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Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying, The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWS Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 25, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“These extraordinary bugged conversations reveal through the eyes of German soldiers with stark clarity and candor the often brutal reality of the Second World War, providing remarkable insight into the mentality and behavior of the Wehrmacht.” —Sir Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler: A Biography

“The myth that Nazi –era German armed forces [were] not involved in war crimes persisted for decades after the war. Now two German researchers have destroyed it once and for all. . . .The material [they] have uncovered in British and American archives is nothing short of sensational. . . .[Soldaten] has the potential to change our view of the war.” —Der Spiegel (Germany)
“This should be required reading for all those who believe that wars could be done cleanly.” —Martin Meier, Neues Deutschland
“A significant contribution on the mental history of the Wehrmacht . . . The authors have written an incredibly readable book.” —Die Zeit
“An equally fascinating and shocking book about the everyday madness of the Nazi war of extermination, which once again confirms Hannah Arendt’s thesis about the ‘banality of evil’ . . . A scholarly sensation.” —Goethe Institut 

About the Author

SÖNKE NEITZEL is currently Chair of International History at the London School of Economics. He has previously taught modern history at the Universities of Glasgow, Saarbrücken, Bern, and Mainz.
Harald Welzer is a professor of transformation design at the University of Flensburg, teaches social psychology at the University of Sankt Gallen, and is head of the foundation Futurzwei.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307958124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307958129
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book deals with transcripts of conversations between lower ranking (below general officer in most cases) German POWs that were on file at the British National Archives (formerly Public Records Office). These documents were "discovered" by Sonke Neitzel in 2001. Realizing that there were far too many transcripts for him to process alone, he enlisted the assistance of Harald Welzer. Their combined efforts resulted in a German language account published in 2011. A year later, this English edition followed.

The material in the book is arranged thematically, rather than geographically or chronologically. I believe this to have been a fundamental mistake. The narrative jumps from unit to unit, battle to battle, and service to service. I think it would have been a much better book if the material had been organized by campaign (difficult perhaps for the earlier ones because not many Germans were captured by the British but perhaps enough POWs tended to wax nostalgically for the "good old days" when their side was winning). I suspect that there were reams of material on the air war, the naval war - at least for submariners, North Africa/Tunisia, Italy and the Battle of France. I would also think that sufficient material existed for separate chapters (not snippets) on German allies and on interservice rivalry within the German military, as well as perhaps one on civil-military relations both in Germany and occupied countries.

But the authors did not choose to focus on those topics. Instead, as one might expect from a sociological or psychological perspective, you find chapters on 1.) What the Soldiers Discussed, 2.) The Soldiers World, 3.) Fighting, Killing, and Dying, 4.) Frame of Reference: Annihilation, 5.) Sex, 6.) Technology, 7.) Faith in Victory, 8.) Ideology, 9.
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Format: Hardcover
When picking this up, I did so under the impression that most of the book would be reproductions of the actual transcripts. Instead, as others have pointed out, they are only a fraction of it, supporting evidence for the authors' theses on the military mind. This was not what I had expected, and I would have prefered more primary data. Still, the product remains extraordinary.

First there are the conversations, and these are sometimes simply amazing. Especially captivating is the everyday and "ordinary" way in which the war is discussed. One recognizes the style, sometimes even jargon of young men generally and soldiers especially. Men in barracks in the US, UK, France, Germany today will sound almost exactly like this. Luftwaffe pilots talk about technology and "kills" in much the same way as modern computer game nerds. Soldiers discuss sights, restaurants and billings in cities they have been garrisoned in, much like tourists. They complain about politics, working conditions, useless fellow soldiers in a way any worker could probably relate to. They talk a lot about women.

And then -- right out of the blue -- one might mention offhand how he got invited to a mass execution of Jews once, but declined because he thought it was creepy. Or another might reminisce about a pretty Jewess he knew a bit once, who was shot. "She was quite a nice type, too. It was just her bad luck that she had to die with the others."

Yes ... Incredibly interesting documents, which both cast some new light on German atrocities and -- paradoxically, it might seem to some -- greatly humanize the men who sometimes suspected, sometimes knew of, sometimes even participated in them. The point is really made that these were "Ordinary Men" just like us ...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is a translation of a German book that includes numerous English translated verbatim transcriptions of surreptitious recordings of German POW's. The most interesting portion of the book is at the beginning where based on the recordings it is quite clear that the average German soldier knew about and not infrequently participated in atrocities against Jews, Russian and other civilians. Most soldiers required almost no transition between civilian and war criminal. Stories included pilots who told of specifically shooting their machine guns at women and children on purpose sometimes to the detriment of hitting actual military targets. The stories are very chilling.

The last book becomes a little weaker when it does a lot more analysis and gets away from the quotes from the soldiers. The book tries to make a case that group-think would cause many to act the same way. Although that was not what the authors were trying to do they almost excuse some of the genocidal behavior because that was the average persons behavior. The book does not focus on the fact that leaders were driving the genocidal policies. It does not focus on the command and control structure (which is discussed on how that same structure contributed to atrocities) could have prevented many war crimes. The book tries to throw in some anecdotes from Vietnam and Afghanistan implying that the destruction of villages was in the same league as what Germany did to civilians (when did the Nazi regime have a trial of soldiers like the US did for Mi Lai).

It still is a very thought provoking book. Probably a good read for military personnel and police departments to beware of the dangers of over-identifying with your group's frame of reference to that of your civilian society's goals.
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