Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty: The Memoir of a Waffen-SS Soldier on the Eastern Front by Herbert Maeger

Herbert Maeger's "Lost Honour, Betrayed Loyalty" documents his experiences as a soldier in what would become the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division.  I have little question about the authenticity of the account but there is still the question of whether the author was forced into volunteering for the Waffen SS or if he did so out of his own volition and then needed an excuse at the end of the war.  Taking the author at his word, he found himself in a poor position and, after being threatened, he decided to volunteer and ended up in the service of the vaunted Waffen SS.  

Maeger spent the majority of the war with the 1st SS Division on the Eastern Front and Italy.  After being wounded he was able to take medical courses and eventually served in the 36th Waffen SS Division, commanded by Oskar Dirlewanger, a rather infamous unit made up of criminals which was often utilized in anti-partisan operations.  Finally, the last section of these memoirs ring quite authentic with the author attempting his best to outrun the Red Army and break out to the west in the chaotic final days of the Third Reich.

While Maeger spent some time on the frontlines, most of the time he was involved in rear area operations as a driver and then working with the wounded in the rear.  Those eager for frontline action will get some of that here, but more often this is a memoir of someone doing their best to survive and live to see the next day or, at best, the end of the war.  What is interesting, if, again, we take the author at his word, is that the Waffen SS seems to have begun taking in 'volunteers' as early as 1941.  These were not necessarily model Aryan Germans and it isn't that only the 'foreign' Waffen SS divisions that accepted these volunteers, some, or even many, could be found in the more 'famous' formations. 

Throughout the memoirs the usual mention is made of German's shooting POWs out of hand but the author wants to make clear that he believes these were isolated incidents and not indicative of what we today know as a regular policy among both the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht in general.  There is also an interesting incident recounted about a German officer admitting the Euthenasia campaign that was waged against the mentally handicapped, which the author and a few other SS soldiers opposed (verbally).  With respect to the Holocaust, however, there is little to no mention and, on the contrary, the author plays up his positive interactions with civilians in Soviet territory and curses the leadership of the Third Reich for 'betraying' its soldiers and starting a war they were unprepared for.
There is no question that these memoirs are self-serving and undoubtedly contain a grain of self-censorship, but we can say that about any memoir.  There's much here of value to those interested in the Eastern Front, the Waffen SS, and the Second World War in general.

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