Book Review: Horst Fuchs Richardson (Ed.), Your Loyal and Loving Son: The Letters of Tank Gunner Karl Fuchs, 1937-41. (Washington: Brassey’s, 2003)

The letters of Karl Fuchs present a different view of the German soldier in the Second World War than is frequently portrayed in the crude caricatures represented in British popular culture. There are three types of German serviceman that occupy this genre and all are demonstrated in the 1963 film, The Great Escape that portrays the 1944 mass escape of allied airmen from the German POW camp. The first type are the hapless camp guards (or goons) that are easily outwitted by the allied inmates. The second group are the ‘good Germans’ of the Luftwaffe camp leadership. They are dutiful and patriotic soldiers who run the camp in a firm but fair way with due regard to the proper treatment of POWs. The final group are the ‘evil Nazis’ of the Gestapo and SS who are presented as sinister, threatening and fanatical. They want to harshly punish escaped POWs that they apprehend and eventually execute 50 at the end of the film. 

Using this typology set out above, Karl Fuchs would fit neatly into the third category as a devout follower of Hitler and member of the National Socialist Party. However, his letters show him to be a much more complex, sophisticated and nuanced individual who was a son, husband, father and primary school teacher as well as being a soldier and a Nazi.

Karl was born in March 1917.[1] His father Hans was a school teacher and the family lived in Rosstal, near Nuremberg. Karl became a member of the Hitler Youth and also became an elementary school teacher like his father. The volume of letters covers the period from 1937 to 1941. This time span includes Karl’s service in the National Labour Service, finishing his studies as a teacher, enlisting in the Army in October 1939, his time training as an officer cadet, being stationed in occupied France and finally his part in Operation Barbarossa from June 1941 to his death in November.[2] In Russia, he served as a tank gunner and then tank commander with the 25th Panzer Regiment, which was part of the 7th Division in Army Group North.

The letters show that Karl was an ardent Nazi. His communications contain repeated regurgitation of Nazi Party slogans, attitudes and racism and cover the cause of the Sudetenlanders, French degeneracy and the supremacy of the German race.[3] After Kristallnacht in November 1938, he wrote to his parents that they ‘should have been in Wurzburg during this Jewish mess…the authorities did not miss one of those pig Jews.’[4] Nevertheless, the correspondence show Karl as an individual with a vibrant personal life, a strong emotional bond with his wife and an accomplished musician. He was also treasured and deeply missed, his widow Helen, introduces Karl’s letters as ‘my beloved husband’.[5] His son Horst, who never met his father, only got to know him through his letters.[6]

Viewing Karl as a person rather than a celluloid stereotype is vital. The letters are important as the built a view of Karl, his personality and drives. He was a product of his times, shaped by contemporary political, social and cultural forces in inter-war Germany. His wife thought that Karl was ‘greatly influenced by his father who was a restless romantic and somewhat dissatisfied with life as a school teacher in a small village…grew up with the teachings of National Socialism and…was overwhelmed by the[m making him]…an idealist and a firm believer in the Third Reich’[7] 

The point of reading the letters was to explore what motivated Karl as a soldier to fight and endure on the Eastern Front. A complex picture emerges of his drives and influences. There is no doubt that he is motivated by Nazi ideology. On 3 June 1941, he writes to his wife that ‘we’re not fighting just for you and me; we are fighting for the existence of our entire people, of our Volk’[9]. Two months later he again wrote to his wife that he had seen Russian prisoners; ‘They all look emaciated and the wild, half-crazy look in their eyes makes them appear like imbeciles. And these scoundrels, led by Jews and criminals, wanted to imprint their stamp on Europe…Thank God that our Fuhrer…is preventing this from happening’.[10] 

Connected to this he is motivated by intrinsic ideas that combat is a test of manhood. He wrote to his father on 2 June 1940, while training in Germany, that he wanted to get into the action fearing ‘if anyone tags me a coward, I could not live with the shame’.[11] In February 1941, he continues the theme in another letter to his father ‘I want to be part of the action! I want to prove that I’m a man!’[12]

Finally, he is motivated by the camaraderie of his comrades. On 26 October 1941, he wrote to his wife that a ‘great friendship binds us Germans soldiers together out here. It is this comradery and the support that we’re able to give each other that is, in my opinion, the secret behind our incredible success and victories. The loyalty and devotion to the cause again and again was the decisive factor in many a battle and I tell you, this comradeship has been one of the most magnificent experience out here. This loyalty is the essence of the German fighting spirit. We can depend on each other unconditionally. Each one of sets an example of the other and that makes us strong. I’ve always known of this loyalty, but today it buns like a holy flame. Let this loyalty which I’ve experience out here in comradeship be the foundation of our future life’.[13]

However, Karl’s dream is to return home. In August 1941, he writes to his mother that his ‘thoughts often travel homeward and then I’m able to picture my homeland…with all the things I love’.[14] The next month he confesses to his wife; ‘I ask myself when I will be able to go home. But I must not give this thought much priority even though it is my deepest wish’.[15] In October, he wrote that ‘in these four months [since Horst’s birth] I have been separated from you and have been with you only in my thoughts’.[16]

Overall, this is a fascinating set of letters and reveals the inner thoughts and life of a German soldier in the early phases of Operation Barbarossa. Its utility is enhanced by the excellent annotations and background history provided by Dennis Showalter.


[1] Horst Fuchs Richardson (Ed.), Your Loyal and Loving Son: The Letters of Tank Gunner Karl Fuchs, 1937-41, (Washington: Brassey’s, 2003), p.13.

[2] Ibid., p.5.

[3] Ibid., pp.34-35.

[4] Ibid., pp.36-37.

[5] Ibid., p.1.

[6] Ibid., p.4.

[7] Ibid., p.1.

[9] Ibid., p.105.

[10] Ibid., p.118.

[11] Ibid., pp.59-60.

[12] Ibid., p.86.

[13] Ibid., p.142.

[14] Ibid., p.123.

[15] Ibid., p.127.

[16] Ibid., p.136.