As a young adult in wartime Vienna, Georg Rauch helped his mother hide dozens of Jews from the Gestapo behind false walls in their top-floor apartment and arrange for their safe transport out of the country. His family was among the few who worked underground to resist Nazi rule. Then came the day he was drafted into Hitler's army and shipped out to fight on the Eastern front as part of the German infantry—in spite of his having confessed his own Jewish ancestry. Thus begins the incredible journey of a nineteen year old thrust unwillingly into an unjust war, who must use his smarts, skills, and bare-knuckled determination to stay alive in the trenches, avoid starvation and exposure during the brutal Russian winter, survive more than one Soviet labor camp, and somehow find his way back home. Unlikely Warrior is Rauch's true account of this extraordinary adventure.
The privileged "offspring of doctors and architects," Rauch was not just a reluctant draftee into Hitler's Wehrmacht: he was part Jewish, a fact he was unaware of until German troops took over his native Vienna in 1938. Drafted into Hitler's army at age 19, Rauch was headed for officer training until he confessed his heritage. Demoted to the infantry, he was sent to the Russian front, where he endured combat rations of raw horsemeat, subzero temperatures, and lice infestations. A teenage fascination with radios and Morse code likely saved his life. A few months into the campaign he notes that of his initial battalion of 250, only eight remain--seven telecommunication specialists, including himself, and one soldier. Translated by his wife, Phyllis, and first self-published before Rauch's death in 2006, this is a remarkable primary-source document with broad appeal to history teachers, students, and scholars alike. An exceptionally well-written account of unimaginable hardship, it's also an engaging read that serves as powerful testimony to the insanity of war and the human will to survive. Ages 12 & up.