On this page, of the hundreds of military items seen by the present author, which has included letters and postcards from Germans, Italians, Americans, and the British and the French (none belonging to him, and the actual whereabouts of these items probably being in Asia as the reader accesses this page), I have come across 3 items which show that the war, in all its brutishness, did allow soldiers enough time to create – if they had the talent – some reasonably well-executed home-made greeting cards. After eliminating the essential private data, we have made three of these available for public viewing. I believe that these are not, strictly-speaking, in the public domain, so copying is prohibited, especially since any copyright goes to the first publication (which is here). Nevertheless, in fairness to the original artists, I do not say that the copyright is mine. It would just be very difficult to contact the surviving relatives, as one might well imagine. The full names and addresses have been kept in the original scans in copies of e-mails which I hopefully shall not find erased. If anyone directly related to the authors of these items recognizes the work, I will act in accordance with his or her wishes.
I believe that clicking on any item here will allow it to be seen in more detail.
Our first item is a Christmas card. It is plain, but with reasonably-bright colors (which we have enhanced a bit, to compensate for the age of the item. It is neither religious nor martial in its treatment of the year-end season.
The lettering used was only incorporated into the German curriculum around 1920, so we suspect that this was a young recruit. The neatness suggests a lack of identity with the political ideology of the time.
We might compare the above to one by a fanatic, which we have refused to reproduce, not even for our own records. It contained, on the left, covering about forty per cent of the entire space, a well-drawn Iron Cross, with what the Germans, as literally translated, called the “hooked cross”, (Hakenkreuz); or the Spaniards, “the gamma-shaped cross” (cruz gamada). We will show the Greek letter gamma to help make it clear – because some things we refuse to name directly: this is a gamma: Γ. We can join that with an “ell”: L, and we have half of our unnamed cross. All that remains is for this form to be crossed at right angles with the same two letters resting on their sides. The fanatic wrote something like “A happy war-time Christmas and New Year”, (Ein frohe Kriegsweihnachten und neues Jahr). Instead of “war-time”, the translation, in the context of his militarism, might have better been “martial”.
Our second greeting card lacks color, but is still carefully drawn:
We see that the artist is limited to using an ordinary pencil. The printing is almost the same as that of the countries outside of Germany. This is an essential fact, in that when such letters were printed in German books and many newspapers until some year into the war were generally reserved for quotes from languages which used non-Germanic scripts. (See our article on German Scripts on this same web-site.)
We might title the above card, with apologies to Erich Maria Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
Our third specimen also comes from a German soldier, but the war is now over, and he is in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Soviet Union. To make this clear, we offer evidence from both sides of the post-card, after removing material which could identify him or his relative(s).
The diamond shape on the top left is military or camp censorship. We notice in English the words “U.S.A. Zone”. While the “Zone” exists in German, the word used would have been Gebiet. The rules of the occupation required English for the British and American Zones for routing purposes. (I have not seen any mail for France or Russia, so do not know whether they followed the same conventions.)
Here is the year-end greeting that was sent. The reader can see that this is the other side of the above card, not only by the pen-color and the printing, but also by the bottom right-hand corner of the above compared with the left-hand corner below.
This postcard is interesting for at least two reasons. The first is that it comes out of the U.S.S.R. That itself does not make it a rarity, considering the thousands upon thousands of prisoners captured by the Soviets. However, the artwork does not suggest someone who is suffering in his captivity. The crests with the names of the years are too neatly executed, as are the decorations. Only a ruler was missing, but perhaps we should understand those straight parallel lines as stems. The lettering is very clear, becoming even better when we get to the artist’s name.
I have decided not to translate into perfect English, as there is some error in the German, which I have wanted to reflect.
Our only doubt is if the letter was ever sent to Germany, as there is no identifying stamp, military or otherwise, on either side of the postcard. Yet, as this prisoner seems not to have been subject to a harsh regimen, especially considering the Russian winters, we would expect that the letter had gone out. We have noticed that identifying the location of Soviet prison camps is not yet something that is possible, at least for those who do not search for material in the Russian language. Often the forwarding address was the Red Cross in Moscow, but this was usually for the initial contact. We can well believe that this was not the first contact, but the post-card does state something which the countries more to the West might find strange. The Russian texts states that this is a postcard of a prisoner of war (translation is facilitated by the inclusion of French text), but – solely in Russian – it states that it is of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent of the U.S.S.R.
If the censor knew good German, he might have suspected that the error in the otherwise careful writing concealed some extraneous information.
I have recently read, but cannot affirm it to have been the truth, that the Soviet Generals wanted to kill all the enemy. On the other hand, some were given the opportunity to “re-educate themselves”. Quick learners could be rewarded.
June 3, 2019,
© 2019, Paul Karl Moeller