Graphic novel showcases bravery and tragedy of German WW2 experience – Review

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Nemmersdorf, East Prussia – A graphic novel from Germany—first kickstarted in 2023 by publishing house Hydra Comics—has finally been translated into English, offering readers a unique view into the criminally overlooked experiences of the German people during the Second World War.

Titled October ’44: The Liberation of Nemmersdorf, the story follows the real-life events behind the tragic Nemmersdorf massacre, a town in East Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast) forever marred by a series of abhorrent war crimes committed by invading Soviet troops near the end of the conflict.

The illustrations in Nemmersdorf are vivid and realistic, and visually compete pound for pound with any mainstream comic publication that readers might already be acquainted with. Picture: Hydra Comics

While many of the names and faces contained inside Nemmersdorf are fictional, their likenesses were based on examples taken from first-hand accounts of the town’s liberation in 1944. The author, German historian Markus Pruss, has painstakingly chronicled the battle and its unfortunate aftermath, whose research was then projected across 52 colorful and robust pages now available on Amazon and Hydra Press’s official website.

“I evaluated hundreds of unpublished eyewitness accounts, researched for weeks in all the archives, and acquired original heirlooms and letters from the actors of Nemmersdorf from Germany, the USA, and Russia,” said Pruss on a Kickstarter campaign page in 2023. “Contrary to older research from the 1990s, the recently discovered documents make it extremely likely that a large number of attacks by Soviet troops on the civilian population actually took place in Nemmersdorf.”

Pruss believes in the power of highlighting the struggles Germans faced during the Second World War, an experience he describes as a “human tragedy.” By doing so, Nemmersdorf seeks to penetrate the public consciousness, which has become inundated with false or otherwise fictional accounts of German war crimes and implied villainy.

Volume 1 of Nemmersdorf represents a perfect storm of action, tragedy, suspense, and melancholy. Unlike many graphic novels, it doesn’t appear to grapple with pacing issues. Picture: Hydra Comics

“By focusing the graphic novel on the struggles of individuals to survive, I did defiance to the generalized accusations of ‘progressive’ guilt peddlers trying to destroy the intergenerational bond,” he continued. “I will use the pages to introduce the calamities but also the triumphs of the real protagonists because the Nemmersdorf victims have been both ridiculed and romanticized for long enough.”

Nemmersorf opens in a way that will seem familiar to anyone living inside any of the modern-day Allied Powers, with a unit of green troops preparing to engage in a desperate suicide mission against a bitter enemy. But unlike silver screen depictions of WW2, this is no Inglorious Basterds, Fury, or Battle of the Bulge. This is Nemmersdorf, and it is a very real event containing very real heroism, courage, and tragedy.

Readers will quickly feel “at home” with characters like 17-year-old Peter Reckert, an untested soldier in a German Volkssturm Battalion. Pressed out of school, the young Reckert is timid at first but eventually overcomes his nerves and helps wrest control of the town from marauding communist troops.

Like many World War 2 epics, Nemmersdorf opens with a unit of soldiers preparing themselves for an important battle. The characters have all been tied to real-life counterparts and will appear familiar to Westen readers. Picture: Hydra Comics

Likewise, readers will also resonate with Gunter Siedel, a rough-around-the-edges combat veteran whose own experience fighting on the Eastern front has made him superstitious and ornery. Those delving into Nemmersdorf’s narrative will already be familiarized with certain character tropes, with the added benefit of all of the characters having real-life counterparts, thanks to Pruss’s research.

While action comes quickly in Nemmersdorf, so too does calamity. For those unfamiliar with the real-life massacre, Nemmersdorf painstakingly covers every war crime documented by German authorities after the town’s recapture. Some are downright appalling, and include the horrific and sobering tale of a young German woman who was nailed to a barn and raped.

While horrifying, the myriad accounts of German victimization at the hands of the Soviet 11th Guards Army are important stories to retell. According to research conducted by Pruss, a total of 110 German civilians were alleged to have been tortured and killed at Nemmersdorf, including 26 residents, 82 German refugees, and two French prisoners of war.

Nemmersdorf recounts a spirited counter-attack by German Volkssturm troops, conscripted irregulars, who faced a crack Soviet enemy taking refuge inside the town near the end of World War 2. Picture: Hydra Comics.

By the end, readers will walk away from Nemmersdorf filled with mixed emotions. The graphic novel will come across as bias-confirming for those who regularly challenge mainstream opinions of the Second World War. But for those not acclimated to the often unheard tales of war crimes “on the other side,” Nemmersdorf will challenge public perceptions and shine a light on the often repressed actions of the conflict’s so-called “victors.”

Conclusion

Clocking in at just over 50 pages, October ’44: The Liberation of Nemmersdorf is an incredible piece of art and a useful tool for those wishing to learn more about one of Germany’s most tragic stories. The characters are familiar but not fictional, the pacing is quick but not erratic, and the horrors of war expressed within are truthful and not sensationalized.

It’s gritty and sobering. Often painfully so.

The only downside to Nemmersdorf is the length. The narrative portion of the novel accounts for roughly half of the content available, with the remaining pages containing character profiles and additional context made possible through Pruss’s research into the subject.

Still, Nemmersdorf is a welcome addition to any comic collection, and fans of the era will be grateful for a product that breaks the hackneyed, pro-Allied mold found within mainstream comic lines of the modern day.

October ’44: The Liberation of Nemmersdorf is now available in English and can be purchased directly from Hydra Comics. A Kindle version is also available on Amazon.

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