Paul’s unit is given a guard detail over a supply dump located in an
There is a concrete dugout there and they take the opportunity to get as much rest and food as possible. The scrounger around the village and find a large mahogany bed with a mattress and they move this into their dugout so that they can enjoy this luxury.
When they find two pigs they are able to prepare a feast. Paul makes
some pancakes, but the smoke from their fire attracts the attention of enemy artillery and suddenly the area receives an intensive bombardment.
The men gather up their food and rush for the dugout, but Paul will not take refuge until he has finished cooking his pancakes. He manages to escape the bombardment and save all the pancakes, and the men start a long period of feasting. With coffee and cognac, and a stray cat that becomes a pet, it is almost like being at home.
Unfortunately, the richness of the food brings on bouts of diarrhea.
The men enjoy this life for three weeks before they are moved to another village that is to be evacuated. They take the furniture and the cat with them.
During this evacuation Kropp and Paul and wounded by a falling shell and
they are taken to a nearby Hospital. Kropp has been wounded very close to his knee and he is fearful that his leg will need to be amputated.
Kropp soon develops a fever and his leg is in fact amputated. Paul discovers that the Hospital is a good place to learn more about the horrors of war.
One of the patients, a soldier in his 40’s called Lewandowski, is excited
that his wife is coming to visit him.
He has not seen her for two years, or the child that she has borne. He is keen to have somewhere private in order to be alone with his wife, but this would not be allowed by the nuns in this Catholic hospital. However, some of the other men rally round and provide a diversion by playing with Lewandowski’s child, guarding the door and playing cards while the couple make love on the soldier’s bed. Afterwards, they all share the food that Lewandowski’s wife has brought.
Kropp recovers from his amputation, but he is now understandably
depressed. Paul too has recovered from his wounds, and he is given leave to go home to recuperate. He finds his mother much weaker and it is even more difficult to part from her when it is time to return
to the Front.
This Chapter perhaps provides one of the lighter episodes in the book, and
we enjoy the soldiers’ preparation for their feast, although they have to scurry to their bunker when there is an artillery bombardment.
Paul’s decision to remain exposed until his pancakes are finished indicates
his philosophical attitude to the war.
He considers that if it is his turn to die, then he will be hit by a shell. What is more important to him is eating these delicious pancakes. He might well die tomorrow and never have tasted them. This attitude is shared by the other soldiers who take pains to protect their food while they head for cover. They are all prepared to risk death provided that they are able to enjoy this meal.
When Paul arrives at the Catholic Hospital to have his wounds attended to,
his boyish modesty shines through the hard coarse exterior of this veteran soldier. He is conscious of his own grimy appearance and does not wish to soil the clean sheets on his bunk in the Hospital.
Remarque is commenting on the fact that despite all the rigors of the battlefield, Paul’s innocence has not been completely destroyed. He still wishes to retain some modesty in this strange setting.
We note how the patients use their cunning and survival techniques in order to circumvent the authority of the nuns in the Hospital. The patients know that they can get up to mischief when the nuns are at prayer.
We note how the soldiers cling on to the vestiges of normal human behavior,
demonstrated by Lewandowski’s anticipation of his wife’s visit. He wishes to connect with the real world again and this can be obtained by being intimate with his wife.
The other soldiers in the ward collaborate in order for Lewandowski’s dream to come true, and they will also share in the elation that Lewandowski will experience, for they too will gain a tenuous link with reality.
The turnover of soldiers in the Hospital is quite alarming, and the staff
has an efficient system for dealing with the various types of injuries that they tend. Those soldiers that won’t survive go to the ‘dying room’. The other patients are sorted according to their type of
injury. We read, “On the floor below us there are men with stomach and spinal wounds, men with head wounds and men with both legs and arms amputated.
In the right-hand wing are men with wounds in the jaw, men who have been gassed and men wounded in the nose, ears or throat. In the left-hand wing are those who have been blinded and men who have been hit in the lungs or in the pelvis, in one of the joints, in the kidneys, in the testicles or in the stomach. It is only here that you realize all the different places where a man can be hit.”
Through Paul’s narration, Remarque tells us that everyone who studies
warfare should visit a Hospital where much can be learnt. After Paul’s tour of the Hospital he is left in the quandary of how our society can allow these butcher shops to exist when mankind has a history of
over 1,000 years of civilization. How can there be any future for mankind when all his knowledge is used to reduce everything in terms of death?
Remarque gives us the feeling that he did not have much time for the doctors
in the Hospitals during the First World War.
He infers that they were too keen to amputate limbs because this was easier than trying to save limbs; the latter alternative requires much more intensive care. With amputation, one way or another, the problem will be solved quickly.