Home > Uncategorized > Arnold Zweig: Whole generation shed man’s blood, whole generation to be poured forth in vats of blood

Arnold Zweig: Whole generation shed man’s blood, whole generation to be poured forth in vats of blood

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war

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Arnold Zweig
From The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927)
Translated by Eric Sutton

Arnold-Zweig

It was pretty certain that a man who was likely to have a hole blown in his head, or be burst into whirling fragments by a mine, had little cause to believe in a new life. In the great beyond there could be no room for so many innocent dead.

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“Look at the facts. How long does this degree of willingness last? If the German soldier refuses to obey orders, he is shot. And for that shadow of a possibility of returning – if he’s lucky this time, he’ll be for it next time. Consider, Exzellenz. Phosgene shells, and gas attacks, are gradually reducing the scope of the Divine Mercy that you mentioned. The art of war, looked at from the technical point of view, seems to be intended to put God in His proper place…”

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Grischa, who was stamping up and down the cell, up and down, from door to window, stopped: it suddenly occurred to him that he would be a queer object by next summer. He had seen men who had lain in the earth throughout the winter and the spring and then had been brought to light again in the course of trench-digging, or by some other accident of war: they still looked like men, but they were not beautiful. Yet why should he turn away from them, when he too was destined to become just such a shrunken mouldering corpse himself? He had to face much: why not this horror too?

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The German authorities had charge of his possessions: sixty-three roubles in paper money, saved out of his pay, and sixteen German marks. They would have to give him all that back, or, if not, send it to Marfa Ivanovna. He knew it would be sent through Sweden. They were sensible people there, who kept out of the war, and they undertook such small services as these between the two mad warring hordes, so that the memory of human fellowship should not entirely perish from the earth. He thought how he had meant to get home, and sighed: he had set his feet upon the way to peace, so that at last he might sit down in quiet by his wife and child; but the War had caught him in a trap, in a trench that had no outlet. He saw himself as an imprisoned wolf, ensnared into a defile…

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Täwje had been sure of one thing. “Whoso sheddeth a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” And he saw it: it had nothing to do with good or bad. The Bible did not say: “the bad man who sheds man’s blood shall have his blood shed by good men,” nor does it say “the good man who sheds man’s blood shall have his blood shed by bad men.” It simply said: “he that sheds shall be shed, he that smites shall be smitten,” and Grischa’s whole face lit up with surprise as he grasped, with infinite satisfaction, the conclusion of this brief meditation. He was glad to find the matter was in order; his anguish had passed away. The case of Grischa Paprotkin no longer seemed to him a thing foul and unnatural: it was quite in order. All that mattered was that something should be in order. This whole generation had shed man’s blood: and now the whole generation was to be poured forth in vats or buckets or drops of blood, no matter how. Justice must be served.

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Grischa’s soul was roving through the many ways of the labyrinth of sleep. He had flung himself down and gone to sleep as sound as a boy in a bundle of hay that steeped his senses in its fragrant intoxicating breath. The wind was no longer blowing against the window, and the general warmth of the building spread in through the passage, and there was a warm layer of air in the lower part of the room up to the height of the bed. Clad in his cloak, with his boots off, like a butterfly in its chrysalis, with a spare shirt and a ground-sheet rolled up to make a pillow, the doomed man lay within those four narrow walls that reeked of smoke and stone masonry, and slept: he slept away his living hours and lived in the calendar of dreams. Death was stirring within him. His inmost being was upturned, as the earth is turned up by a mole, laying bare new seams of thought, burying the old ones beneath them, and as he sank deeper and deeper into the toils of sleep, a sort of smile was limned on his stern grey sunken features. He was drinking “Bruderschaft” with those he had killed. They sat at long tables supported on rough balks of timber driven into the red and spongy earth, tables such as soldiers drink at; they were sitting on benches, toasting one another with tumblers full of coffee which they scooped from great bubbling cauldrons: but the coffee was blood. There were Germans in their grey cloaks; Frenchmen (whom he had seen when working on the Western Front) in their sky-blue tunics, and steel-blue ridged helmets; Tommies in khaki with small faces and snub noses, then the Austrians, and the Russian hordes, and among them was Grischa himself. They had killed one another, and now they were drinking each other’s health in the soldiers’ Heaven and perhaps the soldiers’ Hell; how should they know the difference…The blood shed for their several Fatherlands, collected together in one huge cauldron, tasted sweet, like punch…

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