War Chronicles Written in SütterlinIn the early Summer of 2014, I was asked by the Protestant Congregation of Limlingerode whether I could transcribe war chronicles from World War I. They are written in Sütterlin or rather Kurrent.
The chronicles had been written by the pastor of Limlingerode August Rönnefahrt in the years 1914 to 1918. As they were written by hand, the congregation was looking for someone who could read this old type of handwriting, which has not been taught since 1914. (Sütterlin had been taught in German schools from 1915 to 1941.) They also needed someone to systemise the chronicles and to identify the persons mentioned in them
As the congregation did not want to part with those chronicles, I spent several weeks in the charming village of Limlingerode transcribing the chronicles.
During that time, I also met descendants of the persons mentioned in the five handwritten books.
Limlingerode in World War IAugust Rönnefahrt began writing the chronicles on August 18th 1914, after the first young men from the village had already been drafted. Amongst other things, he created a list of all 106 belligerents and reports more or less detailed about their fate. He creates a vivid and authentic image by copying their field post, which was either written to him by the soldiers or given to him to copy by relatives. As Rönnefahrt himself had been sick several times in 1915 and 1916, he could not continue his work as a chronicler steadily. Some war biographies of the soldiers are therefore not as detailled as others. Apart from reports from the front, Rönnefahrt also describes village life during war. He starts with the draft of the village horses on August 3rd and 4th, at a time, when the harvest season was in full swing and the horses were desperately needed. Exactly 100 years later, I sat in a farm house and heard the harvesters reaping the wheat behind the house roaring for days.
Rönnefahrt made detailled lists of all the monetary and other donations, which were collected in Limlingerode for the soldiers, war widows and orphans, the production of arms and munition.
Content of the Limlingerode War ChroniclesAs one can imagine, the war chronicles written by August Rönnefahrt paint a vivid picture of the life at the front. Most of the soldiers took part at the front battles directly, one worked in the medical bataillon and describes the physical and psychological wounds of the soldiers, some worked in the transport bataillon, only few as personal servants for lieutenants.
None of them had believed the war to last for that long; already in October 1914 they write home, that it cannot last much longer. Especially moving are the descriptions of young volunteers, which joined the battle almost immediately after leaving their school in Nordhausen and young fathers, who ask about the well-being of their small children.
All of them politely thank for the food parcels containing cigarettes, chocolate, sausages and cakes sent to them by their relatives and other villagers. When parcels could not be delivered on time due to re-grouping of troups, the soldiers felt the pinch of hunger and missed reading from their loved ones at home. Some wives sent photographs of themselves and the children to the front; the soldiers also sent photographs of themselves and their bataillon back.
The chronicles paint an almost comprehensive picture, in which the poor ploughboy has a say as much as the war volunteer school teacher and the sons of the richer farmers.
Difficulties in the TranscriptionApart from the initial difficulty to read the handwriting, which I fortunately had learnt in art classes as a child and could refresh during my time at the university, the chronicles had bigger challenges in store: First of all, it was the custom (and still is) in the then village of 430 souls, that a father gave his first name to the eldest son, which made identification tricky. Furthermore, some family names occured on more than one of the 84 houses. It thus happened, that some combinations of first and last names occured six times with six different persons.
The other difficulty was the identification of the place names mentioned in the field post. As one can image, only very few of the village men knew any French or Russian. They probably also didn't see the town signs, but were only told the name. Thus, they wrote the place names as they heard them, phonetically. A few times, Rönnefahrt had already identified place names (f.e. Chevillecourt aus Schwinekrutt), others I had to identify myself. Some of the place names referred to tiny villages of then only about 100 inhabitants, which are hard to find on today's maps. However, I could identify and localize most of them and use them in the index of place names.
World War I claimed 17 victims from the ranks of the 106 belligerents, 17 men who are immortalized in the chronicles and the war memorial in Limlingerode.
- Article in the Thüringer Allgemeine August 30th 2014 (German)
- Some pictures of the small exhibition in the village church of Limlingerode (mdr Thüringen) (no longer on display in the church now)