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A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944

A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944

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A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944

3.5/5 (5 valutazioni)
243 pagine
3 ore
Nov 2, 2005


A Stranger to Myself: The Inhumanity of War, Russia 1941-44 is the haunting memoir of a young German soldier on the Russian front during World War II.

Willy Peter Reese was only twenty years old when he found himself marching through Russia with orders to take no prisoners. Three years later he was dead.

Bearing witness to--and participating in--the atrocities of war, Reese recorded his reflections in his diary, leaving behind an intelligent, touching, and illuminating perspective on life on the eastern front. He documented the carnage perpetrated by both sides, the destruction which was exacerbated by the young soldiers' hunger, frostbite, exhaustion, and their daily struggle to survive. And he wrestled with his own sins, with the realization that what he and his fellow soldiers had done to civilians and enemies alike was unforgivable, with his growing awareness of the Nazi policies toward Jews, and with his deep disillusionment with himself and his fellow men.

An international sensation, A Stranger to Myself is an unforgettable account of men at war.

Nov 2, 2005

Informazioni sull'autore

Willy Peter Reese was a young German soldier on the Russian Front during World War II. He died at the age of twenty-three.

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Anteprima del libro

A Stranger to Myself - Willy Peter Reese



We are war. Because we are soldiers.

I have burned all the cities,

Strangled all the women,

Brained all the children,

Plundered all the land.

I have shot a million enemies,

Laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches,

Ravaged the souls of the inhabitants,

Spilled the blood and tears of all the mothers.

I did it, all me.—I did

Nothing. But I was a soldier.

At the time Willy Peter Reese wrote this poem in 1943, he had been serving on the Eastern Front for two years. Pencils and paper, which were sent to him at the front by his mother, were his weapons against the craziness of this murderous campaign. He wore the uniform of a rank and file soldier in the Wehrmacht. He had four medals and orders across his chest, among them an Iron Cross, II Class. He didn’t mutiny or run away. But he wanted to be a witness.

Now euphoric, now depressed, always tormented by lice and with an advanced craving for alcohol, Reese sets about turning his notes and memories into a single coherent text. In tiny handwriting, using every square centimeter of the page, he writes whenever he can, often by the light of his cigarette, as he crouches behind his gun. Repeatedly, he gets into arguments with the other soldiers about the single lamp. On the run from the Red Army, though sick with hunger, he saves his letter paper and leaves the butter behind. That’s superfluous, but writing I need to live. In his diary, which he later uses as a source for his manuscript, he notes: "The only thing that gives me a personal will to survive is my duty to express this war, and to complete my fragmentary

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  • (5/5)
    Written as it’s experienced, a tough war and sad he died.
  • (2/5)
    This is an autobiography of sorts. More journal than anything else. The author writes mainly in prose. So much so that it is like being inside someones head with thoughts darting all about on beauty, hope, no hope, war, danger, sunlight, moonlight, not being fitted for war, wanting to go home, not caring if death catches up with you, or the horror of seeing a comrade killed by your side. A bit chaotic.

    Perhaps the most poignant part was when he was wounded and recovering in a hospital ward and had some time to talk to the night nurse for a bit alone. She told him what it was like to be a nurse. To see men at their worst and weakest. To help them, and then slowly as the men got better to watch as their care was returned with innuendo, groping, and sexual advances. The nurses wanted to fall in love and settle down one day, but they burned out one by one. Even if one man seemed different than the rest eventually they sounded just like the others.

    If you want to read about this front from a ordinary soldier's perspective I recommend The Winter Soldier over this brief book.
  • (4/5)
    There are no heroes in this war story. The author wrote this book from notes and journals he kept while serving with the German Wehrmacht on the Russian Front in World War II. The book recounts a young man's journey from a life filled with family, books, poetry, and the youthful dreams of a happy future to the bleak reality of more than three years of conscription as a soldier assigned to the hell of the Russian Front. Willy Peter Reese was never a member of the Nazi party, but he did have a pride in his nation. He describes his journey with, at first, an almost poetic touch, but the realities of war soon wipe out his his youthful exuberance. He is beaten down and forever changed by the cruelty, deprivation, pain, and suffering he witnesses. He is sickened not only by what he sees, but by what he does. The war has such a profound effect upon him that it seems to become an essential part of him. When he he is home on sick leave, he feels he no longer belongs there. His experiences in the war have become so ingrained in him that he feels lost when he is removed from it. Intellectually he is repulsed by what he has seen, done, and who he has become. During a leave from the fighting in 1944, he could find relief only in alcohol and in writing about his descent into hell. Soon after, Willy Peter Reese answered the call of his demons one last time. He returned to the fighting on the Russian Front, never to return home. War changes the conquerors as well as the conquered.
  • (4/5)
    Willy Peter Reese was drafted into the German regular army (the Wehrmacht) during WW II and served on the Eastern Front. In 2003--many years after his disappearance in Russia in 1944 at age 23 the pages and notebooks he worked on throughout those years became available and were published chronicling his experiences. The question arises throughout the text of the culpability of the regular German army vis-avis war crimes. Reese as obedient soldier is aware of the atrocities of his and other units of the regular army. He and his comrades are very capable of killing and/or abusing civilians and pillaging the towns that are unlucky enough to intersect with their movements. There is something else here though--as even early on for Reese (who is not a Nazi ideologue in any respect) the war is simply one of survival of the fittes. Something that struck me is his unit is marched all over and almost expected to live off the land--to provide for themselves--and so they take--by force if necessary--and become used to getting what they want or need through violence. Reese almost always uneasily falls back on the excuse of soldier obeying orders--merging that with the almost gothic/romantic sensibility of a doomed man--not a nazi but very much the dreamy type of German youth of his time. Very malleable. For all that Reese writes and thinks very well. His prose is sometimes in the descriptions of things a little lofty but when describing the back and forth movements of the armies and the actions they engage in very clear and very fluid. Considering that this young man was doing all this pretty much on the run with only a little time stolen here and there to work on it and that he never got a chance to clean it up later--it is quite remarkable and the world may have missed out here on a very fine writer. As for the atrocities they are alluded to often--but not very often described in detail which is probably a good thing at least for most readers.