The Forgotten Soldier Summary & Study Guide

Guy Sajer
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The Forgotten Soldier Summary & Study Guide Description

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Guy Sajer authors this autobiographical account of his participation as an infantry soldier during World War II. Sajer is of mixed nationality—his father is French and his mother is German. He lives in the Alsace region of France as it is overrun by German forces during early World War II. Sajer faces compulsory conscription and instead volunteers for the Luftwaffe but fails to pass the required entrance examinations. He is then sent to a transportation unit and learns to load and drive trucks. Sajer also meets several other men who will become his close companions throughout the remainder of the war, including Hals. Sajer's unit is sent to the east to supply the German front in Russia. His unit faces considerable difficulty in managing to remain supplied itself and the transportations situation—grave to begin with—is seriously hampered by the freezing temperatures and constant snow. Surviving a few firefights, Sajer reaches the eastern front and resupplies units on the very combat front. Some weeks later an infantry recruiter visits the transportation units and seeks volunteers to enter the famous Gross Deutschland combat division. Hals and other of Sajer's friends volunteer. From a desire to remain with his friends, Sajer also volunteers. The men are given a two-week pass and Sajer attempts to visit his family in France. He is prevented from reaching France by massive Allied bombardments and instead spends his two weeks leave in Berlin. There he calls upon the family of a man he befriended who was subsequently killed in action. The family's neighbors include a teenager girl named Paula with whom Sajer pursues an intense two week romantic relationship. Sajer then returns to his unit and undergoes a brief but difficult infantry training regimen.

Sajer's unit is then sent to the eastern front where it participates in a series of defensive battles and a series of retreats. By this time, Germany is losing the war and the Russian advance appears unstoppable. Sajer reports a mix of propaganda, hope, and hatred of the Russians as the fuel that keeps the Germany army fighting. His unit goes through various organizations and deployments as it continually falls back to the west. Numerous casualties occur in Sajer's unit, including several of his closest associates. Sajer and Hals both receive occasional minor wounds and Sajer suffers several bouts of serious illness. The book relates numerous combat encounters of incredible violence and lethality. By the time Sajer's unit has retreated all the way to Prussia the situation is untenable. The German army is unable to resupply or reinforce, and retreats in massive confusion while the Russian army increases in men and mat√©riel on a daily basis. Sajer and some remnants of his unit, including Hals, end up in Memel where they undergo a prolonged series of defensive battles before evacuating by ship to Kiel. There they are organized into a scratch unit and shipped west to face the approaching British and Canadian armies. Most of the German soldiers by this point—many very old men—are eager to surrender. After a single encounter with the British, Sajer and others surrender. They are treated fairly well. Sajer's particular case causes confusion because he is at first deemed a traitor to France but then is simply allowed to walk away as a liberated French citizen. He joins the French army to rehabilitate his legal standing but is discharged after ten months due to illness.

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This section contains 567 words
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