Critique of Max Hastings book, 'Das Reich' (presented by Marc Rikmenspoel)

    The following article gives a critical review of Max Hastings book, 'Das Reich and the march of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division through France'. It gives a good illustration of the perils faced by anyone writing on the subject of the SS and Oradour. It is perfectly true that Max Hastings, who at the time he wrote the book was a journalist, has made numerous spelling mistakes with names, both those of people and also places. It is remarkable that in the context of Oradour, he refers to Adolf Diekmann as, Otto Dickmann. What makes this confusion all the more strange is that Hastings actually met Otto Weidinger (Diekmann's commanding officer) and records his gratitude for Weidinger's help and assistance in preparing the book.

    The article below is unfair in one respect, it states that Hastings, 'was "revolted" at the thought of having to collaborate with former officers of the Waffen-SS'. In fact Max Hastings makes no such statement in his book and quite specifically thanks those surviving SS officers that met him for their help. The article is displayed below as given to me, without any editing. I suggest that you read Hastings book and make your own mind up.


A REVIEW OF MAX HASTINGS’ DAS REICH

by Richard Landwehr, transcribed by Marc Rikmenspoel

    Many visitors to this page are familiar with the book Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, written by Max Hastings. I too have read the book, and find it full of fiction and errors. I have had the privilege of reading a letter written in English by Fritz Langanke (or as Hastings calls him, Langangke) to Max Hastings. In it, Langanke lists 15 points where Hastings ignored or distorted the information he provided. Unfortunately, the contents of the letter must remain private for the time being, but meanwhile, this review of the book by Richard Landwehr does a good job of summing up my feelings about Mr. Hastings’ work. The review is from Siegrunen Magazine, vol. 5, #6 (#30 overall), and is copyright 1983 by Richard Landwehr, Jr. It is reprinted with permission.

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    To start off with this is an ugly mess of a book, with the author seemingly unsure of just what topic he is covering. For those of us who expected a truly objective work, this volume is not only a disappointment, but also cause for a good deal of bitterness. This is not a military history of the "Das Reich" Div., but instead a rehash of assorted atrocity stories with 50% or more of the text devoted to the terroristic doings of the French "resistance" and its Allied supporters.

    Hastings used his status as an apparently well-known British journalist to enlist the assistance of several former officers of the "Das Reich" Div. in preparing the text of what they believed to be a purely military-historical work. As it turns out their trust was betrayed by the author, who notes (among other emotional outbursts in the text) that he was "revolted" at the thought of having to collaborate with former officers of the Waffen-SS. The end result is that Hastings has turned out another establishment propaganda work, a little different from the norm in some respects, but still replete with numerous falsehoods and distortions.

    Among Hastings’ more absurd observations are the following: 1) The Waffen-SS was poorly led by a psychopathic officer corps, 2) Waffen-SS men were good soldiers but also run-of-the-mill murderers who killed at random, and 3) No German account or rendition of events is ever to be believed. Perhaps the sheer idiocy of some of the text is best represented by the following unbelievable direct quote: "Throughout the next four years of conquest and struggle, above all on the Eastern Front, the Waffen-SS shot whomsoever they wished, whenever they wished." [p.22] I don’t know if it is possible to come up with a bigger distortion than this, but this sentence sets the tone for the entire book! Anyone who has even delved marginally into the history of the Waffen-SS (using objective sources), knows automatically the fundamental falseness of this ludicrous pronouncement. Hastings has brought us back full circle to the old "monster man" calumnies of the wartime era itself.

    Hastings devotes much of his book to reiterating the standard establishment story of the German reprisal action that led to tragedy at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, but he is rather candid in that he admits that he does not know where the truth leaves off and the fiction begins! He therefore leaves us with many gaps and contradictions in the story, which ironically would have been cleared up had he run the German version of events. But not only does he refuse to run the "German version", he does not even give a decent summary of their side of what happened. One can only ask in bewilderment, why not? If the establishment version is so air-tight, why is Mr. Hastings and everyone else so frightened of running another point-of-view? Could it be that they simply cannot refute the German version? That is the opinion of this reviewer after having carefully studied both sides of the story from other sources. There is of course one sacred tenet that all "atrocity" writers must adhere to as far as WWII goes if they want to get published by someone like "Holt-Rinehart-Winston," and that is that no credence must be given at all to other than the establishment line; no one must be permitted for one instant to doubt the validity of the official propaganda.

    There are some good things in the book. The anecdotes provided by the cooperative ex-"Das Reich" are uniformly more interesting than anything Hastings writes about and the subject of the criminal conduct of the French "resistance" is touched upon. These "noble" partisans carried out atrocities on a level that makes one violently sick to even contemplate and the author at least mentions some of them. He had to, since even the ex-"resistance" fighters now own up to their crimes. But it is interesting to note that Hastings considered all reports of "resistance" misdeeds to be German propaganda lies until the actual perpetrators confessed to him!

    In the conclusion of this book, Hastings makes a comparison of the tragedy of Oradour with that of the bombing of Dresden. This is easily one of the more fatuous comparisons that I have ever come across. At Oradour, 600 or so people died, 80% of them accidentally, in the midst of a tense combat situation that had been exacerbated to the boiling point by partisan atrocities. At Dresden up to 240,000 innocent people were immolated in a non-strategic fire bombing that was carried out as a deliberate act of terrorism. Forgive me if these two incidents fail to balance out exactly on my scale of values.

    While covering the Oradour story from the "official" angle, Hastings gets all choked up emotionally and the text, which is not very good to begin with, really begins to suffer. I would like to ask the gentleman if he feels the same way about all of the Allied "Oradours." Why does he fail to mention the thousands of "Oradours" that took place across Eastern Europe, from East Prussia to Yugoslavia, with millions of German civilians as the victims? It strikes me as strange that the stupendous butchery carried out by the Allied affiliated communist and partisan "armies" always fails to interest "humanitarian" "atrocity" writers like Hastings. What staggering hypocrisy!

    Well, the worst is yet to come. Not only have the soldiers of the Waffen-SS been indicted as bestial monsters by Hastings, with no significant substantiation, but he has also caused a real human tragedy with his distorted work. A former member of the Waffen-SS was arrested East Germany on the basis of an innocuous quote that appears in this book and currently the leftist governments of France and East Germany are drooling over the possibility of staging a joint political "show" trial for this one individual! Funny how the enemies of truth and freedom are always the first to exploit tracts like this.

    No doubt this book will also be picked up by libraries and the book clubs, thus further helping to set back for a little while longer the cause of historical justice and veracity. But it is to be hoped that someday a publisher with integrity will come forth and openly present both sides of the picture. The truth has an uncanny way of winning out in the end!

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    The "show" trial mentioned is that of Heinz Barth, a former platoon commander in 3./Der Fuehrer. He had lived openly, under his own name, in the Soviet zone of Germany since the end of the war. His trial was merely a propaganda opportunity. He confessed to any and everything he was told to, in order to avoid a death sentence. The guilty verdict had been decided upon in advance, and his life was spared. He was released from imprisonment in 1997.

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Michael Williams: minor revision September 2004