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Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II

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Alois Dwenger, writing from the front in May of 1942, complained that people forgot "the actions of simple soldiers.I believe that true heroism lies in bearing this dreadful everyday life." In exploring the reality of the Landser, the average German soldier in World War II, through letters, diaries, memoirs, and oral histories, Stephen G. Fritz provides the definitive account of the everyday war of the German front soldier.

The personal documents of these soldiers, most from the Russian front, where the majority of German infantrymen saw service, paint a richly textured portrait of the Landser that illustrates the complexity and paradox of his daily life. Although clinging to a self-image as a decent fellow, the German soldier nonetheless committed terrible crimes in the name of National Socialism. When the war was finally over, and his country lay in ruins, the Landser faced a bitter all his exertions and sacrifices had been in the name of a deplorable regime that had committed unprecedented crimes.

With chapters on training, images of combat, living conditions, combat stress, the personal sensations of war, the bonds of comradeship, and ideology and motivation, Fritz offers a sense of immediacy and intimacy, revealing war through the eyes of these self-styled "little men." A fascinating look at the day-to-day life of German soldiers, this is a book not about war but about men. It will be vitally important for anyone interested in World War II, German history, or the experiences of common soldiers throughout the world.

312 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1995

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Stephen G. Fritz

10 books28 followers

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120 (43%)
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Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
May 2, 2021
This was a great overview of the German Wehrmacht infantry soldier, called a Landser, in WW2. This was primarily about soldiering in the Eastern Front with minimal comparisons in North Africa and Normandy. The author presented the information with lots of quotes and reference material. "The Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer is heavily quoted to show the hellish conditions throughout the Eastern Front.

The book was divided into chapters addressing various issues. These included basic military training, the horrors of combat both physical and psychological, fear of reprisal amd punishment, lack of proper uniforms and equipment during the Russian winters, and lots of other pressures these men had to endure.

A whole chapter was dedicated to the weather problem. In the summer heat, excessive dust, and rain caused mobility issues (trucks stuck in the mud) and added strain to daily operations. In the winter snow, extreme cold, and freezing wind and rain in the winter killed morale and increased the casualty rate for the Germans.

What interested me was the ideological component of the infantryman. The author showed how National Socialism and Volksgemeinschaft (people's identity) played an integral part in the psychological profile of the German soldier. These core values included camaraderie, sacrifice, loyalty, duty, endurance, courage, and obedience. 'Nazi ideological practice thus reinforced Wehrmacht goals, contributing to the creation of those tight groups of men who would fight, suffer, and die together' (pg. 163). 'The Landser lived the Nationalist Socialist Weltanschauung (world view), which gave him an amazing resilience and stubborn determination but also led him in its name to commit barbaric atrocities and enemy deemed subhuman.' (pg. 239)

Overall this was very good. Yes it relied heavily on outside sources but it gave a good look into the average German soldier's combat role. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Eastern Front! Thanks!
Profile Image for Aaron Meyer.
Author 4 books43 followers
November 20, 2010
This book is intense. There are points in the book I think back to my own experiences and see how much we have in common between common soldiers of different eras. This was an army that was absolutely dedicated to the fight and to be honest the type of military that every nation dreams of creating. I could of done without his rambling and thoughts at the end, for his ideas to me just didn't hold much water some of the times. Just give me the raw data, the everyday words of the everyday soldier. They speak to me much more than any historian of the war possibly could.
Profile Image for carl  theaker.
899 reviews42 followers
June 26, 2012
The strength of "Frontsoldaten" is in the excerpts
from various collections of the letters of German
soldiers. The spirit of the individual Landser kept
the Wehrmacht together in the face of overwhelming
events and it is the spirit of these letters that keep
this book together, which otherwise might be subtitled

"The Forgotten Soldier: Reader's Digest version"

Over the first few chapters I counted over 30
references to Guy Sajer's "The Forgotten Soldier"
and a dozen to Siegfried Knappe's "Soldat".
Incredibly the references to Sajer's book continue at
the same pace and easily number over 100 in the 278
pages. (In case you didn't get the idea, one of the
chapters is titled after a Sajer quote).

There is no mention of the controversy that has
been raised over the authenticity of Sajer's book.
Controversy or not, it is incredible that one source
is employed so often.

As if to make the Sajer text feel at home , several
novels are also used to support themes. All were
written by German soldiers, so obviously have an
insight, in fact one of my favorites, "The Cross of
Iron" by Willi Heinrich is referenced half a dozen
times in a short stretch. However it makes one wonder
why so much fiction is needed? The reality is surely
amazing enough.

The geographical and chronological transitions are
often muddled. While 95 per cent of the action
takes place in Russia, Author Fritz will have you
waist deep in snow and toss in thoughts from France or
North Afrika, you want to reread the paragraph
wondering did I get that right?

When trying to make a point, say the moral of the
soldier in August 1944, Fritz will give several
examples from that period, and then throw in a quote
from 1941, you can't help but wonder what in the Reich
does that have to do with anything?

It appears that the author had a pile of research
available, and wanting to do something with it, he
wrapped it up and tossed it over the wall to take
advantage of the recent surge in the history of WW2

Fortunately in "Frontsoldaten" there are plenty of
stories "from the Letters of ...", which while
perusing, sitting on your sofa, will have you
shivering on sentry duty, scratching your lice,
folding the letter from home, wondering about the next
meal, and feeling the loss of a comrade.
Profile Image for Michael Dorosh.
Author 12 books9 followers
July 31, 2011
A grim joke and not worth the paper it's printed on.

The author breaks the most elementary rules of scholarly writing in this volume by quoting the same references several times in a row - something even an undergraduate would know to avoid. It wouldn't be so bad, if he wasn't quoting the contentious and quite probably fictional FORGOTTEN SOLDIER. Fritz adds nothing new to the discussion of German soldiers in the Second World War, and readers are advised to turn to other material, such as SOLDAT by Siegfried Knappe or THE GOOD SOLDIER by Alfred Novotny.

FRONTSOLDATEN is simply a collection of quotes from dubious sources - and all secondary ones at that. Fritz does not appear to have conducted a single interview on his own. How then can he claim to have any kind of grasp on what it was like to be a German soldier, if he's never actually talked to one?

This book is not "scholarly" as some claim, as scholarship generally insists on multiple documentary sources, and a modicum of primary research. Fritz didn't research this book - he cribbed it from other sources, and terrible sources at that.

Readers serious about the German military in the Second World War will have to wait for a definitive book on the Landser to appear in English. This book is terrible without the benefit at least of being interesting while being terrible.

Profile Image for Andrew Davis.
388 reviews20 followers
June 28, 2020
The book concerns the nature of men at war, using the "bottom up" approach. Using the letters of the soldiers fighting on front lines, especially in Russia, it draws a picture of harsh reality encountered at the front, hunger, atrocious conditions, and absence of any scruples in a fight to survive at any cost, whilst knowing that it is a pure luck for one to succeed.
Profile Image for Robert.
416 reviews18 followers
October 13, 2009
Too many quotations strung along on tenuous lines of analysis. Those lines, written by German combatants, are valuable in themselves and make this book worthwhile, but I had hoped for a bit more historical contextualization and look for a bit more substantive contribution from the historian.
Profile Image for Sean.
49 reviews
August 27, 2018
The book is ok, he goes a lot into what the soldiers were thinking and what they thought, but it fails in my mind to connect those thoughts to thing the reader can identify or recognize.
Profile Image for Al Williams.
24 reviews4 followers
July 21, 2017
Mostly a select compilation of excerpts from other biographies. Might sound like a great idea if the subject is new to you, but reading a lot of accounts that are mostly devoid of context wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Roxy.
32 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2017
Really interesting look into the mindset of the German soldier during World War II... as the title implies. Uses letters, quotes, and narratives written by soldiers to get a "uncut" view into how they thought. Fascinating to see the similarities and differences between how you'd expect "normal" soldiers would react and how these soldiers, in the midst of large-scale ethnic cleansing programs and riding high on propaganda of hate and intolerance, dealt with the war.

Falters a bit in its presentation, though. The book was separated not in terms of time period (in fact, the time periods were mixed all together, which I think took away a neat aspect in seeing how their headspaces would have changed as the war went on) but subject matter, I suppose. How the German soldier saw death, how they saw the people they were around, how they saw the horrors discovered (and reexamined) at the end of the war... But these differences weren't clearly defined and it often felt like the subjects the chapters were supposed to be about blended together in a repetitive way. Would have definitely preferred a more timeline based approach, but I see why this approach wasn't taken - to put less of an emphasis on the events and politics of the war but more on the person at the very bottom of the chain.
48 reviews3 followers
January 18, 2013
I read this book several years ago. It deals with the front line German soldier in WWII. There are a lot of personal letters, diaries, quotes, etc. It was informative and enlightening. I am not certain I can say I enjoyed the book. It did make me believe that some of my thinking for a long time has been inaccurate. The average German soldier was much more prejudiced, hateful and knowing of many of the wrongs that were happening than I had previously believed. Prior to reading this book I had always had the attitude that most of the average German soldiers were just following orders and serving their country, like every other country's soldiers. This book really made me think otherwise. I would be interested to know if anyone else had the same impression.
Profile Image for Amanda.
24 reviews26 followers
September 10, 2012
Frontsoldaten, German for "foot soldier", is a haunting collection of letters from German soldiers during WWII. An excellent read for military and civilian alike, Fritz examines the different aspects of the war, none of which were more or less trying. The intensity of emotions expressed by these men is heart wrenching.
Profile Image for AskHistorians.
918 reviews3,033 followers
September 13, 2015
In Frontsoldaten Stephen G. Fritz explores the regular German infantry soldier and compare him with American, English and Russian soldiers. Through letters, diary entries and personal testimony emerges a rich and nuanced picture of the German soldiers' everyday lives during World War II. A great book that offers the true picture of the everyday German soldier during WWII.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 18 books32 followers
November 29, 2015
Very informative and I learned some things I didn't know already. The excerpts from soldiers' diaries and letters were fascinating and really helps the reader get a sense of the very real feelings occurring within the soldiers while these things were being written.
Profile Image for Megan.
200 reviews14 followers
August 10, 2017
The strength of this book lies not in its often tenuous analysis, but the excerpts from soldiers' letters and diaries. The obvious weakness is the missed opportunity to include testimony of soldiers who witnessed the Holocaust.
Profile Image for Kevin Slawta.
3 reviews
July 1, 2014
One of the most chilling accounts of everyday life for troops in an army during its collapse.
1 review
September 27, 2015
If you want to know what made the common German soldier or "Landser" such an outstanding combat trooper and yet such a frightful human being, this is the book to read!
Profile Image for John.
23 reviews3 followers
November 6, 2016
Well worth reading, shows the good & the bad from a personal perspective. The author culls diaries, letters and autobiographies for input.
December 25, 2020
Even though author provides some explanation, it's mostly skimming through the letters from German soldiers. This book would be definitely better with some in-depth background.
Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews

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