Saturday, December 31, 2022

Blood, Dust and Snow: Diaries of a Panzer Commander in Germany and on the Eastern Front by Friedrich Sander

While I'm always of the opinion that every primary source account has in it something of value, it's rare that a memoir or diary leaves a lasting impression on me after having read so many. There are still those that I recall more so than others and "Blood, Dust and Snow" will now join their ranks. Coming in at over 400 pages (including a few dozen photos) and mostly concentrating on the initial German invasion of the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa, as well as Operation Typhoon, the ensuing Soviet counterattack, and the 1942 Stalingrad relief attempt, Friedrich Sander's diaries are a window into the personal thoughts and emotions of a German tanker caught up in the war on the Eastern Front.

Although there is undoubtedly some self-censorship, the author is readily candid with himself on a wide variety of topics. There is quite a bit of front line action and with the author having so recently lived through the events in question there is less risk of him misremembering his personal experiences. At times the nature of a soldier in the midst of battle produces a rather myopic take on events and they become somewhat hard to follow, but that is, after all, rather reflective of the battlefield and the chaos of war. There are also numerous mundane entries where little to nothing happens but the author is attune to his surroundings and constantly has something to say or recall or complain about. Each is another little window into the everyday life of a German soldier in a panzer division on the Eastern Front in the midst of a genocidal campaign. 

What is telling in its omission is a lack of commentary on the evolution of the Holocaust, whether in Germany, Europe, or the East. There is mention of Jews (usually in a derogatory way), the author also has some harsh words for the Russian/Soviet population (although that is somewhat fluid depending on the time period and at times the person in question), and there is undoubtedly an evolution to his thinking about these topics/themes and others that readers can witness themselves, which in effect is why although this is a lengthy volume it is worth the time investment. Personally, I think the author simply did not much care about Jews and what did not concern his immediate needs/desires rarely received mention. Furthermore, being on the front lines with limited time in the rear meant what was happening there, whether atrocities against Jews or local partisans, was rarely witnessed - and when it was merited limited mention/commentary. 

The diary entries end in 1943 and that's unfortunate. We know the author survived the war, but it would have been interesting to know the rest of his wartime and even postwar experiences and how his thoughts about the war and his time at the front might have changed. Nonetheless, this is without a doubt one of the more raw and honest accounts of the war on the Eastern Front and definitely highly recommended.


vadim said...

Thank you for your review. I have been following your reviews for many years and pick up books on your recommendation and never been disappointed. I will have to pick this one up. Keep up the good work as your reviews very much appreciated.

T. Kunikov said...

I'm glad you're finding them useful and discovering new books to read.