Friday, August 10, 2012
Plievier was no veteran of World War Two though his story is fascinating. As a young sailor He'd taken part in the Wilhelmshaven mutiny that had detonated the German Revolution and ended World War One. After the rise of Hitler he fled, eventually ending up in Russia. From here he wrote about World War II and the interviews he made with German soldiers and his experiences on the front line formed the documentary basis for his classic trilogy of World War II.
Stalingrad is the first of three novels. It depicts the battle from the Germany point of view, focusing on a few individuals who experience the war in very different ways. Ultimately the destruction and violence degrades and destroys them. One of the soldiers Gnotke is a member of a punishment troop given the most dangerous tasks. Him and his comrades lose their minds as they constantly bury the dead in the face of withering fire.
Little of the book is devoted to narrative. Most of the story is a series of experiences, vividly painted, as the end of the Sixth Army approaches. Large parts deal with the appalling casualties, the wounded and their suffering as they wait for treatment, for water, for painkillers. None of these are forthcoming and Plievier's account of the suffering of the few doctors who operate without bandages, morphine or hope of appalling wounded men is truly painful.
One of the themes of the book is the failure of the German High Command who can only order the besieged troops to continue fighting till the last bullet. As the Germany Army faces its first significant defeat, the leadership is unable to follow the most logical military tactics. The Nazi command doesn't allow for rational decisions. For Hitler and his cronies, defeat at Stalingrad can only be the fault of the army in the field, rather than illogical and impossible aims and ambitions. The men who freeze to death in Russia, the senior Officers who are near mad with blind faith in their Fuhrer are the victims.
The book concludes with the appalling march of the tens of thousands of German POWs into Russia's interior. Few returned. Plievier draws parallels with the Nazi death marches of Jews and concentration camp inmates as one of the POWs was a guard on such a march. This soldier believes that what is happening to him and the German Army are retribution for the acts of the regime and his own personal crimes. In a sense this is correct, but it is only a foreshadow of what is to come.
Plievier - Berlin