A Flawed Genius: Field Marshal Walter Model, A Critical Biography (World War II) Hardcover – 31 May 2010
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This is a well written and researched book. --Windscreen, March 2011
About the Author
Marcel Stein was born in Berlin on December 2, 1921, as a French citizen. Until 1936 he went to school in Berlin and given the political developments in Germany, he entered Bedales School in England. In 1938 he started studying law and economics at the University of Paris while at the same time completing a reserve officer training program. In 1939 he volunteered for military service, obtained his commission in May 1940 and took part in the battle for France. In 1941 he continued his studies at the University of Algiers, which he had to interrupt after the Vichy government introduced the numerus clausus for Jewish students. In 1942 he escaped to Switzerland and obtained his degrees at the University of Geneva. In 1944 he returned for war service at the French General Staff and at the same time obtained his degrees at the University of Paris. In his professional life, Stein has held executive positions in major French, Swedish and Israeli industrial firms. Between 1974 and 1987 he was deputy general manager of Bank Leumi, Tel Aviv and between 1987 and 1999 he was deputy chief executive of Bank Winter, Vienna, the largest private bank in Austria. After retiring, Stein returned to Israel and engaged in writing a number of books about military history. Among his publications are three books about Manstein, one about Field Marshal Model and one about the Austrian generals who served in the German army after the annexation of Austria. His main area of interest is the perversion of the German officer corps tradition by the Nazi regime. All his books have been widely reviewed in the German-speaking press, both public and professional. This is Marcel Stein s second book to be published by Helion. His first, Field Marshal von Manstein The Janus Head, received widespread critical acclaim.
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Top Customer Reviews
All in all, Model seems like an interesting subject for a biography.
Stein bases his work on a lot of the recent research into WW2 and the amount of knowledge and detailed information crammed into the book is impressive. Stein has consulted a large number of primary and secondary sources.
Alas, his book does not contain very much about Field Marshal Model. Totally absent is the usual (more or less chronological) narrative of the man and his deeds. Many major events - e.g. the battle of Kursk - are hardly described at all; the author apparently considers these to be too well known. But this makes the book less accessible for the reader not-so-well versed in the history of WW2.
Instead, the book is filled with details about a lot of other personalities, which were more or less (often less) involved with Model. The reader will learn about a von Küchler, a Hans Speidel, a von Lötzen, etc. and many pages are devoted to such relatively unknown persons.
Marcel Stein has some clear messages that he wants to convey. The main one is that all German generals of the Wehrmacht (i.e.Read more ›
This book is exceptionally interesting for the information it gives about the German Army. It appears that it was a brutal, murderous but efficient entity. The most interesting fact I gleaned from this book is that in WW1 hardly any soldiers were executed for desertion, cowardice etc- less than the British army. Yet in WW2 their were many hangings and shootings. It appears that the German military were suffering from a reaction to the previous war which brutalised them.
The book is well worth reading for anyone who values the truth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Stein slows down the pace a bit after WW1 and spends 18-pages discussing Model's inter-war career in the Reichswehr. At the start of the Second World War, Model was chief of staff of IV Armeekorps in Poland, but played only a secondary role. Stein points out that the Wehrmacht committed war crimes against "Polish civilians and Jews" and even though Gorlitz wrote that Model was unaware, Stein says "every high-ranking German officer knew what was happening." This kind of unsupported tar and feathers approach to history pervades this book and renders it little more than a polemic at best, or anti-German agitprop at worst.
The third chapter covers Model's involvement in Operation Barbarossa in about 10 pages, although Model himself sometimes disappears for pages at a time and the text becomes a goulash of the Halder diaries and Guderian's memoirs. Stein does devote about 40 pages to Model's command of the 9th Army in 1942-43, but much of the material appears derived from Newton's book and there are numerous serious errors and omissions. Stein writes that Model was wounded in May 1942 and "he was out of action for a few weeks." In fact, if Stein had bothered to read Gorlitz carefully, Model was very badly wounded and was on medical leave in Germany for eleven weeks. Again, a real biography would have taken the time to document an incident that nearly killed its protagonist. Amazingly, Model's defeat of Zhukov's (not mentioned by name) Operation Mars in November-December 1942 is mentioned in just two sentences! This omission alone merits this book a 1-star rating. Stein devotes a bit more coverage to Model's role in the Battle of Kursk, but fails to adequately describe either his attacks on Ponyri or his fighting withdrdawal from the Orel salient. Model had a very busy time in 1944-45, commanding no less than four army groups and serving in both East and West - this is covered in about 60 pages. Throughout the book, the author has an annoying tendency to disrupt the narrative flow by inserting numerous quotes, some useful but many just frivolous.
After Model's suicide at the end of the war, the author can then shift into what he really wants to take about, which is the holocaust. He spends more than 40-pages discussing the Wehrmacht's involvement in the slaughter of Jews (and millions of unmentioned `others'). Even though there is little tangible evidence linking Model directly to the Holocaust, the author uses him - as he did Manstein - as a poster boy for the German officer corps' self-delusion and culpability. The author also criticizes Model for sentencing deserters and other shirkers to death (I bet George Patton wished he could have got away with that in Sicily). Note that the US Army executed PVT Slovak, the British and Russians also shot deserters, so how was Model's legal (under Wehrmacht military law) execution of German military deserters a black mark against him. There is only one place for this very flawed, biased and over-priced book, which is the trashcan.
But the organization and editing of the book are atrocious. There are tons of typos. Many dates give the wrong year (1942 for 1941, for example). Quotations are punctuated wrong (so that the quotation is finished, and Stein's text resumes, but Stein's text is punctuated as though it's part of the quotation). I wouldn't find all this so objectionable, except that Stein complains about every other biographer of Model and belittles them (especially Newton) for errors, but his book is riddled with errors. Maybe Stein should make sure that his own house isn't glass before he starts throwing so many stones.
The organization of the material is haphazard. Stein just throws all sorts of stuff together without spending adequate time developing any one thing and without providing clear, logical transitions between things. For example, in the space of two or three pages, Stein discusses the final offensive toward Moscow in 1941 (Taifun), then Model's promotion to Corps command, then Stein launches into a tirade about how Model's "breathtaking rise" in the ranks wasn't breathtaking at all but rather slow, then he's back to Model's behavior as Corps commander. The overarching organizational principle is supposed to be chronology -- the events, year by year, of Model's career. But the real organizational principle seems to be free association -- whatever pops into Stein's head at the moment. And the tone used throughout the book is unrelentingly negative. Everything and everybody is bad and wrong (except perhaps for Marcel Stein).
The beginning of chapter 3 is typical. We're about to begin Operation Barbarossa, and Stein spends several paragraphs lecturing his readers about how German divisions and Russian divisions aren't the same size, and so comparisons between them, as others have supposedly made (who exactly? no scholarly note to say), are totally inappropriate. Then, just a couple paragraphs later, Stein is suddenly talking about how Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg caused a minor scandal for Konrad Adenauer in 1950. How did we get from 1941 to 1950? Geyr von Schweppenburg is portrayed as a Hun in 1950 but then is identified by Stein as having "sided with the reformers around General von Schwerin... against the 'old guard', led by Generals Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel" (p. 69). So even a German General who took what Stein considers the right side after the war is portrayed as still a Hun at heart.
Stein apparently views all Germans negatively. Even the most courageous and virtuous of the conspirators of 20 July 1944 are revealed here to be no better than Eichmann or Himmler. Stein has a right to his perspective. Few things in life are black or white. So, one person might look at someone like General Ludwig Beck and see that he realized relatively early the evil of the Nazi regime and, based on his moral principles, turned from that regime to resistance for which he ultimately died. But someone else (i.e., Stein) might look at General Ludwig Beck and see someone who betrayed the democratic government of the Weimar Republic and initially supported the Nazis. Beck did both things -- betrayed Weimar and eventually resisted the Nazi regime. Is he a saint? No. Few of us are. Is he evil for his early support of the Nazis and his betrayal of Weimar? Probably not. The Weimar Republic was complicated. Yes, it was democratic. But it had been imposed on a defeated Germany by the Allies along with a humiliating peace treaty. If Canada conquered the United States and imposed limits on the size of our Armed Forces, on our industrial production, and on our borders (taking away a few of our northern states), at the same time imposing monarchy on us and making us accept Elizabeth II as our queen, wouldn't we think of those who resisted these impositions as heroes and patriots? That's how many, many, many interwar Germans felt about the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles.
So, Stein is right to point to the ways in which German officers failed morally, because they did. But so are others right to point to the ways in which at least some German officers succeeded morally and how others tried, often imperfectly, to find their way through very complicated, difficult times, because they did that too.
On the other hand, Stein could keep a bit more open minded and not insist that he and only he is right about everything. As I said, things were complicated in Nazi Germany, and not much is completely black or white in life. Armchair critics can say how bad all the Germans were, but put into a similar situation, they might be surprised to learn that it's not always easy to figure out the right thing to do.
I first encountered Stein in his portrait of Field Marshall Manstein. I was put off in that book by the lack of close editing by someone fully fluent in English. Locutions acceptable in French or Spanish are not always "good" English; and in the work of such a towering scholar, nothing should be at a level less than that of the scholar himself.
In this book Stein gives us perhaps the most fascinating German general of the second World War, Field Marshall Walter Model. If you, as I, are hopelessly hooked on WWII in Europe, your effort will be amply rewarded as Stein gives a great deal more than you thought you would get. His introductory discussion in Chapter 3 tells more in a few words about how to compare WWII German with Russian formations than anything you're likely to see outside the military specialist field. You get an almost palpable sense of German society in Model's early Army years. You come away with stark admiration for people you never even heard of, such as Model's own son who has let his famous father's reputation rise or fall based on what honest scholarship about him shows, rather than trying to protect that reputation (such as Manstein's son has tried to do for his father). You get a very sturdy grip on the notion that professional excellence, even genius, does not exclude moral squalor or cowardice.
One has one's gripes, of course, and I think Stein himself would have little patience with a review that didn't offer something, whether he agreed with it or not, that left the reviewer disagreeing.
One scratches one's head, for example, at Stein's insistence that German generals after all had nothing, really, to fear in disagreeing with Hitler. Both in the Manstein portrait and here, he shows that officers could and did disagree vehemently with Hitler, could even be fired, yet suffer nothing more harmful than an enforced vacation at full pay. Maybe so, but how could they count on that? All very well that Blaskowitz never got cashiered or Manstein shot, but what about piano wire and filmed death agonies? Quite another issue is that of the moral courage one would hope to find in high-ranking officers. Rokossovski actually did spend time in Stalin's gulags and did lose his teeth there. Yet pressured by Stalin to change his ideas, Rokossovski stuck to his guns. He had courage. Evidently the Germans did not.
It's obvious from the title that Stein thinks Model a genius, presumably a military genius; but the point receives no attention in the text. Early on we read that among the German generals only Manstein had more talent than Model, and that's pretty-much the last mention of that sort of thing. Thanks to Liddell Hart, the phrase "military genius" became overused in connection with the Germans and one would have appreciated a synopsis of what it means nowadays to be a military genius since this is a book about one. My own take on Model is that he thoroughly understood his profession, he had no personal fear, and he expended stupendous energy showing up at critical spots to let himself be seen, to encourage and enliven, and to take personal charge where necessary. All admirable traits, and that method of generalship demands far more than the method used by Manstein in commanding at high levels; but none of that, to me, makes Model a genius. He retrieved situations that others did not because he never gave up, never gave in, was always right there setting the example for his soldiers. In that particular war, where half Germany's fighting strength melted away after the first winter and huge efforts were needed just to survive the elements, the value of a high ranking officer in the thick of it all cannot be overstated.
Stein provides a valuable service for novice readers in the WWII literature by identifying the good, the bad and the useless of the genre. His treatment of Görlitz shows the problem with so much "history" today - it's journalism, not history, and often not even good journalism. It's glib and trendy and superficial rather than painstakingly assembled and constantly reexamined. Stein gives the example of his own earlier Model book (in German) having mistakes in it that he didn't catch, but that other professional historians did. They gave him his due but also hit him hard over the errors. Over time, and after constant review of the literature, he came to see that the criticisms were valid. That's the mark of the true historian - his interest is in getting it right. Hence Stein feels no qualms in beating up lesser efforts on Model such as Steven Newton's. One visualizes Stein waving his hand as at a gnat: "Get away from me, boy, ya bother me." Since he also notes the strengths of Newton's book, Stein is saying, at a distance, that Newton let his book out of his own hands way too soon.
I notice that another reviewer hits Stein for saying "Model knew everything" and that all the Nazi generals did. Yet this just seems common sense to me. I was ten in 1959 when my interest in WWII was first pricked by some of the early books coming out about the Holocaust. Over the next several years I watched as the public seemed to buy into the notion that such a gigantic operation could be successfully kept under wraps. Seemed silly to me then and still seems silly to me today. The Holocaust had for decades been brewing in Eastern Europe before the Nazis got around to it. It never seemed realistic to me, even at earlier ages, to think high ranking Nazis didn't know pretty much all about it. In the end, it came down to what interested them. They had battles to win, medals to earn, promotions to grab. They cared about making war and advancing in their own insulated world. They didn't care about Jews or Poles or Soviet POW's.
An aside to all this could well be a thesis on the place of arrogance in civilizations thru the ages. In brief, the idea would be that progress requires arrogance, and the nations that achieve the most must also have arrogance in their important institutions. Prussian arrogance just about breathes from the pages of this book. Tuchmann told us about "the Berlin Guards tone" of 1908, and so on. Obviously arrogance took the Nazis down, but British arrogance had beneficial effects during the 19th Century in stamping out suttee in Indian, ending the transoceanic slave trade, and spreading the idea of human liberty. Today we hear much about American arrogance, but it has always seemed to me that Americans generally are the least arrogant folks who ever strode across the plain. Point is that arrogance is central to both the excellent and the awful.
One could say so much more about this superb book, and what it implies about today and yada yada, but one must stop somewhere.
This is a fantastic book with lots of context. The author's knowledge is great - hardly surpassed by other authors I've read (I owe hundreds of them). It is quite sharp with many judgements which I agree with most them. It is not an orthodox bio which frequently been written as boring chronology. Rather it picked up interesting moments to analyze the characteristics of Model.
It certainly is not 1-star as given by Forczyk whose books I also enjoyed. I think Forczyk was somewhat turned off by the Stein's criticism to Newton etc. But I think the criticism are justified as Stein did point out the flaws in Newton's book (I found the same error regarding Hans Zorn as Stein did, before reading Stein's book). As for Kurowski and Carrel, their reputation nowadays are quite low. So I am not sure why Forczyk tried to defend them. The dispute of "most wehrmacht generals are nazi generals" is more about semantics than substance and I agree with Stein's observations on their support of Hitler and nazi before the war turned unfavorably.On the other hand, Stein's usage of "nazi generals" is not conformal with current ones (meaning who actively supported and participated Nazism, like Reichenau, Busch).
As one part I do not like, Stein frequently cited holocaust as a negative against Wehrmacht and its members. While it is true and I have read enough on the subject (Bartov etc), I would like more contents on Model and his thoughts, decisions etc.
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