In war, trees—like people—all have their own fate. 1 saw a large tract of forest cut down by our artillery fire. The Germans who had been forced to retreat from the village of S. wanted to make a stand in this forest, but they were mowed down together with the trees. Dead German soldiers lay under the crippled pines, their torn bodies rotted amid the green ferns, and the pitchy fragrance of the shell-split tree trunks was lost in the nauseatingly putrid, sweetish stench of rotting flesh. One fancied that the ground itself, pitted with shell holes whose edges looked scorched, grey and brittle, exhaled a noxious smell of death.
Death ruled in silent arrogance over this clearing, created and dug up by our shells. In the very centre a birch tree had miraculously survived, and the wind swayed its wounded branches and rustled the new, glossy, sticky leaves.
We started across this clearing. The soldier, walking ahead of me, lightly touched the birch tree and said with sincere and tender concern: “Poor dear, how did you manage to survive?”
Pine trees are killed outright, they just fall dead when a shell hits them, and the severed top lies on the ground, bleeding pitch onto the needle-covered ground. Oaks, on the other hand, do not succumb to death so easily.
A German shell hit the trunk of an old oak tree, growing on the bank of a nameless little river. Half of the tree shrivelled up and died from the torn, gaping wound, but the other half, bent riverwards by the blast, revived wondrously in spring and sprouted new leaves. Till this day, I expect, the lower branches of the mutilated tree bathe in the water, while the top ones reach upward to the sun, turning their taut, chiselled leaves for its blessed warmth. . ..