The Soldbuch Guide
Jonathan from Adler Militaria looks at the Soldbuch – the official documentation carried by every serving German soldier in WWII.
The Soldbuch, meaning Paybook in German, was a small, pocket-sized robust book carried by every serving German soldier or officer as a means of record and identification. The Soldbuch was presented on request; it not only acted as proof of identity but served a multifaceted role within the German armed forces during World War II. It was seen as essential item, issued to soldiers at the start of their military career, and was carried throughout the full duration of the soldier’s service. It would have been presented many times for identification, security checks, for updating details such as awards, payments, issued equipment, injections, eye tests and hospital stays; thus keeping a clear record of his career. The use of the Soldbuch was governed by strict rules and regulations covering such things as tampering or falsifying entries. In spite of the strict regulations, however, it is not uncommon to find Soldbücher with small mistakes, corrections and even non-regulation style photos.
For many years Soldbücher were ignored on the collectors’ market, but thanks to the internet and the wealth of information available online Soldbuch identities are easy to decipher, thus the full stories of the former owners can be pieced together. They are stories that relate the reality of war, leaving nothing to the imagination. The Soldbuch, unlike most other German militaria, is rich in detail. Knowing everything about a particular soldier has become a passion for many collectors; Soldbücher and Wehrpässe (service record books) have filled this gap. Through the prism of units, awards and other entries, finding a soldier’s individual story has become the hobby of many collectors, military historians and authors. The Soldbuch today is a treasured item in many collections, providing a firsthand account of a specific battle or unit, a unique item giving a real glimpse into the life of its former owner.
A close look at the main items to consider in a Soldbuch is essential to trace the owner’s career and to assess its monetary value.
Soldbücher come in various editions for each branch of service and this can be quickly deciphered by looking at the cover. They can be broken down into the Waffen SS, Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kreigsmarine. Some soldiers even bought leather covers for their Soldbuch to protect it from damage, as it would be carried in harsh conditions including with them in the battlefield.
The Soldbuch pictured is for a member of the Wehrmacht, and the issue is an early example. The owner moved through the ranks from being a simple soldier to become an Assistant Doctor, fighting in the final days of the war and earning the Iron Cross. During the battle of Berlin in 1945 he was killed in action, and today he rests in a marked war grave in Berlin.
On the inside of the cover you’re usually presented with a picture. Regulations stated that it should be without headgear but it is not uncommon to see headgear in some pictures. Usually, the picture is attached by two staples, but ring-style staples are also common. Opposite should be two stamps to the according unit and the time the picture was entered. By April 1944 it was required that the Soldbuch have the owner’s picture attached to the front cover and stamped accordingly. Be sure to check the cover pages carefully for a red crossed-out page, which can indicate that the soldier has been killed in action.
On page 1 you will find the soldier’s details, Dienstgrad (rank), name, Erkennungsmarke (identification tag), and Blutgruppe (blood group). Check carefully for any sign indicating it is a second-issue or replacement Soldbuch; usually this is shown at the top with extra writing such as Zweitschrift (Second edition) or Ersatz (replacement).
On page 2 you can find the soldier’s place and date of birth, religion and civilian occupation. Here is also his height, face shape, if he has a beard, body type, hair colour, eye colour, shoe size, if he has any unusual markings or if he wears glasses. The soldier had to confirm that these details were correct and sign it. Underneath is the unit that issued the Soldbuch, and place and date of issue, signed off by an officer of the issuing unit. Page 3 was used to keep a record of what and why the Soldbuch was amended or corrected; usually seen here are rank changes.
On page 4 the most important section is Section C – his Feldtruppenteil (field unit). Training and replacement units make up Sections B and D: normally this page is continued if needed later in the Soldbuch. You can easily search the history of the units using an internet browser, or by asking on a Soldbuch forum.
Page 5 concerns the next of kin, displaying the details of the person, including the address and the relationship to the owner. The first section is for his wife and the second for his parents. This soldier moved through an array of training and frontline units, and the details are continued on page 17.
Pages 6 and 7 are a log of issued kit, and page 8 shows extra, special-issue items: blankets, iron rations or even a personal pistol can be entered here. In some Soldbücher page 8a will cover what types of weapons were issued – check closely for interesting weapons or munition entries. Page 9 covers the soldier’s injection record.
Details of an eye test, and sometimes here you can find other medical entries such as the dates of other tests, and also if he was fit for tropical service.
These two pages serve as a record of injury and time spent in hospital, and if the soldier has been found fit to serve again. On the left-hand side is the name of the hospital, and the date he arrived there. Next is usually a numbered code, each one corresponding to an illness or injury; these can be decoded easily and the most common are 31a, an infantry bullet wound, and/or 31b, a shrapnel wound. The entries here will give an idea of why a wounds’ badge would have been awarded.
6-Measels, Scarlet fever, Diphtheria
10- TB in the lungs
11-TB in other organs
12-Other contagious diseases
15-Other sexual Diseases
19-Other breathing organ complaints
20-Teeth and Gums
21-Stomach and intestinal sickness
22-Other digestive complaints
24-Non sexually transmitted Genital Problems
25-Skin and connective tissue problems
26- Nerve and mental problems
27- Eye problems
28- Ear problems
29-Bone and joint disorders
30-Muscle and joint disorders
31 Wounds and sickness due to enemy action
31b- Handgrenade, mortar, artillery (shrapnel)
31d-Bombing or other air attack
31g-Sepsis or gangrene
32-Sunstroke (heat caused sicknesses)
33-freezing related disorders
34-Accident or self mutilation
34i-Suicide (including attempt or self inflicted wound)
35-Birth defects and weaknesses
36-Suspected of Faking illnesses.
Pages 14 and 15 are usually only for items given to the soldier when he was in hospital, but security checks are more commonly found on these pages. From these you can tell which unit he was with at the date noted and usually where he was at that time.
Pages 18 and 19 cover payments or any extra allowances made to the soldier and the pay group corresponding to the soldiers rank. Sometimes soldiers received payments for cleaning or extra duties. A list of pay groups can be found online.
Pages 20 and 21 are important pages as they form a record of the soldier’s awards. Pay close attention to the style of writing, the name of the award and the signature and stamp of the officer who entered the award, and be sure to check through the Soldbuch for obscure award entries, as it is not uncommon to find them in other pages or added pages if space has run out. If the soldier was captured this page was often removed or damaged in order to hide his heroic deeds, thus some Soldbücher are missing these pages. Today some Soldbücher have been tampered with and awards added to make it worth more. But this doesn’t fool the seasoned collector; if you’re in doubt, always ask on a Soldbuch forum.
Pages 23 and 24 are a record of the soldier’s leave, including a reason for the leave to be taken. These entries should be checked thoroughly as sometimes unusual entries can be found. For instance, he may have been sent home because his house was destroyed in a bombing raid, or his wife was killed in a bombing raid. What is astounding about these pages is the fact that, right up until the end of the war, the German soldier still had leave granted. This information also helps to work out when and where he was at a given time.
At the rear of most Soldbücher is a pouch. Be sure to check it for extra paperwork, such as award certificates, letters or photos. It’s not uncommon to find extra information in the form of notice papers or POW papers. Commonly the collector will find official notices for the Soldbuch owner (Merkblatt) on a wide range of topics such as gas and chemical protection, edible plants in winter, how to behave as a prisoner and as prisoners’ rights.
Other extras in Soldbücher can include combat entries, such as a collection of close combat or assault days – a meticulous record was kept of the days and exact locations of the combat. Common added items found with Soldbücher today are military drivers’ licences, award certificates, passes to get on special bases, the soldier’s identification tag or his POW release documents. All these personal items make up the ‘pocket litter’ of a German soldier both during the war and in captivity.
There are points to remember when researching. If you can’t read an entry, ask for help. Never forget to check signatures, as some signatures can be from holders of prestigious awards like the Knight’s Cross or German Cross in Gold.
Also, if the soldier or whom you are searching was killed in action, the online database grave search is available on the Volksbund website, which will reveal if he has a marked grave or if he was reported killed in action and has still not been found. If you’re searching for a missing soldier, check the German Red Cross missing soldier database online.
Want to know more, check out an original guide to Exploitation of German Documents.