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Ah! Mother, mother

All Quiet on the Western Front has strangely but accurately been labeled both the greatest war novel, and the greatest anti-war novel of all time. The original copyright, in 1928 as Im Westen Nichts Neues, was by a WW1 German combat veteran. Erich M. Remarque’s novel, which was banned by the Nazis, includes an account of a combat soldier home on leave.
“I take off my helmet and look up. Yes, it is my eldest sister. ‘Paul’ she cries, ‘Paul—’ She pulls open the door and calls, ‘Mother, mother, Paul is here.’ I can go no further—Mother, mother, Paul is here. I lean against the wall and grip my helmet and rifle as tight as I can, but I cannot take another step. I support myself with the butt of my rifle and clench my teeth fiercely, but I cannot speak a word, my sister’s call to mother has made me powerless. I stand on the step, miserable, helpless, paralyzed, and against my will tears run down my cheeks. …

“I sit by mother and she asks falteringly, ‘Was it very bad out there, Paul, with the gas and all the rest?’ Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not understand, you could never realize it. And you shall never realize it. She does not know what she is saying, she is merely anxious for me. Should I tell her how we once found three enemy trenches with their garrison all stiff as though stricken with apoplexy? Against the parapet, in the dug-outs, just where they were, the men stood and lay about, with blue faces, dead. …

“It is my last evening at home. Everyone is silent. I go to bed early. Late in the night mother comes into my room. She sits long into the night. At last I can bear it no longer and tell her to go to bed. ‘I can sleep enough later,’ she says. Then asks, ‘Are you very much afraid?’

“Ah! Mother, mother! You still think I am a child—why can I not put my head into your lap and weep? I would like to weep and be comforted too, indeed I am little more than a child. Ah! Mother, mother! Why do I not take you into my arms and die with you. What poor wretches we are. Ah! Mother, mother! Let us rise up and go out—back through the years, where the burden of all this misery lies on us no more, back to you and me alone, Mother!

“I get up and wrap my cover around her shoulders and take her back to her room. I stay with her a little while. How destitute she lies there in her bed, she that loves me more than all the world. Ah! Mother, mother! How can it be that I must part from you? Who else is there who has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and there you are lying; we have so much to say, and we shall never say it.” ~

Dan Nygaard