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on 13 May 2015
Otto Carius, who died, in his 90's, as recently as January this year, was the last of Germany's tank aces. What he wasn't was an historian, or even an especially good writer. Nor is this a history, rather it is a memoir, which is not quite the same thing. In his introduction to the original German version, he states clearly that when he originally wrote down his experiences, it was for his former comrades. That then evolved into this book which was (I quote) "an attempt to vindicate the German frontline soldier."
Therefore, if you're expecting apologies, or even acknowledgements of what the Nazis got up to, you're going to be disappointed. Much of the criticism in the negative reviews & comments here, some of it vitriolic, seems to be centred on this lack. From Carius' point of view, he wasn't a Nazi, didn't care for the Nazis, and was fighting a war in defence of his country. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, this book is the account of what one man saw & did, and no more than that; he offers no views on the politics or the whys & wherefores.
He makes few references to the Nazis, but it's obvious he didn't like them. He met Himmler; in recounting that meeting, he makes no judgements about him, but simply recounts, in the same matter-of-fact style as the rest of the book, what he saw of the man that he met & the conversation that took place (he even turned down a personal invitation to join the Waffen-SS!), without ever touching on his reputation. Similarly, he makes the very valid point that, at the front, no-one gave a damn about ideology. What mattered wasn't whether you were a Nazi or a non-Nazi, but whether you were a good soldier & a good comrade. They were, after all, fighting for their lives.
The notion of comradeship and its value is the one thread that runs throughout the book. The book itself is written very colloquially - you can easily imagine him saying exactly the same things that he wrote down in exactly the same way. It's not always exactly PC, either. He obviously respected the Russians as enemy soldiers, but speaks slightingly of the Americans. The English of the translation is idiosyncratic, to say the least. For example, towing vehicles, whether they're recovery vehicles or artillery tractors, are almost always referred to as "prime movers". I presume that is a literal translation of whatever word the Wehrmacht commonly used, and if the text is a literal translation of the German, it would explain a good deal about some of the clumsy English. That's never mind that the memoir itself is rather disjointed at times in the way it suddenly changes topic, or throws in random comments not connected to what you've just been reading about. As I've said, very colloquial!
Nevertheless, the plain style is readable, giving a frontline soldier's view of things. If he knew anything of atrocities & the like but chooses not to speak of them, that doesn't make the book less interesting or valuable as an eye-witness account. You just have to accept that, if you wanted to know what he thought or saw of that, you are told very little, even by inference. Not least, he has written one of the very few accounts of the use of Jagdtigers. His account is rounded off by half-a-dozen battle reports, the last of which he wrote himself, and the book is then rather padded out with 50 pages of certificates, news clippings, and letters of congratulation on medals & promotions (all translated, obviously).
If you think you're going to be upset by the fact that he more-or-less ignores the unacceptable side of WWII Germany, then this is not the book for you. If you're looking for an insight into the life of a panzer soldier in WWII, then this is well worth reading.