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Thread: German Students' War Letters

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    Senior Member Phlegethon's Avatar
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    German Students’ War Letters

    Edited by Philipp Witkop
    Translated by A.F. Wedd


    WALTER ROY, Student of Medicine, Jena

    Born June 1st, 1894, at Hamburg.
    Killed April 24th, 1915, in the attack on the Heights of Combres, near Les Eparges.

    Döberitz, November 14th, 1914.

    Oh how suddenly everything has changed! First the free, sunshiny, enchanting summer, golden happiness, a life of liberty, enthusiasm for Nature, poetry, music, brightness and joy, all the effervescence of youth: oh, what a lovely summer it was! And now cold, cruel, bitter earnest, stormy winter, death antl misery! And everything vanished so suddenly. How I lived and loved is now like a dream, a passing mood, the sweet remembrance of a passing mood. Only one thing is real now—the war! And the only thing that now inspires and uplifts one is love for the German Fatherland and the desire to fight and risk all for Emperor and Empire. All else is thrust into the background and is like a dream, like a distant rosy cloud in the evening sky.

    When, on the march, I observed the autumn beauties of Nature, then indeed I thought sadly and yearningly: I should like to dream about you, to love you, to sing of you, to be rapt and meditative, but I have no time for you now : I am entirely occupied with thoughts of war and suffering and with enthusiasm for our holiest duty. Lenau, Goethe, Eichendorff, Schwind and Feuerbach, Beethoven, Wagner, Puccini, and Mozart — how I long for them! But I could not really enjoy them now, I could not live in their spirit. Thoughts press in upon me, many, so urgent, but I can't think them. I lack the needful repose and quiet.

    I sometimes think that I have become rather strange. But when at last, at long last, I get to the Front — it should be about December — then if only I might give my life for our Germany, for my Kaiser, for my Fatherland! I have had a life, short indeed, but so beautiful, so golden, so full of light and warmth, that I should be happy to die if I had only myself to consider. And this life full of light and sunshine I owe to the dear people whose thoughts accompany me and of whom you too are one.


    Before the attack on April 24th, 1915.

    YOU, MY DEAR ONES,—
    I hope that a trusty comrade will not have to send this letter to you, for it is a farewell letter. If it comes into your hands, you will know that I have died for my Kaiser, for my Fatherland and for you all.

    There is going to be a terrible battle and it radiant, enchanting springtime!

    I have nothing more to tell you, for I have had no secrets. You know how I thank you all three for all your goodness to me, how I thank you for all the sunshine and happiness in my life. If I am to die I shall do so joyfully, gratefully and happily! This is just another message of purest love to you all and to all who love me. I shall carry this last greeting with me till the last. Then it will be sent to you by my faithful comrades and I shall be with you in spirit. May the great and gracious God protect and bless you and my German Fatherland!

    In tenderest love,

    Your devoted
    WALTER
    And all my youth passed by sad-hearted,
    the joy of Spring was never mine;
    Autumn blows through me dread of parting,
    and my heart dreams and longs to die.

    - Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850)

    Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind.

    - Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)

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    Senior Member Phlegethon's Avatar
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    German Students’ War Letters

    Edited by Philipp Witkop
    Translated by A.F. Wedd



    EMIL ALEFELD, Technical Student, Munich

    Born December 12th, 1892, at Darmstadt.
    Killed December 20th, 1914, in Flanders.

    Strassburg, October 8th, 1914.

    A LOT of men I know are off too by the next transport. We are looking forward to it. God will protect us. I have not been able to accomplish enough in the world yet, though of course it is possible that my country may disappoint me in many ways after the war, and that we may owe our victory merely to the fact that our enemies are much worse than we are. I comfort myself with that reflection, in case the Almighty should have issued a grave decree concerning me. But all the same we — I use the word in the narrowest sense of the few people with ideals — are Germans; we are fighting for our country and are shedding our blood in the hope that the survivors may be worthy of our sacrifice. To me it is a battle for an idea — the Fata Morgana of a pure, true, honourable Germany, free from wickedness and deceit. And if we go under with this hope in our hearts, that is perhaps better than by a great effort to have won a victory and then to see that it was only an outward triumph without any spiritual benefit.


    Strassburg, November 30th, 1914.

    When I shall get away I don't know now, perhaps in five days, perhaps not for a fortnight. And if I knew for certain that I should not come back, I should go all the same; not with that enthusiasm which I felt at Mülhausen, when I believed that our nation had been suddenly ennobled by the war; my present enthusiasm is different: I will fight and perhaps also die for my belief in a finer, greater, worthier Germany, from which all wickedness and self-seeking are banished and where faith and honour have been reinstated in their old places. We are far, very far, from that. We are still a nation of weak, self-seeking people, not of real ' men '. Yes, no doubt I have become more in earnest because I see that so many people have not.
    And all my youth passed by sad-hearted,
    the joy of Spring was never mine;
    Autumn blows through me dread of parting,
    and my heart dreams and longs to die.

    - Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850)

    Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind.

    - Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)

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    THE SEVENTH SON
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    Very moving words, comrade.

    (I think that type of heartfelt letter and daily journal writing has all but left the world of today. I won't bore you all with my thoughts on why this is the case. Suffice to say, it can be wise not to put every one of your thoughts to paper! One is reminded here of the discovery of Wilhelm Canaris' journals showing his plotting against Hitler, and leading to his swft execution.)

    I get the impression, from other things I've read as well, that there was often a far higher cultural level among the common soldiers of Germany than there was of those of similar American lower ranks.

    In my less intellectually vigilant moments, I do wander if it wasn't some force of providence (as he apparently believed) that saved Hitler at various times from the cruel fate of many of his contemporaries. (I know some would say Hitler was just a product of his times and the Third Reich would have probably happened in a slightly different way regardless, but I disagree. I see him as a 'one off.')
    If I rest, I rust.
    - Martin Luther

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