My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many books on Germany during the Second World War are written in a victor’s stance. In the context of regarding the objectivity of the events, the point of views in which the books are written is oftentimes biased toward the perpetrators of the war without regard for the underlings, such as foot soldiers compulsorily drafted to the fronts who want to voice out for themselves. This tendency betrays Ancient Athenian historian and general Thucydides’ definition of historical record as the ultimate objective to provide the most accurate record of the events “by recognizing certain commonalities, free from bias and embellishment”. One must also listen to the other side’s story to transcend the subjectivity of times and to balance objective equilibrium, wherefore my choice of this true story about the Eastern Front by a former Wehrmacht’s prime sniper was an act of impartial treatment of the history so overflown by untamed populist opinions on the volatile subject.
The narrator of the book is Josef “Sepp” Allerberger, the second most successful sniper of the German Wehrmacht and an awardee of the Knight’s Cross as a private soldier. Originally from Austria as a son of a humble carpenter, he was conscripted to the Wehrmacht as a machine gunner in the Russian Front in 1942. Allerberger’s fitness in marksmanship soon shone through and was forthwith selected as his regiment’s only sniper specialist thanks to his commendable traits of disciplined mind and bravery in the battlefield.
In his blatantly frank discourse of what he experienced and witnessed in the Russian campaign, it is unlikely to feel sympathy toward the Red Army soldiers and partisans who were as equally cruel and violent as their invaders. No German Prisoners of War were guaranteed to live once they were captured by the Soviets and the partisans alike. Instead, they were met with the most atrocious way of being tortured and executed against the Geneva Conventions. As a result, the whole scenery of the Eastern Front was the killing field of humanity, perhaps even more bloodstained and catastrophic than that of Trojan War.
Allerberger is not apologetic nor sentimental about his actions as a German sniper. Nevertheless, his narrative is honest without adding any lyrical adjectives or warm recollections of comradeship shared with a Red Army soldier as often depicted in movies and fictional stories. The book resulted from a series of interviews with Allerberger by the author Albrecht Wacker, who was also Austrian feeling a need of transcribing them and publishing the account of the veteran as a book. This telltale narrative is worth being read as a historical artifact that is important to understand what it was like to be a soldier in a war that he and his country knew was losing but tried to fight until the end with valor and might for their country and battle buddies in the face of the utmost atrocity.