So-called ego-documents are important for reconstructing the generational and social contexts as well as the mentalities of the soldiers. The term originates from Dutch and was introduced into academic discourse in the late 1950s by the historian Jacob Presser. It refers to documents in which historical subjects express their self-perception and self-representation.

Ego-documents can take various forms, such as autobiographical writings, diaries and letters, as well as non-public statements in criminal proceedings.

© private archive Carlo Gentile

During the years of National Socialism and especially during the Second World War, many Germans - military and civilian, men and women - felt the need to document their experiences in diaries, letters and photographs. They felt that the time they lived in was extraordinary and wanted to record its memory and protagonists in some way. After the war, these testimonies took on a new significance. While some of their authors used diaries and notes to justify their actions during the Nazi period and the war, other diaries remained private, locked away in drawers at home and in archives. Only a fraction of these diaries have been published.

Some are well-known, such as Victor Klemperer's, Thomas Mann's, Ernst Jünger's, or the anonymous account of a young Berlin woman when the Soviet troops marched into the German capital. Others, however, have been forgotten. Diaries in private hands formed the basis for so-called "family novels", including Am Beispiel meines Bruders (Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2003), which the writer Uwe Timm wrote on the basis of notes and letters by his older brother, a young SS soldier killed in Russia. Between 1993 and 2005, the writer Walter Kempowski published the ten-volume anthology Das Echolot (Munich, Knaus), in which he collaged excerpts from diaries and letters from his extensive collection of autobiographical writings.