War Letters of German Students - pages 96 - 105

this word beautifully expressed the frostbiting, nasty aspects of freezing. It was jimno but at least we were under a roof while outside the rain was coming down again in an unpleasant netting. I had some kind of Russian law book under my head and I had put torn out pages of a Russian land register on top of my feet. All night long I feared that we would catch fire because soldiers were located on each floor on top of paper and kindling. Most certainly there would be some careless individual who often tossed away matches that still smouldered. But this time that person slept elsewhere.

Around 4:30 AM we all went to my friends, where, as agreed, Channah greeted us with hot tea. We stood around the steaming kettle in the old courtyard while the rain poured down in long threads from the soot-black sky. The drivers with the horses were also summoned and took their morning meal. The bill, which Channah turned over to me, was despite her love quite hefty. I was not embarassed to demand significant discounts in the interest of the German Empire. Business and love are two completely separate matters.

Around 5 AM by the first light of dawn, we departed. Once again we went back to the Department for Agriculture, Forestry and Estates and I erased the date of your birthday with the edges of my raincoat.

We rode northwest. It was a hot day. Four horses collapsed on me and I couldn't take them along. However in the evening I sat next to my Captain, Orlovius.

It was the last pleasant evening. In the night around 2 AM we had to suddenly break camp because the Russians were pressing forward. And then began the march back with all its fearsome events, the greatest and brightest witnessed in world history.

                                                Walther Harich


                                  Kalinowa in the trenches,
        30 kilometers northeast of Lodz, November 30, 1914

Hindenburg had the ingenious plan of cutting into the Russian vanguard, 150,000 men strong in their winter quarters in Lodz.

Thus the seven army divisions in Russian were divided and next the Russians in Wlowcek were attacked. 26,000 prisoners. By means of brief, victorious assaults another 40,000 prisoners were captured. We marched on Lodz. Our vanguard infantry division came within 10 kilometers south of Lodz then was supposed to attack from the north. On November 20th the city was surrounded. Here Nikolai Nikolajewitch was also holed up. Unfortunately he flew off in an airplane on the 21st and sent in a Siberian corps from Warsaw in relief. This unit fell on our eastern flank on the 22nd. It broke through to Lodz and our entire division was surrounded by the enemy, which had also pushed in from the west. Thus we had only two options, surrender or plow through.

On the 23rd we broke off to the north around 2:30 AM. First we had settled in around 12 midnight. Around 1 AM the alarm sounded and around 2:30 activated. In November!

It fell to Lieutenant General Lietzmann

to save something, so he left all the baggage and artillery at the end of the column and moved all infantry forward. For the first 3 to 4 hours we advanced unmolested.

However then the road went 6 kilometers through a dense forest. Here the vanguard could no longer move forward because Siberian riflemen held the forest. Since this was either a make or break operation the general positioned our assembled regiments in a storm column and thus we pushed into the forest. Here and there shots fell. One from our row was brought down. I was in the front line. But the enemy moved back away from us. We captured a couple Russians. The others eluded us unseen.

Around 3 in the afternoon we crossed 4 kilometers of forest. Before us was a large clearing through which ran a railroad embankment. This was occupied by 2 regiments with machine guns, as reported by our prisoners. We had to avoid this because only here would they find rescue. At the beginning of sunset we rushed forward. I advanced ten paces to the front with saber and revolver. Any minute I expected to fall into a pile of barbed wire or land on a mine or get swept away by machine gun fire. Perhaps this was the moment when I had the most courage in my entire life.

All the same, the situation was critical. As I went 30 meters up onto the embankment — naturally we all had advanced without making a sound — we all went on the attack over the trenches and up the enbankment with an deafening Hurrah!

To our advantage the Russians had only posted a couple sentries for the night and naturally they had run off. However my revolver still brought down two fellows. We assembled behind the embankment and waited an hour. Suddenly a group screaming hurrah rushed at us from behind — German soldiers! We immediately blew the recognition signal thus preventing a dreadful blood bath. And the explanation? — in the confusion the general staff had not learned that we had taken the railroad embankment. They thought we had been annihilated. In order to get through themselves, the staff sent a pioneer company, which was to remain unidentified, on foot to attack the supposed Russian forces.

By 1 AM we went through two large villages in which all estates were thoroughly searched. We took around 200 Russians, who were peacefully asleep. Only a pair of cossacks escaped us beyond Lodz. By now we had already been on our feet for 22 hours and our main objective was still a day away. 6 kilometers ahead of us was the city of Brzeziny, which was in Russian hands. If we took that city the enemy line would be broken up and the way to the homeland and to the other army units would be free.

The way to Brzeziny measured 6 kilometers. However we took a detour of about 18 kilometers in order to come up on the side of the city not just because no one would expect us but also because we did not want to be seen. The 12,000 of us succeeded. No riders, no patrols sensed our arrival. We ran without stop through the pine forest.

In the lead also on foot was old Lietzmann with general staff maps in hand. The seventy-year-old also participated in the mad dash between bushes and over tree roots.

Around 3:30 AM, the best and most unexpected of times, we stood before the city.

The general had bayonets distributed and attached. Only empty weapons should be used to drive off the enemy. A ring of weaponry surrounded the small and moved forth with concentrated effort city so no mouse could evade capture.

It moved forward without making a sound so we overtook entire Russian outposts as the sentries dozed in their foxholes. We stabbed some and took the rest prisoner.

As soon as we reached the houses and streets we divided up into storm columns which pushed forward like a parade troope. I went to the head of one such column, revolver in my right hand, saber in my left. A couple men were sent to each house which in most cases were occupied by Russians.

The little city's marketplace was sonewhere in the center and we all got there around the same time. REcognition signals by soft ringing. Our 12,000 men were now here. All courtyards, storage areas and barns were thoroughly searched. I took a group of infantrymen sleepily came out of the houses and were astonished to find the "NJEMETZI." I grabbed a dragoon by the rifle hanging at his side as he was on his trottingold nag. I threw him onto the street. The black horse now pulls our field kitchen. As we were opening a giant gate a spirited cossack jumped out. He had been waiting

for this moment. He dashed through the soldiers and darted away past the marketplace, unharmed by our revolver bullets we fired at him. He went down the street, and broke through the heavy guardpost chains placed across the bridge.— The street crossed a river. Earlier had I ordered a wagon placed across the bridge so no one could get past. The cossack got through.

Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, thank God, fate overtook him because half a kilometer farther he encountered a regiment of infantry trainees who extinguished the light of his cossack existence.

When it was morning they found his body on the road. An officer had already taken his swift horse.

In total we found in Brzezuny 200 cossacks, 250 infantry soldiers and a unit of the general staff. Unfortunately his Excellence escaped, most certainly in civilian clothing. For our efforts were obtained his three autos, his underwear, lilac silk socks, his field bed, his adjutants and his 30 valuable riding horses, among which was a full blood worth 6000 Marks. Around 4:30 we moved into our quarters. There were Russian wounded in my house who were well cared for. Night lamps, drinking water, bandages and disinfectant. As far as I can judge, few could have been better cared for. It was in the house of a rich engineer. It was a wonderful Rococo salon with silk chairs and a gigantic grammophone, which I immediately cranked up. Despite the general horror a long gone American pop song was the first tune to be heard. Work rooms, sleeping chambers, and things one could no long envision,

like running water. "For days things talked about only in the best of circles."

Since I had been on the march or in battle for 25 hours I was looking forward to a well-deserved rest — dressed because things could always go wrong — I laid on the leather sofa. I laid there for 20 minutes when a boy came and woke me up. "Regimental order - the company to be alerted and to immediately depart."

I couldn't swear any more. I just laughed. I hadn't slept or eaten in 25 hours. Since I didn't want to depart without my emergency rations I took a filled sugar bag away from a Russian. He didn't seem pleased by this and with a few choice words he checked by movement in midact.

The wretches looked like ghosts; hollow cheeked, stooped over, yet still ranting continually.

I also thought: "Waiter, the complaint book!" The reason for the noise: the Russians had already closed the gap and were at our heels. This was all the more painful as our assembled artillery, except for one battery, 92 riflemen and the assembled transports, a series of wagons about 6 to 7 kilometers in length, had been cut off. Therefore we had to move to the relocated front in the evening with the Russians breathing down our necks. Our company sat in reserve until 12 noon, then his excellency Lietzmann rode through the area. "The enemy is fleeing. All weapons to the front!"

We captured another 6000 men and from that night until the next morning we moved our assigned weaponry and baggage into the city.

No cannons or wagons fell into the hands of the enemy. Our withdrawal was the most successful maneuvre in which I had ever taken part. General Lietzmann received the Order of Merit for it. He made magnificent decisions to storm Brzeziny with the assembled infanty units without holding back reserves, meaning he set all the units on the map. Then he fully committed all transport and weapons to punch an entry point into the city. Neither in the days in Namur nor the days before Allenburg and Iwangorod was there such concentration of weapon activity among which was that of the infantry, which possessed an absolute devil-may-care attitude in the face of enemy bullets.

                                                Hellmuth Strassmann


                                  Aschersleben, December 2, 1914

I've laid here in the hospital for a few days and I have plenty of time to contemplate the past and the future. After having looked straight at death for several hours with a clear head and calculating the probability that I will not survive the war, I now wish to give you the following advice: Enjoy life! However, you must properly understand me. If I once again had my first semester before me I would have worked ten times harder and I also would have had ten times the recreation. You don't know how beautiful life is. You just can't know. One thought torments me during sleepless nights. You only live such a short time. I don't fear death, oh no;

when the machine guns rattle past you and schrapnel explodes over your head you experience a steely peace. And now what we've waited weeks for — the slogan of this war: "To emerge as a global power!" A marvelous perspective, but a tragedy for one who will not live to see the outcome.

                                                Max Kaboth †


                                  In the Carpathians, February 3, 1915

We swung to the left, passed the last field patrol, and spiraled our way through the deep powdery snow in the valley. After some time we advanced on the first village then stopped. I sent two men down while we unpacked our rucksacks. Below me, around 50 meters down, I saw people walking. Before I had my telescope to my eye they were gone. Mistrusting, I looked around. One hundred paces ahead of me the people reappeared. They were Circassians with high lamb's wool hats, bullet holsters across their chests holding curves short sabers in the middle. Beautiful people, beautiful uniforms. The two of us stuffed our things in our rucksacks and the two scouts hurried on ahead. We pushed up the steep ravine. In the deep, powdery snow we staggered over the first meadow. And then it started. Whistling around my head. I thought I couldn't go on any farther when we spotted a farmhouse behind us. Able to breathe again, we ran back into the woods. Soon the four of us had to go back to the meadow and run for cover behind some bushes amid a hail of bullets.

Roughly 30 men stood near the farmhouse and concentrated their bullets on us. In a row of bushes, very thick and permeated with watery trenches, we had great difficulty. As tired as we were, we still had to work our way through the dreadful muck as the branches flew out at us from all sides. This lead to the next meadow. There we again stopped and waited. In each case I climbed out of the enclosed spaces since I had gotten hold of some makeshift planks. Amid heavy fire I had to inhale in order to get through the tight spots. One time a bullet came so close to my head that I expected the next shot would lead to my departure to a better hunting ground. We could scarcely move forward. Our faces were blue and we staggered. The forest became a fearful place. 5 to 6 meter deep water runnels tore at the ground and we had to climb using our makeshift boards through the deep snow. Again the bastards came after us. They made good forward progress following our tracks. But soon enough from a distant mountain top appeared the German scouts like a rescuing star. We spotted them above the treeline. There was no place where we could wait in ambush for the dogs. We had to let them keep shooting at us. Now we had advanced significantly faster so we remained stationary a moment and bid them a heartfelt goodbye. After the 2 and a half hour chase we eventually reached the high ground and sank down into deep powder right up to our saddles. The Germans had stationed only single guards who dwelled in their foxholes. Completely insensate from fatigue we fell and staggerd down the steep, icy path and arrived

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks