Fay Baker takes a look at “In The Hell of the Eastern Front” written by Arno Sauer courtesy of Pen and Sword.

Introduction

The following is taken from the Pen and Sword website:

On 22 June 1941,German forces launched Operation Barbarossa – Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Instead of the swift knock-out blow that the Germans had anticipated, the war against the Soviets ground on relentlessly for almost four years. It was into this bloody theatre of war that Fritz Sauer was sent.

Having initially joined the ranks of the Reichs arbeitsdienst, the Reich Labour Service, Fritz was posted to Infantry Regiment No.437 in April 1942. Part of the 132nd Infantry Division, the regiment was serving on the Eastern Front having been deployed to the Crimea. The regiment was then transferred to the region around Leningrad, where, for the first time, Fritz truly experienced the horrors of war.

As well as his best friend being killed by a sniper, Fritz recalled events such as recovering the body of a fallen colleague from No Man’s Land, the terrifying experience of facing a Red Army infantry attack, Soviet tank assaults, and the moment when a group of comrades in a neighbouring crater were hit by a shell. He became a casualty himself when he was badly wounded in the legs during a counter attack.

After his recovery and retraining in a convalescent unit, Fritz was detailed to serve as a guard in a prisoner of war camp – still on the Eastern Front. Transferred to a tank assault regiment during the last year of the war, he was ordered to make contact with another unit, but lost his way in the snow. After sheltering with a farmer’s family, Fritz decided to head west, fleeing before the advancing Red Army. His subsequent journey home took many twists and turns.

Based on Fritz’s own recollections and narrative, this account of a young soldier’s experiences in the Second World War was brought together by his son. It is a moving and graphic description of one man’s involvement in the largest military confrontation in history – the Hell that was the Eastern Front.

Review

This offering from Pen and Sword is a hard backed book, authored by Arno Sauer, in my opinion as a tribute to his father’s experiences fighting with the German army on the Eastern Front. Over 169 pages Arno relays his father’s memories of life, before and to the end of fighting in the East. There is no photographic content in this offering, and while authored by the person’s son, it has been relayed in a diary/memory format, that makes for a very compelling read. The contents of this book are presented as follows:

 

Preface

 

At the Reich Labour Service Model Camp, Moselle Region

Call Up for the Wehrmacht

To the Eastern Front and 132nd Infantry Division

The Journey into Uncertainty

No Hope of Return

My Best Friend

My Dream Shatters

On the Ambulance Train Back to the Reich

Convalescent Battalion

Saarburg’ Lorraine

Transfer to Thorn at the Vistula

With the tank assault regiment to the Eastern front

The downfall in sight

Flight and Captivity

The Way Home

Rebuilding

After ward

 

This offering written by Arno Sauer covers his father’s time fighting in Eastern Europe, as part of the Wehrmacht. The contents of this book were provided to the author, by his father during their countless Sunday walks. The book is presented in the style of a soldier’s story, rather than as a solider of a particular nation. When reading this title, you very quickly forget, this is a young German fighting inthe East, and very quickly come to see him as a young person fighting to survive. Because this title has been written from the words of the author’s father, the stop/start effect of diary entries have gone, and you get a flowing story that keeps you reading, about the highs and the lows of this man’s experience of war. 

 

Chapter Six of this publication, titled “My Best Friend” is a chapter that I urge everyone to read. It tells the story of the loss of Fritz’s best friend, while alone due to being shot in the stomach in the region of the liver. It is a testament to how close men in the field come to each other, being almost closer than family. The death of this man is told in a very human way and the distress of Fritz at the injury and death of his friend is also well written. It is one of the inclusions that you cannot help but read and stop thinking of friend and foe. You find yourself thinking purely of a person losing someone he is very close to far too young.

 

The previous text is just one example of how lives in war as part of the military, ceases to become them and us, and becomes the story of people who have become very close facing the situations that are placed before them.  The trials and tribulations and following orders while trying to survive, is very well told in this title, and you cannot help but start to feel an affinity for this man. 

Conclusion

This offering from Pen and Sword, is one of those excellent presentations that have come to the fore, in recent years. Telling the story of one man’s war in possibly one of the most brutal theatres of battle during World War II. I urge anyone who wants a sense of how close you can become to another human being in times of adversity to read this title. 

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