Wheels of Error (or: the Hassel Hustle)

A Panzerkampfwagen IV, probably an Ausf. E or F1, the crew getting some air. Their packs are stacked on the turret roof, which might indicate the absence of a storage bin on the back of the turret. Now, if I were to claim that the crew members were some of the characters in the late author Sven Hassel’s war novels, there would be some who would believe that.

Many of us with an interest in World War 2 (especially the German side) have read a Sven Hassel novel or three (or all 14). For some, it opened up the world of real memoirs, and for others they are a guilty pleasure, but some believe they are relating Hassel’s real war experience – or at least some of it. Well, they are dead wrong.

Who was Sven Hassel? It was the pen name of Danish author Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen, also known as Børge Willy Redsted Arbing, Børge Arbing, Willy Arbing, and (finally) Sven Willy Hasse Arbing (yes, no “l” in “Hasse”). He was born on this day in 1917, and died on 21 September 2012 in Barcelona, where he had lived since 1964. According to his own claims, he had moved to Germany in the 1930’s in search of a job, enlisted in the German Army, and served in the 6. Panzer-Division. After the war, he served a prison sentence for having been in the Wehrmacht. In 1953, his supposedly autobiographical novel “Legion of the Damned” was published in Danish, an English translation following in 1957. It made quite an impression, and won critical acclaim in several reviews. More books followed, like “Wheels of Terror”, “March Battalion”, Liquidate Paris”, etc, totaling 14 published novels translated to 15 languages and selling 53 million copies (and counting; new editions are published 65 years after the first book). If it’s successful, it must be true, right?

I must admit that I gobbled up Hassel’s books when I was in my late teens/early 20s. The drama, the action, the grim images from the many battles made the books page-turners. They are quite funny in places, too. The cast of characters is colorful: “Tiny”, the Legionnaire, “the Old man”, Heide, and not least Porta. They have all ended up in the 27th Penal Panzer Regiment, and see action on all fronts except North Africa. There’s just one teensy problem: it’s all made up.

To the casual reader, the force of the narrative, especially in “Legion of the Damned”, and the seemingly precise mention of military units and weapons, seems convincing. It is when one begins to look Hassel’s horse in the mouth that it all unravels. Several years ago, I revisited “Legion of the Damned” (published in Sweden in 1968 as “De fördömdas legion”), and took extensive notes, checking almost every fact and claim, noting dates, locations, etc. The book is the most interesting to check, as it is claimed to be Hassel’s “truest” book. One has to remember that when it was originally published in 1953, there were no unit histories and similar resources available to aid the memory of veterans. That being said, almost all references to other units don’t hold water – they are in other army groups, on other fronts, or entirely fictional. The 27th Penal Panzer Regiment is hogwash, of course, but the Feldpost number Hassel refers to a couple of times was used by one of the companies in the Panzer-Regiment 11, 6. Panzer-Division (which he claims to have served in originally), and many locations and times where the “27th” fights correspond to those of the 6. PzDiv.

I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that Hassel actually served on the Eastern Front, but hardly in a tank – his descriptions of the tanks (flamethrowers, 105 mm-gunned Panthers, and so on) are often pure fantasy. My list of errors and exaggerations grew as I read the book. Many events are jumbled, occurring after an event described in a following chapter, and some are just unlikely, like his involvement in the 20 July plot (meeting Rommel) or him meeting Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest. So, “Legion of the Damned” is a mix of fantasy and some events that might be true, perhaps even experienced by Hassel himself if one is very charitable. Just don’t believe it.

What about the rest of his books? This is were it all starts to fall apart big time. Sven and his friends must have been cloned. They sure needed to… According to “Legion of the Damned”, Sven was wounded in the battle of Kiev in November 1943, and was a convalescent in a military hospital for a while. At about the same time, he was fighting in Italy (“Monte Cassino”, autumn – winter 1943-44), but busy as always, Sven & Co were also in Berlin and northern Finland (“Court Martial”, autumn – winter 1943-44), and simultaneously involved in actions leading up to the battle of Cherkassy (“Wheels of Terror”, taking place in late autumn – winter 1943-44). Small wonder the stories are so action-packed, with Sven and friends zooming around on several fronts. Another blatant example is when he is both in and outside of Stalingrad; see “SS General” and “March Battalion”, respectively. Anyone still believe that the books are true?

Sven Hassel got into a controversy in 1963 when a Danish journalist made the claim that he hadn’t served at all, but was just a simple thief and informant for the German occupation authorities during WW2, and who had been sentenced to ten years in prison for treason. A Danish author, Erik Haaest, spent years campaigning against Hassel, building on the 1963 revelation. There are no service records to back Hassel’s claims, and there appears to have been at least five people involved in the writing of his books (Georg Gjedde touched up and edited Hassel’s script for “Legion of the Damned”, and Hassel’s wife is thought to have been involved, too).

If anyone still wants to read his books, then by all means do so. Better yet, spend your money and time on better books, which lets you share the experiences of people who actually were there.

 

PS: Despite the success of the books, only one of them has been made into a movie, and then only sharing the title and cast of characters. “Wheels of Terror” (AKA “The Misfit Brigade”) is a 1987 adaptation that didn’t do well in the theaters, to put it mildly..

 

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The good old times?

An officer, probably in an artillery unit, takes a swig from a bottle of booze in France, summer of 1940. Despite losses of some 45,000 soldiers killed or missing in action, it was still nothing compared to the casualties in a single battle 25 years earlier. The campaign was a smashing success, and the public back home in Germany was in a patriotic fervor. Surely this meant that Germany would be great again?

Looking back on World War 2, it’s easy to see which side to pick if one had been alive back then and of age to serve. There’s some nostalgic notion that people showed more solidarity, and that they weathered the hard times with cheer and a hope for a better tomorrow. Life seemed simpler, the choices clearer, the world more black and white. Some people caught up in the complex world of today look back at those years with a certain longing. Movies feed the romantic view that WW2 was a rough time, but also a great time to be alive, and anyone playing WW2 computer games can be heroes who, if killed, just need to load the latest save and have another go at that machine gun position. It was the time of the Greatest Generation.

Or was it? Sure, many of the soldiers who volunteered to fight for their beliefs were brave, and those who had little choice, being conscripted, showed great courage in many situations, too. Opposing the Axis powers was the right thing to do, regardless of personal reasons to fight. On the other hand, the world in the 1930s and 40s wasn’t a nice place. Some aspects were good and deserve to be revived, but in general it’s clear that most people are better off today, especially women and minorities. It was a time that would be exciting to visit as a time traveler, but also one that most of us would be happy to return from. Besides, the 1940s didn’t have wifi.

Followers of my blog may be excused if they think that I would’ve liked to fight on the German side, at least if you haven’t read what I write. It’s a mistake to believe that just because one has an interest in a certain nation at a certain time in history, one would like to live in it during that time. While I have some equipment that allows me to reenact a German soldier if I wanted to (not that I have done it), I think that given the choice and a time machine, I would like to serve in the US Navy in the Pacific. I don’t know why I have a soft spot for that particular setting, but there it is. My father served in the Swedish Navy in the mid-1950s, and my father-in-law served in the US Navy in the Pacific right after the war had ended (I had my preferences long before I married, though). I guess there’s something about warships and the tropical setting, coupled with the epic nature of the whole campaign in the Pacific.

So there you have it – perhaps I should get a bunch of US photos and blog about them instead. That might be a future project, but for now I’ll stick with the Germans.

Stolz des Herrenvolks?

The image of the German soldier as some sort of superhuman has been perpetuated through war movies, photos in books and articles (often featuring pics taken by Wehrmacht propaganda units), as the tough opposition in computer games, and – I think – a need to paint the enemy larger than life in order to make the victory over him so much more impressive.

Here we have a study in contrasts. To the left, a blond Germanic warrior, the typical  jack-booted soldier, probably on occupation duty somewhere in France in 1940-41. Just add the iconic helmet, and you would have a nice propaganda picture. I’m pretty sure he was popular with the girls, too. Then we have the rather lumpy-looking Unteroffizier August of the Luftwaffe in Greece, 29 October, 1943… The guy looks like a regular human being (with big feet, though), and if he was ever to star in a movie or TV show, it would be as the bumbling sergeant in some POW camp comedy.

We know absolutely nothing about who August was as a person. A dyed-in-the-wool Nazi or someone who just did what he was told, and happy to be in a relatively safe and cushy location? One thing is for sure, though: he isn’t the image of the bad “Nazi” soldier favored in movies and games. Perhaps he would be like Gert Fröbe’s rotund sergeant in “The Longest Day”, but mostly for comic relief. Like millions of his countrymen, he served an evil cause, but rarely because of a need to be a bad person or to live out some power trip.

That’s the problem with humans – under certain circumstances, good people can be made to do (or at least actively or passively support) bad things. Before we pass judgment on them, we should ask ourselves: “What would I do in the same situation?”. In most totalitarian systems, the rebels and resistance fighters have formed a small minority. Most people just want to manage their own lives, keeping their heads down as to not attract unwanted attention, and perhaps secretly long for a change, only not with them in the first rank.

Reading Sebastian Haffner’s “Defying Hitler” gives an interesting look into life as a young man in the tumultuous times of 1920’s and 30’s Germany, and that the descent into a totalitarian state was gradual. Few people could foresee what was coming, just as we have been surprised by changes in our own time. It is said that history repeats itself, but it is more like that we who know something about history see leaders who haven’t learned anything from history repeating the mistakes of previous generations. All we can strive for is to make the right decisions. What those are? We’ll know with hindsight…

Looking for Private Ryan?

This photo is a recent acquisition, part of a small lot of photos from Norway. I took one look at it and thought: “That looks like France” – the countryside is decidedly not Norwegian. The thing that really tipped me off was the helmet carried by the guy on the right, which sports the camouflage paintjob seen on helmets worn by troops stationed in Normandy. Then I flipped the photo, and saw a scrawled note on the back with “Caen” in it. Bingo! Further analysis of the photo makes me pretty sure that the soldiers belong to a Luftwaffe Field Division, things like the cap worn by the soldier on the right, and the belt buckle on his comrade on the left. That, and the location, tells us that only one unit can come into question: The 16. Feld-Division (L).

The 16. Luftwaffen-Feld-Division was formed in December 1942 by the XIII. Fliegerkorps. It was transferred to the Heer (Army) in November 1943 and redesignated 16. Feld-Division (L). It was deployed in the Hague-Haarlem area of the Netherlands as an occupation force. In June 1944, the division was sent to Normandy under the control of Heeresgruppe B and deployed in the front lines on 2 July. The British launched an offensive the day after the division arrived and by late July, it had been effectively destroyed in the defense of Caen. The division was formally dissolved on 4 August 1944, its remaining infantry allocated to the 21. Panzer-Division, while other elements were used to resurrect the 16. Infanterie-Division. (More on the Luftwaffe Feld-Divisionen here.)

Some more observations on the guys in the photo: the one on the left has a leather map case, binoculars (probably 7×50), a magazine pouch with three magazines for his MP 40 (not visible), and a helmet possibly painted with a mix of dark yellow paint and sawdust (to reduce glare). His colleague wears a Zeltbahn as camouflage, 6×30 binoculars, and probably an MP 40. Both are NCOs, as there are no rank insignia on the sleeves.

Speaking of Normandy and the Allied landings there, this year marks 20 years since the premiere of Saving Private Ryan, the epic war movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Regarded as one of the great war movies, I’m not quite as impressed by it. While there are some powerful scenes in it, like the brilliantly staged beach landing, the movie has several weak spots. I’m not going to nit-pick on trivia like the fact that there were no Tiger tanks in the American area of Normandy by the time the action takes place, but I’ll address problems with the plot.

The basic premise of the movie is that it is discovered that all brothers Ryan are killed or missing in action around the same time. Mommy Ryan receives all the telegrams just a few days after the D-Day landings. By that time, most of the airborne units were still struggling to organize themselves after being scattered over a large area. In real life, it would’ve taken many days, if not weeks, before it would’ve been apparent that Private Ryan was indeed MIA. In the movie, the rescue operation is launched just a few days after D-Day.

One pivotal scene is when Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) decides that it’s important to knock out the German defenders of a damaged radar installation. The squad charging uphill against a machine gun position, the medic, Wade, is mortally wounded. Miller had a crack sniper, Jackson, in his squad – why not take out the MG crew at a distance? Or just bypass the Germans, as they weren’t a threat? The whole scene is just a way of introducing the surviving German soldier, “Steamboat Willie”, and setting the stage for the final scenes.

After finding the right Ryan, the surviving members of the squad (plus some airborne troops) are pitted against crack Waffen-SS troops in the fight for the fictious town of Ramelle. The Germans make just about every tactical mistake they could make; even considering the state of German troops by that time of the war, they wouldn’t have assaulted a town like that. Anyway, in the fighting, most of the squad meets a sticky end, including Captain Miller, who is shot by “Steamboat Willie”. “Willie”, who was let go by Miller earlier, and who has been picked up by the SS unit, clearly doesn’t know who he’s firing at. The interpreter, Upham, kills “Willie”. This is one of the morally ambigious problems with the story. Was Miller wrong to let “Willie” live? Should they’ve killed him straight away, the only good German being a dead German? Spielberg didn’t think this through, obviously.

Upham and Ryan are the only survivors, and the final scene has an aged and tearful Ryan by the graves of Miller and the others, surrounded by his family. Seven men died so he could live. Was it worth it? Mommy Ryan got one son back, and he apparently raised a fine family, but seven other mothers lost their sons, men who never got to form families and raise their kids. The movie leaves that question open, but I for one find that it’s debatable whether it was worth the sacrifice. The whole plot feels contrived, but at least Spielberg and Hanks got the inspiration to make “Band of Brothers”, that most excellent mini-series.

Let’s go to the movies

A Panzer soldier and his Fallschirmjäger friend in tropical uniforms, perhaps on their way to the movies. The photo is probably taken in 1942, location unknown.

There’s been many hundreds of movies made about World War 2, both during the war and after it. Most of them feature American and/or British good guys fighting evil Nazis, but in recent years there’s also been an increase in Russian-made war movies. It’s easy to tire of Brad Pitt fight half the Third Reich, or Russian movies that only make Putin happy. Those of us who like a more varied fare look for other perspectives. As the theme for this blog is the German Wehrmacht, I’ll take a look at some of the best movies from a German viewpoint. I’m afraid the list won’t be terribly original, but that’s a consequence of the lack of good movies about the German wartime experience. So, in chronological order as the events unfolded in the war, here’s my list of five war movies with a German point of view that are worth (re-)watching.

First out isDas Boot from 1981. Regarded as the best submarine movie of all time, it tells the story of a combat tour with U-96. Set in 1941, it covers the successes and terrors experienced by the young crew. Based on the novel by former war correspondent Lothar-Günther Buchheim, who in turn based it on a combat tour with the real U-96, the movie became an international success, paving the way for the Hollywood careers of director Wolfgang Petersen and leading man Jürgen Prochnow. While some of the special effects are dated (the destroyer model wasn’t convincing even in 1981), it’s still a powerful movie. Long periods of tedium are interrupted by moments of terror, when the U-96 has to dodge attacks by enemy ships and aircraft. It has been released in three versions: the theatrical cut at 149 minutes, the director’s cut at 209 minutes, and the full mini-series at 293 minutes. The longer versions allow for more character development and exposition, and I recommend either of them. The theatrical cut isn’t available, anyway. A new mini-series based on the same story will be released in 2018.

Avoid: “U-571″, a sub-standard (pun intended) Hollywood movie that managed to insult the British by claiming that Americans captured an Enigma code machine before the Brits did.

 

The producers of “Das Boot” wanted to make another movie/mini-series about the German war experience, and opted for the Battle of Stalingrad. For some reason, the plans for the mini-series were scrapped, and a 134-minute movie was released in 1993. It tells the story of a combat engineer company which is sent to Stalingrad after a stint in North Africa. We follow some soldiers in a platoon commanded by Lieutenant von Witzleben (Thomas Kretschmann in his second role as a German officer; he’s played officers in at least ten movies). They descend into the hell known as Stalingrad, and the losses mount in the fierce fighting in the ruins. Things take a turn for the (even) worse when the men are sent to a penal battalion. A memorable fight against T-34 tanks sees them rehabilitated, but not without losses. As the 6th Army is surrounded, the winter growing harsher and supplies dwindle, the situation gets desperate, and one by one the soldiers meet their untimely ends. The last two try to break out of the encirclement, leading to one of the most depressing movie endings ever. While “Stalingrad” isn’t perfect, it’s still one of the best Eastern Front movies.

Avoid: the Russian “Stalingrad” (2013), which is so bad that even Russians didn’t like it.

 

Before “Stalingrad” there was “Cross of Iron” (1977). Based on the novel “The Willing Flesh” by Eastern Front veteran Willi Heinrich, it was one of the first non-German post-war movies to show an entirely German perspective. It was directed by Sam Peckinpah and featured a cast of American, German, British and Yugoslavian actors. Set in 1943, it tells the story of a squad led by Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn; almost twice as old as one would expect, but still great in that role). Their new company commander, Captain Stransky, arrives to the front. He’s a martinet and glory-hound, out for an Iron Cross, which he couldn’t get in his previous cushy posting in France. The two men clash, and as the Soviets assault their positions, things come to a head. Cynical and realistic, “Cross of Iron” still stands out. Peckinpah’s trademark bloody slow motion scenes have been parodied, but they work in this context. The ending, which was rewritten due to budget constraints, might not be to everyone’s taste, but it works.

Avoid: “Breakthrough”, the sequel to “Cross of Iron”, which was just an attempt to cash in on the first movie. Steiner and Stransky aren’t even played by the same actors.

 

How do you manage to make an exciting thriller about an event with an ending just slightly less predictable than that of “Titanic“? You let Bryan Singer direct it. “Valkyrie” from 2008 works. Even though you know Hitler will survive and the conspirators fail, Singer managed to create a movie that moves along at a steady clip, somehow managing to make it feel like the bomb plot will work. There was much criticism when Tom Cruise was picked to play Stauffenberg, but I think he did a really good job, working together with a great cast without hogging the limelight. While this movie is about officers in the highest echelons, plotting away in headquarters, there are some scenes from the front in North Africa that puts Stauffenberg in the line of fire, and not just as a smartly dressed staff officer. The art direction is great, presenting a time and place in a rich, convincing manner. It also reminds us of the other failed attempts on Hitler’s life, showing that there was opposition to him even before the war was about to be lost.

See also: “Operation Valkyrie“, a German TV movie from 2004. It covers most of the same events, but differently and in my opinion not as exciting. Appreciated by people with a fetish for dialogue in German.

 

Valkyrie” sort of sets the stage for “Downfall” (2004), the excellent retelling of the last weeks of the Thousand-Years Reich. Bruno Ganz delivers the best and most convincing movie Hitler ever, and it’s a pity that most people are only familiar with the movie through the innumerable “Hitler rant” clips on YouTube. It could easily have become a set piece in the bunker, but by following some of the defenders of Berlin, it recreates the final battle through the eyes of the kids and old men tasked with the defense. The desperation and sense of doom pervades the movie, and there are some strong scenes that will hit people who are parents especially hard. Told from the perspective of one of Hitler’s secretaries, Traudl Junge, it is probably the definite retelling of those final days.

For laughs: “Fall of Berlin“, a Soviet propaganda movie from 1949. It turns Hitler’s bunker into a freakshow, and features the perhaps most over-acting movie Hitler ever.

 

Somehow, this list doesn’t feel complete. While the movies are among the best war movies of all time, none of them really tells about the German war experience in a broader context, in part because a movie rarely can tell a story about a subject in depth over a longer period of time. In 2013, a German mini-series caused much discussion as it was the first real attempt in years to tell about the effect of the war on young Germans. In three 90-minutes episodes, “Generation War” (original title: “Unsere Mutter, unsere Väter“), we follow brothers Wilhelm and Friedhelm and their friends Charlotte, Greta and Viktor during the years 1941-45. Wilhelm is a lieutenant whose patriotism and idealism is put to the test, while his younger brother Friedhelm goes from being an unwilling soldier to hardened cynic. Charlotte serves as a nurse on the Eastern Front, while Greta is a singer, using her connections with a Gestapo officer to further her career while protecting her secret boyfriend Viktor, who is a Jew. While the mini-series drew some criticism for simplifying some events, as well as portraying the Polish resistance as anti-Semitic, it’s still the best treatment of the subject I’ve seen. It doesn’t shy away from the brutalization of the war on the Eastern Front, or the moral challenge of living in the Third Reich. If you haven’t watched “Generation War“, do yourself a service and do that.

 

Forging ahead

A lieutenant watches as horse-drawn wagons bring baggage and supplies to the front, using a pontoon bridge built by the Brückenkolonne of a Pionier (combat engineer) battalion. It’s probably during the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa. The retreating Soviets blew up any bridge they could, and those had to be replaced. In some cases, rivers were bridged in unexpected spots in order to make flanking attacks possible. The company-sized bridge-building unit could build longer or shorter bridges, depending on what load they were to handle. The pontoons could also be used when building ferries, as some rivers were simply too wide to be bridged in time. There were inflatable boats, too, which together with assault boats were used for attacks across rivers. Without the combat engineers, the armies would have a much harder time moving forward.

This is the last post in the five-part series about my WW2 interest and the ways it manifests itself. I will return to different aspects of it in future posts, elaborating on the themes that I find interesting.

In June 2014, I and some friends went to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. We spent a week looking at bunkers and tanks, walking invasion beaches and battlefields, and even had the good fortune to meet and talk to a couple of Allied D-Day veterans. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to make similar trips in the future. Over the years, I have met people who experienced WW2 first hand, and I hope to incorporate their stories in one way or other in my posts. I have a project brewing, where I plan to read and analyze the articles published in the German propaganda magazine ”Signal”, comparing how the Germans presented the fighting in Normandy with what really happened. Then I have this blog, which has turned my collecting of original German photos into a way of expressing myself through research and writing, presenting the photos together with capsule histories and trying to put them in a historical context. Hopefully it will broaden the readers’ understanding of the war just as it has broadened mine. That’s my excuse, anyway.

There are times when I get the question “Why waste time on dead people?” Well, the people in the photos are long gone (except perhaps the odd 90+ years old), but they lived during a tumultous period in our history. They would’ve been happier if they had been allowed to live their lives in peace, but that wasn’t to be. Their stories and fates are too often untold and forgotten; I’ve met people who lived through those years and who experienced things that they haven’t even told their own children. While most of the people in the photos I post here will remain anonymous, I want to put them in a context. In a way, if circumstances had been different, we could’ve been them. That alone makes it worth telling about the people and events all those years ago.

Dig our dugout

Three soldiers in their dugout, somewhere in Russia in 1941. The guy on the right is darning his socks, his comrade on the left is about to open a bottle of wine, while the third is just looking a bit bored. Their little bunker looks pretty snug. They have a stove, its chimney made from tin cans, and seem to enjoy relative comfort. The wine bottles indicate that they have arrived from France or Germany not too long ago. They could be artillerymen or combat engineers, or some other branch of the Army other than infantry (or recon, or signals), but it’s hard to tell the color of their Waffenfarbe piping. Their dugout is just temporary; they better find some thing good next time they move up. In a few months, the Russian winter will hit them.

Here’s the fourth and next to last post on aspects of my WW2 interest.

”So don’t you ever get tired of that war?” Well, while the war only lasted for six years, there are so many aspects of it to explore, that one could spend a lifetime reading about it and never be able to keep up with the new research. ”But all that death and destruction? How can someone like to read books and watch movies about that?” Okay, but some people watch crime shows, and most of them don’t like murders, and others watch hospital series but don’t get thrills from pain and suffering. To me, reading about WW2 is to learn what happened to people in extreme situations and how they coped with it. I don’t derive any pleasure from watching movies were soldiers are gunned down for cheap thrills, or even worse: laughs. As I served in an infantry company in 1986-87, I have way too easy to identify with the PBI (poor bloody infantry). I have a hard time watching movies like ”Inglorius Basterds” (which I’ve actually only seen some scenes from), where the war is an excuse for gory entertainment. Still, the war is intensely interesting. When it comes to drama, World War 2 has it all.

There are people who think that one probably harbors sympathy for Nazism just because of the interest in the German side of the war. Over the years, I’ve encountered war buffs who have an unhealthy fascination with the Third Reich. They fail to separate sympathy for the common men from making excuses for the evil system they were caught up in. A few deny the crimes of the Nazis, or try to rationalize them. Some are fascinated by the aesthetics of the uniforms and hardware design, thinking the Germans should’ve won because they had cooler tanks. Still, those people are in minority in the WW2-related hobbies. Most have a sound interest in history, and want to look behind the narratives of more general books, documentaries and movies. For my own part, it is impossible to ignore that the soldiers that I read about and feature in my blog posts were fighting for an evil regime, even if they had few options. Anyone who thinks becoming a Nazi is a good idea after reading about what transpired in 1933-45 is just plain stupid.

Next: the final part. Why bother with dead people?