Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Tale of Two Soldiers: The Unexpected Friendship between a WWII American Jewish Sniper and a German Military Pilot by Max Gendelman

"A Tale of Two Soldiers" is a slim volume detailing the friendship that grew out of a chance encounter between an Jewish American prisoner of war and a German Luftwaffe pilot. The Second World War period takes up about 70 pages total, with the introduction and author's childhood taking up an initial 30 pages, and the continued friendship between the two the final 100 pages. So for those expecting a lot of information on the war itself, you might be somewhat disappointed. The author's recollections seem to be filled with great detail when it comes to his friendship with Karl rather than the actions he was involved in during the war itself or his time as a prisoner of war (and I encountered one minor mistake when Karl discussed how his father survived 'the Battle of Stalingrad in WWI', an impossible feat as 'Stalingrad' didn't exist in WWI nor were German soldiers, during WWI, anywhere near the city that was eventually renamed Stalingrad). In part, the latter is unfortunately the fault of whomever stole the notes he kept of his experiences while he was enjoying Paris after the end of the war.

To say that Max Gendelman lived an interesting life would be to do a disservice to what he went through and experienced. He became a sniper in the United States Army and briefly served in the post D-Day invasion of France. By December of 1944 he found himself in the 99th Infantry Division standing in the way of Hitler's last major offensive in the west, what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The initial chaos and confusion resulted in massive casualties to US forces standing in the way of three German armies and Max was forced to retreat, along with tens of thousands of others. After a few days of trying to avoid the Germans and watching new friends and strangers perish before his eyes, he was finally taken prisoner by the Germans while seeking shelter with a few other American stragglers. His time in German POW camps offers an interesting view to the dynamic that existed for an American Jew who was trying to hide his identity. His encounter with Russian prisoners of war and their selfless action of offering their sole meal of the day to newly arrived starving American POWs was a touching example of the comradery that existed in some instances. Eventually, Max encounters Karl and a friendship that would last a lifetime develops. Although Max previously tried twice to escape his confinement, it was only with Karl and another prisoner that they finally succeed in escaping and joining up with American forces just as the war was drawing to a close.

The rest of the volume deals with how both established their respective lives and families in the United States, the trials and tribulations, as well as achievements, both faced and accomplished, as well as the sacrifices they made and their regrets. But through it all their friendship continued to flourish and remain as committed and strong as ever - a bond formed in war and sustained through the hardships of peace.

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