Before he entered the shattered city, he'd received word that his cousin and his wife's brother had both been killed in the war. Those bastards are going to pay, he vowed. Clarence Smoyer during the war. He gained a reputation for deadly accuracy as a tank gunner. Now he intended to fulfill his promise. His M26 Pershing tank had just been engaged in a shootout with a German tank at a sprawling intersection in the town's center. But then the enemy tank ducked behind a building.
Smoyer searched for it, scanning a hellish urban landscape of rubble, sagging streetcar cables and collapsed buildings. A black Opel streaked into the intersection. With orders to shoot anything that moved, Smoyer pressed the trigger. Bullets and tracers from Smoyer's gun smashed into the car; ordnance from another source also flew through the intersection. The car crashed into the sidewalk, and then Smoyer saw something that made the pit of his stomach fall out. The car's passenger door swung open and a person with a light-colored sweater embroidered with flowers crumpled to the street.
He saw a flash of curly brown hair. Smoyer's adrenalin turned to horror: Did I just shoot a woman? Smoyer's question would force him to return to Cologne 68 years later. It would force him to reach out to an unlikely ally. And it would force him to deal with another question that may not be limited to war veterans: How do you atone for a terrible deed when you're not sure you've committed it? Yet unlike other mysteries, this was one the main character wasn't sure he really wanted to solve -- at least not at first. Smoyer dreaded the answers because still more questions had lingered at the back of his mind for decades: Was that a woman?
If so, why was she there? And perhaps most important: Did she survive? Smoyer is now 95 and long retired from his job as a supervisor at an industrial cement plant. He was married to Melba, the woman who sent him homemade fudge when he was in combat, for 70 years before she died in They had two daughters. German tanks had Americans outgunned, but Smoyer destroyed a feared German tank during a legendary battle. Anyone passing Smoyer on the street today wouldn't imagine that he fought in one the most legendary tank duels of World War II, says Makos. He destroyed a dreaded Panther tank, one of the most formidable weapons in the German arsenal.
Yet Smoyer doesn't revel in war stories. He turns the channel when war movies come on. He closes the window when Fourth of July fireworks go off. He's a big quiet guy with a nervous chuckle. Smoyer had good reason to turn away from the sounds of war. For those who fought in tanks, war was literally hell on wheels.
Men who hadn't showered in three weeks were crammed together into small metal capsules. Shells that penetrated through tank hulls ricocheted inside like supersonic pinballs. Concussion forces from the impact of shells shattered men's bones and turned their bodies to jelly, with just the skin holding their corpses together. Tanks were called "crematoriums on wheels. Smoyer top center and his crew pause during a lull in the fighting.
Latinos in World War II: Fighting on Two Fronts (U.S. National Park Service)
He thought he wouldn't survive the war. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book, Makos tells the story of Smoyer's company commander, Capt. Mason Salisbury. Salisbury had returned home from the war, graduated from Columbia Law School and become a lawyer at big New York firm. One winter weekend, he stayed at his parents' mansion on Long Island. He played tennis and ate dinner with his family. That Monday morning, his father found him slumped in a car in the garage. The car had been running all night. Salisbury had killed himself at He'd left a note, saying he was depressed over the loss of his friends in battle.
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Salisbury had been stalked and cut down by the unseen killer. The mental toll of war. Smoyer was losing the battle with that unseen killer. The mental toll of the war was eating into him.
He'd become a hero for his actions in Cologne that day. After his encounter in the intersection, his tank would go on to tangle with another German tank known as the "monster" -- the dreaded Panther. It had a gun so powerful that its shells could go through one American Sherman tank into the next. Tank warfare was so grisly during World War II that American soldiers had a nickname for tanks: crematoriums on wheels.
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Smoyer and his crew destroyed that Panther, and the duel was caught on film by a combat cameraman. Journalists heard about the battle and interviewed and photographed Smoyer and his crew. One journalist wrote a piece about it called, "Killing a Monster. But as the years went by, Smoyer tried not to think about the war. During one dinner, he notices an exceptionally beautiful adolescent boy. He becomes obsessed from a distance, shutting out the ominous news of a danger spreading through the city.
In the late s, year-old West German Michael Berg finds himself in a passionate but secret love affair with a woman who is over 20 years his senior, leaving him confused yet enthralled. As a law student several years later, he is observing a trial when he realizes that the woman in the dock is his former lover.
But the woman on trial is a very different person to the one he thought he knew. In , it became the first ever German book to top the New York Times bestseller list, and Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her performance in the film adaptation. The book has however come in for staunch criticism, as critics claim it encourages identification with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Remarque was himself a veteran of the war, and he wrote and published the book a decade after its conclusion.
The novel zooms in to the daily life of a private soldier, detailing both the violence of battle and the mundaneness of life on the front. Published in , it quickly received international acclaim, being translated into 22 different languages and selling 2. A photo posted by Nia.
Whereas most good novels manage to conjure up images in your head, Das Parfum also conjures up scents and smells that waft up from the page. When it was published in , Das Parfum shot to the top of the best-seller tables. He lived in southeast England for the majority of his life as a university professor, and the breadth and depth of his knowledge shared in the novel could only be that of an academic. The novel traces the journey of Jacques Austerlitz, a man who arrived in Britain in as a young boy from Prague. Through a series of lengthy conversations with the narrator, Austerlitz slowly reveals his life story.
12 amazing World War II novels you should read right now
Sebald's unusual style has been described as its own genre : dense and slightly old-fashioned, it still captivates the reader and leads them on a fascinating journey through the history of Europe. A photo posted by L. The year - when Berlin Alexanderplatz was published - was the highpoint of the Weimar Republic, before it all came tumbling down with the Wall Street Crash. Berlin was like no other city in the late s: diverse, liberal, and often debauched.
This iconic novel narrates the story of ex-convict Franz Biberkopf who, after being released from prison in Berlin, swears that he will live an upstanding and decent life. He is soon, however, plunged into the capital's louche but exhilarating underworld. In Imperium, a vegetarian nudist from Nuremberg sets sail for a South Pacific island to set up a religion worshipping coconuts and the sun. Sounds like absurdist fiction? In this witty and ironic book, Kracht - one of modern German literature's most elusive figures - tells more than just the surprising yet true story of this extreme figure.
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