Prussian Apocalypse: The Fall of Danzig 1945 Hardcover – 17 Nov 2011
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I did find this a little difficult to read though since it is written in British English. For those who can read in German, this book is a translation of "Danziger Bucht 1945: Dokumentation einer Katastrophe".
Additionally if you find this time period compelling you might also try "Germany 1945 by Richard Bessel"
Egbert Kieser is a well-known German writer who studies philosophy and history at Heidelberg University. He is best known among English readers for OPERATION SEA LION: THE GERMAN PLAN TO INVADE BRITAIN, 1940.
PRUSSIAN APOCALYPSE was translated from German into English by Tony Le Tissier, an Englishman with numerous publications including THE BATTLE OF BERLIN 1945 to his credit. His translation demands a lot from the reader. Being of Prussian descent myself, I knew what "panje horses" and "panje wagons" were, but most readers won't. "Panje" is old Prussian slang for "Polish" or "Russian" and it has a negative connotation. A "panje horse" is a shaggy, untended mustang used by poor people who couldn't afford good horses like the Trakehners bred for the Kaiser around Insterburg. "Panje wagons" were likewise small, cobbled-together farm wagons used by people who couldn't afford anything better. This is the kind of term that needs to be clarified in a glossary, which this book lacks, or explained in a footnote, which this book also lacks. It also lacks an index.
Esoteric terms like this are sprinkled all through PRUSSIAN ACOPALYPSE. There are numerous references to refugees directed to a "chausee" and obstructed by a "Golden Pheasant" until they find themselves back in a "cauldron." "Chausee" is French for causeway, or roadway. In East Prussia, these were often elevated to because of low-lying wet ground. "Golden Pheasants" was a derogatory term for a Nazi Party official in his brown uniform with gold braid. "Cauldrons" were what soldiers today might call "kill boxes." They were areas into which heavy fire was directed.
There were also some editing errors. A prominent East Prussian family is described as "Sternberg" on p. 14 and "Steinberg" on p. 15.
For students of the Eastern Front, this book will be useful. It will be difficult for non-specialists, especially in the USA. It does have a lot of information and some useful maps. It has no photographs or other illustrations, however, and it desperately needs good annotations (or a good glossary, or both) a real bibliography and an index.
The author mentions Soviet atrocities against Prussian civilians (especially women and girls), in passing, but seems a bit too prim to get into the sordid details of it. Nemmersdorf, for example, is barely mentioned. Nobody can accuse Herr Kieser of exploiting what has been called "the pornography of violence", but his approach masks the terror that pervaded almost every aspect of the flight west from the Red Army.
I hope the publishers bring out a new edition of this book with the changes I've mentioned. If they do, I'd be happy to give it five stars. Until then, it's a three star book. It's good, but it could be a lot better.
This book sheds valuabe light on these unknown battles such as Danzig, Konigsberg, and Pillau. Russian aircraft targeted fleeing civilians and strafed them. Russian submarines targeted Red Cross ships loaded with fleeing German civilians and sank them. Russian troops raped and shot through East Prussia. No wonder German citizens didn't want to be captured by the Red Army. This shows the lost battles of East Prussia and why the Germans were so unprepared for the final battles. German civilians fled in the winter to port cities for a chance at evacuation. Many died from the elements of winter.
The author shows how the Golden Pheasants (Nazi Party high officials) often did not want to evacuate, and risked the lives of their charges. These same Golden Pheasants also were the ones who survived the loss of territory, since they had enough food and clothing. These golden pheasants fought to the last citizen, and then escaped west.
This is a good read about a lost battle. The translation was OK from German. The author introduces so many characters, that it is hard to follow all these individual stories about the war. I thought this a good read even with all the characters that inhabit each chapter.
The book suffers from a lack of clearly defined central themes and or characters. Yes, it is "about" the fall of Danzig and Prussia to the Russians in January 1945, but the narrative is choppy, haphazardly presented and a mish-mash of confusing details. Characters enter the narrative identified only by a last name or a title with no rationale for their appearance other than they performed a specific task and just as quickly disappear from the story. There is very little, in any, character development or background on any of the people in this book other than they are a farmer or doctor, for example.
While it is difficult to follow what obviously was a very chaotic and torturous evacuation of Prussia in the middle of winter, the author neglected to organize the story into a comprehensive and flowing narrative. Instead he appears to have collected hundreds(?) of personal rememberances and compiled them into a single document. It's like listening to your parents talk of their youth with them referring to people you don't even know, and you have to continually quiz them on the person's identity and relevance to the story.
The book also lacks a glossary where the reader can learn what are the different types of wagons, guns, clothng, etc. when they are referenced in the text. The book also needs better maps as there are several dozen towns, villages, or cities that get mentioned but the reader is left having no idea where they are in terms of the story. People go hither and yon but the reader is left in the dark because the locations are omitted from the maps.
The translation also suffers in both German-to-English and British-to-American leaving the reader confused and frustrated.
In spite of all this, there is a story to be told about the fall of Prussia and Danzig. Regretfully, it was poorly told by this author and translator.