Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight’s Cross by Albrecht Wacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many books on Germany during the Second World War are written in a victor’s perspective. In the context of regarding the objectivity of the events, the point of views in which books on the Third Reich 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.
The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Four men in a dinghy adrift on a sea for 30 hours. The tempest of waves and a great shark occasionally circling around the perimeter of the boat. And the men rowing endlessly as if it were their only tangible way of protesting against their fates. It all happened in reality because the author Stephen Crane himself experienced the ordeal as one of the four men from the sunk SS Commodore off the coast of Florida en route to Cuba, where Crane had been sent as a war correspondent. The short story of the Open Boat is as realistic as it can be based upon a factual event the author himself was fatefully partaken in.
The four survivors of the vessel were aggregates in a dinghy bound by a remote hope of finding a rescue crew in the middle of the ocean that moved them with terrible grace of waves. The men were a captain, a cook, an oiler, and a correspondent, who was the author himself. There was a subtle brotherhood of men built in the boat who took care of each other. Crane surmised that the captain’s heartfelt devotion to the safety of the motley crew resulted in comradeship, which the author himself had always regarded as a hypocritical concept of men until then.
There were indeed moments of despair as their drifting became protracted, and the author saw this as nature not regarding human as important. He would jeer at any signs of nature in any deity form because thinking of the captain and the two other seamen who had worked so hard on the sea in such distress was the abominable injustice.
Stephen Crane was a great American realist writer who later influenced Ernest Hemingway. Born in 1871 as a ninth child of Protestant Methodist parents in Newark, NJ, his literary talent began when he wrote his first poem at the age of eight. Although brilliant, Crane was not academically inclined, so he left University of Syracuse and became a kind of itinerant writer. It is said that Crane was a naturalist writer who emphasized observation in the portrayal of reality based on scientific principles of objectivity and detachment applied to the story of human characteristics. However, in my opinion, he was more of a realist writer who focused on objective, truthful presentations of details of the ordinary lives influenced by Gustave Flaubert and George Eliot. In this story, Crane’s use of vocabulary was pithy and straightforward with elegant expressions of emotions and feelings that so appropriately described the situations in which the characters were trapped.
After Crane’s untimely death at the age of twenty-eight in a Black Forest sanitorium in Germany, Crane’s works began to gain their long overdue acclaim, one of which was this story of the sunk vessel and his own experience thereof. Stephen Crane’s works should deserve wider readership because he’s the first and foremost American writer in Realism literary movement who paid attention to the lives of the ordinary by being the experience of living among the ordinary and writing the existential presentations of the ordinary lives.