2014-12-15 12:26:00

The German experience in the First World War

(Vatican Radio) The world marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War in 2014.  The war re-drew the map of Europe and the rest of the world, and set the stage for the far larger conflict a quarter-century later.  In the English-speaking world, there are few accounts by those who fought for the Central Powers, especially from the common soldier.

“I think it is immensely important that the testimony of German soldiers be known in the English-speaking world as well,” said Günther Simmermacher, the editor of South Africa’s Catholic newspaper.  “There is a universality about life in the trenches in the First World War.”

Listen to the full interview by Charles Collins with Günther Simmermacher:

His grandfather, Adam Simmermacher, fought for Germany in the First World War.  This year, Günther has made a new translation of his grandfather’s memoirs into English, which will be officially released next year with the title “A Soldier for the Kaiser”.

Günther Simmermacher said soldiers of the First World War respected their opponents, and did not have the animosity common in World War 2.

“There was a lot of respect. My grandfather is writing with a huge amount of respect, for instance, about the Scottish soldiers – the Highlanders in their kilts!” he told Vatican Radio. “There was a great respect between the two camps, I think, which is very important to remember as well that this war was not fought between two sides that absolutely hated one another.”

After the war, Adam Simmermacher became a police officer, but was dismissed from his position in 1933, after the Nazis came to power.  He died on 13 January 1942, at the age of 47. Years later, it emerged the death happened when he was in Gestapo custody. 

Günther’s father, Emil, was also a German soldier. He fought in the Second World War in some of the worst battles of the Eastern Front. 

Günther himself avoided military service.

“I grew up as somebody who never had any interest in becoming a soldier,” he said. “I think being exposed to the experiences of my grandfather…maybe that concretized in my mind my opposition to ever serving in any army.”

Even though Günther never met his grandfather in person, reading his memoirs made him realize that something of his ancestor continued on in him.

“What I find really interesting about reading the memoirs of somebody who died 24 years before I was even born, was to find the similarities in character traits that went through my father, through myself and now even to my son,” he said. “I thought I could recognize my grandfather in myself.”

(“A Soldier for the Kaiser” will be officially published in February 2015, including an ebook version. But pre-orders can be placed by emailing lupinusbooks@gmail.com)

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