Paris. The Somme. The Italian Campaign. The Russian Front. And inside Hitler's bunker during The Battle of Berlin . . . World War II through the eyes of a solider of the Reich.
Siegfried Knappe fought, was wounded, and survived battles in nearly every major Wehrmacht campaign. His astonishing career begins with Hitler's rise to power--and ends with a five-year term in a Russian prison camp, after the Allies rolled victoriously into the smoking rubble of Berlin. The enormous range of Knappe's fighting experiences provides an unrivaled combat history of World War II, and a great deal more besides.
Based on Knappe's wartime diaries, filled with 16 pages of photos he smuggled into the West at war's end, Soldat delivers a rare opportunity for the reader to understand how a ruthless psychopath motivated an entire generation of ordinary Germans to carry out his monstrous schemes . . . and offers stunning insight into the life of a soldier in Hitler's army.
"Remarkable! World War II from inside the Wehrmacht."--Kirkus Reviews
The book is a memoir of Siegfried Knappe, who ended the war as a Major and was taken captive by the Russians. In many respects his war experience is a typical journey of a career Wehrmacht officer who went through the ranks under the Nazis. The memoir is going back and forth in time, which I found distracting. Knappe wrote diaries and took photographs, so his recall is very good, and I think he'd be better served to keep the memoir in chronological order.
For me the most interesting part of the book is NOT Knappe's war-time experience, but the five years he spent in Russian camps. The camps he went to were not your ordinary labor camps, but rather camps for political prisoners, holding high-ranking German officers and intellectuals. Knappe was probably the least political guy in there and was able to maneuver to position himself in a neutral corner, which was not the case for many other POWs. Some became Activists and collaborated with the Russians, others would throw themselves to opposition, but most would remain neutral and tried their best to stay alive. Many would die, executed for war crimes or sent to hard labor GULAG style camps.
There are some high-ranking Wehrmacht officers and war heroes mentioned in the book. I won't preview the names to avoid the spoilers. I'm just going to say that for history buffs there are a lot of cross references to well-known historical figures that Knappe bumped into during his five years in Russian captivity.
Overall, the memoir is an interesting read. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a first-hand German war experience.
A memoir of a German during WWII. Siegfried Knappe started as an exuberant youth, having done well in school and with all the promise of the world opening before him. Then the war came. He excelled as a soldier, though placed in an outdated, pre-mechanized unit, and soon rose through the ranks, seeing action on nearly all fronts. His story rises and falls along with his country. He was there at pivotal moments. He was in the thick of it. He was the fly on the wall. He was the every man in a German uniform.
One finds oneself rooting for Knappe. Enemy or not, he was human with a family whom he loved. And it helps that he was not a Nazi, just another patriotic German eager to see his country bounce back to prominence and prosperity.
Read Soldat to see what it was like on "the other side." Read it because from whichever side you approach it, war is hell. Without having to endure that hell, what better way to witness the horrible reminder than through the words of one who did?
I'm trying to find a copy of this book. Why I pass on books that I love, I'll never know (oh, I don't have space). This is a very good, neutral account from a young soldier (soldat) serving in the Wehrmacht. The things he writes about are fairly typical for someone his age and I identified with his writing as I served as a young man. By reading this book, I better understood the highs and lows, the wins and losses, and the death and deprivations noted in many of the stories my Dad told of his experiences in France and Germany, especially fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. War is never a good thing, but it happens. Too often we know nothing about those in whose hands we stick weapons.
A good read, this fellow really got around. I particularly found interesting the machinations of the different HQ groups at the end of the war to get posted to units in the west, thus getting to surrender to the Americans or British.
That didn't work out for Knappe as he served his prison time in Russia after the war, which I also found fascinating, what do you do for 7 years and how the Soviets would sweat you when your time for release came near.
What an interesting story of a German soldier's experience. I love these personal accounts and to learn of his good fortune to survive the war over so many battles is inspiring. Truly, God was watching over this man.
Most of the book I have read from individual soldiers were of the lower or the actual Generals themselves. Patton, Monty, Eisenhower, Guederian, Rommel etc. This work is completely different. Siegfried Knappe give us a look into the actual duties and rigors of being on the command staff. We all take for granted the actual work that goes into drawing up and implementing the orders from the high commands no matter which army it is.
The book starts with the end only weeks away as the German Army does its best to hold back the Russian steamroller from Berlin in hopes that the British and American armies will reach it first. They have no idea of the Yalta agreement and that Eisenhower has no desire to shed anymore of the Western Allies blood for a target that had lost its strategic value. Yet the Germans fought on. Knappe even accepted his acceptance to the General Staff War College for its prestige. It had been his pursuit for years.
Knappe takes us through his carefree days and the final vacation he takes with his friends as they have graduated from the Gymnasium. They have a grand time, little do they know it will be their last. The storm clouds of war are building but as far as they know and are told it is only to right the wrongs form the first WWI. They are young and enthusiastic and believe they are building a better world under Adolph Hitler. The only dissenting voice they hear comes from Herr Hoffner who asks the question ,"at what price?" Knappe will hear those haunting words until he realizes the cost. His brother becomes one of them at Stalingrad.
Herr Knappe was assigned to an artillery unit. He was excited at the thought of being involved in the first mechanized field artillery unit in the world. That wasn't to be the case. The unit he was assign to was horse drawn as it would be for most of his days. He learned all of the necessities and intricacies of handling horses and dealing with the problems they presented. He and his unit became experts at handling the animals and positioning their guns when required. No where had I learned so much about horse-drawn artillery. I enjoyed it very much.
Knappe had no problem Germany's early conquests from 39 to early 1941 but he starts having second thoughts as they gather for the invasion of Russia. He did not understand why they were waging war on a country that was supposed to be friendly. He like millions of others would find out what Napolean had also learned. Entering Russia is easy, leaving is unceremonious and devastating.
As he moved up the ranks (based on his early performance at Paulen) he learned the innermost working of headquarters from regiment, division, corp, army and ultimately the high command. I was very interested in how men were rapidly moved from post to post (as in other armies) when it was decided they were needed elsewhere. His descriptions of learning how to write reports and issues orders was very fascinating. No matter what the army, if proper reports and orders are not issued, no matter what the might of the army, they will not function properly.
The only let down was the end of the book as he talked about his days in confinement. Maybe I was looking for more insight to the prison camps but then when one has been busy and at times overloaded with work and then the next day there is nothing, absolutely nothing to do, I sensed the shut-down and boredom setting in. Herr Knappe survived his captivity unlike countless others who were marched into the far reaches of "Mother Russia" and with a lot luck and cunning was able to bring his wife and two children out East Germany and located to the United States.
I think this is book is considered fairly legendary in some circles, being 'the WW2 infantry' memoir. Knappe, who retained all his photographs and diaries even through multiple battles and prison camps, entered the German forces as a private or 'soldat', but to some degree the title is disingenuous as he was already a gymnasium graduate and tracked into special under-officer (sergeant) training, and he was well-off enough to be an expert skier, which later, through the pure chance of war/promotion led him to be sent off into a staff assignment when his unit went off into a destructive battle. (apparently a lot of war memoirs include this element-- by definition, we're reading the survivor account because 'there but for the hand of god' he would have been in stalingrad or kursk or wherever).
starting as a horse-drawn artillery specialist (most of the german army was horse-drawn throughout the war; panzers were highly visible and constitute the contemporary image of the war but all european economies, german included, still relied on muscle power), Knappe eventually sees action in France and the Eastern Front, and then is sufficiently important to be 'flown to Moscow' as the opening chapter reveals. so, in other words, he 'saw it all;' may have had one of the most dramatic and widely-ranging german army experiences, although not a party member. Knappe undoubtedly excludes much of the prison experience and the months from France to Barbarossa might be surprisingly swept over, but the flip side, of course, is lots and lots of war and war-training detail. a 'legendary work,' it would seem, written as if by a professional writer. 4/5
I've previously read accounts written by German soldiers who fought in WWII, but this was one of the more interesting and personal ones. As reconstructed from his diary and interviews, we learn that Siegfried Knappe was an unusually capable and dedicated soldier who managed to rise through the ranks, starting as a humble private in the pre-war years, and ending up as a general staff officer who was present at Hitler's bunker before the end. Along the way, he experienced different aspects of German military life in that era, from being a teenager in a labor/indoctrination camp (sort of a pre-boot camp to get young adults used to regimentation), to being a proud young officer in infantry school, to carrying out his duties in an artillery regiment during the invasions of France and Russia, to watching things turn dire for Germany as Hitler's insane decisions doom the army in Russia and allow the massive Soviet military to smash its way to Berlin. A grim epilogue follows as he endures several years languishing in a Soviet POW camp, albeit one of the less bad ones.
As with most of the other German accounts I've read, Knappe pleads ignorance about the extent of Nazi lies and atrocities (i.e. he knew of concentration camps, but not their murderous function), and expresses remorse for his role in enabling what initially seemed like a just war to most Germans, but crossed the line into a war of aggression and conquest. Chillingly, he observes, "would I have spend much time thinking about this if we'd won the war? Probably not." He doesn't spend a lot of time on self-recrimination, though, and talks more about the horrors of life under Communism (which seems understandable, given his POW experiences).
Readers looking for combat stories won't find more than a few here, but there were plenty of other details that interested me. I'm often curious about the technical details of how things work, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sections describing how German soldiers were trained and organized, which go against the popular stereotype of mindless stormtroopers. Sadly, although the officers were instilled with a strong sense of professionalism, it seems that many were so intent on restoring the national prestige shattered after WWI and avoiding a redo of the trenches, that it didn't dawn on them that they were being used by crazy people. At least, not until their lives were about to be thrown away. And I could easily relate to the emotional parts of the story, to Knappe's anguish at losing friends and his brother, and at knowing that he might never see his family again.
Also interesting were his perceptions of Russia, both while on campaign and as a prisoner. Like the US, the USSR seemed to see the Cold War on the horizon. Inside his camp, the Russians used all kinds of Orwellian methods to break and indoctrinate high value prisoners, and some did cave in and become tools for the Soviet Union, as perverse ambitions or deep-rooted shame came to the surface. What little he has to say about the US and Britain is favorable, though I wonder if he was pandering to his audience a bit.
All in all, a humanizing and fairly sincere portrait of the other side. It's impressive that Knappe even survived to tell his tale, but he obviously had a lot of good luck. 60 million didn't.
Audible note: this isn’t one of the better narrated works here. The reader just rattles off the text in front of him. Didn’t bother me much, though.
I listened to this as an audio book, narrated by John Wray. The reader killed this one for me. While the narrative was interesting, well organized, and reasonably well written, Wray's pronunciation was neither American, British, nor German. A book told through the eyes of a young German soldier might logically be read by someone with a German accent, as was The Book Thief. But this guy butchered German words to the point of making standards unrecognizable. I was a third of the way through the book before I realized that "Bearleeen" was his pronunciation of Berlin.
I have read Soldat at least three times over the years. The Germans wrote a lot of postwar memoirs, many of which are marred by a tendency to tell the western audience what they thought it wanted to hear. Knappe doesn't have to do that. He was a high ranking and highly decorated officer, but he was never a decision maker of the level that he could have been tried for war crimes. He was just a soldier, a soldat, who fought on all the fronts on which the Wehrmacht was engaged. His account of the Battle of Berlin is utterly fascinating and convincing.
I've been reading WWII books from every side, Russian, American, German. and it's never gets old or boring. Two of grandfathers fought the "Great Patriotic War", this is the third book from the German perspective. and it's one of the best so forth. Siegfried Knappe is extremely luck guy to survive all the fronts, especially the ost front since most of the brutality was done there. This is a personal and in-depth story down to the matter of days.
In my youth I read hundreds of books about WWII, and although I have seen other accounts by enemy combatants, this is one of the most comprehensive that I have read. Siegfried Knappe chronicles his years in the Wehrmacht from his joining as a naive teenager, through his time as a prisoner of the Soviet Union. As a junior artillery officer, Mr. Knappe witnessed firsthand some of the momentous events of the war; the annexation of Czechoslovakia, the invasion of France, the push through Russia towards Moscow, the retreat in Italy, and the final defense of Berlin where he was captured. He disavows Nazi ideology, and maintains that he knew nothing of the extermination camps until after his capture, but for the most part defends the military campaigns he participated in, saying he was only aware of the reasoning for such from the Nazi propaganda machine. He does eventually come to condemn Germany's actions and atrocities. Mr. Knappe seems like a decent enough person, immigrating to the U.S. in 1954 where he lived and worked in Ohio. But since history, as they say, is written by the victors, one can't help but wonder what his mindset would've been if Hitler's conquest had succeeded. Yes, I know it's foolishness to second guess history, but those are the sorts of things I think about after reading such a memoir. After all, the United States has it's own share of ugly history to which most Americans remain blithely ignorant.
In an attempt to try to find out what the war was like from the German perspective, I read this book based on the extensive diaries of Siegfreid Knappe. It is quite clear that this man was an obedient soldier of the Wehrmacht, a professional who moved up the ranks, served in different arenas and was wounded. At the end of the war he had access to Hitler's bunker and even contemplated assassinating him, but didn't want Hitler to become a martyr. Surrendering to the Russians in Berlin, spent 5 years as a POW, but since he was an officer he was not sent to the work camps.
Knapppe says he (and I find this VERY hard to believe) did not know about the mass executions and the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jewish citizenry of Europe.
He also said his reason for immigrating to the US was that he wanted to get as far away from the Russians as possible. I wonder that he didn't stay in Germany and try to help rebuild his country.
Simultaneously, while reading Knappe's story, I listened to Ben Macintyre's Rogue Heroes, the history of the SAS and their fight against the Nazi's. Interesting to compare the two.
While this book contributes much to the history of WWII , I found the detail somewhat tedious and the nonlinear format of the book annoying.
This was a great read for a man who never before read a book on military history. The former German Army Captain who served Hitler briefly in a bunker in Berlin writes an excellent tale of his early years, Hitler's rise to power, and the author's growing discomfort with the ways and leadership of the Nazi party and the German people.
One of the most interesting things comes at the very end: Knappe's fear of being caught by the Russians. When everyone knew they were about to be captured, they all hoped it would be by the Americans. But the author and those with him were instead forced to surrender to the Russians. Soon they began a march of hundreds of miles back to the Russian capitol. There Knappe would be forced by time and circumstances (not the Russian guards who did not care) to think about all that had happened and how it was that he and his countrymen had allowed an evil con-man to take over and rule the nation as Hitler had.
I bought this book online spontaneously because it looked kind of interesting and I needed something to read. Well, after reading it I can only say it is fantastic. I love the fact he is a German Soldier giving his own personal insights as a member of the German military. But what made it so fantastic is that he stuck to his own authentic viewpoint and insights and didn't try to give the company line. His personal feelings and emotions are what made it for me. He didn't hold back. If I didn't know he was a German soldier I might think he was an American soldier, but he wasn't. I empathized with him and felt his emotions and rooted for him during his interment in the Russian prison camp. He also gave intriguing insights into the German view of Russians during that period of time. Fabulous book!
This German soldier fought, was wounded and survived battles in nearly every major Wehrmacht campaign. His career began with Hitler’s rise to power and ended with a five year term in a Russian prison camp.
This is a good personal combat history of WW2 based on the wartime diaries and photos he smuggled out to the West at the end of the war. It allows the reader to gain insight into how a psychopath like Hitler motivated a generation of ordinary Germans to carry out his ugly plans. It is also a lesson into how an ordinary man gets trapped into something he believes in and then can't get out when he realizes it is all wrong.
I found this a powerful book, which is more about a soldier's personal history, than about WW2 or its particular ideology.
Interesting account of the military career of a German officer. I question the author's assertion that he seriously considered shooting Hitler in the Reich Chancellery bunker in 1945. But, to assess definitively the truthfulness of such a claim is beyond my ability. Like most German WWII memoirs, the author is eager to preserve the myth of a "Clean Wehrmacht. German and indeed Waffen SS soldiers are depicted as essentially morally good whose only fault is being duped by a few cunning Nazis in high command. Knappe acknowledges widespread antisemitism but always presents himself as basically sympathetic to Jews and ignorant of the Nazi deathcamps. A worthwhile read.
The day to day life of a German Military officer during W.W II. Well worth a read, if only to redress the balance a little and break the standard black and white, good v evil interpretation mythology. The guy seems to covers the whole of Europe, mostly on foot, from the original invasion of France, through Barbarossa to the Fall of Berlin followed by captivity in a Soviet Gulag. An intelligent voice, a family man, a humane and thinking career soldier.
This book being reflections of a young German World War II officer, it gives a fantastic inside look at the way the German artillery was handled in WWII, the thoughts of an "ordinary" officer, and the struggle that these men faced under Russian captivity after the war. I wouldn't normally expect to call a man who was wounded multiple times and served five years in Russian captivity lucky. In this case, while considering the fate of many of those around him, Knappe certainly was quite lucky.
The utter patriotism of the soldier fighting for his country and his brothers in arms without the knowledge of the atrocities his government was committing makes for a very important read. The propaganda that kept the soldiers fighting to the bloody end shows the power of the media. This is a powerful read that goes along way to explain why millions of people followed Hitler.
This is a very interesting book. The story of Siegfried Knappe, who finished his war in Hitler's bunker as an officer of the General Staff, is in some ways a typical one of that time and place, but striking and interesting in its own way.
Knappe came of age in the late 30s in Germany, and his service began in the Labour Corps, before entering the Army in the artillery. We follow his journey through training, the Sudetenland, France and Russia, his journey through officer training, and his personal life - marriage, the death of his brother in Russia, and his travails as a prisoner of the Russians after the war.
Knappe comes across as an intelligent young man, good at his job, and an efficient and effective officer. He (as many others) did not question what his country was doing until it was far too late. He was at General Staff training during the July plot, and saw at first hand the fear of the officers, and the rage and revenge of the Nazis.
In many ways he had a :lucky" war. Being posted to Stalingrad, he never got there as he was unable to get a flight in. Sent to Breslau to organise its defence, he was airlifted out before the final battle. He was either wounded or in training when his regiments suffered their greatest casualties.
He became a staff officer for General Weidling in the final weeks of the war, and regularly visited the Bunker before the end, before spending three years as a prisoner of the Russians, where he was regularly interrogated (his description of how to counter the pressure of the Russian interrogations is interesting and instructive. He was clever enough to realise that he needed to keep his story the same every time, and never admit to stealing Russian items or abusing Russian people. He realised that he didn't actually have to profess Communist sympathies to remain safe).
What can we learn from this book? Well, that the German army was not very mechanised (Knappe spent most of his war riding and using horses to move his guns), that the average soldier did not necessarily see atrocities, and that toward the end of the War the country and the military were a shambles - Knappe knew the War was lost more than a year from the time it did end, but kept fighting.
That the War was a great tragedy is well known, and we on the winning side don't often think of the tragedies that happened in Germany to Germans. In many ways Knappe was lucky, but this book still underlines the truth that war is hell, and there is little noble about being a soldier in World War II. If you are interested in the history of that time, this is worth reading.
Not as enjoyable as Hans von Luck's quite similar Panzer Commander, which I recommend heartily if you haven't read it, because Siegfried Knappe simply isn't such good company and lacks von Luck's verve and brio. Another account of the Nazi years and Second World War from the perspective of a professional army officer (horse drawn artillery) whose gradual disillusionment with Hitler and his regime mirrors declining military success.
Knappe served in Poland, France and on the Russian front, and was truly fortunate through the war to be wounded at opportune moments, never too seriously, ending up a staff officer in Hitler's bunker right at the very end, when he says he briefly considered shooting the Führer but decided not to make him a martyr for a lost cause. He came of age under Nazi rule and, though he had a Jewish friend whose family was forced to emigrate, doesn't appear to have thought too much about what was happening in Germany being much too busy making a successful army career. He got plenty of home leave during periods of recuperation from several woundings, managing to meet and eventually marry his sweetheart and start a family, all while the war was going on and he was moving up through junior officer ranks.
There's a lot of interesting material in Knappe's book but for me the best part is his account of Russian captivity, from 1945 to 1949 when he was released, at which point he made sure that was to West Germany not his home town of Danzig under Russian control. Knappe comes across as bitter and resentful of his time as a POW, nurturing a lifelong hatred of Russians and Communism in consequence- he ended up emigrating to the US, where he died after a long and successful life. There's quite a contrast here with Hans von Luck's adoption of atonement and reconciliation. Knappe details the privation and suffering he endured in the Soviet camps without ever acknowledging how badly Russian prisoners were treated by the Germans, if not shot outright under the Commissar order, and what was done to the many lands overrun by the Wehrmacht. He was lucky enough to be in an Officers' camp where prisoners were not obliged to work so no hard labour on starvation rations for him. Ultimately he was released because the Russians found absolutely nothing to incriminate Knappe with any involvement in atrocities during his service on the Eastern front.
The title of the book is a bit misleading since there isn't a lot of 'reflection' in Knappe's account of his experiences. He was young, indoctrinated by a totalitarian regime from an impressionable age, made a successful career in the military before the outbreak of war and extremely lucky during the fighting. He paid the price of defeat, yes, being captured by the dreaded Russians after the final battle for Berlin, but never acknowledges culpability as a serving officer in the horrors unleashed by Hitler's Germany.
Dziwna jest jednak ta "mentalność niemiecka", o ile takowa istnieje. Szybko podporządkowują się zwycięzcom, ale podskórnie ciągle tacy sami. Autor wytyka egoizm Hitlera, ale sam nie widzi problemu w tym, że podczas gdy inni żołnierze są rozstrzeliwani za "dezercję" przy opuszczaniu stanowisk bez rozkazów, on może przesiadywać w restauracji i twierdzi że rozkaz Schornera ma uzasadnienie. Nasz dzielny sztabowiec nie widzi też problemu w używaniu dzieci do walk, twierdząc że Hitlerjugend może być dobrze wykorzystane i ma pewne walory bojowe. Najdziwniejsze dla mnie było to, że po tym jak w niewoli marzył o spotkaniu z rodziną, żona i dziećmi, w pierwszej kolejności zadbał o ucieczkę do Niemiec Zachodnich, a dopiero potem starał się sprowadzić tam rodzinę, co ostatecznie udało mu się dopiero rok później (a przecież mogło się nigdy nie udać). O matce ani słowa, domyślam się że została w NRD i nigdy już jej nie spotkał (?). Pisząc te wspomnienia autor z pewnością posiadł już wiedzę, o tym jak traktowani byli chociażby czerwonoarmiści w niewoli niemieckiej - wspomniał o tym bardzo ogólnikowo. W porównaniu z tym, jego trudy niewoli to były wczasy. I jeszcze jedna sprawa, to już druga książka zawierająca wspomnienia jeńca niemieckiego, w której zaznaczono, że funkcjonariusze NKWD nie stosowali wobec nich przemocy fizycznej. Nie chce mi się w to wierzyć, ale istnieje możliwość, że bili oni tylko "swoich", tj. Rosjan i Polaków.
This book is interesting on its surface but as German war memoirs go it has no deep insight, as with Junger, or literary value, as with Remarque.
Knappe lucked out pretty much the entire war, receiving flesh wounds and being sent home at crucial times, being promoted further and further out of danger, and usually being transferred from one safe, quiet posting to another, or being pulled out to attend military academy. Even when he was in combat, he spent his entire military career in the artillery, the horse drawn component of a mechanized army and was therefore usually behind the vanguard.
There are still some fascinating parts to this book- crossing the alps with horse drawn artillery, running between hitlers bunker and the front line during the battle of Berlin, five years in a Russian prison camp. But the bulk of the book is as I’ve described.
If you have a deep interest in World War II, then you will enjoy this book thoroughly. If your interest is only passing or moderate, skip this and read something else.
An intriguing look at WWII from a young German officer's point of view. It's fascinating to see his take on victories and losses in the war. His detailing of military hierarchy. training, and strategizing is thorough and informative. It's also a head shaker to see how tone-deaf a person can be to his own and his nation's responsibility for the war. For example, it's France's fault Germany had to invade them for declaring war - although Germany provoked that declaration by invading France's (and England's) ally, Poland. It's also intriguing to see how adeptly the German government brainwashed their people gradually by indoctrination on innumerable social and political levels. Still, four years in a Russian prison camp seemed to have brought on greater reflection and understanding in Knappe. Nevertheless, when the Russians are brutally sieging Berlin as payback for the Germans' own ruthlessness in war, it's hard to find someone to root for.
This was recommended to me by a friend as a companion read for Guy Sajer's Forgotten Soldier. The Eastern Front from the perspective of an officer. In gripping narrative, Knappe goes beyond the war in describing his life both before and after the war, including his experience in the labor corps, officer's academy, and an in-depth description of postwar Russian captivity. Well-written and reflective, the book moves along quickly yet is filled with interesting detail and insight.
Knappe also shares about his love for his wife Lilo, and as I listened, I found myself longing to know the end of the story: would they both survive? Would they reunite in the end? Well-written memoirs can keep one as enthralled as a work of fiction!
In this memoir, a former major in the German army during WWII remembers his life in the pre-war days through his release post-war from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp.
Knappe appears to be from an upper middle class German family. Knappe does not tell his story chronologically, but rather deals with the end and then looks back at the pre-war and war years while he is transported to Russia. From a chronological view, his memoir starts with a recollection of a skiing trip with 3 good friends after graduation from gymnasium. One of his friends is Jewish and informs his friends that his father may be taking the family to London because of the growing anti-Semitic fev0r growing in Germany. This stands out because Knappe never talks with any detail about the Nazi activities in connection with the Jews. He relays one time when he had to stop an officer under his command from harassing a Polish Jew and says that was the only time he had to do that because it showed his men it was inappropriate. He explains that he thought the officer's actions inappropriate but understood them given the Nazi propaganda against the Jews. He tells of being questioned about Auschwitz and other death camps by the Russians and how for a long time they did not believe that he did not know the Nazis were murdering the Jewish population. Knappe explains that he thought the Russians were lying about the killing, as they did about most everything. He says he did not believe it until the Nuremburg trials and that he then had to put it in a dark corner of his mind and not participate in discussions about it in order to not loose his sanity.
Knappe tells of his experience performing required labor post-gymnasium. During this time, the participants not only worked but learned to drill and keep their shovels pristine. Knappe seems to like the structure and enters the military when promised a free college ride by doing so. He finds the military to his liking and is quickly promoted to pre-officer status and gets officer training. He is in the horse drawn armory branch of the service. He learns how to take care of the horses and to shoot the guns and is quickly moved up in the ranks. He talks about being in combat in France, Russia, and Italy before he is accepted to the General Staff War College. Knappe appears to have had a guardian angel as while he is wounded many times and sent to hospital (and home), he is soon able to return to service. When he is home while his wounds are healing, he manages to fall in love and eventually marries. He is in combat when his first son is born and a Russian prisoner when the second arrives. He does have a chance to live with his family while at the war college, but that ends when his class, the last class before total defeat, graduates as the Russians approach the location of the war college. Knappe ends his military service in the defense of Berlin.
Knappe, similar to what I've read elsewhere about the officers in the German army, becomes disillusioned as the war continues beyond re-gaining land lost as the result of the Versailles treaty and defeating France (the biggest proponent of the terms of the Versailles treaty) and the fighting continues long after the end was obvious. The army officers know that given the type of fighting they were involved with in Russia, they would do better surrendering to the West than to the Russian troops. Of course, they do not know that the deal the Allies reached provided that Russia would get to take Berlin -- be the first to enter.
While Knappe is only a Major, he was in Berlin when Hitler committed suicide and the Russians want to know what went on. So Knappe finds himself in a prisoner-of-war camp with generals and other high ranking officers, Polish royalty, and important civilians. He is there for about 5 years. The Russians like to play psychologically with their prisoners. Finally, after spending time in three or four prisoner-of-war camps and not being tried for war crimes, Knappe and many other Germans are released and sent back to Germany. Knappe doesn't want to live under communism, so he figures out how to end up in West Germany, with his family.
In an afterward, we learn how Knappe got to the US and what happened to some of his friends from the Russian prisoner-of-war camps.
This well-told memoir provides insight on WWII from a German army officer's view. It is interesting.