Monday, 30 September 2019

In the Shadow of Wolves, by Alvydas Slepikas.

           After the Second World War ended, the German province of East Prussia which bordered Poland and Lithuania was annexed by the Russians as part of the Potsdam Conference between Churchill, Stalin and Truman.  To the Victor, the Spoils.  Kรถnigsberg became Kaliningrad.
            But what of the German population, who had been living there for countless generations?  Well, what of them?  They are all fascists, less than human, and Soviet soldiers are told to take their pick of any woman they find.  Mass rape is common – soldiers fuelled by hate and alcohol have been given free rein amongst the population (mainly women, children and old men); consequently, any street is a dangerous place to venture in search of food and firewood.  The staples of life have disappeared in one of the coldest winters ever, and frozen corpses litter the banked snow:  it is a dog-eat-dog existence –  if there were any dogs left who hadn’t been eaten.  If a woman is caught by the soldiers her fate is sealed – and her children used for target practice.  They are subhuman, after all.  The Soviets are doing the human race a favour.
            Lithuanian novelist Alvydas Slepikas’s novel spares the reader none of the horrors that were recounted to him by Renate, a woman who, as a child, became one of the Wolf children, abandoned and orphaned little Germans who lived through experiences so horrific as to be barely imaginable, starting with the eviction of Renate’s family from their farmhouse to the woodshed in the yard:  the farmhouse is now occupied by a Russian couple – who also took over their cow, pigs and chickens.  Renate’s grandfather was furious at their eviction so he went to the authorities to complain – and was never seen again.  Renate’s brother managed to cross the border to Lithuania, find enough work to be paid with food, and make it back to the woodshed – only to find on return from a nearly fatal subsequent trip that all his family had disappeared, deported who knows where.
            Renate’s fate is equally uncertain:  after losing her sister at a market whilst begging for food, she is adopted by a band of homeless orphaned children, all of whom have seen and undergone the unspeakable in their efforts to survive:  these are the Wolf children, barely subsisting in the frozen forest, but there because they don’t want to die.
            Mr Slepikas takes no prisoners in his stark and brutal story.  Beautifully translated, it brings home to the reader yet again that wartime allies are just as capable of inhumanity as the enemy.  SIX STARS!

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