THE LEGIONNAIRES: A Documentary Novel by Per Olov Enquist

THE LEGIONNAIRES: A Documentary Novel

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At the end of World War II about 3000 German soldiers fled to Sweden from the Baltic states, unwilling to give themselves up as prisoners of war to the Russians. Among them were 167 Baits (from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) who were enlisted in the German Army. All were interned in Swedish camps and on Jan. 25, 1946, 146 Baltic legionnaires were extradited, despite some public protest, to the Soviet Union. The incident was considered a stain on neutral Sweden's reputation as many people felt that the Baits should have been regarded as political refugees. Partly in a spirit of expiation, Swedish author Enquist undertakes his own personal investigation of the episode, relying on letters, diaries, official records and interviews. The result is what he calls a ""documentary novel"" inasmuch as he has attempted to recreate conditions, atmosphere and the feelings and thoughts of many of the participants. In addition he has incorporated his own political experiences and reflections, at home and in the U.S. at the start of the Black Power movement, as he moves backward and forward through more than twenty years time. The Baits were so fearful of the treatment that awaited them in Russia that many of them mutilated themselves, two committed suicide and there was a general hunger strike which received sympathetic attention in the Swedish press. Ironically, however, Enquist's investigation revealed that things did not really go so badly for the extradited. Most of them were released, only two death sentences were pronounced -- on ""war criminals"" -- and these appear not to have been carried out. On another level Enquist discovered that there were almost as many truths involved in the case as there were participants. All of this makes the search itself more interesting than the conclusions, which are necessarily ambiguous. It's an intriguing book, however, and has won literary prizes in Sweden and has been published in nine countries.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1973
Publisher: Delacorte