Monday, October 14, 2013

Book R & R: The True German

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge" by Werner Otto Muller-Hill, introduction by Benjamin Carter Hett.

Werner Otto Muller-Hill was an upper-middle class German from Frieburg. He served as a military judge in the First World War before he went home to pursue a legal career. He was recalled to active duty in the German Wehrmacht, again to serve as a military judge in 1940. He was very pro-German, and very anti-Nazi. He started keeping a journal in March 1944 as a record for his young son, in the event he did not survive the war. Defeatism and criticizing the Fuhrer were crimes in Hitler's Germany, so if the things Muller-Hill wrote in his diary were ever found out, it could mean his death. But he survived the war, closing his journal two weeks after the German surrender to the Allies. He was sixty years old at the end of the war. Muller-Hill died in 1977.

German military justice was draconian during WWII. For example, the introduction provides the statistic that during WWI, German military courts sentenced 48 soldiers to death. However, under Nazi rule from 1933 to 1945 at least 20,000 and maybe as many as 33,000 or more soldiers, civilians, and POWs subject to military justice were put to death. (p. xvi) As Benjamin Carter Hett says, "Nazi military law...specified both harsh penalties and a speedy procedure, with few rights for defendants." (p. xix) Werner Otto Muller-Hill was one of the "good" judges though, who obviously thought a soldier would perform better back in his unit rather than hanging on the end of a rope.

What makes Muller-Hill's diary so interesting, and so valuable as a historical tool, is the amount of information he had, or moreover, what he knew. On April 5, 1944 Muller-Hill wrote that "We are rushing head-long into the worst kind of defeat...In a year we'll know more!!!" He almost predicted the outcome of the war and the date of Germany's defeat. Filtered through propaganda, briefings through his chain of command, newspaper and radio, this rear echelon officer knew quite a bit about things that previously we thought the average German did not. Along with his insight, he was often sarcastic and sometimes humorous. He talks of missiles being fired at London as "retribution" for the landings in Normandy (pp. 49-52) and also predicts the futility of the Battle of the Bulge (p. 131). He praises the attempt on Hitler's life (p. 59) and is upset about the use of 14-year old boys being put into defensive positions toward the end of the war (p. 92).

Most startling is Muller-Hill's rant about a speech given by Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, where he writes "What nerve this man has! How dare he talk about gruesome maltreatment of women and children, when we've summarily murdered hundreds of thousands of Jewish women and children in Poland and Russia!" (p. 155). For me this helps to dispel the myth that the general populace of Germany, particularly the Wehrmacht, had no knowledge of the Holocaust before the end of the war.

"The True German" is a quick read, and in the real voice of an astute observer of what was going on around him. Reading this book provides the opportunity to hear what a very knowledgeable German officer was thinking at the time the events unfolded around him. His words are not filtered by a historian or other writer. The book is, in fact, a primary source document, both enlightening and entertaining. A nice addition to your WWII library.

The publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, provided a review copy of "The True German."

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