Everything Old Is New Again

“The German people seemed to be quite happy with the way things had gone early in the war. Even with the invasion of Russia, morale was good when things went well in the beginning. The German population in general saw communism as a social evil because of the reports coming out of Russia prior to the war–reports of mass starvation as government policy, of mass executions of political opponents, and of the brutal forced relocation of millions of peasants. And these things were known in Germany, and of course the Propaganda Ministry emphasized and magnified them. And, of course, the population, perhaps cynically, would not have objected to our acquiring the food-producing Ukraine and the oil-producing Caucasus.

“Since our losses in Russia were becoming more and more severe, however, things were beginning to change. During the quick campaigns in Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Greece, we’d had heavy losses but our losses ended quickly because the campaigns were short. On the Russian front, our per-day losses in the beginning were lighter, but they never stopped–they continued day after day, week after week, month after month. And as time passed, our casualties kept getting heavier. Our losses were never reported at home, but more and more families had sons who had been killed or badly wounded. Slowly, the people began to get the picture, not from the government, but indirectly from talking to one another. Strangers in a store or in a line waiting to buy milk would talk to each other. What had happened to my family was not different from what had happened to many others, and now it was becoming apparent to everyone that things were not going well in Russia. Of course, everyone hoped that with a spring offensive things would go well again. We learned how to interpret the news, because the Propaganda Ministry always used the same language to describe the same situations. For example, the use of “heroes” or “heroic” always meant we had suffered heavy losses. When we read about the “heroes of Tula”, we knew we were losing the battle for Tula.”

From Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949, by Siegfried Knappe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *