The Forgotten Soldier

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The Forgotten Soldier (1965), originally published in French as Le soldat oublié, is an account by Guy Sajer (pseudonym of Guy Mouminoux) of his experiences as a German soldier on the Eastern Front during World War II. With reference to the author's ambiguous relationship to war, the book has been called "the account of a disastrous love affair with war and with the army that, of all modern armies, most loved war", being written with the "admiration of a semi-outsider".[1] The English edition was translated by Lily Emmet.[2]

Personal narrative[edit]

Sajer wrote that The Forgotten Soldier was intended as a personal narrative, based on his recollections of an intensely chaotic period in German military history, not an attempt at a serious historical study of World War II: "I never had the intention to write a historical reference book; rather I wrote about my innermost emotional experiences as they relate to the events that happened to me in the context of the Second World War."[3]

Sajer stressed the non-technical and anecdotal nature of his book in a 1997 letter to US Army historian Douglas Nash, stating "Apart from the emotions I brought out, I confess my numerous mistakes. That is why I would like that this book may not be used under [any] circumstances as a strategic or chronological reference." [3] After reading Sajer's latest letter, one of his staunchest critics—Großdeutschland Veteran's Association leader Helmuth Spaeter—recanted his original suspicions of Sajer, noting "I have underestimated Herr Sajer and my respect for him has greatly increased."[3]

The British writer Alan Clark, author of Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45, refers to Sajer's book in his Diaries as a book "to which AC [Alan Clark] often turned".[4] The book was considered by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College to be an accurate roman à clef and has remained on its recommended reading list for World War II, along with other historical novels. It is also on the recommended reading list of the Commandant of the United States Marines Corps.[5]

Reviews and critical commentary[edit]

The book was reviewed in The New York Times by J. Glenn Gray in 1971.[2] He reports the "book is painful to get through. But it is also difficult to put down and is worth the cost in horror that reading it entails." Other reviews from 1971 include The New Yorker,[6] Time magazine,[1] and The New Republic by James Walt.[7] Walt says the book is not anti-war but an accounting of those soldiers caught up in events bigger than themselves.

Other more recent English reviewers include James Varner in Military Review in 2009.[8] Jason S. Ridler in "War in the Precious Graveyard: Death through the Eyes of Guy Sajer", from the journal War, Literature, and the Arts suggests that Sajer idealized death in battle, and Sajer's reactions to corpses in the book reveals survivor guilt.[9]


  1. ^ a b Melvin Maddocks (25 January 1971). "Up the Down Steppes". Time. Archived from the original on 2012-02-16. Retrieved March 29, 2017.Additional archives: 12 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b J. Glenn Gray (February 7, 1971). "The Forgotten Soldier By Guy Safer". The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Nash, Douglas E. "The Forgotten Soldier: Unmasked." Army History. United States Army Center of Military History, Summer 1997.
  4. ^ Diaries by Alan Clark (1993) ISBN 0-297-81352-8
  5. ^ HISTORICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY No. 8 Military Classics
  6. ^ "The Forgotten Soldier". New Yorker. 56 (41). 1971. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  7. ^ James Walt (February 20, 1971). "Everything Was Permitted: The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer translated by Lily Emmet". The New Republic. 164 (8).
  8. ^ James Varner (July 2009). "The Forgotten Soldier". Military Review. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  9. ^ Jason S. Ridler (2007). "War in the Precious Graveyard: Death through the Eyes of Guy Safer" (PDF). War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities. 19 (1/2). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-16.

External links[edit]