The Journals That Built Up the Rommel Myth and Reality

Erwin Rommel dictated details of his dynamic career as well as his days on the battlefield. At the end of every day, he seemed to relive all the events and summarise them along with lessons he gathered through self-reflection. Readers of his letters can also share the intimate and candid correspondencebetween Rommel and his wife. The war hero often poured out his feelings, hopes and misgivings in these letters.

Summary of their success

The German general and military theorist of the Hitlerian era, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944) was nicknamed the ‘Desert Fox’ by the British for his brilliant military tactics in the North African deserts during World War II. He also got a paradoxically good reputation for chivalry during his North African foray, which is surprisingly called a “war without hate”. In 1937, he published his classic book on military tactics, titled Infantry Attacks and later commanded the German forces, fighting against the Allied cross-channel invasion of Normandy, in 1944.

How they journal

It was Rommel’s habit to document details, smells, sights, and scenes that inhabited his world. Looking back at his day through self-reflection every evening, his life became a sort of running narrative of whatever happened to him. He was constant and meticulous in his journaling. His diaries show a remarkable life that was continuously undergoing self-reflection.

Even during his last few days, when he harboured some misgivings about his death due to the suspicions related to the Nazi plot that hung over him, his journals showed entries and letters to his wife, expressing his worries and apprehensions.

A close reading of Rommel’s diaries reveals that he not only undertook intense observation and wrote as if he were talking candidly about what he saw, smelt and felt, but he also went through deep self-reflection about everything. Hence, when the Italian troops were under Rommel’s command in Africa, his leadership was evident, and he seemed to be insightful not only about the events, but also the psychology of other humans and soldiers.

For instance, he noted at one point:

Then, seemed to live not only through self-reflection, but also through the prism of his understanding of others’ feelings and reactions to what he himself said.

How long have they been doing it?

Erwin Rommel seemed to have written intensively throughout his war years. He not only gave a lot of information about his actions, but the strategic and tactical reasons behind them. However, his journaling probably began long before this time, as they are so detailed about his documentation and self-reflection.

Source: New Zealand History

How has self-reflection helped them achieve their success?

Rommel jotted down live, moment-to-moment experiences, which puts the reader in the battlefields of long ago. The reader can wander through the tanks, armies, campaigns, and actions in the centre of the terrain. The diary’s content is all about on-the-spot first drafts that give a lot of raw and unfiltered primary, rather than secondary content. The heat, noise, commotions, and smells are felt closely and intensely, which make it clear that Rommel underwent deep self-reflection and documented every major issue of his life.

The brilliance of his observations, careful planning, understanding, and speedy execution make it very clear that Rommel reached out for missions and visions through self-reflection.

What challenges have they faced?

Rommel’s illustrious career and position as Hitler’s general was aborted in 1944, when he got implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. His popularity as a national hero was so high that Hitler gave him the choice of either committing suicide or facing trial. If he killed himself, his reputation and family would be spared, he was assured. But if he faced a trial, it might lead to disgrace and execution.

Rommel went through self-reflection, which seemed to have shown him that suicide was a less messy path, so he chose to kill himself with a cyanide pill. While he journaled about his last few days, his son Manfred gave an account of how he died.

What does the future hold for them?

Edwin Rommel would always be remembered as an enigmatic figure. He was a successful German war hero during its worst Nazi regime, yet is remembered as a pioneer of the “clean” war, someone who might have been part of a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. While post-war populists think of him as an apolitical and ingenious commander as well as ‘victim’ of the Third Reich, critics dismiss him as a participant in the ‘Rommel myth’ in order to contribute to post-war German militarisation. However, what stands out is not just the mystery of his life, but also his constant self-reflection and journaling.

How can you get started with Self Reflection?

Learning self-reflection from Erwin Rommel’s detailed journaling and meticulousness can help you to move forward. By writing down what you feel, smell, and taste all day, you can strategise and plan every move.

Looking for an easy way to get started with your self-development practice? Daylitude can help shift your mindset, increase positivity, and discover a greater connection with yourself.


Interested in other self reflection and gratitude practices?