* According to Kühne, the nature of German comradeship at the front incorporated certain “homoerotic” feelings, which must be firmly dissociated from what contemporaries saw as the reviled act of manifest homosexuality. In the language of “comradeship,” an asexual love among men could be openly discussed, facilitating male bonding, emotional support, and even close physical contact without violating cardinal military virtues or established images of masculinity.60 It was precisely because the rejection of homosexuality was so complete that men felt at liberty to express affection without any sense of stigma or shame. Comrades became a surrogate form of family, which provided a powerful mechanism for coping with the brutalizing effects of warfare.61 As Gottlob Bidermann wrote: “We had become old together and had developed a brotherhood between us, a closeness of spirit and trust that those who live in safety throughout their lives cannot know.”62 Likewise, Helmut Günther observed: “Only through such comradeship was it possible to survive all the madness around us.”
The sense of the unit as “home” and men as “family” was also evident in soldiers’ writings. Martin Pӧppel wrote in his diary: “Here a man looks at other Germans and sees his brother, his home.”64 Such tight bonds were also linked with Germany’s fighting prowess, as Karl Fuchs wrote home in a letter: “A great friendship binds us German soldiers together out here … This loyalty is the essence of the German fighting spirit. We can depend on each other unconditionally. Each one of us sets the example for the other and that makes us strong.”65 It was this intimate form of comradeship, forged through months of fighting in the Soviet Union, that acted as a central prop holding up Army Group Center in its hour of greatest need.
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