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on 9 August 2011
A diary from a Wehrmacht soldier participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union is an extremely rare find, especially one this forthcoming. Hans Roth's notes, commentary, descriptions, and candid portray of the fighting on the Eastern Front are a necessity for those interested in the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Most importantly, as pointed out by the editors, the grandson and granddaughter of the author, this diary was written by Roth as the events he described were unfolding, not years or decades after-the-fact. Thus, what we have before us is a depiction of the author's thoughts with little if any self-censorship. The editorial notes, evident throughout the text, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. At times they are helpful but there is also evidence of the editors' naiveté when it comes to the Eastern Front, i.e. assigning Soviet victory outside Moscow in 1941/42 to 'General Winter' and 'Siberian' divisions. Furthermore, there are quite a few editing mistakes throughout the text. Not enough to take away from the reading, but enough to be noticed on a more or less regular basis.

While what Roth sees is limited to his field of vision, there is still some validity in knowing his train of thought at any given moment. For instance, before the invasion of the Soviet Union I was surprised to read that on June 15, 1941, Roth posits that "Russian scouts were on our side of the river [Bug] last night..." (23) Having read on the Eastern Front for over a decade, I have yet to encounter any discussion of Soviet scout missions behind German lines before June 22nd, especially considering the fact that Stalin and the Soviet high command regularly had orders going out that no provocation(s) should be made against German forces. On June 17 the author writes "I now know the date of the attack" (24). This is interesting to note as it shows until what day the exact date of the invasion was, at the very least, kept from soldiers. As the date of the invasion approaches the author is excited that "The greatest battle of all times will start the day after tomorrow!" (25) It then takes three months of fighting for the author to exclaim, "When will this horrible war find its end..." (110) A statement made not in the midst of battle, but during a time of self-reflection after the Kiev encirclement is over.

Roth also exhibits evidence of the racist mentality that so many in the Wehrmacht undoubtedly entered the Soviet Union with. Trying to figure out how Soviet forces made it into Lutsk to attack his unit (after the town and its environs had been already captured by the Germans), he calls Red Army soldiers "sub-humans", "Caucasian monsters", "Asian tundra scum", and an "Asian mob" who "is sly and cunning" (31, 53, 131, 133, 161). Additionally, upon seeing some of the first casualties of the invasion, a young woman and two small children, during the first day of war, he exclaims "How wonder it is that we are able to exterminate these murderous beats. How good it is that we have pre-empted them; for in the coming weeks these bloodhounds might have been standing on German soil" (27). Here we also see the idea that the war was a pre-emptive one was very much part of the reasoning at least some soldiers used for the invasion of the Soviet Union. In general Roth displays a wide variety of attitudes toward his Red Army counterparts, many of which can be found in a variety of German memoirs (from soldiers to generals/field marshals). He discusses the precision with which Soviet soldiers are shooting at his unit, which "could have only been learned through intensive training" (67), and labels Red Army soldiers "...a dull, indifferent, soulless machine of destruction and death" who are "masters" "at digging themselves in" (51, 58).

There is also evidence that while the German invasion was a surprise, the Soviets, be they border guards or Red Army soldiers, did put up fierce resistance where they could. The entry for June 22nd also discusses how German soldiers were "...pressed hard by enemy tanks" and had to retreat with "many casualties" (27). A similar incident occurs on July 10 when an entire German infantry regiment takes "enormous...casualties" and has to retreat to its starting positions (49). (The same day a portion of the regiment is encircled by the Red Army.) On June 24, while clearing out a Soviet village, the author notes "the number of our own casualties is...high" and discusses how one house after another "must be cleansed with hand grenades" as "Fanatics fire at us until the roofs collapse over their heads and they are buried under the rubble" (28-29). Already, three days after the war begins, there is evidence of Soviet activities behind German lines as the author notes the small battles to the rear of the front and convoys being attacked by enemy forces. On June 25 Roth writes he is already "spiritually and physically totally exhausted!" (30) And as early as July 13, the author writes "We have almost reached the end of our fighting strength" (56). Interestingly, there are numerous mentions made about the Soviet air force, both bombers and fighters, harassing Roth's unit. Usually, Soviet accounts are filled with a longing for the air force to do something, simply be present. Perhaps the fact that the author is describing actions occurring in the sector of Army Group South, opposite of which were some of the larger Soviet concentrations, might explain the regular presence of the Soviet air force during the first few days of the war.

More than once the author mentions the precarious position he and his division find themselves in. It is hard to know for sure if the author's observations are accurate, but if they are then German actions need to be analyzed more thoroughly throughout the entirety of 1941. On July 9, the author claims his division has advanced so far that it will take at least an entire day for reinforcements to catch up, meanwhile the entirety of the Soviet 5th Army is standing opposite a lone German division. Roth begins to question the Soviets, "Are the Russians going to miss their big chance once again? Don't they know that their opponents are nothing more than small combat forces?" (48) The next day the author thanks the presence of heavy artillery for protecting his unit's flanks, otherwise "...the Russians would have rolled over our entire front line from the flanks" (49).

The battle sequences described are not always full of the detail that some will be looking for. That is understandable since in the midst of battle few can remember the exact details of what transpired as they are fighting for their lives. Time might either slow down during prolonged artillery exchanges, or an hour long battle might be over in the blink of an eye. Both are present in Roth's diaries; especially interesting accounts are offered in the fighting for Kiev, the immense pressure the Germans are put under by both the Soviet Air Force and continuous artillery fire. Some of the stories representative of the Red Army and partisans are hearsay while others are more believable, although some context is undoubtedly missing. For instance, the author recounts how two Red Army soldiers, the last of a 'wave' attempting to reach their target (a bridge), retreat and are mowed down by their own side. While order 227 during Stalingrad created 'blocking detachments' from NKVD troops, Red Army forces themselves were creating blocking detachments during the summer of 1941 from 'reliable' soldiers with orders that unauthorized retreats should be stopped. Keeping that in mind, this episode is quite believable.

June 26 becomes witness to the first war crime described by Roth. The initial entry of German troops into the city of Lutsk presented them with a gruesome sight, prisoners massacred by retreating NKVD troops. Roth then describes how "comrades" pulled out hiding Red Army soldiers and Jews from their hiding places and executed them (31). More interesting is the fact that Roth knew what was going on in the rear areas with Jews. During his stay in Kiev, when the executions of Babi Yar were taking place, he has an exchange with "a young SS soldiers [sic]" of the "kill commando", who tells the author of how "they 'freed' all the larger cities which were touched by our advance of the Jewish population" (111). What follows are the well known descriptions of mass executions that took place in Zhitomir. But the author admits he was "astonished" to learn about these activities taking place in the rear; he writes that "we soldiers in the first attack wave have never thought about the stuff that happens behind us in the cities we leave..."

Roth's recounting of the logistical problems his unit and the German army in general experience from the mud and cold are enlightening. Usually, it is taken as a given that the rainy weather of October held up German forces by disabling their mobility. But Roth also provides evidence that while in some areas of the front the roads became frozen by intermittent periods of frost, areas to the rear were still suffering from muddy roads. Thus, while German forces at the front might have been ready to advance, their logistical difficulties, a result of countless trucks stuck in the mud, made it impossible to advance until the winter more or less began on November 15. And on that day the author writes: "It is finally here; the ground is frozen solid. We can start" (123).

The last journal is the least detailed of the three in terms of dates (it covers June 1942-May 1943). Some of the entries are listed either under months or locations (unlike in the first two journals, where entries are listed under specific dates). There is a lot of self-reflection about the war, rear-area troops and the disdain frontline soldiers have for them, and the countless actions the author finds himself in with the enemy on a day-to-day basis. His exhaustion, and that of his comrades, is readily evident on every page, at times in every paragraph.

For those interested in aspects of combat on the Eastern Front (especially detailed scenes are depicted of the fighting for Kiev in 1941, Voronezh in 1942, and Orel in early 1943), the `holocaust by bullets' that was perpetrated in the east, the `daily life' of soldiers and civilians (men and women on both counts), this is a must read.
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on 15 August 2011
Content-wise there is nothing more to add to the previous reviews, which say it all. Indeed, this account, or rather diary, allows the reader to enter into the mindset of the average German soldier fighting in the East and, through his eyes, to experience the brutality that went along with this particular theatre of war. Lately, quite a number of firsthand accounts have beeen published in Germany but, unfortunately, too few are available in English and some are written from nowadays' point of view. A wartime diary, however, is free from the regret, guilt and political correctness, which most veterans feel today and tend to obscure the events which happened over 65 years ago.
Surely it must have been a difficult task to translate a handwritten manuscript. If you are not overly familiar with proper military terms in German and experience problems with "oldschool" German handwriting, it is inevitable to make some mistakes. These may be irrelevant at times (not every German noun necessarily ends in "n") but others change the original meeaning: ...the German soldier [...] fights for the great goat (der groß Ziege) [sic!]", p. 38. It shouldn't read "die große Ziege" either but rather "die großen Siege", meaning "great victories". Perhaps I am being a bit picky here but I believe this book to be too important a source to have its content marred by silly mistranslations. This, however, occurs only in some places and shouldn't keep anybody from buying this truly remarkable eyewitness account.
If you are interested in reading more German accounts translated into English, then I recommend the following books:

Blood Red Snow by Günther K. Koschorrek*****
In Deadly Combat by Gottlob Herbert Biedermann*****
Soldat - reflections of a German soldier by Siegfried Knappe****(*)
At Leningrad's Gates by William Lubbeck****
Panzer Commander by Hans von Luck****

Two books that have been reviewed controversially but are interesting nevertheless:
Sniper on the Eastern Front. The memoirs of Sepp Allerberger
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sayer

If you are familiar with the German language, you shouln't miss:
Zwischen Nichts und Niemandsland by Hans Jürgen Hartmann
Saat in den Sturm by Herbert Brunegger
Die Hölle von Tscherkassy by Anton Meiser
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on 24 April 2012
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me." Terence, Roman playwright.

These are the diaries of a brave German soldier who fought on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1944. The diaries have the rare distinction as being contemporary; that is to say they were written as the events unfolded and not after the war. They have been recently translated into English.

Hans Roth left a loving wife and daughter in Frankfurt when he was drafted to fight on the Eastern Front at the age of twenty-eight. His journals give a fascinating personal account of the war. They are written in soldier's language, sometimes with a wry humour; he was a "frontline pig."

There are many descriptions of fighting and the terrible conditions of life on the Ostfront. Just to give a flavour of the book I will give a few examples...

...The book opens a few days before the invasion of Russia. Private Roth is proud to be part of this offensive which he believes is necessary to defend Europe from barbarous communism...

...Some partisans are arrested. Three of them are beautiful girls ranging in age from eighteen to twenty. After interrogation the commander decides they must be executed because they are part of a group that killed German soldiers. Roth cannot witness this. After the executions everyone is quiet for the rest of the afternoon...

...On September 26th 1941 Roth has a conversation with a young SS soldier of the "kill commando" whose function was to murder the Jews in the captured territories. The young (19!) SS man explains to Roth how the Jews dug trenches over two days to hold 1500 bodies. Then groups of 250 Jews at a time step to the edge of a trench and are killed by machine gun, then falling into the trench. Roth cannot believe what he hears and tells the young man so. The young man laughs and suggests they should take a look. So they ride their motor bikes to the outskirts of Kiev to witness an Einsatzkommando action. Roth is shocked and says he will never forget what he saw that day...

...On January 8th 1942, Roth is part of a raiding party on a village called Strelezkaja, near Obojan. At 5.30am the village is full of sleeping Russian soldiers. Without mercy every Russian soldier is gunned down or clubbed to death. In half an hour 360 Russians are killed...

The book includes many black and white photos : of Hans Roth, his wife Rosel, his comrades, maps, and Roth's military medals and accompanying certificates.

This book is a heart wrenching account of the appalling suffering and privations of history's greatest land war. Read with care I found it difficult not to like and admire Hans Roth. Wounded, he elected to remain at the front with his comrades rather than retreat to the safety of a field hospital. He risks his life to take a Christian cross to dead Lieutenant Liebetran, his best friend, killed by Russian artillery.

One must admire Hans Roth's incredible presence of mind. Again and again after a day's fighting, killing Russians, seeing his comrades killed, just avoiding death himself, he managed to take his diary out and write a few paragraphs.

The book has a couple of downsides. Sometimes the translation is not as good as it could be. And sometimes it is repetitive, but that was the nature of Roth's war, just never ending battles. Nevertheless the book is so unique and powerful, it deserves five stars.

Feldwebel Hans Roth was reported missing in June 1944 and his grave was never found.
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on 1 October 2011
Written in the language of the soldier, the original notebooks of Hans Roth obviously presented a serious challenge to the translators. Roth wrote using terminology and phrases that were unique to his time, and life as a soldier and the authors occasionally struggle to translate his words into something that the modern reader would understand. However, the resulting novel is a compelling account of a man at war.
Hans Roth was obviously a dedicated family man with the soldier's longing for home and family. At the same time, he was a firm believer in his cause and routinely expresses the conviction that the Russian troops are sub human barbarians. Completely immersed in the barbaric warfare on the Eastern Front. Roth's journals record in plain, almost casual, language the death and destruction of everything that the battles touched.
His accounts of the horrific conditions of trench warfare in the frozen mountains, swamps and plains of Russia and the almost offhand descriptions of the weather conditions are recorded as he saw them and as they affected him. The book includes anecdotes that emphasize the barbarity of what happened: the use of `mine dogs' to attack tanks and people and the use of mental patients to clear minefields are just a couple of the images he records.
The constant cold, intense shelling, attack from the air and the endless hordes of Soviet infantry are all recorded in the same dry tone. Rarely does the author record any detail of feelings. The death of comrades is told dispassionately the destruction of a whole division in just a couple of sentences. However, as the journals progress the strain on Roth shows as the accounts become shorter and terser with longer gaps between entries. The reader can only imagine the true suffering, the indescribable fatigue, the constant freezing cold or blistering heat and the endless waves of Russian attacks.
I would have enjoyed the book more if there had been slightly more contextual data. To Roth the battlefield was an endless succession of nondescript villages, towns and trenches and this is how the book comes across. A more complete map of the areas involved would have helped my understanding.
A soldier's description of the maelstrom that was war on the Eastern Front. Well worth reading.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 March 2013
The book covers three journals of Hans Roth, a German soldier serving in the anti tank battalion attached to the 299th infantry division on the Eastern Front from June 1941 to June 1944 (the journals only cover the period till May 1943). It was written as a memento for his wife but not really meant to be read - more of a tool for the author to deal with the horrors of his experiences himself.

It starts off in daily installments (with dates for each entry) in June 1941, then slowly the entries get more infrequent in the spring of 1942, only to lose the frequency (and specific dates altogether) in the third journal, the majority of which happened after his only home leave in August 1942.

As this is not a fictionalized or glorified account meant for propaganda purposes or commercial success, the book maintains a high level of authenticity. The perhaps shocking discovery for the 'armchair generals' amongst the readers is the literally life and death struggle (no pun intended) present from the first day of the war. In spite of what were considered easy victories of the Wehrmacht in 1941, it appears that the resistance was enormous from the start, not at all to be compared to the Western Front (the author's own observations) and that much of it resembled the trench warfare of WW1.

The overwhelming artillery volume and the always present Red Air Force (seems that the Luftwaffe only ever put in occasional performances, even in 1941), as well as the immediate partisan presence made the fight a bitter struggle all the way. The appearance of KV-1 tanks late in 1941 also came as an electrifying shock, adding to the feeling of helplessness on many an occasion. And then of course there was the weather, which appeared to shock no matter the season.

While the author certainly buys into the propaganda from the start, there emerges a better understanding of the enemy (especially the civilian population) over time. While the author shows a high level of queasiness when witnessing a wholesale extermination of the local Jewish population in the occupied territories, he still displays righteous indignation at the Soviets 'daring' to destroy their supply columns and employing less than chivalrous tactics to ensure survival and victory. In this he may appear biased but this at least makes the account authentic. He also displays the typical anger aimed at rear echelon troops and especially at the home front AAA units, all of whom he thinks vastly inferior to the 'frontschweine' (for lack of a better translation front pigs). Same goes for the German allies, with particular scorn being heaped at the Italians and Hungarians.

The book - being a first hand account - will of course not show the wider picture of the conflict, still it adds a layer of richness to how the titanic struggle got fought out on an individual soldier's level. The one unfortunate element of the book is the translation into English. The journals were brought to print by the author's grandson and three different translators were used in the process. Unfortunately those were chosen perhaps more for their knowledge of German than history or military terminology, so there are frequent mistranslations, or very odd sounding direct translations, where perfectly adequate expressions exist in English. A working level of German helps somewhat here, as you will at least be better able to understand what the original term was and therefore what the author meant. Some cleaning up of spelling mistakes, as well as correcting the handful of mislabeled pictures would also help.

Overall the book is still a very vivid account of life on the Eastern Front and deserves to be read as a source of rounding ones understanding of what the conflict was really like from the 'ground'.
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on 10 May 2015
Eastern Inferno is an excellent first hand soldier's account of various actions in Operation Barbarossa, the WW2 German invasion of Russia. It's a translation of Hans Roth's diary starting on 12th June 1941 (Diary 1) and ending on 6th May 1943 (Diary 3). He was reported missing on 25th June 1943.

Roth was a member of the 299th Infantry Division, part of the Sixth Army, which started on the left flank of Army Group South as it invaded the Ukraine, involved in what was at first a difficult infantry battle, eventually leading to the commitment of armour and a large scale encirclement around Kiev taking 665.000 Russian prisoners. Subsequently he participated in the battle for Oboyan (winter of 1941-42) and later the German summer offensive of 1942 culminating in the battle for Stalingrad. His unit was outside the Soviet offensive/ encirclement of Sixth Army starting on November 19th but he saw the collapse of the Italian flanking positions and was part of the subsequent rout.

Roth's account agrees with other first hand records showing the constant difficulties of supply, the eventual terminal problem of apparently limitless Soviet equipment and manpower and the great distances to be covered in scorching heat or halted in deep mud or Arctic temperatures in which weapons and machinery wouldn't work.

A positive aspect of the diary is that it avoids the bias of soldier's letters written for their families (eg. in Fritz's, "Frontsoldaten: German Soldier in World War II") or Bidermann's "In Deadly Combat: A German Soldier's Memoir of the Eastern Front (Modern War Studies)" with its necessary post-war criticism of National Socialism. The uncomforable reality is that these soldiers were 100% for Hitler and National Socialism.
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2014
This is the diary (or perhaps notes for something more at a later stage) of a Panzerjäger on the Russian Front and plunges the reader straight into the horrors of war. It has not been revised or edited so the feelings of the frontline soldier shine through, what he thinks of the enemy, the people at home and Germany. This necessarily means that some reading may be a little unapalatable for modern taste, with remarks in support of the Nazi regime and condemnation of the Russians in line with the views of the time.

However, all this makes it more immediate than some post-war memoirs were the writer has had time to reflect on current political views and can quickly add that he was always against the Nazis, did not support the drive on Russia, etc etc. The writing takes you right to the frontline and you can hear the shells and feel the dirt and the cold as Roth and his comrades crouch in the ruins of Voronezh or try to recapture a Ukrainian village from the Russians.

The reason I give 4 and not 5 stars is the translation which appears to have been done by friends of the family who have a knowledge of German but not of military terminology, there are many mistakes ranging from misnaming Soviet vehicles to simply not translating what is not understood - B-Stelle remains simply B-position and not observation post. Constant use of the word Schweine (misspelt) to describe the Russians becomes wearing as do the typos (these may be due to reformatting for Kindle - I don't know) which sometimes reduce a serious passage to a comic one with bizarre imagery. Many phrases are translated literally where there is a perfectly good English equivalent which would help the story along.

However, if you can get through the clunky, amateur translation, and have an interest in the Eastern Front, the book is well worth reading.
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on 15 January 2012
When Omar Bartov sought to explain the staying power of German infantry soldiers on the Eastern Front (Hitler's Army) he concluded that it was a thorough indoctrination in the most lethal aspects of Nazi ideology that provided the essential motivation. The author of the diaries on which this book is based, Hans Roth, supports the accuracy of Bartov's analysis in his own words. Roth was a thoroughly unpleasant character - an opinionated racist and a blindly loyal extremist. He worships his officers and is unable to recognize courage in soldiers other than those on his own side. He is still less able to consider them as even human. The limited introspection he is capable of degenerates immediately to maudlin sentimentality. His concern when he learns of the murder of civilians - from one of their murderers - is for the killer's mental state. He doesn't question its justification or the morality of it.

There is no doubt that he was an excellent soldier and that he saw himself as an admirable one. But one can fairly wonder if Roth, and those like him, were actually courageous as we understand the term. Was his behavior under fire and in hand to hand combat simply the result of the brutally intensive training for which the German army was infamous? Roth himself seems not to know how he lived through many of the encounters he describes which suggests that instinct and conditioned response played a large part in his survival.

This book doesn't suffer from the reinterpretations that many recent Wehrmacht memoirs exhibit because he didn't outlive the events he describes. We can be grateful for that.
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on 16 May 2011
Simply a fantastic read all about the daily horrors faced on the Eastern front.
After reading about thirty memoirs about the fighting in Russia, I thought I'd read about nearly all the horrors that were faced daily by the German army but this book told me things that I'd never read about before, such as the various booby-traps that were left to kill and maim the Wehrmacht landsers. I won't spoil it by saying anymore about this and many more great insights that I found out from reading this book.
Very highly recommended!!!
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on 21 May 2014
A very depressing book in many ways ...The author's view of the world is based on the horror around him interpreted by his brothers in arms and rumour .... consequently everything bad is the Russian's fault and anything 'nasty' that the Germans might do is richly deserved by these subhumans opposing him. It's almost an amusing book. It richly illustrâtes the mindset of an average, ill-informed, prone-to-propagander Landser. Disturbing. The photos and captions are poorly chosen and some of the German slang is not explained. I didn't like the book or the author but I wouldn't have missed it!
I don't suppose this review helps much!
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