Review of P. Neumann's book
"The Black March: The Personal Story of an SS Man"
The "Black March,” a memoir-like book, written by SS officer Peter Neumann, is certainly worth reading. It describes the process of education of an obedient servant of a totalitarian regime, and his subsequent activities during WWII. The first diary event (March 11, 1938) describes the ceremony of swearing in of six hundred Hitler Jugend members. Seventeen-year-old Neumann, like all of them, promised to be faithful, "in all circumstances and unto death, to our Fuhrer--Chancellor Adolf Hitler." He subsequently became a Nazi party member and an SS captain, fighting the Red Army.
At the end of the book (April 13, 1945) Neumann refers to this "faithful unto death" commitment in a completely different situation. He and his childhood friend Michael are surrounded by an advancing Red Army unit. The wounded friend, unable to escape, begs "Don't leave me ... to them. Promise. " By satisfying this last wish Peter is faithful to his SS friend, not to Adolph Hitler.
Describing the Nazi high school system Peter wrote that they had eight hours of political instruction each week, two of them devoted to racial theory. He quotes from one of the lectures: "You have heard about the difficult economic conditions in the postwar period. You have heard of this great influx of Jews from the East or Middle East, flinging themselves upon the body of Germany like jackals upon a wounded animal. You’ve been told about the great industrial power of the Jews, their control of the banks, their combinations to crush German trade. In Mein Kampf the Fuhrer has said the mixing of races is unacceptable. The nation must keep its strength and its blood intact if it is to conquer. ...” But Peter's sweetheart Brigitta (whom he met in 1939) was Jewish. He knew this before becoming a party member. This did not prevent him from visiting Brigitta in 1943, during a short leave from the front. At the time she, like other German Jews, was forced to wear the identifying yellow star.
This fact makes Peter very unusual. Equally unusual was his father, a German communist, before 1933. How many children of former communists became SS officers? But this is not all. Lena, Peter's sister, married an officer serving in the Fuhrer's personal bodyguard unit. How many children of former communists married such officers? These situations were not typical. But horrors of war situations are described very realistically. The book deals with important sociological issues of totalitarianism, such as indoctrination of youth, cruelty, faithfulness to ideologies of ruling parties, cult of supreme leaders, Hitler and Stalin, during WWII, etc., etc.
Why did I buy this book? I wanted to compare the Communist brainwashing system, with which I am familiar (*), with the Nazi system. What did they have in common and how did they differ? Personal histories are worth reading because they help us to understand events described by professional historians and sociologists. At the end of the book the reader is left to speculate about what happened to Peter after the war ended and how he adjusted to life in post-Nazi Germany. Perhaps such questions will be answered by his associates, or his younger relatives.
Ludwik Kowalski, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Montclair State University.
(*) See my 2009 book "Tyranny to Freedom: Diary of a Former Communist," available at Amazom.com
P.S. My book is also freely available online at:
The Personal Story of an SS Man
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