A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944

The title of this blog is also the title of a book written by Willy Peter Reese.

He was born on born January 22, 1921 in Duisburg. It is not clear when he died but it estimated he more then likely died between June 22 and 27, 1944 near Wizebsk in the Soviet Union.

Willy Peter Reese was a German writer. During the Second World War , as a Wehrmacht soldier on the Eastern Front, he kept records of his experiences, which he edited into a manuscript. It was published in 2003 with the title “A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944”

In the book he describes the things he sees on the battlefields and the crimes which are committed. He is clearly disgusted by it, but even more so because he is a participant in these horrific deeds because he was a soldier.

He was only twenty years old when he found himself marching through Russia with orders to take no prisoners. Three years later he was dead. Bearing witness to-and participating in-the atrocities of war, Reese recorded his reflections in his diary, leaving behind an intelligent, touching, and illuminating perspective on life on the eastern front. He documented the carnage perpetrated by both sides; the destruction that was exacerbated by the young soldiers’ hunger, frostbite, and exhaustion; and their daily struggle to survive. And he wrestled with his own sins, with the realisation that what he and his fellow soldiers had done to civilians and enemies alike was unforgivable, with his growing awareness of the Nazi policies toward Jews, and with his deep disillusionment with himself and his fellow men.

I have to be honest I have only read some of the book. In a way it is an easy read in the way it is written, but is extremely hard to read because if the descriptive narration of the horrors. I will however finish the book soon.

One thing that is very clear from the book is that it wasn’t only the SS committing atrocities, but also the regular German army, the Wehrmacht.

These are just two excerpts from the book.

“We are war. Because we are soldiers. I have burned all the cities, Strangled all the women, Brained all the children, Plundered all the land. I have shot a million enemies, Laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches, Ravaged the souls of the inhabitants, the blood and tears of all the mothers. I did it, all me.—I did. Nothing. But I was a soldier.”

“Our quarters were wrecked, and there were corpses littered about everywhere. We covered the German dead with tarpaulins; with the Cossacks we took off their felt boots and caps, as well as their pants and underpants, and put them on. We now moved closer together in the few houses still standing. One soldier had been unable to find any felt boots, which were an excellent protection against the cold. The next day he found a Red Army corpse frozen stiff. He tugged at his legs, but in vain. He grabbed an ax and took the man off at the thighs. Fragments of flesh flew everywhere. He bundled the two stumps together under his arm and set them down in the oven, next to our lunch. By the time the potatoes were done, the legs were thawed out, and he pulled on the bloody felt boots. Having the dead meat next to our food bothered us as little as if someone had wrapped his frostbite between meals or cracked lice.”

sources

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/words-war-11

https://www.academia.edu/3420145/Sexual_Violence_in_Europe_in_World_War_II_1939_1945_in_Politics_and_Society_March_2009?email_work_card=view-paper

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