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"...an important resource for anyone interested in the Eastern Front as well as those who want a realistic look at the terrors of war. It is gripping and paints one of the clearest pictures ever of how war is horrendous. Christine Alexander and Mason Kuntze deserve a big thank you for the editing and translation of this project." --Jimmie Kepler, Kepler's Military History Book Reviews, November 2013
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A diary from a Wehrmacht soldier participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union is an extremely rare find, especially one this forthcoming. Hans Roth's notes, commentary, descriptions, and candid portray of the fighting on the Eastern Front are a necessity for those interested in the clash between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Most importantly, as pointed out by the editors, the grandson and granddaughter of the author, this diary was written by Roth as the events he described were unfolding, not years or decades after-the-fact. Thus, what we have before us is a depiction of the author's thoughts with little if any self-censorship. The editorial notes, evident throughout the text, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. At times they are helpful but there is also evidence of the editors' naiveté when it comes to the Eastern Front, i.e. assigning Soviet victory outside Moscow in 1941/42 to 'General Winter' and 'Siberian' divisions. Furthermore, there are quite a few editing mistakes throughout the text. Not enough to take away from the reading, but enough to be noticed on a more or less regular basis.
While what Roth sees is limited to his field of vision, there is still some validity in knowing his train of thought at any given moment. For instance, before the invasion of the Soviet Union I was surprised to read that on June 15, 1941, Roth posits that "Russian scouts were on our side of the river [Bug] last night..." (23) Having read on the Eastern Front for over a decade, I have yet to encounter any discussion of Soviet scout missions behind German lines before June 22nd, especially considering the fact that Stalin and the Soviet high command regularly had orders going out that no provocation(s) should be made against German forces.Read more ›
I've read a lot of the English language literature on the Eastern Front. In my opinion this is one of the most incredible books on the topic, especially because it goes day by day for substantial parts of the first two years. He is particularly good at describing the settings, the repeated role of luck in his survival, and the endless Russian assaults he had to endure. Although I've read about many of the combat events he describes, I can't recall reading about so many in one source. For example, his reports of daily strafings and massed Russian assualts is something I have normally associated with 1942 and 1943 in many accounts, yet he describes them happening repeatedly in the summer of 1941. One can also detect his exhaustion and disillusionment with the war growing over time, because by 1943 he often fails to provide dates for his description of events--something that naturally happens after many months of just trying to survive the "eastern inferno."
This is one of those rare WW2 books, much like Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier, that will stick with you long after you have finished reading it.
First, full disclosure: Christine Alexander is my brother Frank's wife.
I am a huge WWII history buff, so when Christine and her brother Mason offered me an early look at the journal translations in the fall of 2009, I was thrilled.
The journal is both remarkable in its specificity and appalling in its overarching picture of unrelenting savagery. Although Germany started this war by violating its 1941 peace treaty with the Soviet Union and invading, and has been appropriately condemned in courts both legal and historical, there simply were no good guys in this war.
In one anecdote, the Soviets, to cite just two of the author's accounts, marched their own hospital patients at gunpoint through German minefields to detonate the mines, thus minimizing *military* casualties before attacking the German position. In another, the Germans execute several young Soviet partisans, including teenage girls, whose family members were being held hostage by the Soviets and threatened with death if they did not strike against the Germans -- and if they did not return. The author reports that he and his comrades, combat veterans ("front hogs") though they were, were severely shaken by this event: They were used to killing, and they knew, rationally, that partisans who weren't executed would only live again to detonate an explosive device under their vehicles or slit a sentry's throat. But shooting down teenage girls in cold blood was NOT what they had signed up for.
I don't know how common first-person accounts such as this of fighting on the Eastern Front are, but I can't imagine they're plentiful. For one thing, millions upon millions of participants died, and most of those who survived did so with barely the clothes on their backs.Read more ›
Sometimes history is presented in such a general manner that end results often overshadow the reality of events that lead to those results; this often leads to misperceptions, dare I say "myths", regarding what really happened. World War II is rife with such generalizations, especially the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union, where four bitter years of brutality are often summarized in only a few sentences. But, occasionally, a lone voice emerges that can provide an honest and refreshing view of events and even contradict popular belief by providing a first-hand, moment-by-moment account of events as they happened ... EASTERN INFERNO is such an example.
As the men and women who survived World War II rapidly vanish from the world's population, new information, stories and details of the war continues to flow at an exponential rate. Christine Alexander and Mason Kunze have published three (of possibly four) volumes of their grandfather Hans Roth's wartime journal. Roth, a German soldier (specifically an anti-tank soldier) who participated in the war on the Eastern Front from the initial German invasion of the Soviet Union through the retreat from Stalingrad, provides a unique perspective of those early days of the conflict. Unflinching and brutal at times, the journal sheds new light on the initial months of the "war in the East" by contradicting the ease of the German advance into the Soviet Union. Roth also conveys the deplorable conditions in which the war was fought, the atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict, the unfathomable destruction of life and material, the filth and the miserable weather.Read more ›
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