The Heer Soldbuch - An Introduction

WW2 German Army SoldbuchThe Soldbuch was one of the most important documents issued to members of the German Armed Forces. There were different types of Soldbuch for the Army (Heer), Navy (Kriegsmarine), Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Armed SS (Waffen SS). There were other types too, such as for the Police (Polizei) and the National Militia (Volkssturm). The Soldbuch that we are concentrating on is the Army version and as we go through each page we hope to explain the details found in original examples, as well as provide a guide on how to fill in a Soldbuch relevant to your own character. Before entering your details into your book, it is advised to build a character profile, as the details of this can have a large effect on how the book should be filled in. The plural form of Soldbuch in German is Soldbucher, but for the fact that this guide is written in English, the term Soldbuchs is used as a plural.

The Army Soldbuch was an A6 sized document containing 24 numbered internal pages, bound within a tan coloured leather-grain style card cover. Although often referred to as a soldiers pay book, it was actually a very detailed booklet containing identification details, a record of equipment issued to the holder and also kept track of the individual soldier’s service history. The booklet held very little information regarding pay, but did give authority for the holder to draw pay. The Soldbuch for the Second World War first began to be issued to serving soldiers in mid-1939, during the general mobilisation and from then on was issued to new recruits soon after their induction to the army. This practice continued until the end of the war. At the end of hostilities many soldiers retained their Soldbuch as it would often be the only form of identification they would have.

There were two patterns of Soldbuch produced for the Army, with not much difference between the first and second patterns. The first pattern book appears to have been printed before the mobilisation for war. It is likely that during the mobilisation in mid-1939 a few problems with the layout or details on some pages were found to be in need of improvement or alteration. This is possibly the reason why a second pattern was produced at some point in 1940. The majority of reproduction Soldbuchs that are available are of the second pattern, so this guide is primarily aimed at that type. However, where possible, reference to the first pattern is made.
The Soldbuch was to be carried at all times in the soldiers tunic pocket, unless it was required to be handed in for security or filing. Examples of such times would be for a front line soldier going out on a special patrol or when a soldier was hospitalised, which was actually against regulations.

The following pages are designed to be a comprehensive guide on how to read, understand and fill out your own Soldbuch. Each page is described in detail, explaining the text and offering information on the variation of details that could or would have been written in for the average German soldier. Of course there are many examples of original Soldbuchs where information was written incorrectly or contrary to regulations, but these are generally the exception to how most were filled in. The aim here is to concentrate on how the majority of original documents recorded the details of the men they identified during their service with the German Army in the days of the Third Reich.

Photograph of the inside of a WW2 German SoldbuchTranslation

As for the translation of the Soldbuch, there will always be slight differences which occur between one guide and another. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that the structure of the German language is not the same as the structure of English, so the manner or order in which things are written can sometimes be quite different. The problem that this causes is that the way German people would write something is not how we would write it in English. Words will often change how they are spelt depending on other words they are written alongside. Another problem is that not only is the original German text different to modern German, it is also written for the military, so uses many words and phrases that would not be found in normal civilian German language. Certain words have simply disappeared with time as the German language has evolved. Sometimes different tools for translating can also give varying answers as to what the text means, with many words having more than one meaning when translated. When some things are translated into English, they may not be the same when they are translated back into German. The end result is that some of the translation is quite literal, while other parts are how we would phrase things, as to translate it literally would not make sense in English. To that end, other guides for explaining the Soldbuch are not necessarily wrong, but simply have slight differences. I have no doubt that there may be some errors or differences here, but the intention is to present the Soldbuch so that words, lines and phrases are as accurate as they were originally meant.

One problem which I have encountered is that some reproduction Soldbuchs are not as well reproduced as others, where mistakes are made with the interpretation of the text. Often letters have been mis-read and the printing is therefore incorrect. This is a common fault of many reproduction documents, so when trying to translate the text, this can cause many problems as the words are spelt incorrect to begin with. An example of this is on the cover of many reproduction Soldbuchs, where it should state ‘Soldbuch zugleich Personalausweis’, many actually have this printed as ‘Soldbuch zugleich Berfonalausweis’. This is due to the fact that whoever reproduced these inferior copies of Soldbuchs was clearly not familiar with German text. Hopefully this guide will explain enough to avoid you making the same mistakes should you try to translate any original paperwork.

The German language of the era has changed somewhat, with certain letters or symbols having ceased to be used in their old form, while other differences still exist when it comes to how some pronunciation is written. Some of these letters, symbols or abbreviations would be unfamiliar to those who have not studied the German language to any degree. Some of them will catch you out when trying to translate a document if you are not aware of them.

Ä, ä, Ö, ö, Ü, ü – The symbol which appears above these letters is known as an umlaut, which is used to change the pronunciation of a letter much like an accent is used in French. Often in an English translation, where we do not use an umlaut, a letter ‘e’ is inserted immediately after the letter to show the pronunciation required. An example of where this occurs is for the former Prussian city of Königsberg, which without an umlaut it is spelt Koenigsberg.

This letter is not very well known, even in modern Germany. It is the old German style lowercase letter ‘k’ and is generally no longer used. It is often mistaken for a lowercase letter ‘t’ as it is very similar.
This letter is another one not very well known in modern Germany. It is the old German style lowercase letter ‘s’, known as the long ‘s’  and again is generally no longer used. It is often mistaken for a lowercase letter ‘f’ as it is very similar, but without the cross-piece. It is strange that it is not always used and sometimes it appears in the same word where a normal ‘s’ also appears. In some typefaces it is used where it precedes a letter ‘p’ or ‘t’, whereas other typefaces use it at any point in a given word.
This symbol, called eszett or the sharp ‘s’ is often mistaken for a capital letter B, but is actually a double ‘s’. When written in English it would appear as ‘ss’ and is pronounced ‘es-ze’. It can also be used where words contain ‘sz’ or a long ‘s’ with a normal ‘s’. An example of the use of this would be the German word for street – straβe or strasse. However, the eszett is not always used where there is a double ‘s’ in a word.
This is not an ‘equals’ sign, but a typeface ‘dash’ or ‘hyphen’ used to join one word to another one from a multiple selection which follows the initial word.
This is very often confused with a percentage (%) symbol, but it actually means the same as ‘n/a’ for not applicable. It will often be used where the details would appear as keine (none).

Ligatures – Sometimes two letters will appear together where the letters themselves actually touch, looking almost as if they were one symbol. These are known as ligatures and examples of these are ‘ch’, ‘ck’, ‘sz’ and ‘tz’. This is the use of letter spacing for emphasis, which is common in Blackletter scripts such as fraktur and gothic often used in German documents.

Abreviations – There are some abbreviations in German that appear regularly in the Soldbuch and other documentation. The abbreviation usw. (often looking like ufw.) means ‘etc.’ (et cetera). The abbreviation z.B. means ‘e.g.’ (example). The abbreviation Nr. is the same as No. (number).

When it comes to filling in your own Soldbuch, here are a few points to bear in mind before you begin.

Corrections or changes
When changes were made to existing entries or they were no longer applicable, the entries would be crossed through with a single straight line drawn using a straight edge. The cross through could be made using a red pencil, red ink or normal ink. When details were crossed through it was to be done in a manner so that the entry could still be read.

Types of ink stamps
To save repetitive entries having to be written out time and again in every Soldbuch filled in by an official, ink stamps would be used to make things quicker and easier. Examples of these would be stamps for unit identification in the abbreviated military form; place names of locations regarding military units and establishments; ranks and positions of official personnel and date stamps. Occasionally stamps were made for items of equipment when additional pieces of kit were issued that were not already listed, or for words that would be written repetitively, such as Beforderung (promotion). Other ink stamps that were used were the round unit seal stamps containing the Hoheitszeichen (spread eagle clutching wreath and swastika) symbol. These were official stamps used by military units and establishments to authorise a document or confirm the validity of an entry.

Different entries made by different people
Many of the entries made when the book was first issued would have been made by the same person. This means that it is likely that these entries would be in the same handwriting and with the same pen. Subsequent entries during the soldiers military career would have been made and updated by many different people at various times and therefore would be in many different forms of handwriting and made using different pens and varying shades of ink. The entries made by the first administration clerk when the book was first issued, will be identified in the guide as written by the ‘first official’. This will assist you when filling in your Soldbuch, so that the correct entries made can be filled in with various pens, inks and handwriting, to help make your own Soldbuch look more authentic. If the entire document is filled in with all of the writing looking the same, it does not look very convincing.

When date entries were made they used the format of day, month, year, with the digits usually separated by a dot rather than a slash. When the day or month figure was below 10, the digit would not usually be preceded by a zero. When the year figure was written, it often did not contain the first two digits of ‘19’, but it is not rare to have all four digits used. The minimal use of digits was probably due to the date often being entered in a small, limited space on a line or in a box. Therefore the date of 8th April 1942 would be usually entered as 8.4.42.

On occasion the month can be found entered as a Roman numeral, but the day and the year will still be written as a number, so the 8th April 1942 would appear as 8.IV.42.

Page 2 - Soldiers Details Page 3 - Equipment & Medical Records Page 4 - What You Got For Doing Your Duty
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