With the possible exception of the Battle of Waterloo, there is probably no period of history more heavily mined by writers of history than World War Two. In this crowded literary space, authors in search of impact are all too often driven back onto contrived controversy, over-aggressive criticism on spurious grounds or the unjustified agrandisement of some great ‘aha’ of limited relevance to anyone outside of the marketing department. It is with this in mind that I have no hesitation in saying that “Survivors of Stalingrad” is a little gem, largely because it actually adds something new, important and substantial to the canon of World War Two history.
- Edited by Reinhold Busch
As the title suggests, the book is a collection of eyewitness reports from those who served in the Stalingrad pocket, some of whom were aircrew, some of whom were airlifted out before the final collapse and some of whom made the journey home, via Siberia, over a decade later.
The collection has been edited by Reinhold Busch with a very light touch and, while the literary quality of each contribution depends on the ability of the individual concerned, the overall result is a very powerful, direct and authentic series of accounts delivered without the editor getting in the way. The biographical notes about the contributors are brief but useful and Busch has also taken the trouble to research what happened to many of the individuals referenced in the articles, most of whom, it must be said, did not make it past 1943.
Anything about Stalingrad is not going to be a warm and comforting read and this book is no exception but it fills an important gap and deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in World War Two and certainly anyone with an interest in the Eastern Front. At this point in time, unless the Russian archives reveal hitherto unsuspected depths of data gathering from those captured at Stalingrad, these are realistically the last voices we will hear from the German side of that epic battle. Most of them have not been heard before and they are worth hearing - the opening account of Second Lieutenant Gottfried von Bismarck telling Von Manstein that his 'Defensive Front' was nothing of the sort, before turning down the chance to return to Berlin and instead returning to the Stalingrad pocket and thirteen years in a labour camp, is a remarkable study in moral courage and should be compulsory reading at RMAS.
If you are looking for something interesting to do this January, I would recommend spending some time in the company of the survivors of Stalingrad.