Reading Material

Grenadiers: The Story of Waffen SS General Kurt “Panzer” Meyer

Here’s a quick reading suggestion. This is a random pick from my bookshelves: I though it would be cool to just pick a book and write a little something about it in a short recommendation.

And so I stumbled on Meyer’s book. Not an easy book to read and, frankly, not particularly well written. But fascinating, yes, on many counts.

After putting it down, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. The first couple of chapters had me think the man was still ‘simply’ a convinced hardcore Nazi (and form a Canadian perspective, an especially troubling one). I dropped the book for a while because from a purely literary point of view, the book is indeed a little boring, at least in the earliest part. But I’m glad I picked it up again.

As is so often the case, reality is much more nuanced than over simplistic labels. It’s certainly tempting and safe to tag Meyer and other of his ‘kind’ of being horrendous war criminals. But I think this is exactly what makes for bad history. Not daring to question stereotypes and shortcuts. I’m not saying Meyer was a good guy, but he certainly poses a serious question about what it meant to be a German soldier in the context of World War two Germany.

By the end of the book, my view of Meyer’s somewhat unusual character was challenged. I am under the impression that this larger-then-life soldier could be related to somebody like Patton. Full of drive, restless, outspoken, pig-headed and aggressive, completely absorbed by war as the professional soldier that he was. What were his inner thoughts about the true agenda of National-Socialism he does not tell, preferring to deal solely with his massive combat experience: Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece, the Eastern Front and the Battle of Normandy, no less.

Many areas are left blank, and one does not peek easily into this man’s conscience, but Meyer’s book brings a unique perspective to the history of the Waffen SS and military leadership in wartime. Highly recommended.

The Book

Kurt Meyer, Grenadiers: The Story of Waffen SS General Kurt “Panzer” Meyer, Stackpole Books, 2005, 436 pages. (ISBN13: 9780811731973)

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