This Week's Story: The Soldiers Of Spessart Part 2

This week our story comes from Brigitte Weber of Ettlingen-Spessart, which lies in the hills above Ettlingen. Brigitte's two uncles fought and died in Laffaux on the Western Front when they were both just 20 years old. During the Great War, Brigitte's family received letters and photos from relatives and friends, and collected some of the memorial cards of soldiers who had died from the village.

These two photos, sent home to Brigitte's family from the Western Front, show soldiers recovering in the lazaret together with the nurses who worked there.

During the Great War, the need for prosthetics escalated immensely as tens of thousands of soldiers lost limbs. As a result, there were unprecedented developments in the design of artificial limbs.

Soldiers also suffered from a new phenomenon known as "shell shock", which was the reaction of some soldiers to the trauma of battle. Unfortunately, this "nervous and mental shock" was poorly understood, as there were often no signs of physical injury. At the start of the war, it was assumed that there was a link between the symptons and the effects of explosions from artillery shells. However, an increasing number of men who had not been exposed to artillery fire began to suffer from the phenomenon. Symptons included tinnitus, amnesia, headache, dizziness, tremor and hypersensitivity to noise.

Carl Ludwig Wilhelm Maisch, of Foot Artillery Regiment 14, born on October 3, 1895 in Ettlingen-Schöllbronn near Spessart, was wounded on April 26, 1916 at 9:30 a.m. at Verdun, and died in the lazaret at Villiers on the Western Front on April 27, 1916

Kanonier Anton Weber, born on August 31, 1885 in
Ettlingen-Spessart, fell on July 19, 1916 "on the field of honor"
at Biaches on the Somme.

A hero's death I died,
I won the best death for myself,
God holds all gifts in his hand.
I am at peace in France's cool grave,
A grenade struck me down
But heaven is open to warriors.
Mother, brothers and sisters and all my loved ones,
Remember me in your prayers,
Don't forget your Anton
Who is lying buried in foreign earth
God's will was done
We'll meet again up there.

Unteroffizier Stefan Weber, born on May 25, 1892 in Ettlingen-Spessart, and fell on December 1, 1916 at Verdun.

This Week: Leutnant Felix Kiefer - A Venturing Spirit

Our story this week comes from Francine Kiefer of Washington, D.C., USA, whose grandfather Felix Kiefer of Ettlingen fought in the Great War.

Felix was born on September 11, 1891 in Ettlingen, the youngest of seven surviving children in his family. He was the younger brother of Ettlingen's sculptor Oskar Kiefer, who designed Germany's first "anti-war memorial" for Ettlingen, shown in the section List of Fallen, of Tor Kiefer, who worked as a doctor at both the Eastern and Western Fronts, and of Sylvestra Kiefer, who worked as a nurse at the Western Front.

Like his brother Tor, Felix also served at both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He volunteered for the Army in 1914 in Munich, where he was studying chemistry at university, and entered a Bavarian regiment - the RIR 16. Felix first served in the 4th Company of the Königlich Bayerisches Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 16 as an Unteroffizier. When the RIR 16 was formed in September 1914, it consisted of approximately 3,300 officers and men, and was part of the Reserve-Infanterie-Brigade 12, which in turn belonged to the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division.

In 1916, Felix was promoted to Leutnant and had moved to the 3rd Bavarian Regiment of the 11th Bavarian Division.

Tor (left) and Felix Kiefer (right)
Photo copyright Francine Kiefer

Felix's son Alexander, who later wrote an account of his father's life, recorded that Felix served in "several major battles in France", and that he was twice decorated. In the East, he served in Galicia (present day Ukraine) and Romania, as well as spending time in Budapest, Hungary. He was wounded on various occasions - once in October 1916, when he was sent to a lazaret in Brest-Litowsk (present day Belarus) and once in October 1914 in Belgium, after which he was sent to a lazaret in Hamburg.

According to his son Alexander, "deeply scarred by war, Felix was released from military service in the spring of 1918 and resumed his studies".

Erne Maria Schumann was born on October 29, 1887 in Papenburg. Four years older than Felix, her relationship with him developed in Munich while he was a university student and they married on July 20, 1916. One year later, they had their first child, Alexander - Francine's father - in Munich on August 20, 1917. Their second child, Judith, was born on April 9, 1922 in Elz.

Erne Schumann, September 11, 1915
Photo copyright Francine Kiefer

Like Felix's sister Sylvestra, Erne served as a nurse on the Western Front. She was stationed in Sedan in 1915, but was back in Munich in 1916 for the rest of the war. Felix and Erne corresponded almost daily and sometimes twice a day when they were apart from each other.

After finishing his studies in Munich, Felix took a PhD at the Bavarian University of Erlangen, which he completed in 1919. He subsequently worked as a chemist at various factories until the collapse of the German economy during the period of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Felix saw no other option but to emigrate to the United States. He arrived in New York in February 1927, but was then posted to Honduras, where he worked as the head chemist of the Standard Fruit company. Here, he directed the agricultural laboratory, which dealt mainly in bananas. In December 1927, his family arrived in New Orleans, then later joined him in Honduras.

Tor (left) and Felix Kiefer (right)
Photo copyright Francine Kiefer

Malaria and lack of educational opportunity for the children caused him to relocate permanently to the United States in the fall of 1928, where he worked in the states of North Carolina, Maryland and New York as a chemist and a college teacher.
His specialty was food chemistry, and he held various patents for food preservatives, including breakfast cereal, dry milk, and margarine.

Felix and Erne both became US citizens. When Erne died on October 1, 1938, Felix grieved deeply. He eventually remarried a German woman, Gisela Menzinger of Bruchsal (near Karlsruhe) in 1953, and they lived together in Florida. In 1961, after turning 70, he was forced to retire and he and Gisela moved back to Bruchsal in Germany, where he died on August 24, 1965.

Felix loved camping and took his young family on many camping trips. In keeping with the rest of his artistically inclined family, he had an artistic streak and loved to paint watercolors - several of his letters to Erne included pressed flowers and poems. He supported his family in Ettlingen with care packages after the Second World War.

Francine's father described Felix's life as one that spread "great good" and characterized him as a "venturing spirit".

Story This Week: "A Mighty Fate Descends Over Europe" - Ettlingen Reports On The Declaration Of War By England

Ettlingen's state newspaper, the Badischer Landsmann, reports on the declaration of war on Germany by England on August 4, 1914.

The War.
England Declares War.

Berlin, August 4, 1914: Shortly after 7 o'clock, the English ambassador appeared in the Foreign Office to present the declaration of war and to demand the pass papers.

[England declares war on Germany in retaliation for Germany's violation of neutral Belgian territory].

Regarding Mobilization.

Berlin, August 4. An official announcement states that the mobilization of our army and our fleet has proceeded excellently up to this point. The conscription of the drafted men, their transportation to the assigned positions, in short, everything has functioned very smoothly. The people's trust in our military organization is completely justified. The mood among the drafted men must be particularly praised. Full of enthusiasm and commitment, but also infused by the gravity of the hour, all followed the order to report for service. The German people may be confident that future military measures will also be executed with the same order and systematic planning. It has also been reported that we are absolutely innundated with spies and persons from abroad intending to perform criminal attacks. Numerous attempts have already been made to explode important engineering structures, railway bridges, tunnels and similar, to disrupt the march of our troops. All such attempts will be strictly punished by death in the prevailing circumstances. However, all attempts to date by French and Russian agents in this regard have been unsuccessful. The perpetrators were all executed immediately. The people are requested to do everything in their power to ensure that such criminal attacks will continue to be rendered ineffective. For we are surrounded by spies. Even the most insignificant incident could be of importance. Whoever fulfills their duty in this regard will be performing a service for the Kaiser and the Empire.

The Session.

Berlin, August 4.
Today’s session of the Reichstag was opened by the President Dr. Kämpf at a quarter to 4, and the House and the galleries were extremely heavily attended. The Reichskanzler appeared with the Secretaries of State and Ministers. The present Presidium was reelected to loud applause.
President Dr. Kämpf reported that the Kaiser has consented to receive the Presidium this evening and to accept the announcement of the constitution of the House. (Bravo!) He hopes to be able to inform the Kaiser that drafts received have met with approval.

Reichskanzler von Bethmann Hollweg

rose to speak. A breathless silence prevailed throughout the room. A mighty fate – thus began the Kanzler – has befallen Europe. Russia has lit the tinder of the fire in the house. The Kanzler then outlined the immensely dramatic development of the last few days, in particular of Russia’s conduct and the violation of the border by France. We find ourselves, continued the Kanzler, in a position of self-defense. And necessity knows no laws. Our troops have occupied Luxembourg and possibly entered Belgian territory. This contravenes international law. But a French invasion in our flanks at the Lower Rhine could have been disastrous. We will, however, right this wrong once we have achieved our goal. We have issued a declaration to the English government that, as long as England remains neutral, our fleet will not attack the North coast of France, and that we will not infringe the territorial integrity of Belgium. I repeat this declaration publicly for the whole world.

[Apparently, Bethmann Hollweg does not consider the neutrality of Belgium to have been violated at this point, or at least only violated to the extent that it was necessary as an action of self-defense against the French attack without declaration of war (see below). Bethmann Hollweg's speech takes place during the late afternoon/early evening of August 4. At 7 o'clock in the evening, as reported above, the English ambassador arrives at the Foreign Office to present the English declaration of war, which is in retaliation for Germany's violation of neutral Belgian territory].

August 3: Ettlingen's newspaper the Mittelbadischer Courier reports on the state of war with France.

War In The East And In The West.

State of War with France
Berlin, August 3 (official report). Up to now, German troops have not trespassed over the French border, in compliance with the commands issued. In contrast, French troops have been attacking our border posts since yesterday without any declaration of war. They have trespassed over the German border at various points, although the French government assured us a few days ago that an unoccupied zone of 10 kilometers would be observed. Since last night, French companies have occupied the German towns of Doppeltal, Wetzeral and Markirch as well as the Schluchten Pass. Since yesterday, bomber planes have been flying over Baden, Bavaria, and, violating Belgian neutrality, over Belgian territory to the Rhein Province and are attempting to destroy our railways. France has thus opened the attack against us and compounded a state of war. The security of the Empire forces us to take countermeasures. His Majesty the Kaiser has issued the necessary commands. The German ambassador in Paris has been instructed to demand his pass papers.

Metz, August 3
A French doctor yesterday attempted, with the assistance of two disguised French officers, to infect wells with cholera germs. He was court-martialled and shot.

[Once again reports are received of French troops attacking without declaration of war. According to the official report from Berlin, French bomber planes have in fact been violating the neutrality of Belgian territory one day earlier than the reported violation by Germany].