the link http://www.dawn.com/2003/08/22/int16.htmSoldier's WWII diary tells of guilt
By David Crossland .
Willy Peter Reese, an infantryman who fought on the Russian front and died in 1944 aged 23, kept a diary of how German soldiers killed scores of prisoners of war, committed rape, threw pregnant women and children out of their homes and stole food.
Stern magazine has printed excerpts of Reese's graphic book, "Stranger to Myself", ahead of its publication this month. BERLIN: A guilt-ridden account of an ordinary German soldier's experiences in World War Two is countering a recent trend among historians to portray Germans as victims of the war
"We were without feeling for the suffering of others," Reese wrote. "We bragged about what we had conquered and about the effect a pistol could have on a defenceless woman."
Reese, a slight man with round spectacles who wrote poems and was keen on literature and the arts, typed the diary into a manuscript during his last leave in 1944.
His mother kept it for decades. After her death, it was passed on to his cousin who set about seeking a publisher.
"He chronicled his own degeneration, that's what attracted us to his work," said Claus Carlsberg, spokesman for the Ullstein-Heyne-List publishing house.
"I think this text could help break the silence between the generations. Almost everyone has a relative who was a soldier, and the soldiers tend to be reluctant to talk about it."
Reese's account shows how the Nazi war machine corrupted ordinary people. It gives an insight into how a cultured, educated nation obediently followed Hitler into a war of conquest and destruction.
SETTING RECORD STRAIGHT: The book also contrasts with a recent focus that, according to historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler, has been threatening to obscure the country's view of its past.
Books, magazine articles and TV documentaries have in the past two years shifted the historical debate to the suffering of Germans in Allied bombing raids and their mass eviction from eastern territories after the war.
Wehler, a historian at Bielefeld University, said: "We mustn't forget it was Germany that launched total war, that the British with their bombings were reacting to the German Blitz.
"We have to prevent history getting totally distorted. I find this view sinister if it isn't embedded in the right context."
Reese, the son of a tax accountant, was a 20-year-old trainee bank clerk in the western city of Duisburg when he was called up in February 1941.
He was transferred to the eastern front in late 1941, and fought in the 95th Infrantry Division in Ukraine, Belarus, west of Moscow and in southern Russia.
With brutal honesty, Reese describes being part of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, the most ruthless, bloody and gigantic military assault in history.
"The dead piled up and the desperate fought on behind the walls of their corpses. My comrades fell, blown to pieces by direct hits, wounded or with nervous breakdowns," he wrote.
His diaries tell of cruelty and rape by ordinary German soldiers, and track their decline into a numb, alcoholic stupor as "an inferno of fire, steel and blood" raged around them.
"We danced in the railway carriages and fired into the air, made a captured Russian woman dance naked for us and smeared her with boot polish, we made her as drunk as we were," wrote Reese.
Germans had long clung to the notion that it was only Hitler's SS troops, and not ordinary soldiers - their fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles - who killed Jews, Soviet prisoners of war and civilians. But since the 1990s, a controversial touring exhibition on the Wehrmacht's war against the Soviet Union, with photographs, documents and eyewitness accounts, has disproved that view.
Reese hated the Nazis but had a simple explanation for his obedience. "We didn't want this. But we preferred to submit ourselves to the fate of battle...than to the certain death through the courts."
Wounded several times, Reese volunteered to return to the front. He wrote that his soul had "rotted" and that he was "lost". The last words in his manuscript are "I loved life."
Reese went missing in June 1944 near the Belarus town of Witebsk, some 500 km west of Moscow, as the Germany army struggled to slow the Soviet advance towards Berlin.
Twenty-five years later, the Red Cross informed his mother that he was probably killed in action.-
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So these wacky leftistsSo much for the credibility and intellectual honesty of the Leftists who put this exhibition together. For them, any photo showing German soldiers standing near piles of bodies was an indication of a German atrocity.
a) Set up an independent commission of academics unaffiliated with the Hamburg Institute to research the images in the exhibition.
b) Provided updates to the investigation with press releases, responded to critics and even provided an email address for correspondence.
c) Stopped the tour for roughly a year, checking and cross checking the images of the exhibition, until the charges of fraud could be resolved.
d) Allowed the independent commission to fact & cross check the images under question with archived primary source documentation - in fact ALL the exhibition's images, not just the disputed ones, were reviewed.
e) Revised the entire structure of the exhibition in response to the critique and subsequent investigation.
This doesn't sound like a Soviet show-trial. It sounds like academics using standard historical investigative processes to assess, review, and revise an exhibition. As a result of their investigation, the exhibit became more focused and factual.
There doesn't seem to be anything "leftish" about the Institute and/or the committee's approach. Labeling them "Leftists" sounds like a standard ad hominem riposte: if you don't like the message, smear the messenger. The Wehrmacht didn't commit crimes in WWII, it's only the Commies who say they did.
Postwar German society has had a difficult time facing up to the crimes of the Third Reich. I'm sure if these exhibit were about 18th Century Chinese textiles riddled with errors, no one would care enough to protest, or even notice. But this has been a very hot button issue for Germans. No one wanted to think dear old dapple-eyed Grandpa Jochen of the Heer's 299th Infantry Division could have participated in reprisal actions against Soviet civilians or mass executions of Jews. But the exhibition raises that question of complicity. And for those elements who admire the Third Reich, this exhibit has been like a Red flag waved in front of a bull (in more ways than one, apparently).
Speaking of intellectual honesty, I think we have to clarify the facts here. In Oct 1999, Bogdan Musial took issue with NINE of the EIGHT-HUNDRED photographs in the exhibition.(See Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau p. 380 and footnote #37.) - or about 1% of the photographs. In fact, only one photo in particular (p. 44, photo 3 in the exhibition book The German Army and Genocide) continued to be contentious until the commission was able to find a witness to verify the authenticity of the photo.*He demonstrated that a number of photos that were claimed to show German atrocities were actually showing the discovery of the bodies of prisoners who had been massacred by their NKVD guards in the first week after the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
* The photo shows an officer of the Heer's Großdeutschland Regiment giving a coup de grace shot with a pistol to the person in a pile of bodies next to a cemetery wall. The Heer officer is standing next to a SS officer. This incident is the reprisal execution of 36 Serbian civilians for one German soldier killed and one wounded. The photo (one of a series) depicts the execution of 14 of the victims along the Pancevo cemetery wall on April 22, 1941 by a Großdeutschland execution squad. The photo was claimed to be a fake until a witness vouched for its veracity. BTW the witness thought the reprisal killing was justified.
The exhibition contains a lot of photos - many of which taken by official German Army propaganda companies such as 6th Army's PK 637. Many of these photos have been previously published in other books with no outcry. But the exhibition isn't just photographs but also primary source documentation such as letters, diaries and official primary source documents from the WWII Wehrmacht itself.
Given what we know about
- Operation Barbarossa,
- The Commissar Order,
- The Barbarossa Order
- Standard German WWII counterinsurgency policy
- The Holocaust
The exhibition shows us what we already understand in the abstract. It just puts a human face on the perpetrators, which of course is quite disturbing, not just to Germans but to all. To crib a book title from Christopher Browning, "ordinary men" committed in some extraordinary crimes.
The exhibit is also online at http://www.his-online.de/veranst/ausstell/vernicht.htm
BTW the book The German Army and Genocide includes an afterward by Jan Philipp Reemtsma titled "On the Reception of the Exhibition in Germany and Austria" which discusses the reaction to the show and the controversy regarding the exhibit. The book also attributes the archive for every single photograph, includes accurate captions backed up with photostats and quotes from primary source documentation. It is probably one of the most well-researched and well-documented photographic studies on WWII ever published.
Of course, some refuse to believe no matter how much fact-checking and documented evidence can be applied and thus continue to label the exhibit as intellectually dishonest.
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To be precise, Reemtsma is a Dutch Frisian name. To answer your question: why are some americans called Schulz (german name) or Roosevelt (dutch name)? Probably a descendent of a dutch immigrant.Dan wrote:It is possible that instead of liars they are just brainwashed, or perhaps somewhat ignorant.You have zero evidence for this assertion.
But why is someone with a Dutch sounding last name in charge of this exhibit? Just curious.
Here is a bio of Profesoor Dr. Dr. J. Reemtsma in German:
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http://www.goethe.de/in/d/frames/pub/kc ... trait.html
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The intent of the exhibit is not to call into question the honor of every German veteran nor call them criminals or murderers. The intent is to call into question the complicity of the Wehrmacht as an institution in the Nazi genocidal policies. Heretofore, a large segment of the German population, both right and left, believed that the Wehrmacht, as an institution, had a spotless or near spotless record; that it was the SS who committed the crimes, not the Wehrmacht.Beppo Schmidt wrote:German veterans in general deserve to be respected, not constantly called criminals and murderers.
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The Wehrmacht did commit crimes, and most of the material presented in the exhibition is a truthful record of those crimes. But the crimes were committed in a particular context, where the men of the Wehrmacht were brought face to face for the first time with the enormity of the crimes of the Soviet regime, which culminated in the mass killings perpetrated as the Red Army and NKVD retreated. As Musial shows in the book I have quoted elsewhere, it was largely the German reaction to the evidence of Soviet frightfulness that caused the radicalisation and barbarisation of warfare in which the Wehrmacht crimes took place.
The Wehrmacht exhibition ignores that context, and presents the barbaric nature of the war in the East as due solely to the National Socialist ideology impressed on the minds of the German soldiers.
Worse than that, the administrators of the exhibition not only ignored Soviet crimes, they actually attributed them to the Wehrmacht, falsely labelling pictures showing the victims of NKVD massacres as depicting German crimes.
The falsification stood until revealed by critics like Musial; if he had not spoken up, the falsified material would have remained in the exhibition. And the leftists of the Hamburg Institute did not immediately respond to the criticism by Musial; they at first brushed it off, and it was not until after a lot of criticism in the press that they were dragged kicking and screaming into a review of the contentious material.
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Are you actually trying to say that what a few hundred, perhaps at most thousand Wehrmacht soldiers saw in June/July of 1941 affected what soldiers later on did in 1942-1944 in the Soviet Union's territory? That's very presumptuous.michael mills wrote: The Wehrmacht did commit crimes, and most of the material presented in the exhibition is a truthful record of those crimes. But the crimes were committed in a particular context, where the men of the Wehrmacht were brought face to face for the first time with the enormity of the crimes of the Soviet regime, which culminated in the mass killings perpetrated as the Red Army and NKVD retreated. As Musial shows in the book I have quoted elsewhere, it was largely the German reaction to the evidence of Soviet frightfulness that caused the radicalisation and barbarisation of warfare in which the Wehrmacht crimes took place.