War Letters of German Students - pages 16 - 25

man and a complete soldier and the attack occurred under the most stingent of circumstances. He did not suffer. The shot to the forehead was immediately lethal. I found out about his death for the first time this afternoon. Until then he was reported as lightly wounded. Dear parents! I beg you, do not abandon yourselves totally to grief for our beloved little one. He gave up his life for his embattled German fatherland like so many others who came from Germany and now rest forever in foreign soil. Farewell and heartfelt greetings from

                        your only remaining son,

                                                Kurt Lommatsch†


                        Northern Reims, Middle of October 1914.

Northern Reims. Fifteen hours of heavy granade and infantry fire ahead of us and on both flanks. The batallion assembled during the night. Of all the officers who led in the deadly battles at Maubeuge and Aisne only three have reported in — only three. And we three met as fraternity brothers — First Lieutenant Reese (Alemannia-Marburg), First Lieutenant Büchel (Germania-Halle) and me, Lieutenant Bockhorn (Alemannia-Bonn). The first two were wounded. They stayed at the front! We've stuck together all these weeks sharing our small rations of food and wine. We've crept through trenches to get to each other just to be able to talk for maybe half an hour. After each battle we've asked the same anxious question - are you still alive?

It was October 9th. Büchel with a festering chest

wound was at the head of his company. We were set to charge. Under heavy fire we went forward, step by step, over stubble and through thick underbrush. One soldier fell to the left, two more to the right. Just look forward! Keep going! It went on like this until the afternoon. Seven hours long. Then the battle ensued. We have to wait until men are right and left of our hill so that the miserable firing on the flanks ceases. We burrow in. I creep over with two brave youngsters to where the batallion is stationed in order to see how things are going — carefully because the combat gunfire continues on without lessening in strength.

Company 4 is stationed there along with other troops. Two officers lay there, both shot though the head and dead. I creep back. Büchel lays a hundred meters from them in the last rifle position. He doesn't recognize me. I can't wait. My orders drive me on. I only have time to press your cold hand, my dear, fallen friend. You were a role model for us and you will continue to be one of loyalty to duty and conscientiousness, of courage and honorable attitude. Back over to Company 3. In the middle lies Reese, hit by several bullets. However with unswerving courage he continues to lead the charge. Only late in the night does he begrudgingly allow himself to be relieved of duty. Come back soon, brave friend. We need you!

                                                Erich Bockhorn


                        Near Ypern, December 31, 1914

In Munich two companies made exclusively of students were formed in our regiment. They were the 11th and the 9th companies. Among us were seven

doctors of engineering, four doctors of philology and three doctors of medicine who had good practices. They declined being ranked as officers and remained in our midst as ordinary soldiers.

After marching for several days to Belgium we came under unexpectedly heavy artillery fire near Wytschaete on October 29th. The 9th and 11th companies were immediately dispatched. After crossing the expansive woods before us we came upon a marsh surrounded by mountains. We ran until we reached a hedge then we spread out. Half of the troops advanced but they had scarcely crepts past the underbrush when insane machinegun and infantry fire ensued. Almost the entire group was killed...A few returned with bleeding heads. Then there was a moment of silence. Everyone was as pale as death. But a hero was among us who kept his presence of mind. He drew his saber and called, "For our academic honor!" and charged. And everyone, everyone hurried off with him. But of course, this brave soul had to pay immediately for his heroism with his life.

                                                Joseph Weidmüller


                        Les ars, between Bapaume and Albert,
                                October 30, 1914

My Iron Cross was celebrated yesterday. The festivities were especially enhanced with a couple of bottles of Veuve Cliquot, which Ernst brought with him from our army headquarters in St. Quentin. I was particularly pleased that I held the distinction over the heads of the other three officers of the battery. The first lieutenant and

I are the only decorated officers. After us come the brave noncommissioned officers Lessing and v. Mikulicz, who are quite close to me.

If you only knew what an important role the academically educated play in this war! Idealism, zeal to perform one's duty, bravery, enthusiasm: these qualities are especially exuded by our intellectual young men. Not just the military but the depth of our intellectual culture lends support to our successes. While the career officer sees warfare as part of his occupation we are altruistic idealists. The idea of the "holy and just war," the people's war resides in us all. Believe me, we lieutenants and noncom officers in the reserves are of infinite value to the maintenance of discipline and the bolstering of spirits and energy. I look at a person such as Lessing. He exhibits altruism to the extreme, tender caring for his people, courage to the point of recklessness. He's as happy as a child and as inspired as a poet. He works and lives for his battery and is often more useful than the leader himself. There are many of his kind among us. The tiny Mikulicz-Radetzke, a physician like me, is completely capable. Thank God Lessing is currently being promoted to vice watch master. He was an adjunct professor of history but right now we're all just soldiers and proud of it.

                                                Eduard Friedberg


                        Near Ostende, Sunday, November 8, 1914.

In the afternoon towards Ostende. At the marketplace we enjoyed the promenade concert of the Marine Artillery Band.

How delightful to soak the tones of German music into our culturally thirsty souls! German songs: The Watch on the Rhine, The Red Light of Dawn, and what they all meant! Lützows Wild Hunt: "And if you ask the black hunters — that is, that is — Lützow’s wild daredevil hunt" rang out and from the dark edge of the forest reverberated the galloping of horses upon the moonlit meadows. Then again and again like resounding echos, that is Lützow’s wild daredevil hunt. Like the sudden sound of battle, the rushing commotion of incoming wavers crashing against the rocks.

All around the hub-bub of officers and soldiers. A musical treat amid the war! One feels he's been imbued with refreshed power and a brightness exudes from the faces of all as the close of the national anthem is played.

As we go back west to rejoin our battery flash after flash of lightning glares beyond the twilight and the thunder of renewed battle rolls on ceaselessly.

Tuesday, November 10th. — I was back at my post this evening. The sea was black as coal and night surrounded me. Only the crests of the waves glistened snowy white in the surge. Continuous thundering in the west.

Thursday, November 12th. — Like the charging horses of Neptune we're whipped by the storm. A massive single white wave pelted at us by the wind. Great, heavy clouds, golden gray in the morning light, powerfully pushed back and forth. This chasing and storming, this surging of thunder upon us —

one may encounter it with outstretched arms!

It's good that I cannot poeticize — otherwise I wouldn't know where to begin. Especially now when a welcome might be a farewell at the same time. Then the order comes, be ready just in case to march with the last four artillery units. Where do I begin? Shall I create verse out of the dark blackness of the waves and place them on a golden string spun out of threads of sunlight? Or, shall I admire the deep green crowns of the blindingly white foam? Does its whiteness thickly cover the beach in golden brown? Farther to the left deep blue greets us from above, and overall, millions of foamy-white waves with seagulls above, balance maintained against the roaring wind singing and whistling and howling high in the atmosphere as if an entire army from hell had been let loose. Images of clouds, sailing like a flying armada upon us, gold-rimmed by the sun, which goes past me with rays of the sun broken by the clouds like an oil painting of an ancient biblical scene. Eternally we are gripped by deep sympathy for humanity. And one does not understand how misanthropy and human discord can arise before this gigantic and majestic beauty of the eternal sea over which the sun disperses glittering silver waves in victorious glory.

                                                Karl Wasserzieher


                        In a trench in Ypern, November 1914

Those of you back in the homeland could scarcely imagine what it means to us when

we read in the newspaper, "In Flanders today there's only artillery fighting!" As costly as it may be, it's a thousand times better than waiting all day long to see if a grenade is going to deafen you or smash you to pieces. To the right of me in the dugout a noncommissioned officer has been moaning for three hours because a grenade shattered both legs and one arm. Beneath the steep slope of the trench passageway he's in the tent section designated do not transport and the other bandaging station to the rear is flooded. It's hard to know what to do. Those who are severely wounded mostly die while being transported from this place. Today cost us four deaths, two severely wounded and three lightly wounded. We are located 60 meters from the English and are ever vigilent because they would love to retake our high ground. Up here we have a halfway passable trench because we drained off all the water into the English trenches far below. However our neighbors to the left have to keep two electric pumps in operation all day and night otherwise they won't be able to stay dry. Just think how much we must resemble mobile lumps of dirt.

Behind our position we have our emergency assembly point. A small, forested valley in which there have been dreadful nighttime battles. Trees and shrubs have been shredded by grenades and peppered by bullets. Bodies lie in water holes. We've buried many of them. Countless grenade duds of every caliber have burrowed into the forest floor. Massive amounts of French munitions are about.

We have built our dugout shelters on the overhang of the slope. Earthen holes boarded over, covered with roofing felt and equipped with small stoves which are insufficient to warm the spaces but good enough to heat food and do some cooking. Naturally with the devastation of nature one doesn't feel well but we've been able to remedy this to a certain extent by erecting clean rolled log flooring with railings along the slopes. We did this with pine trees from the nearby forest, which is also pockmarked by grenades. The prettiest treetops were dragged along and newly planted in the dugout without their roots. We're not planning on staying more than four weeks so the treetops should remain green for that long. From the gardens of bombed out mansions in Hollebeck and Camps we've transplanted large Rhododendrens, hedges, snowdrops, primroses in nice little planting beds. We've cleaned the small brook which flows through the dugout of all debris. Skilled comrades have constructed small dams and simple watermill clocks which count off the minutes with each revolution as the war wages on. We've planted entire meadow shrubs and hazelnut bushes with pretty spike flowers and small spruces with their roots so that a sad backland has beentransformed into a forest paradise. Each shelter has a mutually agreed upon name etched on a board, such as Villa Forest Peace, The Heart on the Rhein, Eagle's Nest, etc. Fortunately we did not lack birds, especially thrushes, which had become accustomed to the whistling of the bullets and the booming of the grenades

and awakened us each morning with their happy twittering.

                                                Lothar Dietz


                        Ingelmünster, November 1914.

I was stationed in Fosses near Namur and since all the physicians had fled I also served as the only doctor for the civilian population. For the first time in my life I also had to write prescriptions in French. It was strange but it worked. I uncorked many a bottle of burgundy with the sixty-five year old apothecary in his bachelor housing while the old man nostalgically spoke of his student days in Gent and Brussels and the young man spoke about Germany's high schools, measuring cylinders and golden days of adolescence. One time I was in a village an hour away tending over a difficult birth. As is usual among the Belgian farm people, aunts and female cousins were present along with me and we must have made for a wonderous and unforgettable painting as the "young German doctor" in his shirt sleeves, holstered revolver and lady's apron presented the young mother with a tiny, fidgeting and crying Belgian baby while outside the canons thundered in the distance killing hundreds and perhaps thousands of Belgians.

                                                Willy Treller


                        Bauvin, November 18, 1914

I believe you think our lives are much worse than they are. For the cold we have coats, tents, and blankets; for the hard ground we have plenty of straw; for thirst

we sometimes have wine. For hunger we have roasted potatoes (tasty treats if there's nothing else available), boiled potatoes when, like most times, no fat is available and besides which, the field kitchen food's not bad. Mail call is always a true time of celebration for both the heart and the stomach, particularly for the heart.

What one lacks is made up for by things I never would have guessed. I have never experienced such reverence at seeing a starry sky and living completely in tune with nature. Morning, evening, noon and night all have meaning here. For example earlier today we had a cold, hazy, and white winter morning. I went with Joseph around to the village baker's. The sun rose in a shade of winter red. People also went out over the field to get bread. It was like being home, the white-veiled countryside, fields and groups of trees, the lovely village and the fresh cold air.

Spiritually I'm in good condition. I'm proud to be able to contribute, to fight for my parents, my siblings and for the fatherland; for everything that is of greatest value to me. The war is waging for poetry, art, philosophy, and culture. It is sad but great. Life here in the field is permeated by sublime gravity. Death is a daily companion who sanctifies everything. People no longer treat him solemnly or complain about him vehemently. They simply regard his majesty. He is like most people one loves for they also feel respect and excitement. — No one comes out of the war without becoming someone else.

May you be as happy in Freiburg as we are in the field.

                                                Rudolf Fischer †

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks