Saturday, 17 September 2011

Life and Fate

I've just ordered a copy of Vassily Grossman's novel Life and Fate from Amazon and am looking foward to reading it. It's set in part at Stalingrad, one of the decisive battles of World War II which Grossman witnessed as a journalist at the front.                   

At Stalingrad at the end of of 1942 around  three hundred thousand German troops were encircled by the Russian army. After a siege which saw massive bombardment of the city, starvation and brutal street to street fighting, about a hundred thousand German soldiers were taken prisoner by the Russians in February 1943 and transported to labour camps. Of these, just five thousand ever saw Germany again, only being released in 1955 after Stalin's death.

I was reminded of a trip I made to the small Bavarian town of Aying during a holiday to Munich last summer.  Aying is a small, pretty place just south of Munich which is known for its brewery. In the square is a war memorial, three sides of which are dedicated to those killed in World War I and II. The final side though contains the names of dozens of inhabitants of this small town who died "in other places than the field of battle" in the late 1940's and early 1950's in Stalin's labour camps.

It's no surprise that thousands of German soldiers fought on at Stalingrad after their officers had surrendered, knowing that they had a choice between a quick death in battle or a slow one in captivity.

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