Posts Tagged ‘ww2’

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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Another world war two book. This one is as the title suggests about the experiences of a sniper from the Red Army during the war.

I really wanted to like this one. The Eastern front is a particular interest of mine, and I love hearing accounts of the Russian and German soldiers and civilians involved in that part of the war. The descriptions of the battle are intense, and I really feel for what the guy went through, but the translation makes this a pain to read. I wish I had the language skills to read the original book to see if it reads better.

Culture and language differences make this a head scratching read, and the translation doesn’t seem to work well. Saying that, the parts I understood were very shocking and thought provoking. There are moment that will stick with me, like when he arrives home to find his wife and oldest son dead, and the only survivor of his family his youngest son. Then he has to go back to the front, and with no family left struggles to find someone to look after his remaining son in time. It was hard to believe that the war could take so much from one man and then expect even more.

I’d say if you’re patient and love reading soldier accounts from world war two, then give this one a go. Don’t expect an easy read though. Three stars.

For more reviews on this book check out the following link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9246093-red-sniper-on-the-eastern-front

Here’s where my inner nerd shows through. One of my favorite periods of history to read about is world war two. Maus and Schindler’s Ark are two of my recent reads on the topic (both great books – check them out).

199 days: The Battle for Stalingrad is more of a textbook than those two. Maus is a graphic novel, and Schindler’s Ark is a set of autobiographical accounts put together to make a fantastic book that reads almost like a novel. Still, don’t let the word ‘textbook’ put you off. I found this an engaging read. It was easy to understand, and I read through it relatively quickly.

One major criticism of the book seems to be that it doesn’t go into enough detail. I’ll agree that it’s more of an overview, but it had enough details to be really interesting. It was published in 1999, so is a little out of date, but I enjoyed it. That’s important. So many history books can be dry and boring. This was one of the few that proved it doesn’t need to be that way. History is interesting, and world war two is one of the most interesting periods of history in my opinion. I don’t understand why some authors seem to go out of their way to make it sound like something designed to put you to sleep.

Though the focus of the book is Stalingrad (as hinted by the title), there’s an interesting overview of events leading up to the battle. It talks about Stalin’s purges, and Hitler’s overconfidence. The structure is sound, leading you through the events that led up to the battle, and then the battle itself, and then a little about afterward. It flowed well. There’s nothing worse for me than a history book that skips around. I find it all gets muddled up in my head as to what happened when. This laid it all out for me in a way that let me understand it.

In my opinion, if you’re interested in world war two like I am, then it’s worth a read. There are more up to date books out there, but few I’ve come across as engaging as this one.

For more reviews on this book, check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/262399.199_Days

A graphic novel about world war two with mice as Jews and cats as Germans. Sounds a little out there, right? Not so much. I found it to be one of the most poignant  and realistic books on the holocaust I’ve read since Schindler’s Ark. The story goes back and forth between the author: Art, showing his difficult relationship with his father, and his father’s youth as a Jew in war-time Poland.

It’s heart breaking and funny too. You get a real sense that his father is just telling it like it is. We get to hear about the good parts, but also the bad too. While I loved Schindler’s Ark, it followed so many people that it could only add the extremes (not a bad thing – just a different type of book), but in Maus you get a real sense of Vladek’s life. Most of all you get a real sense of how different things were during the war. Morality was different back then, people had to do things to survive, and because of that you couldn’t trust many people.

Reading the graphic novel, you feel the atmosphere of the place. The art work does a good job of emphasising the story, and sometimes making it so much more powerful by showing it as it is with little comment. There are moments that will stay with me forever, and the idea that this actually happened is overwhelming.

There are two books: Maus 1 and Maus 2. Maus 2 wraps up the storyline nicely, while Maus 1 ends on a ‘to be continued’ note. Being graphic novels they were a short read. I spent a lot of time going back to absorb the artwork and memorable lines, and I still made it through each in a few hours with distractions included in that time.

I’d say that if you are half as interested in world war two as I am then Maus is a must read. It (a little ironically since the characters are shown as animals) puts a human face on the war. I’ve read a lot of facts and figures about world war two, and even some biographies, but this connected me to that place and time almost like I was there with them.

Best of all the people in this book are not heroes. Some do heroic things, but when people do you feel scared for them because the book puts you solidly in a time where heroic acts often killed you. Most are just people trying to survive and trying to help their families survive. This is what made the book so much more realistic than others I’ve read. This is the life of a typical Jew in world war two Poland, who by wits and more often pure luck made it through something that killed so many just like him.

Maus emphasises that the killings were random. The Nazis wanted all Jews dead, and if Vladek or his wife Anja had worse luck then they could have easily ended up dead.

In case you want to read further reviews on this book, here’s the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15196.Maus_I_