Thursday, November 12, 2020

In the Hell of the Eastern Front: The Fate of a Young Soldier During the Fighting in Russia in WW2 by Arno Sauer

This slim volume covers the history of a Wehrmacht veteran who served in the 132nd Infantry Division.  However, the actual author of this volume is the veteran's son, Arno Sauer, yet there is no delineation between where the author's thoughts and ideas can be separated from that of his father.  Although written as a memoir, a few of the chapters have discussions of events that no soldier would have known were happening because of their all-too-understandable myopic view of the battlefield in front of them and their immediate surroundings.  Discussions of other army groups, the Battle of the Atlantic, etc., are all made from hindsight and it's difficult to know what the author's father actually thought about these larger events during the war itself rather than looking back on those events.  Moreover, no sources are presented for the larger history being offered to readers.  For this reason this volume is not very useful for scholars but for those who are casual readers of the Second World War interested in another memoir about the Eastern Front, this isn't a bad choice.

There are some minor mistakes throughout as when the author writes the 132nd Infantry Division was in Army Group Center yet operating in the Crimea, but in other parts of the book he correctly mentions Army Group South and later Army Group North as the division was transferred there after the defeat of the Red Army at Sevastopol.  

Much of what is related here rings authentic and true.  The author discusses interactions with locals on the Eastern Front, cases of rape by both the Wehrmacht and Red Army, the inevitable disappearance of Jews from his hometown, the propaganda of Ilia Ehrenburg, and the usual suicidal charges by Red Army soldiers, which in essence are difficult to believe and might show a confluence of individual memory and collective memory.  How much of a threat could apparently drunk, unarmed soldiers present?  Is this really the enemy the vaunted Wehrmacht lost a war to?

Finally, the author somewhat plays up the victimhood of the German people, his comrades, family, and himself.  While he somewhat mentions the holocaust there is little credence given to the idea that this was something for which responsibility should be assigned to those beyond Hitler and his inner circle.  He removes agency from himself and those around him as if they were mere automatons fulfilling orders and unable to do anything to oppose those in power.  This is undoubtedly an expression of German victimhood once more coming to the forefront, which is not unexpected.  According to the author the German people hardly wanted war.  And yet they unleashed a war of annihilation anyway and killed millions in the process.   Somehow the two don't add up.

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