The Forgotten Soldier

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The Forgotten Soldier
Author Guy Sajer
Country France (original)
Language French (original), English
Subject World War 2
Genre Autobiography
Publisher Robert Laffont (original), Potomac Books Inc.
Published 1976 (original)
Pages 476
ISBN 9782221037393 (French), 978-1574882865 (English)

The Forgotten Soldier is an autobiographical account, by German World War 2 veteran Guy Sajer. The focus of the book is on the Eastern front of World War 2. Sajer was born in Alsace to a German mother and a French father. Sajer whose real name is Guy Mouminoux published the book under his pseudonym Guy Sajer. The Forgotten Soldier has garnered much controversy over the years as to the accuracy of the events depicted with proponents heavily arguing both sides.[1]

Plot

The book opens in July 18, 1942, at a military barrack in Chemnitz, Germany where Sajer is training to become a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, Sajer fails to pass the Luftwaffe tests put before him and is transferred to an infantry unit. On September 15, 1942 the unit marches to Dresden, Germany where they prepare to board a train heading towards the Eastern Front, the company later stops at Warsaw, Poland and shortly after arrives in Bialystok, Poland. It is here where Sajer is trained along with his unit and becomes accustomed to military life. The company later relocates to Minsk, Russia, along the way the company has their first live combat experience and the horrors one is forced to commit in the name of survival. The book eventually transition's to Sajer's life in the Großdeutschland, events that took place during leave, and partially post war life.

Characters

  • Guy Sajer: The protagonist.
  • Feldwebel Laus: Sajer's first commanding officer.
  • Hals: A friend of Sajer's
  • Lensen: A friend of Sajer
  • Olensheim: A friend of Sajer
  • Morvan: A friend of Sajer's
  • Uterbeick: A friend of Sajer's
  • The Veteran: A veteran of the Eastern Front who befriends Sajer in the Großdeutschland Division, later confirmed to be August Wiener

Development

It is reported that Sajer first published the book in 1976 in French under the name Le soldat oublié de Guy Sajer, which in English translates to The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer.[2][3] The first English translation and publishing of the book was in 1971 by Harper & Row Publishers. In 2000 the book was republished by Potomac Books, Inc. through a publishing deal with Harper & Row, this release was significant as it touted "dozens of rare German Photographs" from the Eastern Front.[4]

Themes

The Forgotten Soldier deals with the effects of war on people as well as racial attitudes as apparent by the actions of Sajer's comrades and his treatment throughout the book in regards to his half German half French heritage. Themes of nationalism are also present and seen when Sajer shows pride upon hearing of the French fighting alongside the Germany army, he also shows anger and depression when he hears of the French fighting against the Germans. [5]

Fear is a common theme in Sajer's writing, the way the soldiers often react to battle with quotes such as "I'm tired of sh*tting myself", or the emotional reactions to events such as the fall of Stalingrad among Sajer's comrades.[6][7]

The treatment of Axis war veterans in comparison to their Allied counterparts is a theme Sajer touches on when reflecting on post war life. This is first apparent when Sajer recalls his experiences with his driving instructor in post war France who fails to give him a licenses as he is deemed unqualified, Sajer claims his experiences of driving military vehicles on the Eastern Front should qualify. Later on Sajer explores the sacrifices made by this comrades and how they would be remembered in the post war world, the atrocities one may commit such as the execution of prisoners, etc in comparison to similar Allied experiences and how they were treated.

Adaptations

A film adaption was announced in 2008, director Paul Verhoeven and writer Michael Beckner are currently attached to the project.[8] In July of 2009 it was rumored that the project was canceled due to financiers pulling out as a result of the change in the economic climate.[9]

Controversy

Sajer's work has been the center of much controversy over the legitimacy of the events depicted in his work. Questions have been raised by historians and German war veterans alike with proponents for both sides of the controversy. [10]

About The Book

The legitimacy of The Forgotten Soldier has been brought into question based on various aspects of the book which are believed to not coincide with how the German Army worked or how certain battles had taken place. Sajer in his defense claims he never wanted to create a historical reference but to write about the experiences he and other German soldiers faced on the Eastern Front.

"You ask me questions of chronology situations dates and unimportant details. Historians and archivists (Americans as well as Canadians) have harassed me for a long time with their rude questions. All of this is unimportant. Other authors and high-ranking officers could respond to your questions better than I. I never had the intention to write a historical reference book; rather I wrote about my innermost emotional experiences as they relate to the events that happened to me in the context of the Second World War."
[11]

Other German veterans from the Eastern Front such as Herr Hans Wegener, a noncommissioned officer in the 39th Infantry Division who fought in the U.S.S.R. from 1941 to 1943.

I read Sajer's book in the early '70s...[it] depicted deeds and events ...corresponding even with the minute tactical and great strategic events of the period described in the book. The language is of overpowering simplicity yet extremely smooth and impressive. The train of thought and reflections correspond to those of a young soldier who is tossed into the maelstrom of the hard suffering and hopeless retreat battles of the Eastern Front. I can verify that the Landsers thought this way acted this way and suffered and died in the pitiless retreat actions on the gigantic expanses of Russia which in itself gave you a feeling of loneliness and loss if faced ... as an individual human being. Even small inconsistencies cannot change my belief because the overall impact of the manuscript the inherent balance and truthfulness are for me the determining criteria [as to its authenticity]. I am quite sure that Guy Sajer did not tell a fictitious story. I look at this book as a tremendous monument for the great and singular achievements of the German soldier during a hopeless situation."
[12]

The amount of quoted material in the book has also caused some to claim the book is a work of fiction by arguing it would be impossible for someone to recall speeches, conversations, etc to the degree Sajer has in The Forgotten Soldier.[13]

About Guy Sajer

Some historians question whether Guy Sajer had actually served in the army during the war.

A image of Sajer's company taken in June 1943 before the Battle of Kursk was revealed, the image was taken by Hans-Joachim Schaffmeister-Berckholtz, a Non Commissioned Officer in 5. Kompanie, Pz.Gren.Rgt. of the Großdeutschland Division.[14]

Legacy

The Forgotten Soldier is recommended by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College for World War 2 related literature.[15]

References

  1. The Forgotten Soldier: Fact or Fiction. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  2. Le soldat oublié. Open Library. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  3. Google Translation. Google. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  4. Sajer, Guy (2000 (c1971)). The Forgotten Soldier. United States: Potomac Books, Inc.. ISBN 9781574882865.  2000 Edition,
  5. Sajer, Guy (2000 (c1971)). The Forgotten Soldier. United States: Potomac Books, Inc.. ISBN 9781574882865.  2000 Edition, pp 30
  6. The Forgotten Soldier. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  7. Sajer, Guy (2000 (c1971)). The Forgotten Soldier. United States: Potomac Books, Inc.. ISBN 9781574882865.  2000 Edition, pp 52-57
  8. Mike Goodridge (21 July 2008). Verhoeven attached to direct The Forgotten Soldier. Screen Daily. Media Business Insight. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  9. Doug Nash (13 July 2009). The Forgotten Soldier Movie Update. Felgrau. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  10. The Forgotten Soldier: Fact or Fiction. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  11. The Forgotten Soldier: Fact or Fiction. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  12. The Forgotten Soldier: Fact or Fiction. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  13. The Forgotten Soldier: Fact or Fiction. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  14. The Forgotten Soldier Movie is now Official!. Retrieved on 5 April 2014.
  15. Historical Bibliography No. 8: Military Classics