I must admit I struggled to decide if I was going to feature this book. The actual war diary itself is a useful source, but the historical introduction and the editor’s footnotes are appalling biased, heading towards the apologist school of thought. We thus get exaggerated reports of Soviet war crimes (of which there were of course many), using the wartime German figures for their scale. The original German conquest of the area is described as being a move into the ‘Great Wilderness’, as if the area had been empty, rather than being populated by the original Baltic ‘Old Prussians’. Ilya Ehrenburg’s 1942 article ‘Kill’, written when the Germans were at the gates of Moscow and in the middle of fighting a genocidal war of annihilation is used as evidence of a deliberate Soviet plan of destruction, even though the author had made it clear in the same year that he was only referring to armed German soldiers. Some parts of the introduction, looking at the formation of the Volksturm, or Just’s life and career, can be used, but the rest needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt.
Despite these flaws, the actual diary is of great value. Bruno Just fought with the Volkssturm, a force created to be a purely Nazi militia, untainted by contact with the no longer trusted Wehrmacht. As a result it was poorly equipped, organised and untrained when first thrown into battle, and we get to see that period here at the start of Just’s career. His unit was then withdrawn for proper training and used alongside the regular army. His unit suffered very heavy casualties, ending the war with only a handful of survivors, despite receiving several batches of reinforcements.
It is interesting to see the impact of Nazi propaganda – tales of Soviet atrocities begin before the Soviets actually reached old East Prussia, and it is worth remembering that German troops captured by the Soviets were far more likely to survive than Soviet troops captured by the Germans. However we also see Just’s disillusionment with the Nazi party, and with Hitler. He was particularly angry about the lack of any Party leaders amongst his men, which he compared negatively to the presence of Communist Party men with the fighting units of the Red Army. Just’s unit survived because its commanding officer also shared his general attitude, and instead of insisting on a fight to the death faked orders for a retreat to Denmark! Just’s unit was also lucky in that it was fighting just to the north of the final Soviet drive west towards Berlin, so was bypassed by the main battles, as demonstrated by the various maps showing the long narrow German foothold along the Baltic coast that survived very late in the fighting in 1945. The account of the fighting is brutal and honest, as one would expect for this period. The
War Diary of Bataillonsadjutant Just of Volkssturm Einsatz Bataillon Goldap (25/235), 17 October 1944-3 May 1945
Author: Bruno Just