Book Review Wednesday: The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer (5 stars)

Posted: June 24, 2015 in Book Reviews
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I admit it, I’m a tiny bit obsessed with world war two. I’m currently trudging my way through ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ which is fascinating, though very very dense. It’s a hard read, but I’m hoping it’ll be a worthwhile one.

The Forgotten Soldier however is not a hard read. Not in the same way at least. It’s a very well written memoir about the experiences of a German foot-soldier during world war two. I’ve read a few memoirs from ww2, and none have illustrated the hardships of soldiers in the war quite as well as this one. He doesn’t deter from spilling everything down on the page. From his optimistic view as he entered the war, to all the visceral details of the emotional and physical realities of battle on him and his fellow soldiers.

He manages to get across all the pain and fear he felt. The agony of freezing Russian winters, the loneliness of being so far from home, the pain and noise of fighting. There are so many moments that will stay with me. Him huddling in a trench, terrified with enemy tanks around him. Him talking about the planes that would come to machine gun the civilians they were trying to get to safety. Russians sending their soldiers to march over fields set with bombs to clear the way for the tanks. When they captured some Russians and all the german soldiers decided to split their rations with them so they would have something to eat.

Or when he was forced to retreat from a horrible battle, and he and his fellow soldiers had no choice but to wait in the open for rescue while the planes flew over to fire at them. Then, when rescue finally came they forced to line up and give an inventory of their equipment, and if something was lost or damaged in battle they were reprimanded which made some of the exhausted men burst into tears.

He was treated so badly by so many, from doctors who ignored serious illness to send him back to fight, to  soldiers being killed for looting food, even though they were starving and hadn’t been given rations, and in many cases the food had been abandoned. We get a view from the inside as Germany’s resources diminish. He gets less equipment, and most shocking is the scene when they get new recruits. Half are elderly men, and the other half are children, some laughing with each other and swapping candy.

You see how his perspective changes over time. He starts off the eager young recruit fighting for the third Reich. Then after numerous hard battles and hearing some of the spreading rumors about what Hitler is doing to the Jews, he’s not fighting for the Reich anymore, nor his country. He’s fighting for his family. Then the war goes on, and all he’s fighting for is to keep him and his friends alive. Near the end they’re more than ready to stop fighting. All they’re concerned about is who they turn themselves in to.

I think it’s good for future generations to remind themselves of the impact of events like these so we don’t repeat them. This does a good job of showing a tiny proportion of that impact, and in doing so gives you another reminder of the scale of war and how many lives it ruins.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/102305.The_Forgotten_Soldier

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