Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #5

Battle Map (click to enlarge)
....This morning in the division command post, Hannes persuaded me to write you after all. For a whole week I have avoided writing this letter; I kept thinking that uncertainty, painful though it is, still keeps a glimmer of hope alive. I was the same way in thinking about my own fate; every night I went to sleep not knowing how the scales might tip--whether we would get help here or would be destroyed. I didn't even try to come to any final conclusion, to resolve the doubt. Perhaps from cowardice. I might have been killed three times by now, but it would always have been suddenly, without my being prepared. Now things are different; since this morning I know how things stand; and since I feel freer this way, I want you also to be free from apprehension and uncertainty.
I was shocked when I saw the map. We are entirely alone, without help from outside. Hitler has left us in the lurch. If the airfield is still in our possession, this letter may still get out. Our position is to the north of the city. The men of my battery have some inkling of it, too, but they don't know it as clearly as I do. So this is what the end looks like. Hannes and I will not surrender; yesterday, after our infantry had retaken a position, I saw saw four men who had been taken prisoner by the Russians. No, we shall not go into captivity.* When Stalingrad has fallen, you'll hear and read it. And then you'll know that I shall not come back.
*Living in Zurich in 1990, my wife befriended a young German whose Wehrmacht father had been taken prisoner by the Russians during the war and was held prisoner well into the 1950s. I got to know him too and he liked me because I had read up on his family (they were a famous German industrial family from the Ruhr district). By the time our friend's father was released, he had lost 10 real years and aged many more. Still, he did come back and was able to start a family and keep things going.

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