- 'A German Deserter's War Experience'
- told by (His Name Must Be Withheld To Save the Lives of His Relatives and Himself)
the Inside Story of the German Army
- marching into Belgium in August 1914
- (from Der Krieg 1914 in Wort und Bild )
This narrative is without doubt the greatest story yet told by a German soldier. It is a startling confession of the inward feelings of a young German miner in the Kaiser's ranks. Escaping to America after serving fourteen months, he first told his story to the 'New Yorker Volkszeitung' the principal organ of the German socialists in the United States. Believing that all the American people should know the truth, his experiences have been translated by J. Koettgen of New York.
His stories are of historical value because he tells how he marched into Belgium with the first German army of invasion; the crossing of the Meuse; the Battle of the Marne. He also tells the first German story of the rout and flight of the Teutonic forces from the Marne and his desertion from the "hell" within the German army.
In these pages we can give but ten selected glimpses of the several hundred stories and scenes which he so graphically describes.
I Story of the March Into Belgium
AT the end of July, 1914, our garrison at Koblenz was feverishly agitated. Part of our men were seized by an indescribable enthusiasm, others became subject to a feeling of great depression. The declaration of war was in the air. I belonged to those who were depressed. For I was doing my second year of military service and was to leave the barracks in six weeks' time. Instead of the long wished-for return home war was facing me. . . .
Our sapper battalion, No. 30, had been in feverish activity five days before the mobilization; work was being- pushed on day and night. Moreover, there was the suspicious amiability of the officers and sergeants, which excluded any doubt that any one might still have had. Officers who had never before replied to the salute of a private soldier now did so with the utmost attention. Cigars and beer were distributed in those days by the officers with great, uncommon liberality, so that if was not surprising that many soldiers were scarcely ever sober and did not realize the seriousness of the situation. But there were also others. There were soldiers who also in those times of good-humour and the grinning comradeship of officer and soldier could not forget that in military service they had often been degraded to the level of brutes, and who now thought with bitter feelings that an opportunity might perhaps be offered in order to settle accounts.
The order of mobilization became known on the 1st of August, and the following day was decided upon as the real day of mobilization. But without awaiting the arrival of the reserves we left. our garrison town on August 1st. Who was to be our "enemy" we did not know; Russia was for the present the only country against which war had been declared. We marched through the streets of the town to the station between crowds of people numbering many thousands. Flowers were thrown at us from every window; everybody wanted to shake hands with the departing soldiers. All the people, even soldiers, were weeping. Many marched arm in arm with their wife or sweetheart. The music played songs of leave-taking. People cried and sang at the same time. Entire strangers, men and women, embraced and kissed each other; men embraced men and kissed each other. It was a real witches' sabbath of emotion; like a wild torrent, that emotion carried away the whole assembled humanity. Nobody, not even the strongest and most determined spirit, could resist that ebullition of feeling.
But all that was surpassed by the taking leave at the station, which we reached after a short march. Here final adieus had to be said, here the separation had to take. place. I shall never forget that leave-taking, however old I may grow to be. Desperately many women clung to their men; some had to be removed by force. Just as if they had suddenly had a vision of the fate of their beloved ones, as if they were beholding the silent graves in foreign lands in which those poor nameless ones were to be buried, they sought to cling fast to their possession, to retain what already no longer belonged to them.
Finally that, too, was over. We had entered a train that had been kept ready, and had made ourselves comfortable in our cattle-trucks. Darkness had come, and we; had no light in our comfortable sixth-class carriages. The train moved slowly down the Rhine, it went along without any great shaking, and some of us were seized by a worn-out feeling after those days of great excitement. Most of the soldiers lay with their heads on their knapsacks and slept. Others again tried to pierce the darkness as if attempting to look into the future; still others drew stealthily a photo out of their breast-pocket, and only a very small number of us spent the time by debating our point of destination. Where are we going to ? Well, where ? Nobody knew it. At last, after long, infinitely long hours the train came to a stop. After a night of quiet, slow riding we were at Aix-la-Chapelle!
At Aix-la-Chapelle! What were we doing at Aix-la-Chapelle? We did not know, and the officers only shrugged their shoulders when we asked them. After a short interval the journey proceeded, and on the evening of the 2nd of August we reached a farm in the neighbourhood of the German and Belgian frontier, near Herbesthal. Here our company was quartered in a barn. Nobody knew what our business was at the Belgian frontier. In the afternoon of the 3rd of August reservists arrived, and our company was brought to its war strength. We had still no idea concerning the purpose of our being sent to the Belgian frontier, and that evening we lay down on our bed of straw with a forced tranquillity of mind. Something was sure to happen soon, to deliver us from that oppressive uncertainty. How few of us thought that for many it would be the last night to spend on German soil! . . .
II Story of the First Alarm to Battle
At 1 o'clock in the morning an alarm aroused us again, and the captain honoured us with an address. He told us we were at war with Belgium, that we should acquit ourselves as brave soldiers, earn iron crosses, and do honour to our German name. ...
The soldier is told, "The Belgian is your enemy," and he has to believe it. The soldier, the workman in uniform, had not known till then who was his enemy. If they had told us, "The Hollander is your enemy," we would have believed that, too; we would have been compelled to believe it, and would have shot him by order. We, the "German citizens in uniform," must not have an opinion of our own, must have no thoughts of our own, for they give us our enemy and our friend according to requirements, according to the requirements of their own interests. The Frenchman, the Belgian, the Italian, is your enemy. Never mind, shoot as we order, and do not bother your head about it.
About ten minutes we might have lain in the grass when we suddenly heard rifle shots in front of us. Electrified, all of us jumped up and hastened to our rifles. Then the firing of rifles that was going on at a distance of about a mile or a mile and a half began steadily to increase in volume. We set in motion immediately. . . .
Though I was aware that we should be in the firing line within half an hour, I endeavoured-to convince myself that our participation in the fight would no longer be necessary. I clung obstinately, nay, almost convulsively to every idea that could strengthen that hope or give me consolation. That not every bullet finds its billet; that, as we had been told, most wounds in modern wars were afflicted by grazing shots which caused slight flesh-wounds; those were some of the reiterated self-deceptions indulged in against my better knowledge. And they proved effective. It was not only that they made me in fact feel more easy; deeply engaged in those thoughts I had scarcely observed that we were already quite near the firing line.
We were lying flat on the ground, and fired in the direction indicated to us as fast as our rifles would allow. So far we had not seen our opponents. That, it seemed, was too little interesting to some of our soldiers; so they rose partly, and fired in a kneeling position. Two men of my company had to pay for their curiosity with their lives. Almost at one and the same time they were shot through the head. The first victim of our group fell down forward without uttering a sound; the second threw up his arms and fell on his back. Both of them were dead instantly.
Who could describe the feelings that overcome a man in the first hail of bullets he is in? When we were leaping forward to reach the firing line I felt no longer any fear and seemed only to try to reach the line as quickly as possible. But when looking at the first dead man I was seized by a terrible horror. For minutes I was perfectly stupefied, had completely lost command over myself and was- absolutely incapable to think or act. I pressed my face and hands firmly against the ground, and then suddenly I was seized by an irrepressible excitement, took hold of my gun, and began to fire away blindly. Little after little I quieted down again somewhat, nay, I became almost quite confident as if everything was normal. Suddenly I found myself content with myself and my surroundings, and when a little later the whole line was commanded, "Leap forward! March, march!" I ran forward demented like the others, as if things could not be other than what they were.
It was a hand to hand fight; every kind of weapon had to be employed; the opponent was attacked with the butt-end of the rifle, the knife, the fist, and the teeth. One of my best friends fought with a gigantic Belgian; both had lost their rifles. They were pummeling each other with their fists. I had just finished with a Belgian who was about twenty-two years of age, and was going to assist my friend, as the Herculean Belgian was so much stronger than he. Suddenly my friend succeeded with a lightning motion in biting the Belgian in the chin. He bit so deeply that he tore away a piece of flesh with his teeth. The pain the Belgian felt must have been . immense, for he let go his hold and ran off screaming with terrible pain.
All that happened in seconds. The blood of the Belgian ran out of my friend's mouth; he was seized by a horrible nausea, an indescribable terror, the taste of the warm blood nearly drove him insane. That young, gay, lively fellow of twenty-four had been cheated out of his youth in that night. He used to be the jolliest among us; after that we could never induce him even to smile.
Whilst fighting during the night I came for the first time in touch with the butt-end of a Belgian rifle. I had a hand to hand fight with a Belgian when another one from behind hit me with his rifle on the head with such force that it drove my head into the helmet up to my ears. I experienced a terrific pain all over my head, doubled up, and lost consciousness. When I revived I found myself with a bandaged head in a barn among other wounded.
I had not been severely wounded, but I felt as if my head was double its normal size, and there was a noise in my ears as of the wheels of an express engine. We were quite hungry and ate the tinned soup with the heartiest of appetites. Many of our soldiers were sitting with their dinner- pails on the dead horses that were lying about, and were eating with such pleasure and heartiness as if they were home at mother's. Nor did some corpses in the neighbourhood of our improvised camp disturb us. There was only a lack of water and after having eaten thirst began to torment us.
We continued our march in the scorching midday sun; dust was covering our uniforms and skin to the depth of almost an inch. We tried in vain to be jolly, but thirst tormented us more and more, and we became weaker and weaker from one quarter of an hour to another. Many in our ranks fell down exhausted. . . .
Ill Story of the Poisoned Wells
Finally, towards four o'clock, we saw a village in front of us; we began at once to march at a much brisker pace. Among other things we saw a farm-cart on which were several civilian prisoners, apparently snipers.
There was also a Catholic priest among them who had, like the others, his hands tied behind his back with a rope. Curiosity prompted us to enquire what he had been up to, and we heard that he had incited the farmers of the village to poison the water.
We soon reached the village and the first well at which we hoped to quench our thirst thoroughly. But that was no easy matter, for a military guard had been placed before it who scared us off with the warning, "Poisoned"! Disappointed and terribly embittered the soldiers, half dead with thirst, gnashed their teeth; they hurried to the next well, but everywhere the same devilish thing occurred the guard preventing them from drinking. In a square, in the middle of the village, there was a large village well which sent, through two tubes, water as clear as crystal into a large trough. Five soldiers were guarding it and had to watch that nobody drank of the poisoned water. I was just going to march past it with my pal when suddenly the second, larger portion of our company rushed like madmen to the well. The guards were carried away by the rush, and every one now began to drink the water with the avidity of an animal. All quenched their thirst, and not one of us became ill or died. We heard later on that the priest had to pay for it with his death.
In every army one finds men with the disposition of barbarians. The many millions of inhabitants in Germany or France are not all civilized people, much as we like to convince ourselves of the contrary. Compulsory. military service in those countries forces all without distinction into the army, men and monsters. I have often bitterly resented the wrong one did to our army in calling us all barbarians only because among us as, naturally also among the French and English there were to be found elements that really ought to be in the penitentiary.
I will only cite one example of how we soldiers ourselves punished a wretch whom we caught committing a crime.
One evening it was dark already we reached a small village to the east of the town of Bertrix, and there, too, found "poisoned" water. We halted in the middle of the village. I was standing before a house with a low window, through which one could see the interior. In the miserable poverty-stricken working man's dwelling we observed a woman who clung to her children as if afraid they would be torn from her. Though we felt very bitter on account of the want of water, every one of us would have liked to help the poor woman. Some of us were just going to sacrifice our little store of victuals and to say a few comforting words to the woman, when all at once a stone as big as a fist was thrown through the window-pane into the room and hurt a little girl in the right hand. There were sincere cries of indignation, but at the same moment twenty hands at least laid hold of the wretch, a reservist of our company, and gave him such a hiding as to make him almost unconscious. If officers and other men had not interfered the fellow would have been lynched there and then. He was to be placed before a court-martial later on, but it never came to that. He was drowned in the river at the battle of the Meuse. Many soldiers believed he drowned himself, because he was not only shunned by his fellow soldiers, but was also openly despised by them.
IV Story of the Belgian Snipers
We had to proceed, and soon reached the town of Bertrix. Some few houses to the left and right of the road were burning fiercely; we soon got to know that they had been set alight because soldiers marching past were said to have been shot at from those houses. Before one of these houses a man and his wife and their son, a boy of 15 or 16, lay half burnt to cinders; all had been covered with straw. Three more civilians lay dead in the same street.
We had marched past some more houses when all at once shots rang out; they had been shooting from some house, and four of our soldiers had been wounded. For a short while there was confusion. The house from which the shots must have come was soon surrounded, and hand grenades were thrown through all the windows into the interior. In an instant all the rooms were in flames. The exploding hand grenades caused such an enormous air pressure that all the doors were blown from their hinges and the inner walls torn to shreds.
Almost at the same time, five men in civilian clothes rushed into the street and asked for quarter with up-lifted hands. They were seized immediately and taken to the officers, who formed themselves into a tribunal within a few minutes. Ten minutes later sentence had already been executed; five strong men lay on the ground, blindfolded and their bodies riddled by bullets.
Six of us had in each of the five cases to execute the sentence, and unfortunately I, .too, belonged to those thirty men. The condemned man whom my party of six had to shoot was a tall, lean man, about forty years of age. He did not wince for a moment when they blindfolded him. In a garden of a house nearby he was placed with his back against the house, and after our captain had told us that it was our duty to aim well so as to end the tragedy quickly, we took up our position six paces from the condemned one. The sergeant commanding us had told us before to shoot the condemned man through the chest. We then formed two lines, one behind the other. The command was given to load and secure, and we pushed five cartridges into the rifle. Then the command rang out, "Get ready!" The first line knelt, the second stood up. We held our rifles in such a position that the barrel pointed in front of us whilst the butt-end rested somewhere near the hip. At the command, "Aim!" we slowly brought our rifles into shooting position, grasped them firmly, pressed the plate of the butt-end against the shoulder and, with our cheek on the butt-end, we clung convulsively to the-neck of the rifle. Our right forefinger was on the 'trigger, the sergeant gave us about half a minute for aiming before commanding, "Fire!"
Even to-day I cannot say whether our victim fell dead on the spot or how many of the six bullets hit him.
V Story of Murderous Fights in the Night
After a short march we engaged the French to the northeast of Donchery. On this side of the Meuse the enemy had only his rear-guard, whose task was to cover the crossing of the main French armies, a movement which was almost exclusively effected at Sedan and Donchery. We stuck close to the heels of our opponents, who did not retreat completely till darkness began to fall. The few bridges left did not allow him to withdraw his forces altogether as quickly as his interest demanded. Thus it came about that an uncommonly murderous nocturnal street fight took place in Donchery which was burning at every corner. The French fought with immense energy; an awful slaughter was the result. Man against man! That "man against man!" is the most terrible thing I have experienced in war. Nobody can tell afterwards how many he has killed. You have gripped your opponent, who is sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger than yourself. In the light of the burning houses you observe that the white of his eyes has turned red; his mouth is covered with a thick froth. With head uncovered, with disheveled hair, the uniform unbuttoned and mostly ragged, you stab, hew, scratch, bite and strike about you like a wild animal. It means life or death. You fight for your life. No quarter is given. You only hear the gasping, groaning, jerky breathing. You only think of your own life, of death, of home. In feverish haste, as in a whirlwind, old memories are rushing through your mind. Yet you get more excited from minute to minute, for exhaustion tries to master you; but that must not be not now! And again the fight is renewed ; again there is hewing, stabbing, biting. Without rifle, without any weapon in a life and death struggle.
You or I. I ? I ? Never! you! The exertion becomes superhuman. Now a thrust, a vicious bite, and you are the victor. Victor for the moment, for already the next man, who has just finished off one of your mates, is upon you You suddenly remember that you have a dagger about you. After a hasty fumbling you find it in the prescribed place. A swift movement and the dagger buries . itself deeply in the body of the other man.
Onward! onward! new enemies are coming up, real enemies. How clearly the thought suddenly flashes on you that that man is your enemy, that he is seeking to take your life, that he bites, strikes, and scratches, tries to force you down and plant his dagger in your heart. Again you use your dagger. Thank heavens! He is down. Saved! Still, you must have that dagger back! You pull it out of his chest. A jet of warm blood rushes out of the gaping wound and strikes your face. Human blood, warm human blood! You shake yourself, horror strikes you for only a few seconds. The next one approaches; again you have to defend your skin. Again and again the mad murdering is repeated, all night long
VI Story of the Men Who Die
Many of my mates envied the dead soldiers and wished to be in their place in order to be at least through with all their misery. Yet all of us were afraid of dying afraid of dying, be it noted, not of death. All of us often longed for death, but we were horrified at the slow dying lasting hours which is the rule on the battle-field, that process which makes the wounded, abandoned soldier die piecemeal. I have witnessed the death of hundreds of young men in their prime, but I know of none among them who died willingly. A young sapper of the name of Kellner, whose home was at Cologne, had his whole abdomen ripped open by a shell splinter. Maddened by pain he begged me to assure him that he would not have to die. Of course, I assured him that his wounds were by no means severe and that the doctor would be there immediately to help him. My words comforted him. He died ten minutes later.
We common soldiers were here handling the dead and wounded as if we had never done anything else, and yet in our civilian lives most of us had an abhorrence and fear of the dead and the horribly mangled. War is a hard school-master who bends and reshapes his pupils.
One section was busy with digging a common grave for the dead. We took away the papers and valuables of the dead, took possession of the eatable and drinkable stores to be found in the saddle bags attached to the horses and, when the grave was ready, we began to place the dead bodies in it. They were laid close together in order to utilize fully the available space. I too, had been ordered to "bring in" the dead. The bottom of the grave was large enough for twenty-three bodies if the space was well utilized. When two layers of twenty-three had already been buried a sergeant of the artillery, who was standing near, observed that one of the "dead" was still alive. He had seen the "corpse" move the fingers of his right hand. On closer examination it turned out that we came near burying a living man, for after an attempt lasting two hours we succeeded in restoring him to consciousness. The officer of the infantry who supervised the work now turned to the two soldiers charged with getting the corpses ready and asked them whether they were sure that all the men buried were really dead.
"Yes," the two replied, "we suppose they are all dead." That seemed to be quite sufficient for that humane officer, for he ordered the interments to proceed. Nobody doubted that there were several more among the 138 men whom we alone buried in one grave (two other, still bigger, graves had been dug by different burial parties) from whose bodies life had not entirely flown.
We were as merry as boys and as noisy as street urchins. "Oh, what a joy to be a soldier lad!" that song rang out, subdued at first, then louder and louder. It died away quickly enough as one after the other laid down his tired head. We slept like the dead.
A soldier in war never knows the date or day of the week. One day is like another. Whether it is Saturday, Thursday or Sunday, it means always the same routine of murdering. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!" "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work..
But the seventh day thou shalt not do any work." These, to our Christian rulers, are empty phrases. "Six days shalt thou murder and on the seventh day, too."
VII Story of the "Missing" Officers
However, not all the soldiers approved of that senseless, that criminal murdering. Some of the "gentlemen" who had ordered us to massacre our French comrades were killed "by mistake" in the darkness of the night, by their own people, of course. Such "mistakes" repeat themselves almost daily, and if I keep silence with regard to many such mistakes which I could relate, giving the exact name and place, the reader will know why. During that night it was a captain and first lieutenant who met this fate. An infantryman who was serving his second year stabbed the captain through the stomach with his bayonet, and almost at the same time the first lieutenant got a stab in the back. Both men were dead m a few minutes. Those that did the deeds showed not the slightest signs of repentance, and not one of us felt inclined to reproach them; on the contrary, every one knew that despicable, brutal murderers had met their doom.
In this connection I must mention a certain incident which necessitates my jumping a little ahead of events. When on the following day I conversed with a mate from my company and asked him for the loan of his pocket knife he drew from his pocket three cartridges besides his knife. I was surprised to find him carrying cartridges in his trousers' pockets and asked him whether he had no room for them in his cartridge case. "There's room enough," he replied, "but those three are meant for a particular purpose; there's a name inscribed on each of them." Some time after we had meanwhile become fast friends I inquired again after the three bullets. He had one of them left. I reflected and remembered two sergeants who had treated us like brutes in times of peace, whom we had hated as one could only hate slavedrivers. They had found their grave in French soil.
A company of the Hessian landwehr, all of them old soldiers, were marching past with sore feet and drooping heads. They had probably marched for a long while. Officers were attempting to liven them up. They were to sing a song, but the Hessians, fond of singing and good-natured as they certainly are known to be, were by no means in a mood to sing. "I tell you to sing, you swine!" the officer cried, and the pitifully helpless-looking "swine" endeavored to obey the command. Here and there a thin voice from the ranks of the overtired men could be heard to sing, "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt." With sore feet and broken energy, full of disgust with their "glorious" trade of warriors, they sang that symphony of supergermanism that sounded then like blasphemy, nay, like a travesty "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt."
VIII Story of the Sacking Of Suippes
I have never in war witnessed a greater general pillaging than here in Suippes. It was plain that we had to live and had to have food. The inhabitants and store-keepers having fled, it was often impossible to pay for the things one needed. Men simply went into some store, put on socks and underwear, and left their old things; they then went to some other store, took the food they fancied, and helped themselves to a wine-cellar to provide themselves to their hearts' content.
The finest and largest stores Suippes supplied a large tract of country and had comparatively extensive stores of all descriptions were empty shells in a few hours.
One of our sappers had for weeks carried about with him a pair of handsome boots for his fiancee and then had them sent to her in two parcels. However, the field-post did not guarantee delivery; and thus the war bride got the left boot, and not the right one.
The occupant of one house was evidently a young bride, for the various pieces of the trousseau, trimmed with dainty blue ribbons, could be seen in the wardrobes in a painfully spick and span condition. All the ward-robes were unlocked. We did not touch a thing. We were again reminded of the cruelty of war. Millions it turned into beggars in one night; the fondest hopes and desires were destroyed. When, the next morning, we entered the house again, driven by a presentiment of misfortune, we found everything completely destroyed. Real barbarians had been raging here, who had lost that thin varnish with v/hich civilization covers the brute in man. The whole trousseau of the young bride had been dragged from the shelves and was still partly covering the floor. Portraits, photographs, looking-glasses, all lay broken on the floor. Three of us had entered the room, and all three of us clenched our fists in helpless rage.
When a man is accustomed to step over corpses with a cold smile on his lips, when he has to face death every minute day and night, he gradually loses that finer feeling for human things and humanity. Thus it must not surprise one that soldiers could laugh and joke in the midst of awful devastation, that they brought wine to a concert room in which there was a piano and an electric organ, and had a joyful time with music and wine. They drank till they were unconscious; they drank with sergeants and corporals, pledging "brotherhood"; and they rolled arm in arm through the streets with their new "comrades."
IX Story of the Tragedy of the Marne
At the Marne in the maw of death. It was dark, and rained. From all directions one heard in the darkness the wounded calling, crying, and moaning. The wounded we had with us were likewise moaning and crying. All wanted to have their wounds dressed, but we had no more bandages. We tore off pieces of our dirty shirts and placed the rags on those sickening wounds. Men were dying one after the other. There were no doctors, no bandages; we had nothing whatever. You had to help the wounded and keep the French off at the same time. It was an unbearable, impossible state of things. It rained harder and harder. We were wet to our skins. We fired blindly into the darkness. The rolling fire of rifles increased, then died away, then increased again. We sappers' were placed among the infantry. My neighbor gave me a dig in the ribs. "I say," he called out.
"What do you want ?" I asked.
"Who are you?"
"Come here," he hissed. "It gives you an uncanny feeling to be alone in this hell of a night. Why are you here too ? They'll soon come again, those over there; then there'll be fine fun again. Do you hear the others cry?"
He laughed. Suddenly he began again: "I always shoot at those until they leave off crying that's great fun."
Again he laughed, that time more shrilly than before. I knew what was the matter. He had become insane. A man passed with ammunition. I begged him to go at once and fetch the section leader. The leader, a lieutenant of the infantry, came up. I went to meet him and told him that my neighbor was continually firing at the wounded, was talking nonsense, and was probably insane.
The lieutenant placed himself between us. "Can you see anything?" he asked the other man. "What? See ? No; but I hear them moaning and crying, and as soon as I hit one well, he is quiet, he goes to sleep "
The lieutenant nodded at me. He took the gun away from the man. But the latter snatched it quickly away again and jumped out of the trench. From there he fired into the crowd of wounded men until a few seconds after, he dropped down riddled by several bullets.
X Story of a Furlough and Escape
It was not until September that I managed to obtain furlough at the request of my relations, and I left for home with a resolve that at times seemed to me impossible to execute. All went well until I got to Diedenhofen.
As far as that station the railroads are operated by the army authorities. At Diedenhofen they are taken over by the Imperial Railroads of Alsace-Lorraine and the Prusso-Hessian State Railroads. So I had to change, and got on a train that went to Saarbruecken. I had scarcely taken a seat in a compartment in my dirty and ragged uniform when a conductor came along to inspect the tickets. Of course, I had no-ticket; I had only a furlough certificate and a pass which had been handed to me at the field railroad depot of Chatel. The conductor looked at the papers and asked me again for my ticket.- I drew his attention to my pass. "That is only good for the territory of the war operations," he said; "you are now traveling on a state railroad and have to buy a ticket."
I told him that I should not buy a ticket, and asked him to inform the station manager. "You," I told him, "only act according to instructions. I am not angry with you for asking of me what I shall do under no circumstances." He went off and came back with the manager. The latter also inspected my papers and told me I had to pay for the journey.
"I have no means for that purpose," I told him. "For these last three years I have been in these clothes" (I pointed to my uniform), "and for three years I have therefore been without any income. Whence am I to get the money to pay for this journey?"
"If you have no money for traveling you can't take furlough." I thought to myself that if they took me deep into France they were in conscience bound to take me back to where they had fetched me. Was I to be a soldier for three years and fight for the Fatherland for more than a year only to find that now they refused the free use of their railroads to a ragged soldier? I explained that I was not going to pay, that I could not save the fare from the few pfennigs' pay. I refused explicitly to pay a soldier's journey with my private money, even if as was the case here that soldier was myself.
Finally I told him, "I must request you to inform the military railroad commander; the depot command attends to soldiers, not you." He sent me a furious look through his horn spectacles and disappeared. Two civilians were sitting in the same compartment with me; they thought it an unheard-of thing that a soldier coming from the front should be asked for his fare. Presently the depot commander came up with a sergeant. He demanded to see my furlough certificate, pay books, and all my other papers.
"Have you any money ?"
"Where do you come from ?"
"From Chatel in the Argonnes."
"How long were you at the front?",
"In the fouteenth month."
"Have you no money at all?"
"No; you don't want money at the front."
"The fare must be paid. If you can't, the company must pay. Please sign this paper."
I signed it without looking at it. It was all one to me what I signed, as long as they left me alone. Then the sergeant came back.
"You can not travel in that compartment; you must also not converse with travelers. You have to take the first carriage marked 'Only for the military.' Get into that."
"I see," I observed; "in the dogs' compartment."
He turned round again and said, "Cut out those remarks."
The train started, and I arrived safely home. After the first hours of meeting all at home again had passed I found myself provided with faultless underwear and had taken the urgently needed bath. Once more I could put on the civilian dress I had missed for so long a time. All of it appeared strange to me. I began to think. Under no conditions was I going to return to the front. But I did not know how I should succeed in getting across the frontier. I could choose between two countries only Switzerland and Holland. It was no use going to Switzerland, for that country was surrounded by belligerent states, and it needed only a little spark to bring Switzerland into the war, and then there would be no loophole for me. There was only the nearest country left for me to choose Holland. But how was I to get there ? There was the rub. I concocted a thousand plans and discarded them again. Nobody, not even my relatives, must know about it.
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