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Good German

 Autore: Carlo Greppi  Categoria: Gothic Line, Reviews  Editore: Gius. Laterza & Figli  Pubblicato il...: 2024  ISBN: 978-88-581-5302-4  Pagine: 274

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«Only the conscience does not dry up,
this proud, rugged landscape of justice,
this fort against remorse».
S. LORENZ, The deserter (1952)

Review by Daniele Baggiani

The text has virtues in relation to the theme and weaknesses in relation to the structure and reading which we will discuss. Overall, it is a useful book for historians to discuss the methods of research and on a topic little frequented by historiography, on which little data is available: the desertion of German soldiers who joined - with all the problems involved - the ranks of the resisters . What does deserting mean for a German soldier, what is his moral conscience and the sense of his "betrayal"? What are the problems of inclusion in the resistant frameworks and what is the memory reserved for these soldiers in our feelings and memories of the Second Conflict? As you can see, the questions are important. Carlo Greppi tries to frame these issues by attempting a difficult answer.

Captain Rudolph Jacobs is a good soldier, respectful of hierarchies. Corporal major of the German naval engineers, thirty years old, in September 1944 he was with his department in the gulf of La Spezia to carry out fortification work on the coast in a phase in which the German commands feared an Allied landing on the Ligurian coasts. Jacobs and his attendant with him decide to desert, to go over to the enemy, joining the partisans of the Garibaldi Muccini Brigade, a formation which in the autumn of 1944 was approximately 1000 strong, active at the crossroads of Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia, between the Apuan Alps, the Parma area, Sarzana and Lerici. They choose to fight against their comrades, making a very dangerous and excruciating moral choice.

Chasing the shadow of these two Germanic soldiers, Carlo Greppi brings to light a story that is partly known, but has ended up forgotten in memory. Between 1943-44 above all - but also before - there were hundreds, thousands - it is estimated 1 in 1000 - of German and Austrian soldiers who made the same decision to join the men of the Resistance who were fighting the Nazi-fascist invader. Little is known about these soldiers and their spirit and sacrifice. Carlo Greppi has the merit of investigating events like this without rhetoric and without indulgence, in a substantially objective way, in short. Many archive documents, many first and second oral testimonies lead the author to explain the background of this choice and its consequences up to his death during the assault on a barracks of the fascist Black Brigades in Sarzana. Jacob's story is only the pretext, after all, to address the wide-ranging problem of German desertion. Who are those who have been able to say no no to unjust orders, who have rejected the law of honor and blood to choose freedom and conscience? Starting from a few traces, the author guides us on a difficult search: a handed down story, the name on a tombstone, a few lines in official documents, some memories of the surviving partisans.

Personally I believe that some comments can be made on the readability of the text and the narrative quality. The notes are extensive, it's true. Very good. But the text moves contextually in various directions, talking about historiography, memory, oral sources, research; and due to its polycentrism of themes it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the story of the soldier Rudolph Jacobs and his orderly, whose name, which until then had remained unknown, is revealed in a twist of events. It is therefore in a book, this one by Greppi, with a hybrid nature. A product perhaps more for the general readership than for specialists. It is without a doubt, without a doubt, a history essay that deserves to be read in order to better consider the phenomenon of desertion in the ranks of the Wehrmacht and to (attempt to) understand how even today it is difficult to come to terms with these stories of desertion. given the post-war ideological frameworks between good and bad, between faithful and traitors, between coherent and opportunists, between men of honor and cowards.

The moral conscience, the Ego, has no place in war, where instinct and ideology – the Id and the Superego – dominate unchallenged; where nationalist and Nazi rhetoric takes away the souls of men and pushes them to kill in the name of a political reason. Psychoanalysis helps us to better understand the question of war and obedience; but it doesn't relieve us from the horror. The "good German" Rudolph Jacob has the great merit of making his own free choice, deserting from the National Socialist war. He comes into contact with the partisans and chooses to go over to the other side. Perhaps empathetically sharing the suffering of the population. Perhaps reacting to the repeated cases of massacres carried out in the summer of 1944 by the German armed forces moving north along the Apennines. The (few?) experiences of Germans and Austrians who spent time with the partisans - for different reasons - tell us that not even in war is everyone's fate sealed. Everyone can always decide for themselves which side they are on. But in war such free choice is extremely dangerous. If you delay you are doomed. It's a matter of deciding once and for all.

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