I just recently finished reading Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck (last night), I don’t know why but for some reason I am on a war memoir kick right now and digging through my library and re-reading all the war memoirs I have. Colonel Luck’s memoir is very interesting, he had a very interesting career in both the Reichswehr and Wehrmacht in the years preceding and during World War II.
Colonel Luck opened the war in Poland and fought on all the major fronts of the war to include the invasion of Russia, the Western Desert, and D-day before ending the war once again in the east where he was captured by the Russians and spent five years in a POW camp before being released.
I have read several memoirs of German soldiers from World War II and all have a different take when squaring the circle of fighting for the Third Reich and talking about responsibility for the Holocaust. Colonel Luck is no different in this regard; he acknowledges that he knew of the concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen and Dachau that were public knowledge. Indeed, he tried to help get his wartime fiance’s father released from Sachsenhausen to no avail. He acknowledges that he knew of some of what went on on the eastern front. He denies any knowledge of the extermination camps until after the war was over, and I tend to believe him. One thing that comes out repeatedly when talking to the average wartime German is the way in which the regime kept them in the dark about the extent of the Nazi killings of Jews and other groups.
Overall, this is an excellent account of German command of panzer and reconnaissance troops in World War II. Colonel Luck’s experiences fighting on every front of the war make this a rich book that any student of the war who wants to understand what happened on a tactical level should read. This account talks about not only combat but the frequent lulls in between combat that make up such a vast part of the experience of soldiering in any war. The old saw says that combat is 90% boredom and 10% stark, raving terror and the German experience in World War II was no different. This book brings that out and puts a personal face on the average German soldier. It helps a person to realize that despite the regime they fought for, German soldiers of World War II were essentially not much different from their opponents. They were just ordinary people trying to do what they thought was right. I found his account of Russian captivity and what he did after the war to be just as informative as that of his wartime experiences.
This is an excellent book, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants a view inside the wartime Wehrmacht.