Book Review – Herbert Maeger, Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty (London: Frontline, 2018)

 Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty is the memoir of Herbert Maeger who fought with German forces during the Second World War.

He initially joined the 1st SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” (LAH) in September 1941, forced to enlist to prevent action being taken against his mother who had made a derogatory remark about Hitler.[1] After basic training, he was deployed to the division on the Eastern Front in mid-December 1941.[2] He served with the unit in Russia until the mind of 1942 when the unit was deployed to France. The LAH returned to the East in late 1942 and fought in the Battles of Kharkov, Kursk and Belgorod. With the allied invasion of Italy, the LAH was redeployed to Italy and Istria on occupation and anti-partisan operations. During his service in the LAH, Maeger was a machine gunner and driver for his company commander. While in Italy, Maeger was wounded and was transferred to the SS officer training school to become a doctor. While attending the school, Maeger was dismissed after being caught making a ‘defeatist’ statement.[3] He ended up in an SS Penal unit. At the war’s end, he was captured by Soviet forces.


Unit insignia for 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler

In many ways, Maeger’s account is contradictory. For example, he maintains that many SS men in the combat formations were not motivated by loyalty to the party or Nazi ideology. When he joined he said that the ‘old troopers’ of the LAH were ‘hardly fitting the political-genetic image of the SS: they were nearly all men of the simplest origins and of little education…and lured by the rewards available to a professional soldier than the political ideas’.[4] In mid-1943, ‘there was no talk of enthusiasm for the ‘National Socialist cause’, not even amongst the volunteers, many of whom had stepped forward encouraged by fanatical parents or teachers or under other compulsions. When a staff officer lectured the men of our company on the Nazi ‘world view’ during the long rest period at Olshany, their boredom with it was clearly evident’.[5] He noted, when he attended officer school in late 1943, that the ‘school leadership was composed recognisably of officers who stood closer to the Party cadres than the fighting men, they had a tangible ‘stable smell’ which was not ours’.[6] However, he maintains that ‘what united the Waffen-SS to a great extent was the common motive of uncompressing struggle against Bolshevism’.[7]

He also suggests that the LAH fought with honour and upheld the laws of war but at the same time documents several incidents which are clear war crimes. He maintains that he and his comrades ‘basically…respected ‘Ivan’ and felt a vague kind of…empathy with him because he couldn’t help admiring us and was not better off in the field than we were. Russians who came across to us as defectors…were often simply mustered into the German forces’.[8] Though he concedes that though the Waffen SS did not have a ‘stainless shield’ it was wrong to say that it ‘showed ruthless harshness towards prisoners of war or brutality against the civilian populations in occupied territories, contrary to what has been said of it repeatedly ever since’.[9] Nevertheless, in his own testimony, he notes two occasions where comrades shot dead Russian POWs, he witnesses and agrees with the murder of a partisan by his officer and one of his comrades burnt down civilian housing without censure or punishment.[10]

Finally, Maeger’s own motivation for writing his memoir are contrary. He writes to ‘correct false representations’ of the Waffen SS but also emphasize that he had been forced to join the SS.[11] It seems strange that someone who complains that he was compelled to enlist in a formation writes a memoir trying to correct what he regards are slights against its reputation.

Unfortunately, the clean image that Maeger seeks to present for the LAH is contradicted by the overwhelming evidence of its soldiers’ involvement in war crimes. For example, during the time Maeger served with the LAH, men in the unit committed many atrocities. In January 1943 in Kharkov, LAH troops killed wounded Soviet soldiers in the city’s military hospital, murdering hundreds.[12] The following month in the Ukrainian villages of Yefremovka and Semyonovka, 872 men, women and children were killed.[13] Finally, while the LAH was deployed in Italy in September later that year, LAH men murdered 49 Jewish refugees near Lake Maggiore.[14] After the war, high ranking LAH commanders Sepp Dietrich and Joachim Peiper were both convicted of war crimes.

In the epilogue, Maeger argues that though ‘it cannot be denied that terrible crimes were committed [by the SS]… in the concentration camps’ the responsibility of those crimes was that of the SS, party and political leadership and not front line units.[15] He argues that in combat formations units many young people, including him, served faithfully because they believed it was a ‘good cause’ but they ‘lost their honour’ because ‘their loyalty had been shamelessly betrayed years earlier by a leadership without a conscience’.[16] Maeger’s argument is very difficult to sustain given his own evidence of war crimes committed by his colleagues and the overwhelming evidence of many LAH soldiers being actively involved in the killing of many Jews, Russian civilians and POWs.  



[1] Herbert Maeger, Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty (London: Frontline, 2018), pp.13-14.

[2] Ibid., p.28.

[3] Ibid., p.194.

[4] Ibid., p.24.

[5] Ibid., pp.158-159.

[6] Ibid., p.191.

[7] Ibid., p.147.

[8] Ibid., p.49.

[9] Ibid., p.27.

[10] Ibid., pp.139-141,182, 141.

[11] Ibid., p.246.

[12] Tim Ripley, SS Steel Storm: Waffen-SS Panzer Battles on the Eastern Front 1943–1945. (Osceola, Wis/USA: MBI Publishing, 2000), p.73.

[13]  Danny Parker, Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmédy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge. (Cambridge, MA/USA: Da Capo, 2014), pp.356-357.

[14] Susan Zuccotti, Holocaust Odysseys: The Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie and Their Flight through France and Italy (New Haven/USA: Yale University Press, 2007), p.123.

[15] Maeger, Lost Honour, p.248.

[16] Ibid., p.248.