Literary Feasts: Eastern Inferno
The Journals of a German Panzerjager on the Eastern Front, 1941-43 by Hans Roth, Christine Alexander (editor) and Mason Kunz (editor)
When you’re very hungry, the simple things taste great. When you’re frequently hungry, such opportunities take on an almost religious significance, like this devotion to a piece of toast.
And now it is time for toasted bread. Our stove has reached the right temperature and now the pleasant ceremony of the soldier starts. We cut large slices of the dark bread and place it on a plate in the stove. The slices turn brown and crispy; the unforgettable smell of the bread fills the cramped space of the bunker. It is a smell which reminds us of long lost days, of the coziness and the pleasantness of the world. There are many ways to toast the bread, which permits you to distinguish the characteristics of the people in the bunker: the greedy person, the easy person, the unconcerned person, and apathetic person. The experienced toaster is patient, but will start dreaming when he stands at the stove and becomes distracted from the bitter reality, if only for a short time.
Much of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was fought during the bitter Russian winters. Surviving in such conditions burns lots of calories, so you are constantly hungry. It didn’t help that usually when it was needed most, food was scarce. This reverence for the humble slice of bread is unsurprising.