A young sailor in Britain’s Merchant Marine, Michael Walsh was mystified. It was the 1950s and the demonization of all things German was exclusively a political or media phenomena. Most of his older contemporaries had fought or been captured in WW2 yet he never met one who did not respect former foes. A little research revealed that all ranks of all nations honoured the vanquished.
It was this peculiarity that inspired him to do a little research. His findings will give pause for thought. As with all wars, men and women of all nations had little choice but to defend what they see as their values. War changes everything; those otherwise perhaps destined for civilian mediocrity become national heroes.
Inspired by the daredevil escapes of Clemens Forell, a German soldier who escaped the hell of the Siberian Gulag, and Baron Franz von Werra of The One Who Got Away epic escape movie, the author unearthed many more former foes who may have become household names had the war ended differently.
The Charlie Brown and Fritz Stigler story recently captured hearts across nations. It was the story of a German fighter pilot who had nursed a crippled USAF bomber’s injured crew back to its base.
Some of the stories tell of fanatical Axis combatants like Waffen SS General Leon Degrelle, aviator Hanna Reitsch, Luftwaffe ace Walter Novotony, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny. Others were simply conscripted by time and circumstance; these undoubtedly include Lale Anderson, whose ballad Lili Marlene became the greatest war song ever recorded. There was German rocket scientist, Werner von Braun; soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and conductor extraordinary Herbert von Karajan.
Heroes of the Reich one supposes is belated recognition that all wars produce outstanding people; the Second World War was no exception.
Excerpt from the book:
Heroes of the Reich. Michael Walsh. 39 chapters, 152pp