A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the Eastern Front
Princeton University Press 2011
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 12, 2011 Jay Lockenour
Konrad H. Jarausch, whose varied and important works on German history have been required reading for scholars for several decades, has published Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier’s Letters from the Eastern Front (Princeton University Press, 2011), a collection of his father’s missives from Poland and Russia during the early years of the Second World War, now translated into English. As you can imagine, this was an intensely personal project, and one that says almost as much about the postwar generation of “fatherless children” like Jarausch as it reveals about men like his father (also named Konrad) who found themselves in the cauldron of war.
Jarausch seems to resist the comparison but I liken this work to Victor Klemperer’s diaries, I Shall Bear Witness, that were published with great fanfare almost fifteen years ago. The circumstances of the two men were vastly different (Klemperer was converted Jew, married to an “Aryan,” living in Dresden during the years of Nazi rule). But both men were deeply humanist members of Germany’s educated middle class (Bildungsburgertum) who saw their fellow Germans go insane and take the nation they loved down the path of moral and physical ruin.
This work is of special interest to military historians because the elder Jarausch documents areas of activity rarely touched upon by other Wehrmacht memoirists and writers. Too old to serve in the combat arm, Jarausch spent his time in rear areas in Poland and the Soviet Union, training recruits and guarding prisoners. In clear and often touching prose, Jarausch documents both the drudgery and the deadly dilemmas of service in Hitler’s army.