The Wehrmacht’s endless march East

The soldiers of the Wehrmacht often lived off the land and took shelter in whatever was available.

Willy Reese had arrived in Russia after a long train journey. As an ordinary infantry man he still had a long march ahead of him as they continued to head east. His memoirs describe the days in late September before the rains came:

Slowly but irresistibly we moved across the steppe toward the great adventure.

Sun seared. Dust and sweat begrimed our faces, and the march and the road seemed never-ending. Low white-washed cottages stood among fruit trees and wells, all of it lost in infinitude. Women in brightly colored headscarfs stood barefoot on the broad road, beautiful figures among them. We saw hardly any men. We marched.

Our feet swelled up and hurt; our breaths came quicker and shallower till we were allowed to rest. Every night was a relief. I felt an utter stranger in Russia.

We were given a day’s respite, A white village in the midst of apples and poplars took us in. We could wash and sleep, wash our clothes, and fix something to eat with stolen eggs and flour.

There were occasional beautiful simple houses standing in the bare landscape. But mostly they were squat, ugly huts, in which four or six or ten people lived in a single small, low-ceilinged room. They were beam constructions, with daub walls, the cracks stuffed with moss, the inside roughly painted, the outside generally not.

Their roofs were straw. A stamped earthen floor supported the great stove on which the inhabitants slept. Mice rustled in the straw and dust. There was a bench, a table, and occasionally a bed or pallet by the stove.

Underneath it quivered rabbits, pigs, and the vermin that would attack us. Bedbugs bothered us at night, fleas broke our rest, and lice multiplied in pur uniforms. Spiders, flies, wood lice, and cockroaches scuttled over the tables and over our faces and hands. The illumination was provided by an oil lamp.

Sometimes after our arrival, the women would have lit the candle in front of the icon and pulled Bible out of its hiding place and laid it on a little corner table.

See Willy Peter Reese: A Stranger to Myself

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