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Friday, 8 October 2010

Curzio Malaparte: High Tide: Ukraine, 1942


File:Bundesarchiv Bild 169-0007, Sowjetischer Panzer KW 1.jpg

Abandoned Soviet KW-1 tank, Ukraine: photographer unknown, Summer 1942 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

It had been raining for days and days and the sea of Ukrainian mud slowly spread beyond the horizon. It was the high tide of autumn in the Ukraine. The deep black mud was everywhere swelling like dough when yeast begins to work. The heavy smell of mud was borne by the wind from the end of the vast plain and mingled with the odor of uncut grain left to rot in the furrows, and with the sweetish stale odor of sunflowers. One by one the seeds dropped out of the black pupils of the sunflowers, one by one fell the long yellow eyelashes from around the large, round eyes, blank and void like the eyes of the blind.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 169-0900, Russland, brennende Häuser.jpg

Burning houses mark the struggles of the 6th army in the advance toward Stalingrad:
photographer unknown, 21 June 1942 (Deutsche Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

The German soldiers returning from the front line, when they reached the village squares, dropped their rifles on the ground in silence. They were coated from head to foot in black mud, their beards were long, their hollow eyes looked like the eyes of the sunflowers, blank and dull. The officers gazed at the soldiers and at the rifles lying on the ground, and kept silent. By then the lightning war, the Blitzkrieg, was over, the Dreizigjährigerblitzkrieg, the thirty year lightning war, had begun. The winning war was over, the losing war had begun. I saw the white stain of fear growing in the dull eyes of German officers and soldiers. I saw it spreading little by little, gnawing at the pupils, singeing the roots of the eyelashes and making the eyelashes drop one by one, like the long yellow eyelashes of the sunflowers. When Germans become afraid, when that mysterious German fear begins to creep into their bones, they always arouse a special horror and pity. Their appearance is miserable, their cruelty sad, their courage silent and hopeless. That is when the Germans become wicked. I repented being a Christian. I felt ashamed of being a Christian.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 169-0915, Russland, zerstörtes sowjetisches Flugzeug.jpg

Wreckage of Soviet Polikarpov I-153, during the Russian retreat: photographer unknown, 21 June 1942 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)
Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt (excerpt), 1944 (translated from the Italian by Cesare Foligno)


Anonymous said...

"The winning war was over, the losing war had begun."

It's just so hard to know where to start with any of the Malaparte postings. They tell their own story so well.

I would say that reading these I am re-experiencing the war, which I only ever experienced in my imagination growing up (but did so continuously over a period of several years; that's American boyhood for you), more fully than I have than in anything I've seen, read or thought about since then.

Each of these photos is extraordinary, but I'm most struck by the abandoned tank, which says everything.

TC said...


It gives pause to imagine those vast tank battles moving across the steppes. In one decisive engagement the Russians lost 200 tanks in a day. But then they had nearly 24,000 tanks, almost four times as many as the invader. The Bundesarchiv files of military photos of the advances into Russia are replete with images of destroyed or abandoned Soviet military hardware. But this suggestion that only the Soviets were suffering such losses may have been conveyed by design. And at any rate the Russians were capable of losing 200 tanks in a day and then building 1500 new tanks in a few weeks. One way or another they held up the Germans sufficiently to guarantee that the idea of moving into Russia was going to be by far the worst idea the Germans would ever have.


Tom and Curtis,

Yes, that's the line that really caught me -- "The winning war is over, the losing war had begun" -- and continues. . . .


light coming into sky above still black
plane of ridge, red-tailed hawk calling
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

painting parallel to picture
plane, seeming object

involved in this description
means, there, or that

grey-white clouds against top of ridge,
whiteness of gull gliding toward point

TC said...

Stephen, I believe you are absolutely right about that: the losing war is definitely still in medias res.

We are all, whether we like it or not,

seeming object(s),
involved in this description...

The wisdom of the red-tailed hawk is not to know. Which is probably the only way not to be "in the picture".



It's good to look at these pictures again (and again), read Malaparte's account of the German officers' "hollow . . . dull eyes." Curtis is right -- that "abandoned tank . . . says everything.". . . .

And here we are on 10.10.2010, approaching "the high tide of autumn" -- some things have changed, or have they?


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, shadowed green of leaf on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

structure of dimensions time
itself, that the idea

word “color,” look at bright
green, which could be

silver of low sun reflected in channel,
circular green pine on tip of sandspit

aditya said...

The manner in which the hopelessness, misery and horror of it all has been described is astonishingly effortless. And so everything remains with you once you finish reading. The pictures too, running through these lines. These lines drawing up more pictures.

I repented being a Christian.
I felt ashamed of being a Christian.

Sorry for not being around here much these days to read or take a look.

Elmo St. Rose said...

how about a simple adage:

you reap what you sow

it was Hitler,after all,
who inspired the creation
of the atomic bomb
by nuclear physicists who
largely began and finished
life as pacifists(Einstein
the prime example)