Review: Breakout At Stalingrad – Heinrich Gerlach

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction/Non Fiction, Germany, Second World War, Stalingrad
Apollo, Head of Zeus
First published in Germany as ‘Durchbruch bei Stalingrad’ 2016.
First published: 2016
ISBN: 9781786690630
Pages: 551 (707)

From the cover:
Stalingrad, November 1942.
Lieutenant Breuer dreams of returning home for Christmas. But he and his fellow German soldiers will spend winter in a frozen hell – as snow, ice and relentless Soviet assaults reduce the once-mighty Sixth Army to a diseased and starving rabble.
‘Breakout At Stalingrad’ is a stark and terrifying portrait of the horrors of war, and a profoundly humane depiction of comradeship in adversity.’

The book itself has an extraordinary story behind it. Its author fought at Stalingrad and was imprisoned by the Soviets. In captivity, he wrote a novel based on his experiences, which the Soviets confiscated before releasing him. Gerlach resorted to hypnosis to remember his narrative, and in 1957 it was published as The Forsaken Army. Fifty-five years later Carsten Gansel, an academic, came across the original manuscript of Gerlach’s novel in a Moscow archive. This first translation into English of Breakout at Stalingrad includes the story of Gansel’s sensational discovery.

From the book’s information

If you know anything about Stalingrad, the battle of, you will know that it was not the place to be in late 1942, on either side. Though by that time, if you were Russian and still alive, I guess you did have it a little better than if you were German.

The book is a novel, but it could equally be filed under non-fiction. I think that’s why a lot of the praise that has been heaped upon it, has been heaped. The good thing is it is written bfrom the relatively ‘ordinary’ soldier’s point of view. Most of the non-fiction books try and give you an idea of what the ordinary man in the frozen mud thought and went through, but will always deal with what is recorded and that will be the big picture, the stratagem the successes and the failures. Here, Gerlach relates some of the above, but from the point of view of how it reached the ears, or not, of the ordinary soldier. How they reacted to Hitler’s not one step backwards, and Goerings hang on, we’re coming and the general, we’re not going to help you, but woe-betide if you lose or worse, surrender.

There were some periods of hope and it’ll be over by Christmas, but as the time goes on, the more manic it gets, then hopelessness sets in and something of the unutterable, unspeakable horrors come through. It is hard not to take sides here, obviously being written from the German point of viwwe, the natural tendsency would be to side with them, until you think what they had done to the Russians, not making a distinction between civilian and military, to get themselves in that position. Or of that they would have done to the Riussian population of any stripe, if they’d broken out, been broken out, or pushed on at Moscow.

It would help if you have some background knowlege to the battle of Stalingrad, and in that direction I can point you to Anthony Beevor’s appropriately named ‘Stalingrad’ of which Breakout is the other side.

You can buy Breakout At Stalingrad from The Book Depository

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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