Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

I can remember watching old black and white newsreels of WW1 when I
WW1 Soldiers
was about nine years old, a mere twenty years after that war ended. I might just as well have been looking and the battle of Agincourt, it had so little significance to my young life.

The battle of Stalingrad ended in February 1943, seventy-seven years ago. I am just reading Antony Beevor’s book about it and for me it has real relevance because I can remember cinema
newsreels, newspaper stories and family discussions about the battle.

After the battle the Soviets recovered 250,000 German and Romanian corpses in and around Stalingrad, and total Axis casualties (Germans, Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians) are believed to have been more than 800,000 dead, wounded, missing, or captured. Of the 91,000 men who surrendered, only some 5,000–6,000 ever returned to their homelands (the last of them in the 1950s) the rest died in Soviet prison and labour camps. Germans soldiers captured when
German POWs
the battle ended were made to walk for miles in the snow so photographers could take pictures of the defeated German army

On the Soviet side, official Russian military historians estimate that there were 1,100,000 Red Army dead, wounded, missing, or captured in the campaign to defend the city. An estimated 40,000 civilians died as well.

The horrors are almost beyond belief. One Russian general harangued for cowardice a large group of soldiers who had fled in the face of larger German force. He then punished the group by 'Decimate' where he walked down the lines of solders counting - he shot each tenth soldier in the face until his gun was empty.

All this is leading up to a BIG question about death. Take the column of German POWs. All would be feeling the defeat, the knowledge that it would be a long time, if ever, before they saw
home and fear of the savage, foreign troops who were guarding them. Some would be wounded, frost bitten, hungry. No doubt, many would fall by the wayside to be shot by the guards or die a cold and lonely death in a foreign land.

Is the death truly greater because of the numbers or is the death of lonely, frightened Hans just as horrible? I truly don’t know but it is something to do with my uniqueness and selfishness. I have never experienced this sort of group horror and hope I never will but if I am consumed with fear, starving, frozen and can see no future, would I stop to help Hans to his feet or would I trudge on in the snow, knowing I might be next?

Is there even the slightest parallel as in the situation when I have toothache and you have broken your arm. I am very sorry about your arm but this is
MY toothache? Reading the book and seeing the things from the distance of time I see it as one great mass of horror. I get the feeling that if you had been one of the participants you would not see the big picture, just your small but intense suffering.

Each year around 50 million people die. If one of that 50 million is part of your family you will grieve but can you grieve for all the others? For me death is part of the natural pattern of birth, life death and decay. As such I can be quite philosophical but if the aforementioned Hans is my son the horror and grief would be almost unbearable.

Hans Grave

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