History in the Rough–100 years after the Armistice

100 years ago, in 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies, bringing World War I to an end.  The war had gone on for four years resulting in around 40 million casualties (about 20 million dead and 20 million wounded).  Across the world, the news was shared, entries were made in diaries, and events to celebrate and memorialize the dead were organized.

Join Kislak catalogers at History in the Rough, a pop up exhibit on November 12, from 11:30 to 1:30 in the main floor lobby of Van Pelt Library, to rediscover the moments that led up to that historic day and its aftermath as societies healed.

McMaster’s War: Research into the Causes of World War I

While working on the papers of pioneering U.S. historian John Bach McMaster this past month, I found myself combing through a section of research material he used while writing about World War I: specifically, a series of documents produced during the lead-up to the American decision to join the side of the Triple Entente against the Central Powers. Although World War I occupies only a small part of our national imagination—certainly as compared to the gigantic position of World War II—this year, the hundred year anniversary of the Great War’s end, seems a particularly timely position from which to assess the causes and effects of the war, and the dialogue which grew up around it—and John B. McMaster, one if the first historians to embrace social history, provides an excellent perspective from which to examine them.

One of McMaster’s pioneering contributions to American history was his use of newspaper material to provide social context for political changes. This sort of source is so commonplace now that it hardly seems revolutionary, but for McMaster, writing about the U.S. entry into the Great War barely a few years after the event in question, providing material from the daily papers that his readers might have read themselves must have seemed remarkably forward-thinking. And the newspaper clippings showing how the war was communicated to readers at home are certainly remarkable, especially the detailed maps describing the various offensives:

But, for all the historical value that might rest in examining the maps that the American people themselves examined during the war, I was particularly interested in a much different sort of map that I discovered among McMaster’s research material: one far less interested in accurate reportage:

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From the pages of Life, this highly partisan and often hilarious (Weinerschnitzelplatz? Heidelbergapolis?) map of what might happen to the United States if it didn’t enter the war on the Allied side gives a sense of how highly mobilized the pro-war propaganda effort was in the lead-up to America’s final  decision.

(The use of a Germanized map of America also has disturbing resonance with the later harassment of German-Americans, who made up a large percentage of the American population, and, especially in the case of many Midwestern farming communities, gave their settlements Germanic names.)

Much of McMaster’s research file is geared towards America’s entry into the war and, more specifically, the various arguments marshaled by the Triple Entente and the Central Powers to place blame on each other for starting the conflict. Some, like this omnibus publication of national statements from the New York Times, strained to maintain some sense of objectivity, at least in presentation.

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Although the papers inside of it did not, as this bold German pamphlet makes clear. (The delightful nicknames which the rulers of Europe gave each other gives this a kind of gossip-roundup flavor: the “Willy,” “George,” and “Nicky” correspondence.)

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But some publications were more nakedly partisan in their intentions, like this oh-so-scarlet pamphlet produced by the Entente, which purports to parse the overwhelming evidence of wartime wickedness amongst the Teutonic hordes.

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That being said, the amount of public debate regarding the preparation for war contained here is remarkable, not for its virulence (which would not be out of place today) but for its nuance. Even publications one might have expected to be partisan, like the Illustrated London News, presented several subsets of war reporting in their initial “War” issue that might seem counter-productive to national mobilization efforts, like a section on the “war cloud” over international finance and a spread on the might of the German navy.

 

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Though a photo calling the German emperor a “war lord” might foreshadow the growing nationalist propaganda to come. (After all, the Kaiser had been relatively pacifistic in the lead-up to the war, and complained that he only heard about a major attack on Verdun from the newspapers; the myth of a uniquely belligerent and autocratic Germany would only grow after the armistice.) But even here, note the precise description of the federal military system within the German empire: clearly the readers of the Illustrated London News wanted a firm grounding in the particularities of wartime statecraft!

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Overall, these materials reflect how the onset of World War I reflected a mass readership eager for as much information about the war as the newly muscular mass media could provide. Some of it was crudely propagandist, but—especially in the opening years of the war—much of it expressed a level of nuance nearly unthinkable in our current age of hyper-partisan, image-first media saturation.

Perhaps McMaster’s interest in the newspaper as a historical source reflected the state of print journalism as he was coming into his own as a historian. Certainly this small repository shows the wide variety of social and historical conclusions one could draw from the print sources of the time, especially when they trained their collective powers on the first great military conflagration of the modern era.

Beyond the human cost–World War I’s financial implications

Box 2, Folder 8When it comes to archival collections, I almost always fall in love because I am forced to look at something in an entirely new way … the Paul Schrecker collection of Austrian World War I ephemera is no exception.  This collection documents a Viennese man’s experience on the home front during World War I. I have not really had the opportunity to work with primary sources from the Central Powers’ perspective.  The American perspective, sure!  And with some frequency, the British and French perspective too!  This collection was an absolute treasure trove of stuff folded up and squashed into an old scrapbook called Kriegserinnerungen 1914 (War Memories).

Box 1, Folder 6Nearly every item in this collection is illuminating, but what struck me over and over again was the cost of war … not just in lives (around 40 million), which goes without saying, but the financial cost of war and the efforts Austria made to afford such a catastrophic event.  It appears to me that Schrecker, in addition to recognizing the monumental effect the Great War would have on history, was supporting his country and the war effort by purchasing items produced for those purposes.  It appears that his brother was a civilian prisoner of war held at the Alexandra Palace in London, so the need to support the war effort was not only patriotic, but also personal.

Box 1, Folder 5As I began working with the collection, I noticed that a number of items were issued by Rotes Kreuz, Kriegshilfsbüro, Kriegsfürsorgeamt) (the Red Cross, the War Support Office, and the War Welfare Office).  According to my research online, the War Welfare Office was established in 1914 to “alleviate the plight of war victims – soldiers and surviving families,” (Wikiversity).  The organization sold postcards (between 2000 and 2500) a few of which are in this collection among a larger selection of postcards.  The War Welfare Office postcards in this collection (numbers 9, 10, 11, 143, 145, 149, 150, 234, 502, 542, 547, and two unnumbered) document battle scenes, military leaders, Franz Joseph, and patriotic images.

Box 1, Folder 9This collection also contains some absolutely amazing bookplates and a book mark issued by the Red Cross, the War Support Office, and the War Welfare Office.  We have fifteen bookplates, but none of my research comes up with more than two in any one other collection, so I cannot be certain if we have a full set.  Artists Karl Sterrer, Alfred Offner, Hans Maria Glatz, and Richard Moser created dramatic and sometimes disturbing images.

Box 1, Folder 7In addition to publications memorializing World War I that were published before the war was over (probably sold to bolster funds) and numerous subscription documents and requests for donations, the collection contains ration cards dating from 1915 until 1922.  Bread and flour, milk, sugar, and coffee were rationed throughout the war, but tobacco appears to have been rationed even after the war with one card from 1919 and another from 1922.  A fascinating (and confusing) document shows the hoops jumped through to claim a pair of shoes!

Despite his loyalty to his country during the Great War and its aftermath, with the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, Schrecker, a Jewish professor and a philosopher, was dismissed from his position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin and fled to Paris where he taught at the University of Paris from 1933 to 1940. He moved to the United States after the German occupation of France in 1940.  He taught in New York and at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore before coming to Penn in 1950 where he remained until his retirement in 1960.

 

 

Survivors of War: Albert D. Hequembourg and his diary

Hequembourg’s ID card

Today on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, I would like to tell the story of Albert D. Hequembourg and his two-volume diary, both of whom happily survived his service overseas in Belgium and France in 1918.  Hequembourg, a 1908 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, was a dental surgeon who volunteered for service shortly after the United States declared war.  He served most of his first year on American soil, providing dental care for soldiers who were training for duty in Europe.

July 7, 1918 entry

On June 5, 1918, Hequembourg left New York City and traveled to France aboard the S.S.  Mauretania; landed in Liverpool, England; traveled south by train to Southhampton; and took Channel transport to Havre, France, arriving there on June 14, 1918. During his time overseas, he was “in action from close to Ypres, Belgium to Amiens, France,” (inside front cover, Volume 2).  In an entry written on July 7, 1918, somewhere in France or Belgium, Hequembourg describes examining the teeth of 348 American soldiers.  He does not appear to have treated injured soldiers–instead, he was performing typical dental work:  “getting patients ready to go to front, filling root canals and putting treatments in to hold over till they get back.”

Front line dental office

Hequembourg appears to have been a keen observer who was aware of the historic impact the War would have on the world.  As such, he seems to have taken advantage of opportunities to see the front and he describes in great detail being caught in a German air-raid, living in a dug-out and working in a dental office in “a corrugated iron shed camouflaged with branches,” and seeing a field hospital. It seems that Hequembourg and his fellow soldier Lt. Rhea traveled with transport and were often in the midst of shelling.

Inside front cover of Volume 2

In the midst of one such shelling, his belongings were struck by German artillery fire (resulting in the mud on the front cover) and he thought he had lost the diary … but it turned up, albeit missing the key to the locations he describes in the diary!  As a result, we have an amazing resource for people studying first-hand non-combat experience to life on or near the front lines of World War I.   Before processing this collection, I never once thought of dentists serving during World War I and I never once thought of the American Expeditionary Forces having their teeth cleaned or having potentially painful problems with their teeth being treated.  One of the many things I absolutely love about my job is the constant exposure to new perspectives on “old history.”

I feel as if, at some point, I should stop being surprised by how much has survived and is available for use today in the amazing libraries and archives across the world.  If you are interested in some of our other amazing World War I collections, may I personally recommend a few of my favorites:

David Rosenblum World War I letters,1918-1919, Ms. Coll. 1262
R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material, 1914-1988, Ms. Coll. 956
Dorothy E. Withrow collection of World War memorabilia, 1892-1951, Ms. Coll. 930

“Getting Fat and Lazy” in World War I France

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Stationed overseas in small towns surrounding Dijon, France, David Rosenblum was far from the front line during World War I. Rosenblum described his time in the United States military from 1918 to 1919 as being “just like a vacation and a little hard work.” In his letters home, he talks about girls and ‘grub,’ about missing home, his odd jobs, and stories of his military experience.

The David Rosenblum World War I letters offer an alternative perspective of overseas service during WWI, far from the frequently recounted horrors of the front line. Rosenblum was stationed outside of Dijon, France which was inland of the southernmost portion of the front line between France and the German Reich by 1918, when he began his service. Working for the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop around 200 kilometers behind enemy lines, Rosenblum assembled Fords and lead pipes.

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He went on to work as a stenographer, joking, “Our hero, undaunted braves the storm and fights on for liberty. Yes, verily he fights on pounding this cute little typewriter…It seemeth strange that the government can’t find more use for our hero other than the delicate task of typing.” Rosenblum frequently poked fun at his role in the war, with a full understanding that his conditions were quite pleasant (and un-heroic) compared to his fellow soldiers fighting on the front lines. Finally, in these letters, he discusses his time as an official military entertainer, playing piano for soldiers, nurses, and officers in various Red Cross locations in France, and of course, “getting fat and lazy.”

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Rosenblum’s humor is evident throughout the letters. He takes every opportunity to gently poke fun at the French and their pace of life. On October 11, 1918, he informed his family of the attitudes towards the French among the soldiers, “Oh: yes, we call the French frogs and France is called Frog country and the boys are not one bit keen about the frogs. Golly, but they are slow. How they ever stopped Germany is a mystery. We do more in a minute than the frogs in a month…they are slow and way behind the times; the engines and railroads and conveniences are medieval.” He continues the use of the term frog until his departure from France. Despite his joking, Rosenblum had clear affinity for certain aspects of French culture. He frequently notes the charm of the towns and expresses a liking for the children who were enamored with the American soldiers.

r1But, above all else, in his letters Rosenblum expresses a love for the ‘grub’ and girls of France. Of the 26 letters in this collection, every single one mentions food. Be it the underwhelming food of the station, or his wonderful culinary experiences in town, Rosenblum was focused on the grub. He frequently talked about the bread, cheese, wine and jam that he would purchase or be gifted in the towns, and about the restaurants he would visit with his military buddies. He also mentions the French women several times, most fondly, the one who made him an omelet and the several that offered him bread, cheese, wine, jam and sweets. He also recounts the French love of American cigarettes, and how this love helped him initiate conversation with French women, “I saw a beautiful looking young lady looking out the window. She smiled friendly, everyone does – perhaps it’s the U.S. uniform or the thought of a cigarette – I guess the latter.”

Rosenblum’s experience was far from the heroic and glorified stories of boys being sent overseas and returning as weathered men. Rosenblum retains a sense of innocence. During the war, he is well fed, works in a protected and comfortable environment, and has plenty of opportunity for enjoyment. That being said, this collection offers vibrant description of small-town France and its people in the early 20th century, first-hand reports of the morale of soldiers at the end of World War I, and a look into the charming and humorous attitude of a young man, like many others, who was thrust into a less-frequently recounted military experience.

Humor during World War 1: French Propaganda in the archive of Richard Norris Williams

The Special Collections Processing Center is pleased to welcome Aleth Tisseau des Escotais.  Aleth, a student at École Nationale Superiéure des Sciences de l’Information et des Bibliothèques in France, is working with us from February to April, as part of her training in libraries.  She will be working on a number of collections during her time with us, and will be reporting on her collections and her experiences working with archival collections in the United States.  Her first post follows:

World War 1 is well-known for its over 16 million deaths, 20 million wounded, and 7 million imprisoned, along with the dramatic living conditions of the soldiers in the trenches. It should have been a short-lived war, but eventually it turned out to be a long-lasting and stalemated conflict. More than ever, it was important to keep one’s chin up. This is the goal of the propaganda found within the R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material.  R. Norris Williams, a soldier in World War I and General Harbord’s aide de camp, collected an excellent group of humorous French propaganda documents, a few of which will be highlighted below.

2014-02-25 13-56-17On the one hand, they laugh at their enemies. The French propaganda describes the German soldiers as ogres or monsters. Their chief, Kaiser Wilhelm II, is its main target, nothing is spared from him. Many jokes lack subtlety, as you can see on the following picture. On this toilet paper, a “Boche” sticks his tongue out in order to catch his food. The inscription says: “Donnez-moi mon dessert du 11 août S.V.P.”, that is “Please give me my August 11 dessert”.

2014-02-25 13-57-52On the other hand, they can also use self-mockery. Making fun of themselves and their tragic situation allow them to put things into perspective and accept them more easily. In the newspaper L’Exilé written in the prisoner-of-war camp of Hammelburg, in January 1917, we can read this comic article where one of the prisoners gives a funny portrayal of himself and his fellow inmates. The author, Crapouillot, describes in a scientific way the “Françousse”, an unknown red, blue and khaki only-male animal who appeared in the Hammelburg area, in Bavaria, Germany, about two years ago, who lives inside a wire enclosure and feeds himself mainly with potatoes. On the left is an excerpt from this article.

croppedHumor is not a French prerogative. I will end this post by showing you an extract from an American “confidential and secret” leaflet, “for distribution by aeroplane”, entitled “Summary of Unintelligence”:

The R. Norris Williams collection of World War I material is now available for research.

You can see more World War I propaganda in the World War I Printed Media and Art Collection (to which R. Norris Williams material has been added).