[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Müller-Hill is one of those rare books that come out of war. A diary written by someone to satisfy themselves with no expectation that it will ever get published. As such, it provides an almost unique view into the mind of the person writing it. The vast majority of war memoirs are self-serving and written to make a point. Diaries tend to be less so, and this one in particular as it was written for the specific purpose of allowing the author to vent his spleen of thoughts and opinions that he simply could not openly express in Nazi Germany without risking death or imprisonment. The book is 186 pages of text and covers the diary entries from March, 1944 to June, 1945.
What is striking about this diary is that it was written by somebody who was part of one of the vital aspects of the totalitarian regime that kept the Nazis in power, a military judge. Müller-Hill is remarkable in that although he was a military judge, he was not a hanging judge as so many Nazi era judges were. Indeed, he boasts in the diary that he never sentenced a man to death although he was pressured to do so. He always managed to find a sentence that avoided the firing squad.
Werner Otto Müller-Hill had served Germany in World War I and was 54 years old when World War II started in 1939. His age and experience color his observations throughout his diary and he constantly compares the Nazis to the Kaiser era. This is interesting because he is someone with intimate knowledge of both eras. He makes several predictions in his diary that turned out to be prescient.
However, the most striking thing that comes out when reading the diary is how Müller-Hill struggled to reconcile his role in the Nazi war machine with his own conscience. What comes out is the internal debates of an ordinary man who knows he serves an inhuman regime but finds himself powerless to do anything to stop the destruction of the country and people he love. He does what he can but knows that will never be enough. This book is a step to putting to rest the myth of a Germany full of Nazis and goes far toward showing that some, if not most, Germans were opposed to the regime but unable to do anything because of the iron grip of the police apparatus the Nazis built. If anything, the lesson to be learned from this diary and the Nazi era is not that Germans are evil but that if tyranny is not stopped early resistance can become almost impossible. This diary represents the story of one person who could not fight openly yet still resisted the regime in whatever way they could.
The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge is compelling reading and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in World War II and the Nazi era in Germany.