28th February, 1915

(After a good nights sleep, or at least as good as I am able to get these days, after having had breakfast and my obligatory walk, I have sat down to continue my story.)

It is Sunday today! How many Sundays have passed since I left our lovely flat. What a long life of suffering for both of us! And how long will the Sundays still repeat themselves till we are reunited!? “Memories are a paradise from which we cannot be expelled.” And in this paradise I now indulge a lot and frequently. Where are those pleasant Sundays which we spent together? How we always looked forward to them! Now I always have to think what day of the week we have for us since everyday is so similar to the others. That’s because we are just prisoners on the other side of the field of honour.

This reminds me of a scene which I observed about a fortnight ago in Novo-Nikolayevik. A gentleman entertained himself and his two little girls by pulling them along on a sledge. How the children shouted with joy, how that rung my heart and took me by the throat! What a joy it was for my kids when Selka and I took them out last year! I think I had tears in my eyes. But one's mind has become so numb, one lives just from and for the food and the hope. We, the dead who have survived by chance. Only two feelings remain strong in me; hope and yearning. And God will help. Surely there must be sunshine for us again. I can also well imagine your frame of mind, especially on Sunday. But my little mouse, be strong, we shall demand from fate compensation for the lost part of our happiness when all is behind us. If only God gives us health and patience.

But now I will return to the trenches near Bydlin. So we were digging our trenches. My first quarters in the field were very modest. A rectangular hole on the ground about 11/2 metres deep, 3 steps wide and 3 steps long. On the side facing the enemy a so-called “rampart”, that is a pile of earth about 60cm high and 70cm wide. Right and left peep holes, at the rear the entrance closed by a pigsty-door, the floor covered by a thick layer of straw; this was my first hideout. Planks fitted on the side-walls served as a ‘table”. I forgot to mention that the hideout had a “ceiling” too. As a protection against rain and snow but mainly against shrapnel falling from above, hideouts intended for long term stay are made shrapnel – proof. This is done by laying poles and planks over the trench, covering them with turf-tiles and stamped down earth. So that’s what my “flat” looked like. The troops built their hideouts as well and I was amazed by the skill of these people. The caves in the ground were built and equipped with admirable aptitude and refinement. Every man had his own “style”.

On 9th November, whilst we were digging, suddenly ho!ho! shrapnel flew over our heads. A short quiver of the heart and, following instinctively the hammered into my head rules; I fell flat to the ground. My men, war-experienced soldiers, continued working undisturbed and the suppressed smiles on their faces told me that they had been observing me. These had in fact been our own shells with which the artillery were “ranging” their fire to test the suitability of their position. The men were pleased that, like every novice, I had dutifully paid my compliments to the first greeting of a cannon.

On the following two days we worked hard on ‘reinforcement”, i.e., strengthening of our position. Trees in the nearby forest were being felled and piled up and fastened in front of our trenches in order to hold up the enemy in case of an attack. “Wolves pits” were built, i.e., deep holes in the ground covered by branches and grass, pointed tree-trunks were driven into the ground, mines were laid, in brief – various tricks and stratagems were applied to increase our safety. During the day one had to stay as far as possible in one's “quarters” because, although in these days we had neither seen nor heard the enemy, we had to be careful not to give away our position prematurely. However, in the evening as soon as it became dark, things livened up. The field kitchen arrived and brought food. Not only the regular meals but also mail, parcels, comforts, cigars and cigarettes in abundance. The distribution always lasted about 2 hours. Then I went with my company commander captain Metzner on visits in the neighborhood. The mood was on the whole splendid. My well being was impaired solely by a nasty stomach upset. I ate and smoked too much. On 11th Nov, at 8pm this leisurely life was interrupted by our company being ordered to march immediately to Kolbark where our regiments command was stationed. Here we were told to march to Golasczowie where a reconnaissance detachment was to be established under our battalions – commander major Jiruschek.

We marched in complete darkness over fields and on stony paths. The line of outposts was far behind us already, not a gleam of light was to be seen, the sky starless. This went on for hours. At last at 2 in the morning we arrived at our destination. Along the wall of the graveyard we set up our rifles in stacks and, dead-tired after the exhausting march, everybody lay down and slept. The night was cold, the temperature near freezing, every man slept, but I could not sleep that night. In my thoughts I reviewed once again my life. At dawn I was supposed to go towards the enemy, even to search for him. My thoughts were with you and the children. Once more I lived through all the joys and all the sorrows, I remembered our plans for the future, I simply indulged in thoughts, feelings and almost sensual pain.

At 5 in the morning with the first dawn we started off. The detachment consisted of 5 infantry companies, 4 mountain canons and a squadron of dragoons. We advanced in extended order, step by step. Like in dark rooms, groping our way, watching in all directions, we were going forward. Cavalry patrols were riding back and forth. On a hill near Wolbrau (Wolbrom?) we stopped. All binoculars came out of their cases and everybody looked towards a coppice east of Wolbrau (Wolbrum?). “Cossacks!” We saw them at a distance of about 3000 steps. Carefully, one after the other, they came out of the wood on their horses and disappeared. After perhaps 20 minutes we saw them again in a group of 30 – 40 men galloping away; they had seen us too and were carrying the message to their command. We proceeded even more carefully than before but continued to go forward. Our next stop was on a hill west of Makau (Makow?) and here we saw the foe. Like an unending brown snare the enemy’s regiments advanced on foot or on horse along the road. For almost 2 hours we were lying on the ground and watching them. A detachment to the left of me had got engaged, lively artillery and handgun fire indicated that our neighbors were fighting fiercely with the superior enemy.

As we heard afterwards, our troops managed to disturb the enemy and then retreat successfully. We were able to send important messages about the enemy’s strength and direction of advance to our main forces. No hostile encounter with the Russians occurred since we preferred to withdraw. At 9pm we were back in Golaszcovic having slowly returned on the same way as we went out. The troops were billeted at the school, the officers with the parson. Next day, the 13th Nov, the detachment advanced again in the direction of Wolbrau. I was given orders to stay behind with my men and to receive a food supply train and to guard it. The troops had been without provisions for 48 hours so I stayed in the village, put guards on the approaches to the village, set up an observation post on the church tower and stayed with my remaining men in a guard position. The supply train duly arrived and was received by me; with considerable difficulties I requisitioned 5 wagons with horses to ensure transport for the wounded soldiers and provisions should this become necessary. Fortunately they were not needed since our units were again in no engagement and major Jiruschek returned in the evening with his unit in good order.

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