Fifteen million soldiers died in battle. 45 million civilians died. More than 20 million others were wounded. While Germany was responsible for some of that bloodshed, the insights of its residents are still relevant to understanding World War II. An anthropology professor at the University of North Georgia provides the perspective of those on the wrong side of the war through hundreds of recovered German letters.
Over several years, Dr. Steven Nicklas has collected many artifacts. In the process, he came across these historical letters through the German brother of a colleague who bought them at an estate sale.
“I was blessed to literally stumble into this collection,” Nicklas said.
He turned this historical finding into one that could last forever. His book, “Memories of a Lost Generation: German War Letters, 1939-1944,” is a collection of his literary discoveries.
This collection encompasses civilian and military letters that document World War II. Most of these letters are to and from family members and show the hardship of German life at this time. There are some that were private, and some were official letters from generals or strictly to soldiers. A couple wartime diaries are included in his book as well.
Because each letter was written between 1937 and 1945, a time where Germans wrote in a script that is extremely difficult to read, Nicklas needed someone to decipher what these letters said.
“It is very difficult to find folks who are able to translate them,” Nicklas said.
He was able to find someone eager to help him with his journey into the past, and is now working with a 90-year-old German man to interpret each letter.
Nicklas is passionate about the history of Germany and the suffering German families faced during this time.
“This book tells the story of a generation of German men, women and children,” Nicklas wrote in his dedication. “It is designed to give voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.”
At this point in his process, he has two four-star generals lined up to read it and write reviews. He will also include a forward written by a retired director of the National Infantry Museum at Georgia’s Fort Benning.
With only 40 letters left to translate, and three years of work behind him, Professor Nicklas’ book will be ready for final editing very soon.