This is two books in one. The first 550 pages is the book itself by Heinrich Gerlach, and the Appendix of 150 pages, by Carsten Gansel, is the book about the book. The story in the Appendix is as remarkable as the book itself.
Gerlach was a German officer who was captured at Stalingrad in 1943 and held prisoner in Russia until 1949. His reasonably comfortable captivity gave him the leisure to write a 550-page novel based on his experiences in the final stages of the battle. To his distress, the Soviet authorities would not let him take the manuscript home when he was repatriated, nor would they release it later. Some years later, worried that he was forgetting the text, he consulted a psychologist and with the help of ‘recovered memory’, he published a bestseller in 1957 titled The Forsaken Army. He died in 1991.
In 2012 Carsten Gansel, researching a related topic in the Russian State Military Archives in Moscow, chanced upon the original manuscript and the Soviet commentaries on it. Its 70-year captivity was over.
The text published here is therefore the original version of The Forsaken Army. According to Gansel it is less polished and more immediate than the later book, with less commentary, and is less anxious to portray the German soldiers as ‘victim-heroes’. Both are narrated in the third person by Lt Breuer, Gerlach’s alter ego, and although the author insists that every incident actually happened, he admits they are rearranged and elided for dramatic effect. I haven’t read The Forsaken Army, but Breakout at Stalingrad is a stark story of suffering, comradeship and despair which deserves to be one of the classic novels of the Second World War.