Edgar B.'s letters

Edgar Robert B., born in 1921, spent his youth in a small rural town between Koblenz and Mainz. His denomination is given as “gottgläubig” (god-believing), a term that expresses the renunciation of Christianity typical of many followers of National Socialism. In the autumn of 1940, he left school due to his conscription and joined an infantry regiment. In the summer of 1941, he took part in the fighting on the Eastern Front, where he was wounded at the end of July. Selected as an officer candidate, he was made a first lieutenant in February 1942 and again sent to the front, where he was wounded a second time in July 1943. As a company commander, he arrived in Italy and fought on the Western Alpine Front, where he fell on 18 April 1945.

B.'s letters are kept in the Kempowski-Biographienarchiv (Kempowski Biographical Archive) at the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Berlin, where they are part of the extensive collection of ego documents from which the writer Walter Kempowski compiled his work Das Echolot (Munich, Knaus) between 1993 and 2005.

In his letters to his young wife Liselotte, Edgar not only expresses his affection and concern for her, as she is expecting a child. He also shares the principles of his worldview, which is oriented towards the moral ideas of National Socialism: "We must no longer teach our children, for example, "Thou shalt not kill" - one of our first commandments will be "Thou shalt not kill all that is sacred to thee" and sacred to us is our fatherland, are our women and children, our honour and all that has an ethical value". This echoes Heinrich Himmler's speech in Posen on 4 October 1943: "Honestly, decently, faithfully and comradely we have to be to members of our own blood and to no one else".

The morals of National Socialism related solely to one's own "Volksgemeinschaft" and applied only to dealings with members of that national community. This was in stark contrast to universal Christian charity, as historian Raphael Gross writes (Anständig geblieben. Nationalsozialistische Moral, Frankfurt a.M., S. Fischer, 2010).

In his account of the burning of a village in northern Italy during an operation, Edgar justifies it with the necessity of severe behaviour, like many German soldiers in this situation: "I still had to see some unpleasant scenes, but one must know no inner softness as only this one slogan applies: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. This war with the gangs (a term to discredit partisans) can no longer be compared to an open fight with a fair opponent, and requires all harshness."

The last letter is from the post-war period. A war comrade of Edgar's writes to Liselotte to describe her husband's last days. He had been sent on a hopeless mission by drunken commanders and fell because he received no help from his superior.

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.