Erwin Bartmann volunteered for service in the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, the first of the Waffen SS divisions. These memoirs provide us with a view of three distinct periods. First is the time the author spent fighting on the Eastern Front, starting fairly soon after the German invasion and ending when he was badly wounded at Kursk. Second is his time recovering from that wound, with some time spent near his home in Berlin, where he witnessed the Allied bombing of the city. Finally he returned to action in time to take part in the desperate battles around Berlin, the flight westwards of many German soldiers (in particular SS men, who were well aware of their fate in Allied hands), and the early chaotic days in large interment camps (where the author came under threat from fellow Germans determined to find Nazi scapegoats for their situation).
Don't expect much on the Waffen SS's war crimes (in the author's defence the Leibstandarte doesn't appear to have been involved in many, especially during the author's time with the unit, so he may well not have witnessed much). In contrast there is plenty on Soviet war crimes and atrocities. The author is self-aware enough to realise that the actions of other parts of the SS (including the SD) and other Waffen SS units have permanently tainted the reputation of his own unit.
On the other hand the author is very good on the lure of the Nazi regime in pre-war Germany, from the all-pervasive propaganda to the 'restoration' of order on the streets (not being aware that much of the disorder was caused by the Nazis themselves). He describes this as the 'evil zeitgeist' that poisoned his world and that of many of his fellow Germans (his record of the reaction to the death of Hitler is fascinating).
The author also makes it clear just how much of a chance the Germans missed through their brutal behaviour in the east - many Soviet citizens initially welcomed the 'liberation' from Stalinist rule, and the author himself received a warm welcome in many areas. This changed once the true nature of the German occupation became clear, and later in the war the author came under fire even when some way behind the front.
This leads to the main impression one gets, of the chaotic nature of combat on the Eastern Front, where the vast scale of the front meant that the front lines could be quite porous and ill defined, especially in urban fighting (the author nearly got caught out on several occasions).
This is a valuable memoir, providing both a good account of the nature of the fighting in the East, and the changing attitudes of the author, both towards the Nazi regime and the chances of final victory.
1 - A Diary of Indoctrination
2 - The Apprentice
3 - The Applicant
4 - Auf Wiedersehen Lichterfelde
5 - A Lesson in Practical Telephony
6 - Onwards to Taganrog
7 - Close Calls
8 - A Steppe too far
9 - Retreat to the Mius-Sambek Line
10 - Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas
11 - Spring Smiles on Sambek
12 - The Beauties of Paris
13 - Transfer to Normandy
14 - Little Diversions for the Young Men of the Leibstandarte
15 - Return to Russia
16 - Friendly Fire
17 - On a Summer's Day
18 - Sewing Machines and T-34s
19 - Prokhorovka
20 - The Scarecrow of Prokhorovka
21 - A New Life in Berlin
22 - New Year Celebrations, 1944
23 - Snobbery and Rebellion
24 - First Love and Final Gatherings
25 - Fond Farewells
26 - The Last Redoubt
27 - The Tale of the Three Generals
28 - The Junghans-Hengstmann Mystery
29 - Sardines, Murder and Rape
30 - Sanctuary in Jerichow
31 - The Wrong Side of the Styx
32 - Captivity
Author: Erwin Bartmann
Translated: Derik Hammond