Originally written while the author was a prisoner of the US Army in 1945–46, Black Edelweiss is a boon to serious historians and WWII buffs alike. In a day in which most memoirs are written at half a century’s distance, the former will be gratified by the author’s precise recall facilitated by the chronologically short-range (a matter of one to seven years) at which the events were captured in writing. Both will appreciate and enjoy the abundantly detailed, exceptionally accurate combat episodes.
Even more than the strictly military narrative, however, the author has crafted a searingly candid view into his own mind and soul. As such, Black Edelweiss is much more than a “ripping yarn” or a low-level military history. Black Edelweiss joins not only the growing body of German military memoirs, but the more select, more narrowly-focused group of personal memoirs by other Waffen-SS enlisted men. Beyond the microcosmic view of combat these books relate—to the extent that they are honest and candid—such books are important for what they can reveal about their authors’ motivations and reflections on those impulses and their consequences. To date, these works differ significantly.
As it joins the ranks of the books in this genre, Black Edelweiss makes a unique and very important contribution. It is a true, personal account of the author’s war years, first at school and then with the Waffen-SS, which he joined early in 1943 at the age of seventeen. For a year and a half, the author fought as a machine gunner in SS-Mountain Infantry Regiment 11 “Reinhard Heydrich,” mainly in the arctic and sub-arctic reaches of Soviet Karelia and Finland, and later at the Western frontier of the Third Reich. The characters in the story are real, and the conversations and actions are recounted to the best of his ability from the short distance at which he wrote the manuscript in 1945–46.