I’m about halfway through the 1956 novel, Der Arzt von Stalingrad, part of my father’s book collection. It’s surprisingly easy to read. And yes, it's filled with blatant racism and sexual stereotypes... like much of the 1950s' media. Still, the book holds my attention, because, as I posted earlier, one of my uncles (from my dad’s side of the family) was mortally wounded in Stalingrad.
What I didn’t realize was that the novel is centred, not on the battle of Stalingrad, but on the German prisoner of war experience. My mom, as shared in Crow Stone, was a civilian prisoner of war for 2 ½ years. My dad was also a POW, as member of the Wehrmacht, for four and a half years. He surrendered somewhere on the eastern front to American forces on May 11th or 12th, 1945 and was handed over to the Soviets soon after. I know very little about his time in Soviet captivity. I heard that he worked in coal mines near Moscow. I do know that during that time, he became terrified of dentists, that he hated anything related to cabbage forever after, that his chess skills helped him survive, and that he supposedly killed a man in a brawl.
My father was not a proud man. Perhaps it was the war, the prisoner of war years, the many personal pains and losses, that shaped the father I knew growing up here in Canada. Hard-working, humble, always willing to lend a hand. I try to imagine him reading this novel. Did he identify as just another ‘plenni’ in that after-war gulag of the Soviet world?
Let me translate the quote from the opening page.
Patience is the art of hope. – Vauvenargues (French writer, 1715-1747)
This book is not a call for action.No complaint and no warning. It is not written to sow hate amongst people or discord in their hearts. It's not supposed to open old wounds nor create any new ones. It's nothing more than a song about humanity—a novel about lonely, faithful, hopeful, patient human beings.
And you know what? That pretty much defines my own humanity. Maybe I'm not lonely, but I'm definitely hopeful, patient and strive to keep the faith in the goodness of humanity.