Saturday, May 17, 2008

Directive 19: The Memoirs of SS Sturmbannfhrer Rolf Otto Shiller by Rolf Schiller (Author), Paul K. Harker (Compiler)

Who could ask for something more interesting than an intimately knowledgeable member of the SS writing about his experiences throughout the Second World War? More so, someone who experienced the invasion of Poland, France, the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, the battle of Stalingrad, liquidation of ghetto's, etc. Reading histories of such events is one thing, getting a rare glimpse into the mind and thought process of a person who not only experienced the above but took an active role in these events is something wholly different. For this reason I decided to give this book a read. I had read arguments for why this book is more fiction than reality from at least two authors but was told to read it myself and decide. Well, for those who are familiar with my reviews, you'll notice I have something of an expertise when it comes to the Eastern Front. From what I saw in this book I can say with some certainty that the author did not serve on the Eastern Front and in fact has limited knowledge of what went on there.  More so, there are many details that are simply off when it comes to the time period and the Holocaust, which the author attempts to describe in great detail. The bottom line seems to me that while the author has a rather intimate knowledge of the Holocaust, SS, and Nazi administration, he is lacking in his knowledge of the Eastern Front, which pretty much makes it seem that either the book is fiction or simply riddled with an enormous number of mistakes, thus precluding it from being used as a source.

Some of the major mistakes, inconsistencies, and errors that I found begin on pg. 156-157 when the reader is presented with the following: "A group of four or five Ukrainian Nationalists approached an SS Scharfuhrer and began to chatter in the native language. The Scharfuhrer summoned a Corporal who intently listened to the men before looking around and seeing me. He brought the small delegation over and explained that the men told him the Soviet NKVD had come through Lokachi on the night of the German invasion. He related how the Soviets rounded up the village school teachers, politicians, doctor, census taker, tax collector, and priest. According to the account the Soviet soldiers marched the members of the local intelligentsia into the nearby woods and shot them. When I asked why they would do this, the Corporal translated and one of the men explained. It was said that the NKVD had orders to liquidate all members of the Ukrainian Nationalist intelligentsia because of Stalin's fear they would collaborate with invading German forces to retaliate agianst Soviet political and social oppression." A few things I find odd with this story, the idea that the NKVD came through the town on the NIGHT of the German invasion, how were they able to react so quickly? Most of the communications were down throughout the night as Red Army units had no clue what was going on and what they should do, how did the NKVD mere moments after a German invasion already have orders for the above? Secondly, if in fact those arrested were suspected of being Nationalists they would have already been arrested, why would the NKVD wait to arrest them when the Germans invaded? Lastly, the way these 'nationalists' were killed does not equal what is known of NKVD executions, the author claims they were shot in the back. The NKVD did not shoot at backs, they shot at the base of the neck.

On pg. 234 the author claims Rostov-on-Don is "...by all accounts a fully operational Reich headquarters and city inside the Ukrainian state." Rostov-on-Don is not located in Ukraine. More interestingly it appears that the author spent a lot of time in Rostov-on-Don in 1942, prior to April 5, 1942, yet this is when the city was still in Soviet hands as it was only captured in July of 1942 after being taken from Rundstedt in late 1941 by Marshal Timoshenko's offensive which was able to capture it.

In regards to the Holocaust aspect of the book, it struck me as odd that on pg. 213, when the 'author' is trying to get the Judenrat to give up names of black marketeers he threatens the Judenrat by saying "You will have a roster of names for me within 24 hours or I promise you each resident in this ghetto will be sent to Auschwitz." As far as I can remember, and this being 1942, the death camps and what went on in them were not supposed to be well known. Since when would Jews in ghettos be threatened with deportation to death camps? True enough, some undoubtedly feared deportation and thought they knew what happened to those who were deported, but for an SS officer in 1942 to threaten a Judenrat by simply saying they 'will be sent to Auschwitz'? I thought the whole process was supposed to be a surprise until the very end so that they would not revolt/rebel, etc.

Something that surprised me: "The Russians were untermenschen by political definition. They were equal to Jews and other undesirables by the classification laws of the Reich." pg. 236. While Russians, or rather Slavs, were close to Jews on the Nazi scale they certainly were not 'equal.' Also, on pg. 239 there is a scene when soldiers within an Einsatzgruppen refuse to shoot Jews and are made to do it by the author, I can not recall ever reading that someone who refused was not allowed, more so, the author claims that the men did this all the time by making themselves sick through vomiting, etc. And once again the author uses "babushka" to refer to something a woman is wearing, a head scarf from what I can tell.

In regards to fighting at Stalingrad the author states on pg. 263: "Two of my men primed panzerfausts and launched shells into the structure." And again pg. 267 a T-34 is destroyed with panzerfausts. I've read quite a few books on Stalingrad and there has never been a mention of a Panzerfaust being used in Stalingrad, more so the weapon wasn't used anywhere on the Eastern Front in 1942. A few Red Army assaults are described in Stalingrad as 'tidal wave' attacks by workers militias, whistles blow and an attack commences, this is very reminiscent of "Enemy at the Gates" the movie rather than Stalingrad the actual battle. It seems women were also very much a part of these 'suicidal charges.' Also, I find it surprising the amount of details that are being offered. I don't think I've ever read a non-fictional account with so much description, a step by step retelling of who did what, who went where, who died where, when, and how, etc. Pg. 275, the Red Army is described as having half-tracks, at least two other mentions of Red Army half-track in the next few pages. The Red Army never had halftracks unless they were sent through Lend Lease, and by the time Stalingrad was going on Lend Lease had yet to be felt in great numbers and once again in all my readings on Stalingrad I have never heard of Lend Lease equipment like half-tracks being used. The author also claims the 'rear command area' of 6th Army was on the bank of the Volga River, pg. 279, I can't say how accurate that is but for some reason it sounds off to me. According to the author, Gumrak airfield was in Red Army hands in November of 1942, pg. 282, after doing some research Gumrak was in German hands since the beginning/middle of September. Same pg, another mention of Panzerfausts, there seem to have been a lot of them in Stalingrad. On pg. 289 we have a soldier in Stalingrad speaking to the wounded author and claiming in November a "Full Russian counterattack, Sir. The 62nd Soviet Army reclaimed parts of Gumrak Airfield and several tank and artillery divisions have flanked us from the east." Gumrak airfield wasn't taken until January 1943 and there weren't any tank divisions, only tank corps and brigades at that point in time, within the Red Army.

Pg. 293 "The Soviets had retaken Leningrad just two weeks before Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered the entire VI Army and all German forces at Stalingrad on 2 February." Leningrad was never taken by the Germans nor ever 'retaken' by the Soviets, they always had it. On pg. 307 the author claims that by July 13th, during the battle of Kursk in 1943, the German lost 2,900 tanks. A pretty big exaggeration. Pg. 318 carries a mention of an encircled Russian 89th Army, as far as I recall the armies only numbered into the 70's, not 80's. Pg. 363, The author claims Hitler's ideas regarding war strategy "had not seemed sound since ordering the total withdrawal of our forces when he had Moscow surrounded and was weeks from taking the Soviet capital." Moscow was never surrounded, Hitler issued orders against a 'total withdrawal' and he was not 'weeks from taking the Soviet capital.'

It appears that the author makes quite a few mistakes when speaking of the Ardennes offensive. First he claims, on pg. 382, that German plans had the 5th, 6th, and 7th Panzer Armies ready to launch an offensive in the Ardennes forest, then, not two pages later he is talking about the 1st and 12th Panzer Armies. In a few sources that I looked into it was the 6th SS Panzer Army (sometimes referred to as just the 6th Panzer Army) and the 5th Panzer Army. I can't seem to find the 7th or 12th Panzer Armies in German Orders of Battle. German artillery, throughout the book, is downed down to only two types of guns, the 88mm and 102mm. Although I have read the 88mm gun can be used as regular artillery it seems to be doing that more often than not in this book, instead of its intended use as AA artillery or an anti-tank gun.

Detail mistakes would include the following:
Labelling a Motorcycle battalion a corps, twice.
While listing Germany's 'enemies' writing both 'Communists' and 'Bolshevists' (or at least once Bolsheviks). As far as I can recall both pretty much meant the same general thing, there would be no reason to use both and it is done far too often.
For spending so much time in the East during the war the author certainly is lacking in his Russian.
Instead of calling an elderly woman a 'babushka' he claims a 'babushka' is something she is wearing.
The author does not know the transliteration for 'we surrender' in Russian, what he does write to signify those words is "I" and then something that isn't a Russian word.
The traditional Ukrainian greeting is bread and salt, the book claims German troops were greeted with bread and wine.
On pg. 377 the author claims that Riga is located in Ukraine, Riga is the capital of Latvia.
There is a mention of 'Hungarian oil fields" on pg. 377, most likely it is in reference to Romanian oil fields.
The author labels a 30mm gun a 'howitzer.'
The German Army has Leopard tanks, in fact they were not created until long after WWII.


I'm sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. If relevant experts in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, the SS, the Western Front, etc, were to read through this book I'm more than positive they would discover a plethora of other mistakes, ranging from the minor to the major. The above speaks volumes about the quality of 'facts' being presented in this book.

4 comments:

Catherine said...

Hello from one of the "She-Wolves of the SS" - or so I was called on the Armchair General web site.

Cathy

T. Kunikov said...

Enjoy the reviews.

Anonymous said...

There were Hungarian Oil Fields. I have their names and locatoions in my files.
You are wrong about that so you may be wrong about all of it.

T. Kunikov said...

Faulty generalization, try again.

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