The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Muller-Hill and Benjamin Carter Hett

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The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Muller-Hill and Benjamin Carter Hett

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Surely the tale of a good and true German, as the diary of this military judge shows he did not exactly agree with anything regarding the end days of World War Two.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 9781137278548

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We've had diaries of teenagers, opium addicts, drug smugglers, and a lot more. Some of them have been optimistic, happy things, and many not. Clearly World War II was not a place for a terribly cheerful outlook, whatever the diarist. However sometimes it was not the done thing to be pessimistic, for example when you were in the huge German military and were publicly denigrating the dreamt-of Nazi success. Such corrosion of morale would mean you being put in front of a three-man military tribunal, and most probably sentenced for such treacherous behaviour. The startling thing about this book, however, is that it contains much that would certainly have been deemed corrosion of morale, yet it was written by one of the very military judges who served on those panels.

This dichotomy is included in the pages, where the author is terribly pessimistic on more than one front. He has, without the help of dangerous Allied propaganda, read between the lines, and has realised – perhaps in tune with many millions of his fellow Germans, perhaps ahead of his time – that the war cannot and will not be won. He sees a future between two forces – Allies to the west, Soviets to the east, and is just anxious the western side is more dominant in taking over Germany upon victory. Yet before detailing all this, and scoffing at the colleagues, superiors and professors who proclaim imminent Nazi success, he says England and America [c]ould have waged the war in vain, since only weakening Germany for five or ten years would be historically significant. For someone living a seemingly plush life working in courts in the Black Forest and Alsace regions, he is so immured to Europe at war he cannot see the hope of Germany being pacified for any longer.

The diary as such is structured in a way that leans it nowadays towards the academician rather than the lay reader, an emphasis stressed by the many detailed small-print footnotes. Muller-Hill begins in March '44, and occupies many of the first pages with his analysis of the eastern front, the chances of the invasion we call today D-Day, and the prognoses he sees. Slowly he weaves in more day-to-day life, talking of some cases from the courts, some colleagues who have an opposing, heavy-handed idea of sentencing, and bringing the much more appealing personal touch to his private criticism of those he disagrees with (it's a sign of how hollow his head is… or our propaganda…has made a fool out of a thinking man).

There is a nudge in the introduction towards the thought that this is designed to be evidence for the defence, and a record of how Muller-Hill wished to appear so deviant from the Nazi standpoints for a time when they were not those in power. He did, of course, keep the diary a very close secret, and I would have wished for something about the book itself – where did he keep it hidden, and why has it only come to publication at all in the last couple of years?

There is also a kind of bias towards the author, which is not completely borne out by the contents of the diary. The introduction says he was a much more lenient and intelligent judge than others, although he doesn't labour that fact himself. He did have an eye to the war, first mentioning his preference for a German armistice on Sept 4, '44. And he has some very sterling sentiments about German duty, which of course he saw slightly differently to his ultimate boss, the idiot Himmler. But the sense in which it's conveyed that Muller-Hill distinguished himself by his gentle, desk-bound resistance and secretive diary is a bit uneasy for me. His elderly son is behind the book's publication now, and with the title chosen for it in English there is too much of an effort to make M-H separate and apart from not only the Nazis but the other Germans of the time. This is not the voice of the street. It's a privileged man in a privileged position in life, who was able to leave to posterity a privileged opinion, one that survived where what would be of greater benefit would be the collective unheard voice of those who neither laboured for nor against the Nazis.

That cavil, and the fact that this is a little on the dry side when given the footnotes and his interest in military tactics rather than the daily life detail, means that while this book is not majorly flawed, it is perhaps not for universal recommendation. I am grateful for the ideas it holds, of some Germans being much more savvy about what their propaganda told them and the hopes they had for a post-war future, but I don't think either he or it is the definite article.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

A further journal of these days can be had with Ruth Maier's Diary: A Young Girl's Life Under Nazism by Ruth Maier, Jamie Bulloch (Translator) and Jan Erik Vold (Editor).

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Buy The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Muller-Hill and Benjamin Carter Hett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Muller-Hill and Benjamin Carter Hett at Amazon.com.


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