Token of a Covenant : Diary of an East Prussian Surgeon 1945-1947 by Hans Graf von Lehndorff ; Introduction by Paul Tillich ; Translated by Elizabeth Mayer
Chicago : Henry Regnery Company, 1964. First American Edition. Hardcover. 328 pages ; 22 cm. $5.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Pages are age toned and unmarked. Binding is firm.
TOKEN OF A COVENANT
The Diary of an East Prussian Surgeon 1945-1947
by Hans Graf von Lehndorff
"This is one of the most moving books of our time. It is a war book, an escape book; as a human document it will be widely read. It begins with a young civilian surgeon in East Prussia in the last year of the war. We see enough of the life of a wartime hospital, his colleagues, their efficient routine, to feel the shock of its disintegration before the German collapse and the Russian invasion. . . . There is dignity and a height and depth of experience in this story, very simply told. Yet however grimly the record goes against man, Lehndorff never thinks of it as a vote against Almighty God. Rather, with strange persistence, he finds God in his dire need: a battered old Bible gets lost again and again, but turns up—there is a kind gesture from the enemy ranks, an act of sacrifice—faith is sustained. When Konigsberg is a sea of flames, and the harbour water is frothed white with a great storm, the doctor and a little band of deaconesses huddle on the roof and watch a rainbow—then turn to their Bible, to the text for the day, to find it is indeed Genesis 9.14.5, the reassurance to Noah, and all mankind, the promise of the rainbow that life, not death, is the last word." —The Manchester Guardian
The book TOKEN OF A COVENANT impressed me deeply because of the uncommonly lively account it gives of the homeland of the author and the circumstances under which he was forced to leave it. But above all I was impressed by the dignity and attitude with which he actively and passively took part in those events. —Karl Barth
Count Lehndorff comes of a most distinguished East Prussian family which has produced scholars, soldiers, and statesmen since the sixteenth century. Born in 1910, he spent his nineteenth and twentieth years abroad, in Switzerland, France, and England. He had decided that he wished to become a surgeon, and after studying in Berlin he passed his examinations in 1936. In 1939 he moved to the hospital at Insterburg, in East Prussia, as house surgeon. He remained there until 1944, when this diary begins.
He arrived, as this diary ends, in West Germany in 1947 where he again began the practice of medicine. Since 1954 he has been the doctor in charge and the leading surgeon at a hospital in Bad Godesberg. He is married and has two sons, the only male Lehndorffs of their generation.
Elizabeth Mayer has been a co-translator of Stifter's Rock Crystal (with Marianne Moore), Junger's The Glass Bees (with Louise Bogan), Goethe's Italian Journey (with W. H. Auden) and Elective Affinities (with Louise Bogan).
The diary of Count von Lehndorff covers a small part of what was happening, all over Europe and in the world at large, during the years of retreat. But it covers it so sensitively that one has the feeling that these experiences truly epitomize the experience of a people in an invaded country, wherever it might be: the anxious anticipation of what will come, the attempted repression of half-knowledge, the breakdown of the power to repress, the revival of hope, often superstitious, the final resignation—and then the frightful realization that a world has gone to pieces. All this we live through with the author of this diary; this alone would justify its translation for American readers.
But there are other important elements in this diary, beyond dramatic history: the immensity of human suffering, the heroism of men and women, the devastation of cities and villages, of fields and woods, the vengeful savagery of the invading armies; and, in the midst of all this, the moments of human warmth, of life reaffirming itself against the overwhelming power of death, the timeless significance of Biblical verse, and, peculiarly German, the intimate human relationship to nature, the memories associated with special places and seasons.
This book causes us to participate in a rare historical event. Beyond this, it is of universal interest, drawing us back to a period of history which defies all imagination—particularly in a period of comparative security such as this.
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