GERMAN DESERTER'S WAR EXPERIENCE
NEW YORK: HUEBSCH, 1917
FIGHTING IN THE ARGONNES
FINALLY, after two days, we landed at Apremont-en-Argonne. For the time being we were quartered in a large farm to the northeast of Apremont. We found ourselves quite close to the Argonnes. All the soldiers whom we met and who had been there for some time told us of uninterrupted daily fighting in those woods.
Our first task was to construct underground shelters that should serve as living rooms. We commenced work at about a mile and three quarters behind the front, but had to move on after some shells had destroyed our work again. We then constructed, about a mile and a quarter behind the front, a camp consisting of thirty-five underground shelters.
A hole is dug, some five yards square and two yards deep. Short tree trunks are laid across it, and about two yards of earth piled upon them. We had no straw, so we had to sleep on the bare ground for a while. Rifle bullets coming from the direction of the front kept flying above our heads and struck the trees. We were attached to the various companies of infantry; I myself was with the tenth company of the infantry regiment No. 67.
The soil had been completely ploughed up by continued use, and the paths and roads had been covered with sticks and tree trunks so that they could be used by men and wagons. After an arduous march we reached the foremost position. It was no easy task to find one's way in that maze of trenches. The water was more than a foot deep in those trenches. At last we arrived at the most advanced position and reported to the captain of the tenth company of the 67th regiment of infantry. Of course, the conditions obtaining there were quite unknown to us, but the men of the infantry soon explained things to us as far as they could. After two or three days we were already quite familiar with our surroundings, and our many-sided duty began.
The French lay only some ten yards away from us. The second day we were engaged in a fight with hand grenades. In that fight Sapper Beschtel from Saarbrucken was killed. He was our first casualty in the Argonnes, but many were to follow him in the time that followed. In the rear trenches we had established an engineering depot. There 25 men made nothing but hand grenades. Thus we soon had made ourselves at home, and were ready for all emergencies.
At the camp we were divided in various sections. That division in various sections gave us an idea of the endless ways and means employed in our new position. There were mining, sapping, hand grenade sections, sections for mine throwing and illuminating pistols. Others again constructed wire entanglements, chevaux-de-frise, or projectiles for the primitive mine throwers. At one time one worked in one section then again in another. The forest country was very difficult. The thick, tangled underwood formed by itself an almost insuperable obstacle. All the trees were shot down up to the firing level. Cut off clean by the machine-guns they lay in all directions on the ground, forming a natural barricade.
The infantrymen had told us about the difficulties under which fighting was carried on uninterruptedly. Not a day passed without casualties. Firing went on without a pause. The men had never experienced an interval in the firing. We soon were to get an idea of that mass murder, that systematic slaughter. The largest part of our company was turned into a mine laying section, and we began to mine our most advanced trench. For a distance of some 500 yards, a yard apart, we dug in boxes of dynamite, each weighing 50 pounds. Each of those mines was provided with a fuse and all were connected so that all the mines could be exploded at the same instant. The mines were then covered with soil again and the connecting wires taken some hundred yards to the rear.
At that time the French were making attacks every few days. We were told to abandon the foremost trench should an attack be made. The mines had been laid two days when the expected attack occurred, and without offering any great resistance we retreated to the second trench. The French occupied the captured trench without knowing that several thousands of pounds of explosives lay buried under their feet. So as to cause our opponents to bring as many troops as possible into the occupied trench we pretended to make counter attacks. As a matter of fact the French trench was soon closely manned by French soldiers who tried to retain it.
But that very moment our mines were exploded. There was a mighty bang, and several hundreds of Frenchmen were literally torn to pieces and blown up into the air. It all happened in a moment. Parts of human bodies spread over a large stretch of ground, and the arms, legs, and rags of uniforms hanging in the trees, were the only signs of a well planned mass murder. In view of that catastrophe all we had experienced before seemed to us to be child's play. That "heroic deed" was celebrated by a lusty hurrah.
For some days one had gained a little advantage, only to lose it again soon. In order to make advances the most diverse methods were used, as was said before. The mining section would cut a subterranean passage up to the enemy's position. The passage would branch out to the right and left a yard or so before the position of our opponent, and run parallel with it. The work takes of course weeks to accomplish, for the whole of the loosened soil must be taken to the rear on small mining wagons. Naturally, the soil taken out must not be heaped in one place, for if that were done the enemy would get wind of our intentions and would spoil everything by countermining. As soon as work is advanced far enough the whole passage running parallel with the enemy's trench is provided with explosives and dammed up. When the mine is exploded the whole of the enemy's trench is covered by the soil that is thrown up, burying many soldiers alive. Usually such an explosion is followed by an assault. The sapping section, on the other hand, have to dig open trenches running towards the enemy's position. These are connected by transversal trenches, the purpose being to get one's own position always closer to the enemy's. As soon as one's position has approached near enough to make it possible to throw hand grenades into the enemy's position the hand grenade sections have to take up their places and bombard the enemy's trenches continually with hand grenades, day and night.
Some few hundred yards to the rear are the heavy modern mine throwers firing a projectile weighing 140 pounds. Those projectiles, which look like sugar loaves, fly cumbrously over to the enemy where they do great damage. The trade of war must not stop at night; so the darkness is made bright by means of illuminating rockets. The illuminating cartridge is fired from a pistol, and for a second all is bright as day. As all that kind of work was done by sappers the French hated the sappers especially, and French prisoners often told us that German prisoners with white buttons and black ribbons on their caps (sappers) would be treated without any mercy. Warned by the statements of those prisoners nearly all provided themselves with infantry uniforms. We knew that we had gradually become some specialty in the trenches.
If the infantry were molested somewhere by the enemy's hand grenades they used to come running up to us and begged us to go and meet the attack. Each of us received a cigar to light the hand grenades, and then we were off. Ten or twenty of us rained hand grenades on the enemy's trench for hours until one's arm got too stiff with throwing.
Thus the slaughter continued, day after day, night after night. We had 48 hours in the trenches and 12 hours' sleep. It was found impossible to divide the time differently, for we were too few. The whole of the forest had been shot and torn to tatters. The artillery was everywhere and kept the villages behind the enemy's position under fire. Once one of the many batteries which we always passed on our way from camp to the front was just firing when we came by. I interrogated one of the sighting gunners what their target might be. "Some village or other," the gunner replied. The representative of the leader of the battery, a lieutenant-colonel, was present. One of my mates inquired whether women and children might not be in the villages.
"That's neither here nor there," said the lieutenant-colonel, "the women and children are French, too, so what's the harm done? Even their litter must be annihilated so as to knock out of that nation for a hundred years any idea of war."
If that "gentleman" thought to win applause he was mistaken. We went our way, leaving him to his "enjoyment."
On that day an assault on the enemy's position had been ordered, and we had to be in our places at seven o'clock in the morning. The 67th regiment was to attack punctually at half past eight, the sappers taking the lead. The latter had been provided with hand grenades for that purpose. We were only some twenty yards away from the enemy. Those attacks, which were repeated every week, were prepared by artillery fire half an hour before the assault began. The artillery had to calculate their fire very carefully, because the distance between the trench and that of the enemy was very small. That distance varied from three to a hundred yards, it was nowhere more than that. At our place it was twenty yards. Punctually at eight o'clock the artillery began to thunder forth. The first three shots struck our own trench, but those following squarely hit the mark, i.e., the French trench. The artillery had got the exact range and then the volleys of whole batteries began to scream above our heads. Every time the enemy's trench or the roads leading to it were hit with wonderful accuracy. One could hear the wounded cry, a sign that many a one had already been crippled. An artillery officer made observations in the first trench and directed the fire by telephone.
The artillery became silent exactly at half past eight, and we passed to the assault. But the 11th company of regiment No. 67, of which I spoke before, found itself in a such a violent machine-gun fire that eighteen men had been killed a few paces from our trench. The dead and wounded had got entangled in the wild jumble of the trees and branches encumbering the ground. Whoever could run tried to reach the enemy's trench as quickly as possible. Some of the enemy defended themselves desperately in their trench, which was filled with mud and water, and violent hand to hand fighting ensued. We stood in the water up to our knees, killing the rest of our opponents. Seriously wounded men were lying flat in the mud with only their mouths and noses showing above the water. But what did we care! They were stamped deeper in the mud, for we could not see where we were stepping; and so we rolled up the whole trench. Thereupon the conquered position was fortified as well as it could be done in all haste. Again we had won a few yards of the Argonnes at the price of many lives. That trench had changed its owners innumerable times before, a matter of course in the Argonnes, and we awaited the usual counter attack.
Presently the "mules" began to get active. "Mules" are the guns of the French mountain artillery. As those guns are drawn by mules, the soldier in the Argonnes calls them "mules" for short. They are very light guns with a flat trajectory, and are fired from a distance of only 50-100 yards behind the French front. The shells of those guns whistled above our heads. Cutting their way through the branches they fly along with lightning rapidity to explode in or above some trench. In consequence of the rapid flight and the short distance the noise of the firing and the explosion almost unite in a single bang. Those "mules" are much feared by the German soldiers, because those guns are active day and night. Thus day by day we lived through the same misery.
CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES
WINTER had arrived and it was icy cold. The trenches, all of which had underground water, had been turned into mere mud holes. The cold at night was intense, and we had to do 48 hours' work with 12 hours' sleep. Every week we had to make an attack the result of which was in no proportion to the immense losses. During the entire four months that I was in the Argonnes we had a gain of terrain some 400 yards deep. The following fact will show the high price that was paid in human life for that little piece of France. All the regiments (some of these were the infantry regiments Nos. 145, 67, 173, and the Hirschberg sharpshooting battalion No. 5) had their own cemetery. When we were relieved in the Argonnes there were more dead in our cemetery than our regiment counted men. The 67th regiment had buried more than 2000 men in its cemetery, all of whom, with the exception of a few sappers, had belonged to regiment No. 67. Not a day passed without the loss of human lives, and on a "storming day" death had an extraordinarily rich harvest. Each day had its victims, sometimes more, sometimes fewer. It must appear quite natural that under such conditions the soldiers were not in the best of moods. The men were all completely stupefied. Just as they formerly went to work regularly to feed the wife and children they now went to the trenches in just the same regular way. That business of slaughtering and working had become an every day affair. When they conversed it was always the army leaders, the Crown Prince and Lieutenant-General von Mudra, the general in command of the 16th Army Corps, that were most criticized..
The troops in the Argonnes belonged to the 16th Army Corps, to the 33rd and 34th division of infantry. Neither of the two leaders, neither the Crown Prince nor von Mudra, have I ever seen in the trenches. The staff of the Crown Prince had among its members the old General-Fieldmarshal Count von Haeseler, the former commander of the 16th Army Corps, a man who in times of peace was already known as a relentless slave driver. The "triplets," as we called the trio, the Crown Prince, von Mudra, and Count von Haeseler, were more hated by most of the soldiers than the Frenchman who was out with his gun to take our miserable life.
Many miles behind the front the scion of the Hohenzollerns found no difficulty to spout his "knock them hard!" and, at the price of thousands of human lives, to make himself popular with the patriots at home who were sitting there behind the snug stove or at the beer table complaining that we did not advance fast enough. Von Mudra got the order "Pour le mérite"; they did not think of his soldiers who had not seen a bed, nor taken off their trousers or boots for months; these were provided with food and shells, and were almost being eaten up by vermin,
That we were covered with body lice was not to be wondered at, for we had scarcely enough water for drinking purposes, and could not think of having a wash. We had worn our clothes for months without changing them; the hair on our heads and our beards had grown to great length. When we had some hours in which to rest, the lice would not let us sleep.
The air in the shelters was downright pestiferous, and to that foul stench of perspiration and putrefaction was added the plague of lice. At times one was sitting up for hours and could not sleep, though one was dead tired. One could catch lice, and the more one caught the worse they got. We were urgently in want of sleep, but it was impossible to close the eyes on account of the vermin. We led a loathsome, pitiful life, and at times we said to one another that nobody at home even suspected the condition we were in. We often told one another that if later on we should relate to our families the facts as they really were they would not believe them. Many soldiers tried to put our daily experience in verse. There were many of such jingles illustrating our barbarous handicraft.
It was in the month of December and the weather was extremely cold. At times we often stood in the trenches with the mud running into our trousers' pockets. In those icy cold nights we used to sit in the trenches almost frozen to a lump of ice, and when utter exhaustion sometimes vanquished us and put us to sleep we found our boots frozen to the ground on waking up. Quite a number of soldiers suffered from frost-bitten limbs; it was mostly their toes that were frost-bitten. They had to be taken to the hospital. The soldiers on duty fired incessantly so as to keep their fingers warm.
Not all the soldiers are as a rule kept ready to give battle. If no attack is expected or intended, only sentries occupy the trench. About three yards apart a man is posted behind his protective shield of steel. Nevertheless all the men are in the trench. The sentries keep their section under a continual fire, especially when it is cold and dark. The fingers get warm when one pulls the trigger. Of course, one cannot aim in the darkness, and the shots are fired at random. The sentry sweeps his section so that no hostile patrol can approach, for he is never safe in that thicket. Thus it happens that the firing is generally more violent at night than at day; but there is never an interval. The rifles are fired continually; the bullets keep whistling above our trench and patter against the branches. The mines, too, come flying over at night, dropping at a high angle. Everybody knows the scarcely audible thud, and knows at once that it is a mine without seeing anything. He warns the others by calling out, "Mine coming!" and everybody looks in the darkness for the "glow-worm," i.e., the burning fuse of the mine. The glowing fuse betrays the direction of the mine, and there are always a few short seconds left to get round some corner. Thee same is the case with the hand grenades. They, too, betray the line of their flight at night by their burning fuse. If they do not happen to arrive in too great numbers one mostly succeeds in getting out of their way. In daylight that is not so hard because one can overlook everything. It often happens that one cannot save oneself in time from the approaching hand grenade. In that case there is only one alternative---either to remain alive or be torn to atoms. Should a hand grenade suddenly fall before one's feet one picks it up without hesitation as swiftly as possible and throws it away, if possible back into the enemy's trench. Often, however, the fuse is of such a length that the grenade does not even explode after reaching the enemy's trench again, and the Frenchman throws it back again with fabulous celerity. In order to avoid the danger of having a grenade returned the fuse is made as short as possible, and yet a grenade will come back now and again in spite of all. To return a grenade is of course dangerous work, but a man has no great choice; if he leaves the grenade where it drops he is lost, as he cannot run away; and he knows he will be crushed to atoms, and thus his only chance is to pick up the grenade and throw it away even at the risk of having the bomb explode in his hand. I know of hand grenades thrown by the French that flew hither and thither several times. One was thrown by the French and immediately returned; it came back again in an instant, and again we threw it over to them; it did not reach the enemy's trench that time, but exploded in the air.
Though in general the infantry bullets cannot do much damage while one is in the trench it happens daily that men are killed by ricochet bullets. The thousands of bullets that cut through the air every minute all pass above our heads. But some strike a tree or branch and glance off. If in that case they hit a man in the trench they cause terrible injuries, because they do not strike with their heads but lengthwise. Whenever we heard of dum-dum bullets we thought of those ricochet bullets, though we did not doubt that there were dum-dum bullets in existence. I doubt, however, if dum-dum bullets are manufactured in factories, for the following reasons: first, because a dum-dum bullet can easily damage the barrel of a rifle and make it useless; secondly, because the average soldier would refuse to carry such ammunition, for if a man is captured and such bullets are found on him, the enemy in whose power he is would punish him by the laws of war as pitilessly as such an inhuman practice deserves to be punished. Generally, of course, a soldier only executes his orders.
However, there exist dum-dum bullets, as I mentioned before. They are manufactured by the soldiers themselves. If the point is filed or cut off a German infantry bullet, so that the nickel case is cut through and the lead core is laid bare, the bullet explodes when striking or penetrating an object. Should a man be hit in the upper arm by such a projectile the latter, by its explosive force, can mangle the arm to such an extent that it only hangs by a piece of skin.
Christmas came along, and we still found ourselves at the same place without any hope of a change. We received all kinds of gifts from our relations at home and other people. We were at last able to change our underwear which we had worn for months.
Christmas in the trenches! It was bitterly cold. We had procured a pine tree, for there were no fir trees to be had. We had decorated the tree with candles and cookies, and had imitated the snow with wadding.
Christmas trees were burning everywhere in the trenches, and at midnight all the trees were lifted on to the parapet with their burning candles, and along the whole line German soldiers began to sing Christmas songs in chorus. "0, thou blissful, 0, thou joyous, mercy bringing Christmas time!" Hundreds of men were singing the song in that fearful wood. Not a shot was fired; the French had ceased firing along the whole line. That night I was with a company that was only five paces away from the enemy. The Christmas candles were burning brightly, and were renewed again and again. For the first time we heard no shots.
From everywhere, throughout the forest, one could hear powerful carols come floating over "Peace on earth---"
The French left their trenches and stood on the parapet without any fear. There they stood, quite overpowered by emotion, and all of them with cap in hand. We, too, had issued from our trenches. We exchanged gifts with the French---chocolate, cigarettes, etc. They were all laughing, and so were we; why, we did not know. Then everybody went back to his trench, and incessantly the carol resounded, ever more solemnly, ever more longingly---"O, thou blissful---"
All around silence reigned; even the murdered trees seemed to listen; the charm continued, and one scarcely dared to speak. Why could it not always be as peaceful? We thought and thought, we were as dreamers, and had forgotten everything about us. Suddenly a shot rang out; then another one was fired somewhere. The spell was broken. All rushed to their rifles. A rolling fire. Our Christmas was over.
We took up again our old existence. A young infantryman stood next to me. He tried to get out of the trench. I told him: "Stay here; the French will shoot you to pieces." "I left a box of cigars up there, and must have it back." Another one told him to wait till things quieted down somewhat. "They won't hit me; I have been here three months, and they never caught me yet." " As you wish; go ahead! "
Scarcely had he put his head above the parapet when he tumbled back. Part of his brains was sticking to my belt. His cap flew high up into the air. His skull was shattered. He was dead on the spot. His trials were over. The cigars were later on fetched by another man.
On the following Christmas day an army order was read out. We were forbidden to wear or have in our possession things of French origin; for every soldier who was found in possession of such things would be put before a court-martial as a marauder by the French if they captured him. We were forbidden to use objects captured from the French, and we were especially forbidden to make use of woolen blankets, because the French were infected with scabies. Scabies is an itching skin disease, which it takes at least a week to cure. But the order had a contrary effect. If one was the owner of such an " itch-blanket " one had a chance of getting into the hospital for some days. The illness was not of a serious nature, and one was at least safe from bullets for a few days. Every day soldiers were sent to the hospital, and we, too, were watching for a chance to grab such a French blanket. What did a man care, if he could only get out of that hell!
THE "ITCH"---A SAVIOR
ON January 5th the Germans attacked along the whole forest front, and took more than 1800 prisoners. We alone had captured 700 men of the French infantry regiment No. 120. The hand to hand fighting lasted till six o'clock at night. On that day I, together with another sapper, got into a trench section that was still being defended by eight Frenchmen. We could not back out, so we had to take up the unequal struggle. Fortunately we were well provided with hand grenades. We cut the fuses so short that they exploded at the earliest moment. I threw one in the midst of the eight Frenchmen. They had scarcely escaped the first one, when the second arrived into which they ran. We utilized their momentary confusion by throwing five more in quick succession. We had reduced our opponents to four. Then we opened a rifle fire, creeping closer and closer up to them. Their bullets kept whistling above our heads. One of the Frenchmen was shot in the mouth; three more were left. These turned to flee. In such moments one is seized with an indescribable rage and forgets all about the danger that surrounds one. We had come quite near to them, when the last one stumbled and fell forward on his face. In a trice I was on him; he fought desperately with his fists; my mate was following the other two. I kept on wrestling with my opponent. He was bleeding from his mouth; I had knocked out some of his teeth. Then he surrendered and raised his hands. I let go and then had a good look at him. He was some 35 years old, about ten years older than myself. I now felt sorry for him. He pointed to his wedding ring, talking to me all the while. I understood what he wanted---he wanted to be kept alive. He handed me his bottle, inviting me to drink wine. He cried; maybe he thought of his wife and children. I pressed his hand, and he showed me his bleeding teeth. "You are a silly fellow," I told him; "you have been lucky. The few missing teeth don't matter. For you the slaughtering is finished; come along!" I was glad I had not killed him, and took him along myself so as to protect him from being ill-treated. When I handed him over he pressed my hand thankfully and laughed; he was happy to be safe. However had the time he might have as prisoner he would be better off at any rate than in the trenches. At least he had a chance of getting home again.
In the evening we took some of the forbidden blankets, hundreds of which we had captured that day. Ten of us were lying in a shelter, all provided with blankets. Everybody wanted to get the "itch," however strange that may sound. We undressed and rolled ourselves in those blankets. Twenty-four hours later little red pimples showed themselves all over the body, and twelve men reported sick. The blankets were used in the whole company, but all of them had not the desired effect. The doctor sent nine of us to the hospital at Montmédy, and that very evening we left the camp in high glee. The railroad depot at Apremont had been badly shelled; the next station was Chatel. Both places are a little more than three miles behind the front, At Apremont the prisoners were divided into sections. Some of the prisoners had their homes at Apremont. Their families were still occupying their houses, and the prisoners asked to be allowed to pay them a visit. I chanced to observe one of those meetings at Apremont. Two men of the landsturm led one of the prisoners to the house which he pointed out to them as his own. The young wife of the prisoner was sitting in the kitchen with her three children. We followed the men into the house. The woman became as white as a sheet when she beheld her husband suddenly. They rushed to meet each other and fell into each other's arms. We went out, for we felt that we were not wanted. The wife had not been able to get the slightest signs from her husband for the last five months, for the German forces had been between her and him. He, on the other hand, had been in the trench for months knowing that his wife and children must be there, on the other side, very near, yet not to be reached. He did not know whether they were alive or dead. He heard the French shells scream above his head. Would they hit Apremont? He wondered whether it was his own house that had been set alight by a shell and was reddening the sky at night. He did not know. The uncertainty tortured him, and life became hell. Now he was at home, though only for a few hours. He had to leave again a prisoner; but now he could send a letter to his wife by the field post. He had to take leave. She had nothing she could give him---no underwear, no food, absolutely nothing. She had lost all and had to rely on the charity of the soldiers. She handed him her last money, but he returned it. We could not understand what they told each other. She took the money back; it was German money, five and ten pfennig pieces and some coppers---her whole belongings. We could no longer contain ourselves and made a collection among ourselves. We got more than ten marks together which we gave to the young woman. At first she refused to take it and looked at her husband. Then she took it and wanted to kiss our hands. We warded her off, and she ran to the nearest canteen and bought things. Returning with cigars, tobacco, matches, and sausage, she handed all over to her husband with a radiant face. She laughed, once again perhaps in a long time, and sent us grateful looks. The children clung round their father and kissed him again and again. She accompanied her husband, who carried two of the kiddies, one on each arm, while his wife carried the third child. Beaming with happiness the family marched along between the two landsturm men who had their bayonets fixed. When they had to take leave, all of them, parents and children began to weep. She knew that her husband was no longer in constant danger, and she was happy, for though she had lost much, she still had her most precious possessions. Thousands of poor men and women have met such a fate near their homes.
Regular trains left Chatel. We quitted the place at 11 o'clock at night, heartily glad to leave the Argonnes behind us. We had to change trains at Vouzières, and took the train to Diedenhofen. There we saw twelve soldiers with fixed bayonets take along three Frenchmen. They were elderly men in civilian dress. We had no idea what it signified, so we entered into a conversation with one of our fellow travelers. He was a merchant, a Frenchman living at Vouzières, and spoke German fluently. The merchant was on a business trip to Sédan, and told us that the three civilian prisoners were citizens of his town. He said: "We obtain our means of life from the German military authorities, but mostly we do not receive enough to live, and the people have nothing left of their own; all the cattle and food have been commandeered. Those three men refused to keep on working for the military authorities, because they could not live on the things they were given. They were arrested and are now being transported to Germany. Of course, we don't know what will happen to them."
The man also told us that all the young men had been taken away by the Germans; all of them had been interned in Germany.
At Sédan we had to wait for five hours; for hospital trains were constantly arriving. It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the following day when we reached Montmédy, where we went to the hospital. There all our clothes were disinfected in the "unlousing establishment," and we could take a proper bath. We were lodged in the large barracks. There one met people from all parts of the front, and all of them had only known the same misery; there was not one among them who did not curse this war. All of them were glad to be in safety, and all of them tried their best to be "sick" as long as possible. Each day we were twice treated with ointment; otherwise we were at liberty to walk about the place.
One day we paid a visit to the fortress of Montmédy high up on a hill. Several hundreds of prisoners were just being fed there. They were standing about in the yard of the fortress and were eating their soup. One of the prisoners came straight up to me. I had not noticed him particularly, and recognized him only when he stood before me. He was the man I had struggled with on January 5th, and we greeted each other cordially. He had brought along a prisoner who spoke German well and who interpreted for us all we had to say to each other. He had seen me standing about and had recognized me at once. Again and again he told me how glad he was to be a prisoner. Like myself he was a soldier because he had to be, and not from choice. At that time we had fought with each other in blind rage; for a moment we had been deadly enemies. I felt happy at having stayed my fury at that time, and again I became aware of the utter idiocy of that barbarous slaughter. We separated with a firm handshake.
A fortnight I remained at the hospital; then I had to return to the front. We had been treated well at the hospital, so we started on our return journey with mixed feelings. As soon as we arrived at Chatel, the terminus, we heard the incessant gun fire. It was no use kicking, we had to go into the forest again. When we reached our old camp, we found that different troops were occupying it. Our company had left, nobody knew for what destination. Wherever we asked, nobody could give us any information. So we had to go back to the command of our corps, the headquarters of which were at Corney at that time. We left Chatel again by a hospital train, and reached Corney after half an hour's journey. Corney harbored the General Staff of the 16th Army Corps, and we thought they surely ought to know where our company was. General von Mudra and his officers had taken up their quarters in a large villa. The house was guarded by three double sentries. We showed our pay books and hospital certificates, and an orderly led us to a spacious room. It was the telephone room. There the wires from all the divisional fronts ran together, and the apparatus were in constant use. A sergeant-major looked into the lists and upon the maps. In two minutes he had found our company. He showed us on the map where it was fighting and where its camp was. "The camp is at the northern end of Varennes," he said, "and the company belongs to the 34th division; formerly it was part of the 33rd. The position it is in is in the villages of Vauquois and Boureuilles." Then he explained to us on the map the direction we were to take, and we could trot off. We returned by rail to Chatel, and went on foot from there to Apremont. We spent the night in the half destroyed depot of Apremont. In order to get to Varennes we had to march to the south. On our way we saw French prisoners mending the roads. Most of them were black colonial troops in picturesque uniforms. On that road Austrian motor batteries were posted. Three of those 30.5-cm. howitzers were standing behind a rocky slope, but did not fire. When at noon we reached the height of Varennes we saw the whole wide plan in front of us. Varennes itself was immediately in front of us in the valley. A little farther up on the heights was Vauquois. No houses were to be seen; one could only notice a heap of rubbish through the field glasses. Shells kept exploding in that rubbish heap continually, and we felt a cold sweat run down our backs at the thought that the place up there was our destination. We had scarcely passed the ridge when some shells exploded behind us. At that place the French were shooting with artillery at individuals. As long as Vauquois had been in their power they had been able to survey the whole country, and we comprehended why that heap of rubbish was so bitterly fought for. We ran down the slope and found ourselves in Varennes. The southern portion of the village had been shelled to pieces and gutted. Only most of the chimneys which were built apart from the bottom upward, had remained standing, thin blackened forms rising out of the ruins into the air. Everywhere we saw groups of soldiers collecting the remaining more expensive metals which were sent to Germany. Among other things church-bells melted into shapeless lumps were also loaded on wagons and taken away. All the copper, brass, tin, and lead that could be got was collected.
IN THE HELL OF VAUQUOIS
WE soon found our company, and our comrades told us what hell they had gotten into. The next morning our turn came, too. We had to reach the position before day-break, for as soon as it got light the French kept all approaches under constant fire. There was no trace of trenches at Vauquois. All that could be seen were pieces of stones. Not a stone had literally remained on the other at Vauquois. That heap of ruins, once a village, had changed hands no less than fifteen times. When we arrived half of the place was in the possession of the Germans. But the French dominated the highest point, whence they could survey the whole country for many miles around. In the absence of a trench we sought cover behind stones, for it was absolutely impossible to construct trenches; the artillery was shooting everything to pieces.
Thus the soldiers squatted behind piles of stones and fired as fast as their rifles would allow. Guns of all sizes were bombarding the village incessantly. There was an army of corpses, Frenchmen and Germans, all lying about pell-mell. At first we thought that that terrible state of things was only temporary, but after a few days we recognized that a slaughter worse than madness was a continuous state of things at that place. Day and night, ever the same. With Verdun as a base of operations the French continually brought up fresh masses of troops. They had carried along a field railroad the heavy pieces of the neighboring forts of Verdun, and in the spring of 1915 an offensive of a local, but murderous kind war, begun. The artillery of both sides bombarded the place to such an extent that not a foot of ground could be found that was not torn up by shells. Thousands upon thousands of shells of all sizes were employed. The bombardment from both sides lasted three days and three nights, until at last not a soldier, neither French nor German, was left in the village. Both sides had been obliged to retreat before the infernal fire of the opponent, for not a man would have escaped alive out of that inferno. The whole slope and height were veiled in an impenetrable smoke. In the evening of the third day the enemy's bombardment died down a little, and we were ordered to go forward again into the shell torn ruins. It was not yet quite dark when the French advanced in close order.
We were in possession of almost the whole of the village, and had placed one machine-gun next to the other. We could see the projectiles of the artillery burst in great numbers among the reserves of the attackers. Our machine-guns literally mowed down the first ranks. Five times the French renewed their attack during that night, their artillery meanwhile making great gaps in our ranks. We soldiers calculated that the two sides had together some three or four thousand men killed in that one night. Next morning the French eased their attacks, and their guns treated us again to the accustomed drum fire. We stood it until 10 o'clock in the morning; then we retreated again without awaiting orders, leaving innumerable dead men behind. Again the French advanced in the face of a violent German artillery fire, and effected a lodgment at the northern edge of the village of Vauquois that used to be. A few piles of stones was all that still belonged to us. We managed to put a few stones before us as a protection. The guns of neither side could hurt us or them, for they, the enemy, were but ten paces away. But the country behind us was plowed by projectiles. In face of the machine gun fire it was found impossible to bring up ammunition.
The sappers undid the coils of rope worn round their bodies, and three men or more crept back with them. One of them was killed; the others arrived safely and attached the packets of cartridges to the rope. Thus we brought up the ammunition by means of a rope running in a circle, until we had enough or till the rope was shot through. At three o'clock in the afternoon we attacked again, but found it impossible to rise from the ground on account of the hail of bullets. Everybody was shouting, "Sappers to the front with hand grenades!" Not a sapper stirred. We are only human, after all.
A sergeant-major of the infantry came creeping up. He looked as if demented, his eyes were bloodshot. "You're a sapper?" "Yes," "Advance!" "Alone?" "We're coming along!" We had to roar at each other in order to make ourselves understood in the deafening, confounded row. Another sapper lay beside me. When the sergeant-major saw that he could do nothing with me he turned to the other fellow. That man motioned to him to desist, but the sergeant-major got ever more insistent, until the sapper showed him his dagger, and then our superior slung his book. Some twenty hand grenades were lying in front of us. Ten of them I had attached to my belt for all emergencies. I said to myself that if all of them exploded there would not be much left of me. I had a lighted cigar in my mouth. I lit one bomb after the other and threw them over to some Frenchmen who were working a machine-gun in front of me, behind a heap of stones. All around me the bullets of the machine-guns were splitting the stones. I had already thrown four grenades, but all of them had overshot the mark. I took some stones and threw them to find out how far I would have to throw in order to hit the fire spitting machine in front. My aim got more accurate each time until I hit the barrel of the gun. "If it had only been a hand grenade," I thought. An infantryman close to me was shot through the shell of one ear, half of which was cut in pieces; the blood was streaming down his neck. I had no more material for bandaging except some wadding, which I attached to his wound. In my pocket I had a roll of insulating ribbon, rubber used to insulate wires; with that I bandaged him. He pointed to the machine-gun. Thereupon I gave him my cigar, telling him to keep it well alight so as to make the fuse which I desired to light by it burn well. In quick succession I threw six hand grenades. I don't know how many of them took effect, but the rags of uniforms flying about and a demolished machine-gun said enough. When we advanced later on I observed three dead men lying round the machine-gun.
That was only one example of the usual, daily occurrences that happen day and night, again and again and everywhere, and the immense number of such actions of individual soldiers makes the enormous loss of human life comprehensible.
We were still lying there without proceeding to the attack. Again ammunition was brought up by ropes from the rear. A hand grenade duel ensued; hundreds of hand grenades were thrown by both sides. Things could not go on long like that; we felt that something was bound to happen. Without receiving an order and yet as if by command we all jumped up and advanced with the dagger in our hands right through the murderous fire, and engaged in the maddest hand to hand fighting. The daggers, sharp as razors, were plunged into head after head, chest after chest. One stood on corpses in order to make other men corpses. New enemies came running up. One had scarcely finished with one when three more appeared on the scene.
We, too, got reinforcements. One continued to murder and expected to be struck down oneself the next moment. One did not care a cent for one's life, but fought like an animal. I stumbled and fell on the stones. At that very moment I caught sight of a gigantic Frenchman before me who was on the point of bringing his sapper's spade down on me. I moved aside with lightning speed, and the blow fell upon the stone. In a moment my dagger was in his stomach more than up to the hilt. He went down with a horrible cry, rolling in his blood in maddening pain. I put the bloody dagger back in my boot and took hold of the spade. All around me I beheld new enemies. The spade I found to be a handy weapon. I hit one opponent between head and shoulder. The sharp spade half went through the body; I heard the cracking of the bones that were struck. Another enemy was close to me. I dropped the spade and took hold of my dagger again. All happened as in a flash. My opponent struck me in the face, and the blood came pouring out of my mouth and nose. We began to wrestle with each other. I had the dagger in my right hand. We had taken hold of each other round the chest. He was no stronger than myself, but he held me as firmly as I held him. We tried to fight each other with our teeth. I had the dagger in my hand, but could not strike. Who was it to be? He or I? One of us two was sure to go down. I got the dagger in such a position that its point rested on his back. Then I pressed his trembling body still more firmly to myself. He fastened his teeth in my shaggy beard, and I felt a terrible pain. I pressed him still more firmly so that his ribs almost began to crack and, summoning all my strength, I pushed the dagger into the right side of his back, just below the shoulderblade. In frightful pain he turned himself round several times, fell on his face, and lay groaning on the ground. I withdrew my dagger; he bled to death like many thousands.
We had pushed back the French for some yards when we received strong assistance. After a short fight the enemy turned and fled, and we followed him as far as the southern edge of the village. There the French made a counterattack with fresh bodies of men and threw us back again for some 50 yards. Then the attack was halted, and we found ourselves again where we had been at the beginning of that four days' slaughter. Thousands of corpses were covering the ruins of Vauquois, all sacrificed in vain.
SENT ON FURLOUGH
FOR four days and nights, without food and sleep, we had been raging like barbarians, and had spent all our strength. We were soon relieved. To our astonishment we were relieved by cavalry. They were Saxon chasseurs on horseback who were to do duty as infantrymen. It had been found impossible to make good the enormous losses of the preceding days by sending up men of the depot. So they had called upon the cavalry who, by the way, were frequently employed during that time. The soldiers who had been in a life and death struggle for four days were demoralized to such an extent that they had no longer any fighting value. We were relieved very quietly, and could then return to our camp. We did not hear before the next day that during the period described our company had suffered a total loss of 49 men. The fate of most of them was unknown; one did not know whether they were dead or prisoners or whether they lay wounded in some ambulance station.
The village of Varennes was continually bombarded by French guns of large size. Several French families were still living in a part of the village that had not been so badly damaged. Every day several of the enemy's 28-cm. shells came down in that quarter. Though many inhabitants had been wounded by the shells the people could not be induced to leave their houses.
Our quarters were situated near a very steep slope and were thus protected against artillery fire. They consisted of wooden shanties built by ourselves. We had brought up furniture from everywhere and had made ourselves at home; for Varennes was, after all, nearly two miles behind the front. But all the shanties were not occupied, for the number of our men diminished from day to day. At last the longed-for men from the depot arrived. Many new sapper formations had to be got together for all parts of the front, and it was therefore impossible to supply the existing sapper detachments with their regular reserves. Joyfully we greeted the new arrivals. They were, as was always the case, men of very different ages; a young boyish volunteer of 17 years would march next to an old man of the landsturm who had likewise volunteered. All of them, without any exception, have bitterly repented of their "free choice" and made no secret of it. "It's a shame," a comrade told me, "that those seventeen-year-old children should be led to the slaughter, and that their young life is being poisoned, as it needs must be in these surroundings; scarcely out of boyhood, they are being shot down like mad dogs."
It took but a few days for the volunteers ---all of them without an exception---to repent bitterly of their resolve, and every soldier who had been in the war for any length of time would reproach them when they gave expression to their great disappointment. "But you have come voluntarily," they were told; "we had to go, else we should have been off long ago." . Yet we knew that all those young people had been under some influence and had been given a wrong picture of the war.
Those soldiers who had been in the war from the start who had not been wounded, but had gone through all the fighting, were gradually all sent home on furlough for ten days. Though our company contained but 14 unwounded soldiers it was very hard to obtain the furlough. We had lost several times the number of men on our muster-roll, but all our officers were still in good physical condition.
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 fourteenth 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.
THE FLIGHT TO HOLLAND
My furlough soon neared its end; there were only four days left. I remembered a good old friend in a Rhenish town. My plan was made. Without my family noticing it I packed a suit, boots, and all necessities, and told them at home that I was going to visit my friend. To him I revealed my intentions, and he was ready to help me in every possible manner.
My furlough was over. I put on my uniform, and my relations were left in the belief that I was returning to the front. I went, however, to my friend and changed into civilian clothes. I destroyed my uniform and arms, throwing the lot into the river near by. Thus having destroyed all traces, I left and arrived at Cologne after some criss-cross traveling. Thence I journeyed to Duesseldorf and stayed at night at an hotel. I had already overstayed my leave several days. Thousands of thoughts went through my brain. I was fully aware that I would lose my life if everything did not come to pass according to the program. I intended to cross the frontier near Venlo (Holland). I knew, however, that the frontier was closely guarded.
The country round Venlo, the course of the frontier in those parts were unknown to me; in fact, I was a complete stranger. I made another plan. I returned to my friend and told him that it was absolutely necessary for me to get to know the frontier district and to procure a map showing the terrain. I also informed him that I had to get hold of a false identification paper. He gave me a landsturm certificate which was to identify me in case of need. In my note-book I drew the exact course of the frontier from a railway map, and then I departed again.
Dead tired, I reached Crefeld that night by the last train. I could not go on. So I went into the first hotel and hired a room. I wrote the name that was on the false paper into the register and went to sleep. At six o'clock in the morning there was a knock at my door.
"Who is there?
"Yes; the political police."
I opened the door.
"Here lives . . . ? (he mentioned the name in which I had registered).
"Have you any identification papers?"
"If you please," I said, handing him the landsturm certificate.
"Everything in order; pardon me for having disturbed you."
"You're welcome; you're welcome," I hastened to reply, and thought how polite the police was.
That well-known leaden weight fell from my chest, but I had no mind to go to sleep again. Whilst I was dressing I heard him visit all the guests of the hotel. I had not thought of the customary inspection of' strangers in frontier towns. It was a good thing I had been armed for that event.
Without taking breakfast (my appetite had vanished) I went to the depot and risked traveling to Kempten in spite of the great number of policemen that were about. I calculated by the map that the frontier was still some fifteen miles away. I had not much baggage with me, only a small bag, a raincoat and an umbrella. I marched along the country road and in five hours I reached the village of Herongen. To the left of that place was the village of Niederhofen. Everywhere I saw farmers working in the fields. They would have to inform me of how the line of the frontier ran and how it was being watched. In order to procure that information I selected only those people who, to judge by their appearance, were no "great lights of the church."
Without arousing suspicion I got to know that the names of the two places were "Herongen" and "Niederhofen," and that a troop of cuirassiers were quartered at Herongen. The man told me that the soldiers were lodged in the dancing ball of the Schwarz Inn. Presently I met a man who was cutting a hedge. He was a Hollander who went home across the frontier every night; he had a passport. "You are the man for me," I thought to myself, and said aloud, that I had met several Hollanders in that part of the country (he was the first one), and gave him a cigar. I mentioned to him that I had visited an acquaintance in the Schwarz Inn at Herongen.
"Yes," he said; "they are there."
"But my friend had to go on duty, so I am having a look round."
"They have got plenty to do near the frontier."
"Every thirty minutes and oftener a cavalry patrol, and every quarter of an hour an infantry patrol go scouting along the frontier."
"And how does the frontier run?" I queried, offering him a light for his cigar.
He showed me with his hand.
"Here in front of you, then right through the woods, then up there; those high steeples towering over the woods belong to the factories of Venlo."
I knew enough. After a few remarks I left him. All goes according to my program, I thought. But there was a new undertaking before me. I had to venture close enough to the frontier to be able to watch the patrols without being seen by them. That I succeeded in doing during the following night.
I hid in the thick underwood; open country was in front of me. I remained at that spot for three days and nights. It rained and at night it was very chilly, On the evening of the third day I resolved to execute my plan that night.
Regularly every fifteen minutes a patrol of from three to six soldiers arrived. When it had got dark I changed my place for one more to the right, some five hundred yards from the frontier. I said to myself that I would have to venture out as soon as it got a little lighter. In the darkness I could not see anything. It would have to be done in twilight. I had rolled my overcoat into a bundle to avoid making a noise against the trees. I advanced just after a patrol had passed. I went forward slowly and stepped out cautiously without making a noise. Then I walked with ever increasing rapidity. Suddenly a patrol appeared on my right. The frontier was about three hundred yards away from me. The patrol had about two hundred yards to the point of the frontier nearest to me. Victory would fall to the best and swiftest runner. The patrol consisted of five men; they fired several times. That did not bother me. I threw everything away and, summoning all my strength, I made in huge leaps for the frontier which I passed like a whirlwind. I ran past the pointed frontier stone and stopped fifty yards away from it. I was quite out of breath, and an indescribable happy feeling took hold of me. I felt like crying into the world that at last I was free.
I seated myself on the stump of a tree and lit a cigar, quite steadily and slowly; for now I had time. Scarcely fifty yards away, near the frontier stone, was the disappointed patrol. I read on the side of the frontier stone facing me, "Koningrjk der Nederlanden" (Kingdom of the Netherlands). I had to laugh with joy. "Who are you?" one of the German patrol called to me. "The Hollanders have now the right to ask that question; you've got that right no longer, old fellow," I replied. They called me all manner of names, but that did not excite me. I asked them: "Why don't you throw me over my bag which I threw away in the hurry? It contains some washing I took along with me so as to get into a decent country like a decent man."
Attracted by that conversation, a Dutch patrol, a sergeant and three men, came up. The sergeant questioned me, and I told him all. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Be glad that you are here---wij Hollanders weuschen de vrede (we Hollanders wish for peace), and you are welcome here in hospitable Holland."
I had to go with the soldiers to their guard-room and take breakfast with them. Thereupon they showed me the nearest road to Venlo, where I arrived at seven o'clock in the morning. From Venlo I traveled to Rotterdam. I soon obtained a well-paid position and became a man again, a man who could live and not merely exist. Thousands upon thousands of Belgian refugees are living in Holland and are treated as the guests of the people. There are also great numbers of German deserters in Holland, where their number is estimated to be between fifteen and twenty thousand. Those deserters enjoy the full protection of the Dutch authorities.
I would have never thought of leaving that hospitable country with its fairly liberal constitution if the political sky had not been so overclouded in the month of March, 1916.
AMERICA AND SAFETY
WHAT I have still to relate does not concern actual war experiences. But the reader might want to know how I came to America. That must be done in a few short sentences.
In Holland war was believed to be unavoidable. Again I had to choose another domicile. After much reflection and making of plans I decided to go to America.
After having left my place I executed that plan. Some days after I was informed that the steamer Zyldyk of the Holland-American line was leaving for New York in the night from the 17th to the 18th of March. According to my plan I packed my things in a sailor's bundle and began the risky game.
I had never been on a sea-going steamer before. The boat was a small trader. I had found out that the crew had to be on board by midnight. I had an idea that the men would not turn up earlier than was necessary. With my sailor's bundle I stood ready on the pier as early as ten o'clock. All I had packed together in the excitement consisted of about seven pounds of bread and a tin containing some ten quarts of water. At midnight the sailors and stokers of the boat arrived. Most of them were drunk and came tumbling along with their bundles on their backs. I mixed with the crowd and tumbled along with them. I reached the deck without being discovered. I observed next to me a deep black hole with an iron ladder leading downwards. I threw my bundle down that hole and climbed after it. All was dark. I groped my way to the coal bunker. I would have struck a match, but I dared not make a light. So I crawled onto the coal which filled the space right up to the ceiling. Pushing my bundle in front of me I made my way through the coal, filling again the opening behind me with coal. Having in that manner traversed some thirty yards I came upon a wall. There I pushed the coal aside so as to have room to lie down. I turned my back against the outer wall of the boat.
Nobody suspected in the slightest degree that I was on board. Now the journey can start, I thought to myself. At last the engines began to work; we were off. After many long hours the engines stopped. Now we are in England I guessed. Perhaps we were off Dover or somewhere else; I did not know. Everything was darkness down there. While the boat was stopping I heard the thunder of guns close to us. I had no idea what that might mean. I said to myself, "If the English find me my voyage is ended." But they did not turn up.
At last we proceeded; I did not know how long we had stopped. All went well; I scarcely felt the boat move. However, it was bitterly cold, and I noticed that the cold increased steadily. Then the weather became rougher and rougher. Days must have passed. I never knew whether it was day or night. Down in my place it was always night. I ate bread and drank water. But I had scarcely eaten when all came up again. Thus my stomach was always empty.
Through the rolling of the boat I was nearly. buried by the coal. It got worse and worse, and I had to use all my strength to keep the coal away from me. The big lumps wounded me all about the head; I felt the blood run over my face. My store of bread was nearly finished, and the water tasted stale. I lit a match and saw that the bread was quite black.
I wondered whether we were nearly there. No more bread. I felt my strength leave me more and more. The boat went up and down, and I was thrown hither and thither for hours, for days. I felt I could not stand it much longer. I wondered how long we had been on the water. I had no idea. I was awfully hungry. Days passed again. I noticed that I had become quite thin.
At last the engines stopped again. But soon we were off once more. After long, long hours the boat stopped. I listened. All was quiet. Then I heard them unloading with cranes.
New York!---After a while I crept forth. I found that half of the coal had been taken away. Not a soul was there. Then I climbed down a ladder into the stokehole; nobody was there either. I noticed a pail and filled it with warm water. With it I hastened into a dark corner and washed myself. I was terribly tired and had to hold on to something so as not to collapse. When I had washed I took my pocket mirror and gazed at my face. My own face frightened me; for I looked pale as a sheet and like a bundle of skin and bones. I wondered how long the voyage had lasted. I had to laugh in spite of my misery ---I had crossed the ocean and had never seen it!
The problem was now to get on land. What should I say if they caught me? I thought that if I were caught now I should simply say I wanted to get to Holland as a stowaway in order to reach Germany. In that case, I thought, they would quickly enough put me back on land. With firm resolve I climbed on deck which was full of workmen.
I noticed a stair-way leading to the warehouse. Gathering all my strength I loitered up to it in a careless way and---two minutes later I had landed. I found myself in the street outside the warehouse.,
Up to that time I had kept on my legs. But now my strength left me, and I dropped on the nearest steps.
It was only then that I became aware of the fact that I was not in New York, but in Philadelphia. It was 5 o'clock in the afternoon of April 5th, 1916. 1 had reckoned on twelve days and the voyage had taken eighteen.
Physically a wreck, I became acquainted with native Americans in the evening. They afforded me every assistance that one human being can give to another. One of those most noble-minded humanitarians took me to New York. I could not leave my room for a week on account of the hardships I had undergone; I recovered only slowly.
But to-day I have recovered sufficiently to take up again in the ranks of the American Socialists the fight against capitalism the extirpation of which must be the aim of every class-conscious worker. A relentless struggle to the bitter end is necessary to show the ruling war provoking capitalist caste who is the stronger, so that it no longer may be in the power of that class to provoke such a murderous war as that in which the working-class of Europe is now bleeding to death.
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