To Die in Spring

Written by Ralf Rothman Shaun Whiteside (trans.)

The Spring referred to in the title is the Spring of 1945. Germany has manifestly lost the war, but the regime continues to conscript or press teenagers into the Wehrmacht and the SS for a few more weeks of futile combat. Walter and his friend, two dairy hands on a farm in Schleswig, are pressed into the SS and sent to fight the Russians. Walter’s friend tries to desert and is put before a firing squad, with Walter forced to shoot his friend or be shot himself.

By April Walter is a prisoner of the Americans and returns home to a loveless wedding with his cynical girlfriend. The memories of that Spring sour the rest of his life. This is a very bleak book about futile suffering and tragedy, and although Walter survives he is irretrievably damaged by the experience. In the epilogue Walter’s son tries to find his parents’ grave in a snow covered semi-derelict cemetery and fails: they have been lost to History.

A beautifully written and hauntingly melancholic book.