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Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  468 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
On a visit to the British National Archive in 2001, Sonke Neitzel made a remarkable discovery: reams of meticulously transcribed conversations among German POWs that had been covertly recorded & recently declassified. Netizel would later find another collection of transcriptions, twice as extensive, in the National Archive in Washington. These were discoveries that wou ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 25th 2012 by Knopf (first published 2011)
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Piotr I'm afraid so, to a degree. My impression is that the source is not a will to whitewash II WW-era Germans, but contemporary German pacifism. It's like…moreI'm afraid so, to a degree. My impression is that the source is not a will to whitewash II WW-era Germans, but contemporary German pacifism. It's like they, as a nation, went from one extreme to another.

While most of the book is solid analysis of very interesting material, final chapter adds some examples of non-German cruelty to equalize things that shouldn't be equalized. Psychological and societal mechanism of being a soldier may be constant throughout history, but even from this book it's clear that the consequences of these mechanisms differ - in permissive, even encouraging Third Reich, established in already militaristic Germany - these consequences were far more dire than in any of the American wars. Ok, Wehrmacht soldiers were regular human beings acting after pressures of their surroundings. That doesn't mean there's no substantial difference between II WW, Vietnam and Iraq. And German authors should be really careful while driving bold conclusions about such matters.(less)

Community Reviews

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Charles Weinblatt
Feb 06, 2013 Charles Weinblatt rated it really liked it
“They seized three year-old Jewish children by the hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol. The Latvians and German soldiers were standing there, looking on. The whole thing sounds just like a fairy story. If one were to destroy all the Jews in the world simultaneously, there would not remain a single accuser” (laughing).

During World War II, a large number of German soldiers were captured and interrogated by British Intelligence agents. The authors of this book uncovered almost 800 pages
David Bird
Nov 19, 2012 David Bird rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-extremis
This is an important book. It makes one sit a little less complacently in one's skin. It has the courage to trace a line from ordinary humanity to the ordinary German soldier to the commission of atrocities.

One is reminded throughout that it's a German academic book; infelicities of translation abound. But being reminded of its Germanness is often a good thing, because one also realizes that the authors, had they been in a different generation, would have been likely to have been combatants rat
Jun 24, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it
This book provides a fascinating insight into the values, beliefs and experiences of German Wehrmacht soldiers who fought in World War II. Based on thousands of protocols made from secret recordings of German internees in POW camps in both the US and UK, Soldaten explores the compelling, and often meandering, chats that imprisoned soldiers had about the war, combat, crimes against humanity, morale, women and the German state. This unvarnished window into soldiers’ lives and beliefs is both enlig ...more
Jan 19, 2017 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german, war, wwii, nonfiction
Excerpted transcripts of the recorded conversations of German PoWs in the United Kingdom and United States, with extensive commentary and analysis.

Focus on specific aspects of the experience of war, with the main thesis that the extensive brutality was perceived as normal operating procedure for the vast majority of troops, and that no ideological indoctrination was necessary for it. Even more striking is the total refutation of the 'Clean Wehrmacht' myth - that few soldiers in the German army
Bas Kreuger
May 16, 2013 Bas Kreuger rated it really liked it
Disturbing book as it shows how thin the line is between 'normal' civilised peacetime behaviour and (also normal) wartime behavior and thinking.
The best example was at the very end of the book where the attack by American soldiers in Iraq was described from an Apache attack helicopter against unarmed civilians and it was shown how their state of mind was so pre-conditioned that there was hardly any possibility for them to see those unarmed civilians as anything else than armed insurgents. The pi
Apr 09, 2013 Roger rated it it was ok
This is a fascinating book with an odd premise. One of the authors, in the course of research, stumbled across the little-known fact that during World War II both the British and Americans bugged their POW camps, and transcribed tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pages of conversations between the inmates. This was done during the War for intelligence purposes, and after the conflict the transcripts were filed away in archives. This resource is a treasure trove for historians and has, and no ...more
Michael Flanagan
Nov 30, 2012 Michael Flanagan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww-2
For me this book ticked all the boxes and was a highly enjoyable read. It takes the time to explain the mind set of Werchmat soldiers and explains how the normalization of violence experienced by any front line troops occurs. A fantastic study into the world during the war and those who fought it. Through the transcripts of German POW's the author pulls apart the social and human aspects of war and soldiers and shows it in a crystal clear perspective. This book should be mandatory reading of any ...more
Gabriele Goldstone
Dec 29, 2012 Gabriele Goldstone rated it really liked it
I couldn't stop reading this book. I kept thinking of my dad (and other family members) - the Luftwaffe pilots, Eastern Front soldiers, POWs. This book has helped fill in some of the blanks. Quite a lot of ground is covered. And it's a book I'm sure I'll refer to back over and over. My favorite quote is on page 337 by Willy Peter Reese: "Just like winter clothing covers up almost all of you except for your eyes, the fact of being a soldier only allowed space for tiny bits of individuality." So g ...more
Apr 30, 2015 Dschreiber rated it really liked it
In 2001 historian Sönke Neitzel, a visiting lecturer from Germany at the University of Glasgow, was reading a book on the Battle of the Atlantic when was surprised to come across several pages reporting the secretly recorded conversations of POWs from German U-boats. Reports based on interrogations were well known to him, but not transcriptions of private conversations recorded by hidden microphones in POW camps. Intrigued, although expecting very little, he took a trip to London and requested t ...more
Regina Polli
Esse livro, apesar de trazer um documento histórico incrível e imprescindível, pode também ser muito atual e revelar muito de nossa sociedade hoje, em pleno século XXI, mostrando que ou a história é mesmo cíclica ou a humanidade em geral não evoluiu em nada!

Para começar podemos ver que a espionagem é algo que vem de muito tempo atrás, então WikiLeaks e Snowden só vieram mesmo para revelar algo que existia – e ainda deve existir, pois duvido que os governos vão deixar uma arma dessas para trás! M
Matthew Tree
Apr 04, 2013 Matthew Tree rated it liked it
During World War II, the British and Americans bugged the living quarters of several thousand selected German and Italian POWs who they suspected could provide interesting information for the Allied war effort. The protocols or transcripts of these conversations, only recently discovered and released, give an extraordinary insight into the mentality of the soldiers fighting on the Fascist/Nazi side. We discover, among other things, that right from the beginning of the war, German airmen saw Brit ...more
Raul Magdalena descubrimiento en el 2001 de 150.000 páginas de transcripciones de escuchas realizadas a prisioneros de guerra alemanes sin su conocimiento es la base de este libro.[return[returnMuchas veces he leído comentarios y opiniones del tipo "la locura nazi", "monstruosidad nacionalsolicalista", "la demencia de Hitler" y por el estilo, sino con las mismas palabras si con otros adjetivos que igualmente denotaban locura, demencia o monstruosidad como explicación de ...more
Jan 21, 2017 Ietrio rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
The blurb says "a powerful narrative." And that says it all. A fairy tale based on shallow observations from two academic bureaucrats.

"Medicinal statistics document the level of sexual activity among soldiers. At a field hospital in Kiev, for example, doctors spent most of their time treating skin and venereal diseases."

Of course the folder says skin and venereal diseases. But how does the reader know there wasn't a terrible eczema because of the ink used to print the portraits with the beautifu
Feb 11, 2014 Lucinda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the most disturbing book I have ever read, by far.

It consists of the presentation of secretly recorded conversations that occurred between German POWs while they were being held in camps during the war. What these soldiers say, then, presents more clearly than any memoir or later testimony, the way they saw things at the time as they occurred. Neitzel and Welzer, a historian and social psychologist, attempt to analyze these conversations so as to come to grips with how regular soldiers a
This is a fascinating book.

The collaboration of historian Neitzel and social-psychologist Welzer makes for a very in-depth and analytical approach to interpreting the surveillance tapes. It does well at taking quotes from the POWs and forming conclusions based upon their conformity (or lack thereof) to other soldiers, backed up with other research and historical knowledge. It looks like good, balanced research, which acknowledges it's limitations but still reaches for reasonable assessments of
carl  theaker
Dec 28, 2012 carl theaker rated it liked it
Shelves: ww2

Though the title of this book includes the enticing

'The Secret World War 2 transcripts of German POWs'

there are precious few of the actual transcripts included,
perhaps a dozen or two of the 365 pages.

The two German authors, one an historian the other a social
psychologist, typically take a sentence or two from a protocol
(conversation) and examine it in the reference framework (reality)
of the soldiers and explain what they think it all means in the
world of violence, war and the culture of the R
Feb 20, 2013 Justin rated it really liked it
This is an extraordinary insight into the minds and experiences of German military personnel in the Second World War. Based on a heretofore untapped wealth of material recorded secretly between German prisoners of war (and indeed Italian and Japanese POWs as well - both covered briefly) conversing with each other in British and US POW camps, there is an extraordinary candidacy and immediacy that is not present in other sources; letters, diaries, interviews and memoirs inevitably present a differ ...more
Dec 20, 2012 Marko rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
This book is based on tapes found by a German researcher made by eavesdropping German prisoners of war by the British. Some times just ad hoc discussions but often initiated by spies. The intent was to gather intelligence but the tapes give an insight into the minds of the soldier.

It starts interestingly enough and I was captivated up until maybe half-way. Unfortunately the very dry scientific style added with lots of repetition made the book rather boring to read after that so I actually quit a
Roberto Carnier
Oct 22, 2015 Roberto Carnier rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Soldados é um livro importante que relata os aspectos sociais e psicológicos dos combatentes que lutaram pelo eixo durante a segunda guerra mundial.

Através de uma pesquisa profunda, possível de ser realizada através de transcrições obtidas dos serviços secretos britânicos e americanos, que relatavam a conversa dos prisioneiros de guerra, obtidas através de escutas implantadas nas celas desses, os autores compilaram diversos aspectos do cotidiano de soldados e oficiais, tais como ideologias, dia
Jul 27, 2012 Ericafoferica rated it really liked it
I won this book as a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.

I must say it took me quite awhile to finish due to the large amounts of information and analysis. However, I will say that the book gives quite an insight to the minds of the German Nazis during World War II. It comes as no shock what most of the Germans thought of the Jews, but to actually read what some of these soldiers really felt was heart wrenching. I was surprised to read transcripts of officers in high command who followed through with
Matti Karjalainen
Sönke Neitzelin ja Harald Welzerin "Sotilaat: taistelemisesta, tappamisesta ja kuolemisesta" (Gummerus, 2011) on kiinnostava tietokirja, jossa käsitellään saksalaisten ja osin myös italialaisten sotavankien näkemyksiä sotilaan elämästä toisen maailmansodan eri rintamilla.

Liittoutuneet keräsivät kirjan käsittelemän aineiston salakuuntelemalla sotavankien - niin tavallisten rivimiesten kuin korkeiden upseerienkin - käymiä keskusteluja, ja saivat näin todennäköisesti haltuunsa sellaista tietoa, jo
Erik Graff
Nov 15, 2012 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, esp. those thinking of enlistment
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: psychology
This book, coauthored by an historian and a psychologist, represents an overview of secret recordings made of German POWs during WWII. It is at once a history as well as a psycho-social study of the military mentality during war. While its focus is on German soldiers, its conclusions draw upon hosts of other studies which, together, suggest there is more in common between the forces of belligerant countries than there is difference. While its focus is on combat, the German attempts at genocide a ...more
Feb 01, 2015 Zivan rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-history, hebrew
An interesting combination of History ans Sociology, this book analyzes transcriptions of conversations between German and Italian POWs during WWII.

The raw material here is unique in its nature, as opposed to the usual fare of apologetic chronicles written after the fact.

Much effort was made to put the recorded conversations into context.

Sometimes the author's interpretation of the conversation is redundant as it is very clear what was said, but in most cases I gained insights.

I do take issue wi
Brent Venton
Oct 10, 2012 Brent Venton rated it really liked it
Probably a bit too heavy on social psychology (and too scholarly; cf. the Teutonically exhaustive bibliography) to find widespread appeal this is very interesting read nonetheless. The highlight is of course the transcripts of secretly recorded conversations of German POWs captured in WW2. While I have my doubts as to whether the author has not heavily edited these "unfiltered" conversations they are revealing and often chilling. While to hear normal every-day soldiers speak frankly about liquid ...more
T. Fowler
This a fascinating look at the unedited recorded conversations of German POWs held by the Allis during the Second World War, which the authors analyze in an attempt to get insight into the psychology of men who have particpated in war. The POWs were unaware that they were being recorded so the comments which arise in casual conversations reveal more about the beliefs and characters of these men than formal interviews or memoirs would. At the same time, the authors caution that some partcipants a ...more
M.R. Dowsing
Dec 02, 2012 M.R. Dowsing rated it really liked it
Co-written by a historian and a social psychologist, this book examines recently discovered transcripts of surreptitiously recorded conversations between German prisoners of war during WW2. The prisoners themselves are a fairly mixed bunch; some are highly astute, others incredibly stupid, some critical of the Nazi regime, others fanatical believers. For many of the prisoners, being witness to violent deaths was routine, and this is reflected in the shockingly casual way they talk about killing. ...more
Andrew Davis
Oct 15, 2015 Andrew Davis rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A story of German POWs in some english camps and their discussions recorded by hidden microphones and then transcribed for further use. Apart from an insight into crimes committed by Army and SS the authors discuss extensively each related story. They introduce a concept of a frame of reference to present a right context in which they should be received.
An interesting quote:
Despite the atrocities they described and their knowledge of the mass murder of Jews and the appalling treatment of Soviet
Oct 22, 2012 Diana rated it really liked it
During WWII, British and American captors secretly recorded the private conversations of German POWs in the hopes of gleaning valuable intelligence. This book is a translation from the German of some of these conversations.

Revealed therein are the prisoners' attitudes towards war as well as their own personal experiences. Particularly of interest to the authors, one a historian and the other a psychologist, is the fact that contrary to what was stated at the Nuremberg trials, they were well awa
Feb 27, 2017 David rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Only the most scholarly of readers
Recommended to David by: Probably a review in the WSJ
Goodreads has several very thorough and thoughtful reviews, so I'm not going to try very hard here. Let's just say that I found it interesting but poorly edited and/or translated--some obvious errors that could be translation problems but others seem to just be WRONG. Also, the organization is not too useful.

An example of weird errors: p. 261 -- " . . . a Canadian amphibious plane, the Sunderland [italicized as if it were the name of a ship] reported it had sunk a U-boat . . ." -- duh, a Sunderl
Mar 06, 2014 Waylaid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This includes statements by German soldiers of their experiences. These statements are fascinating. Unfortunately, there is a lot of interpretative text, which is much less interesting.

It would have been better if there was a 400 page book (or 2,000 page book) simply with the edited text of the German soldiers' observations! Perhaps one-day someone will simply present a huge edition of these war tapes, and leave the reader to interpret.

Still quite fascinating though for the openness of the sold
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Sönke Neitzel is a German historian who has written extensively about the Second World War.
Neitzel is Professor of History at the London School of Economics, having also held posts at the University of Mainz, University of Karlsruhe, University of Bern, and the University of Saarbrücken. From September 2011, he is Chair of Modern History at the University of Glasgow.

He is editor of the journal Ger
More about Sönke Neitzel...

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“In World War II, some Japanese soldiers preferred to take their own lives rather become prisoners of war. In Saipan hundreds of civilians jumped to their deaths over cliffs in order to avoid falling into American hands. Even in life-or-death situations cultural ties and duties often outweigh the instinct for survival. This is why people die in the attempt to rescue a dog from drowning, or decide to become suicide bombers.” 3 likes
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