Diary of Dr Heinrich Voigtel

Dr Heinrich Voigtel was born in 1916 as the son of a Protestant pastor. He initially received a liberal education inspired by Friedrich Naumann and Gustav Stresemann but was also introduced to national liberal ideas and a Christian social democratic political stance. Due to an eye disease, the author was not called up for active military service. He enrolled at the law faculty in Jena and joined the National Socialist German Student League. Shortly afterward, he changed his place of residence and university and left that student association. From 1936 to 1939 he studied art history and history in Halle and Göttingen.

In December 1939 he was called up and took part in the French campaign. In the winter of 1940/41, he was discharged for study reasons and passed the state examination in Göttingen. Between 1941 and 1943, he served on the Eastern Front. In the spring of 1943, he fell ill with typhus, was treated in various military hospitals, and then stayed in Königsberg to recuperate. In January 1944, he was transferred to Italy for about a year as an artillery observer.

Voigtel began the diary in April 1944 in the rear of the Cassino Front, the entries that followed describe fighting between Bologna and Ferrara. In 1945 he was transferred to the Czech Republic, where he remained until the surrender. He fled from the Red Army to southern Germany, where he surrendered to American troops. Released from captivity, he worked as a teacher at a college in Halle an der Saale from 1946 to 1948, then from 1952 at various schools in the German Federal Republic, including the Hannah-Arendt-Gymnasium in Barsinghausen.

A copy of the diary can be found in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv (the military archives of the German Federal Archives) in Freiburg (MSg 2/13328). 

Voigtel wrote a "political diary", not a simple account of personal experiences. As a keen observer of the political and military situation and the morale of German soldiers, the author is well aware of the impending collapse and German responsibility. In his reflections on the future of Germany, he comes to the conclusion that a moral and value-oriented re-education of German youth through schools is necessary.

One of the most haunting passages in the diary is the description of his encounter with Pierino, a not-so-young fascist soldier. The two meet when Pierino passes by Passo Segni, the house where Voigtel is staying. He is on his way to bring his family to safety in Bologna.

Based on Carlo Gentile's translations, the theatre collective ArchivioZeta has produced podcasts in Italian on some first-person documents. You can find them on the Italian pages for each document.