14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Moving, shocking, thought provoking., 24 Jan. 2003
It is easy, when faced with the fact that 60 million people died as a result of the Second World War, to overlook the individual suffering and hardship endured by people on all sides of the conflict.
Books like 'The Forgotten Soldier' help address that issue. Guy Sajer was a French national that fought for Nazi Germany during the Second World War. This does not help one to feel a great deal of empathy towards him, but in the early chapters of the book he does explain why he decided on this course of action. As the book progresses we are thrown into a world which in the early days of the war were full of hope for the Nazis, safe in the belief that a quick and decisive victory was within reach. Even so these times of hope are intertwined with horrific images of dead, dying and injured Russian soldiers, which Sajer describes vividly and shockingly. He in no way glorifies these scenes which first put a human face on the 'Bolshevik' enemy he had been brought up to hate. Indeed they helped humanise his enemy and also bought a grudging respect from him. They also introduced him into the reality and horror of war.
As the war progresses and the inevitability of Nazi Germanys' defeat dawns of Sajer and his fellow soldiers he manages to put into words the scenes of desperation that surrounded them. Trapped on an every retreating Eastern Front, Sajer tries to explain how the majority of ordinary infantryman were not fighting any longer for a deep seated political or ideological belief, but merely for the survival of themselves, and the friends which they had fought and suffered alongside. It is when Sajer, in this hopeless position and believing he will die (as the Russian soldiers he drove past in triumph in the early part of the war surely did) that we can see the futility and horror of war.
I do not believe Sajer wrote this book for any other reason than to exorcise the ghosts that lived with him every day since the war finished. But it does give us a valuable insight the mindset of a desperate and terrified army as well as a first person account of how war can change a human being. Books such as these are essential reading for any person who has an interest in warfare and the physical and psychological effect it has on people.
Sajers' writing at no point tries to justify what Hitler and the Nazi party tried to achieve through the Second World War. Quite the opposite, The point where Sajer finally realises that his Fuehrer has been lying to him for years and the despair he suffers because of this is pivotal. Before this he had still believed that the war may be won and Hitler would be able to reverse the fortunes of a doomed army. It helps to show us the influence that Hitler had over his people and his army. This by no means justifies the atrocities carried out in the name of the Nazi party and their Fuehrer. But does give us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the many German soldiers who believed only in Hitler and who could not believe the stories of mass killings and war crimes, until they saw it with their own eyes.
Anyone who has even a passing interest in the Second World War should read this book. It provides us with a view of a world hopefully long gone, never to be seen again.