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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Was hast du in dem Krieg zu tun, Großpapa?
`Soldaten' by Sönke Neitzel & Harald Welzer (Simon & Schuster 2012, ppk 2013 9.99)

(publisher's review copy)

MI 19 (as it became) supported its normal interrogation of PoWs by housing some in bugged quarters where, although German personnel had been warned about this possibility certainly from 1941 (after von Werra's successful (and amazing)...
Published 14 months ago by Seaweed

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An academic study rather than a good read
I found this book quite difficult to 'get into' - it is written in a more academic style than I expected, so although I found the transcripts of the tapes very interesting, for me the actual individuals' narratives got a bit lost in the text around it. In summary, it was a reasonable read, a bit on the 'heavy' side and a bit of a tedious read at times, hence the three...
Published 9 months ago by traveller


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Was hast du in dem Krieg zu tun, Großpapa?, 29 Jun 2013
`Soldaten' by Sönke Neitzel & Harald Welzer (Simon & Schuster 2012, ppk 2013 9.99)

(publisher's review copy)

MI 19 (as it became) supported its normal interrogation of PoWs by housing some in bugged quarters where, although German personnel had been warned about this possibility certainly from 1941 (after von Werra's successful (and amazing) escape from Canada), they chatted to each other in an unguarded way. Sometimes a PoW would be lodged with a stool-pigeon who would draw them out on a desired matter. The result was important, even crucial intelligence and not a few surprises. The conversations were listened to and transcribed and, where appropriate, recorded. The English translations of the transcripts were stored, and in 1999 were released to the National Archives under code WO 208.

Neitzel, a German academic historian working in England, discovered these and has worked through tens of thousands of pages of transcripts to select the examples that he is using here. This is a data mine that others will probably explore differently in the future.

With the psychologist Welzer he has distilled them into a study of the German fighting man of WW2. Their sources also include equivalent American records from Fort Hunt. Originally published in German in 2010, we now have `Soldaten' in translation, and fascinating it is. Some may have `met' Nietzel through his participation in a recent Channel 4 programme on the topic.

Initially most of the targeted subjects were Luftwaffe aircrew or U-boat survivors, chosen for their military intelligence value. However it was not just technical revelations that surfaced, but also attitudes.

In 1941 my grandmother was waddling down the street in Freshwater when a German aviator attempted to machine-gun her. From the rear she looked much like the Grandma in Giles' cartoons. The Luftwaffe transcripts show not only that aircrew could clearly see what they were shooting at, but that civilian targets were deliberately selected, and that shooting them up was frequently described as `fun'.

The clearing of North Africa brought us and the Americans a vast haul of Wehrmacht PoWs, including sixteen Generals. MI19 had prepared for this and installed them in a mansion in Hertfordshire, Trent Park, where they could relax in `country house' conditions. This brought us a higher level of information altogether as they discussed amongst each other Hitler, impending V-weapons, the war, and what became known as the Holocaust.

Many of the lower ranks captured in Normandy and interrogated at two other properties had served in the East and this brought us chapter and verse on this and demonstrated the Wehrmacht's enthusiastic participation in mass murder, which has already been written up at considerable length by many German authors. This book is full of chilling details of the most abominable, wilfully sadistic atrocities, some attended for entertainment by civilians and off-duty soldier spectators. Lt Gen Kittel recorded how he actually stopped a mass execution by the SS - because he feared the corpses would contaminate the groundwater. He told them to do the business further away. Sometimes you are reading a mass-murderer's own words. Not all the victims are Jews, and not all the perpetrators and accomplices are German (for instance the French police).

The transcripts also show examples of atrocities in the West - a Frenchman shot out of hand by a soldier because he wanted the Frenchman's bicycle - a Dane on a tram casually shot for offending a German - and sexual crimes left, right and centre including French and Czech girls forced Wehrmacht brothels. The work moves on to Wehrmacht opinions of the Waffen SS and accounts of their crimes.

One of the puzzles is how many PoWs held on to the idea that there might still be some victorious solution for Germany in spite of having access to English newspapers that told them what was really going on, even after Stalingrad, and the defeat of the Afrika Korps. Along with this was their touching but somewhat misguided faith in their ghastly Fuhrer. Once seeds of doubt do creep in, so also some apprehension about `International Jewry' seeking some revenge.

Throughout, the psychology is explored dispassionately, objectively, and in great depth, as Welzer tries to explain how members of a nation that had produced great art, music and literature (let alone Martin Luther) descended into such an abyss of cruelty and behaved as they did. But in Don Marquis' phrase, it's "only an explanation it's not an excuse".

The sources are meticulously documented and there are reproductions of some contemporary photographs printed in the text. The translator appears to be American. The actual transcripts quoted are in their original English, not double-translated. Some very minor nitpicks: Heydrich was assassinated in Prague, not Poland (p.81); `ejected' is inappropriate for clambering out of a WW2 aircraft (pp 160, 263, 264); `rear' is inappropriate and I think means `reaction' (p.180); von Werra escaped from Canada, not from us (p.349); and I am puzzled as to why the transcripts are invariably called `protocols'.

The criminal culpability of the non-SS German Forces, already well documented, is here laid bare in voluntary, self-incriminating statements by its own members. It is not to be believed that they did not pass on what they had seen when on home leave; the entire nation, even if it had failed to draw inferences from the expropriation of the Jews from 1933 onwards, must have been aware of its army's record of atrocities. When Kipling wrote in 1919 of `Lesser breeds without the Law' he was referring to the Germans. This book demonstrates that the cap fits.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Further Evidence, 25 Oct 2012
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
Professor Neitzel is an accomplished historian who teaches at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science. He has written another very important book,this time about the behaviour of senior German military personnel during WW2.
Until approximately 25 years ago the standard work on the war stated that the atrocities committed by Germans, particularly on the Eastern Front, were the result of special SS squads not the professional military. Several historians,like Hastings, Burleigh and Kershaw, have in the ensuing years demonstrated that this is simply untrue. Many appalling atrocities against Jews and Russians were deliberately committed by serving army personnel under orders from their seniors. The record is long and beyond dispute.
Professor Neitzel's book,therefore, while telling us little that is new, is a welcome extra piece of evidence.
The involvement of Germany's soldiers,even at the most senior level,in atrocities shows how gullible was the late Sir Basil Liddle Hart who interviewed several captured German generals after the war and accepted their version of events as the truth.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An academic study rather than a good read, 3 Dec 2013
By 
traveller (stirling, scotland) - See all my reviews
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I found this book quite difficult to 'get into' - it is written in a more academic style than I expected, so although I found the transcripts of the tapes very interesting, for me the actual individuals' narratives got a bit lost in the text around it. In summary, it was a reasonable read, a bit on the 'heavy' side and a bit of a tedious read at times, hence the three stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what it seems- just make sure you know what you're getting?, 4 Mar 2014
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The clue is in the use of the word "peppered" in the book's description here- "Peppered with vivid, and often shocking, stories told by the soldiers, sailors and airmen themselves"

These vivid and often shocking verbatim stories are, indeed, peppered throughout the book, but quite a lot of this book is used up in examining and trying to understand the motivations of these servicemen. The reader is first presented with a description of how the transcripts were actually found, followed by the Author's notes. There is quite a lot to plough through before arriving at any actual transcripts ( or "protocols", as the author so describes them). We are then presented with small , short paragraph transcripts of actual conversations, interspersed with interpretation by the author on "what could it all mean?" or even, hilariously, ""Where would he have gotten (sic) the instruments to decode this new reality?". Rather than being presented on their own, the context and historical background of the transcripts is also described.

The author seems very knowledgable on the history and psychology of warfare - and the third reich in particular. So if you were approaching this book from the point of view of having zero understanding or knowledge of WWII ( perhaps a young person) then I'm sure the author's contributions would be particularly helpful.
It does come as a bit of a surprise, when you are only 68% of the way through the book (?) , to come across the "Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography,Index, and Notes about the Authors and Translators". Presumably this is necessary, for such a scholarly book.

So yes, the book is peppered with vivid, often shocking stories told by the soldiers, sailors and airmen themselves. What I found particularly disturbing was the sheer banality of the way they describe their acts. These are the voices of monsters and the matter-of-fact way they describe what they saw and did only adds to the horror.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning., 21 Nov 2012
By 
Bobby Smith (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
Unlike some of the other reviewers I think the marriage of a historian and a psychologist works perfectly well, when it comes to analysing the actions and words of the German military in WW2. I found it fascinating reading the thoughts of the soldiers as they discuss many aspects of WW2 - be they killing, inter-service rivalries, weapon technology or the efforts of their allies. Whilst some of the information is hardly ground-breaking, for instance they thought the Italians were not good fighters, the secretly taped words of the soldiers serve to both educate the reader and condemn the Wehrmacht, as they admit to war crimes and their part in the Holocaust. Although some of the analysis does, at times, explain the obvious, it does lend the book an original feel - something lacking in the authors previous book. All in all this is a superb addition to what we now know about the German military in the Second World War. I also recommend the book: On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society as a companion to this serious work of historical analysis.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never before facts over members of the German military told by themselves to each other in POW camps, 1 Dec 2012
By 
Keith R. Steward (Lier, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
For an insight into how the Nazi machine persuaded and even brainwashed their military into believing the most incredible things you should read this book. Bear in mind, this was written by German authors who have no axe to grind. They didn't try to make excuses, they haven't tried to cover up less palatable facts. Most of the military, from the lowest to, quite often, the highest believed what they were being told. We've heard so often that it was the SS who were the brutal murderers but here you'll read how the reichswehr and luftwaffe - the ordinary military - also took pleasure in killing. Don't be afraid that the book is full of blood and guts stories 'cos it isn't. It's the story of what the German military said to each other as POWs whilst the allied poweers listened in via hidden microphones. Not a dry boring book, this is an interesting,can't-put-it-down book.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointed, 31 Oct 2012
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This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
I bought this book on the premise that it contained lots of fascinating "fly on the wall" conversations between former members of the German armed forces.

Unfortunately the actual conversations (which ARE fascinating and in some cases VERY disturbing) amount to little more than a third of the books content. The rest is quite frankly physcho-babble on the morals/state of mind of the individuals concerned. I found myself literally falling asleep when i had to read the guff between the actual conversations (or "PROTOCOLS" as they call them in the book). Sure i could have skipped those parts of the book, but that would have made for a VERY quick read. Whats frustrating is that there is MASSIVE amounts of converations that they could have put into the book. More conversation and less physchology would have made for a good book. As it is I can't recommend it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Western Allies Guiilt, 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
My generation was always told the the average German did not know what Hitler was doing on their behalf, it was the SS and SD who were the perpetrators of the Horrors. However when you read this book you discover that the average person not only knew but actually took part in the atrocities and escaped any-kind of punishment. The "they did not know" dictum was put out by Western Governments so that they could use Germany as a bulwark against Soviet advancement. It was a very disturbing read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, 18 April 2014
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This review is from: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs (Hardcover)
Great book, rather heavy going as one would expect having being written by academics, but then it is probably written as a psychology text book rather than an holiday novel!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars tough stuff, 9 Mar 2014
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A bit too philosophical, but probably technically correct. Makes chilling reading as regards knowledge of what really occurred in WWII
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