Reese's story is an important one for many reasons. It makes for compelling reading and it will have an impact on the reader that will linger after the book is read and put back on the shelf.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story straight from the soul, 13 Nov. 2007
By 
Mr. L. Mackinlay (Edinburgh Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
This book tells the story of the fighting on the eastern front from a very personal angle, going deep into the human pysche of what it is like to leave life's familiar things behind you as you turn into a soldier. The book is very poetic and reveals the passions of a typical (romantic) young man who sees himself as an adventurer; a theme he often returns to in the book. In this, it is very easy to relate to as we have all had such thoughts. I found his descriptions of the landscape and even the trees he clearly enjoyed seeing very moving as he brought the whole horror of the war to life by writing observations anyone would see during a woodland walk on a Sunday afternoon never mind a walk between dugouts. The author slips between highs and lows throughout the book as events impact upon him and the story is all the more poignant as we know Willy Reese died during the devastating Russian summer offensive of 1944. This is not your average war autobiography. Yes, it follows the author through battles and hard times, but more importantly, the book gives the reader a real sense of how war can change you inside. This is not a book for those who like lots of battle action or battle descriptions (though clearly they are often mentioned in the book too), or indeed who like to whizz through a book, nor does it really go into who the friends around him were..most other characters in the book rarely get named..but it will leave a big impression upon you on the futility of war if you give it the time and patience it deserves. Had he lived, I suspect Willy Reese would have become a great poet.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writer and author, 7 Jun. 2007
By 
Jane Huffman (Michigan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
Willy Peter Reese. I had never heard of him before the first part of June 2007. I met Reese, in his memoirs. He bared his soul for me. I sat next to him as he endured the frigid cold of a Russian winter. He told me of his pain when wounded. I watched as he and his fellow soldiers wore lice infested uniforms, suffered from pyoderma and lymph inflammations.

I watched a young man, quiet and reserved, go to war. In degrees I witnessed this young man give up on life and accept the horrors of war.

Reese, through his writing style, has left behind a compelling piece of literature; painting the war on the eastern front in such vivid colors so as to burn a hole to the readers soul.

Please read, A Stranger To Myself. For those who glorify war this may give you a realistic perspective of what can, and usually does, happen when soldiers face each other. As an Army veteran I am not so naive as to think war can be avoided every time, but when one reads what war is really all about then it is worth the time to try diplomacy first.

Read this book. It will take your breath away.

Richard Neal Huffman - author of, Dreams In Blue: The Real Police
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving witness account of the Eastern front, 8 Oct. 2013
I found this account to be very moving. Reese was only in his early twenties when he wrote this, so the prose is a little 'flowery'. Also, it is much more an account of feelings rather than military manoeuvers (although there are those as well). One other thing is the quality of translation, which is absolutely excellent.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A STRANGER TO MYSELF., 25 July 2007
By 
Jon W. Reid "JON1971" (N.IRELAND) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
VERY GOOD BOOK.
GOES TO SHOW HOW WAR CAN CHANGE FOREVER SOMEONES OUTLOOK ON LIFE.THIS PERSON LOVED LIFE,POETRY AND ALL THINGS SIMPLE.A VERY TALENTED YOUNG LAD.
WOULD NO DOUBT HAD MADE IT IN LITERATURE HAVE NOT BEEN FOR THE WAR.VERY UP CLOSE LOOK AT AN ORDINARY LADS ACCOUNT OF THE MOST BRUTAL OF ALL FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL.
WELL WORTH A READ.NOT FULL OF FACTS AND FIGURES.JUST A NORMAL PERSON THREW INTO HELL NEVER TO RETURN.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read, if a little poetic, 13 Oct. 2014
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a good read, if a little poetic. but a good insight into a German conscripts experience of the war on the eastern front
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read Me, 17 July 2007
By 
Mr. P. Rose (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
If ever you wanted to understand a little about the eastern front read this book. I could say many things about its content but its a lot easier just to say "read me" .
You could criticise the translation but then you would be missing the point.
A fine epitaph to a young man caught up in a wrong war.

As an aside about the same time he was killed,an older, british army corporal was killed fighting in normandy.
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19 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost in translation., 31 Oct. 2006
This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
Wilhelm Reese was an enlisted civilian posted to the Eastern Front. His book describes his experiences, where they happened, and how they changed his state of mind. Ther result is therefore a valuable document and of particular interest to those who know something about the events and about soldiering.

And that is a problem because the translater, Michael Hofmann, does not use English or even American military terms. For examples: Hofmann translates a) 'Trommel-feuer' literally as 'drum fire', when any soldier would say 'stonk', 'barrage' or 'heavy bombardment'; b) 'Our reserves were being bled dry...There was no help to come', when a soldier would complain about lack of 'reinforcement'; c) 'The Russians drove their wedge farther into our hinterland', when a soldier would say 'the enemy infiltrated behind us' with all the angst that accompanies being cut off; d)'Tanks and artillery arrived too late and were shot down', which is a literal translation of 'abgeschossen' but quite wrong in this context in which tanks were 'shot up' while only aircraft were 'shot down'. The last three examples all occur in the last two paragraphs of page 151.

This incompetent translation makes the book difficult and often impossible to read. It does Willy Reese a grave disservice, and it is surprising that the great Max Hastings when agreeing to write the foreword failed to insist on the use of common military terms.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Saint Michael, 7 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: A Stranger to Myself (Hardcover)
I have had the great fortune to share correspondence with several veterans of the 1941-45 Russo-German conflict. They too experienced the very particular horrors associated with this ideological war in the East, much of it expressed in their letters to me. Naturally i cannot speak for them, but i doubt if any single one of them would recognize the war in which Reese took part in! Books like this infuriate the veteran's, and alternately soothe the soul of the post war generation of apologist's, holding sway and lecturing people on this subject. If you want a more realistic account of German Soldiery on the Eastern front, purchase either Blood Red Snow by Koschorrek or Campaign In Russia by Leon Degrelle! There was NO room for sentimentality in this conflict on BOTH sides and in truth there were very few Willy Reese's participating on this battlefield!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 15 Oct. 2014
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Good to read about not all germans were nazi`s
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