by: Darren Baker [ ]
Books about the SS make some people uncomfortable due to the reputation they acquired as a whole. This book tells of the experience of one man’s war as part of an SS unit and avoids the issues of war crimes for the most part. It does tell the story of a man at war doing what he is told to do and what he has to do to get by. In the telling of his story he does not shy away from the violence that occurred around him.
The following portion of the introduction is as supplied by Pen and Sword:
This is an unrivalled account of one man's service in the elite Waffen-SS Leibstandarte division, principally on the Eastern Front. The author, an 18-year old Belgian, was blackmailed into volunteering for the Waffen-SS in 1941 to save his mother from a concentration camp. After enduring the MG harsh training with the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (considered by some to be a worse experience than the fighting front), Maeger went on to be selected as a frontline driver in Russia. He saw combat at Kharkov and at the legendary battle of Kursk. In 1944 he was transferred out for training as an SS paramedic, but after two months was sent against his will for SS-officer training. Overheard making a defeatist remark, he was sent to the notorious SS penal division Dirlewanger on the Oder front, where he survived the horror of the Halbe pocket.
On 1 May 1945 he was captured by the Russians near the Elbe. He served at the prison camp infirmary as a volunteer which won him the admiration of the Russian female doctor and with her help he gained his early release the same year.
This offering from Frontline books courtesy of Pen and Sword is a paperback book covering the war time memories of Herbert Maeger. This book consists of 258 pages with the text on a matt paper and the few images on gloss paper. I am sure that many will consider this a presentation of selected memories, but even if that is the case I found this a very interesting read covering some aspects of the SS. The contenst are broken down and presented as follows:
Introduction: Between two Fatherlands
Chapter 1 – Recruit in the Leibstandarte
Chapter 2 – My Arrival on the Eastern Front
Chapter 3 – First Half of 1942: Six Months on the Russian Front
Chapter 4 – Second Half of 1942: France – Dieppe
Chapter 5 – My Second Winter in Russia
Chapter 6 – The Battles of Kursk and Belgorod
Chapter 7 – Italian Intermezzo
Chapter 8 – Six Months leave from the War
Chapter 9 – From Junker School to the ‘Crossbones Division’
Chapter 10 – By Tram to the Front
Chapter 11 – The Death March to the West
Chapter 12 - In Trebbin PoW Camp
Chapter 13 – The Homecoming
Herbert was raised as a Belgian in the Malmedy area that was taken from Germany and made part of Belgium after WW1. It is said that votes were held to allow the voters to decide if they wished to become part of Germany again but in his words it was arranged so that it stayed in Belgian hands. This book tells his story in his words from an 18 year old going into the army during World War 2 and then serving with the SS in some of the most hellish battles of that war on the Eastern Front. Initially I was a little concerned that too much time was being dedicated to basic training, but as I read it I became more engrossed in his story.
After going to the Eastern Front it is made clear just how brutal he fighting there was. The more I read about war in the East the more I realised it was the cold and hunger that were the greatest enemy and obtaining Soviet winter clothing was the greatest prize a soldier in that conflict could obtain and this was particularly true of the footwear as Frostbite was a constant enemy. His story in this field of conflict is particularly interesting to me as excluding the brutality of the war the cold weather aspect I find of interest.
When it comes to war crimes they are put down more to the brutality of the conflict rather than out and out murder; this could be the authors’ way of legitimising the actions or what he truly believe, either way he does not try to say it didn’t happen. One part that sticks in my mind is a German motorcyclist who pulled him bike and side car as far over to the edge of a drop as possible that German tanks could get passed, an SS lieutenant told the biker to move which he could not do and so had his tank driven forward mashing the motorcyclist leg. The motorcyclist drew his weapon and shot the Lieutenant in the head before shooting himself.
This book offering is a very well presented look into the life of an SS soldier from training to imprisonment. I am left with the opinion that yes the SS performed some extremely terrible crimes both at the front and rear and the reputation they acquired was well earned, but a large part of life was purely down to surviving another day. While this soldier served with the SS my lasting memory of reading the title is that of a man who is always cold and hungry and so fights the war from one meal to the next.
Darren Baker takes a look at a recent offering from Pen and Sword titled 'Lost Honour, Betrayed loyalty, the Memoir of a Waffen SS Soldier on the Eastern Front.
| || ||N/A|
| || ||ISBN 9781526768858|
| || ||£14.99|
| || ||Jun 21, 2020|
| || ||Germany|
Copyright ©2021 text by Darren Baker [ ]. All rights reserved.