Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg
|Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A competent and interesting addendum to the author's earlier book about the Belgians who signed up with the Nazi forces, but one with a definitely niche audience.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: July 2017|
|Publisher: Amberley Publishing|
In the week I write this, Trump has come under fire for not condemning fascistic behaviour in America from some Neo-Nazis. It strikes me that the Neo- is a pointless dignification – yes, they cannot be deemed to follow Hitler precisely as he's long dead and burnt, so they're kind of new, but common sense obliges me to just call them Nazis. Their excuse is they feel America has been invaded by the enemy – but what if you were indeed under occupation? Could you see yourself working for the forces that had indeed invaded you? The author begins by pointing out that several countries were invaded by the Nazis, and they have different feelings about the people who worked against the commonly-held nationalistic aim. France hates her collaborators, but just north of the border things are different – and the picture is a lot more muddy as a result.
Nobody can define exactly how many people volunteered to side with the Nazis during World War Two from the Belgian lands, partly as there were several paths for them to go down. But joining the Waffen-SS was one, and there were several thousand of them doing just that. And my opening question is because they had several justifications, which may give you pause to think of your own leanings. For one, they could well have been Flemish nationalists, as opposed to Belgian nationalists, and the feeling and/or gossip was that the Nazi success would guarantee Flanders its own statehood, and a greater say in the new Europe. No longer would they be a majority in their own country forced to be educated in the language of the minority. For another, they were inspired by the verdict from their Catholic masters that it was important for them to defend Christianity against the Satan that was Stalin. A lot of these people were only fighting on Hitler's side by technicality – they signed up to do their best to defeat Communism.
Having already written a book about the Flemish members of the Waffen-SS forces (and the Scandinavian, and the French – and those that were Muslim) our author revisits the topic, to question a few representative examples of the Oostfronters – those who went to the Eastern front for the Nazis to defeat their Soviet opponents, to protect the religion, core heart and future of the Europe they wanted. It's a shade of a representation, as so few of these men and women survive, and will be in their nineties at least. But the book does a sterling job at bringing their voices to life. At no time do you feel their monologues are cobbled together from multiple answers over the interview table, but instead come across as real people recounting their experiences in training and on the medical wards, in the foxhole – and in the doghouse once they came back home.
The book also perfectly manages to interweave the story of the general narrative – the toings and froings of the different Flemish forces in their theatres of war – with the personal testimony. But I don't know that it does a heck of a lot that the prior history would do. Yes, this is from the horses' mouths, but that makes me wonder exactly what the audience for this might be. With the field maps of the battles, it does nudge itself back to being a straight history, but we can already buy one of those and on this evidence I think I would find it definitive – the author clearly knows his stuff. If people were academically-minded they might want some of this reportage to quote, but that must be a very small audience.
I think there definitely is a place for the first-hand evidence from the battlefields, even at this remove, so we learn what WWII was like in each and every aspect, but at the same time I think we're supposed to accept our historians' assembling of the facts and the truth as being what we want and need – it is what we buy their books for. This most assuredly was an interesting narrative, and a side to the War I was ignorant of, but I still got left with the feeling this was an aside, a bonus, a DVD-extra styled documentary to add to the original book. That itself has been translated into the pertinent languages the players in the story would recognise, and I think this book is leaning to that too – it may well serve the Flemish (and Walloon) markets more than that here in Britain.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (translators) deserves a place on the same shelf, as it covers a different group of perhaps unexpected warriors.
You can read more book reviews or buy Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg at Amazon.com.
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