Memoirs from the Eastern Front by an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier with an extraordinary grasp the horrors of war.
In a cogent introduction, British historian Max Hastings stresses that the enormity and ferocity of the land campaign between Germany and Russia, the true centerpiece of World War II, were, and still are, in good part lost on Americans. The strategy of the U.S.—a small land force with air superiority—was premised on Russia paying the price in blood to defeat Hitler. At war’s end, Allied dead totaled perhaps one million citizens; the Soviets lost 27 million. U.S. and British forces killed a combined 220,000 German troops; the Russians killed three million and also shot 167,000 of their own troops attempting to flee the battlefield. Introspective Private Reese records his disdain for military service as well as his acceptance of its inevitability, and sets down in page after graphic page the absurdity of the war and his amazement at his own ability to sometimes revel in it (often drunk). After looting a captured train of spirits and food, he writes, “we…whooped and skipped over the rails and danced in the cars…made a Russian woman prisoner dance naked for us, greased her tits with boot polish and got her as drunk as we were.” In the aftermath of a night battle, however, he starkly recalls the faces of the dead and contemplates what is gained by fighting: “If I fell tomorrow, life would go on without me…thousands more were ready to work and to bring the task to completion, to quarrel with destiny, and prevail or, like me, fall by the wayside.” After a furlough, Reese returned to the Front and was killed in 1944; his diary was preserved for decades by his mother.
<\b>Candid, personal, laced with thoroughly haunting imagery.