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The Holocaust: From Survivor Of Verdun

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Hermanns, William. The Holocaust: from a survivor of Verdun. New York: Harper and Row Publishing, 1972. Pp. xi,141.

Megan Houck

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA: William Hermanns was born on the 23rd of July 1895 in Koblenz, Germany to a merchant family. His parents were Michael and Bertha. Mr. Hermanns was highly educated with a M.A. from the University of Berlin and he continued school to receive s Ph.D. from University of Frankfurt. His career consisted of a being a German soldier during world war one from 1915 to 1920. He was released as a French prisoner of war in 1920 and was prepared for a diplomatic career in the League of Nation. He escaped his homeland in 1934 because of the rule of Hitler. He then began as a researcher at Harvard University and lectured during the summer sessions. William worked towards a professional occupation of being a professor. Mr. Hermanns worked for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington D.C.

He volunteered for the German army during World War I and became a prisoner and then a sergeant and received his iron cross and the cross of honor. He had other writing as well, for example: Mary and the Mocker, Einstein and the Poet, Die Feder stockt and a few others. Some works in progress are Seed of the Last Days, thinking back on philosophy and people. Another is Theology of Violence, which are his individual experiences with Goebbels, Hitler, Puis XII, and Mussolini. William Hermanns personal vow as an author started when he promised that if God saved him he would serve God for as long as he lived. This encourages him to write about man’s instinctive conscience through his own special involvements. Mr. Hermanns also does not believe in chance, but in coincidence and meaning of events that seem related. 1

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS: The subject matter of this book was a soldier’s personal experience in World War I. William’s involvement was from May 1915 to January 1920. The title of the book refers to a Holocaust, not that of Hitler, but of the aspirations of being a decorated was hero and glory for Germany to the horrors of poison gas, trench warfare, and war’s irreparable disruption of everyday life. He spent one year in the trenches of the Argonne Forest, two months in the sector of Verdun, and forty months in French captivity and then finally a full year rebuilding the destroyed area around Verdun after the war was over. He established many relationships, self-epiphanies, not so favorable treatment, and many other first hand occurrences throughout his servitude that provide a very vivid image of life as a soldier. The area from which William began his journey was a training facility in the German town of Salzuflen. He volunteered for this position and dreamed of one day having an elegant uniform of the Iron Cross and of strutting into Paris alongside his Kaiser. 2

He met another first year soldier by the name of Theodor Hilgers. Together they were both under the scrutiny and torture from Corporal Nippke. They were subjected to his wrath wherever it stemmed from he put it all on the two first year recruits. At the next stop Paderborn, east of Gutersloh, German soldiers they were continually impressed with the ideas of France’s diseased nation and the idea that Germany is just taking natural courses in the war and their decisions are just in God’s eye. The lord does not shun on a soldier doing his duty. Brainwashing the soldiers not the think to obey, not to have a conscience, not to question. There were many defining moments, which tested Hermanns emotionally, physically, mentally, and religiously. 2

Once at Paderborn, Williams rifles was stolen from his and he would have to go the front and take someone else’s rifle. (p. 32) He wondered why he was not just given a new rifle, but asked to steal from another comrade the very lifeline that was stolen from him. The trenches were tough on the troops in the winter of 1915; the food supply was low, the conditions were very harsh, and to the civilians as well. Hermanns’ aunt had her copper seized to make bullets. Williams’s very own diary caused some controversy between the soldiers and commanding officers. (p. 54) It was filled with self-doubt, questions, fears, and many remarks on the higher authorities that be. One the verge of Verdun there were many run ins with death, destruction, and hatred. 2

The trenches outside of Verdun seemed to be right beneath the French’s noses. Every movement risked death. Here death was the most common scene. William and his fellow mates could not even set up their machine gun except for at night because it would immediately be shelled if seen. Every



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