Alois Dwenger, writing from the front in May 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. Idealistic and motivated by a desire to create a new society, he waged a cruel ideological war on behalf of a racist conception of national community. Though he was fiercely proud of his skill and resilience, his stubborn efforts ultimately led only to more senseless destruction. 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." In contrasting these German soldiers with their American counterparts, he makes clear how much soldiers everywhere have in common, but he also reveals differences in ideological intensity, group cohesiveness, ingenuity, discipline, and quality of equipment that will come as a surprise to many readers familiar with the history of World War II.
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.