“A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals” by Ernst Junger

I saw this book in NetGalley and jumped at it being an avid reader of military history. I expected it to be an interesting account of the Second World War as seen through the eyes of a German Officer. I thought it would have stirring accounts of pitched battles, and stories of intrigue, bravery and sacrifice, although as seen from the perspective of the Germans ( read: Nazis). I could not have been more off the mark. The wrong expectation was because I had, at that time, no idea who Ernst Junger was.

It turns out that he had fought in the First World War with distinction and his book, “Storm of Steel” still remains one of the best accounts of the bloody battles in the trenches from 1914-1918. Later it appears he did not join the Nazis though they appealed to him many times to join their emerging organisation. He remained aloof from the Nazis and it would appear that in later years, he did indeed privately wage war against them although he was on the outer fringes of the plot to assassinate Hitler.

Junger was a man of many talents which is clear from his book, the full title of which is, ” A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals 1941-1945: (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism.”

When the Second World War began, Junger was already in his 40s. In 1941, we find him happily living in Paris, for the most part as if there wasn’t a war going on. He continues dining with high ranking military officials, artists, social figures of the day, writers, dramatists and the like, visits the opera and night clubs and come to love the city. It is far away from the death and blood shed all around him. He finds time to write about his explorations in his other passions: for botany and entymology.

Of course, later he is posted to Russia where a worse war is raging against the Communists battling to their last man to save their Motherland from the invading Nazis. Here too, he seems to be cocooned from the worst parts of the fighting. In the third part of the book, he returns to Germany which is fast becoming surrounded by her enemies, racing against each other to conquer Berlin and end the war which has lasted six long years killing millions on both sides. For the first time, he sees how much damage bombing can cause to a country. The peaceful villages he knew are all gone, the cities are fast falling apart.

If you have the patience to wade through masses of words, you might like the book. I did not find it gripping at all. It moved at a snail’s pace, meandering all the time wherever the author’s mind took it.He hardly caused any event. He sat back and watched them happen around him faithfully recording his thoughts and views. It is, one must admit, a very detailed account of Junger’s experiences and more importantly his observations of events that took place around him. He gives his observations of life around him in considerable, perhaps far too much, detail.

 

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