Pictured is the old Burlington, Iowa Public Library. I last visited in 1999, while living and working in Burlington. For me this wonderful, old building was a refuge from the burdens of work. Often, I would leave work and stop off for a thirty minute respite before heading home. On a cool, October evening, there was just no more special place. Today the building is home to the local historical society as a new Library was built to replace this one.
My own Library has become a similar place to escape the daily grind and lose myself in studies of everything from Christian History, the American Civil War, Western Indian Campaigns to the Second World War and every now and then a brief sojourn to the world of Robert E. Howard.
Our April visit to the Grumble Jones library will no doubt involve a bit of controversy. This month I'll take a look at a few of the SS Photo histories which I have acquired over the years. Like many WW2 amateur historians and ASL player alike, I have always been fascinated by the elite units of the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS. Why? I can offer no explanation. There is just something about the German army in the Second World War that attracts attention. English author, Max Hastings once described the Wehrmacht as, "the most professionally skillful army of modern times."
As a kid, growing up, I always played the role of American infantry captain. Running around in my backyard with my great uncle's helmet liner from WW2 and a wooden toy Springfield rifle, it was always the Germans that I was busy fighting in my backyard. But even in those days, I couldn't get enough of books about the Germans...from the Afrika Korps to the Fallschirmjaegers to the Waffen SS. The weapons, the uniforms, and the look of their tanks and planes was something akin to the fascination many have today with the Storm Troopers of Star Wars. And of course, we all know the inspiration for those. In fact, the Storm Troopers in the original Star Wars can be clearly seen holding weapons modeled on German MG-34 machine guns.
The parallels are very easy to see and certainly George Lucas would have been heavily influenced in his own childhood by images and movies focused on the Second World War.
Of course, both armies, real or imagined served regimes that imposed terror and horror upon the world. So we must not forget the hard truths of the armed forces of the Third Reich. A darker regime would be harder to find.
As I grew older and my wargaming tastes matured, so too did my desire for more detailed books with both narrative and photographic content necessary to fuel my modeling and scenario creations for both miniature gaming and later SL and COI.
It was in those years, that my poor mother certainly fretted over the choice of books her son spent his evenings ready. The first of these books was John Toland's excellent Battle of the Bulge. I still remember the pride I felt, as an 8 year old, when I
finished reading it. I enjoyed it so much, that a couple years ago I found and purchased a copy on E-Bay.
On a side note, the Landmark series of books that filled our school libraries in the '60's and '70's were some of the finest books I ever read...even to this very day.
Not sure what sort of history books are available to today's children, but I doubt they are the quality of the Landmark series.
OK, back to our current topics. Now I mention this particular book, because it is the first time that I was exposed to pictures specific to the Waffen SS. Two pictures in particular fascinated me and fueled my imagination.
The first was the iconic image of the German Schwimmwagen stopped at the Malmedy and St. Vith road signs. These were Germans so unlike the ones I had seen in movies like the Longest Day and Where Eagles Dare. In fact, they didn't look like their immaculately dressed counterparts in the movies of the day. These guys looked far more serious and possessed of a panache that was not attributed to Germans in Hogan's Heroes and other TV series like Combat.
In fact, there was something scary to me about these guys and particularly this photograph on the left of a Waffen SS grenadier waving his squad forward as American vehicles burned.
As an impressionable 8 year old...this dude scared me. And it made the Battle of the Bulge all the more memorable to me as I imagined our boys fighting for their lives in the dark, snow shrouded Ardennes Forest against guys like that...
And the older I get the more I realize the very stark truth of that fear I experienced as a young reader. The American Army suffered nearly 80,000 casualties in the Battle of the Bulge. Fighting the Waffen SS was serious business, and the childish fear I experienced would have paled in comparison to that experienced by the many 18-20 year old American Soldiers who had to face the many Waffen SS Divisions deployed against them in the Battle of the Bulge.
So now you know some of what motivated me to study and learn more about the Waffen SS. What follows are some of the books, which I have been fortunate to acquire over many years, and again books that I believe educate military and ASL historians through excellent photographs and in some cases objective and informative text (not always the case with these books and I'll note that as we look at the various tomes.)
We'll start with the granddaddy of Waffen SS picture histories...Wenn Alle Bruder Schweigen. This
massive book is a one stop shop for covering the entire breadth of the Waffen SS divisions with photographic coverage of all fronts and nearly all of the formations, which served under the Waffen SS.
The quality of the pictures is very good and several large blowups give you a glimpse into details not seen in smaller images. This is a heavy bound book and can be quite expensive as I believe it no longer in print. I managed to find my copy at Battlefield Books in Minneapolis, which might be the best military bookstore in my opinion. In 1985, this book sold for $50.00. (http://www.battlefieldstore.com/)
One major note about this book. It was published as sort of yearbook for Waffen SS veterans. Even the title can be interpreted in two ways. One version has it as "When all brothers are silent" and another version is "If all brothers are silent".
Similar translation differences can be found as the reader looks at the captions for various pictures. The English does not always match up with the German. So clearly two different audiences were selected for this work. The propaganda version is most visible in the English captions. Hopefully, discerning readers can note the difference and understand that certain captions are laughable in their intent to sanitize or humanize certain activities in this book. As historians, we can appreciate the historical value of books such as this, but we must not fall prey to the very evident propaganda that finds its way into many of the Munin-Verlag publications.
Next up is Munin-Verlag's photo history of the 1st SS Leibstandarte. Rudolf Lehmann was a veteran of the division and certainly cannot be expected to be objective about the darker side of this division's history. So don't expect to learn anything more that what the photographs show themselves.
The class photos of several units are very interesting and details of the Reich Chancellery are very interesting and certainly rare.
Again, the picture quality found in this book is outstanding. The captions and narrative...not so much. Again, be advised that considerable propaganda resides in these pages.
Munin-Verlag's Division Das Reich by Otto Weidinger is much as the same as that about the Leibstandarte. Again, the picture quality is first rate and honestly the only reason to own this or any of the other Munin-Verlag publications.
I'm a big believer in the power of photographs to educate. These are not different, just as noted several times already, be aware that the captions have a propagandist objective.
Munin-Verlag's book on the various European volunteers serving in theWaffen SS is a good volume, although not as robust in its quality as the previous books.
Overall, it follows the same basic patterns observed in other Munin-Velag Waffen SS histories. Enjoy the photo quality and gain some insight into the composition of the many foreign Waffen SS formations.
A personal favorite book is Panzer Grenadiere, about the 5th SS Wiking Division with a focus on the Westland Regiment. Made up largely of Dutch volunteers, this book has a bit more historical text that sheds light on the various engagements of the Westland.
This book has always been a primary source for details about the Foxtail Island battles.
But as with the others, propaganda is in evidence.
Our last book for this trip to the Grumble Jones Library is focused on the 7SS Prinz Eugen Division. The book itself is well put together and discusses the ethnic Germans of the Banat region, It appears that many members of this community were conscripted or volunteered for service in the Prinz Eugen.
Of all the books reviewed tonight, this one is the most focused on its primary topic. The pictures are truly excellent and give great detail into the actions of this division as it faced off against Tito's Partisans in the former Yugoslavia.
The Prinz Eugen Division was guilty of a great many atrocities during the war in a theater of operations where atrocity on both sides was not uncommon. So again, be a discerning reader with this book and all of the Munin-Verlag titles we have looked at tonight.
I'll cover some of Heimdal's Waffen SS photo histories (namely of the 9th, 10th, and 17th SS Divisions) in a later post. Heimdal is a French publisher and their books are very high quality and far more instructive in terms of objective military history than perhaps these we have discussed by Munin-Verlag.
So thanks for visiting the library. We'll see you again in May. Until then Happy Reading.