Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II

Overview

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 ...

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Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II

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Overview

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 truth: 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawn from letters, diaries and memoirs, this impressive study presents a rounded, detailed picture of the daily life of the Landser-the ordinary German infantryman of WWII-and takes an unblinking look at the stark realities of combat, particularly on the Russian front, where 80% of the German soldiers fought; the hardships endured; and the crushing anxiety of being surrounded by death and killing. The evidence that surfaces in these pages demonstrates that the remarkable unit cohesion and fighting performance of the Landser was due in large part to the bonds of military friendship inherited from Prussian tradition; Wehrmacht leaders ``raised the concept of camaraderie almost to the level of strategic doctrine.'' The study also reveals ways in which the German soldier embraced ideological commitment to National Socialism and how, encouraged by Nazi propaganda, he was free to engage in virtually unlimited criminality if it was directed against the so-called enemies of the German people. Fritz, who teaches history at East Tennessee State, makes edifying comparisons between the Landser and his American, British and Russian counterparts. His book helps explain why the German army was so relentlessly efficient in battle. (Sept.)
Booknews
Drawing from the personal diaries and letters of the Landser--the average German soldier in WWII--Fritz presents an insightful, detailed picture of daily life for the German front soldier. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher

""Fritz does an impressive job of detailing what war was like for the average German soldier on the front lines in World War II."" -- Paper Wars

""Drawn from letters, diaries and memoirs, this impressive study presents a rounded, detailed picture of the daily life of the Landser -- the ordinary German infantryman of WWII -- and takes an unblinking look at the stark realities of combat.... Helps explain why the German army was so relentlessly efficient in battle."" -- Publishers Weekly

""A moving account of personal observations combined with a thoughtful commentary in which the author provides numerous insights into the combat environment."" -- American Historical Review

""So readable as to be difficult to put down.... Should prove enlightening to students of German as well as military history."" -- Virginia Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813109435
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 6/28/1997
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 939,853
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.03 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen G. Fritz, professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is the author of Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East and Endkampf: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Death of the Third Reich.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 25, 2010

    Highly recommend if wanting a soldier's perspective

    This was a great book for several reasons. It fills a place in my ww2 library because of it's perspective: it's details of life as an individual German Soldier vs a campaign overview. The point of this book was to attempt to address the WW2 German Army's combat efficiency relative to it's opponents, by explaining the functioning of its individual and small unit component parts. The author points out that the organizational structure was better at selecting for an individual's combat suitability, training for efficiency in combat, and leveraging social factors at the small group level that explain group cohesion in dire circumstances. In the last point, it supports the classic work of Shils and Janowitz on why groups of men fight. Reading the reviews here, I must disagree mostly with points about point of view, source material and pace. This book probably requires some knowledge of soldiering (or at least a keen interest) but it is detailed by design. With regards to source material, Sajer's experiences were penned many years later, some details would of course muddle - here it was instead selected for other reasons here. Regarding the Forgotton Soldier's accuracy, more people agree the work is valid on it's face than dispute it. Further, when aggregating individual soldier's letters home, the details wouldnt necessatily be consistent but the themes that support the thesis stand together. With regards to pace (and the jumping around effect), I assumed it was at times supposed to mirror the confusion of combat. When I trained to be an Army Officer, I wish this book had been available as it would have greatly aided my understanding at the time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    More suited for a dedicated student of the war

    A fairly decent book for the student of World War II armies who is interested in the common soldier. The author has a bad habit of jumping around and losing the reader in twisting the narrative thread. Two other authors have done a little better with reporting front-line conditions, albeit for different armies. Catherine Merridale did an excellent job in "Ivan's War" from the perspective of the Russian soldier and Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy ("Army at Dawn," "Day of Battle") does an excellent job of showing the American GI's challenges as they entered the war. In any event, I can recommend this as a secondary or tertiary work to add to one's understanding of what motivated the German Landser throughout the war.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2003

    great info, hard to read

    the book is excellent about understanding the german soldier and his way of life in ww2. i thought the author repeated quotes atleast twice throughout the book. excellent for information, great for anybody interested in the german landser of ww2.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2002

    Read this book and understand the German Soldier

    Possibly the finest work WW2 German Army soldiers. Not a book on strategy but instead takes the perspective from an individual and group level. As a lay person with an interest in military history, I was often puzzled by the accomplishments of the WW2 Germany's soldiers. They seemingly mastered the most difficult of all human endeavors better than any other country -- waging war -- fighting equally well in early offensive victories and in later defensive actions. The author composites prior historical work, including the initial "primary group" motivation concepts and the later Nazi ideology motivation explanations while weaving in the supporting examples from works like The Forgotten Soldier and Soldat and letters from the front. The result is a unique explanation of an army considered by many to be possibly the most efficient in modern times; how these men were motivated to do what they did, how they achieved unparalled vicories and later fought till the bitter end after all rational hope of victory was seemingly lost. The book increased my understanding of soldiers (especially Germans)and the relationships that exist between soldiers and how the contributions of small, dedicated groups of men do matter on the larger battlefield. Differs from other accounts in that while the morality of the event is discussed, it is mentioned as it's impact on the soldier's functioning and it takes no countries moral perspective.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good for beginners (perhaps), but a real disappointment

    I was hoping for a good overview of life in the German army, and I was delighted when I saw that it focused on the War in Russia--the forgotten theater of WWII. A social history of the Wehrmacht, if you will. It measures up rather poorly on that standard. Overall the organization of the text was poor. While I am very sympathetic with the portrayal of PTSD and the non-linear nature of combat, this lack of direction overwhelms the overall structure. It becomes a near breathless narrative of traumatic events. I could even have dealt with this. The unforgivable crime is that best parts of the books were drawn from two well known and translated memoirs: Knappe's "Soldat" and Sajer's "The Forgotten Soldier." The last of these is a highly controversial book, and it is not entirely clear if the person actually served. I was expecting more given the thick German-language bibliography which seemed to hint at a breadth of original research. I was hoping for a good social history using the hundreds of millions of private letters that Fritz mentions.
    I strongly suggest reading these first hand accounts and "Ivan's War" by Merridale.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2000

    really good

    frontsoldaten is the book that anyone who is interested in WW2 should read. it has personal accounts of german soldiers, told through diaries, letters, and thoughts. it is an excellent book.

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