||Bounden Duty: The Memoirs of a German Officer, 1932-45,
by Alexander Stahlberg; translated by Patricia Crampton. London: Brassey’s (UK), 1990.
The evil machinations of Adolf Hitler and his followers continue to fascinate historians, especially as the 50th Anniversary of World War ll is being commemorated. The publication in English of Alexander Stahlberg’s memoirs has provided a wealth of new and significant information.
Stahlberg was born in 1912 into a wealthy and influential Prussian family. At the end of 1932, while attending university in Berlin, he became “press consultant” to former Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen. While in this position, he was privy to the behind-the-scenes activities during January 1933 after which Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and Papen his deputy. Stahlberg later worked in his family business but remained aware of the political scene and volunteered to serve as a cavalry trooper in 1935-36 to avoid joining the Nazi Party. Recalled to active duty for a short period in 1938 and commissioned shortly thereafter as a reserve officer, Stahlberg later participated in the offensives into Poland, France, and the Soviet Union.
Upon the recommendation of a General Staff officer cousin (who, according to the author, was the chief organizer of the resistance to Hitler), Stahlberg became aide-de-camp, and later adjutant, to Field Marshall Erich von Manstein in 1942. He served Manstein in the Soviet Union (including during the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad), during the Battle of Kursk, and after Manstein was relieved in March 1944 until the end of the war. From this unrivaled vantage point, he accompanied Manstein to numerous conferences with Hitler, which he describes in exquisite detail, and was drawn into the fringe of the anti-Hitler conspiracy circle.
As indicated by its title, the main theme of the book was the inner conflict between duty and conscience experienced by Stahlberg, Manstein, and those army officers who opposed Hitler. Although it was recognized that Hitler was a criminal who would eventually destroy Germany, many officers, especially Manstein, were fettered by the strictures of ethical dogma and refused to do anything to save their nation, even when they learned of the government-sponsored campaign to destroy the Jews.
A case in point is the encirclement at Stalingrad. Manstein, as Commander-in-Chief, Army Group Don, believed he could have saved the Sixth Army, either by coordinating an attack to relieve the surrounded army, or by permitting it to break out of its encirclement. Since he had given his oath of loyalty to Hitler, however, he believed it was his duty to obey Hitler’s unrealistic and ludicrous order for the Sixth Army to defend to the death the “stronghold” of Stalingrad and did nothing to save the hundreds of thousands of German soldiers.
The well-written and well-translated text is superbly supplemented by some three dozen photographs of episodes from the author’s life that stress his World War ll experiences. Six maps of significant German offensives provide easy-to-understand references.
This enthralling book offers further insight into the minds of the German Army officers during the Nazi regime and makes a significant contribution to military history. The theme of loyalty to the sovereign power versus the limits of obedience is a thought-provoking and often disturbing issue. This book is difficult to put down once begun.
Book Review, Bounden Duty: The Memoirs of a German Officer, 1932-45, by
Alexander Stahlberg, Infantry 85 (January-February 1995): 49-50.