Illustration of Paul Baumer in a German army uniform with a red background

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque
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In All Quiet on the Western Front, why does Paul try to ease the suffering of the Russian prisoners? 

Paul has become hardened by the war, and he tries to reclaim his humanity by focusing upon things other than those that pertain to war. He perceives the prisoners, not as the enemy, but as men with honest peasant face, broad foreheads, broad noses, broad mouths, broad hands, and thick hair. Further he compares them to the Frieslanders who are his fellow countrymen and comforts them by breaking his cigarettes in half and handing them to the prisoners who light them in the dark and smoke contentedly.

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As Paul returns to duty from his leave at home where he has realized that part of him has become deadened because he is no longer interested in his books, he tries to reclaim his humanity by focusing upon things other than those that pertain to war.  For instance, he goes into the woods where he enjoys the play of light and shadow upon Nature, finding aesthetic pleasure once again.  Determined not to further "the annihilation of all human feeling" in himself, Paul perceives the prisoners, not as the enemy, but as men with

honest peasant face, broad foreheads, broad noses, broad mouths, broad hands, and thick hair.

Further, he compares them to the peasants of Friesland, who are his fellow countrymen. When these starving Russians come to his camp to trade, the German soldiers rarely give anything away. But, as Paul is often at guard over the Russians of an evening, he comforts them by breaking his cigarettes in half and handing them to the prisoners who light them in the dark and smoke contentedly.  Also, when those that are musicians play, Paul listens intently. After one Russian who plays the violin learns that Paul is a pianist, he brings his violin and plays while he smiles across the wire fence at Paul demonstrating his appreciation for Paul's sympathetic ear.

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