This was a set of interviews the author conducted with veterans, most of them from WWII. Naturally, some of the men were better at storytelling than oThis was a set of interviews the author conducted with veterans, most of them from WWII. Naturally, some of the men were better at storytelling than others. Also, most of the interviews were done 50 years after the end of the war, so some of the men’s memories were fading.
Probably best for readers who have some background with the major campaigns of WWII since the interviews often jump around chronologically and the interviewees assume some basic knowledge about what happened in Holland, Normandy, etc. I enjoyed the book—it was almost like sitting down with the men and listening to their experiences. My favorite interviews were probably the group interview with members of the 101st airborne and an interview with a survivor of the Slapton Sands fiasco....more
This book is comprised of three journals written by Hans Roth, a German soldier fighting on the Eastern Front from summer 1941 to late spring 1943. HeThis book is comprised of three journals written by Hans Roth, a German soldier fighting on the Eastern Front from summer 1941 to late spring 1943. He also fought in France in 1940 and was still in Russia when he disappeared in June 1944, but he didn’t have a journal in France and if he was writing one during the last year of his life, it was lost. The editors (two of his grandchildren) include some basic big-picture information at the beginning of each section.
The gritty account of day-to-day life reminded me a little of With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, but not as polished. It’s a journal, not a memoir, so sometimes the author would mention a comrade dying, and that’s the first mention of said comrade, even if the man was a close friend. Sometimes the language is beautiful and descriptive. Other times it’s almost frantic with the stress of constant battle.
Roth is part of the initial wave of Operation Barbarossa. He heads to Kiev that first year. Then he’s pushed back during the winter. During summer 1942 he’s part of the German drive to Stalingrad. He’s lucky enough not to be trapped by the Soviet counterattack that envelopes and annihilates the German 6th Army, but his winter still involves a long retreat with constant Soviet harassment through frigid temperatures with insufficient equipment.
Here are a few things that stuck out to me:
The first journal begins just before the invasion into the Soviet Union. Roth is stationed near the border and he isn’t too happy with their position. He wonders if perhaps his unit has been sent there so they can be attacked and slaughtered, thus giving Germany an excuse to go to war. He mentions that such things have been done before with Poland. I’ve read about the “Polish attack” on a German radio station, planned and carried out by German special forces and the bodies of a few unfortunate German prisoners. I hadn’t realized that average front line troops were also aware that the attack was staged.
I’ve read a little of the desperate style of fighting at Stalingrad, but I always had the impression that the initial assault in 1941 was like a German steamroller moving east. Roth’s account shows that almost immediately the Germans faced house-to-house battles against the Soviets. Snipers were a concern for German troops long before they reached the Volga.
Roth talks a little about “nerve fever.” The Americans at the time called it combat fatigue and now we call it PTSD. I suspect Roth himself suffered from PTSD at times. His accounts of Soviet counterattacks in the freezing winter of 1941-2 and in the equally freezing winter of 1942-3 show evidence of understandably frayed nerves. He even admits to having no memory of some of the things his comrades say he did.
The book offers an interesting look into the mindset of its author. He’s proud of the German Army. He calls the Soviets “Asiatic hordes” and is disgusted by some of their actions, like booby-trapping and defacing German corpses. (They also left things like soap and cigarette packages around, wired to explode.) He considers them tough adversaries, but points out that most of them are forced into action by commissars with pistols. He witnesses things like retreating Russian soldiers being machine-gunned down by their own officers if they turned back. He considers the Russians desperate rather than brave.
During a discussion with a member of the SS Einsatzgruppen, Roth learns of the execution of huge numbers of Jews. He doesn’t believe it, so the SS man takes him to a place outside Kiev (probably Babi Yar) and shows him the Jewish civilians being machine-gunned and thrown into pits. Roth is shocked and saddened, but doesn’t dwell on it for long. He also describes how hard it was to be nearby when some Russian partisans, including young women, were executed. He feels sorry for the partisans—they were told by their own side that if they didn’t sneak behind the lines and then report back, their families would be killed.
Roth often writes of how much his misses his wife and young daughter. And he and his front-line friends often express contempt and frustration with those back in Germany who complain about having to work overtime to ensure enough munitions for the war effort. He’s loyal to Germany and dislikes the communists, but doesn’t come off as a rabid Nazi. Overall, Roth is a product of his time and his country, but he seems like a decent human being.
Roth’s journals are well worth reading for anyone wanting a grunt’s view of the battles between German and Soviet troops during the first half of WWII. They’re of special interest for anyone looking for information on the battle of Kiev, the disintegration of the Italian Army outside Stalingrad, or trench-like warfare on the Eastern Front....more
A well-researched, comprehensive overview of WWI covering nearly everything: politics, battles, cultural changes, and aftermath. Stevenson is a good wA well-researched, comprehensive overview of WWI covering nearly everything: politics, battles, cultural changes, and aftermath. Stevenson is a good writer, but each page is packed with information so it takes a while to read. I would compare it to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, only about WWI instead of WWII. ...more
I liked a lot of things about this book. At first Katie came off as rude instead of feisty, but she quickly became a likeable character. I enjoyed theI liked a lot of things about this book. At first Katie came off as rude instead of feisty, but she quickly became a likeable character. I enjoyed the history, centered on the Irish potato famine and anti-Irish sentiment in the US. The romance was sweet and clean, and even though there was a love triangle, it was well-done. (Often with love triangles, I want to smack the heroine for leading two men on at the same time, but in this book I didn’t feel like Katie was doing anything wrong.) I was impressed with the author’s ability to make the Irish characters sound Irish just by word choice (no misspelled words to indicate dialect—which works sometimes, but it was cool that she could make the characters sound Irish without dialectic spelling). Recommended for fans of clean romance or historical fiction. 4.5 stars, rounding up....more
I thought this would be a history of the misnamed Spanish flu of 1918 (it originated in the US, but since Spain was one of the few countries not at waI thought this would be a history of the misnamed Spanish flu of 1918 (it originated in the US, but since Spain was one of the few countries not at war and not censoring information, it took that country’s name). This book included information about the epidemic, but also extensive details about the founding of Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Institute and the men (and at least one woman) involved in those organizations. I had been hoping for the story of the epidemic all over the world, but this account was focused on the US with only minimal attention for other regions. I thought the parts about the epidemic were interesting, but I found the writing style repetitive and long-winded. Rounding up to 3 stars. ...more
A short, sweet read (less than 20 minutes) likening life to a fairy tale: between “once upon a time” and “happily every after,” all worthwhile charactA short, sweet read (less than 20 minutes) likening life to a fairy tale: between “once upon a time” and “happily every after,” all worthwhile characters, and all people, have to go through some hard times. One I’ll pick up and read again next time I’m wondering why life is so hard. ...more