The Great War Letters of German and Austrian Jews

“Yes, I am alive but Kremer is dead. Now the battle is already over and we are able to rest. I no longer have my friend, I am an orphan.”

This quote, drawn from “The War Letters of Austrian and German Jews”, is just one example of the many poignant letters sent home by Jewish soldiers fighting for the Austro-Hungarian and German alliance in WWI. The uniquely Jewish viewpoint they express and the strong traditional elements in Judaism bring the conflict between war and belief into sharp contrast. The immense pain, the keenly-felt loss of comrades and a yearning for home and loved ones shine through the soldiers’ words. The young men’s attempts to adhere to their faith and rituals during the trench horror are touching and often tinged with humour.

The letters are a unique insight into life and battle on the front lines and the Jewish experience in particular. One Hungarian officer highlights just how mercilessly brutal this experience was on the other side of the German trenches, in the Russian Army; “ . . . only Polish and Jewish soldiers were used to storm the defences . . . they were forced back onto the attack by the machine guns of their own troops.”

There is one great leitmotiv running through the letters: hope for equality. It radiates from the words as strongly as the desire for a German victory and for peace. One soldier writes; “May this great moment find a great race, may it cause us to educate ourselves so that after the war we can begin life with new concepts, new perceptions.” Tragically, this “great moment” was a short-lived flame soon to be crushed by the Nazis, which led not towards a new world but towards the death camps of central Europe.

“The War Letters of Austrian and German Jews”, available in English for the first time, is heart-warming, moving and intensely personal


Michael A. O'Neill

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Michael A. O'Neill


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