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    Senior Member Phlegethon's Avatar
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    Post German Students’ War Letters

    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 and 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 is 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


    HERBERT WEISSER, Student of Architecture, Technical High School, Charlottenburg
    Born May 6th, 1894, at Lissa. Killed May 25th, 1915, before Ypres.

    5th Day of Mobilization.

    Can you believe that now I sometimes cannot get away from the thought that I shall be killed? Then come quite close to me! I lay my hand upon your curly head and speak to you. Then I feel as if God-given strength went out from me and as if all my wishes for you must be realized. Come, let me look deep into your eyes! I can see something burning there, but not for me; that is not necessary, really not. That fire must develop into a constant steady flame, and that flame shall guide your children along the road that we have conquered together. . . .

    Do you know, I have always longed to be to the German people a true German Master-Builder; I have always fought uncompromisingly against every form of sham, both in actual building and also in all that concerns our special German style. I wished to help to restore the art of German architecture such as it was in the time of the Ottos, and the brickmaking-industry of the Mark.

    I had hoped too to give to the German Fatherland a few boys and girls who would not be forced to waste their gifts in struggling vainly against their own instincts, as you and I have done, or in fighting against the overwhelming false prejudices of their time.

    I stroke your hair gently, gently as one strokes the hair of the girl one loves, and I beg you not to forget all this; to remember all your life what we have been through together and to see that our efforts bear fruit. … I wish, I most heartily wish, that your future may be as full of sunshine as you yourself can picture it; that you may some day have a son, with blue far-seeing eyes, firmly fixed on a distant goal, who will grow tall and slim, with a noble brow and finely-cut nostrils—can you guess where he will get all that from? And then, you know, it is not impossible that he may become an architect. Then you will tell him all about our German cathedrals and show him what real German master-builders have created; how German architecture demonstrates an appreciation of what is grand and at the time simple; of all that is honest, logical and strong; how it sends rays of light all over the world and how these rays are reflected back into the heavens in aspirations after the ideal. And then show him that man's whole interior life can also be full of beauty and sunshine if, instead of suppressing his own gifts, he perfects and ennobles them.

    See, those are the things that I am thinking about before I go to the Front. And I am convinced that I could accomplish far more for the Fatherland along the lines in which I have already begun and later on could produce much as the result of what I have absorbed during my youth. But we must not think of that now. Our present task is to defend all that German culture has built up through a thousand year of work, in toil and sweat and blood. But one would be glad to leave some trace behind when one disappears from this world. You are the one who, during all our professional studies and otherwise in life, has stood closest to me and on my personality has had most influence, even if you were not perhaps the one whom I loved best - that you know— and if I am killed you must carry on my life with your own. We can no longer believe in a life beyond the grave, but we can survive in our works, which are chiefly preserved in our friends … perhaps you will find a life's companion who will help you in this.


    6th Day of Mobilization.

    My thoughts give me no peace, they carry me again and again to you. But you must not imagine because I say that, that I am sitting here with my knees quaking at the thought of French or Russian bullets. On the contrary, I am not in the least afraid of bullets, but I am filled with bitterness and sorrow because so much youth and latent talent must be sacrificed by people simply because they cannot rise above their own contemptible envy and ill-will. It is a just retribution for not having conquered these weaknesses in themselves. But there are also people who have no such petty feelings, who have conquered them, and who could and so gladly would help others to do the same — they also are sacrificed. . . .

    And then I am thinking about having to leave a widowed mother here. I have talked much with her lately about all these things, and I wish so much that you could make friends with her for my sake. My mother brought me up herself and has watched over me for twenty years. Besides, on account of her greater age and experience, she would be able to advise you in many ways, and you would be a joy to her as you are to me. Perhaps you could be a little comfort to her too if anything bad happens to me. All that could not be accomplished by letters — you would have to come and spend some time here, and you may be sure that that would be a great pleasure to my mother. She already guesses that we have been a great deal to one another, so she would give you a cordial welcome. And if you are fond of me, you would be fond of her, for although I have accomplished much by myself, still everything, or at any rate all my ideals, had their origin in her.


    September 27th, 1914.

    This longing for productivity after having been for twenty years merely receptive, makes it hard for me to think that my life is no longer my own. Whatever I may do in the war cannot be called production. . . . But, on the other hand, one cannot stand by and see the German people and all that they have created during hundreds of years destroyed by other nations. The only lightning-conductor is burning hatred and contempt for those few men — if they can still possibly be described by that name - who have brought the war about. Those people are lucky who can hold the enemy's whole nation responsible and believe that they are aiming their rifles at the actual culprits. I personally cannot feel any hatred against individual Frenchmen -- on the contrary, I regret every young life which will be cut off through my instrumentality. Also I cannot rejoice unreservedly in our victories; but do you know what I do thoroughly and boundlessly rejoice in? In the German character, which now has an opportunity of exhibiting itself in shining splendour; in the faultless functioning of the gigantic machine to which each individual can and does contribute; in the discipline shown by our troops in their treatment of the inhabitants of enemy country; in the eagerness with which each one works for the general good; and in the firm, unshakable sense of justice which is displayed on the German side on every occasion. The great strength of our noble people does not lie in wielding the sword, but in its sense of the high responsibility making the best use of its gifts, and in its inner worth as the people of culture. Other nations can tear down and destroy in war, but we understand, better than any other, how to build up, and of this I have been certain only since the beginning of the war. Therefore I do not trouble much as to whether the war has a positive or negative end for us.


    March 7th, 1915.

    . . . Soon after our meeting at M. station, you wrote me a postcard in which you said that you tried to remove my ' pessimistic view ' of the war. At the end you added that you had perhaps misunderstood the reason of my low spirits. And really —I will make an attempt to explain at least one thing: in 1870 the soldiers went into battle saying to themselves : 'If we don't get home we get heaven' (I have to express myself briefly). Very few take that view now; a great many don't consider the question at all; others do, and then it depends on what sort of a religion they have worked out for themselves whether it is easier or harder for them to give up their young lives. Many abandon all claim on a future life after death — I am too young for that, and I did hope to survive in what I had created, and above all in the influence which I had exercised on the younger generation, in whom I should see realized all the results of my experience. Some men say : ' I am married and the father of five children, therefore I make a particularly great sacrifice for the Fatherland.' In their place I should say : ' Thank God that I have a wife who has loved me and whom I have loved, and still more that I have five children who will continue to develop in accordance with my ideas and will justify my existence. Otherwise my position would have been merely receptive and would only have influenced my own and perhaps the previous generation — even the former very imperfectly.' That was what depressed me, personally.

    Then came the objective view: our nation was, as I believe, on the right road towards self-regeneration from within, though the powers which were to bring about this regeneration were very limited. Now comes the war, tears everything out of the process of being and developing, and deprives us of just what we most needed — the youth of the present generation, who were growing up with progressive ideas.

    I also imagined beforehand, what I now find abundantly confirmed: that the notions which our parents, our books and our history lessons had given us of war are either entirely false, or at least incomplete and therefore misleading. We were given to understand that heroic deeds were of the essence and the most frequent result of war. But is that so? How many such actions are in any case simply brought about by the impulse of the moment, perhaps by the bloodthirstiness and unjust hatred which a nation's political views spread among all its members and for which they have to suffer? Of course there are many quiet, unobserved acts of heroism, but are these really so much rarer in time of peace? And what of the drunkenness, the brutality both in the aesthetic and ethical sense; the spiritual and physical slothfulness, when does one ever hear of them in accounts of war? And the slack ideas with regard to morality and marriage, what about them? All this was going through my mind at that time. It was no slack disinclination that I felt, but a profound sadness which nevertheless was just as productive of determined action as the enthusiasm of other (better?) men.

    April 6th, 1915.

    Yesterday I was in the trenches. There I have at last been able to see what war is really like. The whole business is enacted on one narrow, though certainly endless, strip of ground, which seems much, much too narrow for its gigantic significance. And this strip of ground bears grass, many coloured flowers, trees, and pretty little houses. The ground rises and falls gently, the green fields are intersected by hedges and streams. But do you know what else is in these meadows ? The Marburg Jägers students and professors, the hope and impetus towards progress of the German people. One beside the other they lie, stretched out upon the grass.

    Yes - among them I saw one quite young fellow right in front, perhaps the foremost in the attack. Forgetting everything around him he dashed forward, charging amid a hail of bullets : ' One more spring and I shall be in the enemy trench !' But he was not able to complete the thought, for three yards from the trench he fell, and perhaps had time to see that it was all in vain, that the attack had failed; perhaps he lived for another day and slowly died of hunger, because there, in ' no-man's-land ', nobody could come to his assistance.

    You ask if I am happy? I can't honestly answer that I am. But I believe that in three to five years I shall be able to realize the grandeur of this time and then I shall be glad about it. My imagination is overpowered at present, almost like that of a child to whom its nurse is telling gruesome fairy-tales.

    That does not of course prevent me in any way from doing my duty, and even doing it with a kind of enjoyment - as, for instance, yesterday when, during an attack from our side, I was close behind the trench mending the telephone-wire, under gun- and rifle-fire, with two others. We were without any means of communicating with our troops, and did not know how the battle was going and whether we might not at any moment be cut off by the French, unarmed! And when, in a hail of bullets, one has to climb up into a tree instead of hiding underground, then one feels that one is young, laughs a little in one's sleeve, and almost fancies oneself invulnerable!

    Those are fine moments and I have often experienced them just lately. You have of course read in the newspapers about our advance here. We are just in the most frantic corner and are the first who have broken through, away from that tedious sticking in one position. But then one sees the long, long processions of wounded; the dead bodies on the battle-fields; one sees the spiritual and moral effects of war; the burning villages and everything; so it is easier for you at home to go on feeling happy than for us.

    Flanders, May, 1915. [0n Hearing of the death of a comrade.]

    Dear mother,—
    Everybody who goes to the front is prepared for a lonely death. There is nothing so very horrible in that. Death is no longer horrible when it comes close to one. The only thing that makes it hard to die is the knowledge that one's relations are tormenting themselves by imagining the most ghastly situations, of which the one that seems to them the worst is in reality the most splendid, even though it may be the last hour of our life. What is there so very dreadful in lying alone on the field of battle and knowing that the end is near? It is not dreadful at all. One can feel calm and peaceful as one has never been since childhood. In thinking of the death of a son, you should regard it as calmly and without horrible details as the son himself will. By not doing so, you pour a drop of bitterness into the last hour of his life.
    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)

  3. #3
    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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    Senior Member Gladstone's Avatar
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    Interesting stuff Phlegethon. The letters would seem to bolster the idea that (at least at that time) Germany was "a nation of poets and thinkers".

    Gladstone
    Turman found a copy of The Graduate, and thought highly enough of the story that he made a movie he considered to be 90-percent faithful to the book.

    But Turman and director Mike Nichols made one key adaptation, changing the Braddocks from WASP-y blonde characters into a dark-haired, more ethnic-looking family.

    From NPR's Present at the Creation

    http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/graduate/

    http://www.norcalmovies.com/TheGraduate/tg11.jpg

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