Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A German's View of Verdun

Hans Zöberlein  [Soldier at Verdun, future Nazi and war criminal] 
From: Der Glaube an Deutschland

"There, someone is lying out there!" I suddenly gasp in horror. "Where is he?" the sentry asks disbelieving. "There! Off to the right and up!" "Man, just leave him alone. He was already there this morning. Not even his teeth hurt him anymore" It seems to me as if he has moved!" "Are you nuts?" "Loan me your binoculars!" A murmuring growl shakes the earth and a dull, heavy crash resounds out there. Wrrrumnis! – A grey smoke cloud, coming from the rear, passes over the bit of blue sky out there. "Give it back and leave! It is starting up again!" the sentry insists. But I am fixated by the pile of rubble outside, where somebody is lying, half buried in the stones. "Stop, he is moving!" Very slowly, he turns in front of my eyes, close enough to touch, a grey, blood-crusted face; the eyelids open and close and the lips jerk open and then close. He is probably calling for help, for water. Nobody hears him. "Indeed, he is still alive. We cannot leave him like that!" "Let us see!" After a short look one sentry says, "It could be, you take a look!" to the other. He lowers the binoculars and gives a questioning look: "It is true. Who will bring him in?" "Medic!" "But that is not possible now, they would not make it in, and we will take a terrible plastering. Nobody may leave here by day due to the observation balloons."

Fort Douaumont During the Battle

Douaumont is being shelled and shakes growling. Sand falls gently with each hit. Any moment the fellows over there might get the idea to shell the entrance. It is just 3:00 in the afternoon; it is still a long time until dark. One must wait. Who knows how many others lie out there like him without being able to help them! It is not my job. If I had remained asleep or not been so curious, I would know nothing about it. I can tell the medics.

But, it is mean to see somebody lying like that and not help. What if I was lying out there? Who would have such fear, such cowardly, dog mean fear? I have often been lucky. Oh well, a shell will not come right off; I must try it! Otherwise I would be ashamed of myself.

Without saying a word, I push the sentry aside and take a jump outside. White shrapnel clouds suddenly whirl in the air in front, splinters hiss and a shrill fuse coos past, dragging a spiral-shaped white smoke trail. A ripped open, prickly mine basket catches my foot and I fall. Pfanggm-trr, bubb-rr – resounds above me, and a hail strikes the dirt at the side, throwing up countless little dust clouds. Could I have not waited until that was over? Schu – schschua - schuschucschlicht – trrummm. What is that? In front of me a huge cloud stands over the wall, making it dark from smoke. Right there, where he is lying. It is better if I turn around now, because any moment now – there, there! It is coming directly at me – oh God, oh God! With a mighty heave I slide down into a deep, slippery crater; clomps collapse and something squeezes me tight, making me lose consciousness. Night falls over me, out of which earth and splinters rain. Probably they have seen me over there and now aim here, I image. And then – disgust and horror paralyze me – a haggard bone fist protrudes from the earth next to me, green-yellow, a corpse’s claw! Out! Away! Better to run a bit farther and remain there until it gets dark.

The Author Circa 1940

1 comment:

  1. Do you know who translated this? Is the book available in English?