House 6/I, on the Approach to Stalingrad

The sweep of Life and Fate is simply amazing. There are dozens of characters, self reads with one finger inserted in the List of Chief Characters at the back of the book. The mains are the Shaposhnikov Family. But there are a dozen characters in a German concentration camp, 15 in a Russian labour camp, a dozen in a cattle car on the way to the gas chambers, a handful in the Lubyanka Prison, another handful in the Stalingrad power station, members of a fighter squadron of the Russian air force, members of a Russian Tank Corps, Officers of the Soviet Army in Stalingrad, and finally Soldiers in House 6/I, which became the axis of attack for the Germans as they began the siege of Stalingrad.

In this house are: a captain, several sappers, a young girl (the radio operator), a gunner, several “observers” (lookouts), a “plotter”, a scout, a mortar crew, and several soldiers.

Major General Krylov orders the captain to make daily reports at twelve-hundred hours, but the captain ignores the order, he is too busy fighting.

Finally, orders are sent to have one of the soldiers at House 6/I report in person to the General, and update him on the situation.

They send a very young boy (Shaposhnikov is the boy’s name), who very reluctantly accepts his mission (he wants to stay and help his captain). The boy keeps trying to turn back, explaining to everyone at Divisional Headquarters that his captain needs him. But he is ordered to stay at headquarters until he has delivered his report, and unfortunately General Krylov is very busy, and the boy has to hang around for two full days.

Every time the chief of staff came into the bunker, he felt Shaposhnikov looking at him. Sometimes he said: “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten,” but at other times the boy’s constant look of entreaty really got under his skin. “Anyway,” he demanded, “what are you complaining about? It’s nice and warm here and you get lots of food. There’ll be time enough to get yourself killed back at the front.”

— life and fate, p. 255

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