Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Sir, The Men are Hungry...

Bundesarchiv - modified

So far, by Leutnant von Lüttwitz's reckoning, they had traveled around 65 kilometers in the last 24 hours. They'd been on the move from dusk until dawn, moving over the fields, following streams, and generally keeping as low a profile as possible. As the sun came up around 0615 (though it was getting later as each day passed, it was, after all, September), and went down after 1900, they only had around nine hours of useful darkness to travel in.

But the men were exhausted, they had no military rations now, even the small amount they had taken from the British maintenance depot had been consumed. Water was not a problem, but if they didn't keep their caloric intake up, they'd be reduced to ragamuffins¹ in no time at all.

"Herr Leutnant, we need food, we need it today. I've gone further on very little, but never with nothing at all to eat." Unteroffizier Schumacher said this as respectfully as he could, but in the past few days they'd been subsisting on British biscuits and water. Now all they had was water.

"I know Uwe, we could try raiding a farmhouse, but..."

"I'll do it, give me one man to act as a lookout. I'll get us food." Grenadier Sauer stated flatly. The entire group knew that Sauer would kill if he had to, civilian, military, it was all the same to him. Stand against his unit, you died, or he died trying to kill you. So far in this war, Sauer had done a lot of killing. It didn't bother him in the least.

The lieutenant took a long hard look at the man, "Manfred, take Dieter with you. He'll decide whether or not a farmhouse can be taken. We'll lay low tonight and you two can go out and try to get us something to eat. Nothing that requires cooking, obviously, we can't risk a fire."

Outside Tilloloy

The men were happy to not be traveling that night, a full belly would be nice, but perhaps that might still happen if Pohl and Sauer were successful at finding something to eat. As the men discussed this in low voices, Grenadier Pfeiffer, of 1st Platoon, asked Grenadier Böhm, of 3rd platoon, about his platoon mate, Manfred Sauer.

"How does he find it so easy to kill?"

"We were in different squads in 3rd platoon, but a comrade of mine, Willi Sternberg, knew Sauer very well, they were from the same village outside Leipzig. Sauer was a swineherd before he was drafted. He's older than he looks, I think he's near 30 years old."

The lieutenant turned to look at the two men talking about Grenadier Sauer.

"What does being a swineherd have to do with anything?"

"Ah my dear Leutnant, you're from the city aren't you?" Grenadier Pfeiffer asked.

"Well, yes, Dresden. Why?"

"Swineherds raise pigs, for meat. To get meat you have to kill the pig and butcher it. Sauer has been doing that since he was a young boy, his father was also a swineherd, naturally enough. Pigs are rather intelligent, did you know that?" Pfeiffer considered himself an expert on pork, and other things as well for that matter.

"Pigs are intelligent?" The lieutenant asked.

"Jawohl Herr Leutnant. So you see, Sauer doesn't mind killing people because he used to kill pigs to make his living. As he seems to like pigs more than people, well..."

"I see." The lieutenant hadn't known that, hadn't really thought about where his food came from. His mother had prepared all his meals before he went into the army. Then, of course, the army had been responsible for feeding him. It wasn't something he spent a lot of time thinking about. He had the thought that he should talk to his men more often. Running his own platoon had given him little time to get to know the men under him, he knew his sergeants, which he figured was good enough.

"What do you think Sauer?" Feldwebel Pohl had been studying the small farmstead with the field glasses the lieutenant had loaned him before handing them to Grenadier Sauer.

Sauer studied the scene for a moment, then said, "I think I can get into that hen house with no problem. The man appears to live there alone. Do we go in tonight?" Sauer asked as he handed the glasses back to his sergeant.

"Yes. But I'm not sure about the farmer. While I don't see a dog, doesn't mean there isn't one."

"Herr Feldwebel, if the man had a dog, you'd see the dog. Mutts are like that, they like being with their humans."

"Have you ever had a dog Manfred?"

"Yes, of course, several. They help me with the pigs. Most farmers have dogs, they keep an eye on things, like having a permanent sentry. Why do you think the Army uses them?" Sauer couldn't believe Pohl didn't know all this. Men who worked the land and with animals assumed everyone knew these things.

"I'll take your word for it."

Pierre Aucoin finished the dregs of his wine. It had been another hard day. Since his wife had been killed by the Germans, his life hadn't been the same. He remembered, vaguely, being happy, each day a new adventure, a new joyful thing to savor and love. Then his wife had gone to Amiens with her sister to see the cathedral there.

A German officer had been assassinated by the Maquis while she and her sister were in the city. They had done nothing wrong, but the Germans had rounded up a hundred people, among them his wife and her sister, and shot them in retaliation for the killing of the officer. He had learned of it three days after it had happened. Friends in Amiens had got word to him and his brother-in-law that their wives had been killed, fusillé par les Allemands.²

He had had few sober nights since that day. What's more, his dog René had been run over and killed by an American truck just two weeks ago. He hated all soldiers, they had taken all the joy from his life. His brother-in-law had been arrested by the Germans not long before they had retreated with the Americans hot on their tails. From what he had been told, his brother-in-law had probably disappeared into a labor camp in Germany. If not just shot out of hand.

Now he worked his fields and tended his chickens, selling what he could, eating what he could not. Which took up all of his waking moments, but when night came he remembered things as they used to be, so he turned to the bottle. Wine usually, cognac when he could get it. It didn't make the pain go away, it just dulled it. He typically drank until he was incoherent. Only to awaken in the morning to do it all over again.

The two Germans watched the farmhouse from the nearby copse. Pohl whispered to Sauer, "The man is up rather late for a farmer isn't he?"

"He is, wait here." Without another word, Sauer disappeared into the darkness. As Pohl watched, he could see Sauer now in the minimal light coming from one of the farmhouse windows. He also saw Sauer gesture for him to come over.

Pohl looked through the window as Sauer had indicated he should, he saw the farmer and he saw the empty bottle of wine cradled to the man's chest. It all made sense now, the man was alone, in more ways than one.

"Follow me," Sauer whispered. Then "Wait here..."

Moments later Pohl heard chickens rustling around, but none made much noise. Apparently Sauer knew chickens as well as pigs. The man came out with his helmet loaded with straw. Nestled in the straw were a number of eggs. "Give me your bread bag." Again Sauer had whispered, though Pohl felt that they could have made a lot of noise and not awakened the farmer. Sauer may know pigs and chickens, Pohl thought, but I know drunks.

Once Pohl's bread bag was full of the purloined eggs, still surrounded by straw, Sauer motioned for him to wait outside the door. Pohl looked curious, but Sauer gestured again to wait.

Sauer entered the farmer's house, it wasn't very big, a kitchen, a sitting room, and a bedroom, the farmer was passed out in the sitting room. An oil lamp burned near where he slept. Sauer rummaged around a bit, then he heard the farmer stir. Quickly he drew his fighting knife and was standing over the farmer when that man opened his eyes.

Pierre thought it was a dream, why would a German be here, in his cottage, the Americans had chased all the Germans away hadn't they? He started to get up when he felt an icy hotness across his neck. He laid back down. He couldn't speak and breathing was becoming difficult as his throat filled with blood. For a moment he was in shock, then he realized he was dying. He smiled as he thought of his Jeannette.

When the man had begun to stir Sauer had hesitated, but only briefly. He used his fighting knife to cut the man's throat. As he held the man down, he was stunned when he saw him smile. He had never seen such a thing before, it was almost like the man had welcomed death.

Pohl came in immediately, "Are you insane Sauer? This man will be missed, they will start searching for whoever killed him as soon as they discover the body. Do you propose to carry him into the woods or something? We must be away from here, we can't wait until tomorrow, the lieutenant will be furious."

Pohl said all that in a barely audible hiss. He was outraged that Sauer was taking all this so calmly.

"Herr Feldwebel, the man was waking up, I had no choice. There is bread in that box over there. Grab it and wait for me outside please."

"What, what, are you mad? Why should I wait outside, we have to go, now..."

"Herr Feldwebel, the man was a drunk, no doubt everyone in that village across the field knows this. He drinks himself to sleep every night I'll wager. It's a simple problem really, we burn the farmhouse down. With the farmer in it. How many times did we see the SS do that in Russia? How many times did we do it ourselves?"

Pohl watched incredulously as Sauer emptied a spare reservoir for the oil lamp onto the dead farmer. Then he smashed the lamp on the floor. The flames caught almost immediately. With a grunt Sauer said, "You can stay here and mourn the dead Frenchie, or we can bring this food to our fellow soldiers, your choice. Herr Feldwebel."

Pohl followed Sauer back to the rest of the unit. When he told the lieutenant what had happened, he simply shrugged. "We burned people alive in Russia. This man was dead. I understand your shock Dieter, but what choice did you have?"

Pohl realized that the lieutenant was right, but he was going to keep an eye on Sauer, the man was too cold-blooded about killing, and it bothered him.

There were many things which were beginning to bother him about this filthy war...

¹ The German word is Vogelscheuche, which can also mean "scarecrow."
² Shot by the Germans, a common epitaph throughout Belgium and France in 1914-1918 and 1940-1944.


  1. You're doing a great job showing the routine ugliness of war. Even good people must do awful things to survive, but the "others" more frequently prevail.
    Boat Guy

    1. Ugliness is an understatement. While I'm not naive to think our own soldiers never killed the innocent so coldly and indiscriminately, I'm glad it's the Germans you're showing. Sauer is not only heartless, but hungry as well, which makes for an even colder combination. As bad as he and some Germans were, the Japanese were even worse.

      If you have shown the other side, I wouldn't know it as I'm not current with all the chapters you've written. I'm drowning in emails for that group I now lead this year so I often have to forgo time here at the Chant. I'll have to go back to it when I find time.

    2. So far the Allies have behaved, after a fashion.

  2. Read Ordinary Men by Browning. You can find it online as a pdf, IIRC. Sauer isn't any different than you or me. He stands out, but it's only because of the softness we are used to.

    I was talking to a young man who has fought in this latest unpleasantness. I asked what he thought about the about the messy stuff going on now. His casual attitude about what he would do to help his family, if it came to that, reminds me of Sauer. We have thousands of such young men, on both sides of the equation, in this nation right now.

    1. That's something that many don't understand, how the average person could perpetrate such hideous crimes, the banality of evil as Hannah Arendt termed it. It's "group think," the herd mentality as I see it. Many people will go along with something, even if it makes them uncomfortable, because those around them are doing it as well.

      Something we're seeing in these days and times. The kids in the street aren't necessarily evil, it's the ones financing them who are, most definitely, evil.

    2. Evil is as evil does. Just because the mob is doing it, and they get carried away with it, doesn't give them a pass for booting some poor guy in the head. Or dragging someone out of a truck and beating them withing an inch of their life. Nuremburg trials for the lot...

  3. Rather doubt that there are "thousands" on the side of the commies who are combat vets. I'll buy hundreds maybe.
    I was reminded of an account of the "Hell Ships" transporting POW's to Japan. A survivor said " The good ones died, the Chaplains, the Doctors, those who would help others". That is one of the tragedies of war from the beginning.
    And Sarge...while the financiers are definitely evil, there are plenty of evil folks in the streets now; people who would administer a roundhouse kick to a sitting man's head
    Boat Guy

    1. Yes, there are evil ones among the mob, most are unwitting dupes. People in crowds can act very badly and still not really be evil, just unthinking. Which is, in a way, evil.

    2. Anon I hope you are right. My favorite Army medic said the amount of gang tattoos in his platoon in basic was more than a few. Heard them joking about taking their training back to the gang. I really hope you are right.

    3. Recruiters should face court martial for such things. It's been going on for quite a while now. If we are that desperate for recruits, we are doing something very wrong.

  4. I wonder if there trek ends with meeting Mr. Kowalski?

  5. Hey AFSarge;

    Shows the ugly side of War, and Sauer and people like him is destined not to survive the War or the Peace afterwards, people like that don't play well when a country is trying to rebuild. Sauer killing the Frenchman was almost a mercy killing as it were in this case.

  6. Sauer is... Sauer. I've known a few pig farmers and other meat growers. They all can click on the 'this is not folk' button and do what they need to do. But they all do it with minimal fuss and muss. Seen one hardened pig farmer broken down in tears because one pig gutted another, and he had to go in and finish the job. But he (to 'normal' people) easily selected and butchered on a regular business.

    The world needs people like Sauer. Just in controlled places. Given free reign to an open society and mess with everything, that's when you get a sour Sauer.

    Some people are just good at killing. Doesn't make them bad, unless they're doing it for all the wrong reasons. Who knows, if Sauer survives to the end of the war, he might actually do better in reconstruction than many. He'll just go back to pig farming and working with pigs. It's the other ones, like the Leutnant, who never really thought of where things came from, that will have a difficult time rebuilding a country from the ground up while having various military and civilian boots on their necks (especially if they don't return to a US controlled sector.)

    Very engrossing tale. Man's gotta eat, or man's gonna die.

    And, in a weird way, as horrible as what Sauer did was, he did to the French man what the French man couldn't. He released him from a suffering end. Dying alone of alcohol poisoning would have been much worse.

    What seems cruel is kind. What seems kind is cruel. War, glorious in books and film and from a distance, is messy. You capture this very well.

    1. Thanks Beans.

      Sauer is a type, the kind of man some people would be uncomfortable with, but he does what needs doing.

  7. That burning of the house ,might bite our plucky Germans in the ass. The lone farmer was unlikely to be visited by anyone for a quite bit of time, but now everyone in few miles range will converge and someone might discover knife wound - or any other trace of Germans, or just run into them.
    Reminds me if the Red Storm Rising when similar outfit of runaway US Marines ambushed some Soviet paratroops on Iceland and faked car crash, but did not deceive Soviets who had good forensic doctor as local surgeon.

    1. There's always that possibility. But a farmer who spends much of his time drunk, alone and no doubt bitter. Who knows if the locals will be suspicious. He also goes to the village periodically to sell eggs and whatever else he can harvest from his fields. He also buys wine, sometimes cognac. So he would be missed within a day or so. We shall see.

      Reference Red Storm Rising and I'm all ears, I've probably read that six times over the years. Might be time to read it again!

    2. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that reads a good book over and over and over.

    3. I don't think you're alone around here!

    4. Not alone by a long way, would be my guess.
      --Tennessee Budd

  8. That reminded me of the cruelty of the Nazis rounding up innocent people to shoot them. If I lost a loved one that way, if I hadn't already been in the Resistance, I would be.

  9. Wow. Powerful, thought provoking read. Thanks Sarge.

  10. The thing we all recoil from is the fact that we all have free will and we all have the capacity to do evil and to good. None of us are immune to this reality. It behooves each of us to continually revisit and understand how and why we choose to undertake actions. In truth, the notion that there are good people and bad people is one of the most terrifying ideas we ape lizards have ever come up with.

    Another fantastic installment Sarge!

    1. Without the concepts of good and evil, what is the point of religion?

      Just something to chew on. (In my world view, God and religion are two separate things, which confuses me at times.)


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