Most books about WW2 Germans I have read have been at best entertaining cartoons. Evils Nazis hum Wagner while experimenting on concentration camp victims. I recently read “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King, which is the most entertaining of this genre.
THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER I found in a pile of soon to be discarded books. I gave it a chance, and didn’t like it at first, but I have a habit of finishing books once started. In the case of this book, I am glad I did.
Sajer takes you there. The lice, the combat fatigue,the exploding shells, the dying friends–he takes you on his painful journey. The enemy has different slogans, but they are human too.
I read ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT many times, and this book is no the WW2 version of it. WW1 was a mindless historic accident. Germany surrendered, but was not truly defeated. In this book about WW2, as the German army is forced back, the battle is for sheer survival of Germany. The soldiers struggle for the will to endure. ALL QUIET dealt with a war for which there was no clear reason, and murky justification.
I grew up disliking Germans because they shot my grandfather a couple of times. I never understood why my grandfather operated on wounded German soldiers as well as his own. Now I do. I saw the war through a prism of Sergeant Rock comic books and general media brainwashing. However, my sister married a German guy, and I have German nieces and nephews. The world is more complex.
For me, this was a powerful, even personal book. It’s a slow starter, but should be required reading for young people. Above all, this book is really, really scary. The idea of armed soldiers chasing you through a frozen tundra, picking off your friends one by one, having to kill people to survive–this is something I doubt American foreign policy makers ever consider when starting wars. How could they, when they have not experienced the horror of war.
I must admit, it resonates when Sajer describes Ukrainians welcoming Nazi troops as saviors from the Russians. It sounds disturbingly like the present day, but instead of Nazis, it is NATO.
Pray for peace, because the kind of war, total war, Sajer is describing cannot be turned on and off like a faucet.