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Soldiers Describe Combat V: Peter Hammerer (1916)

The psychological stresses of war affected the fighting ability of as many as 600,000 German soldiers. Here, Peter Hammerer is evaluated by a military court for his apparent psychotic or unlawful behavior. The reader can also get a glimpse of the world of soldier suffering psychological turmoil through his letter as well as the military’s handling of the matter. Often outside evaluations were used to mediate the delicts that were brought before a military court.

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Archival Sources: Hammerer Files

Document 3: Letter from Peter Hammerer (November 3, 1916) to his wife Rosina Hammerer in Haslach near Kempten (Allgäu), Wertach post office*

Written on November 3, 1916.
My dearest wife Rosina,
I’m letting you know I received your letter of October 23, 1916. Dear wife those things that you sent through Michael Mayer sure tasted good. The big package. Dear wife don’t send things so large any more as that is much too expensive. Dear wife Rosina, I sent you a card on October 23 and those in the post office in Haslach have sent it back to me and written on it unknown. You are not in Haslach. Is that not a mean lot and they know you so well – you can see what sort of help you have there my dear wife. What sort of misery you are going to have when you go into childbed this month and I am not going to be there. No help but the children. And the devil’s swindle doesn’t stop. Although I think about it all the time, I am running out of answers what to do as to you. Dear wife Rosina, here the sons-of-bitches write you’re getting so much help and get so much, the swindle nation. Dear wife, just like those crucifix bandits wrote that I wasn’t doing anything – just getting drunk all the time.

I’m supposed to give my life for this pack. No, they shall give their own lives. I get nothing from them – only harm. Dear wife, let things go their own way – I’ve had enough. I stayed with you several extra days and now I have received two months jail. It’s just as well. Dear wife Rosina I know my own thoughts. I told it to them in the trial. I want to be let out. I don’t want to have anything more to do with this misery. This must be the payment for the years when we were protecting the Big Capitalists, protecting their stuff. Let them protect it themselves and not send people out who have to go out and make a living. I have nothing from them and I want nothing more than to just come home to you. It’s been over two years of trouble and misery now for you and the children and me. I have nothing to defend. Now I just want to make my own money, be on my own. I get nothing from them but hunger and misery. They don’t give us nothing more to eat than goulash, and there’s only potatoes in it – the rest of the goulash gets eaten by those who are behind the front. They hold their heads in a way that isn’t pretty and get the big money on top of it. Dear wife, you can’t imagine how bad it is here for us and every day it just keeps getting worse. It’s the same inside and outside. You saw it in Kempten already. The Big Shots – they have more meat to gouge themselves on than a shepherd could jump over. And inside it’s the same. Dear wife, let me just tell you, those who have been taken prisoner are much better off than we are here. It’s said that he in the “field” deserves double rations, and we get nothing to eat but potatoes and cabbage. It’s because of them. They got big money and better food so that they can turn the troops into fools. But that’s over. Everybody knows it’s a lie, a swindle. Many warm greetings from your dear husband. I hope to see you soon.

* Translator’s note: the original German text contains numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. The following translation aims to convey the style without including these errors.

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