What a memory!
In October and November of 1914, we had there received our baptism of fire. Fatherland love in our heart and songs on our lips, our young regiments had gone into the battle as to a dance. The most precious blood there sacrificed itself joyfully, in the faith that it was preserving the independence and freedom of the fatherland.
In July, 1917, we set foot for the second time on the ground that was sacred to all of us. For in it the best comrades slumbered, still almost children, who had run to their death with gleaming eyes for the one true fatherland.
We old soldiers, who had then marched out with the regiment, stood in respectful emotion at this shrine of ‘loyalty and obedience to the death.’
Now in a hard defensive battle the regiment was to defend this soil which it had stormed three years earlier.
With three weeks of drumfire the Englishman prepared the great Flanders offensive. The spirits of the dead seemed to quicken; the regiment clawed its way into the filthy mud, bit into the various holes and craters, and neither gave ground nor wavered. As once before in this place, it grew steadily smaller and thinner, until the British attack finally broke loose on July 13, 1917.
In the first days of August we were relieved.
The regiment had turned into a few companies: crusted with mud they tottered back, more like ghosts than men. But aside from a few hundred meters of shell holes, the Englishman had found nothing but death.
Now, in the fall of 1918, we stood for the third time on the storm site of 1914. The little city of Comines where we then rested had now become our battlefield. Yet, though the battlefield was the same, the men had changed: for now ‘political discussions’ went on even among the troops. As everywhere, the poison of the hinterland began, here too, to be effective. And the younger recruit fell down completely — for he came from home.
In the night of October 13, the English gas attack on the southern front before Ypres burst loose; they used yellow-cross gas, whose effects were still unknown to us as far as personal experience was concerned. In this same night I myself was to become acquainted with it. On a hill south of Wervick, we came on the evening of October 13 into several hours of drumfire with gas shells which continued all night more or less violently. As early as midnight, a number of us passed out, a few of our comrades forever. Toward morning I, too, was seized with pain which grew worse with every quarter hour, and at seven in the morning I stumbled and tottered back with burning eyes; taking with me my last report of the War.
A few hours later, my eyes had turned into glowing coals; it had grown dark around me.
Thus I came to the hospital at Pasewalk in Pomerania, and there I was fated to experience — the greatest villainy of the century.
For a long time there had been something indefinite but repulsive in the air. People were telling each other that in the next few weeks it would ‘start in’ — but I was unable to imagine what was meant by this. First I thought of a strike like that of the spring. Unfavorable rumors were constantly coming from the navy, which was said to be in a state of ferment. But this too, seemed to me more the product of the imagination of individual scoundrels than an affair involving real masses. Even in the hospital, people were discussing the end of the War which they hoped would come soon, but no one counted on anything immediate. I was unable to read the papers.
In November the general tension increased.
And then one day, suddenly and unexpectedly, the calamity descended. Sailors arrived in trucks and proclaimed the revolution; a few Jewish youths were the ‘leaders’ in this struggle for the ‘freedom, beauty, and dignity’ of our national existence. None of them had been at the front. By way of a so-called ‘gonorrhea hospital,’ the three Orientals had been sent back home from their second-line base. Now they raised the red rag in the homeland.
In the last few days I had been getting along better. The piercing pain in my eye sockets was diminishing; slowly I succeeded in distinguishing the broad outlines of the things about me. I was given grounds for hoping that I should recover my eyesight at least well enough to be able to pursue some profession later. To be sure, I could no longer hope that I would ever be able to draw again. In any case, I was on the road to improvement when the monstrous thing happened.
My first hope was still that this high treason might still be a more or less local affair. I also tried to bolster up a few comrades in this view. Particularly my Bavarian friends in the hospital were more than accessible to this. The mood there was anything but ‘revolutionary.’ I could not imagine that the madness would break out in Munich, too. Loyalty to the venerable House of Wittelsbach seemed to me stronger, after all, than the will of a few Jews. Thus I could not help but believe that this was merely a Putsch on the part of the navy and would be crushed in the next few days.