Book Review – Wilhelm Pruller, Diary of a German Soldier (New York, USA: Coward McCann, 1963)

The Diary of a German Soldier is the journal of Wilhelm Pruller kept during his service in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.

He served with the 10th and 11th Rifle Regiments, both formations part of the 9th Panzer Division.[1] Pruller served in both an infantry company and as part of the regimental staff of the 11th Rifle Regiment.[2] He saw action in Poland, France and the Soviet Union and during his service, he was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1945, he became a Fuhrungsoffizier, a political officer and German equivalent of the Red Army Soviet Commissar.[3]

 

Pruller was born in January 1916 in Austria.[4] At age 11, he joined the Austrian Hitler Youth and by 17 was a member of the Nazi party.[5] In 1937, he emigrated to Germany and became a member of the SS.[6] After the Anschluss, he returned to Vienna to work as the district manager for Kraft durch Freude [Strength through Joy], the state-operated leisure organization in Nazi Germany.[7] Just before the outbreak of war, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht to perform his national service.[8]

 

Before the war, Pruller was a dedicated Nazi and remained so throughout the conflict. It is his fanaticism for the Nazi cause that makes this diary so noteworthy. His commitment to the ideals of the Nazi party and faith in Hitler shine throughout his entries. For example, in September 1943, he reflected on the war and believed that Hitler was the ‘salvation of the Reich’ who had united the people in one Weltanschauung, or world view. He wrote that Hitler had: 

‘re-established the honour and prosperity to the Reich; the millions of unemployed were incorporated into the stream of industry and national economy…Thus the war of plutocracy against National Socialism began…Russia’s friendship and neutrality proved to be no more than pretended. The Soviet plan was, after the enemies of the Reich had weakened it sufficiently, to attack…to achieve world revolution…The Reich’s attack thus prevented Europe and the rest of the world from becoming Bolshevik…The goal of Bolshevism was …to spread it through the whole world. The political doctrine of Bolshevism in no way represents a scientific theory; it is but a purely political act of world Jewry. And just as the Talmud [The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law ] teaches nothing except murder and destruction, so Bolshevism knows but one science: murder and destruction….Katyn [the site in Western Russia where the Soviets murdered Polish officers they had captured in 1939 that was subsequently discovered by the Nazis and used in propaganda]…it is no longer a fight of the Reich against its old enemies…but a war of Weltanschuauugen, a war of truth against untruth, a war between Teutons and the Jews. Thus, the Teutons of this, the most respected continent on earth, are engaged in a war to the death with Plutocracy, allied with the murderers of the East…’[9]

Insignia of the 9th Panzer Division during WW2 (1941-45)

 

He wrote in December of the same year that, ‘when this war ends, I shall return from it a much more fanatical National Socialist than I was before’.[10] For him, Hitler and the party provide significant emotional and intellectual support to endure and fight. He described how he was in a convoy heading through the rain with all members buried in their own thoughts and feeling down. One soldier put the radio on and Hitler was speaking that had an electric effect on he and his comrades: ‘Forgotten the dull trip, forgotten the wretched rain and cold which had so depressed us. All other thoughts flew away and devotedly we listened to his words.’[11] In August 1944, Pruller noted that ‘nowadays I mostly read Mein Kampf. That does one good in these difficult times; it’s the easiest way for one to keep the faith. I recommend it to everyone…’[12]

Pruller details and engages in activities that may be regarded as certainly criminal, and possibly as war crimes. He participated in the forced evacuation of civilians, implied sexual abuse of the local population by German soldiers, noted the shooting of civilians, the murder of POWs, the burning of villages and the eviction of Soviet citizens from their houses.[13]

However, Pruller does not see anything wrong in the conduct of German forces in Russia believing that Soviet civilians are witnesses to ‘the excellent behaviour of the German Wehrmacht, they are the best propagandists for the German way of life in Russia. Do I need to repeat that not one German soldier has even touched a Russian Women?’[14]

This is a remarkable text and comparatively unknown. It is extraordinary in that it was published in 1963 and demonstrates not only that the Wehrmacht soldiers could be fanatical Nazis but also they participated in many dubious and criminal acts. However, the prevailing view in many countries at the time was that the Wehrmacht had fought an honourable and noble fight as professional soldiers in the patriotic service of Germany; it was Hitler and the SS that had been responsible for the Holocaust.[15]

Pruller survived the war and became a shopkeeper in Vienna after the war and still remained true to his beliefs.[16] The editors believed that this diary served as a warning about how ‘military professionalism, when yoked to romantic purposes, however evil, in a most formidable force. With one eye on new enemies of ours, we might take counsel from this diary: we might discover how what is best in man ban be brought to excellence in the service of what is worst’.[17] 

 

Notes: 

[1] Wilhelm Pruller, Diary of a German Soldier (New York, USA: Coward McCann, 1963), pp.196, 50-51.

[2] Ibid., p.50.

[3] Ibid., p.177.

[4] Ibid., p.189.

[5] Ibid., pp.191, 192.

[6] Ibid., p.195.

[7]Ibid., p.195.

[8] Ibid., p.196.

[9] Ibid., pp.164-167.

[10] Ibid., p.161.

[11] Ibid., pp.160-161.

[12] Ibid., p.176.

[13] Ibid., p.142, 15, 53, 78, 16, 18, 125, 108.

[14] Ibid., pp.146-148.

[15] Uwe Timm, My Brother’s Shadow (London: Bloomsbury, 2005), p.54, 13.

[16] Pruller, p.188.

[17] Ibid., p.9.