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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz




D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz

War is brutal, unforgiving destruction, formed by grand strategies, over which the men and women who fight the war have little control, and their efforts are mostly forgotten.  The personal experiences of those who fight and die is seldom in the history books, and not at all in the high school classroom.

Yes, Wellington beat Napoleon at Waterloo.  MacArthur and Nimitz followed different strategies in the Pacific.  Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander in Europe.  Patton was a great commander,who slapped a soldier.

But, what of the man in the trench, with dust in his eyes, while the man beside him has skin burned away and dies in the horrifying hell of being burned alive by white phosphorous?  How about irrational hate for an enemy whose bullets ripped your friend apart and left a bloody mess of what used to be a man?

We see old newsreels of the storming of the beaches at Normandy. We’re shocked at bodies floating in the waves and slumped in the sand.  But, it’s long ago and not personal.  You never knew your dad’s brother or your aunt’s husband.  They died in the war. The fullness of their lives limited to a bland statement.

I don’t blame the teachers or the writers of history books, who have compressed time and pages to make a good summation.  Even movies like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or books like ‘Band of Brothers’, must of necessity leave out details in favor of painting with a broad brush and keeping the plot moving.

Sometimes an author gets it right, but often the work is fiction, like Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked and the Dead’.  Another is ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ by Steven Crane, and a third is ‘Killer Angels’ by Michael Shaara.  And while novels pick up the flavor of men in battle, they are the voices of those men portrayed by fictional characters and created by the authors.  I’m not belittling these books and have enjoyed all three immensely.  But, Holger Eckhertz’s book is the real thing, unvarnished, with the smell of cordite and blood and the feel of truth.

To me, real history is personal and for the common soldier, sailor, Marine, or aviator, war is as personal as it gets.  But even more rare than personal history is personal history seen from the other side.  In D-Day: Through German Eyes, Holger Eckhertz shares interviews with German solders, both officers and other ranks, of what they saw and felt, their fears and tragedies.   He puts a human face on an implacable enemy, not to vilify, but to trace commonalities of fighting men, no matter the style and color of their uniforms.

“We crouched down there (in the chamber under the German bunker) and looked up at the roof over us, as the English up there began to set off explosions and smash our equipment…It was extremely hot and smoky in the chamber, and sweat ran down my face as I crouched there, wrapping a bandage around my wounded arm and looking (up) at the trap door….

…the thought of those incendiary grenades coming down into our confined space was horrifying.  Some of my men began praying, while others kept up a stream of muttered obscenities directed at the enemy, vowing a dreadful revenge for this humiliation.”

“…why would they (the English) want to burn us alive when we were protecting Europe?  What was the origin of this hatred?  I had no answer to such questions.”

Eckhertz takes us into the mind of the enemy, near the beaches, in the bunkers further back, into hand-to-hand combat and best of all into the mind of the German soldier, his thoughts, his fears, his sudden realization that this is it.  Not just a feint, not just a commando raid.  He looks though the heavy cement bunker’s machine gun slits and sees the sea alive with more ships and landing craft than he could ever imagine.  Unimaginable power.

This book is alive with emotion, dread, realizations, and all the personal horrors of war.  If you want a glimpse of D-Day as you’ve never seen it, D-Day: Through German Eyes is a book you can’t and won’t stop reading. This is the story of the German soldier, not another caricature of the hated Nazi, but a personal glimpse of men at war.


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