My memory’s a little faulty, and I don’t have my references at hand… but I’ve read One Shot One Kill as well as Enemy at the Gates (the nonfiction history of Stalingrad from which the upcoming movie borrows its title) and some other material, and I’m familiar with this event.
Russian sniper Zaitsev is easily verifiable; he was a real guy. His German counterpart, however, is more difficult to nail down. He shows up in Russian records, usually under the name of Konigs, but there’s no corresponding verification on the German side. Zaitsev’s duel was major fodder for Russian propaganda publication; political officers were all over Stalingrad sending edited updates back home. (IIRC, a young Nikita Khrushchev was one of them.)
Based on what I’ve read, my guess is as follows:
Zaitsev and his sniper corps were a major pain in the ass for the Germans. While they never totaled a body count to compare with, say, a couple of hours of artillery fire, it’s very demoralizing to have your lieutenant’s head explode while you’re drinking coffee in a supposedly safe spot. Zaitsev was lauded as a hero in Russian publications, so the Germans decided they’d have to take him out simply for morale purposes.
That much is verified; here’s where the WAG begins.
The Germans, targeting him specifically, brought in more than one would-be assassin. Zaitsev evaded them all, and probably killed more than one. (He survived the war.) The Germans, not wanting to be embarrassed, never published anything about it. The Russians, wanting to simply and streamline the story, combined the various German snipers into one mythical figure, essentially manufacturing the one-on-one aspect out of similar but more mundane real-life events; this kind of archetypal battle would obviously play better in the newspapers back home.
So what you end up with is conflicting stories based on political need: The Russians describe a single supersniper who was actually a composite, and the Germans avoid talking about it. The single supersniper can’t be verified in the German records because he doesn’t exist, but the Russian records must have been based on something. Hence my conclusion that the true story of the “duel,” inasmuch as it can ever be known for certain, probably lies somewhere between the apparently irreconcilable alternatives.
Again, I stress this is just my WAG, based on everything I’ve read. I haven’t seen this hypothesis advanced by any historian (or rejected, either, FWIW), but it seems reasonable to me. Take it as you will…