Today marks the bicentennial of the culminating catastrophe that befell the Grande Armée as it retreated from Russia. This past weekend one of the French Emperor's descendants, Charles Napoleon, traveled to Minsk in Belarus to attend ceremonies commemorating the disaster at the nearby Beresina River crossing, where thousands died -- many by drowning -- in a final, panicked rout in freezing weather. Bonaparte had marched deep into Russia with nearly half a million soldiers; he returned with less than 25,000.
Anyway 70 years ago today the net around the German Army in Stalingrad's position was tightened and the 6th Army's commander decision to follow Hitler's orders started to become increasingly apparent that he had consigned his Army Group to death.
And, as a memorial to a friend who fought in that battle and died this month whose wake I reciently attended.
As a man he was one of the toughest men I have ever known, but even then he always bitched that German government sent him and his brother to Stalingrad in the winter with Afrika Korps summer wear. His brother was loudly anti-Nazi and got into trouble with the SS more then once for 'insulting the leader' was also sent there, but didn't make it out. He starved to death in a gulag in the early 50s.
Zimmer was apolilitical and managed to get out of Stalingrad before it fell. He reluctantly surrendered to U.S. forces in 1945 even though he was told by his officers that if he did the Americans would cut off his nads because they wanted to destory the German race. Anyway Soviet officers wanted to take him away to work in Siberia, but the American officers prevented them from doing so and didn't cut off his nads like he feared which is part of why he decided to come to the U.S. and stay.
Oh and if you think he was a moron for thinking that, imagine you are a teenager in a state where everything you read and are told is totally controlled by the state. Total state control of the press of all you read and are told is a powerful force. He told me that he was taught in school in the 30s about U.S. history because he was told it would be his generation that would rule over the country as well as all others. His response was how could a small country like Germany take over the entire world and his response got him hit by a ruler.
He loved to bitch about how good current German soldiers in Afghanistan have it. That they have good beds and roofs over their heads and they have their own union and they can go to it to defy orders to cut their hair because they have lice. He would say 'in my day if an officer told me to cut my hair because I have lice and I told him to go to hell I would have been shot on the spot'.
One of his grandsons is currently in the U.S. Army and is deploying to Germany soon.
The main lesson of the two stories happens to be.