In the beginning, I was so proud of my country and what I thought we were accomplishing. Yet by 1943, I knew the Nazi government was leading Germany and the world down a path of destruction.
Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would someday be standing in the basement of the Fuhrer Bunker preparing to shoot Adolf Hitler.
- Siegfried Knappe
WEHRMACT DIARY is a fascinating and true story that offers a unique look at the German side of World War II - and a world in ruins.
In WEHRMACHT DIARY, writer Wolfgang Cooper and Siegfried Knappe, who rose through the ranks of the General Staff College to become a highly respected major in the Wehrmacht, give the reader a reflective and illuminating perspective on Knappes experiences as a German soldier who served on every major battle front in the European theater of war.
This unique and timely book chronicles the life of an ordinary man who found himself caught in the middle of extraordinary world events - and how he survived to start a new life in America.
But most importantly, Siegfried Knappe, a long-time resident of Xenia, Ohio, is one of the few people alive today who met Adolf Hitler face to face. In fact, he met the German dictator three times - in six year intervals.
The first time was in 1933 when Knappe was an apolitical, teenage shutterbug, intent only on photographing Germanys new Chancellor pulling up outside a hotel in Knappes hometown of Leipzig. The young Knappe ignored Hitlers chauffeur, hopped onto the running board of the open limousine - and snapped off three frames. Over sixty years later, Knappe still has the pictures.
The second time Knappe came face to face with Hitler was in early 1939. Knappe was by then a junior artillery officer at Kriegsschule Potsdam, a military academy where he trained under legendary Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Knappe was being congratulated for his war college performance by the Fuhrer at a formal Reich Chancellory reception in Berlin. Recognition for his exemplary achievements at Potsdam would promote Knappes advancement up the ranks throughout his military career.
The third time he met with Hitler was almost six years later and in the same building. It was April 1945. As a top aide to General Helmut Weidling - the commander of Berlins final defenses - Major Knappe waited outside the briefing room in the Fuhrer bunker. The Red Army was only 500 meters away, clawing its way toward the bunker and the final destruction of the Third Reich.
Outside, Berlin was a world of smoke, fire, death, and horror, recalled Knappe. Inside, protocol dictated that Major Knappe be presented by his commander to Hitler and Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He looked very old, at least 20 years older than his 56 years, remembers Knappe.
The major was shaken. Like so many in Germany, he had given his youth to a leader who stood for the nation. Now Knappe could see that Hitler physically resembled his country - withered, defeated, cursed. Major Knappe decided to shoot Hitler the next morning. On that last day in the bunker, he stood near Hitler, coolly calculating pistol range - only to change his mind. Let Hitler martyr himself, Knappe decided. After Knappe surrendered to the Russians, he realized that the Fuhrer had inadvertently saved his life.
Major Knappe had become an eyewitness - an eyewitness who would live to tell his incredible story.
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All history, granted a wide enough perspective, is merely irony. The ironies of Siegfried Knappes life are beyond number:
He survived five years of combat, including four serious wounds, three tours on the dreaded Eastern front, and the final Allied assault on Berlin.
He helped negotiate the final surrender of German forces to the Russians.
As a prisoner of war, Knappe spent five frightful years in various Soviet prison camps.
And finally, upon his release from captivity in 1949, Siegfried Knappe found a way to smuggle his family - along with war diaries and photo albums - out of East Germany and into West Germany.
What makes this book so interesting is that the reader is given the chance to see the war through the eyes of a true-to-life German soldier. Unlike many of the Nazi caricatures that have been depicted in the movies, Knappe is a decent man, a loyal husband and father, and a good and dutiful soldier.
WEHRMACHT DIARY is a book that offers the reader a rare opportunity to understand how Hitler motivated a whole generation to carry out his plans for world conquest. And we learn at what cost, as Knappe struggles to keep his bearings in life as Germany falls into rubble and his whole world collapses.
And after five years in Soviet captivity, Siegfried Knappes amazing story continues as he reunites with his family and builds a new life in America.
During his 5 years in soviet captivity, Siegfried Knappe was able to reflect on his role in what, to this day, is still the greatest catastrophe the world has ever experienced.
In retrospect, he realized that he and countless others had helped Hitler start and fight a world war of conquest that had left tens of millions of people dead and had destroyed his beloved Fatherland.
Siegfried pondered whether he would have questioned these facts if Germany had won the war. He concluded that it was unlikely.
This was a lesson taught by defeat not by victory.
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