Secret recordings made by British intelligence during the Second World War have revealed for the first time the horrific atrocities carried out by everyday German soldiers.
For years the blame for horrific war crimes, rape and genocide were laid at the hands of the SS and Hitler’s right hand men but a new book details how widespread the barbarity went.
Transcripts taken from hidden microphones on prisoners of war have been collated for the disturbing book Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs.
Between 1940 and 1945 the British and Americans bugged about 13,000 German and several hundred Italian soldiers of all ranks and services – many of which in the Trent Park detention centre for POWs in north London.
It was hoped the recordings would reveal military secrets of potentially strategic importance, instead they catalogued open and uncensored conversations about war experiences – often as to boast.
They detail not only the extreme level of violence but a disturbing sense of enjoyment from the soldiers.
One example of many recounts: “There was an event in the market square, crowds of people, speeches given. We really sprayed them! That was fun!”
Another reveals the following conversation: “We once did a strafing near Eastbourne. We flew up and saw a big castle; there seemed to be a ball or something – anyhow a lot of ladies in evening dress and a band.
“The first time we flew past; then we attacked and kept at it. Boy oh boy, was that fun.”
Another reveals: “I loved dropping bombs. It makes you feel all tingly, a great feeling. It’s as good as shooting someone down.”
The book, which has been compiled by German historians Soenke Neitzel and Harald Welzer has been translated in to English for the first time, dispelling myths that German soldiers were not responsible for such war crimes.
It offers a bleak inside view of World War II and in doing so, they destroy once and for the myth of a “clean” Wehrmacht – the German name for the armed forces.
The soldiers talk about their views of the enemy and their own leaders, discuss the details of combat missions and trade astonishingly detailed accounts of the atrocities they both witnessed and committed.
One passage reads: ZotlÃƒ¶terer: “I shot a Frenchman from behind. He was riding a bicycle.”
Weber: “At close range?”
Heuser: “Did he want to take you prisoner?”
ZotlÃƒ¶terer: “Nonsense. I wanted the bicycle.”
The material contains disturbing accounts of sexual abuse, rape and torture as well.
In one section a passage attributed to Reimbold reads: “In the first officers’ prison camp where I was being kept here, there was a really stupid guy from Frankfurt, a young lieutenant, a young upstart.
“And he said: “Oh, we caught this female spy who had been running around in the neighborhood.
“First we hit her in the t**s with a stick and then we beat her rear end with a bare bayonet.
Then we f** her, and then we threw her outside and shot at her. When she was lying there on her back, we threw grenades at her.
“Every time one of them landed near her body, she screamed.”
“And just think, there were eight German officers sitting at that table with me, and they all broke out laughing.”