‘All for Nothing’ by Walter Kempowski – “Now that Everything was going down the Drain”


‘All for Nothing’ by Walter Kempowski (2006) – 343 pages Translated from the German by Anthea Bell


‘All For Nothing’ is a magnificent atmospheric novel of the last months of World War II from the point of view of the East Prussian Von Globig family, Their estate is peaceful at the start, but they can hear the distant shelling of the Russian infantry advancing farther and farther into Germany. The near-rural setting is almost idyllic but the tension builds gradually as the shelling gets louder and closer each day. The question is: When should they evacuate?

He placed the empty stamp album on top of the logs and watched as the eagle slowly caught fire and then sank into ashes. Watching it disappear, like the Germany of the good old days.”

The once-rich Von Globig family lives in a stately manor house called the Georgenhof. The father Eberhard is away in Italy serving the German army as an officer in supplies. Left in the Georgenhof are his beautiful and winsome wife, Katharina, and their fair-haired, inquisitive twelve-year-old son Peter who plays with his train set and his microscope. Running the household is Auntie, an older woman relative from Silesia. Working under Auntie are two Ukranian maids, Vera and Sonia, and a young Pole Vladimir who does the necessary work outside.

Various travelers stop by the Georgenhof, most from the East fleeing from the Russians. They are welcomed, tell their stories, stay a short time and move on further west. Katharina also secretly listens to BBC broadcasts which tell of the attacks on Germany from the West. She hears the following report on Konigsburg:

Burnt-out granaries, a flight of steps with the banister rail rising from the rubble, and of course the ruins of the cathedral and the castle. The British had done a thorough job, you couldn’t deny that. A lovely city, but finished now.”

The folks at the Georgenhof are mostly apolitical, but their fanatic busybody neighbor Drygalski is an ultra-Nazi who constantly watches them with suspicion. Katherina must always keep a watchful eye out for him. For Drygalski and other Nazis, there was no crime more heinous than sheltering a Jew even for one night.

Later all the folks living at the Georgenhof must leave, joining the mass exodus of German people heading west just in front of the Russian army. It is far from an orderly evacuation with many deaths along the highways and roads.

After devoting many years of his life to documenting and collecting the personal observations of thousands of Germans in regard to World War II, Walter Kempowski wrote this vivid wonderfully constructed final masterpiece of a novel. Here is an excellent summary of the dramatic life of Walter Kempowski.

There is a musical quality to the individual sentences which makes them a pleasure to read. In spite of or because of the frightfulness of the events which are occurring. ‘All for Nothing’ is a powerful work of art that captures, in authentic detail and with compassion, the evacuation nightmare for the German people of those last days of World War II.


Grade : A+


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