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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Forgotten Soldier: War on the Russian Front - A True Story
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2013
There is some controversy over the authenticity of this book but whether it is a genuine autobiography, a fictionalised memoir or an out-and-out novel it's still one of the best books I've ever read. Full stop.

The author was born in Alsace of a German mother and French father and was drafted into the German armed forces. Unfortunately the exact hows and whys of this aren't explained.

Originally he hoped to fly JU87 dive-bombers but after failing to make the grade was sent to a supply battalion on the Eastern Front and quickly volunteered for front-line service in the Gross Deutschland Division. Sadly this was around the time that things were going wrong.

This is no "Boy's Own" account of daring do but a sorry tale of starving, exhausted men constantly retreating and fighting desperate rear-guard actions.

Guy Sajer has himself said that he never intended to write an accurate military history; just relate his experiences as he recalled them. The mistakes actually incline me to believe in its authenticity as a fraudster would have taken more care with his research.

Unreservedly recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2003
Sajers book of his experiences in the German Army in Russia is one of the most moving personal accounts I have read on the subject. His book begins with the almost happy, optimistic days of his basic training in Poland in 1942 and moves to the complete terror, horror and desperation of the retreating Wehrmacht in Russia. His account of the crossing of the Dniper river and the seige of Memel in East Prussia made a particular impact on me.
Sajer was first posted as a Rohlbann solider guarding trains supplying front line troops. Later he volunteered for the infantry and was trained for the elite Gross Deutchland division. His experiences in this division, which saw some of the most brutal and merciless fighting of the war were, as the author himself often aludes to, almost beyond description.
The book is a personal account written by a common soldier and does not offer any overview of the strategy or general objectives of the German command. Rather it describes in great detail and with much empathy, the suffering, depravation and above all terror and fear which Sajer and his comrades felt throughtout the war.
The book is best appreciated if read in conjunction with a historical account of the the German-Soviet war (Barbarossa by Alan Clark is an excellent introduction to the subject). In this way Sajer experiences can be placed in an overall context.
The book is well written and extremely readable. I read the soft back edition, however there is a recently released hardback version with extensive photographs. Sajers account is an excellent example of this genre of book and in my opinion compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the experiences of frontline German troops during this titanic and brutal conflict.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2012
I read this book in record breaking time. It's one I just couldn't put down. It tells the nightmare story of an extremely young German Army soldier on the Russian Front during WW2. He actually comes from Alsace with one parent German and the other French. Hitler insisted on calling these boys up for service. The book tells the story of his first role as a supply line soldier - which sounded like a possibly safe job but was in fact a sheer nightmare. Shortly after he enrolls in an Elite German Division - Grosse Deutschland. The training basic training alone makes AN Officer and a Gentleman and similar films look like a kindergarten class. After training he is sent to the front where he manages to survive one chaotic bloodbath after another. Starvation and sub zero temperatures add to the unbelievable misery. His fellow soldiers die in droves around him yet he manages against all the odds to survive. He is part of the German retreat across thousands of miles back to Germany. He literally has to fight every inch of the way back. He describes the awful revenge the Russians brought upon the Germans as they steamrollered towards Germany. He describes the butchery of thousands upon thousands - soldier and civilian - as they sought refuge in distant Germany.
WHen I wasn't actually reading this book I was thinking about it. Trying to come to terms with how people managed to live through what he and so many others did and so many others didn't.
I cannot recommend this book enough but be prepared to be shocked, informed and dumbfounded by the scale of the nightmare described. Great book. Superbly translated too.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 2000
...i've read it twice in six months and was deeply moved. from the moment he was in the 19th company to the moment his mother fell into his arms.this as really brought home warfare at it's intense peak.as an ex soldier i could relate to this book and can only imagine what sajer,hals&the rest of them went through,totaly horrific but still comited to the bitter end. ireally would like to know what happend to those that survived especaily hals and paula.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 1998
Guy Sajer's Forgotten Soldier is far and away the best book I have ever read. His account of his experiences are eloquent and touching. Never has an author managed to convey the feelings and emotions of war as how Sajer has done. I could not let go of this book and read it in the space of a day and a night....absolutley riveted to it. Sajer left me so transfixed that once I finished the book, I went-on line to find out more info about him and his book (at 4 in the morning). I only wish he would have written a longer epilogue so I could have found out more about his surviving comrades. If ever you should go out of your way to buy a book, it should be for this one. I know that for as long as I live I will never forget it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2004
What more can be said about this book? It truly is amazing. I read it about 5 years ago and still to this day find myself thinking about it at least every few weeks. And in regards to those of you who briefly scan the internet and support the half baked theory that its all fiction, i ask you to research beyond a brief read of one man rather ignorant questioning.
Read this book, I am by no means easily shocked but some things contained here made me stop reading, at least until i could get my head around what had happened and my thoughts in order.
Don't use this as a bible for military historical accuracy, use this as a guide to humanity in extremes. Of horror, of heartache, of hope.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 1999
I enjoyed this book immensely. As an amateur WWII historian, I like to get all sorts of perspectives on the war. Sajer's work provides a viewpoint that is rarely explored in the literature about WWII. I have heard much criticism of the historical accuracy of the book, with some "experts" even calling it work of pure fiction. Apparently there are a number of references to uniforms, equipment, etc. which no "real" German infantryman would have mistaken. I'm not one of those self-styled "experts", and therefore have not noticed the alleged inaccuracies. In any case, even if Sajer fashioned his tale from whole cloth, it's still a great read. It will give you a look inside the head of a scared, exhausted and demoralized human being who is fighting for his continued existence. Powerful stuff, indeed!
If you like this one, I would also recommend "Roll Me Over: An Infantryman's World War II", by Raymond Gantter. It's along the same lines as Sajer, but from the American perspective. Not quite as gripping, but still very insightful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2013
This is a very strong account of war in all its horrors, suffering and sacrifice, but at the same time a moving account of one young man's struggle to survive against almost unimaginable odds to the contrary. I am an old combat soldier myself and I can fully appreciate Sajer's totally honest descriptions of fear, comradeship and loathing of all the cruelty one witnesses during any war, whether perpetrated by the enemy or by one's own side. My war was not anywhere as mindboglingly brutal as the clash between Germany and Russia, but one thing Sajer and I have in common is that we both went to war at the impressionable young age of 16 (I am now in my 70's). I believe that I can therefore perhaps more fully than most people appreciate the descriptions of his feelings when he recounts all the things that happened to him during his turbulent wartime adolescence, including his first experience with puppy love and romance under impossible conditions.

Another thing that I have in common with Sajer is that I served alongside a large number of Germans, including several former Wehrmacht soldiers, and their banter, humour and love of singing, whether marching or relaxing with a beer, is so typical that I could easily put a face to the name of any one of his comrades from the character inventory in my own mind.

Of all the war memoirs and wartime accounts I have read in my life, and they are many, the only other book I can think of that comes even close to this book would be Vaino Linna's Unknown Soldier, an account of the winter war in 1939 between Russia and plucky little Finland. But I have never come across Linna's book in an English translation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2011
They say history is written by the victors, and by all accounts this is fairly true.

This book tells the true story of a young french voluntary recruit into the german army. He recites his part in WW2 from a Axis point of view. There is some times a stereo type of all the German combatants and even civilians as die hard nazis, this couldn't be further from the truth. Where the normal soldier was just following orders, having there own experiences and wars within the bigger conflict. There where also many other countries that where actively fighting the German cause and supplied manpower in that region of the world; Hungary, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Croatia. This book succeeds in giving us a German prospective albeit a Frenchman's from a half German heritage.

The story progresses through the main characters sign up into a support division of the German army, his tours of duty in Russia and subsequent recruitment into a elite german division.

The coverage of the Russian conflict is thought provoking and truly gives you the feel of the confusion and absolute misery of fighting in the bleak Russian landscape. The comradeship and the fact most where just kids not really understanding what they where fighting for or when it would end. How the Russians could and would be as brutal if not more so then the Germans. This book reminded me of 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski with regards to the suffering, cold and hunger, which was so much worse due to the time frame. I would recommend Zamoyski's novel to anyone who found this book interesting.

There has been some discussions about the authenticity of this story, with arguments for and against. My personal view is this is a true story for all extents. Then again i'm far from a expert of this period of history, but it's definitely a great read and i would highly recommend it to one and all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2010
They say history is written by the victor. Thankfully, this isn't always true, or else we wouldn't have the book in question. The Forgotten Soldier is a story compiled from the diaries of Guy Sajer, a French born German soldier who fought on the Eastern Front during World War Two. In our very Western centric view of history, and WW2 in particular, it is easy to get caught up in D-Day, the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk. However, as much as we would like to romanticise our victory in Europe, the opening of the Eastern front, and the huge difficulties faced by the Germans there, was a massive contributer to the collapse of the Nazi Empire. In addition to this, history is so very often covered, and indeed, taught, from a meta perspective, by which I mean, we talk about battles, skirmishes, tactics and strategy, while leaving out the individual tragedy of the human condition.

The Forgotten Soldier deals with exactly this, often in harrowing detail. Unrelenting in its pace, Sajers personal and shocking account of his individual experience of war on the Eastern front, describes in minute detail not only his physical but also emotional and psychological journey through a conflict which at times, it appears no one could have survived. Indeed by the end, Sajers physical survival of the war, is tempered by the twin casualties of his mind and spirit. This book is essential reading not just because it is a brilliantly honest, if traumatic read, but also because it is a slap in the face to the glamorised realities of war.
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