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Soldiers Describe Combat I: Eduard Schmieder (1914-1915)

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Loos, December 17, 1914
My Christmas letters – however I may begin them – all bear the stamp of a softened, wistful frame of mind. I am thinking so much about the days of preparation for Christmas Eve, days I loved like few others. I especially remember just such a Sunday a few years ago. I went walking about the festive town, first alone and then with you, and a sudden strange longing came over me, one that was realized afterwards in beautiful dreams.

Such dreams and the thunder of guns, which is now disquieting me, do not go well together. There is an unprecedented, continuous thunder today, an unceasing crashing and growling and hissing and whistling.

But I must tell you about my last night’s dream, which I can’t stop thinking about, and which wants to fill me with superstitious fear. I was in the war, but strangely enough with the Russians. I was lying in an advance post in a castle. I came into a room, and, as I entered, a beautiful, tantalizing woman came to meet me. I wanted to kiss her, but, as I approached her, I found a skull grinning at me. For one moment I was paralyzed with horror, but then I kissed the skull, kissed it so eagerly and violently that a fragment of its lower jaw remained between my lips. At the same moment this figure of death changed to that of my Anna – and then I must have woken up.
That is the dream of how I kissed death.

Loos, February 7, 1915
The small Reclam books came. They made me very happy, and I have already read both with great joy. The result: I am full of many great yearnings. We had a couple of wonderful spring days – the sky was bright blue; the air was so clear that one could see far away into the distance; and over the trenches larks were singing, so that our hearts wanted to sing as well, as if there were no war, as if the deadly grenades could not be coming at any moment. On top of that these vivid stories from the olden days. They aroused in me an insatiable longing for a life lived to the fullest, which I can never achieve. Presently, I am so fond of life, and I would like to hold it close like my most heartfelt love!

Source: Eduard Schmieder, in Philipp Witkop, ed., Kriegsbriefe gefallener Studenten [War Letters from Fallen Students]. Munich, 1928, pp. 144-46.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey

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