Intimate reflections from one of postwar Germany’s most admired novelists (Winterspelt, 1978, etc.) on life under Hitler and, in the act of deserting an army at war, his own profound emancipation.
Though controversial when first published in Germany in 1952 (the German government has never formally pardoned Wehrmacht deserters), current readers may wonder what fascination remains in ruminations on the Third Reich by a writer who, while a giant by his countrymen’s standards, had very little work circulated in English. Hulse’s foreword effectively piques curiosity, however, noting that Andersch’s force as a stylist is what transcends an undercurrent of compromise—he divorced his Jewish wife at her peril in 1943—that dogged even an admiring biographer. Andersch glosses over that incident but not his father’s (a WWI hero) Nazi connections as instrumental in getting him out of the Dachau concentration camp after being arrested as a Communist Party organizer in 1933. Though fluent in reflection on Communism’s futile agenda, Andersch would not forget the Nazis who “made the struggle of my youth meaningless and made an introvert of me.” Called into service twice during the war, Andersch finds himself an infantryman in Italy in 1944 with an almost comic-opera opportunity to desert. Therein lies, of course, a moral dilemma, resolved with the author’s achieving a conviction that no human being should be beholden to any system that requires following all orders without question. “All I had was the aesthetics of my art and my private life,” he writes, “and these they destroyed by calling me up. Take up arms—for them? Even to entertain the notion was an absurdity.” But persuade others to desert as well? “No,” says Andersch with searing finality, “I did not love my comrades in arms.”
A small gem: still brilliantly alive and relevant.