Hitler's Last Levy in East Prussia 1944-45

ISBN-10: 1909982725
ISBN-13: 9781909982727
Review Date:

Full Title: Hitler's Last Levy in East Prussia 1944-45: Volkssturm Einsatz Bataillon Goldap (25/235)

Bruno Just was the adjutant of the Volkssturm Einsatz Bataillon Goldap, a group of civilians called up for combat duty in an attempt to slow the advancing Soviets. His unit began with 400 poorly equipped men. Rush into battle merely days after formation, by the time they were evacuated to Denmark, there were only 70 remaining. Lowly soldiers and junior officers on the losing side of war, especially one so devastating as WW2, tended not to memorialize their desperation and trauma in the written word, so there were only few personal accounts of the Volkssturm. For those that did put their painful memories on paper, not all of their works were translated into the English language. Thus I was excited to get my hands on Just's diary, translated by Frederick Steinhardt and published under the title Hitler's Last Levy in East Prussia 1944-45.

The book added little to the history of how the Soviets advanced through East Prussia. After all, a memoir, by definition, was not a work of history. The book, however, offered a view into the mind of one person who tried his utmost to serve his homeland. Just relayed to me the frustrations he experienced as entire stores were hoarded by inept leadership (and sometimes ended up captured by the Soviets in their entirety), the relief he felt as he ran into his unharmed wife, and the pondering about the cruelty of war. The last of which might deserve a quote in length:

War is hard and cruel. It does not ask whom it has just killed and whom it leaves alive. The war also has its own laws, and it allows this one or that one to fall indiscriminately. It matters not whether he lived his life well or badly. There is no differentiation made between good and evil men, for all men that stand with weapon in hand before the enemy are good men, and it is a shame for any man that it is his lot to die. All that made it safely out of that witch's cauldron could be happy and fortunate that fate had spared them this time. Probably it would strike one or another the next time.

Bruno Just was born in 1900. After the war, he was fortunate enough to be reunited with his wife and daughter in Hameln in Nov 1945. He passed away in 1963.

Perhaps inconsequential, but it did bother me as a reader that even though this book was billed as a diary, there were a great number of instances where Just's own writing betrayed this, showing that this must had been written as a memoir far down the line, but in the format of a diary. For example, there was an entry dated 22 Oct in which Just stated "I then did not see him for a long time", which seems to indicate that he had written this 22 Oct entry a "long time" after that date. In another example, dated 12 Nov, he wrote "[m]y wife visited me in Kulsen and remained for several days." Again, this seemed to suggest that he had retroactively written the 12 Nov entry at least several days after that date. In yet another example, dated 26 Dec, he again wrote an entry in which it sounded suspiciously like it was actually written at least week later: "I received a week of leave and spent it with my wife and daughter in Angerburg." Once again, inconsequential, but it did bother me a little bit.

When I initially held Hitler's Last Levy in East Prussia 1944-45 in hand, I was reminded of the famous title Requiem for Battleship Yamato, written by a sailor of the losing side who had survived the war and had time to process all he had suffered. In all honesty, Hitler's Last Levy in East Prussia 1944-45 could not compete with Requiem for Battleship Yamato, but that sentiment by no means discredited the value of Bruno Just's diary. His lamentation of war mongering national leadership in Berlin clearly echoed with events people who came after him would be facing in the 2020s, and his words, along with all those who cared to pen their memoirs, served well to remind us that there would never be a winning side in war. There would always only be losers.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Thomas Patrick Happel says:
16 Mar 2024 10:21:42 AM

>>Bruno Just was born in Nov 1945<<

Highly unlikely, could you please edit that?
2. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
18 Mar 2024 11:25:07 AM

Thomas Patrick Happel, thank you for pointing out our mistake in accidentally swapping two of the dates in that paragraph. This has been corrected. He was born in 1900, and he was reunited with his wife in Nov 1945.

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