3rd March, 1915

(Here I had to interrupt writing yesterday; first the food arrived and then I was learning Russian. In the evening we had our quarters searched, they were looking for things that could help people to escape. Of course, they did not find anything, especially not in my place since when we were taken prisoners they confiscated whatever they could. The search carried on till late at night, therefore we slept today longer than usual and my program is all topsy-turvy. So let’s continue with the text.)

The pleasant time at Dluzec came to an end. During the night of Sunday 13th December, we were relieved and were supposed to spend some days at rest behind the front as army-reserve, so as to restore the spirit of the rather tired and stressed regiment. The replacement troops arrived at 3.00am and under incessant hostile fire, I led my company in small parties out of our positions which we had learned to like. Notwithstanding all caution I lost one man in the process, a good soldier whose death particularly grieved us because he was married. He keeled over with the words; “my poor children”, I had sufficient time to take him with us and organise his funeral in Lgota Wolbramska.

The whole regiment came together at an earlier notified place and we marched to Bydlin. We continued after barely two hours of rest, during which we officers visited the grave of the killed Major Groger and at 2p.m. we arrived at Bzow; here we were supposed to stay. I found excellent quarters with white covers on the bed; even a record player with German songs had been provided. With my new quarters I almost found consolation over the separation from Dulzec, but I soon told my people: “Children I don’t think we shall be staying long here, the bride looks too beautiful for me.” And I was right. On 15th Dec, after just 20 hours sojourn, the alarm was called and now, instead of a restful time, came days of exertions and hardship. The reason behind this was that during the same night when we left Dluzec the Russians withdrew from their positions and were being pursued by our army. We as army –reserve had to follow at forced march. My men told me :”Sir, now we have changed from being an army-reserve to being a poor reserve.” (Translation note: In German this is a pun: Army = Armee, poor = arme.)

In most unfavourable weather and road conditions we had to march over extremely long distances, our quarters were poor, the mail did not work properly, simply – it was no fun. I do not remember the name of the places we passed by, later on I may find them on the map. I remember very vividly the view of a military graveyard established by the Russians in a village. Perhaps I shall once tell you about it…..

In this manner we marched until 19th Dec, often even at night. On Sunday 20th we took up stand-by positions, at 9p.m. we lay down in our poor billets but at 11p.m. we were ordered to gain by force a crossing over the river Nieda, in cooperation with regiments 93, 13 and 54. At 2a.m. we crossed 4 auxillary bridges over that river and the adjacent boggy no mans land, at 3a.m. we undertook a bayonet attack on the enemy positions. We took many prisoners (800) and four machine guns and took up positions in front of the village Kliszcow. I must refrain from a detailed description of what happened on that day. It was the last day of my war service but it was also the most cruel one. During the attack Ensign Roth was killed, a good friend of mine whom you met in Troppau. He had always been in fear of a shot through the heart, and it was a bullet to the heart that killed him instantly. The sight of this did of course depress me; moreover, my health was not good either since I had suffered for some days from a painful inflammation of the knee, so I went through the attack leaning on a stick.

When crossing the Nieda, we were three times wading through water that reached up to our hips and our clothes were frozen stiff on us. My company was ordered into a second attack that bordered on foolhardiness; almost my whole company remained dead or wounded on the ground and I have only to thank a corporal and a servant for my life. My good Karnovsky twice snatched away the revolver which had already found its way to my temple.

All day through the fighting was ferocious in the locality behind us every single house was on fire, the dead were lying in heaps together, and exactly at midnight the Russians attacked from three sides and we were captured. This black day on which my nerves broke down completely, on which I would have welcomed a merciful bullet as liberation from my terrible mental pain, this day I will forget never in my life and there is no need to describe it here in detail. I did my duty till the last moment, I fought till the final minute and I have the reassuring feeling that I did everything I could for my Fatherland.

Often, while the bullets were whistling around me, I wished for a saving wound, often, and I know you will be cross with me for this, I became aware that I was directly exposing myself so as to “catch one”. I did not know fear, only duty and responsibility. I arrived at the opinion that it was impossible to escape from this witches cauldron, that this monstrous war will not release anybody whom it has taken hold of. I always thought of you and the children, also at moments of weakness, and each time when I saw a father fall I wiped off a tear since surely my turn would come soon. But God willed otherwise. Did he save me for worse suffering or for new happiness? Time will tell. So much for today, tomorrow I will tell you about my journey to the “Far East”.

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