Paul, Kat, Albert, Müller, Tjaden, and Detering are sent to guard an abandoned village. They find a suitable position to set up a dugout and move mattresses in from the houses to be more comfortable. The men then find fresh food—including two young pigs—and prepare a splendid dinner for themselves. An enemy balloon spots the smoke from their cooking and begins to shell the men, but they continue to prepare food in spite of the danger. The men return to their dugout for a decadent meal that they share with two wireless operators and a stray cat. Afterwards, the men enjoy cognac, cigars, and coffee. Unable to fully digest the sumptuous meal after living off of rations, all the men end up with indigestion. The men spend nearly two weeks undisturbed in the village, living a “charmed life.” They enjoy the ample supplies and pretend to be aristocrats. Finally, they are taken away from the village, and bring furniture and provisions along with them.
The men are so committed to enjoying the luxury they have discovered that they literally risk their lives to continue preparing the meal. However, despite their commitment to enjoying themselves, the men are not overcome by greed: they share their bounty with every human and animal there to receive it.
A few days later, the men are sent to evacuate another village. As the men watch the miserable villagers pass by, their formation is shelled. Paul is wounded and must help a severely injured Albert to safety. Paul is then sent to surgery, where he fights madly not to be put unconscious.
Paul fights not to be made unconscious because war has taught him that his agency is the only thing that he can trust to protect his interests. He can’t trust the army for which he is fighting.
Paul and Albert bribe a sergeant-major with cigars in order to get on the next hospital train. On the train, Paul is delighted to see clean linen and friendly nurses, and is nearly too embarrassed to place his dirty body on the sheets. That night, Paul needs to go to the bathroom, but he and Kropp feel uncomfortable telling the young nurse what they need. They soon overcome their bashfulness and lose their inhibitions about asking for help. Albert has a fever and is scheduled to be placed in the nearest hospital, and Paul fakes a fever so that he and Kropp can stick together.
Austere trench life has made the men reluctant to take advantage of anything but their most basic requirements. They initially demur from asking for the nurses’ help because they have learned only to impose when absolutely necessary. Finally, Paul’s feigned fever illustrates the lengths he will go to in order not to be separated from his comrades.
The two injured men are placed in the same room in a Catholic hospital. The men have a hard time falling asleep, and are woken by early-morning prayers, and they demand that the nuns close the door. The nuns do not accommodate the men, so they shatter a water bottle on the door and the ruffled nuns satisfy the men’s request. A hospital inspector arrives later that day to find out who threw the bottle, and before Paul can report himself, another man takes responsibility. The man, Josef Hamacher, explains that after a head injury, he has been given a “shooting license”—a certificate that says he is sometimes not responsible for his actions—which he uses whenever he pleases.
To the injured soldiers, Catholic ritual now seems superfluous to their basic needs. The men are willing to commit sacrilege because it furthers their fundamental health. The civilian nuns are disgusted and unsympathetic because they are incapable of understanding the soldiers’ rationale, which is based on the horrors that the soldiers have experienced but which the nurses have not.
There are eight men in Paul and Albert’s room. On the third night, a man named Franz Wächter begins to bleed heavily. The night nurse doesn’t respond to many calls, and Franz loses a lot of blood before he is attended to. He is moved to the Dying Room, which is reserved for moribund patients. Another occupant of the room, Peter, is also sent to the Dying Room, even though he resists fiercely.
The men’s caretakers are not in touch with the soldiers’ needs, likely because of the wide gulf in experience between the frontline fighters and the civilians.
Paul receives an operation because his bones will not grow back together. The hospital surgeons look forward to practicing unnecessary procedures on new admits to the hospital. Meanwhile, Kropp must have his leg amputated, and threatens to kill himself at his first opportunity. Many men cycle through Paul’s room, but Peter surprisingly manages to return from the Dying Room.
Even the hospital cannot provide a safe and understanding environment for the soldiers. These circumstances make the men in Paul’s room rely on one another for support, just as soldiers do in the trenches.
In Paul’s room is a forty-year-old, Lewandowski, who has spent ten months in the hospital. He receives a letter from his wife in Poland telling him that she will be coming to visit him, and is overjoyed, because the couple has been apart for two years. The soldiers provide a lookout while Lewandowski has sex with his wife in his hospital bed, and Lewandowski and his wife gratefully share food with the men.
The men in the hospital arrange for Lewandowski’s rendezvous because their experience at war has taught them that normal decorum is less important than basic human needs and basic human connection.
Paul is given convalescent leave. He returns home, parting with Kropp, whose recovery is going relatively smoothly. Paul returns home to find his mother in much worse shape than before, and she is reluctant to let him leave. He is then recalled to his regiment and leaves for the frontlines.
Paul’s second trip home is even more discouraging than his first, which likely reflects Paul’s own spirits and the German army’s worsening condition.