A column of soldiers marched toward the battlefield on a November morning. Over the babble of unconnected conversations Grenadier Franz Ehrholt’s voice sounded like a clarion. “You know,” he started in his philosophy professor’s monotone voice that he used to impress anyone who might be listening, “I’m not frightened of dying”. He paused for effect. There were a few comments about whether or not dying would rid the platoon of Ehrholt’s incessant silly thoughts. The criticism told him that many were listening. That was a fatal mistake on their part. He continued, “after all, dying is what a soldier does best. The skill comes naturally. No speed training necessary with countless hours of drill. Even the most inept soldier just has a knack for catching a bullet or a piece of flaming shell. Yup, not afraid of dying,” Ehrholt said as if he were an echo of his own voice which had just returned from bouncing off a distant mountain. “It’s surviving all this that I’m afraid of.”
In that brief observation lays the crux of this book. Four soldiers survived the Great War and launched themselves into the maelstrom that followed. One stayed with the army in hopes of influencing how a new army was to be molded. Another attempted to go home but was conscripted into a band of Polish guerillas whose job was to violently influence German citizens, the very people he had fought two years in the trenches for, into leaving territory that the Poles wanted for their new nation. While the other two soldiers joined the Polish ranks to fight against the expanding communist Russians. The unexpected twists soon follow. Their paths cross when the guerilla was captured by the soldier who stayed in the army and another becomes a spy against German interests in Russia. The final twist comes when all meet in Spain to oppose German backed fascist forces in the trenches before Madrid.
“It’s surviving that I am afraid of.”