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All Quiet on the Western Front is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2013 Random House Trade Paperbacks Edition
“Im Westen Nichts Neues,” copyright © 1928 by Ullstein A.G
Copyright renewed 1956 by Erich Maria Remarque
Copyright © 1929, 1930 by Little, Brown and Company
Copyright renewed 1957, 1958 by Erich Maria Remarque
Reading group guide copyright © 2013 by Random House, LLC.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a
Penguin Random House Company.
RANDOM HOUSE and the HOUSE colophon are trademarks of Random House, LLC.
Random House Reader’s Circle & Design is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.
Ebook ISBN: 9780812985535
Cover design: Tom Kluepfel
Cover image: Wilson History & Research Center, Robby Wilson, founder
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Title Page
Author’s Note
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Reader’s Guide
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
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WE ARE AT REST five miles behind the front. Yesterday we were relieved, and now our bellies are full of beef and haricot
beans. We are satisfied and at peace. Each man has another mess-tin full for the evening; and, what is more, there is a
double ration of sausage and bread. That puts a man in fine trim. We have not had such luck as this for a long time.
The cook with his carroty head is begging us to eat; he beckons with his ladle to every one that passes, and spoons
him out a great dollop. He does not see how he can empty his stew-pot in time for coffee. Tjaden and Müller have
produced two washbasins and had them filled up to the brim as a reserve. In Tjaden this is voracity, in Müller it is
foresight. Where Tjaden puts it all is a mystery, for he is and always will be as thin as a rake.
What’s more important still is the issue of a double ration of smokes. Ten cigars, twenty cigarettes, and two quids
of chew per man; now that is decent. I have exchanged my chewing tobacco with Katczinsky for his cigarettes, which
means I have forty altogether. That’s enough for a day.
It is true we have no right to this windfall. The Prussian is not so generous. We have only a miscalculation to
thank for it.
Fourteen days ago we had to go up and relieve the front line. It was fairly quiet on our sector, so the
quartermaster who remained in the rear had requisitioned the usual quantity of rations and provided for the full
company of one hundred and fifty men. But on the last day an astonishing number of English heavies opened up on us
with high-explosive, drumming ceaselessly on our position, so that we suffered severely and came back only eighty
Last night we moved back and settled down to get a good sleep for once: Katczinsky is right when he says it would
not be such a bad war if only one could get a little more sleep. In the line we have had next to none, and fourteen
days is a long time at one stretch.
It was noon before the first of us crawled out of our quarters. Half an hour later every man had his mess-tin and
we gathered at the cook-house, which smelt greasy and nourishing. At the head of the queue of course were the
hungriest—little Albert Kropp, the clearest thinker among us and therefore only a lance-corporal; Müller, who still
carries his school textbooks with him, dreams of examinations, and during a bombardment mutters propositions in
physics; Leer, who wears a full beard and has a preference for the girls from officers’ brothels. He swears that they are
obliged by an army order to wear silk chemises and to bathe before entertaining guests of the rank of captain and
upwards. And as the fourth, myself, Paul Bäumer. All four are nineteen years of age, and all four joined up from the
same class as volunteers for the war.
Close behind us were our friends: Tjaden, a skinny locksmith of our own age, the biggest eater of the company. He
sits down to eat as thin as a grasshopper and gets up as big as a bug in the family way; Haie Westhus, of the same age,
a peat-digger, who can easily hold a ration-loaf in his hand and say: Guess what I’ve got in my fist; then Detering, a
peasant, who thinks of nothing but his farm-yard and his wife; and finally Stanislaus Katczinsky, the leader of our
group, shrewd, cunning, and hard-bitten, forty years of age, with a face of the soil, blue eyes, bent shoulders, and a
remarkable nose for dirty weather, good food, and soft jobs.
Our gang formed the head of the queue before the cookhouse. We were growing impatient, for the cook paid no
attention to us
Finally Katczinsky called to him: “Say, Heinrich, open up the soup-kitchen. Anyone can see the beans are done.”
He shook his head sleepily: “You must all be there first.” Tjaden grinned: “We are all here.”
The sergeant-cook still took no notice. “That may do for you,” he said. “But where are the others?”
“They won’t be fed by you to-day. They’re either in the dressing-station or pushing up daisies.”
The cook was quite disconcerted as the facts dawned on him. He was staggered. “And I have cooked for one
hundred and fifty men——”
Kropp poked him in the ribs. “Then for once we’ll have enough. Come on, begin!”
Suddenly a vision came over Tjaden. His sharp, mousy features began to shine, his eyes grew small with cunning,
his jaws twitched, and he whispered hoarsely: “Man! then you’ve got bread for one hundred and fifty men too, eh?”
The sergeant-cook nodded absent-minded, and bewildered.
Tjaden seized him by the tunic. “And sausage?”
Ginger nodded again.
Tjaden’s chaps quivered. “Tobacco too?”
“Yes, everything.”
Tjaden beamed: “What a bean-feast! That’s all for us! Each man gets—wait a bit—yes, practically two issues.”
Then Ginger stirred himself and said: “That won’t do.”
We got excited and began to crowd around.
“Why won’t that do, you old carrot?” demanded Katczinsky.
“Eighty men can’t have what is meant for a hundred and fifty.”
“We’ll soon show you,” growled Müller.
“I don’t care about the stew, but I can only issue rations for eighty men,” persisted Ginger.
Katczinsky got angry. “You might be generous for once. You haven’t drawn food for eighty men. You’ve drawn it
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for the Second Company. Good. Let’s have it then. We are the Second Company.”
We began to jostle the fellow. No one felt kindly toward him, for it was his fault that the food often came up to us
in the line too late and cold. Under shellfire he wouldn’t bring his kitchen up near enough, so that our soup-carriers
had to go much farther than those of the other companies. Now Bulcke of the First Company is a much better fellow.
He is as fat as a hamster in winter, but he trundles his pots when it comes to that right up to the very front-line.
We were in just the right mood, and there would certainly have been a dust-up if our company commander had
not appeared. He informed himself of the dispute, and only remarked: “Yes, we did have heavy losses yesterday.”
He glanced into the dixie. “The beans look good.”
Ginger nodded. “Cooked with meat and fat.”
The lieutenant looked at us. He knew what we were thinking. And he knew many other things too, because he
came to the company as a non-com. and was promoted from the ranks. He lifted the lid from the dixie again and
sniffed. Then passing on he said: “Bring me a plate full. Serve out all the rations. We can do with them.”
Ginger looked sheepish as Tjaden danced round him.
It doesn’t cost you anything! Anyone would think the quartermaster’s store belonged to him! And now get on with
you, you old blubber-sticker, and don’t you miscount either.”
“You be hanged!” spat out Ginger. When things get beyond him he throws up the sponge altogether; he just goes
to pieces. And as if to show that all things were equal to him, of his own free will he issued in addition half a pound
of synthetic honey to each man.
To-day is wonderfully good. The mail has come, and almost every man has a few letters and papers. We stroll over to
the meadow behind the billets. Kropp has the round lid of a margarine tub under his arm.
On the right side of the meadow a large common latrine has been built, a roofed and durable construction. But
that is for recruits who as yet have not learned how to make the most of whatever comes their way. We want
something better. Scattered about everywhere there are separate, individual boxes for the same purpose. They are
square, neat boxes with wooden sides all round, and have unimpeachably satisfactory seats. On the sides are hand
grips enabling one to shift them about.
We move three together in a ring and sit down comfortably. And it will be two hours before we get up again.
I well remember how embarrassed we were as recruits in barracks when we had to use the general latrine. There
were no doors and twenty men sat side by side as in a railway carriage, so that they could be reviewed all at one
glance, for soldiers must always be under supervision.
Since then we have learned better than to be shy about such trifling immodesties. In time things far worse than
that came easy to us.
Here in the open air though, the business is entirely a pleasure. I no longer understand why we should always
have shied at these things before. They are, in fact, just as natural as eating and drinking. We might perhaps have
paid no particular attention to them had they not figured so large in our experience, nor been such novelties to our
minds—to the old hands they had long been a mere matter of course.
The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary
is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavour to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his
deepest indignation. It is impossible to express oneself in any other way so clearly and pithily. Our families and our
teachers will be shocked when we go home, but here it is the universal language.
Enforced publicity has in our eyes restored the character of complete innocence to all these things. More than that,
they are so much a matter of course that their comfortable performance is fully as much enjoyed as the playing of a
safe top running flush. Not for nothing was the word “latrine-rumour” invented; these places are the regimental
gossip-shop and common-rooms.
We feel ourselves for the time being better off than in any palatial white-tiled “convenience.” There it can only be
hygienic; here it is beautiful.
These are wonderfully care-free hours. Over us is the blue sky. On the horizon float the bright yellow, sunlit
observation-balloons, and the many little white clouds of the anti-aircraft shells. Often they rise in a sheaf as they
follow after an airman. We hear the muffled rumble of the front only as very distant thunder, bumblebees droning by
quite drown it. Around us stretches the flowery meadow. The grasses sway their tall spears; the white butterflies
flutter around and float on the soft warm wind of the late summer. We read letters and newspapers and smoke. We
take off our caps and lay them down beside us. The wind plays with our hair; it plays with our words and thoughts.
The three boxes stand in the midst of the glowing, red field-poppies.
We set the lid of the margarine tub on our knees and so have a good table for a game of skat. Kropp has the cards
with him. After every misère ouverte we have a round of nap. One could sit like this for ever.
The notes of an accordion float across from the billets. Often we lay aside the cards and look about us. One of us
will say: “Well, boys.…” Or “It was a near thing that time.…” And for a moment we fall silent. There is in each of us a
feeling of constraint. We are all sensible of it; it needs no words to communicate it. It might easily have happened that
we should not be sitting here on our boxes to-day; it came damn near to that. And so everything is new and brave, red
poppies and good food, cigarettes and summer breeze.
Kropp asks: “Anyone seen Kemmerich lately?”
“He’s up at St. Joseph’s,” I tell him.
Müller explains that he has a flesh wound in his thigh; a good blighty.
We decide to go and see him this afternoon.
Kropp pulls out a letter. “Kantorek sends you all his best wishes.”
We laugh. Müller throws his cigarette away and says: “I wish he was here.”
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Kantorek had been our schoolmaster, a stern little man in a grey tail-coat, with a face like a shrew mouse. He was
about the same size as Corporal Himmelstoss, the “terror of Klosterberg.” It is very queer that the unhappiness of the
world is so often brought on by small men. They are so much more energetic and uncompromising than the big
fellows. I have always taken good care to keep out of sections with small company commanders. They are mostly
confounded little martinets.
During drill-time Kantorek gave us long lectures until the whole of our class went, under his shepherding, to the
District Commandant and volunteered. I can see him now, as he used to glare at us through his spectacles and say in a
moving voice: “Won’t you join up, Comrades?”
These teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour. But we
didn’t think of that then.
There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Joseph Behm, a plump,
homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more
of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one’s parents were ready with
the word “coward”; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple
people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see
more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.
Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought
Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for
dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard
him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could
not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and
fetch him in.
Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book?
There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that
cost them nothing.
And that is why they let us down so badly.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work,
of duty, of culture, of progress—to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts
we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight
and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation
was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment
showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s
country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers,
no deserters, no cowards—they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we
went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see.
And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it
Before going over to see Kemmerich we pack up his things: he will need them on the way back.
In the dressing station there is great activity: it reeks as ever of carbolic, pus, and sweat. We are accustomed to a
good deal in the billets, but this makes us feel faint. We ask for Kemmerich. He lies in a large room and receives us
with feeble expressions of joy and helpless agitation. While he was unconscious someone had stolen his watch.
Müller shakes his head: “I always told you that nobody should carry as good a watch as that.”
Müller is rather crude and tactless, otherwise he would hold his tongue, for anybody can see that Kemmerich will
never come out of this place again. Whether he finds his watch or not will make no difference, at the most one will
only be able to send it to his people.
“How goes it, Franz?” asks Kropp.
Kemmerich’s head sinks.
“Not so bad … but I have such a damned pain in my foot.”
We look at his bed covering. His leg lies under a wire basket. The bed covering arches over it. I kick Müller on the
shin, for he is just about to tell Kemmerich what the orderlies told us outside: that Kemmerich has lost his foot. The
leg is amputated. He looks ghastly, yellow and wan. In his face there are already the strained lines that we know so
well, we have seen them now hundreds of times. They are not so much lines as marks. Under the skin the life no
longer pulses, it has already pressed out the boundaries of the body. Death is working through from within. It already
has command in the eyes. Here lies our comrade, Kemmerich, who a little while ago was roasting horse flesh with us
and squatting in the shell-holes. He it is still and yet it is not he any longer. His features have become uncertain and
faint, like a photographic plate from which two pictures have been taken. Even his voice sounds like ashes.
I think of the time when he went away. His mother, a good plump matron, brought him to the station. She wept
continually, her face was bloated and swollen. Kemmerich felt embarrassed, for she was the least composed of all; she
simply dissolved into fat and water. Then she caught sight of me and took hold of my arm again and again, and
implored me to look after Franz out there. Indeed he did have a face like a child, and such frail bones that after four
weeks’ pack-carrying he already had flat feet. But how can a man look after anyone in the field!
“Now you will soon be going home,” says Kropp. “You would have had to wait at least three or four months for
your leave.”
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Kemmerich nods. I cannot bear to look at his hands, they are like wax. Under the nails is the dirt of the trenches,
it shows through blue-black like poison. It strikes me that these nails will continue to grow like lean fantastic cellarplants
long after Kemmerich breathes no more. I see the picture before me. They twist themselves into corkscrews and
grow and grow, and with them the hair on the decaying skull, just like grass in a good soil, just like grass, how can it
be possible——
Müller leans over. “We have brought your things, Franz.”
Kemmerich signs with his hands. “Put them under the bed.”
Müller does so. Kemmerich starts on again about the watch. How can one calm him without making him
Müller reappears with a pair of airman’s boots. They are fine English boots of soft, yellow leather which reach to
the knees and lace up all the way—they are things to be coveted.
Müller is delighted at the sight of them. He matches their soles against his own clumsy boots and says: “Will you
be taking them with you then, Franz?”
We all three have the same thought; even if he should get better, he would be able to use only one—they are no
use to him. But as things are now it is a pity that they should stay here; the orderlies will of course grab them as soon
as he is dead.
“Won’t you leave them with us?” Müller repeats.
Kemmerich doesn’t want to. They are his most prized possessions.
“Well, we could exchange,” suggests Müller again. “Out here one can make some use of them.” Still Kemmerich is
not to be moved.
I tread on Müller’s foot; reluctantly he puts the fine boots back again under the bed.
We talk a little more and then take our leave.
“Cheerio, Franz.”
I promise him to come back in the morning. Müller talks of doing so, too. He is thinking of the lace-up boots and
means to be on the spot.
Kemmerich groans. He is feverish. We get hold of an orderly outside and ask him to give Kemmerich a dose of
He refuses. “If we were to give morphia to everyone we would have to have tubs full——”
“You only attend to officers properly,” says Kropp viciously.
I hastily intervene and give him a cigarette. He takes it.
“Are you usually allowed to give it, then?” I ask him.
He is annoyed. “If you don’t think so, then why do you ask?”
I press a few more cigarettes into his hand. “Do us the favour——”
“Well, all right,” he says.
Kropp goes in with him. He doesn’t trust him and wants to see. We wait outside.
Müller returns to the subject of the boots. “They would fit me perfectly. In these boots I get blister after blister. Do
you think he will last till tomorrow after drill? If he passes out in the night, we know where the boots——”
Kropp returns. “Do you think——?” he asks.
“Done for,” said Müller emphatically.
We go back to the huts. I think of the letter that I must write to-morrow to Kemmerich’s mother. I am freezing. I
could do with a tot of rum. Müller pulls up some grass and chews it. Suddenly little Kropp throws his cigarette away,
stamps on it savagely, and looking around him with a broken and distracted face, stammers “Damned shit, the
damned shit!”
We walk on for a long time. Kropp has calmed himself; we understand, he saw red; out there every man gets like
that sometime.
“What has Kantorek written to you?” Müller asks him.
He laughs. “We are the Iron Youth.”
We all three smile bitterly, Kropp rails: he is glad that he can speak.
Yes, that’s the way they think, these hundred thousand Kantoreks! Iron Youth! Youth! We are none of us more
than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.
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IT IS STRANGE to think that at home in the drawer of my writing table there lies the beginning of a play called “Saul” and a
bundle of poems. Many an evening I have worked over them—we all did something of the kind—but that has become
so unreal to me I cannot comprehend it any more. Our early life is cut off from the moment we came here, and that
without our lifting a hand. We often try to look back on it and to find an explanation, but never quite succeed. For us
young men of twenty everything is extraordinarily vague, for Kropp, Müller, Leer, and for me, for all of us whom
Kantorek calls the “Iron Youth.” All the older men are linked up with their previous life. They have wives, children,
occupations, and interests, they have a background which is so strong that the war cannot obliterate it. We young
men of twenty, however, have only our parents, and some, perhaps, a girl—that is not much, for at our age the
influence of parents is at its weakest and girls have not yet got a hold over us. Besides this there was little else—some
enthusiasm, a few hobbies, and our school. Beyond this our life did not extend. And of this nothing remains.
Kantorek would say that we stood on the threshold of life. And so it would seem. We had as yet taken no root. The
war swept us away. For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption. They are able to think beyond it. We,
however, have been gripped by it and do not know what the end may be. We know only that in some strange and
melancholy way we have become a waste land. All the same, we are not often sad.
Though Müller would be delighted to have Kemmerich’s boots, he is really quite as sympathetic as another who could
not bear to think of such a thing for grief. He merely sees things clearly. Were Kemmerich able to make any use of the
boots, then Müller would rather go bare-foot over barbed wire than scheme how to get hold of them. But as it is the
boots are quite inappropriate to Kemmerich’s circumstances, whereas Müller can make good use of them. Kemmerich
will die; it is immaterial who gets them. Why, then, should Müller not succeed to them? He has more right than a
hospital orderly. When Kemmerich is dead it will be too late. Therefore Müller is already on the watch.
We have lost all sense of other considerations, because they are artificial. Only the facts are real and important for
us. And good boots are scarce.
Once it was different. When we went to the district commandant to enlist, we were a class of twenty young men,
many of whom proudly shaved for the first time before going to the barracks. We had no definite plans for our future.
Our thoughts of a career and occupation were as yet of too unpractical a character to furnish any scheme of life. We
were still crammed full of vague ideas which gave to life, and to the war also an ideal and almost romantic character.
We were trained in the army for ten weeks and in this time more profoundly influenced than by ten years at school.
We learned that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer. At first astonished, then embittered,
and finally indifferent, we recognized that what matters is not the mind but the boot brush, not intelligence but the
system, not freedom but drill. We became soldiers with eagerness and enthusiasm, but they have done everything to
knock that out of us. After three weeks it was no longer incomprehensible to us that a braided postman should have
more authority over us than had formerly our parents, our teachers, and the whole gamut of culture from Plato to
Goethe. With our young, awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers
resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants—salutes,
springing to attention, parade-marches, presenting arms, right wheel, left wheel, clicking the heels, insults, and a
thousand pettifogging details. We had fancied our task would be different, only to find we were to be trained for
heroism as though we were circus-ponies. But we soon accustomed ourselves to it. We learned in fact that some of
these things were necessary, but the rest merely show. Soldiers have a fine nose for such distinctions.
By threes and fours our class was scattered over the platoons amongst Frisian fishermen, peasants, and labourers with
whom we soon made friends. Kropp, Müller, Kemmerich, and I went to No. 9 platoon under Corporal Himmelstoss.
He had the reputation of being the strictest disciplinarian in the camp, and was proud of it. He was a small
undersized fellow with a foxy, waxed moustache, who had seen twelve years’ service and was in civil life a postman.
He had a special dislike of Kropp, Tjaden, Westhus, and me, because he sensed a quiet defiance.
I have remade his bed fourteen times in one morning. Each time he had some fault to find and pulled it to pieces. I
have kneaded a pair of prehistoric boots that were as hard as iron for twenty hours—with intervals of course—until
they became as soft as butter and not even Himmelstoss could find anything more to do to them; under his orders I
have scrubbed out the Corporals’ Mess with a tooth-brush. Kropp and I were given the job of clearing the barracksquare
of snow with a hand-broom and a dust-pan, and we would have gone on till we were frozen had not a
lieutenant accidentally appeared who sent us off, and hauled Himmelstoss over the coals. But the only result of this
was to make Himmelstoss hate us more. For six weeks consecutively I did guard every Sunday and was hut-orderly for
the same length of time. With a full pack and rifle I have had to practise on a wet, soft, newly-ploughed field the
“Prepare to advance, advance!” and the “Lie down!” until I was one lump of mud and finally collapsed. Four hours
later I had to report to Himmelstoss with my clothes scrubbed clean, my hands chafed and bleeding. Together with
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Kropp, Westhus, and Tjaden I have stood at attention in a hard frost without gloves for a quarter of an hour at a
stretch, while Himmelstoss watched for the slightest movement of our bare fingers on the steel barrel of the rifle. I
have run eight times from the top floor of the barracks down to the courtyard in my shirt at two o’clock in the
morning because my drawers projected three inches beyond the edge of the stool on which one had to stack all one’s
things. Alongside me ran the corporal, Himmelstoss, and trod on my bare toes. At bayonet-practice I had constantly to
fight with Himmelstoss, I with a heavy iron weapon, whilst he had a handy wooden one with which he easily struck
my arms till they were black and blue. Once, indeed, I became so infuriated that I ran at him blindly and gave him a
mighty jab in the stomach and knocked him down. When he reported me the company commander laughed at him
and told him he ought to keep his eyes open; he understood Himmelstoss, and apparently was not displeased at his
discomfiture. I became a past master on the parallel bars and excelled at physical jerks;—we have trembled at the
mere sound of his voice, but his runaway post-horse never got the better of us.
One Sunday as Kropp and I were lugging a latrine-bucket on a pole across the barrack-yard, Himmelstoss came by,
all polished up and spry for going out. He planted himself in front of us and asked how we liked the job. In spite of
ourselves we tripped and emptied the bucket over his legs. He raved, but the limit had been reached.
“That means clink,” he yelled.
But Kropp had had enough. “There’ll be an inquiry first,” he said, “and then we’ll unload.”
“Mind how you speak to a non-commissioned officer!” bawled Himmelstoss. “Have you lost your senses? You wait
till you’re spoken to. What will you do, anyway?”
“Show you up, Corporal,” said Kropp, his thumbs in line with the seams of his trousers.
Himmelstoss saw that we meant it and went off without saying a word. But before he disappeared he growled:
“You’ll drink this!”—but that was the end of his authority. He tried it on once more in the ploughed field with his
“Prepare to advance, advance” and “Lie down.” We obeyed each order, since an order’s an order and has to be
obeyed. But we did it so slowly that Himmelstoss became desperate. Carefully we went down on our knees, then on
our hands, and so on; in the meantime, quite infuriated, he had given another command. But before we had even
begun to sweat he was hoarse. After that he left us in peace. He did indeed always refer to us as swine, but there was,
nevertheless, a certain respect in his tone.
There were many other staff corporals, the majority of whom were more decent. But above all each of them
wanted to keep his good job there as long as possible, and this he could do only by being strict with the recruits.
So we were put through every conceivable refinement of parade-ground soldiering till we often howled with rage.
Many of us became ill through it; Wolf actually died of inflammation of the lung. But we would have felt ridiculous
had we hauled down our colours. We became hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, tough—and that was good; for these
attributes were just what we lacked. Had we gone into the trenches without this period of training most of us would
certainly have gone mad. Only thus were we prepared for what awaited us. We did not break down, but adapted
ourselves; our twenty years, which made many another thing so grievous, helped us in this. But by far the most
important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the field developed
into the finest thing that arose out of the war—comradeship.
I sit by Kemmerich’s bed. He is sinking steadily. Around us is great commotion. A hospital train has arrived and the
wounded fit to be moved are being selected. The doctor passes by Kemmerich’s bed without once looking at him.
“Next time, Franz,” I say.
He raises himself on the pillow with his elbows. “They have amputated my leg.”
He knows it too then. I nod and answer: “You must be thankful you’ve come off with that.”
He is silent.
I resume: “It might have been both legs, Franz. Wegeler has lost his right arm. That’s much worse. Besides, you
will be going home.” He looks at me. “Do you think so?”
“Of course.”
“Do you think so?” he repeats.
“Sure, Franz. Once you’ve got over the operation.”
He beckons me to bend down. I stoop over him and he whispers: “I don’t think so.”
“Don’t talk rubbish; Franz, in a couple of days you’ll see for yourself. What is it anyway—an amputated leg? Here
they patch up far worse things than that.”
He lifts one hand. “Look here though, these fingers.”
“That’s the result of the operation. Just eat decently and you’ll soon be well again. Do they look after you
He points to a dish that is still half full. I get excited. “Franz, you must eat. Eating is the main thing. That looks
good too.”
He turns away. After a pause he says slowly: “I wanted to become a head-forester once.”
“So you may still,” I assure him. “There are splendid artificial limbs now, you’d hardly know there was anything
missing. They are fixed on to the muscles. You can move the fingers and work and even write with an artificial hand.
And besides, they will always be making new improvements.”
For a while he lies still. Then he says: “You can take my lace-up boots with you for Müller.”
I nod and wonder what to say to encourage him. His lips have fallen away, his mouth has become larger, his teeth
stick out and look as though they were made of chalk. The flesh melts, the forehead bulges more prominently, the
cheekbones protrude. The skeleton is working itself through. The eyes are already sunken in. In a couple of hours it
will be over.
He is not the first that I have seen thus; but we grew up together and that always makes it a bit different. I have
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copied his essays. At school he used to wear a brown coat with a belt and shiny sleeves. He was the only one of us,
too, who could do the giant’s turn on the horizontal bar. His hair flew in his face like silk when he did it. Kantorek
was proud of him. But he couldn’t stand cigarettes. His skin was very white; he had something of the girl about him.
I glance at my boots. They are big and clumsy, the breeches are tucked into them, and standing up one looks wellbuilt
and powerful in these great drainpipes. But when we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again
and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys; no one would believe that we could carry
packs. It is a strange moment when we stand naked; then we become civilians, and almost feel ourselves to be so.
When bathing Franz Kemmerich looked as slight and frail as a child. There he lies now—but why? The whole world
ought to pass by this bed and say: “That is Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn’t want to die. Let
him not die!”
My thoughts become confused. This atmosphere of carbolic and gangrene clogs the lungs, it is a thick gruel, it
It grows dark. Kemmerich’s face changes colour, it lifts from the pillow and is so pale that it gleams. The mouth
moves slightly. I draw near to him. He whispers: “If you find my watch, send it home——”
I do not reply. It is no use any more. No one can console him. I am wretched with helplessness. This forehead with
its hollow temples, this mouth that now seems all teeth, this sharp nose! And the fat, weeping woman at home to
whom I must write. If only the letter were sent off already!
Hospital-orderlies go to and fro with bottles and pails. One of them comes up, casts a glance at Kemmerich and
goes away again. You can see he is waiting, apparently he wants the bed.
I bend over Franz and talk to him as though that could save him: “Perhaps you will go to the convalescent home
at Klosterberg, among the villas, Franz. Then you can look out from the window across the fields to the two trees on
the horizon. It is the loveliest time of the year now, when the corn ripens; at evening the fields in the sunlight look
like mother-of-pearl. And the lane of poplars by the Klosterbach, where we used to catch stickle-backs! You can build
an aquarium again and keep fish in it, and you can go without asking anyone, you can even play the piano if you
want to.”
I lean down over his face which lies in the shadow. He still breathes, lightly. His face is wet, he is crying. What a
fine mess I have made of it with my foolish talk!
“But Franz”—I put my arm round his shoulder and put my face against his. “Will you sleep now?”
He does not answer. The tears run down his cheeks. I would like to wipe them away but my handkerchief is too
An hour passes. I sit tensely and watch his every movement in case he may perhaps say something. What if he
were to open his mouth and cry out! But he only weeps, his head turned aside. He does not speak of his mother or his
brothers and sisters. He says nothing; all that lies behind him; he is entirely alone now with his little life of nineteen
years, and cries because it leaves him. This is the most disturbing and hardest parting that I ever have seen, although
it was pretty bad too with Tiedjen, who called for his mother—a big bear of a fellow who, with wild eyes full of
terror, held off the doctor from his bed with a dagger until he collapsed.
Suddenly Kemmerich groans and begins to gurgle.
I jump up, stumble outside and demand: “Where is the doctor? Where is the doctor?”
As I catch sight of the white apron I seize hold of it: “Come quick, Franz Kemmerich is dying.”
He frees himself and asks an orderly standing by: “Which will that be?”
He says: “Bed 26, amputated thigh.”
He sniffs: “How should I know anything about it, I’ve amputated five legs to-day”; he shoves me away, says to the
hospital-orderly “You see to it,” and hurries off to the operating room.
I tremble with rage as I go along with the orderly. The man looks at me and says: “One operation after another
since five o’clock this morning. You know, to-day alone there have been sixteen deaths—yours is the seventeenth.
There will probably be twenty altogether——”
I become faint, all at once I cannot do any more. I won’t revile any more, it is senseless, I could drop down and
never rise up again.
We are by Kemmerich’s bed. He is dead. The face is still wet from the tears. The eyes are half open and yellow like
old horn buttons. The orderly pokes me in the ribs, “Are you taking his things with you?” I nod.
He goes on: “We must take him away at once, we want the bed. Outside they are lying on the floor.”
I collect Kemmerich’s things, and untie his identification disc. The orderly asks about the paybook. I say that it is
probably in the orderly-room, and go. Behind me they are already hauling Franz on to a waterproof sheet.
Outside the door I am aware of the darkness and the wind as a deliverance. I breathe as deep as I can, and feel the
breeze in my face, warm and soft as never before. Thoughts of girls, of flowery meadows, of white clouds suddenly
come into my head. My feet begin to move forward in my boots, I go quicker, I run. Soldiers pass by me, I hear their
voices without understanding. The earth is streaming with forces which pour into me through the soles of my feet.
The night crackles electrically, the front thunders like a concert of drums. My limbs move supplely, I feel my joints
strong, I breathe the air deeply. The night lives, I live. I feel a hunger, greater than comes from the belly alone.
Müller stands in front of the hut waiting for me. I give him the boots. We go in and he tries them on. They fit well.
He roots among his supplies and offers me a fine piece of saveloy. With it goes hot tea and rum.
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REINFORCEMENTS HAVE ARRIVED. The vacancies have been filled and the sacks of straw in the huts are already booked. Some of
them are old hands, but there are twenty-five men of a later draft from the base. They are about two years younger
than us. Kropp nudges me: “Seen the infants?”
I nod. We stick out our chests, shave in the open, shove our hands in our pockets, inspect the recruits and feel
ourselves stone-age veterans.
Katczinsky joins us. We stroll past the horse-boxes and go over to the reinforcements, who are already being
issued with gas masks and coffee.
“Long time since you’ve had anything decent to eat, eh?” Kat asks one of the youngsters.
He grimaces. “For breakfast, turnip-bread—lunch, turnip-stew—supper, turnip-cutlets and turnip-salad.” Kat gives
a knowing whistle.
“Bread made of turnips? You’ve been in luck, it’s nothing new for it to be made of sawdust. But what do you say
to haricot beans? Have some?”
The youngster turns red: “You can’t kid me.”
Katczinsky merely says: “Fetch your mess-tin.”
We follow curiously. He takes us to a tub beside his straw sack. Sure enough it is half full of beef and beans.
Katczinsky plants himself in front of it like a general and says:
“Sharp eyes and light fingers! That’s what the Prussians say.”
We are surprised. “Great guts, Kat, how did you come by that?” I ask him.
“Ginger was glad I took it. I gave him three pieces of parachute-silk for it. Cold beans taste fine, too.”
Patronizingly he gives the youngster a portion and says:
“Next time you come with your mess-tin have a cigar or a chew of tobacco in your other hand. Get me?” Then he
turns to us. “You get off scot free, of course.”
We couldn’t do without Katczinsky; he has a sixth sense. There are such people everywhere but one does not
appreciate it at first. Every company has one or two. Katczinsky is the smartest I know. By trade he is a cobbler, I
believe, but that hasn’t anything to do with it; he understands all trades. It’s a good thing to be friends with him, as
Kropp and I are, and Haie Westhus too, more or less. But Haie is rather the executive arm, operating under Kat’s
orders when things come to blows. For that he has his qualifications.
For example, we land at night in some entirely unknown spot, a sorry hole, that has been eaten out to the very
walls. We are quartered in a small dark factory adapted to the purpose. There are beds in it, or rather bunks—a
couple of wooden beams over which wire netting is stretched.
Wire netting is hard. And there’s nothing to put on it. Our waterproof sheets are too thin. We use our blankets to
cover ourselves.
Kat looks at the place and then says to Haie Westhus: “Come with me.” They go off to explore. Half an hour later
they are back again with arms full of straw. Kat has found a horse-box with straw in it. Now we might sleep if we
weren’t so terribly hungry.
Kropp asks an artilleryman who has been some time in this neighbourhood: “Is there a canteen anywhere abouts?”
“Is there a what?” he laughs. “There’s nothing to be had here. You won’t find so much as a crust of bread here.”
“Aren’t there any inhabitants here at all then?”
He spits. “Yes, a few. But they hang round the cook-house and beg.”
“That’s a bad business!—Then we’ll have to pull in our belts and wait till the rations come up in the morning.”
But I see Kat has put on his cap.
“Where to, Kat?” I ask.
“Just to explore the place a bit.” He strolls off. The artilleryman grins scornfully. “Go ahead and explore. But don’t
strain yourself in carrying what you find.”
Disappointed we lie down and consider whether we couldn’t have a go at the iron rations. But it’s too risky; so we
try to get a wink of sleep.
Kropp divides a cigarette and hands me half. Tjaden gives an account of his national dish—broad-beans and
bacon. He despises it when not flavoured with bog-myrtle, and, “for God’s sake, let it all be cooked together, not the
potatoes, the beans, and the bacon separately.” Someone growls that he will pound Tjaden into bog-myrtle if he
doesn’t shut up. Then all becomes quiet in the big room—only the candles flickering from the necks of a couple of
bottles and the artilleryman spitting every now and then.
We are just dozing off when the door opens and Kat appears. I think I must be dreaming; he has two loaves of
bread under his arm and a bloodstained sandbag full of horse-flesh in his hand.
The artilleryman’s pipe drops from his mouth. He feels the bread. “Real bread, by God, and still hot too?”
Kat gives no explanation. He has the bread, the rest doesn’t matter. I’m sure that if he were planted down in the
middle of the desert, in half an hour he would have gathered together a supper of roast meat, dates, and wine.
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“Cut some wood,” he says curtly to Haie.
Then he hauls out a frying pan from under his coat, and a handful of salt as well as a lump of fat from his pocket.
He has thought of everything. Haie makes a fire on the floor. It lights up the empty room of the factory. We climb out
of bed.
The artilleryman hesitates. He wonders whether to praise Kat and so perhaps gain a little for himself. But
Katczinsky doesn’t even see him, he might as well be thin air. He goes off cursing.
Kat knows the way to roast horse-flesh so that it’s tender. It shouldn’t be put straight into the pan, that makes it
tough. It should be boiled, first in a little water. With our knives we squat round in a circle and fill our bellies.
That is Kat. If for one hour in a year something eatable were to be had in some one place only, within that hour,
as if moved by a vision, he would put on his cap, go out and walk directly there, as though following a compass, and
find it.
He finds everything—if it is cold, a small stove and wood, hay and straw, a table and chairs—but above all food. It
is uncanny; one would think he conjured it out of the air. His masterpiece was four boxes of lobsters. Admittedly we
would rather have had a good beef steak.
We have settled ourselves on the sunny side of the hut. There is a smell of tar, of summer, and of sweaty feet. Kat sits
beside me. He likes to talk. Today we have done an hour’s saluting drill because Tjaden failed to salute a major
smartly enough. Kat can’t get it out of his head.
“You take it from me, we are losing the war because we can salute too well,” he says.
Kropp stalks up, with his breeches rolled up and his feet bare. He lays out his washed socks to dry on the grass.
Kat turns his eyes to heaven, lets off a mighty fart, and says meditatively: “Every little bean must be heard as well as
The two begin to argue. At the same time they lay a bottle of beer on the result of an air-fight that’s going on
above us. Katczinsky won’t budge from the opinion which as an old Front-hog, he rhymes:
Give ’em all the same grub and all the same pay
And the war would be over and done in a day.
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival
with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries,
dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country
wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.
The subject is dropped. Then the conversation turns to drill.
A picture comes before me. Burning midday in the barrack-yard. The heat hangs over the square. The barracks are
deserted. Every thing sleeps. All one hears is the drummers practising; they have installed themselves somewhere and
practise brokenly, dully, monotonously. What a concord! Midday heat, barrack square, and drummers beating!
The windows of the barracks are empty and dark. From some of them trousers are hanging to dry. The rooms are
cool and one looks toward them longingly.
O dark, musty platoon huts, with the iron bedsteads, the chequered bedding, the lockers and the stools! Even you
can become the object of desire; out here you have a faint resemblance to home; your rooms, full of the smell of stale
food, sleep, smoke, and clothes.
Katczinsky paints it all in lively colours. What would we not give to be able to return to it! Farther back than that
our thoughts dare not go.
Those early morning hours of instruction—“What are the parts of the 98 rifle?”—the midday hours of physical
training—“Pianist forward! By the right, quick march. Report to the cook-house for potato-peeling.”
We indulge in reminiscences. Kropp laughs suddenly and says: “Change at Löhne!”
That was our corporal’s favourite game. Löhne is a railway junction. In order that our fellows going on shouldn’t
get lost there, Himmelstoss used to practise the change in the barrack-room. We had to learn that at Löhne, to reach
the branch-line, we must pass through a subway. The beds represented the subway and each man stood at attention
on the left side of his bed. Then came the command: “Change at Löhne!” and like lightning everyone scrambled under
the bed to the opposite side. We practised this for hours on end.
Meanwhile the German aeroplane has been shot down. Like a comet it bursts into a streamer of smoke and falls
headlong. Kropp has lost the bottle of beer. Disgruntled he counts out the money from his wallet.
“Surely Himmelstoss was a very different fellow as a postman,” say I, after Albert’s disappointment has subsided.
“Then how does it come that he’s such a bully as a drill-sergeant?”
The question revives Kropp, more particularly as he hears there’s no more beer in the canteen. “It’s not only
Himmelstoss, there are lots of them. As sure as they get a stripe or a star they become different men, just as though
they’d swallowed concrete.”
“That’s the uniform,” I suggest.
“Roughly speaking it is,” says Kat, and prepares for a long speech; “but the root of the matter lies somewhere. For
instance, if you train a dog to eat potatoes and then afterwards put a piece of meat in front of him, he’ll snap at it, it’s
his nature. And if you give a man a little bit of authority he behaves just the same way, he snaps at it too. The things
are precisely the same. In himself man is essentially a beast, only he butters it over like a slice of bread with a little
decorum. The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other. The mischief is merely that
each one has much too much power. A non-com. can torment a private, a lieutenant a non-com., a captain a
lieutenant, until he goes mad. And because they know they can, they all soon acquire the habit more or less. Take a
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simple case: we are marching back from the parade-ground dog-tired. Then comes the order to sing. We sing
spiritlessly, for it is all we can do to trudge along with our rifles. At once the company is turned about and has to do
another hour’s drill as punishment. On the march back the order to sing is given again, and once more we start. Now
what’s the use of all that? It’s simply that the company commander’s head has been turned by having so much power.
And nobody blames him. On the contrary, he is praised for being strict. That, of course, is only a trifling instance, but
it holds also in very different affairs. Now I ask you: Let a man be whatever you like in peacetime, what occupation is
there in which he can behave like that without getting a crack on the nose? He can only do that in the army. It goes to
the heads of them all, you see. And the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him.”
“They say, of course, there must be discipline,” ventures Kropp meditatively.
“True,” growls Kat, “they always do. And it may be so; still it oughtn’t to become an abuse. But you try to explain
that to a black-smith or a labourer or a workman, you try to make that clear to a peasant—and that’s what most of
them are here. All he sees is that he has been put through the mill and sent to the front, but he knows well enough
what he must do and what not. It’s simply amazing, I tell you, that the ordinary tommy sticks it all up here in the
front-line. Simply amazing!”
No one protests. Everyone knows that drill ceases only in the front-line and begins again a few miles behind, with
all the absurdities of saluting and parade. It is an Iron law that the soldier must be employed under every
Here Tjaden comes up with a flushed face. He is so excited that he stutters. Beaming with satisfaction he stammers
out: “Himmelstoss is on his way. He’s coming to the front!”
Tjaden has a special grudge against Himmelstoss, because of the way he educated him in the barracks. Tjaden wets his
bed, he does it at night in his sleep. Himmelstoss maintained that it was sheer laziness and invented a method worthy
of himself for curing Tjaden.
He hunted up another piss-a-bed, named Kindervater, from a neighbouring unit, and quartered him with Tjaden.
In the huts there were the usual bunks, one above the other in pairs, with mattresses or wire netting. Himmelstoss put
these two so that one occupied the upper and the other the lower bunk. The man underneath of course had a vile
time. The next night they were changed over and the lower one put on top so that he could retaliate. That was
Himmelstoss’s system of self-education.
The idea was low but not ill-conceived. Unfortunately it accomplished nothing because the first assumption was
wrong: it was not laziness in either of them. Anyone who looked at their sallow skin could see that. The matter ended
in one of them always sleeping on the floor, where he frequently caught cold.
Meanwhile Haie sits down beside us. He winks at me and rubs his paws thoughtfully. We once spent the finest day
of our army-life together—the day before we left for the front. We had been allotted to one of the recently formed
regiments, but were first to be sent back for equipment to the garrison, not to the reinforcement-depot, of course, but
to another barracks. We were due to leave the next morning early. In the evening we prepared ourselves to square
accounts with Himmelstoss.
We had sworn for weeks past to do this. Kropp had even gone so far as to propose entering the postal service in
peacetime in order to be Himmelstoss’s superior when he became a postman again. He revelled in the thought of how
he would grind him. It was this that made it impossible for him to crush us altogether—we always reckoned that
later, at the end of the war, we would have our revenge on him.
In the meantime we decided to give him a good hiding. What could he do to us anyhow if he didn’t recognize us
and we left early in the morning?
We knew which pub he used to visit every evening. Returning to the barracks he had to go along a dark,
uninhabited road. There we waited for him behind a pile of stones. I had a bed-cover with me. We trembled with
suspense, hoping he would be alone. At last we heard his footstep, which we recognized easily, so often had we heard
it in the mornings as the door flew open and he bawled: “Get up!”
“Alone?” whispered Kropp.
I slipped round the pile of stones with Tjaden.
Himmelstoss seemed a little elevated; he was singing. His belt-buckle gleamed. He came on unsuspectingly.
We seized the bed-cover, made a quick leap, threw it over his head from behind and pulled it round him so that he
stood there in a white sack unable to raise his arms. The singing stopped. The next moment Haie Westhus was there,
and spreading his arms he shoved us back in order to be first in. He put himself in position with evident satisfaction,
raised his arm like a signal-mast and his hand like a coal-shovel and fetched such a blow on the white sack as would
have felled an ox.
Himmelstoss was thrown down, he rolled five yards and started to yell. But we were prepared for that and had
brought a cushion. Haie squatted down, laid the cushion on his knees, felt where Himmelstoss’s head was and pressed
it down on the pillow. Immediately his voice was muffled. Haie let him get a gasp of air every so often, when he
would give a mighty yell that was immediately hushed.
Tjaden unbuttoned Himmelstoss’s braces and pulled down his trousers, holding the whip meantime in his teeth.
Then he stood up and set to work.
It was a wonderful picture: Himmelstoss on the ground; Haie bending over him with a fiendish grin and his mouth
open with bloodlust, Himmelstoss’s head on his knees; then the convulsed striped drawers, the knock knees, executing
at every blow most original movements in the lowered breeches, and towering over them like a woodcutter the
indefatigable Tjaden. In the end we had to drag him away to get our turn.
Finally Haie stood Himmelstoss on his feet again and gave one last personal remonstrance. As he stretched out his
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right arm preparatory to giving him a box on the ear he looked as if he were going to reach down a star.
Himmelstoss toppled over. Haie stood him up again, made ready and fetched him a second, well-aimed beauty
with the left hand. Himmelstoss yelled and made off on all fours. His striped postman’s backside gleamed in the
We disappeared at full speed.
Haie looked round once again and said wrathfully, satisfied and rather mysteriously:
“Revenge is black-pudding.”
Himmelstoss ought to have been pleased; his saying that we should each educate one another had borne fruit for
himself. We had become successful students of his method.
He never discovered whom he had to thank for the business. At any rate he scored a bed-cover out of it; for when
we returned a few hours later to look for it, it was no longer to be found.
That evening’s work made us more or less content to leave next morning. And an old buffer was pleased to
describe us as “young heroes.”
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WE HAVE TO GO up on wiring fatigue. The motor lorries roll up after dark. We climb in. It is a warm evening and the
twilight seems like a canopy under whose shelter we feel drawn together. Even the stingy Tjaden gives me a cigarette
and then a light.
We stand jammed in together, shoulder to shoulder, there is no room to sit. But we do not expect that. Müller is in
a good mood for once; he is wearing his new boots.
The engines drone, the lorries bump and rattle. The roads are worn and full of holes. We dare not show a light so
we lurch along and are often almost pitched out. That does not worry us, however. It can happen if it likes; a broken
arm is better than a hole in the guts, and many a man would be thankful enough for such a chance of finding his way
home again.
Beside us stream the munition-columns in long files. They are making the pace, they overtake us continually. We
joke with them and they answer back.
A wall becomes visible, it belongs to a house which lies on the side of the road. I suddenly prick up my ears. Am I
deceived? Again I hear distinctly the cackle of geese. A glance at Katczinsky—a glance from him to me; we
understand one another.
“Kat, I hear some aspirants for the frying-pan over there.”
He nods. “It will be attended to when we come back. I have their number.”
Of course Kat has their number. He knows all about every leg of goose within a radius of fifteen miles.
The lorries arrive at the artillery lines. The gun-emplacements are camouflaged with bushes against aerial
observation, and look like a kind of military Feast of the Tabernacles. These branches might seem gay and cheerful
were not cannon embowered there.
The air becomes acrid with the smoke of the guns and the fog. The fumes of powder taste bitter on the tongue.
The roar of the guns makes our lorry stagger, the reverberation rolls raging away to the rear, everything quakes. Our
faces change imperceptibly. We are not, indeed, in the front-line, but only in the reserves, yet in every face can be
read: This is the front, now we are within its embrace.
It is not fear. Men who have been up as often as we have become thick-skinned. Only the young recruits are
agitated. Kat explains to them: “That was a twelve-inch. You can tell by the report; now you’ll hear the burst.”
But the muffled thud of the burst does not reach us. It is swallowed up in the general murmur of the front. Kat
listens: “There’ll be a bombardment to-night.”
We all listen. The front is restless. “The Tommies are firing already,” says Kropp.
The shelling can be heard distinctly. It is the English batteries to the right of our section. They are beginning an
hour too soon. According to us they start punctually at ten o’clock.
“What’s got them?” says Müller, “their clocks must be fast.”
“There’ll be a bombardment, I tell you. I can feel it in my bones.” Kat shrugs his shoulders.
Three guns open fire close beside us. The burst of flame shoots across the fog, the guns roar and boom. We shiver
and are glad to think that we shall be back in the huts early in the morning.
Our faces are neither paler nor more flushed than usual; they are not more tense nor more flabby—and yet they
are changed. We feel that in our blood a contact has shot home. That is no figure of speech; it is fact. It is the front,
the consciousness of the front, that makes this contact. The moment that the first shells whistle over and the air is rent
with the explosions there is suddenly in our veins, in our hands, in our eyes a tense waiting, a watching, a heightening
alertness, a strange sharpening of the senses. The body with one bound is in full readiness.
It often seems to me as though it were the vibrating, shuddering air that with a noiseless leap springs upon us; or
as though the front itself emitted an electric current which awakened unknown nerve-centres.
Every time it is the same. We start out for the front plain soldiers, either cheerful or gloomy: then come the first
gun-emplacements and every word of our speech has a new ring.
When Kat stands in front of the hut and says: “There’ll be a bombardment,” that is merely his own opinion; but if
he says it here, then the sentence has the sharpness of a bayonet in the moonlight, it cuts clean through the thought, it
thrusts nearer and speaks to this unknown thing that is awakened in us, a dark meaning—“There’ll be a
bombardment.” Perhaps it is our inner and most secret life that shivers and falls on guard.
To me the front is a mysterious whirlpool. Though I am in still water far away from its centre, I feel the whirl of the
vortex sucking me slowly, irresistibly, inescapable into itself.
From the earth, from the air, sustaining forces pour into us—mostly from the earth. To no man does the earth
mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face
and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he
stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live,
to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often for ever.
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Earth with thy folds, and hollows, and holes, into which a man may fling himself and crouch down. In the spasm
of terror, under the hailing of annihilation, in the bellowing death of the explosions, O Earth, thou grantest us the
great resisting surge of new-won life. Our being, almost utterly carried away by the fury of the storm, streams back
through our hands from thee, and we, thy redeemed ones, bury ourselves in thee, and through the long minutes in a
mute agony of hope bite into thee with our lips!
At the sound of the first droning of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the
animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure,
less fallible, than consciousness. One cannot explain it. A man is walking along without thought or heed;—suddenly
he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him;—yet he cannot remember
either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down. But had he not abandoned himself
to the impulse he would now be a heap of mangled flesh. It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to
the ground and saved us, without our knowing how. If it were not so, there would not be one man alive from Flanders
to the Vosges.
We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers—we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the
instant human animals.
An indigent looking wood receives us. We pass by the soup-kitchens. Under cover of the wood we climb out. The
lorries turn back. They are to collect us again in the morning before dawn.
Mist and the smoke of guns lie breast-high over the fields. The moon is shining. Along the road troops file. Their
helmets gleam softly in the moonlight. The heads and the rifles stand out above the white mist, nodding heads,
rocking barrels.
Farther on the mist ends. Here the heads become figures; coats, trousers, and boots appear out of the mist as from
a milky pool. They become a column. The column marches on, straight ahead, the figures resolve themselves into a
block, individuals are no longer recognizable, the dark wedge presses onward, fantastically topped by the heads and
the weapons floating on the milky pool. A column—not men at all.
Guns and munition wagons are moving along a cross-road. The backs of the horses shine in the moonlight, their
movements are beautiful, they toss their heads, and their eyes gleam. The guns and the wagons float past the dim
background of the moonlit landscape, the riders in their steel helmets resemble knights of a forgotten time; it is
strangely beautiful and arresting.
We push on to the pioneer dump. Some of us load our shoulders with pointed and twisted iron stakes; others
thrust smooth iron rods through rolls of wire and go off with them. The burdens are awkward and heavy.
The ground becomes more broken. From ahead come warnings: “Look out, deep shell-hole on the left”—“Mind,
Our eyes peer out, our feet and our sticks feel in front of us before they take the weight of the body. Suddenly the
line halts; I bump my face against the roll of wire carried by the man in front and curse.
There are some shell-smashed lorries in the road. Another order: “Cigarettes and pipes out.” We are near the line.
In the meantime it has become pitch dark. We skirt a small wood and then have the front-line immediately before
An uncertain red glow spreads along the skyline from one to the other. It is in perpetual movement, punctuated
with the bursts of flame from the nozzles of the batteries. Balls of light rise up high above it, silver and red spheres
which explode and rain down in showers of red, white, and green stars. French rockets go up, which unfold a sick
parachute to the air and drift slowly down. They light up everything as bright as day, their light shines on us and we
see our shadows sharply outlined on the ground. They hover for the space of a minute before they burn out.
Immediately fresh ones shoot up in the sky, and again green, red, and blue stars.
“Bombardment,” says Kat.
The thunder of the guns swells to a single heavy roar and then breaks up again into separate explosions. The dry
bursts of the machine-guns rattle. Above us the air teems with invisible swift movement, with howls, pipings, and
hisses. They are smaller shells;—and amongst them, booming through the night like an organ, go the great coal-boxes
and the heavies. They have a hoarse, distant bellow like a rutting stag and make their way high above the howl and
whistle of the smaller shells. It reminds me of flocks of wild geese when I hear them. Last autumn the wild geese flew
day after day across the path of the shells.
The searchlights begin to sweep the dark sky. They slide along it like gigantic tapering rulers. One of them pauses,
and quivers a little. Immediately a second is beside him, a black insect is caught between them and tries to escape—
the airman. He hesitates, is blinded and falls.
At regular intervals we ram in the iron stakes. Two men hold a roll and the others spool off the barbed wire. It is that
awful stuff with close-set, long spikes. I am not used to unrolling it and tear my hand.
After a few hours it is done. But there is still some time before the lorries come. Most of us lie down and sleep. I
try also, but it has turned too chilly. We know we are not far from the sea because we are constantly waked by the
cold. Once I fall fast asleep. Then wakening suddenly with a start I do not know where I am. I see the stars, I see the
rockets, and for a moment have the impression that I have fallen asleep at a garden fête. I don’t know whether it is
morning or evening, I lie in the pale cradle of the twilight, and listen for soft words which will come, soft and near—
am I crying? I put my hand to my eyes, it is so fantastic, am I a child? Smooth skin;—it lasts only a second, then I
recognize the silhouette of Katczinsky. The old veteran, he sits quietly and smokes his pipe—a covered pipe of course.
When he sees I am awake, he says: “That gave you a fright. It was only a nose-cap, it landed in the bushes over there.”
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I sit up, I feel myself strangely alone. It’s good Kat is there. He gazes thoughtfully at the front and says:
“Mighty fine fire-works if they weren’t so dangerous.”
One lands behind us. Some recruits jump up terrified. A couple of minutes later another comes over, nearer this
time. Kat knocks out his pipe. “We’re in for it.”
Then it begins in earnest. We crawl away as well as we can in our haste. The next lands fair amongst us. Two
fellows cry out. Green rockets shoot up on the sky-line. Barrage. The mud flies high, fragments whizz past. The crack
of the guns is heard long after the roar of the explosions.
Besides us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror. He has buried his face in his hands, his helmet has fallen off. I
fish hold of it and try to put it back on his head. He looks up, pushes the helmet off and like a child creeps under my
arm, his head close to my breast. The little shoulders heave. Shoulders just like Kemmerich’s. I let him be. So that the
helmet should be of some use I stick it on his behind;—not for a jest, but out of consideration, since that is his highest
part. And though there is plenty of meat there, a shot in it can be damned painful. Besides, a man has to lie for
months on his belly in the hospital, and afterwards he would be almost sure to have a limp.
It’s got someone pretty badly. Cries are heard between the explosions.
At last it grows quiet. The fire has lifted over us and is now dropping on the reserves. We risk a look. Red rockets
shoot up to the sky. Apparently there’s an attack coming.
Where we are it is still quiet. I sit up and shake the recruit by the shoulder. “All over, kid! It’s all right this time.”
He looks round him dazedly. “You’ll get used to it soon,” I tell him.
He sees his helmet and puts it on. Gradually he comes to. Then suddenly he turns fiery red and looks confused.
Cautiously he reaches his hand to his behind and looks at me dismally.
I understand at once: Gun-shy. That wasn’t the reason I had stuck his helmet over it. “That’s no disgrace,” I
reassure him: “Many’s the man before you has had his pants full after the first bombardment. Go behind that bush
there and throw your underpants away. Get along——”
He goes off. Things become quieter, but the cries do not cease. “What’s up, Albert?” I ask.
“A couple of columns over there got it in the neck.”
The cries continued. It is not men, they could not cry so terribly.
“Wounded horses,” says Kat.
It’s unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror,
and groaning.
We are pale. Detering stands up. “God! For God’s sake! Shoot them.”
He is a farmer and very fond of horses. It gets under his skin. Then as if deliberately the fire dies down again. The
screaming of the beasts becomes louder. One can no longer distinguish whence in this now quiet silvery landscape it
comes; ghostly, invisible, it is everywhere, between heaven and earth it rolls on immeasurably. Detering raves and
yells out: “Shoot them! Shoot them, can’t you? Damn you again!”
“They must look after the men first,” says Kat quietly.
We stand up and try to see where it is. If we could only see the animals we should be able to endure it better.
Müller has a pair of glasses. We see a dark group, bearers with stretchers, and larger black clumps moving about.
Those are the wounded horses. But not all of them. Some gallop away in the distance, fall down, and then run on
farther. The belly of one is ripped open, the guts trail out. He becomes tangled in them and falls, then he stands up
Detering raises up his gun and aims. Kat hits it in the air. “Are you mad——?”
Detering trembles and throws his rifle on the ground.
We sit down and hold our ears. But this appalling noise, these groans and screams penetrate, they penetrate
We can bear almost anything. But now the sweat breaks out on us. We must get up and run no matter where, but
where these cries can no longer be heard. And it is not men, only horses.
From the dark group stretchers move off again. Then single shots crack out. The black heap convulses and then
sinks down. At last! But still it is not the end. The men cannot overtake the wounded beasts which fly in their pain,
their wide open mouths full of anguish. One of the men goes down on one knee, a shot—one horse drops—another.
The last one props itself on its forelegs and drags itself round in a circle like a merry-go-round; squatting, it drags
round in circles on its stiffened forelegs, apparently its back is broken. The soldier runs up and shoots it. Slowly,
humbly, it sinks to the ground.
We take our hands from our ears. The cries are silenced. Only a long-drawn, dying sigh still hangs on the air.
Then only again the rockets, the singing of the shells and the stars there—most strange.
Detering walks up and down cursing: “Like to know what harm they’ve done.” He returns to it once again. His
voice is agitated, it sounds almost dignified as he says: “I tell you it is the vilest baseness to use horses in the war.”
We go back. It is time we returned to the lorries. The sky has become brighter. Three o’clock in the morning. The
breeze is fresh and cool, the pale hour makes our faces look grey.
We trudge onward in single file through the trenches and shell-holes and come again to the zone of mist.
Katczinsky is restive, that’s a bad sign.
“What’s up, Kat?” says Kropp.
“I wish I were back home.” Home—he means the huts.
“We’ll soon be out of it, Kat.”
He is nervous. “I don’t know, I don’t know——”
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We come to the communication-trench and then to the open fields. The little wood reappears; we know every foot
of ground here. There’s the cemetery with the mounds and the black crosses.
That moment it breaks out behind us, swells, roars, and thunders. We duck down—a cloud of flame shoots up a
hundred yards ahead of us.
The next minute under a second explosion part of the wood rises slowly in the air, three or four trees sail up and
then crash to pieces. The shells begin to hiss like safety-valves—heavy fire——
“Take cover!” yells somebody—“Cover!”
The fields are flat, the wood is too distant and dangerous—the only cover is the graveyard and the mounds. We
stumble across in the dark and as though he had been spat there every man lies glued behind a mound.
Not a moment too soon. The dark goes mad. It heaves and raves. Darknesses blacker than the night rush on us
with giant strides, over us and away. The flames of the explosions light up the graveyard.
There is no escape anywhere. By the light of the shells I try to get a view of the fields. They are a surging sea,
daggers of flame from the explosions leap up like fountains. It is impossible for anyone to break through it.
The wood vanishes, it is pounded, crushed, torn to pieces. We must stay here in the graveyard.
The earth bursts before us. It rains clods. I feel a smack. My sleeve is torn away by a splinter. I shut my fist. No
pain. Still that does not reassure me: wounds don’t hurt till afterwards. I feel the arm all over. It is grazed but sound.
Now a crack on the skull, I begin to lose consciousness. Like lightning the thought comes to me: Don’t faint! I sink
down in the black broth and immediately come up to the top again. A splinter slashes into my helmet, but has already
travelled so far that it does not go through. I wipe the mud out of my eyes. A hole is torn up in front of me. Shells
hardly ever land in the same hole twice, I’ll get into it. With one lunge, I shoot as flat as a fish over the ground; there
it whistles again, quickly I crouch together, claw for cover, feel something on the left, shove in beside it, it gives way,
I groan, the earth leaps, the blast thunders in my ears, I creep under the yielding thing, cover myself with it, draw it
over me, it is wood, cloth, cover, cover, miserable cover against the whizzing splinters.
I open my eyes—my fingers grasp a sleeve, an arm. A wounded man? I yell to him—no answer—a dead man. My
hand gropes farther, splinters of wood—now I remember again that we are lying in the graveyard.
But the shelling is stronger than everything. It wipes out the sensibilities, I merely crawl still farther under the
coffin, it shall protect me, though Death himself lies in it.
Before me gapes the shell-hole. I grasp it with my eyes as with fists. With one leap I must be in it. There, I get a
smack in the face, a hand clamps onto my shoulder—has the dead man waked up?—The hand shakes me, I turn my
head, in the second of light I stare into the face of Katczinsky, he has his mouth wide open and is yelling. I hear
nothing, he rattles me, comes nearer, in a momentary lull his voice reaches me: “Gas—Gaas—Gaaas—Pass it on.”
I grab for my gas-mask. Some distance from me there lies someone. I think of nothing but this: That fellow there
must know: Gaaas—Gaaas——
I call, I lean toward him, I swipe at him with the satchel, he doesn’t see—once again, again—he merely ducks—it’s
a recruit—I look at Kat desperately, he has his mask on—I pull out mine, too, my helmet falls to one side, it slips over
my face, I reach the man, his satchel is on the side nearest me, I seize the mask, pull it over his head, he understands,
I let go and with a jump drop into the shell-hole.
The dull thud of the gas-shells mingles with the crashes of the light explosives. A bell sounds between the
explosions, gongs, and metal clappers warning everyone—Gas—Gas—Gaas.
Someone plumps down behind me, another. I wipe the goggles of my mask clear of the moist breath. It is Kat,
Kropp, and someone else. All four of us lie there in heavy, watchful suspense and breathe as lightly as possible.
These first minutes with the mask decide between life and death: is it air-tight? I remember the awful sights in the
hospital: the gas patients who in day-long suffocation cough up their burnt lungs in clots.
Cautiously, the mouth applied to the valve, I breathe. The gas still creeps over the ground and sinks into all
hollows. Like a big, soft jellyfish it floats into our shell-hole and lolls there obscenely. I nudge Kat, it is better to crawl
out and lie on top than to stay where the gas collects most. But we don’t get as far as that; a second bombardment
begins. It is no longer as though shells roared; it is the earth itself raging.
With a crash something black bears down on us. It lands close beside us; a coffin thrown up.
I see Kat move and I crawl across. The coffin has hit the fourth man in our hole on his outstretched arm. He tries
to tear off his gas-mask with the other hand. Kropp seizes him just in time, twists the hand sharply behind his back
and holds it fast.
Kat and I proceed to free the wounded arm. The coffin lid is loose and bursts open, we are easily able to pull it off,
we toss the corpse out, it slides down to the bottom of the shell-hole, then we try to loosen the under-part.
Fortunately the man swoons and Kropp is able to help us. We no longer have to be careful, but work away till the
coffin gives with a sigh before the spade that we have dug in under it.
It has grown lighter. Kat takes a piece of the lid, places it under the shattered arm, and we wrap all our bandages
round it. For the moment we can do no more.
Inside the gas-mask my head booms and roars—it is nigh bursting. My lungs are tight, they breathe always the
same hot, used-up air, the veins on my temples are swollen. I feel I am suffocating.
A grey light filters through to us. I climb out over the edge of the shell-hole. In the dirty twilight lies a leg torn
clean off; the boot is quite whole, I take that all in at a glance. Now something stands up a few yards distant. I polish
the windows, in my excitement they are immediately dimmed again. I peer through them, the man there no longer
wears his mask.
I wait some seconds—he has not collapsed—he looks around and makes a few paces—rattling in my throat I tear
my mask off too and fall down, the air streams into me like cold water, my eyes are bursting the wave sweeps over me
and extinguishes me.
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The shelling has ceased, I turn towards the crater beckoning to the others. They take off their masks. We lift up the
wounded man, one taking his splintered arm. And so we stumble off hastily.
The graveyard is a mass of wreckage. Coffins and corpses lie strewn about. They have been killed once again; but
each of them that was flung up saved one of us.
The hedge is destroyed, the rails of the light railway are torn up and rise stiffly in the air in great arches. Someone
lies in front of us. We stop; Kropp goes on alone with the wounded man.
The man on the ground is a recruit. His hip is covered with blood; he is so exhausted that I feel for my waterbottle
where I have rum and tea. Kat restrains my hand and stoops over him.
“Where’s it got you comrade?”
His eyes move. He is too weak to answer.
We slit open his trousers carefully. He groans. “Gently, gently, it is much better——”
If he has been hit in the stomach, he oughtn’t to drink anything. There’s no vomiting, that’s a good sign. We lay
the hip bare. It is one mass of mince-meat and bone splinters. The joint has been hit. This lad won’t walk any more.
I wet his temples with a moistened finger and give him a swig. His eyes move again. We see now that the right
arm is bleeding as well.
Kat spreads out two wads of dressing as wide as possible so that they will cover the wound. I look for something
to bind loosely round it. We have nothing more, so I slip up the wounded man’s trouser leg still farther in order to use
a piece of his underpants as a bandage. But he is wearing none. I now look at him closely. He is the fair-headed boy of
a little while ago.
In the meantime Kat has taken a bandage from a dead man’s pocket and we carefully bind the wound. I say to the
youngster who looks at us fixedly: “We’re going for a stretcher now——”
Then he opens his mouth and whispers: “Stay here——”
“We’ll be back again soon,” says Kat. “We are only going to get a stretcher for you.”
We don’t know if he understands. He whimpers like a child and plucks at us: “Don’t go away——”
Kat looks around and whispers: “Shouldn’t we just take a revolver and put an end to it?”
The youngster will hardly survive the carrying, and at the most he will only last a few days. What he has gone
through so far is nothing to what he’s in for till he dies. Now he is numb and feels nothing. In an hour he will become
one screaming bundle of intolerable pain. Every day that he can live will be a howling torture. And to whom does it
matter whether he has them or not——
I nod. “Yes, Kat, we ought to put him out of his misery.”
He stands still a moment. He has made up his mind. We look round—but we are no longer alone. A little group is
gathering, from the shell-holes and trenches appear heads.
We get a stretcher.
Kat shakes his head. “Such a kid——” He repeats it. “Young innocents——”
Our losses are less than was to be expected—five killed and eight wounded. It was in fact quite a short bombardment.
Two of our dead lie in the upturned graves. We merely throw the earth in on them.
We go back. We trot off silently in single file one behind the other. The wounded are taken to the dressing-station.
The morning is cloudy. The bearers make a fuss about numbers and tickets, the wounded whimper. It begins to rain.
An hour later we reach our lorries and climb in. There is more room now than there was. The rain becomes
heavier. We take out waterproof sheets and spread them over our heads. The rain rattles down, and flows off at the
sides in streams. The lorries bump through the holes, and we rock to and fro in a half-sleep.
Two men in the front of the lorry have long forked poles. They watch for telephone wires which hang crosswise
over the road so low that they might easily pull our heads off. The two fellows take them at the right moment on their
poles and lift them over behind us. We hear their call “Mind—wire—,” dip the knee in a half-sleep and straighten up
Monotonously the lorries sway, monotonously come the calls, monotonously falls the rain. It falls on our heads
and on the heads of the dead up in the line, on the body of the little recruit with the wound that is so much too big
for his hip; it falls on Kemmerich’s grave; it falls in our hearts.
An explosion sounds somewhere. We wince, our eyes become tense, our hands are ready to vault over the side of
the lorry into the ditch by the road.
Nothing happens—only the monotonous cry: “Mind—wire,”—our knees bend—we are again half asleep.
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KILLING EACH separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds. The little beasts are hard and the everlasting
cracking with one’s fingernails very soon becomes wearisome. So Tjaden has rigged up the lid of a boot-polish tin
with a piece of wire over the lighted stump of a candle. The lice are simply thrown into this little pan. Crack! and
they’re done for.
We sit around with our shirts on our knees, our bodies naked to the warm air and our hands at work. Haie has a
particularly fine brand of louse: they have a red cross on their heads. He suggests that he brought them back from the
hospital at Thourhout, where they attended personally on a surgeon-general. He says he means to use the fat that
slowly accumulates in the tin-lid for polishing his boots, and roars with laughter for half an hour at his own joke.
But he gets little response to-day; we are too preoccupied with another affair.
The rumour has materialized. Himmelstoss has come. He appeared yesterday; we’ve already heard the well-known
voice. He seems to have overdone it with a couple of young recruits on the ploughed field at home and unknown to
him the son of the local magistrate was watching. That cooked his goose.
He will get some surprises here. Tjaden has been meditating for hours what to say to him. Haie gazes thoughtfully
at his great paws and winks at me. The thrashing was the high water mark of his life. He tells me he often dreams of
it. Kropp and Müller are amusing themselves. From somewhere or other, probably the pioneer-cookhouse, Kropp has
bagged for himself a mess-tin full of beans. Müller squints hungrily into it but checks himself and says: “Albert, what
would you do if it were suddenly peace-time again?”
“There won’t be any peace-time,” says Albert bluntly.
“Well, but if—” persists Müller, “what would you do?”
“Clear out of this!” growls Kropp.
“Of course. And then what?”
“Get drunk,” says Albert.
“Don’t talk rot, I mean seriously—”
“So do I,” says Kropp, “what else should a man do?”
Kat becomes interested. He levies tribute on Kropp’s tin of beans, swallows some, then considers for a while and
says: “You might get drunk first, of course, but then you’d take the next train for home and mother. Peace-time, man,
He fumbles in his oil-cloth pocket-book for a photograph and suddenly shows it all round. “My old woman!” Then
he puts it back and swears: “Damned lousy war——”
“It’s all very well for you to talk,” I tell him. “You’ve a wife and children.”
“True,” he nods, “and I have to see to it that they’ve something to eat.”
We laugh. “They won’t lack for that, Kat, you’d scrounge it from somewhere.”
Müller is insatiable and gives himself no peace. He wakes Haie Westhus out of his dream. “Haie, what would you
do if it was peace-time?”
“Give you a kick in the backside for the way you talk,” I say. “How does it come about exactly?”
“How does the cow-shit come on the roof?” retorts Müller laconically, and turns to Haie Westhus again.
It is too much for Haie. He shakes his freckled head:
“You mean when the war’s over?”
“Exactly. You’ve said it.”
“Well, there’d be women of course, eh?”—Haie licks his lips.
“By Jove, yes,” says Haie, his face melting, “then I’d grab some good buxom dame, some real kitchen wench with
plenty to get hold of, you know, and jump straight into bed. Just you think, boys, a real feather-bed with a spring
mattress; I wouldn’t put trousers on again for a week.”
Everyone is silent. The picture is too good. Our flesh creeps. At last Müller pulls himself together and says:
“And then what?”
A pause. Then Haie explains rather awkwardly: “If I were a non-com. I’d stay with the Prussians and serve out my
“Haie, you’ve got a screw loose, surely!” I say.
“Have you ever dug peat?” he retorts good-naturedly. “You try it.”
Then he pulls a spoon out of the top of his boot and reaches over into Kropp’s mess-tin.
“It can’t be worse than digging trenches,” I ventured.
Haie chews and grins: “It lasts longer though. And there’s no getting out of it either.”
“But, man, surely it’s better at home.”
“Some ways,” says he, and with open mouth sinks into a day-dream.
You can see what he is thinking. There is the mean little hut on the moors, the hard work on the heath from
morning till night in the heat, the miserable pay, the dirty labourer’s clothes.
“In the army in peace-time you’ve nothing to trouble about,” he goes on, “your food’s found every day, or else you
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kick up a row; you’ve a bed, every week clean underwear like a perfect gent, you do your non-com.’s duty, you have a
good suit of clothes; in the evening you’re a free man and go off to the pub.”
Haie is extraordinarily set on his idea. He’s in love with it.
“And when your twelve years are up you get your pension and become the village bobby, and you can walk about
the whole day.”
He’s already sweating on it. “And just you think how you’d be treated. Here a dram, there a pint. Everybody wants
to be well in with a bobby.”
“You’ll never be a non-com. though, Haie,” interrupts Kat.
Haie looks at him sadly and is silent. His thoughts still linger over the clear evenings in autumn, the Sundays in
the heather, the village bells, the afternoons and evenings with the servant girls, the fried bacon and barley, the
carefree hours in the ale-house——
He can’t part with all these dreams so abruptly; he merely growls: “What silly questions you do ask.”
He pulls his shirt over his head and buttons up his tunic.
“What would you do, Tjaden!” asks Kropp.
Tjaden thinks of one thing only. “See to it that Himmelstoss didn’t get past me.”
Apparently he would like most to have him in a cage and sail into him with a club every morning. To Kropp he
says warmly: “If I were in your place I’d see to it that I became a lieutenant. Then you could grind him till the water
in his backside boils.”
“And you, Detering!” asks Müller like an inquisitor. He’s a born schoolmaster with all his questions.
Detering is sparing with his words. But on this subject he speaks. He looks at the sky and says only the one
sentence: “I would go straight on with the harvesting.”
Then he gets up and walks off.
He is worried. His wife has to look after the farm. They’ve already taken away two more of his horses. Every day
he reads the papers that come, to see whether it is raining in his little corner of Oldenburg. They haven’t brought in
the hay yet.
At this moment Himmelstoss appears. He comes straight up to our group. Tjaden’s face turns red. He stretches his
length on the grass and shuts his eyes in excitement.
Himmelstoss is a little hesitant, his gait becomes slower. Then he marches up to us. No one makes any motion to
stand up. Kropp looks up at him with interest.
He continues to stand in front of us and wait. As no one says anything he launches a “Well!”
A couple of seconds go by. Apparently Himmelstoss doesn’t quite know what to do. He would like most to set us
all on the run again. But he seems to have learned already that the front-line isn’t a parade ground. He tries it on
though, and by addressing himself to one instead of to all of us hopes to get some response. Kropp is nearest, so he
favours him.
“Well, you here too?”
But Albert’s no friend of his. “A bit longer than you, I fancy,” he retorts.
The red moustache twitches: “You don’t recognize me any more, what?”
Tjaden now opens his eyes. “I do though.”
Himmelstoss turns to him: “Tjaden, isn’t it?”
Tjaden lifts his head. “And do you know what you are?”
Himmelstoss is disconcerted. “Since when have we become so familiar? I don’t remember that we ever slept in the
gutter together?”
He has no idea what to make of the situation. He didn’t expect this open hostility. But he is on his guard: he has
already had some rot dinned into him about getting a shot in the back.
The question about the gutter makes Tjaden so mad that he becomes almost witty: “No you slept there by
Himmelstoss begins to boil. But Tjaden gets in ahead of him. He must bring off his insult: “Wouldn’t you like to
know what you are? A dirty hound, that’s what you are. I’ve been wanting to tell you that for a long time.”
The satisfaction of months shines in his dull pig’s eyes as he spits out: “Dirty hound!”
Himmelstoss lets fly too, now. “What’s that, you muckrake, you dirty peat-stealer? Stand up there, bring your
heels together when your superior officer speaks to you.”
Tjaden waves him off. “You take a run and jump at yourself, Himmelstoss.”
Himmelstoss is a raging book of army regulations. The Kaiser couldn’t be more insulted. “Tjaden, I command you,
as your superior officer: Stand up!”
“Anything else you would like?” asks Tjaden.
“Will you obey my order or not?”
Tjaden replies, without knowing it, in the well-known classical phrase.
At the same time he ventilates his backside.
“I’ll have you court-martialled,” storms Himmelstoss.
We watch him disappear in the direction of the Orderly Room. Haie and Tjaden burst into a regular peat-digger’s
bellow. Haie laughs so much that he dislocates his jaw, and suddenly stands there helpless with his mouth wide open.
Albert has to put it back again by giving it a blow with his fist.
Kat is troubled: “If he reports you, it’ll be pretty serious.”
“Do you think he will?” asks Tjaden.
“Sure to,” I say.
“The least you’ll get will be five days close arrest,” says Kat.
That doesn’t worry Tjaden. “Five days clink are five days rest.”
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“And if they send you to the Fortress?” urges the thorough-going Müller.
“Well, for the time being the war will be over so far as I am concerned.”
Tjaden is a cheerful soul. There aren’t any worries for him. He goes off with Haie and Leer so that they won’t find
him in the first flush of excitement.
Müller hasn’t finished yet. He tackles Kropp again.
“Albert, if you were really at home now, what would you do?”
Kropp is contented now and more accommodating:
“How many of us were there in the class exactly?”
We count up: out of twenty, seven are dead, four wounded, one in a mad-house. That makes twelve.
“Three of them are lieutenants,” says Müller. “Do you think they would still let Kantorek sit on them?”
We guess not: we wouldn’t let ourselves be sat on for that matter.
“What do you mean by the three-fold theme in ‘William Tell’?” says Kropp reminiscently, and roars with laughter.
“What was the purpose of the Poetic League of Göttingen?” asked Müller suddenly and earnestly.
“How many children has Charles the Bald?” I interrupt gently.
“You’ll never make anything of your life, Bäumer,” croaks Müller.
“When was the battle of Zana?” Kropp wants to know.
“You lack the studious mind, Kropp, sit down, three minus——” I say.
“What offices did Lycurgus consider the most important for the state?” asks Müller, pretending to take off his
“Does it go: ‘We Germans fear God and none else in the whole world,’ or ‘We, the Germans, fear God and——’ ” I
“How many inhabitants has Melbourne?” asks Müller.
“How do you expect to succeed in life if you don’t know that?” I ask Albert hotly.
Which he caps with: “What is meant by Cohesion?”
We remember mighty little of all that rubbish. Anyway, it has never been the slightest use to us. At school nobody
ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood—nor that it is
best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn’t get jammed, as it does in the ribs.
Müller says thoughtfully: “What’s the use? We’ll have to go back and sit on the forms again.”
I consider that out of the question. “We might take a special exam.”
“That needs preparation. And if you do get through, what then? A student’s life isn’t any better. If you have no
money, you have to work like the devil.”
“It’s a bit better. But it’s rot all the same, everything they teach you.”
Kropp supports me: “How can a man take all that stuff seriously when he’s once been out here?”
“Still you must have an occupation of some sort,” insists Müller, as though he were Kantorek himself.
Albert cleans his nails with a knife. We are surprised at this delicacy. But it is merely pensiveness. He puts the
knife away and continues: “That’s just it. Kat and Detering and Haie will go back to their jobs because they had them
already. Himmelstoss too. But we never had any. How will we ever get used to one after this, here?”—he makes a
gesture toward the front.
“What we’ll want is a private income, and then we’ll be able to live by ourselves in a wood,” I say, but at once feel
ashamed of this absurd idea.
“But what will really happen when we go back?” wonders Müller, and even he is troubled.
Kropp gives a shrug. “I don’t know. Let’s get back first, then we’ll find out.”
We are all utterly at a loss. “What could we do?” I ask.
“I don’t want to do anything,” replies Kropp wearily. “You’ll be dead one day, so what does it matter? I don’t think
we’ll ever go back.”
“When I think about it, Albert,” I say after a while rolling over on my back, “when I hear the word ‘peace-time,’ it
goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing—something, you know, that it’s
worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can’t even imagine anything. All I do know is that this business about
professions and studies and salaries and so on—it makes me sick, it is and always was disgusting. I don’t see anything
at all, Albert.”
All at once everything seems to me confused and hopeless.
Kropp feels it too. “It will go pretty hard with us all. But nobody at home seems to worry much about it. Two
years of shells and bombs—a man won’t peel that off as easy as a sock.”
We agree that it’s the same for everyone; not only for us here, but everywhere, for everyone who is of our age; to
some more, and to others less. It is the common fate of our generation.
Albert expresses it: “The war has ruined us for everything.”
He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from
ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.
The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We
believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.
The Orderly Room shows signs of life. Himmelstoss seems to have stirred them up. At the head of the column trots the
fat sergeant-major. It is queer that almost all of the regular sergeant-majors are fat.
Himmelstoss follows him, thirsting for vengeance. His boots gleam in the sun.
We get up.
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“Where’s Tjaden?” the sergeant puffs.
No one knows, of course. Himmelstoss glowers at us wrathfully. “You know very well. You won’t say, that’s the
fact of the matter. Out with it!”
Fatty looks round enquiringly; but Tjaden is not to be seen. He tries another way.
“Tjaden will report at the Orderly Room in ten minutes.”
Then he steams off with Himmelstoss in his wake.
“I have a feeling that next time we go up wiring I’ll be letting a bundle of wire fall on Himmelstoss’s leg,” hints
“We’ll have quite a lot of jokes with him,” laughs Müller.
That is our sole ambition: to knock the conceit out of a postman.
I go into the hut and put Tjaden wise. He disappears.
Then we change our possy and lie down again to play cards. We know how to do that: to play cards, to swear, and
to fight. Not much for twenty years;—and yet too much for twenty years.
Half an hour later Himmelstoss is back again. Nobody pays any attention to him. He asks for Tjaden. We shrug our
“Then you’d better find him,” he persists. “Haven’t you been to look for him?”
Kropp lies back on the grass and says: “Have you ever been out here before?”
“That’s none of your business,” retorts Himmelstoss. “I expect an answer.”
“Very good,” says Kropp, getting up. “See up there where those little white clouds are. Those are anti-aircraft. We
were over there yesterday. Five dead and eight wounded. And that’s a mere nothing. Next time, when you go up with
us, before they die the fellows will come up to you, click their heels, and ask stiffly: ‘Please may I go? Please may I
hop it? We’ve been waiting here a long time for someone like you.’ ”
He sits down again and Himmelstoss disappears like a comet.
“Three days C.B.,” conjectures Kat.
“Next time I’ll let fly,” I say to Albert.
But that is the end. The case comes up for trial in the evening. In the Orderly Room sits our Lieutenant, Bertink,
and calls us in one after another.
I have to appear as a witness and explain the reason of Tjaden’s insubordination.
The story of the bed-wetting makes an impression. Himmelstoss is recalled and I repeat my statement.
“Is that right?” Bertink asks Himmelstoss.
He tries to evade the question, but in the end has to confess, for Kropp tells the same story.
“Why didn’t someone report the matter, then?” asks Bertink.
We are silent: he must know himself how much use it is in reporting such things. It isn’t usual to make complaints
in the army. He understands it all right though, and lectures Himmelstoss, making it plain to him that the front isn’t a
parade-ground. Then comes Tjaden’s turn, he gets a long sermon and three days’ open arrest. Bertink gives Kropp a
wink and one day’s open arrest. “It can’t be helped,” he says to him regretfully. He is a decent fellow.
Open arrest is quite pleasant. The clink was once a fowl-house; there we can visit the prisoners, we know how to
manage it. Close arrest would have meant the cellar.
They used to tie us to a tree, but that is forbidden now. In many ways we are treated quite like men.
An hour later after Tjaden and Kropp are settled in behind their wire-netting we make our way into them. Tjaden
greets us crowing. Then we play skat far into the night. Tjaden wins of course, the lucky wretch.
When we break it up Kat says to me: “What do you say to some roast goose?”
“Not bad,” I agree.
We climb up on a munition-wagon. The ride costs us two cigarettes. Kat has marked the spot exactly. The shed
belongs to a regimental headquarters. I agree to get the goose and receive my instructions. The out-house is behind
the wall and the door shuts with just a peg.
Kat hoists me up. I rest my foot in his hands and climb over the wall. Kat keeps watch below.
I wait a few moments to accustom my eyes to the darkness. Then I recognize the shed. Softly I steal across, lift the
peg, pull it out and open the door.
I distinguish two white patches. Two geese, that’s bad: if I grab one the other will cackle. Well, both of them—if
I’m quick, it can be done.
I make a jump. I catch hold of one and the next instant the second. Like a madman I bash their heads against the
wall to stun them. But I haven’t quite enough weight. The beasts cackle and strike out with their feet and wings. I
fight desperately, but Lord! what a kick a goose has! They struggle and I stagger about. In the dark these white
patches are terrifying. My arms have grown wings and I’m almost afraid of going up into the sky, as though I held a
couple of captive balloons in my fists.
Then the row begins; one of them gets his breath and goes off like an alarmclock. Before I can do anything,
something comes in from outside; I feel a blow, lie outstretched on the floor, and hear awful growls. A dog. I steal a
glance to the side, he makes a snap at my throat. I lie still and tuck my chin into my collar.
It’s a bull dog. After an eternity he withdraws his head and sits down beside me. But if I make the least movement
he growls. I consider. The only thing to do is to get hold of my small revolver, and that too before anyone arrives.
Inch by inch I move my hand toward it.
I have the feeling that it lasts an hour. The slightest movement and then an awful growl; I lie still, then try again.
When at last I have the revolver my hand starts to tremble. I press it against the ground and say over to myself: Jerk
the revolver up, fire before he has a chance to grab, and then jump up.
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Slowly I take a deep breath and become calmer. Then I hold my breath, whip up the revolver, it cracks, the dog
leaps howling to one side, I make for the door of the shed and fall head over heels over one of the scuttering geese.
At full speed I seize it again, and with a swing toss it over the wall and clamber up. No sooner am I on top than
the dog is up again as lively as ever and springs at me. Quickly I let myself drop. Ten paces away stands Kat with the
goose under his arm. As soon as he sees me we run.
At last we can take a breather. The goose is dead, Kat saw to that in a moment. We intend to roast it at once so
that nobody will be any wiser. I fetch a dixie and wood from the hut and we crawl into a small deserted lean-to which
we use for such purposes. The single window space is heavily curtained. There is a sort of hearth, an iron plate set on
some bricks. We kindle a fire.
Kat plucks and cleans the goose. We put the feathers carefully to one side. We intend to make two cushions out of
them with the inscription: “Sleep soft under shell-fire.” The sound of the gun-fire from the front penetrates into our
refuge. The glow of the fire lights up our faces, shadows dance on the wall. Sometimes a heavy crash and the lean- to
shivers. Aeroplane bombs. Once we hear a stifled cry. A hut must have been hit.
Aeroplanes drone; the tack-tack of machine-guns breaks out. But no light that could be observed shows from us.
We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night.
We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have.
We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it
crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another, and the hour is like
the room: flecked over with the lights and shadows of our feelings cast by a quiet fire. What does he know of me or I
of him? Formerly we should not have had a single thought in common—now we sit with a goose between us and feel
in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.
It takes a long time to roast a goose, even when it is young and fat. So we take turns. One bastes it while the other
lies down and sleeps. A grand smell gradually fills the hut.
The noises without increase in volume, pass into my dream and yet linger in my memory. In a half sleep I watch
Kat dip and raise the ladle. I love him, his shoulders, his angular, stooping figure—and at the same time I see behind
him woods and stars, and a clear voice utters words that bring me peace, to me, a soldier in big boots, belt, and
knapsack, taking the road that lies before him under the high heaven, quickly forgetting and seldom sorrowful, for
ever pressing on under the wide night sky.
A little soldier and a clear voice, and if anyone were to caress him he would hardly understand, this soldier with
the big boots and the shut heart, who marches because he is wearing big boots, and has forgotten all else but
marching. Beyond the sky-line is a country with flowers, lying so still that he would like to weep. There are sights
there that he has not forgotten, because he never possessed them—perplexing, yet lost to him. Are not his twenty
summers there?
Is my face wet, and where am I? Kat stands before me, his gigantic, stooping shadow falls upon me, like home. He
speaks gently, he smiles and goes back to the fire.
Then he says: “It’s done.”
“Yes, Kat.”
I stir myself. In the middle of the room shines the brown goose. We take out our collapsible forks and our pocketknives
and each cuts off a leg. With it we have army bread dipped in gravy. We eat slowly and with gusto.
“How does it taste, Kat?”
“Good! And yours?”
“Good, Kat.”
We are brothers and press on one another the choicest pieces. Afterwards I smoke a cigarette and Kat a cigar.
There is still a lot left.
“How would it be, Kat if we took a bit to Kropp and Tjaden?”
“Sure,” says he.
We carve off a portion and wrap it up carefully in newspaper. The rest we thought of taking over to the hut. Kat
laughs, and simply says: “Tjaden.”
I agree, we will have to take it all.
So we go off to the fowl-house to waken them. But first we pack away the feathers.
Kropp and Tjaden take us for magicians. Then they get busy with their teeth. Tjaden holds a wing in his mouth
with both hands like a mouth-organ, and gnaws. He drinks the gravy from the pot and smacks his lips:
“May I never forget you!”
We go to our hut. Again there is the lofty sky with the stars and the oncoming dawn, and I pass beneath it, a
soldier with big boots and a full belly, a little soldier in the early morning—but by my side, stooping and angular,
goes Kat, my comrade.
The outlines of the huts are upon us in the dawn like a dark, deep sleep.
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THERE ARE RUMOURS of an offensive. We go up to the front two days earlier than usual. On the way we pass a shelled schoolhouse.
Stacked up against its longer side is a high double wall of yellow, unpolished, brand-new coffins. They still
smell of resin, and pine, and the forest. There are at least a hundred.
“That’s a good preparation for the offensive,” says Müller astonished.
“They’re for us,” growls Detering.
“Don’t talk rot,” says Kat to him angrily.
“You be thankful if you get so much as a coffin,” grins Tjaden, “they’ll slip you a waterproof sheet for your old
Aunt Sally of a carcase.”
The others jest too, unpleasant jests, but what else can a man do?—The coffins are really for us. The organization
surpasses itself in that kind of thing.
Ahead of us everything is shimmering. The first night we try to get our bearings. When it is fairly quiet we can
hear the transports behind the enemy lines rolling ceaselessly until dawn. Kat says that they do not go back but are
bringing up troops—troops, munitions, and guns.
The English artillery has been strengthened, that we can detect at once. There are at least four more batteries of
nine-inch guns to the right of the farm, and behind the poplars they have put in trenchmortars. Besides these they
have brought up a number of those little French beasts with instantaneous fuses.
We are now in low spirits. After we have been in the dugouts two hours our own shells begin to fall in the trench.
This is the third time in four weeks. If it were simply a mistake in aim no one would say anything, but the truth is that
the barrels are worn out. The shots are often so uncertain that they land within our own lines. To-night two of our
men were wounded by them.
The front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen. We lie under the network of arching
shells and live in a suspense of uncertainty. Over us, Chance hovers. If a shot comes, we can duck, that is all; we
neither know nor can determine where it will fall.
It is this Chance that makes us indifferent. A few months ago I was sitting in a dug-out playing skat; after a while I
stood up and went to visit some friends in another dug-out. On my return nothing more was to be seen of the first
one, it had been blown to pieces by a direct hit. I went back to the second and arrived just in time to lend a hand
digging it out. In the interval it had been buried.
It is just as much a matter of chance that I am still alive as that I might have been hit. In a bomb-proof dug-out I
may be smashed to atoms and in the open may survive ten hours’ bombardment unscathed. No soldier outlives a
thousand chances. But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck.
We must look out for our bread. The rats have become much more numerous lately because the trenches are no longer
in good condition. Detering says it is a sure sign of a coming bombardment.
The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat—the kind we all call corpse-rats. They have shocking, evil,
naked faces, and it is nauseating to see their long, nude tails.
They seem to be mighty hungry. Almost every man has had his bread gnawed. Kropp wrapped his in his
waterproof sheet and put it under his head, but he cannot sleep because they run over his face to get at it. Detering
meant to outwit them: he fastened a thin wire to the roof and suspended his bread from it. During the night when he
switched on his pocket-torch he saw the wire swing to and fro. On the bread was riding a fat rat.
At last we put a stop to it. We cannot afford to throw the bread away, because then we should have nothing left to
eat in the morning, so we carefully cut off the bits of bread that the animals have gnawed.
The slices we cut off are heaped together in the middle of the floor. Each man takes out his spade and lies down
prepared to strike. Detering, Kropp, and Kat hold their pocket-torches ready.
After a few minutes we hear the first shuffling and tugging. It grows, now it is the sound of many little feet. Then
the torches switch on and every man strikes at the heap, which scatters with a rush. The result is good. We toss the
bits of rat over the parapet and again lie in wait.
Several times we repeat the process. At last the beasts get wise to it, or perhaps they have scented the blood. They
return no more. Nevertheless, before morning the remainder of the bread on the floor has been carried off.
In the adjoining sector they attacked two large cats and a dog, bit them to death and devoured them.
Next day there was an issue of Edamer cheese. Each man gets almost a quarter of a cheese. In one way that is all
to the good, for Edamer is tasty—but in another way it is vile, because the fat red balls have long been a sign of a bad
time coming. Our forebodings increase as rum is served out. We drink it of course; but are not greatly comforted.
During the day we loaf about and make war on the rats. Ammunition and hand-grenades become more plentiful.
We overhaul the bayonets—that is to say, the ones that have a saw on the blunt edge. If the fellows over there catch a
man with one of those he’s killed at sight. In the next sector some of our men were found whose noses were cut off
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and their eyes poked out with their own sawbayonets. Their mouths and noses were stuffed with sawdust so that they
Some of the recruits have bayonets of this sort; we take them away and give them the ordinary kind.
But the bayonet has practically lost its importance. It is usually the fashion now to charge with bombs and spades
only. The sharpened spade is a more handy and many-sided weapon; not only can it be used for jabbing a man under
the chin, but it is much better for striking with because of its greater weight; and if one hits between the neck and
shoulder it easily cleaves as far down as the chest. The bayonet frequently jams on the thrust and then a man has to
kick hard on the other fellow’s belly to pull it out again; and in the interval he may easily get one himself. And what’s
more the blade often gets broken off.
At night they send over gas. We expect the attack to follow and lie with our masks on, ready to tear them off as
soon as the first shadow appears.
Dawn approaches without anything happening—only the everlasting, nerve-wracking roll behind the enemy lines,
trains, trains, lorries, lorries; but what are they concentrating? Our artillery fires on it continually, but still it does not
We have tired faces and avoid each other’s eyes. “It will be like the Somme,” says Kat gloomily. “There we were
shelled steadily for seven days and nights.” Kat has lost all his fun since we have been here, which is bad, for Kat is an
old front-hog, and can smell what is coming. Only Tjaden seems pleased with the good rations and the rum; he thinks
we might even go back to rest without anything happening at all.
It almost looks like it. Day after day passes. At night I squat in the listening-post. Above me the rockets and
parachute-lights shoot up and float down again. I am cautious and tense, my heart thumps. My eyes turn again and
again to the luminous dial of my watch; the hands will not budge. Sleep hangs on my eyelids, I work my toes in my
boots in order to keep awake. Nothing happens till I am relieved;—only the everlasting rolling over there. Gradually
we grow calmer and play skat and poker continually. Perhaps we will be lucky.
All day the sky is hung with observation balloons. There is a rumour that the enemy are going to put tanks over
and use low-flying planes for the attack. But that interests us less than what we hear of the new flame-throwers.
We wake up in the middle of the night. The earth booms. Heavy fire is falling on us. We crouch into corners. We
distinguish shells of every calibre.
Each man lays hold of his things and looks again every minute to reassure himself that they are still there. The
dug-out heaves, the night roars and flashes. We look at each other in the momentary flashes of light, and with pale
faces and pressed lips shake our heads.
Every man is aware of the heavy shells tearing down the parapet, rooting up the embankment and demolishing
the upper layers of concrete. When a shell lands in the trench we note how the hollow, furious blast is like a blow
from the paw of a raging beast of prey. Already by morning a few of the recruits are green and vomiting. They are too
Slowly the grey light trickles into the post and pales the flashes of the shells. Morning is come. The explosion of
mines mingles with the gunfire. That is the most dementing convulsion of all. The whole region where they go up
becomes one grave.
The reliefs go out, the observers stagger in, covered with dirt, and trembling. One lies down in silence in the
corner and eats, the other, an older man of the new draft, sobs; twice he has been flung over the parapet by the blast
of the explosions without getting any more than shell-shock.
The recruits are eyeing him. We must watch them, these things are catching, already some lips begin to quiver. It
is good that it is growing daylight; perhaps the attack will come before noon.
The bombardment does not diminish. It is falling in the rear too. As far as one can see spout fountains of mud and
iron. A wide belt is being raked.
The attack does not come, but the bombardment continues. We are gradually benumbed. Hardly a man speaks. We
cannot make ourselves understood.
Our trench is almost gone. At many places it is only eighteen inches high, it is broken by holes, and craters, and
mountains of earth. A shell lands square in front of our post. At once it is dark. We are buried and must dig ourselves
out. After an hour the entrance is clear again, and we are calmer because we have had something to do.
Our Company Commander scrambles in and reports that two dug-outs are gone. The recruits calm themselves
when they see him. He says that an attempt will be made to bring up food this evening.
That sounds reassuring. No one had thought of it except Tjaden. Now the outside world seems to draw a little
nearer: if food can be brought up, think the recruits, then it can’t really be so bad.
We do not disabuse them; we know that food is as important as ammunition and only for that reason must be
brought up.
But it miscarries. A second party goes out, and it also turns back. Finally Kat tries, and even he reappears without
accomplishing anything. No one gets through, not even a fly is small enough to get through such a barrage.
We pull in our belts tighter and chew every mouthful three times as long. Still the food does not last out; we are
damnably hungry. I take out a scrap of bread, eat the white and put the crust back in my knapsack; from time to time
I nibble at it.
The night is unbearable. We cannot sleep, but stare ahead of us and doze. Tjaden regrets that we wasted the gnawed
pieces of bread on the rats. We would gladly have them again to eat now. We are short of water, too, but not seriously
Towards morning, while it is still dark, there is some excitement. Through the entrance rushes in a swarm of
fleeing rats that try to storm the walls. Torches light up the confusion. Everyone yells and curses and slaughters. The
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madness and despair of many hours unloads itself in this outburst. Faces are distorted, arms strike out, and the beasts
scream; we just stop in time to avoid attacking one another.
The onslaught has exhausted us. We lie down to wait again. It is a marvel that our post has had no casualties so
far. It is one of the less deep dugouts.
A corporal creeps in; he has a loaf of bread with him. Three people have had the luck to get through during the
night and bring some provisions. They say the bombardment extends undiminished as far as the artillery lines. It is a
mystery where the enemy gets all his shells.
We wait and wait. By midday what I expected happens. One of the recruits has a fit. I have been watching him for
a long time, grinding his teeth and opening and shutting his fists. These hunted, protruding eyes, we know them too
well. During the last few hours he has had merely the appearance of calm. He had collapsed like a rotten tree.
Now he stands up, stealthily creeps across the floor, hesitates a moment and then glides towards the door. I
intercept him and say: “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” says he, and tries to push past me.
“Wait a bit, the shelling will stop soon.”
He listens for a moment and his eyes become clear. Then again he has the glowering eyes of a mad dog, he is
silent, he shoves me aside.
“One minute, lad,” I say. Kat notices. Just as the recruit shakes me off Kat jumps in and we hold him.
Then he begins to rave: “Leave me alone, let me go out, I will go out!”
He won’t listen to anything and hits out, his mouth is wet and pours out words, half choked, meaningless words. It
is a case of claustrophobia, he feels as though he is suffocating here and wants to get out at any price. If we let him go
he would run about everywhere regardless of cover. He is not the first.
Though he raves and his eyes roll, it can’t be helped, we have to give him a hiding to bring him to his senses. We
do it quickly and mercilessly, and at last he sits down quietly. The others have turned pale; let’s hope it deters them.
This bombardment is too much for the poor devils, they have been sent straight from a recruiting-depot into a barrage
that is enough to turn an old soldier’s hair grey.
After this affair the sticky, close atmosphere works more than ever on our nerves. We sit as if in our graves
waiting only to be closed in.
Suddenly it howls and flashes terrifically, the dug-out cracks in all its joints under a direct hit, fortunately only a
light one that the concrete blocks are able to withstand. It rings metallically, the walls reel, rifles, helmets, earth,
mud, and dust fly everywhere. Sulphur fumes pour in.
If we were in one of those light dug-outs that they have been building lately instead of this deeper one, none of us
would be alive.
But the effect is bad enough even so. The recruit starts to rave again and two others follow suit. One jumps up and
rushes out, we have trouble with the other two. I start after one who escapes and wonder whether to shoot him in the
leg—then it shrieks again, I fling myself down and when I stand up the wall of the trench is plastered with smoking
splinters, lumps of flesh, and bits of uniform. I scramble back.
The first recruit seems actually to have gone insane. He butts his head against the wall like a goat. We must try tonight
to take him to the rear. Meanwhile we bind him, but in such a way that in case of attack he can be released at
Kat suggests a game of skat: it is easier when a man has something to do. But it is no use, we listen for every
explosion that comes close, miscount the tricks, and fail to follow suit. We have to give it up. We sit as though in a
boiler that is being belaboured from without on all sides.
Night again. We are deadened by the strain—a deadly tension that scrapes along one’s spine like a gapped knife.
Our legs refuse to move, our hands tremble, our bodies are a thin skin stretched painfully over repressed madness,
over an almost irresistible, bursting roar. We have neither flesh nor muscles any longer, we dare not look at one
another for fear of some miscalculable thing. So we shut our teeth—it will end—it will end—perhaps we will come
Suddenly the nearer explosions cease. The shelling continues but it has lifted and falls behind us, our trench is
free. We seize the hand-grenades, pitch them out in front of the dugout and jump after them. The bombardment has
stopped and a heavy barrage now falls behind us. The attack has come.
No one would believe that in this howling waste there could still be men; but steel helmets now appear on all
sides out of the trench, and fifty yards from us a machine-gun is already in position and barking.
The wire entanglements are torn to pieces. Yet they offer some obstacle. We see the storm-troops coming. Our
artillery opens fire. Machine-guns rattle, rifles crack. The charge works its way across. Haie and Kropp begin with the
hand-grenades. They throw as fast as they can, others pass them, the handles with the strings already pulled. Haie
throws seventy-five yards, Kropp sixty, it has been measured, the distance is important. The enemy as they run cannot
do much before they are within forty yards.
We recognize the smooth distorted faces, the helmets; they are French. They have already suffered heavily when
they reach the remnants of the barbed wire entanglements. A whole line has gone down before our machine-guns;
then we have a lot of stoppages and they come nearer.
I see one of them, his face upturned, fall into a wire cradle. His body collapses, his hands remain suspended as
though he were praying. Then his body drops clean away and only his hands with the stumps of his arms, shot off,
now hang in the wire.
The moment we are about to retreat three faces rise up from the ground in front of us. Under one of the helmets a
dark pointed beard and two eyes that are fastened on me. I raise my hand, but I cannot throw into those strange eyes;
for one mad moment the whole slaughter whirls like a circus around me, and these two eyes alone are motionless;
then the head rises up, a hand, a movement, and my hand-grenade flies through the air and into him.
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We make for the rear, pull wire cradles into the trench and leave bombs behind us with the strings pulled, which
ensures us a fiery retreat. The machine-guns are already firing from the next position.
We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that
we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us down—now, for the first time
in three days we can see his face, now for the first time in three days we can oppose him; we feel a mad anger. No
longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to
be revenged.
We crouch behind every corner, behind every barrier of barbed wire, and hurl heaps of explosives at the feet of
the advancing enemy before we run. The blast of the hand-grenades impinges powerfully on our arms and legs;
crouching like cats we run on, overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into
thugs, into murderers, into God only knows what devils; this wave that multiplies our strength with fear and madness
and greed of life, seeking and fighting for nothing but our deliverance. If your own father came over with them you
would not hesitate to fling a bomb at him.
The forward trenches have been abandoned. Are they still trenches? They are blown to pieces, annihilated—there
are only broken bits of trenches, holes linked by cracks, nests of craters, that is all. But the enemy’s casualties
increase. They did not count on so much resistance.
It is nearly noon. The sun blazes hotly, the sweat stings in our eyes, we wipe it off on our sleeves and often blood with
it. At last we reach a trench that is in a somewhat better condition. It is manned and ready for the counter-attack, it
receives us. Our guns open in full blast and cut off the enemy attack.
The lines behind us stop. They can advance no farther. The attack is crushed by our artillery. We watch. The fire
lifts a hundred yards and we break forward. Beside me a lance-corporal has his head torn off. He runs a few steps
more while the blood spouts from his neck like a fountain.
It does not come quite to hand-to-hand fighting; they are driven back. We arrive once again at our shattered
trench and pass on beyond it.
Oh, this turning back again! We reach the shelter of the reserves and yearn to creep in and disappear;—but
instead we must turn round and plunge again into the horror. If we were not automata at that moment we would
continue lying there, exhausted, and without will. But we are swept forward again, powerless, madly savage and
raging; we will kill, for they are still our mortal enemies, their rifles and bombs are aimed against us, and if we don’t
destroy them, they will destroy us.
The brown earth, the torn, blasted earth, with a greasy shine under the sun’s rays; the earth is the background of
this restless, gloomy world of automatons, our gasping is the scratching of a quill, our lips are dry, our heads are
debauched with stupor—thus we stagger forward, and into our pierced and shattered souls bores the torturing image
of the brown earth with the greasy sun and the convulsed and dead soldiers, who lie there—it can’t be helped—who
cry and clutch at our legs as we spring away over them.
We have lost all feeling for one another. We can hardly control ourselves when our glance lights on the form of
some other man. We are insensible, dead men, who through some trick, some dreadful magic, are still able to run and
to kill.
A young Frenchman lags behind, he is overtaken, he puts up his hands, in one he still holds his revolver—does he
mean to shoot or to give himself!—a blow from a spade cleaves through his face. A second sees it and tries to run
farther; a bayonet jabs into his back. He leaps in the air, his arms thrown wide, his mouth wide open, yelling; he
staggers, in his back the bayonet quivers. A third throws away his rifle, cowers down with his hands before his eyes.
He is left behind with a few other prisoners to carry off the wounded.
Suddenly in the pursuit we reach the enemy line.
We are so close on the heels of our retreating enemies that we reach it almost at the same time as they. In this
way we suffer few casualties. A machine-gun barks, but is silenced with a bomb. Nevertheless, the couple of seconds
has sufficed to give us five stomach wounds. With the butt of his rifle Kat smashes to pulp the face of one of the
unwounded machine-gunners. We bayonet the others before they have time to get out their bombs. Then thirstily we
drink the water they have for cooling the gun.
Everywhere wire-cutters are snapping, planks are thrown across the entanglements, we jump through the narrow
entrances into the trenches. Haie strikes his spade into the neck of a gigantic Frenchman and throws the first handgrenade;
we duck behind a breastwork for a few seconds, then the straight bit of trench ahead of us is empty. The
next throw whizzes obliquely over the corner and clears a passage; as we run past we toss handfuls down into the
dug-outs, the earth shudders, it crashes, smokes and groans, we stumble over slippery lumps of flesh, over yielding
bodies; I fall into an open belly on which lies a clean, new officer’s cap.
The fight ceases. We lose touch with the enemy. We cannot stay here long but must retire under cover of our
artillery to our own position. No sooner do we know this than we dive into the nearest dug-outs, and with the utmost
haste seize on whatever provisions we can see, especially the tins of corned beef and butter, before we clear out.
We get back pretty well. There is no further attack by the enemy. We lie for an hour panting and resting before
anyone speaks. We are so completely played out that in spite of our great hunger we do not think of the provisions.
Then gradually we become something like men again.
The corned beef over there is famous along the whole front. Occasionally it has been the chief reason for a flying
raid on our part, for our nourishment is generally very bad; we have a constant hunger.
We bagged five tins altogether. The fellows over there are well looked after; they fare magnificently, as against us,
poor starving wretches, with our turnip jam; they can get all the meat they want. Haie has scored a thin loaf of white
French bread, and stuck it behind his belt like a spade. It is a bit bloody at one corner, but that can be cut off.
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It is a good thing we have something decent to eat at last; we still have a use for all our strength. Enough to eat is
just as valuable as a good dug-out; it can save our lives; that is the reason we are so greedy for it.
Tjaden has captured two water-bottles full of cognac. We pass them round.
The evening benediction begins. Night comes, out of the craters rise the mists. It looks as though the holes were full of
ghostly secrets. The white vapour creeps painfully round before it ventures to steal away over the edge. Then long
streaks stretch from crater to crater.
It is chilly. I am on sentry and stare into the darkness. My strength is exhausted as always after an attack, and so it
is hard for me to be alone with my thoughts. They are not properly thoughts; they are memories which in my
weakness haunt me and strangely move me.
The parachute-lights soar upwards—and I see a picture, a summer evening, I am in the cathedral cloister and look
at the tall rose trees that bloom in the middle of the little cloister garden where the monks lie buried. Around the
walls are the stone carvings of the Stations of the Cross. No one is there. A great quietness rules in this blossoming
quadrangle, the sun lies warm on the heavy grey stones, I place my hand upon them and feel the warmth. At the
right-hand corner the green cathedral spire ascends into the pale blue sky of the evening. Between the glowing
columns of the cloister is the cool darkness that only churches have, and I stand there and wonder whether, when I
am twenty, I shall have experienced the bewildering emotions of love.
The image is alarmingly near; it touches me before it dissolves in the light of the next starshell.
I lay hold of my rifle to see that it is in trim. The barrel is wet, I take it in my hands and rub off the moisture with
my fingers.
Between the meadows behind our town there stands a line of old poplars by a stream. They were visible from a
great distance, and although they grew on one bank only, we called them the poplar avenue. Even as children we had
a great love for them, they drew us vaguely thither, we played truant the whole day by them and listened to their
rustling. We sat beneath them on the bank of the stream and let our feet hang in the bright, swift waters. The pure
fragrance of the water and the melody of the wind in the poplars held our fancies. We loved them dearly, and the
image of those days still makes my heart pause in its beating.
It is strange that all the memories that come have these two qualities. They are always completely calm, that is
predominant in them; and even if they are not really calm, they become so. They are soundless apparitions that speak
to me, with looks and gestures silently, without any word—and it is the alarm of their silence that forces me to lay
hold of my sleeve and my rifle lest I should abandon myself to the liberation and allurement in which my body would
dilate and gently pass away into the still forces that lie behind these things.
They are quiet in this way, because quietness is so unattainable for us now. At the front there is no quietness and
the curse of the front reaches so far that we never pass beyond it. Even in the remote depots and rest-areas the
droning and the muffled noise of shelling is always in our ears. We are never so far off that it is no more to be heard.
But these last few days it has been unbearable.
Their stillness is the reason why these memories of former times do not awaken desire so much as sorrow—a vast,
inapprehensible melancholy. Once we had such desires—but they return not. They are past, they belong to another
world that is gone from us. In the barracks they called forth a rebellious, wild craving for their return; for then they
were still bound to us, we belonged to them and they to us, even though we were already absent from them. They
appeared in the soldiers’ songs which we sang as we marched between the glow of the dawn and the black silhouettes
of the forests to drill on the moor, they were a powerful remembrance that was in us and came from us.
But here in the trenches they are completely lost to us. They arise no more; we are dead and they stand remote on
the horizon, they are a mysterious reflection, an apparition, that haunts us, that we fear and love without hope. They
are strong and our desire is strong—but they are unattainable, and we know it.
And even if these scenes of our youth were given back to us we would hardly know what to do. The tender, secret
influence that passed from them into us could not rise again. We might be amongst them and move in them; we might
remember and love them and be stirred by the sight of them. But it would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead
comrade; those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spent together take on a mournful life in the memory;
but the man himself it is not.
We could never regain the old intimacy with those scenes. It was not any recognition of their beauty and their
significance that attracted us, but the communion, the feeling of a comradeship with the things and events of our
existence, which cut us off and made the world of our parents a thing incomprehensible to us—for then we
surrendered ourselves to events and were lost in them, and the least little thing was enough to carry us down the
stream of eternity. Perhaps it was only the privilege of our youth, but as yet we recognized no limits and saw nowhere
an end. We had that thrill of expectation in the blood which united us with the course of our days.
To-day we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers. We are burnt up by hard facts; like
tradesmen we understand distinctions, and like butchers, necessities. We are no longer untroubled—we are
indifferent. We might exist there; but should we really live there?
We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe
we are lost.
My hands grow cold and my flesh creeps; and yet the night is warm. Only the mist is cold, this mysterious mist that
trails over the dead and sucks from them their last, creeping life. By morning they will be pale and green and their
blood congealed and black.
Still the parachute-rockets shoot up and cast their pitiless light over the stony landscape, which is full of craters
and frozen lights like a moon. The blood beneath my skin brings fear and restlessness into my thoughts. They become
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feeble and tremble, they want warmth and life. They cannot persist without solace, without illusion, they are
disordered before the naked picture of despair.
I hear the rattle of the mess-tins and immediately feel a strong desire for warm food; it would do me good and
comfort me. Painfully I force myself to wait until I am relieved.
Then I go into the dug-out and find a mug of barley. It is cooked in fat and tastes good, I eat it slowly. I remain
quiet, though the others are in a better mood, for the shelling has died down.
The days go by and the incredible hours follow one another as a matter of course. Attacks alternate with counterattacks
and slowly the dead pile up in the field of craters between the trenches. We are able to bring in most of the
wounded that do not lie too far off. But many have long to wait and we listen to them dying.
For one of them we search two days in vain. He must be lying on his belly and unable to turn over. Otherwise it is
hard to understand why we cannot find him; for it is only when a man has his mouth close to the ground that it is
impossible to gauge the direction of his cry.
He must have been badly hit—one of those nasty wounds neither so severe that they exhaust the body at once and
a man dreams on in a half-swoon, nor so light that a man endures the pain in the hope of becoming well again. Kat
thinks he has either a broken pelvis or a shot through the spine. His chest cannot have been injured otherwise he
would not have such strength to cry out. And if it were any other kind of wound it would be possible to see him
He grows gradually hoarser. The voice is so strangely pitched that it seems to be everywhere. The first night some
of our fellows go out three times to look for him. But when they think they have located him and crawl across, the
next time they hear the voice it seems to come from somewhere else altogether.
We search in vain until dawn. We scrutinize the field all day with glasses, but discover nothing. On the second day
the calls are fainter; that will be because his lips and mouth have become dry.
Our Company Commander has promised next turn of leave with three days extra to anyone who finds him. This is
a powerful inducement, but we would do all that is possible without that for his cry is terrible. Kat and Kropp even go
out in the afternoon, and Albert gets the lobe of his ear shot off in consequence. It is to no purpose, they come back
without him.
It is easy to understand what he cries. At first he called only for help—the second night he must have had some
delirium, he talked with his wife and his children, we often detected the name Elise. To-day he merely weeps. By
evening the voice dwindles to a croaking. But it persists still through the whole night. We hear it so distinctly because
the wind blows toward our line. In the morning when we suppose he must already have long gone to his rest, there
comes across to us one last gurgling rattle.
The days are hot and the dead lie unburied. We cannot fetch them all in, if we did we should not know what to do
with them. The shells will bury them. Many have their bellies swollen up like balloons. They hiss, belch, and make
movements. The gases in them make noises.
The sky is blue and without clouds. In the evening it grows sultry and the heat rises from the earth. When the
wind blows toward us it brings the smell of blood, which is very heavy and sweet. This deathly exhalation from the
shell-holes seems to be a mixture of chloroform and putrefaction, and fills us with nausea and retching.
The nights become quiet and the hunt for copper driving-bands and the silken parachutes of the French star-shells
begins. Why the driving-bands are so desirable no one knows exactly. The collectors merely assert that they are
valuable. Some have collected so many that they will stoop under the weight of them when we go back.
But Haie at least gives a reason. He intends to give them to his girl to supplement her garters. At this the Friesians
explode with mirth. They slap their knees: “By Jove though, he’s a wit, Haie is, he’s got brains.” Tjaden especially can
hardly contain himself; he takes the largest of the rings in his hand and every now and then puts his legs through it to
show how much slack there is.
“Haie, man, she must have legs like, legs——” his thoughts mount somewhat higher “and a behind too she must
have, like a—like an elephant!”
He cannot get over it. “I wish I could play hothand with her once, my hat——”
Haie beams, proud that his girl should receive so much appreciation.
“She’s a nice bit,” he says with self-satisfaction.
The parachutes are turned to more practical uses. According to the size of the bust three or perhaps four will make
a blouse. Kropp and I use them as handkerchiefs. The others send them home. If the women could see at what risk
these bits of rag are often obtained, they would be horrified.
Kat surprises Tjaden endeavouring with perfect equanimity to knock the driving-band off a dud. If anyone else had
tried it the thing would have exploded, but Tjaden always has his luck with him.
One morning two butterflies play in front of our trench. They are brimstone-butterflies, with red spots on their
yellow wings. What can they be looking for here? There is not a plant nor a flower for miles. They settle on the teeth
of a skull. The birds too are just as carefree, they have long since accustomed themselves to the war. Every morning
larks ascend from No Man’s Land. A year ago we watched them nesting; the young ones grew up too.
We have a spell from the rats in the trench. They are in No Man’s Land—we know what for. They grow fat; when
we see one we have a crack at it. At night we hear again the rolling behind the enemy lines. All day we have only the
normal shelling, so that we are able to repair the trenches. There is always plenty of amusement, the airmen see to
that. There are countless fights for us to watch every day.
Battle planes don’t trouble us, but the observation planes we hate like the plague; they put the artillery to us. A
few minutes after they appear, shrapnel and high-explosives begin to drop on us. We lose eleven men in one day that
way, and five of them stretcher-bearers. Two are smashed so that Tjaden remarks you could scrape them off the wall
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of the trench with a spoon and bury them in a mess-tin. Another has the lower part of his body and his legs torn off.
Dead, his chest leans against the side of the trench, his face is lemon-yellow, in his beard still burns a cigarette. It
glows until it dies out on his lips.
We put the dead in a large shell-hole. So far there are three layers, one on top of the other.
Suddenly the shelling begins to pound again. Soon we are sitting up once more with the rigid tenseness of blank
Attack, counter-attack, charge, repulse—these are words, but what things they signify! We have lost a good many
men, mostly recruits. Reinforcements have again been sent up to our sector. They are one of the new regiments,
composed almost entirely of young fellows just called up. They have had hardly any training, and are sent into the
field with only a theoretical knowledge. They do know what a hand-grenade is, it is true, but they have very little
idea of cover, and what is most important of all, have no eye for it. A fold in the ground has to be quite eighteen
inches high before they can see it.
Although we need reinforcement, the recruits give us almost more trouble than they are worth. They are helpless
in this grim fighting area, they fall like flies. Modern trench-warfare demands knowledge and experience; a man must
have a feeling for the contours of the ground, an ear for the sound and character of the shells, must be able to decide
beforehand where they will drop, how they will burst, and how to shelter from them.
The young recruits of course know none of these things. They get killed simply because they hardly can tell
shrapnel from high-explosive, they are mown down because they are listening anxiously to the roar of the big coalboxes
falling in the rear, and miss the light, piping whistle of the low spreading daisy-cutters. They flock together like
sheep instead of scattering, and even the wounded are shot down like hares by the airmen.
Their pale turnip faces, their pitiful clenched hands, the fine courage of these poor devils, the desperate charges
and attacks made by the poor brave wretches, who are so terrified that they dare not cry out loudly, but with battered
chests, with torn bellies, arms and legs only whimper softly for their mothers and cease as soon as one looks at them.
Their sharp, downy, dead faces have the awful expressionlessness of dead children.
It brings a lump into the throat to see how they go over, and run and fall. A man would like to spank them, they
are so stupid, and to take them by the arm and lead them away from here where they have no business to be. They
wear grey coats and trousers and boots, but for most of them the uniform is far too big, it hangs on their limbs, their
shoulders are too narrow, their bodies too slight; no uniform was ever made to these childish measurements.
Between five and ten recruits fall to every old hand.
A surprise gas-attack carries off a lot of them. They have not yet learned what to do. We found one dug-out full of
them, with blue heads and black lips. Some of them in a shell-hole took off their masks too soon; they did not know
that the gas lies longest in the hollows; when they saw others on top without masks they pulled theirs off too and
swallowed enough to scorch their lungs. Their condition is hopeless, they choke to death with haemorrhages and
In one part of the trench I suddenly run into Himmelstoss. We dive into the same dug-out. Breathless we are all lying
one beside the other waiting for the charge.
When we run out again, although I am very excited, I suddenly think: “Where’s Himmelstoss?” Quickly I jump
back into the dug-out and find him with a small scratch lying in a corner pretending to be wounded. His face looks
sullen. He is in a panic; he is new to it too. But it makes me mad that the young recruits should be out there and he
“Get out!” I spit.
He does not stir, his lips quiver, his moustache twitches.
“Out!” I repeat.
He draws up his legs, crouches back against the wall, and shows his teeth like a cur.
I seize him by the arm and try to pull him up. He barks.
This is too much for me. I grab him by the neck and shake him like a sack, his head jerks from side to side.
“You lump, will you get out—you hound, you skunk, sneak out of it, would you?” His eye becomes glassy, I knock
his head against the wall—“You cow”—I kick him in the ribs—“You swine”—I push him toward the door and shove
him out head first.
Another wave of our attack has just come up. A lieutenant is with them. He sees us and yells: “Forward, forward,
join in, follow.” And the word of command does what all my banging could not. Himmelstoss hears the order, looks
round him as if awakened, and follows on.
I come after and watch him go over. Once more he is the smart Himmelstoss of the parade-ground, he has even
outstripped the lieutenant and is far ahead.
Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades—words, words, but they
hold the horror of the world.
Our faces are encrusted, our thoughts are devastated, we are weary to death; when the attack comes we shall have
to strike many of the men with our fists to waken them and make them come with us—our eyes are burnt, our hands
are torn, our knees bleed, our elbows are raw.
How long has it been? Weeks—months—years? Only days. We see time pass in the colourless faces of the dying,
we cram food into us, we run, we throw, we shoot, we kill, we lie about, we are feeble and spent, and nothing
supports us but the knowledge that there are still feebler, still more spent, still more helpless ones there who, with
staring eyes, look upon us as gods that escape death many times.
In the few hours of rest we teach them. “There, see that waggle-top? That’s a mortar coming. Keep down, it will
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go clean over. But if it comes this way, then run for it. You can run from a mortar.”
We sharpen their ears to the malicious, hardly audible buzz of the smaller shells that are not easily
distinguishable. They must pick them out from the general din by their insect-like hum—we explain to them that
these are far more dangerous than the big ones that can be heard long beforehand.
We show them how to take cover from aircraft, how to simulate a dead man when one is overrun in an attack,
how to time hand-grenades so that they explode half a second before hitting the ground; we teach them to fling
themselves into holes as quick as lightning before the shells with instantaneous fuses; we show them how to clean up
a trench with a handful of bombs; we explain the difference between the fuse-length of the enemy bombs and our
own; we put them wise to the sound of gas shells;—show them all the tricks that can save them from death.
They listen, they are docile—but when it begins again, in their excitement they do everything wrong.
Haie Westhus drags off with a great wound in his back through which the lung pulses at every breath. I can only
press his hand; “It’s all up, Paul,” he groans and he bites his arm because of the pain.
We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on
their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance-corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his
smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see
men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for
two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.
Still the little piece of convulsed earth in which we lie is held. We have yielded no more than a few hundred yards
of it as a prize to the enemy. But on every yard there lies a dead man.
We have just been relieved. The wheels roll beneath us, we stand dully, and when the call “Mind—wire” comes, we
bend our knees. It was summer when we came up, the trees were still green, now it is autumn and the night is grey
and wet. The lorries stop, we climb out—a confused heap, a remnant of many names. On either side stand people,
dark, calling out the numbers of the brigades, the battalions. And at each call a little group separates itself off, a small
handful of dirty, pallid soldiers, a dreadfully small handful, and a dreadfully small remnant.
Now someone is calling the number of our company, it is, yes, the Company Commander, he has come through,
then; his arm is in a sling. We go over to him and I recognize Kat and Albert, we stand together, lean against each
other, and look at one another.
And we hear the number of our company called again and again. He will call a long time, they do not hear him in
the hospitals and shell-holes.
Once again: “Second Company, this way!” And then more softly: “Nobody else, Second Company?”
He is silent, and then huskily he says: “Is that all?” he gives the order: “Number!”
The morning is grey, it was still summer when we came up, and we were one hundred and fifty strong. Now we
freeze, it is autumn, the leaves rustle, the voices flutter out wearily:
“One—two—three—four——” and cease at thirty-two. And there is a long silence before the voice asks: “Anyone
else?”—and waits and then says softly: “In squads——” and then breaks off and is only able to finish: “Second
Company——” with difficulty: “Second Company—march easy!”
A line, a short line trudges off into the morning.
Thirty-two men.
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THEY HAVE TAKEN US farther back than usual to a field depot so that we can be re-organized. Our company needs more than
a hundred reinforcements.
In the meantime, when we are off duty, we loaf around. After a couple of days Himmelstoss comes up to us. He
has had the bounce knocked out of him since he has been in the trenches and wants to get on good terms with us. I
am willing, because I saw how he brought Haie Westhus in when he was hit in the back. Besides he’s decent enough
to treat us in the canteen when we are out of funds. Only Tjaden is still reserved and suspicious.
But he is won over, too, when Himmelstoss tells us that he is taking the place of the sergeant-cook who has gone
on leave. As a proof he produces spot two pounds of sugar for us and a half-pound of butter specially for Tjaden. He
even sees to it that we are detailed the next two or three days to the cookhouse for potato and turnip peeling. The
grub he gives us there is real officers’ fare.
Thus momentarily we have the two things a soldier needs for contentment: good food and rest. That’s not much
when one comes to think of it. A few years ago we would have despised ourselves terribly. But now we are almost
happy. It is all a matter of habit—even the front-line.
Habit is the explanation of why we seem to forget things so quickly. Yesterday we were under fire, to-day we act
the fool and go foraging through the countryside, to-morrow we go up to the trenches again. We forget nothing really.
But so long as we have to stay here in the field, the front-line days, when they are past, sink down in us like a stone;
they are too grievous for us to be able to reflect on them at once. If we did that, we should have been destroyed long
ago. I soon found out this much:—terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks;—but it kills, if a man thinks
about it.
Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing which brings us through
safely, so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting. We can do nothing else, it is a sheer necessity. We want
to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in
peacetime, would be out of place here. Kemmerich is dead, Haie Westhus is dying, they will have a job with Hans
Kramer’s body at the Judgment Day, piecing it together after a direct hit; Martens has no legs anymore, Meyer is
dead, Max is dead, Beyer is dead, Hämmerling is dead, there are a hundred and twenty wounded men lying
somewhere or other; it is a damnable business, but what has it to do with us now—we live. If it were possible for us
to save them, then it would be seen how much we cared—we would have a shot at it though we went under
ourselves; for we can be damned quixotic when we like; fear we do not know much about—terror of death, yes; but
that is a different matter, that is physical.
But our comrades are dead, we cannot help them, they have their rest—and who knows what is waiting for us?
We will make ourselves comfortable and sleep, and eat as much as we can stuff into our bellies, and drink and smoke
so that hours are not wasted. Life is short.
The terror of the front sinks deep down when we turn our back upon it; we make grim, coarse jests about it, when a
man dies, then we say he has nipped off his turd, and so we speak of everything; that keeps us from going mad; as
long as we take it that way we maintain our own resistance.
But we do not forget. It’s all rot that they put in the war-news about the good humour of the troops, how they are
arranging dances almost before they are out of the front-line. We don’t act like that because we are in a good humour:
we are in a good humour because otherwise we should go to pieces. Even so we cannot hold out much longer; our
humour becomes more bitter every month.
And this I know: all these things that now, while we are still in the war, sink down in us like a stone, after the war
shall waken again, and then shall begin the disentanglement of life and death.
The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again
and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades
beside us, the years at the Front behind us:—against whom, against whom?
Some time ago there was an army theatre in these parts. Coloured posters of the performances are still sticking on a
hoarding. With wide eyes Kropp and I stand in front of it. We can hardly credit that such things still exist. A girl in a
light summer dress, with a red patent-leather belt about her hips! She is standing with one hand on a railing and with
the other she holds a straw hat. She wears white stockings and white shoes, fine buckle shoes with high heels. Behind
her smiles the blue sea with white-horses, at the side is a bright bay. She is a lovely girl with a delicate nose, red lips,
and slender legs, wonderfully clean and well cared for, she certainly baths twice a day and never has any dirt under
her nails. At most perhaps a bit of sand from the beach.
Beside her stands a man in white trousers, a blue jacket, and sailor’s cap; but he interests us much less.
The girl on the poster is a wonder to us. We have quite forgotten that there are such things, and even now we
hardly believe our eyes. We have seen nothing like it for years, nothing like it for happiness, beauty and joy. That is
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peacetime, that is as it should be; we feel excited.
“Just look at those thin shoes though, she couldn’t march many miles in those,” I say, and then begin to feel silly,
for it is absurd to stand in front of the picture like this and think of nothing but marching.
“How old would she be?” Kropp asks.
“About twenty-two at the most,” I hazard.
“Then she would be older than us! She is not more than seventeen, let me tell you!”
It gives us goose flesh.
“That would be good, Albert, what do you think?”
He nods. “I have some white trousers at home too.”
“White trousers,” say I, “but a girl like that——”
We look askance at one another. There’s not much to boast of here—two ragged, stained, and dirty uniforms. It is
hopeless to compete.
So we proceed to tear the young man with the white trousers off the hoarding, taking care not to damage the girl.
That is something toward it.
“We could go and get deloused, anyway,” Kropp then suggests.
I am not very enthusiastic because it doesn’t do one’s clothes any good and a man is lousy again inside two hours.
But when we have considered the picture once more, I declare myself willing. I go even farther.
“We might see if we could get a clean shirt as well——”
“Socks might be better,” says Albert, not without reason.
“Yes, socks too perhaps. Let’s go and explore a bit.”
Then Leer and Tjaden stroll up; they look at the poster and immediately the conversation becomes smutty. Leer
was the first of our class to have intercourse, and he gave stirring details of it. After his fashion he enjoys himself over
the picture, and Tjaden supports him nobly.
It does not distress us exactly. Who isn’t smutty is no soldier; it merely does not suit us at the moment, so we edge
away and march off to the delousing station with the same feeling as if it were a swell gentlemen’s outfitters.
The houses in which we are billeted lie near the canal. On the other side of the canal there are ponds flanked with
poplars;—on the other side of the canal there are women too.
The houses on our side have been abandoned. On the other side though one occasionally sees inhabitants.
In the evening we go swimming. Three women come strolling along the bank. They walk slowly and don’t look
away, although we have no bathing suits.
Leer calls out to them. They laugh and stop to watch us. We fling remarks at them in broken French, anything that
comes into our heads, hastily and all jumbled together, anything to detain them. They are not specially wonderful
pieces, but then where are such to be had about here?
There is one slim little brunette, her teeth gleam when she laughs. She has quick movements, her dress swings
loosely about her legs. Although the water is cold we are very jovial and do our best to interest them so that they will
stay. We try to make jokes and they answer with things we cannot understand; we laugh and beckon. Tjaden is more
crafty. He runs into the house, gets a loaf of army bread and holds it up.
That produces a great effect. They nod and beckon us to come over. But we don’t dare to do that. It is forbidden to
cross to the opposite bank. There are sentries on all the bridges. It’s impossible without a pass. So we indicate that
they should come over to us; but they shake their heads and point to the bridge. They are not allowed to pass either.
They turn back and walk slowly down the canal, keeping along the towpath all the way. We accompany them
swimming. After a few hundred yards they turn off and point to a house that stands a little distance away among the
trees and shrubbery.
Leer asks if they live there.
They laugh—sure, that’s their house.
We call out to them that we would like to come, sometime when the guards cannot see us. At night. To-night.
They raise their hands, put them together, rest their faces on them and shut their eyes. They understand. The slim
brunette does a two-step. The blonde girl twitters: “Bread—good——”
Eagerly we assure them that we will bring some with us. And other tasty bits too, we roll our eyes and try to
explain with our hands. Leer nearly drowns trying to demonstrate a sausage. If it were necessary we would promise
them a whole quartermaster’s store. They go off and frequently turn and look back. We climb out on the bank on our
side of the canal and watch to see whether they go into the house, for they might easily have been lying. Then we
swim back.
No one can cross the bridge without leave, so we will simply have to swim over to-night. We are full of
excitement. We cannot last out without a drink, so we go to the canteen where there is beer and a kind of punch.
We drink punch and tell one another lying tales of our experiences. Each man gladly believes the other man’s
story, only waiting impatiently till he can cap it with a taller one. Our hands are fidgety, we smoke countless
cigarettes, until Kropp says: “We might as well take them a few cigarettes too.” So we put some inside our caps to
keep them.
The sky turns apple-green. There are four of us, but only three can go; we must shake off Tjaden, so ply him with
rum and punch until he rocks. As it turns dark we go to our billets, Tjaden in the centre. We are glowing and full of a
lust for adventure.
The little brunette is mine, we have settled all that.
Tjaden drops on his sack of straw and snores. Once he wakes up and grins so craftily that we are alarmed and
begin to think he is cheating, and that we have given him the punch to no purpose. Then he drops back again and
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sleeps on.
We each get hold of a whole army loaf and wrap it up in newspaper. The cigarettes we put in too, as well as three
good rations of liver-sausage that were issued to us this evening. That makes a decent present.
We stow the things carefully in our boots; we have to take them to protect our feet against treading on wire and
broken glass on the other bank. As we must swim for it we can take no other clothes. But it is not far and quite dark.
We make off with our boots in our hands. Swiftly we slip into the water, lie on our backs and swim, holding the
boots with their contents up over our heads.
We climb out carefully on the opposite bank, take out the packages and put on our boots. We put the things under
our arms. And so, all wet and naked, clothed only in our boots, we break into a trot. We find the house at once. It lies
among the trees. Leer trips over a root and skins his elbows.
“No matter,” he says gaily.
The windows are shuttered. We slip round the house and try to peer through the cracks. Then we grow impatient.
Suddenly Kropp hesitates:
“What if there’s a Major with them?”
“Then we just clear off,” grins Leer, “he can try to read our regimental numbers here,” and smacks his behind.
The door of the courtyard stands open. Our boots made a great clatter. The house door opens, a chink of light
shines through and a woman cries out in a scared voice.
“Ssh, ssh! camerade—bon ami—” we say, and show our packages protestingly.
The other two are now on the scene, the door opens and the light floods over us. They recognize us and all three
burst into laughter at our appearance. They rock and sway in the doorway, they laugh so much. How supple their
movements are.
“Un moment—” They disappear and throw us bits of clothing which we gladly wrap round ourselves. Then we are
allowed in. A small lamp burns in their room, which is warm and smells a little of perfume. We unwrap our parcels
and hand them over to the women. Their eyes shine, it is obvious that they are hungry.
Then we all become rather embarrassed. Leer makes the gestures of eating, and then they come to life again and
bring out plates and knives and fall to on the food, and they hold up every slice of livered sausage and admire it
before they eat it, and we sit proudly by.
They overwhelm us with their chatter;—we understand very little of it, but we listen and the words sound
friendly. No doubt we all look very young. The little brunette strokes my hair and says what all French women say:
“La guerre—grand malheur—pauvres garçons——”
I hold her arm tightly and press my lips into the palm of her hand. Her fingers close round my face. Close above
me are her bewildering eyes, the soft brown of her skin and her red lips. Her mouth speaks words I do not understand.
Nor do I fully understand her eyes; they seem to say more than we anticipated when we came here.
There are other rooms adjoining. In passing I see Leer, he has made a great hit with the blonde. He’s an old hand
at the game. But I—I am lost in remoteness, in weakness, and in a passion to which I yield myself trustingly. My
desires are strangely compounded of yearning and misery. I feel giddy, there is nothing here that a man can hold on
to. We have left our boots at the door, they have given us slippers instead, and now nothing remains to recall for me
the assurance and self-confidence of the soldier; no rifle, no belt, no tunic, no cap. I let myself drop into the unknown,
come what may—yet, in spite of all, I feel somewhat afraid.
The little brunette contracts her brows when she is thinking; but when she talks they are still. And often sound
does not quite become a word but suffocates or floats away over me half finished; an arch, a pathway, a comet. What
have I known of it—what do I know of it?—The words of this foreign tongue, that I hardly understand, they caress me
to a quietness, in which the room grows dim, and dissolves in the half light, only the face above me lives and is clear.
How various is a face; but an hour ago it was strange and it is now touched with a tenderness that comes, not
from it, but from out of the night, the world and the blood, all these things seem to shine in it together. The objects in
the room are touched by it and transformed, they become isolated, and I feel almost awed at the sight of my clear skin
when the light of the lamp falls upon it and the cool, brown hand passes over it.
How different this is from the conditions in the soldiers’ brothels, to which we are allowed to go, and where we
have to wait in long queues. I wish I never thought of them; but desire turns my mind to them involuntarily and I am
afraid for it might be impossible ever to be free of them again.
But then I feel the lips of the little brunette and press myself against them, my eyes close, and I want it all to fall
from me, war and terror and grossness, in order to awaken young and happy; I think of the picture of the girl on the
poster and, for a moment, believe that my life depends on winning her. And if I press ever deeper into the arms that
embrace me, perhaps a miracle may happen.…
So, after a time we find ourselves reassembled again. Leer is in high spirits. We pull on our boots and take our leave
warmly. The night air cools our hot bodies. The rustling poplars loom large in the darkness. The moon floats in the
heavens and in the waters of the canal. We do not run, we walk beside one another with long strides.
“That was worth a ration-loaf,” says Leer.
I cannot trust myself to speak, I am not in the least happy.
Then we hear footsteps and dodge behind a shrub.
The steps come nearer, close by us. We see a naked soldier, in boots, just like ourselves; he has a package under
his arm, and gallops onward. It is Tjaden in full course. He has disappeared already.
We laugh. In the morning he will curse us.
Unobserved, we arrive again at our sacks of straw.
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I am called to the Orderly Room. The Company Commander gives me a leave-pass and a travel-pass and wishes me a
good journey. I look to see how much leave I have got. Seventeen days—fourteen days leave and three days for
travelling. It is not enough and I ask whether I cannot have five days for travelling. Bertinck points to my pass. There I
see that I am not to return to the front immediately. After my leave I have to report for a course of training to a camp
on the moors.
The others envy me. Kat gives me good advice, and tells me I ought to try to get a base-job. “If you’re smart, you’ll
hang on to it.”
I would rather not have gone for another eight days; we are to stay here that much longer and it is good here.
Naturally I have to stand the others drinks at the canteen. We are all a little bit drunk. I become gloomy: I will be
away for six weeks—that is lucky, of course, but what may happen before I get back? Shall I meet all these fellows
again? Already Haie and Kemmerich have gone—who will the next be?
As we drink, I look at each of them in turn. Albert sits beside me and smokes, he is cheerful, we have always been
together;—opposite squats Kat, with his drooping shoulders, his broad thumb, and calm voice—Müller with the
projecting teeth and the booming laugh; Tjaden with his mousey eyes;—Leer who has grown a full beard and looks at
least forty.
Over us hangs a dense cloud of smoke. Where would a soldier be without tobacco? The canteen is his refuge, and
beer is far more than a drink, it is a token that a man can move his limbs and stretch in safety. We do it ceremonially,
we stretch our legs out in front of us and spit deliberately, that is the only way. How it all rises up before a man when
he is going away the next morning!
At night we go again to the other side of the canal. I am almost afraid to tell the little brunette that I am going
away, and when I return we will be far from here; we will never see one another again. But she merely nods and takes
no special notice. At first I am at a loss to understand, then it suddenly dawns on me. Yes, Leer is right: if I were going
up to the front, then she would have called me again “pauvre garçon”; but merely going on leave—she does not want
to hear about that, that is not nearly so interesting. May she go to the devil with her chattering talk. A man dreams of
a miracle and wakes up to loaves of bread.
Next morning, after I have been de-loused, I go the rail head. Albert and Kat come with me. At the halt we learn
that it will be a couple of hours yet before the train leaves. The other two have to go back to duty. We take leave of
one another.
“Good luck, Kat: good luck, Albert.”
They go off and wave once or twice. Their figures dwindle. I know their every step and movement; I would
recognize them at any distance. Then they disappear. I sit down on my pack and wait.
Suddenly I become filled with a consuming impatience to be gone.
I lie down on many a station platform; I stand before many a soup-kitchen; I squat on many a bench;—then at last the
landscape becomes disturbing, mysterious, and familiar. It glides past the western windows with its villages, their
thatched roofs like caps, pulled over the white-washed, half-timbered houses, its corn-fields, gleaming like mother-ofpearl
in the slanting light, its orchards, its barns and old lime trees.
The names of the stations begin to take on meaning and my heart trembles. The train stamps and stamps onward.
I stand at the window and hold on to the frame. These names mark the boundaries of my youth.
Smooth meadows, fields, farm-yards; a solitary team moves against the sky-line along the road that runs parallel
to the horizon—a barrier, before which peasants stand waiting, girls waving, children playing on the embankment,
roads, leading into the country, smooth roads without artillery.
It is evening, and if the train did not rattle I should cry out. The plain unfolds itself.
In the distance, the soft, blue silhouette of the mountain ranges begins to appear. I recognize the characteristic
outline of the Dolbenberg, a jagged comb, springing up precipitously from the limits of the forests. Behind it should
lie the town.
But now the sun streams through the world, dissolving everything in its golden-red light, the train swings round
one curve and then another;—far away, in a long line one behind the other, stand the poplars, unsubstantial, swaying
and dark, fashioned out of shadow, light, and desire.
The field swings round as the train encircles it, and the intervals between the trees diminish; the trees become a
block and for a moment I see one only—then they reappear from behind the foremost tree and stand out a long line
against the sky until they are hidden by the first houses.
A street-crossing. I stand by the window, I cannot drag myself away. The others put their baggage ready for
getting out. I repeat to myself the name of the street that we cross over—Bremerstrasse—Bremerstrasse—
Below there are cyclists, lorries, men; it is a grey street and a grey subway;—it affects me as though it were my
Then the train stops, and there is the station with noise and cries and signboards. I pick up my pack and fasten the
straps, I take my rifle in my hand and stumble down the steps.
On the platform I look round; I know no one among all the people hurrying to and fro. A red-cross sister offers me
something to drink. I turn away, she smiles at me too foolishly, so obsessed with her own importance: “Just look, I am
giving a soldier coffee!”—She calls me “Comrade,” but I will have none of it.
Outside in front of the station the stream roars alongside the street, it rushes foaming from the sluices of the mill
bridge. There stands the old, square watch-tower, in front of it the great mottled lime tree and behind it the evening.
Here we have often sat—how long ago it is—we have passed over this bridge and breathed the cool, acid smell of
the stagnant water; we have leaned over the still water on this side of the lock, where the green creepers and weeds
hang from the piles of the bridge;—and on hot days we rejoiced in the spouting foam on the other side of the lock and
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told tales about our school-teachers.
I pass over the bridge, I look right and left; the water is as full of weeds as ever, and it still shoots over in
gleaming arches; in the tower building laundresses still stand with bare arms as they used to over the clean linen, and
the heat from the ironing pours out through the open windows. Dogs trot along the narrow street, before the doors of
the houses people stand and follow me with their gaze as I pass by, dirty and heavy laden.
In this confectioner’s we used to eat ices, and there we learned to smoke cigarettes. Walking down the street I
know every shop, the grocer’s, the chemist’s, the baker’s. Then at last I stand before the brown door with its worn
latch and my hand grows heavy. I open the door and a strange coolness comes out to meet me, my eyes are dim.
The stairs creak under my boots. Upstairs a door rattles, someone is looking over the railing. It is the kitchen door
that was opened, they are cooking potato-cakes, the house reeks of it, and to-day of course is Saturday; that will be
my sister leaning over. For a moment I am shy and lower my head, then I take off my helmet and look up. Yes, it is
my eldest sister.
“Paul,” she cries, “Paul——”
I nod, my pack bumps against the banisters; my rifle is so heavy.
She pulls a door open and calls: “Mother, mother, Paul is here.”
I can go no further—mother, mother, Paul is here.
I lean against the wall and grip my helmet and rifle. I hold them as tight as I can, but I cannot take another step,
the staircase fades before my eyes, I support myself with the butt of my rifle against my feet and clench my teeth
fiercely, but I cannot speak a word, my sister’s call has made me powerless, I can do nothing, I struggle to make
myself laugh, to speak, but no word comes, and so I stand on the steps, miserable, helpless, paralysed, and against my
will the tears run down my cheeks.
My sister comes back and says: “Why, what is the matter?”
Then I pull myself together and stagger on to the landing. I lean my rifle in a corner, I set my pack against the
wall, place my helmet on it and fling down my equipment and baggage. Then I say fiercely: “Bring me a
She gives me one from the cupboard and I dry my face. Above me on the wall hangs the glass case with the
coloured butterflies that once I collected.
Now I hear my mother’s voice. It comes from the bedroom.
“Is she in bed?” I ask my sister.
“She is ill——” she replies.
I go into her, give her my hand and say as calmly as I can: “Here I am, Mother.”
She lies still in the dim light. Then she asks anxiously:
“Are you wounded?” and I feel her searching glance.
“No, I have got leave.”
My mother is very pale. I am afraid to make a light.
“Here I lie now,” says she, “and cry instead of being glad.”
“Are you sick, Mother?” I ask.
“I am going to get up a little to-day,” she says and turns to my sister, who is continually running to the kitchen to
watch that the food does not burn: “And put out that jar of preserved whortleberries—you like that, don’t you?” she
asks me.
“Yes, Mother, I haven’t had any for a long time.”
“We might almost have known you were coming,” laughs my sister, “there is just your favourite dish, potatocakes,
and even whortleberries to go with them too.”
“And it is Saturday,” I add.
“Sit here beside me,” says my mother.
She looks at me. Her hands are white and sickly and frail compared with mine. We say very little and I am
thankful that she asks nothing. What ought I to say? Everything I could have wished for has happened. I have come
out of it safely and sit here beside her. And in the kitchen stands my sister preparing supper and singing.
“Dear boy,” says my mother softly.
We were never very demonstrative in our family; poor folk who toil and are full of cares are not so. It is not their
way to protest what they already know. When my mother says to me “dear boy,” it means much more than when
another uses it. I know well enough that the jar of whortleberries is the only one they have had for months, and that
she has kept it for me; and the somewhat stale cakes that she gives me too. She must have got them cheap some time
and put them all by for me.
I sit by her bed, and through the window the chestnut trees in the beer garden opposite glow in brown and gold. I
breathe deeply and say over to myself:—“You are at home, you are at home.” But a sense of strangeness will not leave
me, I cannot feel at home amongst these things. There is my mother, there is my sister, there my case of butterflies,
and there the mahogany piano—but I am not myself there. There is a distance, a veil between us.
I go and fetch my pack to the bedside and turn out the things I have brought—a whole Edamer cheese, that Kat
provided me with, two loaves of army bread, three-quarters of a pound of butter, two tins of livered sausage, a pound
of dripping and a little bag of rice.
“I suppose you can make some use of that——”
They nod.
“It is pretty bad for food here?” I enquire.
“Yes, there’s not much. Do you get enough out there?”
I smile and point to the things I have brought. “Not always quite as much as that, of course, but we fare
reasonably well.”
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Erna takes away the food. Suddenly my mother seizes hold of my hand and asks falteringly: “Was it very bad out
there, Paul?”
Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not understand, you could never realize it. And you shall never
realize it. Was it bad, you ask.—You, Mother,—I shake my head and say: “No, Mother, not so very. There are always a
lot of us together so it isn’t so bad.”
“Yes, but Heinrich Bredemeyer was here just lately and said it was terrible out there now, with the gas and all the
rest of it.”
It is my mother who says that. She says: “With the gas and all the rest of it.” She does not know what she is
saying, she is merely anxious for me. Should I tell her how we once found three enemy trenches with their garrison all
stiff as though stricken with apoplexy? against the parapet, in the dug-outs, just where they were, the men stood and
lay about, with blue faces, dead.
“No Mother, that’s only talk,” I answer, “there’s not very much in what Bredemeyer says. You see for instance, I’m
well and fit——”
Before my mother’s tremulous anxiety I recover my composure. Now I can walk about and talk and answer
questions without fear of having suddenly to lean against the wall because the world turns soft as rubber and my
veins become brimstone.
My mother wants to get up. So I go for a while to my sister in the kitchen. “What is the matter with her?” I ask.
She shrugs her shoulders: “She has been in bed some months now, but we did not want to write and tell you.
Several doctors have been to see her. One of them said it is probably cancer again.”
I go to the district commandant to report myself. Slowly I wander through the streets. Occasionally someone speaks to
me. I do not delay long for I have little inclination to talk.
On the way back from the barracks a loud voice calls out to me. Still lost in thought I turn round and find myself
confronted by a Major. “Can’t you salute?” he blusters.
“Sorry, Major,” I say in embarrassment, “I didn’t notice you.”
“Don’t you know how to speak properly?” he roars.
I would like to hit him in the face, but control myself, for my leave depends on it. I click my heels and say: “I did
not see you, Herr Major.”
“Then keep your eyes open,” he snorts. “What is your name?” I give it.
His fat red face is furious. “What regiment?”
I give him full particulars. Even yet he has not had enough. “Where are you quartered?”
But I have had more than enough and say: “Between Langemark and Bixschoote.”
“Eh?” he asks, a bit stupefied.
I explain to him that I arrived on leave only an hour or two since, thinking that he would then trot along. But not
at all. He gets even more furious: “You think you can bring your front-line manners here, what? Well, we don’t stand
for that sort of thing. Thank God, we have discipline here!”
“Twenty paces backwards, double march!” he commands.
I am mad with rage. But I cannot say anything to him; he could put me under arrest if he liked. So I double back,
and then march up to him. Six paces from him I spring to a stiff salute and maintain it until I am six paces beyond
him. He calls me back again and affably gives me to understand that for once he is pleased to put mercy before justice.
I pretend to be duly grateful. “Now, dismiss!” he says. I turn about smartly and march off.
That ruins the evening for me. I go back home and throw my uniform into a corner; I had intended to change it in
any case. Then I take out my civilian clothes from the wardrobe and put them on.
I feel awkward. The suit is rather tight and short, I have grown in the army. Collar and tie give me some trouble.
In the end my sister ties the bow for me. But how light the suit is, it feels as though I had nothing on but a shirt and
I look at myself in the glass. It is a strange sight. A sunburnt, overgrown candidate for confirmation gazes at me in
My mother is pleased to see me wearing civilian clothes; it makes me less strange to her. But my father would
rather I kept my uniform on so that he could take me to visit his acquaintances.
But I refuse.
It is pleasant to sit quietly somewhere, in the beer garden for example, under the chestnuts by the skittle-alley. The
leaves fall down on the table and on the ground, only a few, the first. A glass of beer stands in front of me, I’ve
learned to drink in the army. The glass is half empty, but there are a few good swigs ahead of me, and besides I can
always order a second and a third if I wish to. There are no bugles and no bombardments, the children of the house
play in the skittle-alley, and the dog rests his head against my knee. The sky is blue, between the leaves of the
chestnuts rises the green spire of St. Margaret’s Church.
This is good, I like it. But I cannot get on with the people. My mother is the only one who asks no questions. Not
so my father. He wants me to tell him about the front; he is curious in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I no
longer have any real contact with him. There is nothing he likes more than just hearing about it. I realize he does not
know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things
into words. I am afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able to master them. What would become
of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us?
So I confine myself to telling him a few amusing things. But he wants to know whether I have ever had a hand-to-
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hand fight. I say “No,” and get up and go out.
But that does not mend matters. After I have been startled a couple of times in the street by the screaming of the
tram-cars, which resembles the shriek of a shell coming straight for one, somebody taps me on the shoulder. It is my
Germanmaster, and he fastens on me with the usual question: “Well, how are things out there? Terrible, terrible, eh?
Yes, it is dreadful, but we must carry on. And after all, you do at least get decent food out there, so I hear. You look
well, Paul, and fit. Naturally it’s worse here. Naturally. The best for our soldiers every time, that goes without saying.”
He drags me along to a table with a lot of others. They welcome me, a head-master shakes hands with me and
says: “So you come from the front? What is the spirit like out there? Excellent, eh? Excellent?”
I explain that no one would be sorry to be back home.
He laughs uproariously. “I can well believe it! But first you have to give the Froggies a good hiding. Do you
smoke? Here, try one. Waiter, bring a beer as well for our young warrior.”
Unfortunately I have accepted the cigar, so I have to remain. And they are all so dripping with good will that it is
impossible to object. All the same I feel annoyed and smoke like a chimney as hard as I can. In order to make at least
some show of appreciation I toss off the beer in one gulp. Immediately a second is ordered; people know how much
they are indebted to the soldiers. They argue about what we ought to annex. The head-master with the steel watchchain
wants to have at least the whole of Belgium, the coal-areas of France, and a slice of Russia. He produces reasons
why we must have them and is quite inflexible until at last the others give in to him. Then he begins to expound just
where-abouts in France the break-through must come, and turns to me: “Now, shove ahead a bit out there with your
everlasting trench warfare—Smash through the johnnies and then there will be peace.”
I reply that in our opinion a break-through may not be possible. The enemy may have too many reserves. Besides,
the war may be rather different from what people think.
He dismisses the idea loftily and informs me I know nothing about it. “The details, yes,” says he, “but this relates
to the whole. And of that you are not able to judge. You see only your little sector and so cannot have any general
survey. You do your duty, you risk your lives, that deserves the highest honour—every man of you ought to have the
Iron Cross—but first of all the enemy line must be broken through in Flanders and then rolled up from the top.”
He blows his nose and wipes his beard. “Completely rolled up they must be, from the top to the bottom. And then
to Paris.”
I would like to know just how he pictures it to himself, and pour the third glass of beer into me. Immediately he
orders another.
But I break away. He stuffs a few more cigars into my pocket and sends me off with a friendly slap. “All of the
best! I hope we will soon hear something worth while from you.”
I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in
the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and to-day. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had
only been in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any
more, it is a foreign world. Some of these people ask questions, some ask no questions, but one can see that the latter
are proud of themselves for their silence; they often say with a wise air that these things cannot be talked about. They
plume themselves on it.
I prefer to be alone, so that no one troubles me. For they all come back to the same thing, how badly it goes and
how well it goes; one thinks it is this way, another that; and yet they are always absorbed in the things that go to
make up their existence. Formerly I lived in just the same way myself, but now I feel no contact here.
They talk too much for me. They have worries, aims, desires, that I cannot comprehend. I often sit with one of
them in the little beer garden and try to explain to him that this is really the only thing: just to sit quietly, like this.
They understand of course, they agree, they may even feel it so too, but only with words, only with words, yes that is
it—they feel it, but always with only half of themselves, the rest of their being is taken up with other things, they are
so divided in themselves that none feels it with his whole essence; I cannot even say myself exactly what I mean.
When I see them here, in their rooms, in their offices, about their occupations, I feel an irresistible attraction in it,
I would like to be here too and forget the war; but also it repels me, it is so narrow, how can that fill a man’s life, he
ought to smash it to bits; how can they do it, while out at the front the splinters are whining over the shell-holes and
star-shells go up, the wounded are carried back on waterproof sheets and comrades crouch in the trenches.—They are
different men here, men I cannot properly understand, whom I envy and despise. I must think of Kat and Albert and
Müller and Tjaden, what will they be doing? No doubt they are sitting in the canteen, or perhaps swimming—soon
they will have to go up to the front-line again.
In my room behind the table stands a brown leather sofa. I sit down on it.
On the walls are pinned countless pictures that I once used to cut out of the newspapers. In between are drawings
and postcards that have pleased me. In the corner is a small iron stove. Against the wall opposite stand the bookshelves
with my books.
I used to live in this room before I was a soldier. The books I bought gradually with the money I earned by
coaching. Many of them are secondhand, all the classics for example, one volume in blue cloth boards cost one mark
twenty pfenning. I bought them complete because it was thorough-going, I did not trust the editors of selections to
choose all the best. So I purchased only “collected works.” I read most of them with laudable zeal, but few of them
really appealed to me. I preferred the other books, the moderns, which were of course much dearer. A few I came by
not quite honestly, I borrowed and did not return them because I did not want to part with them.
One shelf is filled with school books. They are not so well cared for, they are badly thumbed, and pages have been
torn out for certain purposes. Then below are periodicals, papers, and letters all jammed in together with drawings
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and rough sketches.
I want to think myself back into that time. It is still in the room, I feel it at once, the walls have preserved it. My
hands rest on the arms of the sofa; now I make myself at home and draw up my legs so that I sit comfortably in the
corner, in the arms of the sofa. The little window is open, through it I see the familiar picture of the street with the
rising spire of the church at the end. There are a couple of flowers on the table. Pen-holders, a shell as a paper-weight,
the ink-well—here nothing is changed.
It will be like this too. If I am lucky, when the war is over and I come back here for good. I will sit here just like
this and look at my room and wait.
I feel excited; but I do not want to be, for that is not right. I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same
powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my books. The breath of desire that then arose from the
coloured backs of the books, shall fill me again, melt the heavy, dead lump of lead that lies somewhere in me and
waken again the impatience of the future, the quick joy in the world of thought, it shall bring back again the lost
eagerness of my youth. I sit and wait.
It occurs to me that I must go and see Kemmerich’s mother;—I might visit Mittelstaedt too, he should be at the
barracks. I look out of the window;—beyond the picture of the sunlit street appears a range of hills, distant and light;
it changes to a clear day in autumn, and I sit by the fire with Kat and Albert and eat potatoes baked in their skins.
But I do not want to think of that, I sweep it away. The room shall speak, it must catch me up and hold me, I want
to feel that I belong here, I want to hearken and know when I go back to the front that the war will sink down, he
drowned utterly in the great home-coming tide, know that it will then be past forever, and not gnaw us continually,
that it will have none but an outward power over us.
The backs of the books stand in rows. I know them all still, I remember arranging them in order. I implore them
with my eyes: Speak to me—take me up—take me, Life of my Youth—you who are care-free, beautiful—receive me
I wait, I wait.
Images float through my mind, but they do not grip me, they are mere shadows and memories.
My disquietude grows.
A terrible feeling of foreignness suddenly rises up in me. I cannot find my way back, I am shut out though I
entreat earnestly and put forth all my strength.
Nothing stirs; listless and wretched, like a condemned man, I sit there and the past withdraws itself. And at the
same time I fear to importune it too much, because I do not know what might happen then. I am a soldier, I must
cling to that.
Wearily I stand up and look out of the window. Then I take one of the books, intending to read, and turn over the
leaves. But I put it away and take out another. There are passages in it that have been marked. I look, turn over the
pages, take up fresh books. Already they are piled up beside me. Speedily more join the heap, papers, magazines,
I stand there dumb. As before a judge.
Words, Words, Words—they do not reach me.
Slowly I place the books back in the shelves.
Quietly, I go out of the room.
I still do not give up hope. I do not indeed go to my room any more, but comfort myself with the thought that a few
days are not enough to judge by. Afterwards—later on—there is plenty of time for that.
So I go over to see Mittelstaedt in the barracks, and we sit in his room; there is an atmosphere about it that I do
not like but with which I am quite familiar.
Mittelstaedt has some news ready for me that electrifies me on the spot. He tells me Kantorek has been called up
as a territorial.
“Just think of it,” says he, and takes out a couple of good cigars, “I come back here from the hospital and bump
right into him. He stretches out his paw to me and bleats: ‘Hullo Mittelstaedt, how are you?’—I look at him and say:
‘Territorial Kantorek, business is business and schnapps is schnapps, you ought to know that well enough. Stand to
attention when you speak to a superior officer.’ You should have seen his face! A cross between a dud and a pickled
cucumber. He tried once again to chum up. So I snubbed him a bit harder. Then he brought up his biggest guns and
asked confidentially: ‘Would you like me to use my influence so that you can take an emergency-exam?’ He was trying
to remind me of those things, you know. Then I got mad, and I reminded him of something instead. ‘Territorial
Kantorek, two years ago you preached us into enlisting; and among us there was one, Joseph Behm, who didn’t want
to enlist. He was killed three months before he would have been called up in the ordinary way. If it had not been for
you he would have lived just that much longer. And now: Dismiss. You will hear from me later.’ It was easy to get put
in charge of his company. First thing I did was to take him to the stores and fit him out with suitable equipment. You
will see in a minute.”
We go to the parade ground. The company has fallen in, Mittelstaedt stands them at ease and inspects.
Then I see Kantorek and am scarcely able to stifle my laughter. He is wearing a faded blue tunic. On the back and
in the sleeves there are big dark patches. The tunic must have belonged to a giant. The black, worn breeches are just
as much too short; they reach barely halfway down his calf. The boots, tough old clod-hoppers, with turned-up toes
and laces at the side are much too big for him. But as a compensation the cap is too small, a terribly dirty, mean little
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pill-box. The whole rig-out is just pitiful.
Mittelstaedt stops in front of him: “Territorial Kantorek, do you call those buttons polished? You seem as though
you can never learn. Inadequate, Kantorek, quite inadequate——”
It makes me bubble with glee. In school Kantorek used to chasten Mittelstaedt with exactly the same expression
—“Inadequate, Mittelstaedt, quite inadequate.”
Mittelstaedt continues to upbraid him: “Look at Boettcher now, there’s a model for you to learn from.”
I can hardly believe my eyes. Boettcher is there too, Boettcher, our school porter. And he is a model! Kantorek
shoots a glance at me as if he would like to eat me. But I grin at him innocently, as though I do not recognize him any
Nothing could look more ludicrous than his forage-cap and his uniform. And this is the object before whom we
used to stand in anguish as he sat up there enthroned at his desk, spearing at us with his pencil for our mistakes in
those irregular French verbs with which afterwards we made so little headway in France. That is barely two years ago
—and now here stands Territorial Kantorek, the spell quite broken, with bent knees, arms like pothooks, unpolished
buttons and that ludicrous rig-out—an impossible soldier. I cannot reconcile this with the menacing figure at the
schoolmaster’s desk. I wonder what I, the old soldier, would do if this skinful of woe ever dared to say to me again:
“Bäumer, give the imperfect of ‘aller.’ ”
Then Mittelstaedt makes them practise skirmishing, and as a favour appoints Kantorek squad leader.
Now, in skirmishing the squad leader has always to keep twenty paces in front of his squad; if the order comes
“On the march, about turn,” the line of skirmishers simply turns about, but the squad leader, who now finds himself
suddenly twenty paces in the rear of the line, has to rush up at the double and take his position again twenty paces in
front of the squad. That makes altogether forty paces double march. But no sooner has he arrived than the order “On
the march, about turn,” comes again and he once more has to race at top speed another forty paces to the other side.
In this way the squad has merely made the turn-about and a couple of paces, while the squad-leader dashes
backwards and forwards like a fart on a curtain-pole. That is one of Himmelstoss’ well-worn recipes.
Kantorek can hardly expect anything else from Mittelstaedt, for he once messed up the latter’s chance of
promotion, and Mittelstaedt would be a big fool not to make the best of such a good opportunity as this before he
goes back to the front again. A man might well die easier after the army has given him just one such stroke of luck.
In the meantime Kantorek is dashing up and down like a wild boar. After a while Mittelstaedt stops the skirmish
and begins the very important exercise of creeping.
On hands and knees, carrying his gun in regulation fashion, Kantorek shoves his absurd figure over the sand
immediately in front of us. He is breathing hard, and his panting is music.
Mittelstaedt encourages Kantorek the territorial with quotations from Kantorek the school-master. “Territorial
Kantorek, we have the good fortune to live in a great age, we must brace ourselves and triumph over hardship.”
Kantorek sweats and spits out a dirty piece of wood that has lodged in his teeth.
Mittelstaedt stoops down and says reproachfully: “And in the trifles never lose sight of the great adventure,
Territorial Kantorek!”
It amazes me that Kantorek does not explode with a bang, especially when, during physical exercises, Mittelstaedt
copies him to perfection, seizing him by the seat of his trousers as he is pulling himself up on the horizontal bar so
that he can just raise his chin above the beam, and then starts to give him good advice. That is exactly what Kantorek
used to do to him at school.
The extra fatigues are next detailed off. “Kantorek and Boettcher, bread fatigue! Take the handcart with you.”
A few minutes later the two set off together pushing the barrow. Kantorek in a fury walks with his head down. But
the porter is delighted to have scored light duty.
The bakehouse is away at the other end of the town, and the two must go there and back through the whole
length of it.
“They’ve done that a couple of times already,” grins Mittelstaedt. “People have begun to watch for them coming.”
“Excellent,” I say, “but hasn’t he reported you yet?”
“He did try. Our C.O. laughed like the deuce when he heard the story. He hasn’t any time for schoolmasters.
Besides, I’m sweet with his daughter.”
“He’ll mess up the examination for you.”
“I don’t care,” says Mittelstaedt calmly. “Besides, his complaint came to nothing because I could show that he had
had hardly anything but light duty.”
“Couldn’t you polish him up a bit?” I ask.
“He’s too stupid, I couldn’t be bothered,” answers Mittelstaedt contemptuously.
What is leave?—A pause that only makes everything after it so much worse. Already the sense of parting begins to
intrude itself. My mother watches me silently; I know she counts the days; every morning she is sad. It is one day less.
She has put away my pack, she does not want to be reminded by it.
The hours pass quickly if a man broods. I pull myself together, and go with my sister to the slaughter-house to get
a pound or two of bones. That is a great favour and people line up early in the morning and stand waiting. Many of
them faint.
We have no luck. After waiting by turns for three hours the queue disperses. The bones have not lasted out.
It is a good thing that I get my rations. I bring them to my mother and in that way we all get something decent to
The days grow ever more strained and my mother’s eyes more sorrowful. Four days left now. I must go and see
Kemmerich’s mother.
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I cannot write that down. This quaking, sobbing woman who shakes me and cries out on me: “Why are you living
then, when he is dead?”—who drowns me in tears and calls out: “What are you there for at all, child, when you
——”—who drops into a chair and wails: “Did you see him? Did you see him then? How did he die?”
I tell her he was shot through the heart and died instantaneously. She looks at me, she doubts me: “You lie. I know
better. I have felt how terribly he died. I have heard his voice at night, I have felt his anguish—tell the truth, I want to
know it, I must know it.”
“No,” I say, “I was beside him. He died at once.”
She pleads with me gently: “Tell me. You must tell me. I know you want to comfort me, but don’t you see, you
torment me far more than if you told me the truth? I cannot bear the uncertainty. Tell me how it was and even
though it will be terrible, it will be far better than what I have to think if you don’t.”
I will never tell her, she can make mincemeat out of me first. I pity her, but she strikes me as rather stupid all the
same. Why doesn’t she stop worrying? Kemmerich will stay dead whether she knows about it or not. When a man has
seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there should be so much anguish over a single individual. So
I say rather impatiently: “He died immediately. He felt absolutely nothing at all. His face was quite calm.”
She is silent. Then says slowly: “Will you swear it?”
“By everything that is sacred to you?”
Good God, what is there that is sacred to me?—such things change pretty quickly with us.
“Yes, he died at once.”
“Are you willing never to come back yourself, if it isn’t true?”
“May I never come back if he wasn’t killed instantaneously.”
I would swear to anything. But she seems to believe me. She moans and weeps steadily. I have to tell how it
happened, so I invent a story and I almost believe it myself.
As I leave she kisses me and gives me a picture of him. In his recruit’s uniform he leans on a round rustic table
with legs made of birch branches. Behind him a wood is painted on a curtain, and on the table stands a mug of beer.
It is the last evening at home. Everyone is silent. I go to bed early, I seize the pillow, press it against myself and bury
my head in it. Who knows if I will ever lie in a feather bed again?
Late in the night my mother comes into my room. She thinks I am asleep, and I pretend to be so. To talk, to stay
awake with one another, it is too hard.
She sits long into the night although she is in pain and often writhes. At last I can bear it no longer, and pretend I
have just wakened up.
“Go and sleep, Mother, you will catch cold here.”
“I can sleep enough later,” she says.
I sit up. “I don’t go straight back to the front, Mother. I have to do four weeks at the training camp. I may come
over from there on Sunday, perhaps.”
She is silent. Then she asks gently: “Are you very much afraid?”
“No Mother.”
“I would like to tell you to be on your guard against the women out in France. They are no good.”
Ah! Mother, Mother! You still think I am a child—why can I not put my head in your lap and weep? Why have I
always to be strong and self-controlled? I would like to weep and be comforted too, indeed I am little more than a
child; in the wardrobe still hang short, boy’s trousers—it is such a little time ago, why is it over?
“Where we are there aren’t any women, Mother,” I say as calmly as I can.
“And be very careful at the front, Paul.”
Ah, Mother, Mother! Why do I not take you in my arms and die with you. What poor wretches we are!
“Yes Mother, I will.”
“I will pray for you every day, Paul.”
Ah! Mother, Mother! Let us rise up and go out, back through the years, where the burden of all this misery lies on
us no more, back to you and me alone, Mother!
“Perhaps you can get a job that is not so dangerous.”
“Yes, Mother, perhaps I can get into the cook-house, that can easily be done.”
“You do it then, and if the others say anything——”
“That won’t worry me, Mother——”
She sighs. Her face is a white gleam in the darkness.
“Now you must go to sleep, Mother.”
She does not reply. I get up and wrap my cover round her shoulders.
She supports herself on my arm, she is in pain. And so I take her to her room. I stay with her a little while.
“And you must get well again, Mother, before I come back.”
“Yes, yes, my child.”
“You ought not to send your things to me, Mother. We have plenty to eat out there. You can make much better use
of them here.”
How destitute she lies there in her bed, she that loves me more than all the world. As I am about to leave, she says
hastily: “I have two pairs of underpants for you. They are all wool. They will keep you warm. You must not forget to
put them in your pack.”
Ah! Mother! I know what these underpants have cost you in waiting, and walking, and begging! Ah! Mother,
Mother! how can it be that I must part from you? Who else is there that has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and
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there you are lying; we have so much to say, and we shall never say it.
“Good-night, Mother.”
“Good-night, my child.”
The room is dark. I hear my mother’s breathing, and the ticking of the clock. Outside the window the wind blows
and the chestnut trees rustle.
On the landing I stumble over my pack, which lies there already made up because I have to leave early in the
I bite into my pillow. I grasp the iron rods of my bed with my fists. I ought never to have come here. Out there I
was indifferent and often hopeless—I will never be able to be so again. I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an
agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end.
I ought never to have come on leave.
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I ALREADY KNOW the camp on the moors. It was here that Himmelstoss gave Tjaden his education. But now I know hardly
anyone here; as ever, all is altered. There are only a few people that I have occasionally met before.
I go through the routine mechanically. In the evenings I generally go to the Soldiers’ Home, where the newspapers
are laid out, but I do not read them; still there is a piano there that I am glad enough to play on. Two girls are in
attendance, one of them is young.
The camp is surrounded with high barbed-wire fences. If we come back late from the Soldiers’ Home we have to
show passes. But those who are on good terms with the guard can get through, of course.
Among the junipers and the birch trees on the moor we practise company drill each day. It is bearable if one
expects nothing better. We advance at a run, fling ourselves down, and our panting breath moves the stalks of the
grasses and the flowers of the heather to and fro. Looked at so closely one sees the fine sand is composed of millions
of the tiniest pebbles, as clear as if they had been made in a laboratory. It is strangely inviting to dig one’s hands into
But the most beautiful are the woods with their line of birch trees. Their colour changes with every minute. Now
the stems gleam purest white, and between them airy and silken, hangs the pastel-green of the leaves; the next
moment all changes to an opalescent blue, as the shivering breezes pass down from the heights and touch the green
lightly away; and again in one place it deepens almost to black as a cloud passes over the sun. And this shadow moves
like a ghost through the dim trunks and rides far out over the moor to the sky—then the birches stand out again like
gay banners on white poles, with their red and gold patches of autumn-tinted leaves.
I often become so lost in the play of soft light and transparent shadow, that I almost fail to hear the commands. It
is when one is alone that one begins to observe Nature and to love her. And here I have not much companionship, and
do not even desire it. We are too little acquainted with one another to do more than joke a bit and play poker or nap
in the evenings.
Alongside our camp is the big Russian prison camp. It is separated from us by a wire fence, but in spite of this the
prisoners come across to us. They seem nervous and fearful, though most of them are big fellows with beards—they
look like meek, scolded, St. Bernard dogs.
They slink about our camp and pick over the garbage tins. One can imagine what they find there. With us food is
pretty scarce and none too good at that—turnips cut into six pieces and boiled in water, and unwashed carrot tops—
mouldy potatoes are tit-bits, and the chief luxury is a thin rice soup in which float little bits of beef-sinew, but these
are cut up so small that they take a lot of finding.
Everything gets eaten, notwithstanding, and if ever anyone is so well off as not to want all his share, there are a
dozen others standing by ready to relieve him of it. Only the dregs that the ladle cannot reach are tipped out and
thrown into the garbage tins. Along with that there sometimes go a few turnip peelings, mouldy bread crusts and all
kinds of muck.
This thin, miserable, dirty garbage is the objective of the prisoners. They pick it out of the stinking tins greedily
and go off with it under their blouses.
It is strange to see these enemies of ours so close up. They have faces that make one think—honest peasant faces,
broad foreheads, broad noses, broad mouths, broad hands, and thick hair.
They ought to be put to threshing, reaping, and apple picking. They look just as kindly as our own peasants in
It is distressing to watch their movements, to see them begging for something to eat. They are all rather feeble, for
they only get enough nourishment to keep them from starving. Ourselves we have not had sufficient to eat for long
enough. They have dysentery; furtively many of them display the blood-stained tails of their shirts. Their backs, their
necks are bent, their knees sag, their heads droop as they stretch out their hands and beg in the few words of German
that they know—beg with those soft, deep, musical voices, that are like warm stoves and cosy rooms at home.
Some men there are who give them a kick, so that they fall over;—but those are not many. The majority do
nothing to them, just ignore them. Occasionally, when they are too grovelling, it makes a man mad and then he kicks
them. If only they would not look at one so—What great misery can be in two such small spots, no bigger than a
man’s thumb—in their eyes!
They come over to the camp in the evenings and trade. They exchange whatever they possess for bread. Often
they have fair success, because they have very good boots and ours are bad. The leather of their knee boots is
wonderfully soft, like suede. The peasants among us who get tit-bits sent from home can afford to trade. The price of a
pair of boots is about two or three loaves of army bread, or a loaf of bread and a small, tough ham sausage.
But most of the Russians have long since parted with whatever things they had. Now they wear only the most
pitiful clothing, and try to exchange little carvings and objects that they have made out of shell fragments and copper
driving bands. Of course, they don’t get much for such things, though they may have taken immense pains with them
—they go for a slice or two of bread. Our peasants are hard and cunning when they bargain. They hold the piece of
bread or sausage right under the nose of the Russian till he grows pale with greed and his eyes bulge and then he will
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give anything for it. The peasants wrap up their booty with the utmost solemnity, and then get out their big pocket
knives, and slowly and deliberately cut off a slice of bread for themselves from their supply and with every mouthful
take a piece of the good tough sausage and so reward themselves with a good feed. It is distressing to watch them take
their afternoon meal thus; one would like to crack them over their thick pates. They rarely give anything away. How
little we understand one another.
I am often on guard over the Russians. In the darkness one sees their forms move like sick storks, like great birds.
They come close up to the wire fence and lean their faces against it; their fingers hook round the mesh. Often many
stand side by side, and breathe the wind that comes down from the moors and the forest.
They rarely speak and then only a few words. They are more human and more brotherly towards one another, it
seems to me, than we are. But perhaps that is merely because they feel themselves to be more unfortunate than us.
Anyway the war is over so far as they are concerned. But to wait for dysentery is not much of a life either.
The territorials who are in charge of them say that they were much more lively at first. They used to have
intrigues among themselves, as always happens, and it would often come to blows and knives. But now they are quite
apathetic and listless; most of them do not masturbate any more, they are so feeble, though otherwise things come to
such a pass that whole huts full of them do it.
They stand at the wire fence; sometimes one goes away and then another at once takes his place in the line. Most
of them are silent; occasionally one begs a cigarette butt.
I see their dark forms, their beards move in the wind. I know nothing of them except that they are prisoners; and
that is exactly what troubles me. Their life is obscure and guiltless;—if I could know more of them, what their names
are, how they live, what they are waiting for, what their burdens are, then my emotion would have an object and
might become sympathy. But as it is I perceive behind them only the suffering of the creature, the awful melancholy
of life and the pitilessness of men.
A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into
our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together
that very crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim. But
who can draw such a distinction when he looks at these quiet men with their childlike faces and apostles’ beards. Any
noncommissioned officer is more of an enemy to a recruit, any schoolmaster to a pupil, than they are to us. And yet
we would shoot at them again and they at us if they were free.
I am frightened: I dare think this way no more. This way lies the abyss. It is not now the time but I will not lose
these thoughts, I will keep them, shut them away until the war is ended. My heart beats fast: this is the aim, the great,
the sole aim, that I have thought of in the trenches; that I have looked for as the only possibility of existence after this
annihilation of all human feeling; this is a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years.
I take out my cigarettes, break each one in half and give them to the Russians. They bow to me and then light the
cigarettes. Now red points glow in every face. They comfort me; it looks as though there were little windows in dark
village cottages saying that behind them are rooms full of peace.
The days go by. On a foggy morning another of the Russians is buried; almost every day one of them dies. I am on
guard during the burial. The prisoners saying a chorale, they sing in parts, and it sounds almost as if there were no
voices, but an organ far away on the moor.
The burial is quickly over.
In the evening they stand again at the wire fence and the wind comes down to them from the beech woods. The
stars are cold.
I now know a few of those who speak a little German. There is a musician amongst them, he says he used to be a
violinist in Berlin. When he hears that I can play the piano he fetches his violin and plays. The others sit down and
lean their backs against the fence. He stands up and plays, sometimes he has that absent expression which violinists
get when they close their eyes, or again he sways the instrument to the rhythm and smiles across to me.
He plays mostly folk songs and the others hum with him. They are like a country of dark hills that sing far down
under the ground. The sound of the violin stands like a slender girl above it and is clear and alone. The voices cease
and the violin continues alone. In the night it is so thin it sounds frozen; one must stand close up; it would be much
better in a room—out here it makes a man grow sad.
Because I have already had a long leave I get none on Sundays. So the last Sunday before I go back to the front my
father and eldest sister come over to see me. All day we sit in the Soldiers’ Home. Where else could we go? We don’t
want to stay in the camp. About midday we go for a stroll on the moors.
The hours are a torture; we do not know what to talk about, so we speak of my mother’s illness. It is now
definitely cancer, she is already in the hospital and will be operated on shortly. The doctors hope she will recover, but
we have never heard of cancer being cured.
“Where is she then?” I ask.
“In the Luisa Hospital,” says my father.
“In which class?”
“Third. We must wait till we know what the operation costs. She wanted to be in the third herself. She said that
then she would have some company. And besides it is cheaper.”
“So she is lying there with all those people. If only she could sleep properly.”
My father nods. His face is broken and full of furrows. My mother has always been sickly; and though she has only
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gone to the hospital when she has been compelled to, it has cost a great deal of money, and my father’s life has been
practically given up to it.
“If only I knew how much the operation costs,” says he.
“Have you not asked?”
“Not directly. I cannot do that—the surgeon might take it amiss and that would not do; he must operate on
Yes, I think bitterly, that’s how it is with us, and with all poor people. They don’t dare ask the price, but worry
themselves dreadfully beforehand about it; but the others, for whom it is not important, they settle the price first as a
matter of course. And the doctor does not take it amiss from them.
“The dressings afterwards are so expensive,” says my father.
“Doesn’t the Invalid’s Fund pay anything toward it, then?” I ask.
“Mother has been ill too long.”
“Have you any money at all?”
He shakes his head: “No, but I can do some overtime.”
I know. He will stand at his desk folding and pasting and cutting until twelve o’clock at night. At eight o’clock in
the evening he will eat some miserable rubbish they get in exchange for their food tickets, then he will take a powder
for his headache and work on.
In order to cheer him up a bit I tell him a few stories, soldiers’ jokes and the like, about generals and sergeantmajors.
Afterwards I accompany them both to the railway station. They give me a pot of jam and a bag of potato-cakes
that my mother has made for me.
Then they go off and I return to the camp.
In the evening I spread the jam on the cakes and eat some. But I have no taste for them. So I go out to give them
to the Russians. Then it occurs to me that my mother cooked them herself and that she was probably in pain as she
stood before the hot stove. I put the bag back in my pack and take only two cakes to the Russians.
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WE TRAVEL FOR several days. The first aeroplanes appear in the sky. We roll on past transport lines. Guns, guns. The light
railway picks us up. I search for my regiment. No one knows exactly where it lies. Somewhere or other I put up for
the night, somewhere or other I receive provisions and a few vague instructions. And so with my pack and my rifle I
set out again on the way.
By the time I come up they are no longer in the devastated place. I hear we have become one of the flying
divisions that are pushed in wherever it is hottest. That does not sound cheerful to me. They tell me of heavy losses
that we have been having. I inquire after Kat and Albert. No one knows anything of them.
I search farther and wander about here and there; it is a strange feeling. One night more and then another I camp
out like a Red Indian. Then at last I get some definite information, and by the afternoon I am able to report to the
Orderly Room.
The sergeant-major detains me there. The company comes back in two days’ time. There is no object in sending
me up now.
“What was it like on leave?” he asks, “pretty good, eh?”
“In parts,” I say.
“Yes,” he sighs, “yes, if a man didn’t have to come away again. The second half is always rather messed up by
I loaf around until the company comes back in the early morning, grey, dirty, soured, and gloomy. Then I jump
up, push in amongst them, my eyes searching. There is Tjaden, there is Müller blowing his nose, and there are Kat and
Kropp. We arrange our sacks of straw side by side. I have an uneasy conscience when I look at them, and yet without
any good reason. Before we turn in I bring out the rest of the potato-cakes and jam so that they can have some too.
The outer cakes are mouldy, still it is possible to eat them. I keep those for myself and give the fresh one to Kat
and Kropp.
Kat chews and says: “These are from your mother?”
I nod.
“Good,” says he, “I can tell by the taste.”
I could almost weep. I can hardly control myself any longer. But it will soon be all right again back here with Kat
and Albert. This is where I belong.
“You’ve been lucky,” whispers Kropp to me before we drop off to sleep, “they say we are going to Russia.”
To Russia? It’s not much of a war over there.
In the distance the front thunders. The walls of the hut rattle.
There’s a great deal of polishing being done. We are inspected at every turn. Everything that is torn is exchanged for
new. I score a spotless new tunic out of it and Kat, of course, an entire outfit. A rumour is going round that there may
be peace, but the other story is more likely—that we are bound for Russia. Still, what do we need new things for in
Russia? At last it leaks out—the Kaiser is coming to review us. Hence all the inspections.
For eight whole days one would suppose we were in a basecamp, there is so much drill and fuss. Everyone is
peevish and touchy, we do not take kindly to all this polishing, much less to the full-dress parades. Such things
exasperate a soldier more than the front-line.
At last the moment arrives. We stand to attention and the Kaiser appears. We are curious to see what he looks like.
He stalks along the line, and I am really rather disappointed; judging from his pictures I imagined him to be bigger
and more powerfully built, and above all to have a thundering voice.
He distributes Iron Crosses, speaks to this man and that. Then we march off.
Afterwards we discuss it. Tjaden says with astonishment:
“So that is the All-Highest! And everyone, bar nobody, has to stand up stiff in front of him!” He meditates:
“Hindenburg too, he has to stand up stiff to him, eh?”
“Sure,” says Kat.
Tjaden hasn’t finished yet. He thinks for a while and then asks: “And would a king have to stand up stiff to an
None of us is quite sure about it, but we don’t suppose so. They are both so exalted that standing strictly to
attention is probably not insisted on.
“What rot you do hatch out,” says Kat. “The main point is that you have to stand stiff yourself.”
But Tjaden is quite fascinated. His otherwise prosy fancy is blowing bubbles. “But look,” he announces, “I simply
can’t believe that an emperor has to go to the latrine the same as I have.”
“You can bet your boots on it.”
“Four and a half-wit make seven,” says Kat. “You’ve got a maggot in your brain, Tjaden, just you run along to the
latrine quick, and get your head clear, so that you don’t talk like a two-year-old.”
Tjaden disappears.
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“But what I would like to know,” says Albert, “is whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser had said
“I’m sure there would,” I interject, “he was against it from the first.”
“Well, if not him alone, then perhaps if twenty or thirty people in the world had said No.”
“That’s probable,” I agree, “but they damned well said Yes.”
“It’s queer, when one thinks about it,” goes on Kropp, “we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are
over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”
“Perhaps both,” say I without believing it.
“Yes, well now,” pursues Albert, and I see that he means to drive me into a corner, “but our professors and
parsons and newspapers say that we are the only ones that are right, and let’s hope so;—but the French professors and
parsons and newspapers say that the right is on their side, now what about that?”
“That I don’t know,” I say, “but whichever way it is there’s war all the same and every month more countries
coming in.”
Tjaden reappears. He is still quite excited and again joins the conversation, wondering just how a war gets started.
“Mostly by one country badly offending another,” answers Albert with a slight air of superiority.
The Tjaden pretends to be obtuse. “A country? I don’t follow. A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain
in France. Or a river, or a wood, or a field of wheat.”
“Are you really as stupid as that, or are you just pulling my leg?” growls Kropp. “I don’t mean that at all. One
people offends the other——”
“Then I haven’t any business here at all,” replies Tjaden, “I don’t feel myself offended.”
“Well, let me tell you,” says Albert sourly, “it doesn’t apply to tramps like you.”
“Then I can be going home right away,” retorts Tjaden, and we all laugh.
“Ach, man! he means the people as a whole, the State——” exclaims Müller.
“State, State”—Tjaden snaps his fingers contemptuously, “Gendarmes, police, taxes, that’s your State;—if that’s
what you are talking about, no, thank you.”
“That’s right,” says Kat, “you’ve said something for once, Tjaden. State and home-country, there’s a big
“But they go together,” insists Kropp, “without the State there wouldn’t be any home-country.”
“True, but just you consider, almost all of us are simple folk. And in France, too, the majority of men are
labourers, workmen, or poor clerks. Now just why would a French black-smith or a French shoemaker want to attack
us? No, it is merely the rulers. I had never seen a Frenchman before I came here, and it will be just the same with the
majority of Frenchmen as regards us. They weren’t asked about it any more than we were.”
“Then what exactly is the war for?” asks Tjaden.
Kat shrugs his shoulders. “There must be some people to whom the war is useful.”
“Well, I’m not one of them,” grins Tjaden.
“Not you, nor anybody else here.”
“Who are they then?” persists Tjaden. “It isn’t any use to the Kaiser either. He has everything he can want
“I’m not so sure about that,” contradicts Kat, “he has not had a war up till now. And every full-grown emperor
requires at least one war, otherwise he would not become famous. You look in your school books.”
“And generals too,” adds Detering, “they become famous through war.”
“Even more famous than emperors,” adds Kat.
“There are other people back behind there who profit by the war, that’s certain,” growls Detering.
“I think it is more of a kind of fever,” says Albert. “No one in particular wants it, and then all at once there it is.
We didn’t want the war, the others say the same thing—and yet half the world is in it all the same.”
“But there are more lies told by the other side than by us,” say I; “just think of those pamphlets the prisoners have
on them, where it says that we eat Belgian children. The fellows who write those lies ought to go out and hang
themselves. They are real culprits.”
Müller gets up. “Anyway, it is better that the war is here instead of in Germany. Just you look at the shell-holes.”
“True,” assents Tjaden, “but no war at all would be better still.”
He is quite proud of himself because he has scored for once over us volunteers. And his opinion is quite typical,
here one meets it time and again, and there is nothing with which one can properly counter it, because that is the
limit of their comprehension of the factors involved. The national feeling of the tommy resolves itself into this—here
he is. But that is the end of it; everything else he criticizes from his own practical point of view.
Albert lies down on the grass and growls angrily: “The best thing is not to talk about the rotten business.”
“It won’t make any difference, that’s sure,” agrees Kat.
To make matters worse, we have to return almost all the new things and take back our old rags again. The good
ones were merely for the inspection.
Instead of going to Russia, we go up the line again. On the way we pass through a devastated wood with the tree
trunks shattered and the ground ploughed up.
At several places there are tremendous craters. “Great guns, something’s hit that,” I say to Kat.
“Trench mortars,” he replies, and then points up at one of the trees.
In the branches dead men are hanging. A naked soldier is squatting in the fork of a tree, he still has his helmet on,
otherwise he is entirely unclad. There is only half of him sitting up there, the top half, the legs are missing.
“What can that mean?” I ask.
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“He’s been blown out of his clothes,” mutters Tjaden.
“It’s funny,” says Kat, “we have seen that several times now. If a mortar gets you it blows you clean out of your
clothes. It’s the concussion that does it.”
I search around. And so it is. Here hang bits of uniform, and somewhere else is plastered a bloody mess that was
once a human limb. Over there lies a body with nothing but a piece of the underpants on one leg and the collar of the
tunic around its neck. Otherwise it is naked and the clothes are hanging up in the tree. Both arms are missing as
though they had been pulled out. I discover one of them twenty yards off in a shrub.
The dead man lies on his face. There, where the arm wounds are, the earth is black with blood. Underfoot the
leaves are scratched up as though the man had been kicking.
“That’s no joke, Kat,” says I.
“No more is a shell splinter in the belly,” he replies, shrugging his shoulders.
“But don’t get tender-hearted,” says Tjaden.
All this can only have happened a little while ago, the blood is still fresh. As everybody we see there is dead we do
not waste any more time, but report the affair at the next stretcher-bearers’ post. After all it is not our business to take
these stretcher-bearers’ jobs away from them.
A patrol has to be sent out to discover just how strongly the enemy position is manned. Since my leave I feel a certain
strange attachment to the other fellows, and so I volunteer to go with them. We agree on a plan, slip out through the
wire and then divide and creep forward separately. After a while I find a shallow shell-hole and crawl into it. From
here I peer forward.
There is moderate machine-gun fire. It sweeps across from all directions, not very heavy, but always sufficient to
make one keep down.
A parachute star-shell opens out. The ground lies stark in the pale light, and then the darkness shuts down again
blacker than ever. In the trenches we were told there were black troops in front of us. That is nasty, it is hard to see
them; they are very good at patrolling, too. And oddly enough they are often quite stupid; for instance, both Kat and
Kropp were once able to shoot down a black enemy patrol because the fellows in their enthusiasm for cigarettes
smoked while they were creeping about. Kat and Albert had simply to aim at the glowing ends of the cigarettes.
A bomb or something lands close beside me. I have not heard it coming and am terrified. At the same moment a
senseless fear takes hold of me. Here I am alone and almost helpless in the dark—perhaps two other eyes have been
watching me for a long while from another shell-hole in front of me, and a bomb lies ready to blow me to pieces. I try
to pull myself together. It is not my first patrol and not a particularly risky one. But it is the first since my leave, and
besides, the lie of the land is still rather strange to me.
I tell myself that my alarm is absurd, that there is probably nothing at all there in the darkness watching me,
otherwise they would not be firing so low.
It is in vain. In whirling confusion my thoughts hum in my brain—I hear the warning voice of my mother, I see
the Russians with the flowing beards leaning against the wire fence, I have a bright picture of a canteen with stools, of
a cinema in Valenciennes; tormented, terrified, in my imagination I see the grey, implacable muzzle of a rifle which
moves noiselessly before me whichever way I try to turn my head. The sweat breaks out from every pore.
I still continue to lie in the shallow bowl. I look at the time; only a few minutes have passed. My forehead is wet,
the sockets of my eyes are damp, my hands tremble, and I am panting softly. It is nothing but an awful spasm of fear,
a simple animal fear of poking out my head and crawling on farther.
All my efforts subside like froth into the one desire to be able just to stay lying there. My limbs are glued to the
earth. I make a vain attempt;—they refuse to come away. I press myself down on the earth, I cannot go forward, I
make up my mind to stay lying there.
But immediately the wave floods over me anew, a mingled sense of shame, of remorse, and yet at the same time of
security. I raise myself up a little to take a look round.
My eyes burn with staring into the dark. A star-shell goes up;—I duck down again.
I wage a wild and senseless fight, I want to get out of the hollow and yet slide back into it again; I say “You must,
it is your comrades, it is not an idiotic command,” and again: “What does it matter to me, I have only one life to lose
That is the result of all this leave, I plead in extenuation. But I cannot reassure myself; I become terribly faint. I
raise myself slowly and reach forward with my arms, dragging my body after me and then lie on the edge of the shellhole,
half in and half out.
There I hear sounds and drop back. Suspicious sounds can be detected clearly despite the noise of the artillery-fire.
I listen; the sound is behind me. They are our people moving along the trench. Now I hear muffled voices. To judge by
the tone that might be Kat talking.
At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me
recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are
more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most
comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.
I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness;—I belong to them and they to me; we all
share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in
them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.
Cautiously I glide out over the edge and snake my way forward. I shuffle along on all fours a bit farther, I keep track
of my bearings, look around me and observe the distribution of the gunfire so as to able to find my way back. Then I
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try to get in touch with the others.
I am still afraid, but it is an intelligent fear, an extraordinarily heightened caution. The night is windy and
shadows flit hither and thither in the flicker of the gunfire. It reveals too little and too much. Often I pause, stock still,
motionless, and always for nothing. Thus I advance a long way and then turn back in a wide curve. I have not
established touch with the others. Every yard nearer our trench fills me with confidence—and with haste, too. It
would be bad to get hit now.
Then a new fear lays hold of me. I can no longer remember the direction. Quiet, I squat in a shell-hole and try to
locate myself. More than once it has happened that some fellow has jumped joyfully into a trench, only then to
discover that it was the wrong one.
After a little time I listen again, but still I am not sure. The confusion of shell-holes now seems so bewildering that
I can no longer tell in my agitation which way I should go. Perhaps I am crawling parallel to the lines, and that might
go on forever. So I crawl round once again in a wide curve.
These damned rockets! They seem to burn for an hour, and a man cannot make the least movement without
bringing the bullets whistling round.
But there is nothing for it, I must get out. Falteringly I work my way farther, I move off over the ground like a
crab and rip my hands sorely on the jagged splinters, as sharp as razor blades. Often I think that the sky is becoming
lighter on the horizon, but it may be merely my imagination. Then gradually I realize that to crawl in the right
direction is a matter of life or death.
A shell crashes. Almost immediately two others. And then it begins in earnest. A bombardment. Machine-guns
rattle. Now there is nothing for it but to stay lying low. Apparently an attack is coming. Everywhere the rockets shoot
up. Unceasing.
I lie huddled in a large shell-hole, my legs in the water up to the belly. When the attack starts I will let myself fall
into the water, with my face as deep in the mud as I can keep it without suffocating. I must pretend to be dead.
Suddenly I hear the barrage lift. At once I slip down into the water, my helmet on the nape of my neck and my
mouth just clear so that I can get a breath of air.
I lie motionless;—somewhere something clanks, it stamps and stumbles nearer—all my nerves become taut and
icy. It clatters over me and away, the first wave has passed. I have but this one shattering thought: What will you do if
someone jumps into your shell-hole?—Swiftly I pull out my little dagger, grasp it fast and bury it in my hand once
again under the mud. If anyone jumps in here I will go for him. It hammers in my forehead; at once, stab him clean
through the throat, so that he cannot call out; that’s the only way; he will be just as frightened as I am; when in terror
we fall upon one another, then I must be first.
Now our batteries are firing. A shell lands near me. That makes me savage with fury, all it needs now is to be
killed by our own shells; I curse and grind my teeth in the mud; it is a raving frenzy; in the end all I can do is groan
and pray.
The crash of the shells bursts in my ears. If our fellows make a counter-raid I will be saved. I press my head
against the earth and listen to the muffled thunder, like the explosions of quarrying—and raise it again to listen for
the sounds on top.
The machine-guns rattle. I know our barbed wire entanglements are strong and almost undamaged;—parts of
them are charged with a powerful electric current. The rifle fire increases. They have not broken through; they have
to retreat.
I sink down again, huddled, strained to the uttermost. The banging, the creeping, the clanging becomes audible.
One single cry yelling amongst it all. They are raked with fire, the attack is repulsed.
Already it has become somewhat lighter. Steps hasten over me. The first. Gone. Again, another. The rattle of machineguns
becomes an unbroken chain. Just as I am about to turn round a little, something heavy stumbles, and with a
crash a body falls over me into the shell-hole, slips down, and lies across me—
I do not think at all, I make no decision—I strike madly at home, and feel only how the body suddenly convulses,
then becomes limp, and collapses. When I recover myself, my hand is sticky and wet.
The man gurgles. It sounds to me as though he bellows, every gasping breath is like a cry, a thunder—but it is not
only my heart pounding. I want to stop his mouth, stuff it with earth, stab him again, he must be quiet, he is
betraying me; now at last I regain control of myself, but have suddenly become so feeble that I cannot any more lift
my hand against him.
So I crawl away to the farthest corner and stay there, my eyes glued on him, my hand grasping the knife—ready,
if he stirs, to spring at him again. But he won’t do so any more, I can hear that already in his gurgling.
I can see him indistinctly. I have but one desire, to get away. If it is not soon it will be too light; it will be difficult
enough now. Then as I try to raise up my head I see it is impossible already. The machine-gunfire so sweeps the
ground that I should be shot through and through before I could make one jump.
I test it once with my helmet, which I take off and hold up to find out the level of the shots. The next moment it is
knocked out of my hand by a bullet. The fire is sweeping very low to the ground. I am not far enough from the enemy
line to escape being picked off by one of the snipers if I attempt to get away.
The light increases. Burning I wait for our attack. My hands are white at the knuckles, I clench them so tightly in
my longing for the fire to cease so that my comrades may come.
Minute after minute trickles away. I dare not look again at the dark figure in the shell-hole. With an effort I look
past it and wait, wait. The bullets hiss, they make a steel net, never ceasing, never ceasing.
Then I notice my bloody hand and suddenly feel nauseated. I take some earth and rub the skin with it; now my
hand is muddy and the blood cannot be seen any more.
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The fire does not diminish. It is equally heavy from both sides. Our fellows have probably given me up for lost
long ago.
It is early morning, clear and grey. The gurgling continues, I stop my ears, but soon take my fingers away again,
because then I cannot hear the other sound.
The figure opposite me moves. I shrink together and involuntarily look at it. Then my eyes remain glued to it. A
man with a small pointed beard lies there; his head is fallen to one side, one arm is halfbent, his head rests helplessly
upon it. The other hand lies on his chest, it is bloody.
He is dead, I say to myself, he must be dead, he doesn’t feel anything any more; it is only the body that is gurgling
there. Then the head tries to raise itself, for a moment the groaning becomes louder, his forehead sinks back upon his
arm. The man is not dead, he is dying, but he is not dead. I drag myself toward him, hesitate, support myself on my
hands, creep a bit farther, wait, again a terrible journey. At last I am beside him.
Then he opens his eyes. He must have heard me, for he gazes at me with a look of utter terror. The body lies still,
but in the eyes there is such an extraordinary expression of fright that for a moment I think they have power enough
to carry the body off with them. Hundreds of miles away with one bound. The body is still perfectly still, without a
sound, the gurgle has ceased, but the eyes cry out, yell, all the life is gathered together in them for one tremendous
effort to flee, gathered together there in a dreadful terror of death, of me.
My legs give way and I drop on my elbows. “No, no,” I whisper.
The eyes follow me. I am powerless to move so long as they are there.
Then his hand slips slowly from his breast, only a little bit, it sinks just a few inches, but this movement breaks the
power of the eyes. I bend forward, shake my head and whisper: “No, no, no,” I raise one hand, I must show him that I
want to help him, I stroke his forehead.
The eyes shrink back as the hand comes, then they lose their stare, the eyelids droop lower, the tension is past. I
open his collar and place his head more comfortably.
His mouth stands half open, it tries to form words. The lips are dry. My water bottle is not there. I have not
brought it with me. But there is water in the mud, down at the bottom of the crater. I climb down, take out my
handkerchief, spread it out, push it under and scoop up the yellow water that strains through into the hollow of my
He gulps it down. I fetch some more. Then I unbutton his tunic in order to bandage him if it is possible. In any
case I must do it, so that if the fellows over there capture me they will see that I wanted to help him, and so will not
shoot me. He tries to resist, but his hand is too feeble. The shirt is stuck and will not come away, it is buttoned at the
back. So there is nothing for it but to cut it open.
I look for the knife and find it again. But when I begin to cut the shirt the eyes open once more and the cry is in
them again and the demented expression, so that I must close them, press them shut and whisper: “I want to help you,
Comrade, camerade, camerade, camerade——” eagerly repeating the word, to make him understand.
There are three stabs. My field dressing covers them, the blood runs out under it, I press it tighter; there; he
That is all I can do. Now we must wait, wait.
These hours.… The gurgling starts again—but how slowly a man dies! For this I know—he cannot be saved, I have,
indeed, tried to tell myself that he will be, but at noon this pretence breaks down and melts before his groans. If only I
had not lost my revolver crawling about, I would shoot him. Stab him I cannot.
By noon I am groping on the outer limits of reason. Hunger devours me, I could almost weep for something to eat,
I cannot struggle against it. Again and again I fetch water for the dying man and drink some myself.
This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing. Kat and
Kropp and Müller have experienced it already, when they have hit someone; it happens to many, in hand-to-hand
fighting especially—
But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he
stabs me: Time and my thoughts.
I would give much if he would but stay alive. It is hard to lie here and to have to see and hear him.
In the afternoon, about three, he is dead.
I breathe freely again. But only for a short time. Soon the silence is more unbearable than the groans. I wish the
gurgling were there again, gasping hoarse, now whistling softly and again hoarse and loud.
It is mad, what I do. But I must do something. I prop the dead man up again so that he lies comfortably, although
he feels nothing any more. I close his eyes. They are brown, his hair is black and a bit curly at the sides.
The mouth is full and soft beneath his moustache; the nose is slightly arched, the skin brownish; it is now not so
pale as it was before, when he was still alive. For a moment the face seems almost healthy;—then it collapses
suddenly into the strange face of the dead that I have so often seen, strange faces, all alike.
No doubt his wife still thinks of him; she does not know what happened. He looks as if he would have often
written to her;—she will still be getting mail from him—To-morrow, in a week’s time—perhaps even a stray letter a
month hence. She will read it, and in it he will be speaking to her.
My state is getting worse, I can no longer control my thoughts. What would his wife look like? Like the little
brunette on the other side of the canal? Does she belong to me now? Perhaps by this act she becomes mine. I wish
Kantorek were sitting here beside me. If my mother could see me——. The dead man might have had thirty more
years of life if only I had impressed the way back to our trench more sharply on my memory. If only he had run two
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yards farther to the left, he might now be sitting in the trench over there and writing a fresh letter to his wife.
But I will get no further that way; for that is the fate of all of us: if Kemmerich’s leg had been six inches to the
right: if Haie Westhus had bent his back three inches further forward——
The silence spreads. I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and to say to him: “Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If
you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an
abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now,
for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I
see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never
tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear
of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw
away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life,
comrade, and stand up—take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.”
It is quiet, the front is still except for the crackle of rifle fire. The bullets rain over, they are not fired haphazard,
but shrewdly aimed from all sides. I cannot get out.
“I will write to your wife,” I say hastily to the dead man, “I will write to her, she must hear it from me, I will tell
her everything I have told you, she shall not suffer, I will help her, and your parents too, and your child——”
His tunic is half open. The pocket-book is easy to find. But I hesitate to open it. In it is the book with his name. So
long as I do not know his name perhaps I may still forget him, time will obliterate it, this picture. But his name, it is a
nail that will be hammered into me and never come out again. It has the power to recall this forever, it will always
come back and stand before me.
Irresolutely I take the wallet in my hand. It slips out of my hand and falls open. Some pictures and letters drop
out. I gather them up and want to put them back again, but the strain I am under, the uncertainty, the hunger, the
danger, these hours with the dead man have made me desperate, I want to hasten the relief, to intensify and to end
the torture, as one strikes an unendurably painful hand against the trunk of a tree, regardless of everything.
There are portraits of a woman and a little girl, small amateur photographs taken against an ivy-clad wall. Along
with them are letters. I take them out and try to read them. Most of it I do not understand, it is so hard to decipher
and I scarcely know any French. But each word I translate pierces me like a shot in the chest;—like a stab in the chest.
My brain is taxed beyond endurance. But I realize this much, that I will never dare to write to these people as I
intended. Impossible. I look at the portraits once more; they are clearly not rich people. I might send them money
anonymously if I earn anything later on. I seize upon that, it is at least something to hold on to. This dead man is
bound up with my life, therefore I must do everything, promise everything in order to save myself; I swear blindly
that I mean to live only for his sake and his family, with wet lips I try to placate him—and deep down in me lies the
hope that I may buy myself off in this way and perhaps even get out of this; it is a little stratagem: if only I am
allowed to escape, then I will see to it. So I open the book and read slowly:—Gérard Duval, compositor.
With the dead man’s pencil I write the address on an envelope, then swiftly thrust everything back into his tunic.
I have killed the printer, Gérard Duval. I must be a printer, I think confusedly, be a printer, printer——
By afternoon I am calmer. My fear was groundless. The name troubles me no more. The madness passes. “Comrade,” I
say to the dead man, but I say it calmly, “to-day you, to-morrow me. But if I come out of it, comrade, I will fight
against this, that has struck us both down; from you, taken life—and from me—? Life also. I promise you, comrade. It
shall never happen again.”
The sun strikes low, I am stupefied with exhaustion and hunger. Yesterday is like a fog to me, there is no hope of
ever getting out of this. I fall into a doze and do not at first realize that evening is approaching. The twilight comes. It
seems to me to come quickly now. One hour more. If it were summer, it would be three hours more. One hour more.
Now suddenly I begin to tremble; something might happen in the interval. I think no more of the dead man, he is
of no consequence to me now. With one bound the lust to live flares up again and everything that has filled my
thoughts goes down before it. Now, merely to avert any ill-luck, I babble mechanically: “I will fulfil everything, fulfil
everything I have promised you——” but already I know that I shall not do so.
Suddenly it occurs to me that my own comrades may fire on me as I creep up; they do not know I am coming. I
will call out as soon as I can so that they will recognize me. I will stay lying in front of the trench until they answer
The first star. The front remains quiet. I breathe deeply and talk to myself in my excitement: “No foolishness now,
Paul—Quiet, Paul, quiet—then you will be saved, Paul.” When I use my Christian name it works as though someone
else spoke it to me, it has more power.
The darkness grows. My excitement subsides, I wait cautiously until the first rocket goes up. Then I crawl out of
the shell-hole. I have forgotten the dead man. Before me lies the oncoming night and the pale gleaming field. I fix my
eyes on a shell-hole; the moment the light dies I scurry over into it, grope farther, spring into the next, duck down,
scramble onward.
I come nearer. There, by the light of the rocket I see something move in the wire, then it stiffens and I lie still.
Next time I see it again, yes, they are men from our trench. But I am suspicious until I recognize our helmets. Then I
call. And immediately an answer rings out, my name: “Paul—Paul——”
I call again in answer. It is Kat and Albert who have come out with a stretcher to look for me.
“Are you wounded?”
“No, no——”
We drop into the trench. I ask for something to eat and wolf it down. Müller gives me a cigarette. In a few words I
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tell what happened. There is nothing new about it; it happens quite often. The night attack is the only unusual feature
of the business. In Russia Kat once lay for two days behind the enemy lines before he could make his way back.
I do not mention the dead printer.
But by next morning I can keep it to myself no longer. I must tell Kat and Albert. They both try to calm me. “You
can’t do anything about it. What else could you have done? That is what you are here for.”
I listen to them and feel comforted, reassured by their presence. It was mere drivelling nonsense that I talked out
there in the shell-hole.
“Look there for instance,” points Kat.
On the fire-step stand some snipers. They rest their rifles with telescopic sights on the parapet and watch the
enemy front. Once and again a shot cracks out.
Then we hear the cry: “That’s found a billet!” “Did you see how he leapt in the air?” Sergeant Oellrich turns round
proudly and scores his point. He heads the shooting list for to-day with three unquestionable hits.
“What do you say to that?” asks Kat.
I nod.
“If he keeps that up he will get a little coloured bird for his buttonhole by this evening,” says Albert.
“Or rather he will soon be made acting sergeant-major,” says Kat.
We look at one another. “I would not do it,” I say.
“All the same,” says Kat, “it’s very good for you to see it just now.”
Sergeant Oellrich returns to the fire-step. The muzzle of his rifle searches to and fro.
“You don’t need to lose any sleep over your affair,” nods Albert.
And now I hardly understand it myself any more.
“It was only because I had to lie there with him so long,” I say. “After all, war is war.”
Oellrich’s rifle cracks out sharply and dry.
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WE HAVE DROPPED in for a good job. Eight of us have to guard a village that has been abandoned because it is being shelled
too heavily.
In particular we have to watch the supply dump as that is not empty yet. We are supposed to provision ourselves
from the same store. We are just the right people for that;—Kat, Albert, Müller, Tjaden, Detering, our whole gang is
there. Haie is dead, though. But we are mighty lucky all the same, all the other squads have had more casualties than
we have.
We select, as a dug-out, a reinforced concrete cellar into which steps lead down from above. The entrance is
protected by a separate concrete wall.
Now we develop an immense industry. This is an opportunity not only to stretch one’s legs, but to stretch one’s
soul also. We make the best use of such opportunities. The war is too desperate to allow us to be sentimental for long.
That is only possible so long as things are not going too badly. After all, we cannot afford to be anything but matterof-
fact. So matter-of-fact, indeed, that I often shudder when a thought from the days before the war comes
momentarily into my head. But it does not stay long.
We have to take things as lightly as we can, so we make the most of every opportunity, and nonsense stands stark
and immediate beside horror. It cannot be otherwise, that is how we hearten ourselves. So we zealously set to work to
create an idyll—an idyll of eating and sleeping of course.
The floor is first covered with mattresses which we haul in from the houses. Even a soldier’s behind likes to sit
soft. Only in the middle of the floor is there any clear space. Then we furnish ourselves with blankets, and
eiderdowns, luxurious soft affairs. There is plenty of everything to be had in the village. Albert and I find a mahogany
bed which can be taken to pieces with a sky of blue silk and a lace coverlet. We sweat like monkeys moving it in, but
a man cannot let a thing like that slip, and it would certainly be shot to pieces in a day or two.
Kat and I do a little patrolling through the houses. In very short time we have collected a dozen eggs and two
pounds of fairly fresh butter. Suddenly there is a crash in the drawing-room, and an iron stove hurtles through the
wall past us and on, a yard from us out through the wall behind. Two holes. It comes from the house opposite where a
shell has just landed. “The swine,” grimaces Kat, and we continue our search. All at once we prick up our ears, hurry
across, and suddenly stand petrified—there running up and down in a little sty are two live sucking pigs. We rub our
eyes and look once again to make certain. Yes, they are still there. We seize hold of them—no doubt about it, two real
young pigs.
This will make a grand feed. About twenty yards from our dug-out there is a small house that was used as an
officers’ billet. In the kitchen is an immense fireplace with two ranges, pots, pans, and kettles—everything, even to a
stack of small chopped wood in an outhouse—a regular cook’s paradise.
Two of our fellows have been out in the fields all the morning hunting for potatoes, carrots and green peas. We
are quite uppish and sniff at the tinned stuff in the supply dump, we want fresh vegetables. In the dining-room there
are already two heads of cauliflower.
The sucking pigs are slaughtered. Kat sees to them. We want to make potato-cakes to go with the roast. But we
cannot find a grater for the potatoes. However, the difficulty is soon got over. With a nail we punch a lot of holes in a
pot lid and there we have a grater. Three fellows put on thick gloves to protect their fingers against the grater, two
others peel the potatoes, and the business gets going.
Kat takes charge of the sucking pigs, the carrots, the peas, and the cauliflower. He even mixes a white sauce for
the cauliflower. I fry the pancakes, four at a time. After ten minutes I get the knack of tossing the pan so that the
pancakes which are done on one side sail up, turn in the air and are caught again as they come down. The sucking
pigs are roasted whole. We all stand round them as before an altar.
In the meantime we receive visitors, a couple of wireless-men, who are generously invited to the feed. They sit in
the living-room where there is a piano. One of them plays, the other sings “An der Weser.” He sings feelingly, but
with a rather Saxon accent. All the same it moves us as we stand at the fireplace preparing the good things.
Then we begin to realize we are in for trouble. The observation balloons have spotted the smoke from our
chimney, and the shells start to drop on us. They are those damned spraying little daisy-cutters that make only a small
hole and scatter widely close to the ground. They keep dropping closer and closer all round us; still we cannot leave
the grub in the lurch. A couple of splinters whizz through the top of the kitchen window. The roast is ready. But
frying the pancakes is getting difficult. The explosions come so fast that the splinters strike again and again against
the wall of the house and sweep in through the window. Whenever I hear a shell coming I drop down on one knee
with the pan and the pancakes, and duck behind the wall of the window. Immediately afterwards I am up again and
going on with the frying.
The Saxon stops singing—a fragment has smashed the piano. At last everything is ready and we organize the
transport of it back to the dug-out. After the next explosion two men dash across the fifty yards to the dug-out with
the pots of vegetables. We see them disappear.
The next shot. Everyone ducks and then two more trot off, each with a big can of finest grade coffee, and reach
the dugout before the next explosion.
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Then Kat and Kropp seize the masterpiece—the big dish with the brown, roasted sucking pigs. A screech, a knee
end, and away they race over the fifty yards of open country.
I stay to finish my last four pancakes; twice I have to drop to the floor;—after all, it means four pancakes more,
and they are my favourite dish.
Then I grab the plate with the great pile of cakes and squeeze myself behind the house door. A hiss, a crash, and I
gallop off with the plate clamped against my chest with both hands. I am almost in, there is a rising screech, I bound,
I run like a deer, sweep round the wall, fragments clatter against the concrete, I tumble down the cellar steps, my
elbows are skinned, but I have not lost a single pancake, nor even upset the plate.
At two o’clock we start the meal. It lasts till six. We drink coffee until half-past six—officer’s coffee from the
supply dump—and smoke officer’s cigars and cigarettes—also from the supply dump. Punctually at half-past six we
begin supper. At ten o’clock we throw the bones of the sucking pigs outside the door. Then there is cognac and rum—
also from the blessed supply dump—and once again long, fat cigars with belly-bands. Tjaden says that it lacks only
one thing: Girls from an officer’s brothel.
Late in the evening we hear mewing. A little grey cat sits in the entrance. We entice it in and give it something to
eat. And that wakes up our own appetites once more. Still chewing, we lie down to sleep.
But the night is bad. We have eaten too much fat. Fresh baby pig is very griping to the bowels. There is an
everlasting coming and going in the dug-out. Two, three men with their pants down are always sitting about outside
and cursing. I have been out nine times myself. About four o’clock in the morning we reach a record: all eleven men,
guards and visitors, are squatting outside.
Burning houses stand out like torches against the night. Shells lumber across and crash down. Munition columns
tear along the street. On one side the supply dump has been ripped open. In spite of all the flying fragments the
drivers of the munition columns pour in like a swarm of bees and pounce on the bread. We let them have their own
way. If we said anything it would only mean a good hiding for us. So we go differently about it. We explain that we
are the guard and so know our way about, we get hold of the tinned stuff and exchange it for things we are short of.
What does it matter anyhow—in a while it will all be blown to pieces. For ourselves we take some chocolate from the
depot and eat it in slabs. Kat says it is good for loose bowels.
Almost a fortnight passes thus in eating, drinking and roaming about. No one disturbs us. The village gradually
vanishes under the shells and we lead a charmed life. So long as any part of the supply dump still stands we don’t
worry, we desire nothing better than to stay here till the end of the war.
Tjaden has become so fastidious that he only half smokes his cigars. With his nose in the air he explains to us that
he was brought up that way. And Kat is most cheerful. In the morning his first call is: “Emil, bring in the caviare and
coffee.” We put on extraordinary airs, every man treats the other as his valet, bounces him and gives him orders.
“There is something itching under my foot; Kropp my man, catch that louse at once,” says Leer, poking out his leg at
him like a ballet girl, and Albert drags him up the stairs by the foot. “Tjaden!”—“What?”—“Stand at ease, Tjaden; and
what’s more, don’t say ‘What,’ say ‘Yes, Sir,’—now: Tjaden!” Tjaden retorts in the well-known phrase from Goethe’s
“Götz von Berlichingen,” with which he is always free.
After eight more days we receive orders to go back. The palmy days are over. Two big motor lorries take us away.
They are stacked high with planks. Nevertheless, Albert and I erect on top our four-poster bed complete with blue silk
canopy, mattress, and two lace coverlets. And behind it at the head is stowed a bag full of choicest edibles. We often
dip into it, and the tough ham sausages, the tins of liver sausages, the conserves, the boxes of cigarettes rejoice our
hearts. Each man has a bag to himself.
Kropp and I have rescued two big red arm-chairs as well. They stand inside the bed, and we sprawl back in them
as in a theatre box. Above us swells the silken cover like a baldaquin. Each man has a long cigar in his mouth. And
thus from aloft we survey the scene.
Between us stands a parrot cage that we found for the cat. She is coming with us, and lies in the cage before her
saucer of meat, and purrs.
Slowly the lorries roll down the road. We sing. Behind us shells are sending up fountains from the now utterly
abandoned village.
A few days later we are sent to evacuate a village. On the way we meet the fleeing inhabitants trundling their goods
and chattels along with them in wheelbarrows, in perambulators, and on their backs. Their figures are bent, their
faces full of grief, despair, haste, and resignation. The children hold on to their mothers’ hands, and often an older girl
leads the little ones who stumble onward and are for ever looking back. A few carry miserable-looking dolls. All are
silent as they pass us by.
We are marching in column; the French certainly will not fire on a town in which there are still inhabitants. But a
few minutes later the air screams, the earth heaves, cries ring out; a shell has landed among our rear squad. We
scatter and fling ourselves down on the ground, but at that moment I feel the instinctive alertness leave me which
hitherto has always made me do unconsciously the right thing under fire; the thought leaps up with a terrible
throttling fear: “You are lost”—and the next moment a blow sweeps like a whip over my left leg. I hear Albert cry out;
he is beside me.
“Quick, up, Albert!” I yell, for we are lying unsheltered in the open field.
He staggers up and runs. I keep beside him. We have to get over a hedge; it is higher than we are. Kropp seizes a
branch, I heave him up by the leg, he cries out, I give him a swing and he flies over. With one bound I follow him and
fall into a ditch that lies behind the hedge.
Our faces are smothered with duck-weed and mud, but the cover is good. So we wade in up to our necks.
Whenever a shell whistles we duck our heads under the water. After we have done this a dozen times, I am exhausted.
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“Let’s get away, or I’ll fall in and drown,” groans Albert.
“Where has it got you?” I ask him.
“In the knee I think.”
“Can you run?”
“I think——”
“Then out!”
We make for the ditch beside the road, and stooping, run along it. The shelling follows us. The road leads towards
the munition dump. If that goes up there won’t be so much as a boot-lace left of us. So we change our plan and run
diagonally across country.
Albert begins to drag. “You go, I’ll come on after,” he says, and throws himself down.
I seize him by the arm and shake him. “Up, Albert, if once you lie down you’ll never get any farther. Quick, I’ll
hold you up.”
At last we reach a small dug-out. Kropp pitches in and I bandage him up. The shot is just a little above his knee.
Then I take a look at myself. My trousers are bloody and my arm, too. Albert binds up my wound with his field
dressing. Already he is no longer able to move his leg, and we both wonder how we managed to get this far. Fear
alone made it possible; we should have run even if our feet had been shot off;—we would have run on the stumps.
I can still crawl a little. I call out to a passing ambulance wagon which picks us up. It is full of wounded. There is
an army medical lance-corporal with it who sticks an anti-tetanus needle into our chests.
At the dressing station we arrange matters so that we lie side by side. They give us a thin soup which we spoon
down greedily and scornfully, because we are accustomed to better times but are hungry all the same.
“Now for home, Albert,” I say.
“Let’s hope so,” he replies, “I only wish I knew what I’ve got.”
The pain increases. The bandages burn like fire. We drink and drink, one glass of water after another.
“How far above the knee am I hit?” asks Kropp.
“At least four inches, Albert,” I answer. Actually it is perhaps one.
“I’ve made up my mind,” he says after a while, “if they take off my leg, I’ll put an end to it. I won’t go through life
as a cripple.”
So we lie there with our thoughts and wait.
In the evening we are hauled on to the chopping-block. I am frightened and think quickly what I ought to do; for
everyone knows that the surgeons in the dressing stations amputate on the slightest provocation. Under the great
business that is much simpler than complicated patching. I think of Kemmerich. Whatever happens I will not let them
chloroform me, even if I have to crack a couple of their skulls.
It is all right. The surgeon pokes around in the wound and a blackness comes before my eyes. “Don’t carry on so,”
he says gruffly, and hacks away. The instruments gleam in the bright light like marvelous animals. The pain is
insufferable. Two orderlies hold my arms fast, but I break loose with one of them and try to crash into the surgeon’s
spectacles just as he notices and springs back. “Chloroform the scoundrel,” he roars madly.
Then I become quiet. “Pardon me, Herr Doctor, I will keep still but do not chloroform me.”
“Well now,” he cackles and takes up his instrument again. He is a fair fellow, not more than thirty years old, with
scars and disgusting gold spectacles. Now I see that he is tormenting me, he is merely raking about in the wound and
looking up surreptitiously at me over his glasses. My hands squeeze around the grips, I’ll kick the bucket before he
will get a squeak out of me.
He has fished out a piece of shell and tosses it to me. Apparently he is pleased at my self-control, for he now sets
my leg carefully in splints and says: “To-morrow you’ll be off home.” Then I am put in plaster. When I am back again
with Kropp I tell him apparently a hospital train comes in tomorrow morning.
“We must work the army medical sergeant-major so that we can keep together, Albert.”
I manage to slip the sergeant-major two of my cigars with belly-bands, and then tip the word to him. He smells the
cigars and says: “Have you got any more of them?”
“Another good handful,” I say, “and my comrade,” I point to Kropp, “he has some as well. We might possibly be
glad to hand them to you out of the window of the hospital train in the morning.”
He understands, of course, smells them once again and says: “Done.”
We cannot get a minute’s sleep all night. One of them sings hymns in a high cracked tenor before he begins to
gurgle. Another has crept out of his bed to the window. He lies in front of it as though he wants to look out for the
last time.
Our stretchers stand on the platform. We wait for the train. It rains and the station has no roof. Our blankets are thin.
We have waited already two hours.
The sergeant-major looks after us like a mother. Although I feel pretty bad I do not let our scheme out of my
mind. Casually I let him see the packet and give him one cigar in advance. In exchange the sergeant-major covers us
over with a waterproof sheet.
“Albert, old man,” I suddenly bethink myself, “our four-poster and the cat——”
“And the club chairs,” he adds.
Yes, the club chairs with red plush. In the evening we used to sit in them like lords, and intended later on to let
them out by the hour. One cigarette per hour. It might have turned into a regular business, a real good living.
“And our bags of grub, too, Albert.”
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We grow melancholy. We might have made some use of the things. If only the train left one day later Kat would
be sure to find us and bring us the stuff.
What damned hard luck! In our bellies there is gruel, mean hospital stuff, and in our bags roast pork. But we are
so weak that we cannot work up any more excitement about it.
The stretchers are sopping wet by the time the train arrives in the morning. The sergeant-major sees to it that we
are put in the same car. There is a crowd of red-cross nurses. Kropp is stowed in below. I am lifted up and told to get
into the bed above him.
“Good God!” I exclaim suddenly.
“What is it?” asks the sister.
I cast a glance at the bed. It is covered with clean snow-white linen, that even has got the marks of the iron still on
it. And my shirt has gone six weeks without being washed and is terribly muddy.
“Can’t you get in by yourself?” asks the sister gently.
“Why yes,” I say in a sweat, “but take off the bed cover first.”
“What for?”
I feel like a pig. Must I get in there?—“It will get——” I hesitate.
“A little bit dirty?” she suggests helpfully. “That doesn’t matter, we will wash it again afterwards.”
“No, no, not that——” I say excitedly. I am not equal to such overwhelming refinement.
“When you have been lying out there in the trenches, surely we can wash a sheet,” she goes on.
I look at her, she is young and crisp, spotless and neat, like everything here; a man cannot realize that it isn’t for
officers only, and feels himself strange and in some way even alarmed.
All the same the woman is a tormentor, she is going to force me to say it. “It is only——” I try again, surely she
must know what I mean.
“What is it then?”
“Because of the lice,” I bawl out at last.
She laughs. “Well, they must have a good day for once, too.”
Now I don’t care any more. I scramble into bed and pull up the covers.
A hand gropes over the bed-cover. The sergeant-major. He goes off with the cigars.
An hour later we notice we are moving.
I wake up during the night. Kropp is restless too. The train rides easily over the rails. I cannot realize it all yet; a bed,
a train, home. “Albert!” I whisper.
“Do you know where the latrine is?”
“The door is on the right, I think.”
“I’m going to have a look.” It is dark, I grope for the edge of the bed and cautiously try to slide down. But my foot
finds no support, I begin to slip, the plaster leg is no help, and with a crash I lie on the floor.
“Damn!” I say.
“Have you bumped yourself?” asks Kropp.
“You could hear that well enough for yourself,” I growl, “my head——”
A door opens at the rear of the car. The sister comes with a light and looks at me.
“He has fallen out of bed——”
She feels my pulse and smooths my forehead. “You haven’t any fever, though.”
“No,” I agree.
“Have you been dreaming then?” she asks.
“Perhaps——” I evade. The interrogation starts again. She looks at me with her clear eyes, and the more
wonderful and sweet she is the less am I able to tell her what I want.
I am lifted up into bed again. That will be all right. As soon as she goes I must try to climb down again. If she
were an old woman, it might be easier to say what a man wants, but she is so very young, at the most twenty-five, it
can’t be done, I cannot possibly tell her.
Then Albert comes to my rescue, he is not bashful, it makes no difference to him who is upset. He calls to the
sister. She turns round. “Sister, he wants——” but no more does Albert know how to express it modestly and decently.
Out there we say it in a single word, but here, to such a lady——All at once he remembers his school days and
finishes hastily: “He wants to leave the room, sister.”
“Ah!” says the sister, “but he shouldn’t climb out of his bed with plaster bandage. What do you want then?” she
says turning to me.
I am in mortal terror at this turn, for I haven’t any idea what the things are called professionally. She comes to my
“Little or big?”
Shocking business! I sweat like a pig and say shyly: “Well, only quite a little one——”
At any rate it produces the effect.
I get a bottle. After a few hours I am no longer the only one, and by morning we are quite accustomed to it and
ask for what we want without any false modesty.
The train travels slowly. Sometimes it halts and the dead are unloaded. It halts often.
Albert is feverish. I don’t feel too bad; I have some pain, but the worst of it is that apparently there are still lice
under the plaster bandage. They itch terribly, and I cannot scratch myself.
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We sleep through the days. The country glides quietly past the window. The third night we reach Herbesthal. I
hear from the sister that Albert is to be put off at the next station because of his fever. “How far does the train go?” I
“To Cologne.”
“Albert,” I say “we stick together; you see.”
On the sister’s next round I hold my breath and press it up into my head. My face swells and turns red. She stops.
“Are you in pain?”
“Yes,” I groan, “all of a sudden.”
She gives me a thermometer and goes on. I would not have been under Kat’s tuition if I did not know what to do
now. These army thermometers are not made for old soldiers. All one has to do is to drive the quicksilver up and then
it stays without falling again.
I stick the thermometer under my arm at a slant, and flip it steadily with my forefinger. Then I give it a shake. I
send it up to 100.2°. But that is not enough. A match held cautiously near to it brings it up to 101.6°.
As the sister comes back, I blow myself out, breathe in short gasps, goggle at her with vacant eyes, toss about
restlessly, and mutter in a whisper: “I can’t bear it any longer——”
She notes me down on a slip of paper. I know perfectly well my plaster bandage will not be reopened if it can be
Albert and I are put off together.
We are in the same room in a Catholic Hospital. That is a piece of luck, the Catholic infirmaries are noted for their
good treatment and good food. The hospital has been filled up from our train, there are a great many bed cases
amongst them. We do not get examined to-day because there are too few surgeons. The flat trolleys with the rubber
wheels pass continually along the corridor, and always with someone stretched at full length upon them. A damnable
position, stretched out full length like that;—the only time it is good is when one is asleep.
The night is very disturbed. No one can sleep. Toward morning we doze a little. I wake up just as it grows light.
The doors stand open and I hear voices from the corridor. The others wake up too. One fellow who has been there a
couple of days already explains it to us: “Up here in the corridor every morning the sisters say prayers. They call it
Morning Devotion. And so that you can get your share, they leave the door open.”
No doubt it is well meant, but it gives us aches in our heads and bones.
“Such an absurdity!” I say, “just when a man dropped off to sleep.”
“All the light cases are up here, that’s why they do it here,” he replies.
Albert groans. I get furious and call out: “Be quiet out there!”
A minute later a sister appears. In her black and white dress she looks like a beautiful teacosy. “Shut the door, will
you, sister?” says someone.
“We are saying prayers, that is why the door is open,” she responds.
“But we want to go on sleeping——”
“Prayer is better than sleeping,” she stands there and smiles innocently. “And it is seven o’clock already.”
Albert groans again. “Shut the door,” I snort.
She is quite disconcerted. Apparently she cannot understand. “But we are saying prayers for you too.”
“Shut the door, anyway.”
She disappears, leaving the door open. The intoning of the litany proceeds.
I feel savage, and say: “I’m going to count up to three. If it doesn’t stop before then I’ll let something fly.”
“Me too,” says another.
I count up to five. Then I take hold of a bottle, aim, and heave it through the door into the corridor. It smashes
into a thousand pieces. The praying stops. A swarm of sisters appear and reproach us in concert.
“Shut the door!” we yell.
They withdraw. The little one who came first is the last to go. “Heathen,” she chirps but shuts the door all the
same. We have won.
At noon the hospital inspector arrives and abuses us. He threatens us with clink and all the rest of it. But a hospital
inspector is just the same as a commissariat inspector, or any one else who wears a long sword and shoulder straps,
but is really a clerk, and is never considered even by a recruit as a real officer. So we let him talk. What could they do
to us anyway——
“Who threw the bottle?” he asks.
Before I can think whether I should report myself, someone says: “I did.”
A man with a bristling beard sits up. Everyone is excited; why should he report himself?
“Yes. I was annoyed because we were waked up unnecessarily and lost my senses so that I did not know what I
was doing.”
He talks like a book.
“What is your name?”
“Reinforcement-Reservist Josef Hamacher.”
The inspector departs.
We are all curious. “But why did you say you did it? It wasn’t you at all.”
He grins. “That doesn’t matter. I have a shooting license.”
Then of course, we all understand. Whoever has a shooting license can do just whatever he pleases.
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“Yes,” he explains. “I got a crack in the head and they presented me with a certificate to say that I was
periodically not responsible for my actions. Ever since then I’ve had a grand time. No one dares to annoy me. And
nobody does anything to me.
“I reported myself because the shot amused me. If they open the door again to-morrow we will pitch another.”
We are overjoyed. With Josef Hamacher in our midst we can now risk anything.
Then come the soundless, flat trollies to take us away.
The bandages are stuck fast. We bellow like steers.
There are eight men in our room. Peter, a curly black-haired fellow, has the worst injury;—a severe lung wound.
Franz Wächter, alongside him, has a shot in the arm which didn’t look too bad at first. But the third night he calls out
to us, telling us to ring, he thinks he has a haemorrhage.
I ring loudly. The night sister does not come. We have been making rather heavy demands on her during the
night, because we have all been freshly bandaged, and so have a good deal of pain. One wants his leg placed so,
another so, a third wants water, a fourth wants her to shake his pillow;—in the end the buxom old body grumbled
bad-temperedly and slammed the doors. Now no doubt she thinks it is something of the same sort and so she is not
We wait. Then Franz says: “Ring again.”
I do so. Still she does not put in an appearance. In our wing there is only one night sister, perhaps she has
something to do in one of the other rooms. “Franz, are you quite sure you are bleeding?” I ask. “Otherwise we shall be
getting cursed again.”
“The bandage is wet. Can’t anybody make a light?”
That cannot be done either. The switch is by the door and none of us can stand up. I hold my thumb against the
button of the bell till it becomes numb. Perhaps the sister has fallen asleep. They certainly have a great deal to do and
are all overworked day after day. And added to that is the everlasting praying.
“Should we smash a bottle?” asks Josef Hamacher of the shooting license.
“She wouldn’t hear that any more than the bell.”
At last the door opens. The old lady appears, mumbling. When she perceives Franz’s trouble she begins to bustle,
and says: “Why did not someone say I was wanted?”
“We did ring. And none of us here can walk.”
He has been bleeding badly and she binds him up. In the morning we look at his face, it has become sharp and
yellow, whereas the evening before he looked almost healthy. Now a sister comes oftener.
Sometimes there are red-cross voluntary aid sisters. They are pleasant, but often rather unskilled. They frequently give
us pain when re-making our beds, and then are so frightened that they hurt us still more.
The nuns are more reliable. They know how they must take hold of us, but we would be better pleased if they
were somewhat more cheerful. A few of them have real spirit, they are superb. There is no one but would do anything
for Sister Libertine, this marvelous sister, who spreads good cheer through the whole wing even when she can only be
seen in the distance. And there are others like her. We would go through fire for her. A man cannot really complain,
here he is treated by the nuns exactly like a civilian. And just to think of a garrison hospital gives one the creeps.
Franz Wächter does not regain his strength. One day he is taken away and does not come back. Josef Hamacher
knows all about it: “We shan’t see him again. They have put him in the Dead Room.”
“What do you mean, Dead Room?” asks Kropp.
“Well, Dying Room——”
“What is that, then?”
“A little room at the corner of the building. Whoever is about to kick the bucket is put in there. There are two
beds in it. It is generally called the Dying Room.”
“But what do they do that for?”
“They don’t have so much work to do after-wards. It is more convenient, too, because it lies right beside the lift to
the mortuary. Perhaps they do it for the sake of the others also, so that no one in the ward dies in sympathy. And they
can look after him better, too, if he is by himself.”
“But what about him?”
Josef shrugs his shoulders. “Usually he doesn’t take much notice any more.”
“Does everybody know about it then?”
“Anyone who has been here long enough knows, of course.”
In the afternoon Franz Wächter’s bed has a fresh occupant. A couple of days later they take the new man away, too.
Josef makes a significant glance. We see many come and go.
Often relatives sit by the beds and weep or talk softly and awkwardly. One old woman will not go away, but she
cannot stay there the whole night through. The next morning she comes very early, but not early enough; for when
she goes up to the bed, someone else is in it already. She has to go the mortuary. The apples that she has brought with
her she gives to us.
And then little Peter begins to get worse. His temperature chart looks bad, and one day the flat trolley stands
beside his bed. “Where to?” he asks.
“To the bandaging ward.”
He is lifted out. But the sister makes the mistake of removing his tunic from the hook and putting it on the trolley,
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too, so that she should not have to make two journeys. Peter understands immediately and tries to roll off the trolley.
“I’m stopping here!”
They push him back. He cries out feebly with his shattered lung: “I won’t go to the Dying Room.”
“But we are going to the bandaging ward.”
“Then what do you want my tunic for?” He can speak no more. Hoarse, agitated, he whispers: “Stopping here!”
They do not answer but wheel him out. At the door he tries to raise himself up. His black curly head sways, his
eyes are full of tears. “I will come back again! I will come back again!” he cries.
The door shuts. We are all excited; but we say nothing. At last Josef says: “Many a man has said that. Once a man
is in there, he never comes through.”
I am operated on and vomit for two days. My bones will not grow together, so the surgeons’ secretary says. Another
fellow’s have grown crooked; his are broken again. It is damnable.
Among our new arrivals there are two young soldiers with flat feet. The chief surgeon discovers them on his
rounds, and is overjoyed. “We’ll soon put that right,” he tells them, “we will just do a small operation, and then you
will have perfectly sound feet. Enter them down, sister.”
As soon as he is gone, Josef, who knows everything, warns them: “Don’t you let him operate on you! That is a
special scientific stunt of the old boy’s. He goes absolutely crazy whenever he can get hold of anyone to do it on. He
operates on you for flat feet, and there’s no mistake, you don’t have them anymore; you have club feet instead, and
have to walk all the rest of your life on sticks.”
“What should a man do, then?” asks one of them.
“Say No. You are here to be cured of your wound, not your flat feet. Did you have any trouble with them in the
field? No, well, there you are! At present you can still walk, but if once the old boy gets you under the knife you’ll be
cripples. What he wants is little dogs to experiment with, so the war is a glorious time for him, as it is for all the
surgeons. You take a look down below at the staff; there are a dozen fellows hobbling around that he has operated on.
A lot of them have been here all the time since ’fourteen and ’fifteen. Not a single one of them can walk better than he
could before, almost all of them worse, and most only with plaster legs. Every six months he catches them again and
breaks their bones afresh, and every time is going to be the successful one. You take my word, he won’t dare to do it if
you say No.”
“Ach, man,” says one of the two wearily, “better your feet than your brain-box. There’s no telling what you’ll get if
you go back out there again. They can do with me just as they please, so long as I get back home. Better to have a
club foot than be dead.”
The other, a young fellow like ourselves, won’t have it done. The next morning the old man has the two hauled up
and lectures and jaws at them so long that in the end they consent. What else could they do?—They are mere
privates, and he is a big bug. They are brought back chloroformed and plastered.
It is going badly with Albert. They have taken him and amputated his leg. The whole leg has been taken off from the
thigh. Now he will hardly speak any more. Once he says he will shoot himself the first time he can get hold of his
revolver again.
A new convoy arrives. Our room gets two blind men. One of them is a very youthful musician. The sisters never
have a knife with them when they feed him; he has already snatched one from a sister. But in spite of this caution
there is an incident. In the evening, while he is being fed, the sister is called away, and leaves the plate with the fork
on his table. He gropes for the fork, seizes it and drives it with all his force against his heart, then he snatches up a
shoe and strikes with it against the handle as hard as he can. We call for help and three men are necessary to take the
fork away from him. The blunt prongs had already penetrated deep. He abuses us all night so that no one can go to
sleep. In the morning he has lock-jaw.
Again beds are empty. Day after day goes by with pain and fear, groans and death gurgles. Even the Death Room
is no use any more, it is too small; fellows die during the night in our room. They go even faster than the sisters can
cope with them.
But one day the door flies open, the flat trolley rolls in, and there on the stretcher, pale, thin, upright and
triumphant, with his shaggy head of curls sits Peter. Sister Libertine with beaming looks pushes him over to his former
bed. He is back from the Dying Room. We have long supposed him dead.
He looks round: “What do you say now?”
And Josef has to admit that it is the first time he has ever known of such a thing.
Gradually a few of us are allowed to get up. And I am given crutches to hobble around on. But I do not make much
use of them; I cannot bear Albert’s gaze as I move about the room. His eyes always follow me with such a strange
look. So I sometimes escape to the corridor;—there I can move about more freely.
On the next floor below are the abdominal and spine cases, head wounds and double amputations. On the right
side of the wing are the jaw wounds, wounds in the joints, wounds in the kidneys, wounds in the testicles, wounds in
the intestines. Here a man realizes for the first time in how many places a man can get hit.
Two fellows die of tetanus. Their skin turns pale, their limbs stiffen, at last only their eyes live—stubbornly. Many
of the wounded have their shattered limbs hanging free in the air from a gallows; underneath the wound a basin is
placed into which drips the pus. Every two or three hours the vessel is emptied. Other men lie in stretching bandages
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with heavy weights hanging from the end of the bed. I see intestine wounds that are constantly full of excreta. The
surgeon’s clerk shows me X-ray photographs of completely smashed hipbones, knees and shoulders.
A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily
round. And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of
thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or
thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years
could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A
hospital alone shows what war is.
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality
cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly,
obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make
it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these
things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up
and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is
over? Through the years our business has been killing;—it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited
to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?
The oldest man in our room is Lewandowski. He is forty, and has already lain ten months in the hospital with a severe
abdominal wound. Just in the last few weeks he has improved sufficiently to be able to hobble about doubled up.
For some days past he has been in great excitement. His wife has written to him from the little home in Poland
where she lives, telling him that she has saved up enough money to pay for the fare and is coming to see him.
She is already on the way and may arrive any day. Lewandowski has lost his appetite, he even gives away red
cabbage and sausage after he has had a couple of mouthfuls. He goes round the room perpetually with the letter.
Everyone has already read it a dozen times, the post-marks have been examined heaven knows how often, the address
is hardly legible any longer for spots of grease and thumb-marks, and in the end what is sure to happen, happens.
Lewandowski develops a fever, and has to go back to bed.
He has not seen his wife for two years. In the meantime she has given birth to a child, whom she is bringing with
her. But something else occupies Lewandowski’s thoughts. He had hoped to get permission to go out when his old
woman came; for obviously seeing is all very well, but when a man gets his wife again after such a long time, if at all
possible, a man wants something else besides.
Lewandowski has discussed it all with us at great length; in the army there are no secrets about such things. And
what’s more, nobody finds anything objectionable in it. Those of us who are already able to go out have told him of a
couple of very good spots in the town, parks and squares, where he would not be disturbed; one of us even knows of a
little room.
But what is the use, there Lewandowski lies in bed with his troubles. Life holds no more joy for him if he has to
forgo this affair. We console him and promise to get over the difficulty somehow or other.
The next afternoon his wife appears, a tousled little woman with anxious, quick eyes like a bird, in a sort of black
crinkly mantilla with ribbons; heaven knows where she inherited the thing.
She murmurs something softly and stands shyly in the doorway. It terrifies her that there are six of us men
“Well, Marja,” says Lewandowski, and gulps dangerously with his Adam’s apple “you can come in all right, they
won’t hurt you.”
She goes round and proffers each of us her hand. Then she produces the child, which in the intervals has done
something in its napkin. From a large handbag embroidered with beads she takes out a clean one and makes the child
fresh and presentable. This dispels her first embarrassment, and the two begin to talk.
Lewandowski is very fidgety, every now and then he squints across at us most unhappily with his round goggle
eyes. This time is favourable, the doctor’s visit is over, at the most one of the sisters might come in. So one of us goes
out to prospect. He comes back and nods. “Not a soul to be seen. Now’s your chance, Johann, set to.”
The two speak together in an undertone. The woman turns a little red and looks embarrassed. We grin goodnaturedly
and make pooh-poohing gestures, what does it matter! The devil take all conventions, they were made for
other times; here lies the carpenter Johann Lewandowski, a soldier shot to a cripple, and there is his wife; who knows
when he will see her again? He wants to have her, and he should have her, good.
Two men stand at the door to forestall the sisters and keep them occupied if they chance to come along. They
agree to stand guard for a quarter of an hour or thereabouts.
Lewandowski can only lie on his side, so one of us props a couple of pillows against his side, Albert gets the child
to hold, we all turn round a bit, the black mantilla disappears under the bed-clothes, we make a great clatter and play
skat noisily.
All goes well. I hold a club solo with four jacks which nearly goes the round. In the process we almost forget
Lewandowski. After a while the child begins to squall, although Albert, in desperation, rocks it to and fro. There is a
bit of creaking and rustling, and as we look up casually we see that the child has the bottle in its mouth and is back
again with its mother. The business is over.
We now feel ourselves like one big family, the woman is happy, and Lewandowski lies there sweating and
He unpacks the embroidered handbag, and some good sausages come to light; Lewandowski takes up the knife
with a flourish and saws the meat into slices.
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With a handsome gesture he waves toward us—and the little woman goes from one to another and smiles at us
and hands round the sausage; she now looks quite handsome. We call her Mother, she is pleased and shakes up our
pillows for us.
After a few weeks I have to go each morning to the massage department. There my leg is harnessed up and made to
move. The arm has healed long since.
New convoys arrive from the line. The bandages are no longer made of cloth, but of white crêpe paper. Rag
bandages have become scarce at the front.
Albert’s stump heals well. The wound is almost closed. In a few weeks he should go off to an institute for artificial
limbs. He continues not to talk much, and is much more solemn than formerly. He often breaks off in his speech and
stares in front of him. If he were not here with us he would have shot himself long ago. But now he is over the worst
of it, and he often looks on while we play skat.
I get convalescent leave.
My mother does not want to let me go away. She is feeble. It is all much worse than it was last time.
Then I am recalled to my regiment and return once more to the line.
Parting from my friend Albert Kropp was very hard. But a man gets used to that sort of thing in the army.
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WE COUNT THE WEEKS no more. It was winter when I came up, and when the shells exploded the frozen clods of earth were
just as dangerous as the fragments. Now the trees are green again. Our life alternates between billets and the front.
We have almost grown accustomed to it; war is the cause of death like cancer and tuberculosis, like influenza and
dysentery. The deaths are merely more frequent, more varied and terrible.
Our thoughts are clay, they are moulded with the changes of the days;—when we are resting they are good; under
fire, they are dead. Fields of craters within and without.
Everyone is so, not only ourselves here—the things that existed before are no longer valid, and one practically
knows them no more. Distinctions, breeding, education are changed, are almost blotted out and hardly recognizable
any longer.
Sometimes they give an advantage for profiting by a situation;—but they also bring consequences along with
them, in that they arouse prejudices which have to be overcome. It is as though formerly we were coins of different
provinces; and now we are melted down, and all bear the same stamp. To rediscover the old distinctions, the metal
itself must be tested. First we are soldiers and afterwards, in a strange and shamefaced fashion, individual men as
It is a great brotherhood, which adds something of the good-fellowship of the folk-song, of the feeling of solidarity
of convicts, and of the desperate loyalty to one another of men condemned to death, to a condition of life arising out
of the midst of danger, out of the tension and forlornness of death—seeking in a wholly unpathetic way a fleeting
enjoyment of the hours as they come. If one wants to appraise it, it is at once heroic and banal—but who wants to do
It is this, for example, that makes Tjaden spoon down his ham-and-pea soup in such tearing haste when an enemy
attack is reported, simply because he cannot be sure that in an hour’s time he will be alive. We have discussed it at
length, whether it is right or not to do so. Kat condemns it, because, he says, a man has to reckon with the possibility
of an abdominal wound, and that is more dangerous on a full stomach than on an empty one.
Such things are real problems, they are serious matters to us, they cannot be otherwise. Here, on the borders of
death, life follows an amazingly simple course, it is limited to what is most necessary, all else lies buried in gloomy
sleep;—in that besides our primitiveness and our survival. Were we more subtly differentiated we must long since
have gone mad, have deserted, or have fallen. As in a polar expedition, every expression of life must serve only the
preservation of existence, and is absolutely focused on that. All else is banished because it would consume energies
unnecessarily. That is the only way to save ourselves. In the quiet hours when the puzzling reflection of former days
like a blurred mirror, projects beyond me the figure of my present existence, I often sit over against myself, as before
a stranger, and wonder how the unnameable active principle that calls itself to life has adapted itself even to this
form. All other expressions lie in a winter sleep, life is simply one continual watch against the menace of death;—it
has transformed us into unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct—it has reinforced us with
dullness, so that we do not go to pieces before the horror, which would overwhelm us if we had clear, conscious
thought—it has awakened in us the sense of comradeship, so that we escape the abyss of solitude—it has lent us the
indifference of wild creatures, so that in spite of all, we perceive the positive in every moment, and store it up as a
reserve against the onslaught of nothingness. Thus we live a closed, hard existence of the utmost superficiality, and
rarely does an incident strike out a spark. But then unexpectedly a flame of grievous and terrible yearning flares up.
Those are the dangerous moments. They show us that the adjustment is only artificial, that it is not simple rest,
but sharpest struggle for rest. In the outward form of our life we are hardly distinguishable from Bushmen; but
whereas the latter can be so always, because they are so truly, and at best may develop further by exertion of their
spiritual forces, with us it is the reverse;—our inner forces are not exerted toward regeneration, but toward
degeneration. The Bushmen are primitive and naturally so, but we are primitive in an artificial sense, and by virtue of
the utmost effort.
And at night, waking out of a dream, overwhelmed and bewitched by the crowding apparitions, a man perceives
with alarm how slight is the support, how thin the boundary that divides him from the darkness. We are little flames
poorly sheltered by frail walls against the storm of dissolution and madness, in which we flicker and sometimes
almost go out. Then the muffled roar of the battle becomes a ring that encircles us, we creep in upon ourselves, and
with big eyes stare into the night. Our only comfort is the steady breathing of our comrades asleep, and thus we wait
for the morning.
Every day and every hour, every shell and every death cuts into this thin support, and the years waste it rapidly. I see
how it is already gradually breaking down around me.
There is the mad story of Detering.
He was one of those who kept himself to himself. His misfortune was that he saw a cherry tree in a garden. We
were just coming back from the front line, and at a turning of the road near our billets, marvellous in the morning
twilight, stood this cherry tree before us. It had no leaves, but was one white mass of blossom.
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In the evening Detering was not to be seen. Then at last he came back and had a couple of branches of cherry
blossom in his hand. We made fun of him, and asked whether he was going to a wedding. He made no answer, but lay
down on his bed. During the night I heard him making a noise, he seemed to be packing. I sensed something amiss
and went over to him. He made out it was nothing, and I said to him: “Don’t do anything silly, Detering.”
“Ach, why—it’s merely that I can’t sleep——”
“What did you pick the cherry branches for?”
“Surely I can pick cherry blossom if I want to!” he replied evasively—and after a while: “I have a big orchard with
cherry trees at home. When they are in blossom, from the hay loft they look like one single sheet, so white. It is just
the time.”
“Perhaps you will get leave soon. You may even be sent back as a farmer.”
He nodded but he was far away. When these peasants are excited they have a curious expression, a mixture of cow
and yearning god, half stupid and half rapt. In order to turn him away from his thoughts I asked him for a piece of
bread. He gave it to me without a murmur. That was suspicious, for he is usually tight-fisted. So I stayed awake.
Nothing happened; in the morning he was as usual.
Apparently he had noticed that I had been watching him;—but the second morning he was gone. I noticed it, but
said nothing, in order to give him time; he might perhaps get through. Various fellows have already got into Holland.
But at roll call he was missed. A week after we heard that he had been caught by the field gendarmes, those
despicable military police. He had headed toward Germany, that was hopeless, of course—and, of course, he did
everything else just as idiotically. Anyone might have known that his flight was only homesickness and a momentary
aberration. But what does a court-martial a hundred miles behind the front-line know about it? We have heard
nothing more of Detering.
But sometimes it broke out in other ways, this danger, these pent-up things, as from an overheated boiler. It will be
enough to tell how Berger met his end.
Our trenches have now for some time been shot to pieces, and we have an elastic line, so that there is practically
no longer any proper trench warfare. When attack and counter-attack have waged backwards and forwards there
remains a broken line and a bitter struggle from crater to crater. The front-line has been penetrated, and everywhere
small groups have established themselves, the fight is carried on from clusters of shell-holes.
We are in a crater, the English are coming down obliquely, they are turning our flank and working in behind us.
We are surrounded. It is not easy to surrender, fog and smoke hang over us, no one would recognize that we wanted
to give ourselves up, and perhaps we don’t want to, a man doesn’t even know himself at such moments. We hear the
explosions of the hand-grenades coming towards us. Our machine-gun sweeps over the semicircle in front of us. The
cooling-water evaporates, we hastily pass round the case, every man pisses in it, and thus we again have water, and
are able to continue firing. But behind us the attack crashes ever nearer.
A few minutes and we are lost.
Then, at closest range, a second machine-gun bursts out. It is set up in a crater alongside us; Berger has fetched it,
and now the counter-attack comes over from behind; we are set free and make contact with the rear.
Afterwards, as we lie in comparatively good cover, one of the food-carriers reports that a couple of hundred yards
distant there lies a wounded messenger-dog.
“Where?” asks Berger.
The other describes the place to him. Berger goes off either to fetch the beast in or to shoot it. Six months ago he
would not have cared, he would have been reasonable. We try to prevent him. Then, as he goes off grimly, all we can
say is: “You’re mad,” and let him go. For these cases of front-line madness become dangerous if one is not able to fling
the man to the ground and hold him fast. And Berger is six feet and the most powerful man in the company.
He is absolutely mad for he has to pass through the barrage; but this lightning that lowers somewhere above us
has struck him and made him demented. It affects others so that they begin to rave, to run away—there was one man
who even tried to dig himself into the ground with hands, feet, and teeth.
It is true, such things are often simulated, but the pretence itself is a symptom. Berger, who means to finish off the
dog, is carried away with a wound in the pelvis, and one of the fellows who carry him gets a bullet in the leg while
doing it.
Müller is dead. Someone shot him point-blank in the stomach with a Verey light. He lived for half an hour, quite
conscious, and in terrible pain.
Before he died he handed over his pocket-book to me, and bequeathed me his boots—the same that he once
inherited from Kemmerich. I wear them, for they fit me quite well. After me Tjaden will get them, I have promised
them to him.
We have been able to bury Müller, but he is not likely to remain long undisturbed. Our lines are falling back.
There are too many fresh English and American regiments over there. There’s too much corned beef and white
wheaten bread. Too many new guns. Too many aeroplanes.
But we are emaciated and starved. Our food is bad and mixed up with so much substitute stuff that it makes us ill.
The factory owners in Germany have grown wealthy;—dysentery dissolves our bowels. The latrine poles are always
densely crowded; the people at home ought to be shown these grey, yellow, miserable, wasted faces here, these bent
figures from whose bodies the colic wrings out the blood, and who with lips trembling and distorted with pain, grin at
one another and say:
“It is not much sense pulling up one’s trousers again——”
Our artillery is fired out, it has too few shells and the barrels are so worn that they shoot uncertainly, and scatter
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so widely as even to fall on ourselves. We have too few horses. Our fresh troops are anaemic boys in need of rest, who
cannot carry a pack, but merely know how to die. By thousands. They understand nothing about warfare, they simply
go on and let themselves be shot down. A single flyer routed two companies of them for a joke, just as they came
fresh from the train—before they had ever heard of such a thing as cover.
“Germany ought to be empty soon,” says Kat.
We have given up hope that some day an end may come. We never think so far. A man can stop a bullet and be
killed; he can get wounded, and then the hospital is his next stop. There, if they do not amputate him, he sooner or
later falls into the hands of one of those staff surgeons who, with the War Service Cross in his button-hole, says to
him: “What, one leg a bit short? If you have any pluck you don’t need to run at the front. The man is A1. Dismiss!”
Kat tells a story that has travelled the whole length of the front from the Vosges to Flanders;—of the staff surgeon
who reads the names on the list, and when a man comes before him, without looking up, says: “A1. We need soldiers
up there.” A fellow with a wooden leg comes up before him, the staff surgeon again says A1——“And then,” Kat raises
his voice, “the fellow says to him: ‘I already have a wooden leg, but when I go back again and they shoot off my head,
then I will get a wooden head made and become a staff surgeon.’ ” This answer tickles us all immensely.
There may be good doctors, and there are, lots of them; all the same, every soldier some time during his hundreds
of inspections falls into the clutches of one of these countless hero-grabbers who pride themselves on changing as
many C3’s and B3’s as possible into A1’s.
There are many such stories, they are mostly far more bitter. All the same, they have nothing to do with mutiny or
lead-swinging. They are merely honest and call a thing by its name; for there is a very great deal of fraud, injustice,
and baseness in the army. It is nothing that regiment after regiment returns again and again to the ever more hopeless
struggle, that attack follows attack along the weakening, retreating, crumbling line.
From a mockery the tanks have become a terrible weapon. Armoured they come rolling on in long lines, more
than anything else embody for us the horror of war.
We do not see the guns that bombard us; the attacking lines of the enemy infantry are men like ourselves; but
these tanks are machines, their caterpillars run on as endless as the war, they are annihilation, they roll without
feeling into the craters, and climb up again without stopping, a fleet of roaring, smoke-belching armour-clads,
invulnerable steel beasts squashing the dead and the wounded—we shrivel up in our thin skin before them, against
their colossal weight our arms are sticks of straw, and our hand-grenades matches.
Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks—shattering, corroding, death.
Dysentery, influenza, typhus—scalding, choking, death.
Trenches, hospitals, the common grave—there are no other possibilities.
In one attack our Company Commander, Bertinck, falls. He was one of those superb front-line officers who are
foremost in every hot place. He was with us for two years without being wounded, so that something had to happen
in the end.
We occupy a crater and get surrounded. The stink of petroleum or oil blows across with the fumes of powder. Two
fellows with a flame-thrower are seen, one carries the tin on his back, the other has the hose in his hands from which
the fire spouts. If they get so near that they can reach us we are done for, we cannot retreat yet.
We open fire on them. But they work nearer and things begin to look bad. Bertinck is lying in the hole with us.
When he sees that we cannot hit them because under the sharp fire we have to think too much about keeping under
cover, he takes a rifle, crawls out of the hole, and lying down propped on his elbows, he takes aim. He fires—the same
moment a bullet smacks into him, they have got him. Still he lies and aims again;—once he shifts and again takes aim;
at last the rifle cracks. Bertinck lets the gun drop and says: “Good,” and slips back into the hole. The hindermost of
the two flame-throwers is hit, he falls, the hose slips away from the other fellow, the fire squirts about on all sides and
the man burns.
Bertinck has a chest wound. After a while a fragment smashes away his chin, and the same fragment has sufficient
force to tear open Leer’s hip. Leer groans as he supports himself on his arm, he bleeds quickly, no one can help him.
Like an emptying tube, after a couple of minutes he collapses.
What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school.
The months pass by. The summer of 1918 is the most bloody and the most terrible. The days stand like angels in blue
and gold, incomprehensible, above the ring of annihilation. Every man here knows that we are losing the war. Not
much is said about it, we are falling back, we will not be able to attack again after this big offensive, we have no more
men and no more ammunition.
Still the campaign goes on—the dying goes on——
Summer of 1918—Never has life in its niggardliness seemed to us so desirable as now;—the red poppies in the
meadows round our billets, the smooth beetles on the blades of grass, the warm evenings in the cool, dim rooms, the
black mysterious trees of the twilight, the stars and the flowing waters, dreams and long sleep——O Life, life, life!
Summer of 1918—Never was so much silently suffered as in the moment when we depart once again for the frontline.
Wild, tormenting rumours of an armistice and peace are in the air, they lay hold on our hearts and make the
return to the front harder than ever.
Summer of 1918—Never was life in the line more bitter and full of horror than in the hours of the bombardment,
when the blanched faces lie in the dirt and the hands clutch at the one thought: No! No! Not now! Not now at the last
Summer of 1918—Breath of hope that sweeps over the scorched fields, raging fever of impatience, of
disappointment, of the most agonizing terror of death, insensate question: Why? Why do they make an end? And why
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do these rumours of an end fly about?
There are so many airmen here, and they are so sure of themselves that they give chase to single individuals, just as
though they were hares. For every one German plane there come at least five English and American. For one hungry,
wretched German soldier come five of the enemy, fresh and fit. For one German army loaf there are fifty tins of
canned beef over there. We are not beaten, for as soldiers we are better and more experienced; we are simply crushed
and driven back by overwhelming superior forces.
Behind us lay rainy weeks—grey sky, grey fluid earth, grey dying. If we go out, the rain at once soaks through our
overcoat and clothing;—and we remain wet all the time we are in the line. We never get dry. Those who will wear
high boots tie sand bags round the tops so that the mud does not pour in so fast. The rifles are caked, the uniforms
caked, everything is fluid and dissolved, the earth one dripping, soaked, oily mass in which lie yellow pools with red
spiral streams of blood and into which the dead, wounded, and survivors slowly sink down.
The storm lashes us, out of the confusion of grey and yellow the hail of splinters whips forth the child-like cries of
the wounded, and in the night shattered life groans painfully into silence.
Our hands are earth, our bodies clay and our eyes pools of rain. We do not know whether we still live.
Then the heat sinks heavily into our shell-holes like a jelly fish, moist and oppressive and on one of these late
summer days, while bringing food, Kat falls. We two are alone. I bind up his wound; his shin seems to be smashed. It
has got the bone, and Kat groans desperately: “At last—just at the last——”
I comfort him. “Who knows how long this mess will go on yet! Now you are saved——”
The wound begins to bleed fast. Kat cannot be left by himself while I try to find a stretcher. Anyway, I don’t know
of a stretcher-bearer’s post in the neighborhood.
Kat is not very heavy; so I take him up on my back and start off to the dressing station with him.
Twice we rest. He suffers acutely on the way. We do not speak much. I have opened the collar of my tunic and
breathe heavily, I sweat and my face is swollen with the strain of carrying. All the same I urge him to let us go on, for
the place is dangerous.
“Shall we go on again Kat?”
“Must, Paul.”
“Then come.”
I raise him up, he stands on the uninjured leg and supports himself against a tree. I take up the wounded leg
carefully, then he gives a jump and I take the knee of the sound leg also under my arm.
The going is more difficult. Often a shell whistles across. I go as quickly as I can, for the blood from Kat’s wound
drips to the ground. We cannot shelter ourselves properly for the explosions; before we can take cover the danger is
all over.
We lie down in a small hole to wait till the shelling is over. I give Kat some tea from my water bottle. We smoke a
cigarette. “Well, Kat,” I say gloomily, “We are going to be separated at last.”
He is silent and looks at me.
“Do you remember, Kat, how we commandeered the goose? And how you brought me out of the barrage when I
was still a young recruit and was wounded for the first time? I cried then. Kat, that is almost three years ago.”
He nods.
The anguish of solitude rises up in me. When Kat is taken away I will not have one friend left.
“Kat, in any case we must see one another again, if it is peace-time before you come back.”
“Do you think that I will be marked A1 again with this leg?” he asks bitterly.
“With rest it will get better. The joint is quite sound. It may get all right again.”
“Give me another cigarette,” he says.
“Perhaps we could do something together later on, Kat.” I am very miserable, it is impossible that Kat—Kat my
friend, Kat with the drooping shoulders and the poor, thin moustache, Kat, whom I know as I know no other man, Kat
with whom I have shared these years—it is impossible that perhaps I shall not see Kat again.
“In any case give me your address at home, Kat. And here is mine, I will write it down for you.”
I write his address in my pocket book. How forlorn I am already, though he still sits here beside me. Couldn’t I
shoot myself quickly in the foot so as to be able to go with him.
Suddenly Kat gurgles and turns green and yellow, “Let us go on,” he stammers.
I jump up, eager to help him, I take him up and start off at a run, a slow, steady pace, so as not to jolt his leg too
My throat is parched; everything dances red and black before my eyes, I stagger on doggedly and pitilessly and at
last reach the dressing station.
There I drop down on my knees, but have still enough strength to fall on to the side where Kat’s sound leg is. After
a few minutes I straighten myself up again. My legs and my hands tremble. I have trouble in finding my water bottle,
to take a pull. My lips tremble as I try to think. But I smile—Kat is saved.
After a while I begin to sort out the confusion of voices that falls on my ears.
“You might have spared yourself that,” says an orderly.
I look at him without comprehending.
He points to Kat. “He is stone dead.”
I do not understand him. “He has been hit in the shin,” I say.
The orderly stands still. “That as well.”
I turn round. My eyes are still dulled, the sweat breaks out on me again, it runs over my eyelids. I wipe it away
and peer at Kat. He lies still. “Fainted,” I say quickly.
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The orderly whistles softly. “I know better than that. He is dead. I’ll lay any money on that.”
I shake my head: “Not possible. Only ten minutes ago I was talking to him. He has fainted.”
Kat’s hands are warm, I pass my hand under his shoulders in order to rub his temples with some tea. I feel my
fingers become moist. As I draw them away from behind his head, they are bloody. “You see——” The orderly
whistles once more through his teeth.
On the way without my having noticed it, Kat has caught a splinter in the head. There is just one little hole, it
must have been a very tiny, stray splinter. But it has sufficed. Kat is dead.
Slowly I get up.
“Would you like to take his paybook and his things?” the lance-corporal asks me.
I nod and he gives them to me.
The orderly is mystified. “You are not related, are you?”
No, we are not related. No, we are not related.
Do I walk? Have I feet still? I raise my eyes, I let them move round, and turn myself with them, one circle, one
circle, and I stand in the midst. All is as usual. Only the Militiaman Stanislaus Katczinsky has died.
Then I know nothing more.
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IT IS AUTUMN. There are not many of the old hands left. I am the last of the seven fellows from our class.
Everyone talks of peace and armistice. All wait. If it again proves an illusion, then they will break up; hope is
high, it cannot be taken away again without an upheaval. If there is not peace, then there will be revolution.
I have fourteen days rest, because I have swallowed a bit of gas; in the little garden I sit the whole day long in the
sun. The armistice is coming soon, I believe it now too. Then we will go home.
Here my thoughts stop and will not go any farther. All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings—
greed of life, love of home, yearning for the blood, intoxication of deliverance. But no aims.
Had we returned home in 1916, out of the suffering and the strength of our experience we might have unleashed a
storm. Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find
our way any more.
And men will not understand us—for the generation that grew up before us, though it has passed these years with
us already had a home and a calling; now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten—and the
generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to
ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be
bewildered;—the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin.
But perhaps all this that I think is mere melancholy and dismay, which will fly away as the dust, when I stand
once again beneath the poplars and listen to the rustling of their leaves. It cannot be that it has gone, the yearning
that made our blood unquiet, the unknown, the perplexing, the oncoming things, the thousand faces of the future, the
melodies from dreams and from books, the whispers and divinations of women; it cannot be that this has vanished in
bombardment, in despair, in brothels.
Here the trees show gay and golden, the berries of the rowan stand red among the leaves, country roads run white
out to the sky line, and the canteens hum like beehives with rumours of peace.
I stand up.
I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am
so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. The life that has borne me through these years is
still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own
way out, heedless of the will that is within me.
He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to
the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have
suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.
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This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.
It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.
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The Enduring Impact of
All Quiet on the Western Front
An essay by G. J. Meyer
All Quiet on the Western Front is, by more than one measure, among the most important novels of the past century.
Its subject of course is epic: the so-called Great War, the seminal calamity of modern times, the incomprehensibly
vast tragedy out of which subsequent, sometimes even bigger, horrors have continued to flow in wave after numbing
wave, generation after generation.
And among the numberless works inspired by that subject, All Quiet has always stood virtually alone in terms of
impact. Other writers approached the Great War either obliquely, using it as Ford Madox Ford did in Parade’s End as a
black background against which to explore what seemed almost the suicide of Europe, or in bitterly poetic terms, as
with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Erich Maria Remarque by contrast confronted it so directly, with such
radical simplicity, that the result can seem almost artless by comparison. In the course of just a few months in 1927,
drawing on his brief experience of combat as a teenage German conscript and the year-plus he spent in a military
hospital recovering from shrapnel wounds, he set down in plain terms the story of a fictional everyman, young Private
Paul Baumer. It became an account, presented in raw and visceral terms, of how the war destroyed Baumer
spiritually, stripping him of all hope of a future before finally, perhaps mercifully, taking his life.
The story first appeared in serial form in a newspaper, and for almost two years thereafter no one wanted to
publish it as a book; possibly it seemed not just too journalistic, but to deal journalistically with matters about which
German readers, at least, already had more information than they wanted. But when Im Westen Nichts Neues appeared
at last between hard covers, it sparked an explosion that no one could have foreseen. Within eighteen months millions
of copies were in print, and carloads more were rolling off the presses in twenty-five languages. Before another three
years passed, the book was being burned by the Nazis, who found the depiction of a disillusioned and demoralized
German soldiery to be intolerably offensive. Remarque himself being out of reach in Switzerland, the Gestapo had to
content itself with beheading his sister.
Eighty-five years after its first publication All Quiet retains a formidable global presence, conspicuously in print
and now in eBook format and in demand. It remains the work most closely identified with its subject—the first to
come to mind, almost inevitably, whenever First World War fiction is mentioned. Its durability is explained above all
by the fact that, from the day of its appearance, Remarque’s book has stood as an immovable boulder in the path of
anyone wanting to portray what was arguably history’s filthiest and most utterly pointless war as anything other than
filthy and pointless. People do continue to portray even the Great War in heroic and romantic terms, of course; they
always will, the hunger for childish tales of glory being as inextinguishable as it is rich in potential for profit. But they
can only do so by ignoring the truth about a conflict in which for four years the young men of Europe huddled in
holes in the ground and perished in storms of artillery and machine-gun fire in which blind chance, not courage or
ingenuity or any other admirable quality, decided who would live and who would die. Death literally rained down (on
average, fifty-five German soldiers died in every hour of the fifty-month-long conflict), killing and sparing the weak
and the strong at random. And all, as would finally become undeniable, for nothing or less than nothing. That is the
bedrock on which Remarque constructed his tale—the story, as he said, “of a generation of men who, even though
they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
Timing was crucial to the book’s fate. If it had appeared soon after the end of the war, it would have been likely to
find few readers outside Germany. By 1918, the year the war ended, years of relentless propaganda (in the United
States, even prominent public figures were thrown into prison for daring to speak against their nation’s involvement)
had made certain fundamentals appear to be unarguably true. That the war had happened because Germany set out to
subjugate Europe and the world. That the armies of Germany, and by extension the German people, had conducted
themselves in ways so loathsome as to disqualify them from the community of civilized human beings even after the
destruction of their evil regime. That the Allied victory had been necessary to preserve not just democracy but
civilization itself, and that the future of civilization would depend on keeping Germany crippled.
By the late twenties, however, such notions were growing threadbare, their consequences painfully clear. It was
becoming obvious that the world the war had created—a world in which Stalin rather than the Tsar ruled Russia, and
Mussolini was making the trains of Italy run on time, and forces far darker than anything ever dreamed by any kaiser
were emerging from the wreckage of Germany—was not exactly something to be celebrated. And that a novel in
which ordinary German soldiers bore a startling resemblance to authentic human beings—to ordinary American
soldiers, even—might not necessarily be a crime against truth.
There is nothing mysterious about the fact that Remarque’s impact has always been particularly great in the U.S.
We Americans, in spite of our decisive role in the final victory, have always had a defective understanding of the
Great War. For us it was a short, comparatively painless, seemingly glorious episode. Our troops did not enter combat
to any serious extent until the German offensive of the spring of 1918, the failure of that offensive left Germany
terminally exhausted, and the next six months became a process of hammering away with our superior numbers and
superior matériel until a doomed but tenacious enemy collapsed at last. We were encouraged—were taught—to see
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the war first as nothing more complicated than a contest between good and pure evil, then as the redemption of a
decadent Europe by “our boys” as they swooped in to end a deadlock that without their intervention might have gone
on until the last man was dead. This was a naïve view of an unfathomable tragedy, a war that nobody had wanted,
and its effects on Americans’ understanding of themselves and the world and their place in the world have been
poisonous. All Quiet arrived here as an antidote to our national triumphalism and exceptionalism. To whatever extent
it continues to serve as an antidote today, so much the better.
{March 6, 2013}
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G. J. MEYER is the author of three popular works of history, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, The
Tudors and The Borgias, as well as Executive Blues and The Memphis Murders. He received an M.A. from the
University of Minnesota, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and later was awarded Harvard
University’s Nieman Fellowship in Journalism. He has taught at colleges in Des Moines, St. Louis, and New
York, and now lives in Wiltshire, England.
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Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Kantorek the schoolmaster convinced Paul Bäumer and all his schoolmates to enlist, but Paul’s actual wartime
experiences prove to be very different than expected. What effect do you think this had on Paul’s faith in the adult
2. As their comrade Kemmerich lies dying in the infirmary, Paul and the other soldiers gather around him to offer
encouragement and comfort. But they’re also very concerned about who will get Kemmerich’s boots once he dies.
What is the significance of this?
3. Paul muses: We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. What makes
this so poignant?
4. What did you make of Himmelstoss’s treatment of the soldiers, and vice versa? How did Paul’s opinion of him
change over time?
5. Paul imagines that even being back in the time and place of his happiest memories would be like gazing at the
photograph of a dead comrade. Those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spend together take on a mournful
life in memory; but the man himself it is not. What did you make of his alienation?
6. When Paul is caught in a trench with a soldier from the other side, he wants to help the man’s family after the war.
But later, back among his comrades, he says: “It was only because I had to lie there with him so long … After all, war
is war.” What does he mean by this?
7. What do you think Paul and his friends hoped to gain on their visits to the French women across the canal? Why is
he so disappointed when he realizes that his brunette companion is unimpressed by the fact that she’ll never see
him again?
8. Paul’s descriptions of the Russian prisoners of war show evidence of compassion. How have Paul’s attitudes towards
the enemy changed over the course of the book?
9. What did you think of the ending?
10. Remarque’s second novel, The Road Back, is about veterans in postwar Germany. If Paul had not died, how do you
imagine he would have dealt with the postwar world?
11. A hundred years after WWI, what has changed? What has stayed the same?
12. What do you think Remarque was ultimately trying to say about war?
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All Quiet on the Western Front
The Road Back
Three Comrades
Arch of Triumph
Spark of Life
A Time to Love and a Time to Die
The Black Obelisk
Heaven Has No Favorites
The Night in Lisbon
Shadows in Paradise
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ERICH MARIA REMARQUE was born in Germany in 1898, and was drafted into the German army during World War I.
Throughout the hazardous years following the war he worked at many occupations—schoolteacher, small-town drama
critic, racing driver, and editor of a sports magazine. His first novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, vividly describing
the experiences of German soldiers during World War I, was published in Germany in 1928. It was a brilliant success,
selling over a million copies, and it was the first of many literary triumphs by Erich Remarque.
When the Nazis came to power, Remarque left Germany for Switzerland. He rejected all attempts to persuade him
to return, and as a result he lost his German citizenship, his books were burned, and his films were banned. He went
to the United States in 1938 and became a citizen in 1947. He later lived in Switzerland with his second wife, the
actress Paulette Goddard. He died in Switzerland in September 1970.
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