27th February, 1915

My beloved little wife! “Letters she never received”! That’s what I call these pages. At last I have reached a decision. Brooding for weeks, my spirit paralysed, I feared that I won’t find the strength to save myself from spiritual death. Last night the redeeming thought came to me; Write to her! She who suffers for you at home, whose thoughts cannot get away from worrying about you, who so often has returned your lost self- confidence to you, she must help you now again. Letters are supremely suitable for this! Surely I need not stress that I am always thinking only of you, and it would be a profanation of my feelings if I wrote these lines just to prove to you that this is so. However, I can in this manner make my thoughts of you more profound and that is my aim. "….she never received” I call these letters because I do not even intend to post them to you. Only when we are happily reunited in our sunny home shall you read them. I have made up my mind to write very diligently: all my feelings, observations, thoughts and perceptions should be contained in this book.

And now to start with a brief review. On 1st November 1914 we were off to the war. Not like others before me, with drawn sabre, martial music and the rejoicing multitude of onlookers, I departed very quietly together with 9 other officers of our regiment as replacement for gentlemen killed in action. Our first destination was Cracow. There we arrived on 2nd Nov, at 11am and went straight away to Military Headquarters since we had no idea where our regiment was currently engaged in combat. However, no conclusive information was to be obtained at headquarters either since the army was in retreat from Ivangovod so we had to go and search for the regiment ourselves. On Tuesday the 3rd Nov, in the evening at 7.30 we traveled to Osviecim, from here to Granitsa where, still travelling by train, we crossed the Russian border together with a battalion of Deutschmeisters.

The mood was splendid; I, in particular, was in very good spirits, and it is almost incredible but still true that we did not even think of the fact that at the end of our journey death might be awaiting us. Like an outing to the countryside the journey passed amidst fun and jokes. And this in spite of the very war-like scene we had already seen in Cracow. Immensely long railway trains with conspicuous red stickers “War materials” rolled past us. Cracow itself was like a military camp; soldiers and more soldiers. A colorful moving picture as can be seen only at times of war in a fortress that expects to be soon under siege. Army units from Germany were there as well as you will already know from the message which I was able to send you with an artilleryman from Breslau. And I also wrote to you that I had met Mr Josefethal from Breslau.

But back to my story where I have just crossed the border. A similarly warlike scene here too. The railway under German administration. No lights at night. Local militiamen on bridges and crossings to ensure security. Stronger militia units were on railway stations, apparently as guards but, as we learned later, waiting only for the order to destroy the rails and roads. After all, our way was in retreat. We were supposed to travel as far as Kielce where our regiment was reported to be. In Olkusa we were delayed for a long time and heard that during the night a train crash had occurred, the tunnel beyond Miechau had been blocked, 2 men killed and 68 injured. An ambulance train with victims rolled by.

The owner of the local enamelware factory invited us for lunch and treated us with utmost amiability. In the afternoon we resumed our journey and arrived at 7p.m. in Miechau and that was as far as the train could go. From the railway station is was 8km to the town where we arrived at 9 o’clock. Miechau was the divisional lines of communication headquarters. A thousand vehicles and innumerable troops were billeted here. It was, therefore, not easy to find accommodation but after a long search and negotiations we found a place. On Thursday 5th Nov, we left Miechau at 11am with a supply detachment. On terribly bumpy roads, the like of which can be found only in Poland and perhaps in Eastern Galitsia, we drove as far as Dziadusczjce arriving there at 6pm. We found rather cold quarters in a kindergarten. On Friday morning we received a message that half an infantry battalion had spent the night in Bukowce, and after half-an-hour’s march we were ordered to march among “our people”. In the afternoon we were ordered to march to Dziallosczyce where our regiment was expected to arrive in the evening. Indeed, we met the regiment at 6pm in Dz., were welcomed by the colonel and met again a few dear comrades who had been said to be dead already.

During these salutations we heard for the first time the thundering noise of cannons. A hussar came riding at breakneck speed across the town square calling repeatedly for the commanding officer. His calls were misunderstood and suddenly people were saying “the Cossacks are coming”. A brief confusion, a minor alarm, and the matter was settled. We were sent to our quarters in a clubhouse and after all the day's exertions and excitement we slept very well. At 3.30 at night an alarm was raised; the order was to assemble noiselessly on the town square. At 4.30 we marched off; at 8 we had our first encounter with the enemy. Our fourth battalion was ordered to cover our retreat, we marched on. What a terrible march! On the previous day the roads had been overcrowded with vehicle trains already; today a complete jam was threatening. Thousands and thousands wagons and carts carrying all sorts of war materials, food supplies, ill and wounded troops were passing us in 3-4 columns while we marched laboriously through sand and clay over the fields. At this occasion I saw for the first time a major casualty; a very young lieutenant of the 10th Dragoon regiment, white like freshly fallen snow, head and arm bandaged, bedded on straw, was driven past us on a peasants cart. I will never forget that sight. It felt as if an ice-cold hand had touched me. At that moment I for the first time fully realized that I was going to war.

Well, we marched back along the same road on which we had been driven the previous day. A terrible march! I think we did about 50km, I cannot be more exact because I had to surrender my notes when I was taken prisoner; so I have to write all this, and also what follows, from memory. Around 9pm we were wading thorough mud on the streets of Makow (Makau?). During the long rest the conscript battalion was divided up and I came to the 14th company; a little later I could go to bed. Next morning, the 7th November, our marched continued, the scene around us the same as on the day before. Near Welbrau (?) we crossed the railway line and could see that the rail track, the station building, etc, had been radically destroyed by the Germans. A few days earlier we had been travelling on this line.

In the early afternoon we received orders to halt and dig ourselves in which meant dig trenches; we had just passed the village Zarzece. However, after a while we were ordered to stop the work and wait for new instruction. We were standing on high ground, the rough November wind whistled round our ears, it was getting colder –we waited. At last, after darkness had fallen, the march was resumed, through Zarzece onto a hill east of the village. We were shown our way from the distance by light – signals, emitted by electric torches. Later, it may have been 9.30, we were told “Halt”, lie down for the night. At the edge of a small birch tree coppice, after a frugal supper, for the first time under the open sky, I took down my sleeping bag and blanket, put my rucksack under my head and lay down to sleep. I slept quite well and peacefully since we knew that the enemy was not too close. On 8th Nov, at four in the morning we were again ordered to dig trenches; but again the work was soon stopped and we marched 4km further. We arrived on a long hill east of Bydlin where the sappers, had already dug out the outlines of the trenches, thus indicating their desired direction and length. We were told that the Army was establishing a “Line of resistance”, so that the trenches were supposed to serve as our shelter for a longer period of time and had to be constructed accordingly.

(So much for today! I have tried to describe as well as I can my activities in the field; I shall continue tomorrow. I have today also diligently learned Russian and have spent the day rather pleasantly. Now it is 10.30 so good night my darling, tomorrow I’ll continue my story.)

© The estate of Otto Feldmann: Monica Lanyado, Tzafrah Shushan and Aya Shochat