Book Review – Johann Voss, Black Edelweiss (Bedford, Penn/USA: Aberjona, 2002)

Black Edelweiss is Johann Voss’ account of his service in the 6th SS Mountain Division during the Second World War. In early 1943, aged 17, he joined the 11th SS Mountain Regiment as a machine gunner and saw action in Soviet Karelia, Finland and the Vosges in France before being captured by US forces in the spring of 1945.[1]

This account was written by Voss while he was a captive of the Americans in the months after the war.[2] The memoir  is unique as Voss struggles with the experience of his time as a Waffen-SS soldier against the revelations that the organisation that he was a member of committed and propagated crimes against humanity that were revealed at the  Nuremberg Trials in 1945 and 1946.[3]

German 6th SS Mountain Division Nord divsional insignia

Voss is initially shocked that the Nuremberg Trials deemed the SS as a criminal organisation but comes to accept the truth. However, he argued that ‘since those mass killings and other crimes against humanity seem to be true, and since they were organised wearing our uniform, who is it to be blamed first, the organisation or the court?’[4]

His challenge is the dissonance between the reality of what the SS did and his service as a soldier. He believed that his unit did nothing ‘which could have tarnished our battalion’s honour…Like all the comrades I knew I was proud to serve with this division. Was it only good luck?’[5]

It may well have been luck. His unit was largely fighting on the soil of Germany’s ally Finland and and the Germans had ‘high regard for Finland and its people.’[6]

The other conflict Voss has is between the revelations about SS crimes and his loyalty to his unit, mates and leaders with whom he served and suffered for nearly two years in the frozen Arctic Circle. He believes that his narrative is his way to portray his comrades’ ‘victories and their defeats, of their small joys and of their suffering, of their idealism and of their self-sacrifice’ that were a ‘true picture of that brief span of their lives which is today the object of damnation and disdain’. He wrote at the end that ‘now…my narration is finished I feel a great relief; as if, at last, I have done my duty.’[7]

This is a fascinating memoir of an SS soldier for two reasons. Firstly, is the fact that it was written almost immediately after the war that gives detail that is often missing from accounts that are written decades after the event. Secondly, there is an acknowledgement of the war crimes of the SS, a reality that so many SS veterans actively ignore in their memoirs.[8]  



[1] Johann Voss, Black Edelweiss (Bedford, Penn/USA: Aberjona, 2002), p.xiii.

[2] Ibid, p.ix.

[3] Accessed 9.9.21.

[4] Voss, p.202.

[5] Ibid, pp.146-147.

[6] Ibid, p.166.

[7] Ibid, p.201.

[8] See these three accounts of men who served with the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: Herbert Maeger, Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty (London: Frontline, 2018), Erwin Bartmann, Für Volk and Führer: The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, (Solihull, UK: Helion & Co., 2013) & Werner Kindler, Obedient unto Death (Solihull, UK: Helion & Co., 2019).