History • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

852 RARE: David Sewall: Lawyer, Federal Judge, Weather Aficionado

It’s spring break at Harvard, although March can bring decidedly un-springlike weather to New England. After an unusually mild winter (except for one weekend of record-breaking cold), the first weekend of spring break started off as mild and sunny as a fine day in late April, and is now, well, very March-like. Weather is a perennial topic of conversation in New England (and everywhere else?). It affects us all and is a topic of conversation anyone can participate in and on which everyone seems to have an opinion.

Of all seasons, winter is perhaps especially ripe for discussions, whether one is marveling at, cursing, or boasting about record snowstorms, record cold, unseasonable warmth, and everything in between. Not surprisingly there’s nothing new about the weather as a rich source of conversation. As we approach the vernal equinox on March 20th this year, here’s a glimpse into the meteorological musings of David Sewall (1735-1825). Sewall was a 1755 Harvard graduate (and classmate of John Adams), a lawyer, and a judge, appointed by George Washington to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in 1789, a position he held until his resignation in 1818.

Historical & Special Collections has a letter from Sewall, written from his home in York, Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to an unidentified correspondent, on January 17, 1795.

HOLLIS 2204095_p1

Sewall begins with the acknowledgement of a small book, then talks of politics. But soon the topic of the weather slips in, when in the third or fourth line, he comments: “The month of December as to mildness and agreeableness of weather has surpassed any that the most ancient among us, can recollect. We have now scarcely enough for slaying [sleighing] ….” Shortly thereafter Sewall turns back to politics and government, pondering Alexander Hamilton’s intention to resign as Secretary of State at the end of the month. He mentions meeting and conversing with the Rev. David Osgood (1747-1822) in a public house in Woburn (Mass.) and discusses court and legislative issues. But the next day, a Sunday, when he picks up his pen to continue the correspondence, his opening line sets the tone for most of the rest of the letter.

HOLLIS 2204095_p2-3

“Last Evening we had a pretty fall of light snow … The cold increases and N.N.W. wind blows about the Snow considerably this Evening.” He asks “how comes it that we ever have snow?” and launches into a long, detailed, and thoughtful musing on trade winds, precipitation, temperatures, and weather patterns along the eastern coast of the United States. He marvels at having “known the thermometer to be at 6° below 0 and in less than 9 hours to be above the freezing point” and notes that “I have known the snow to dissolve faster toward the close of Winter with a Southerly Wind of 24 hours (or a little longer) continuance than with a moderate Rain, of the same duration.” Had he lived in our era, the good judge from Maine may have settled down at the end of a long day to watch the Weather Channel.

Scanning Nuremberg: the role of staff officers

Post by Matt Seccombe, March 2, 2016

Scanning Nuremberg shares the observations and insights of Matt Seccombe, Nuremberg Trials Project Metadata Manager/Document Analyst, as he analyzes documents for digitization as part of the HLS Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project website

During February, I completed the documents for one defendant in the Hostages Case, Foertsch, and most of the documents for another, von Geitner. These amounted to 193 documents and 895 pages of material. Both defendants were staff officers rather than commanding officers, which was a major point for them and a key distinction for the tribunal, but staff officers still had an overview of events and also a major responsibility that was relevant in the trial: preparing reports to be sent to the military high command.

How to wage a dirty war: The defendants uniformly claimed that they wished to establish an orderly occupation of Yugoslavia by honorable and legal means, but the papers have more candid moments. The general perception was that the religious and ethnic history of the region made it, as one affidavit noted, “this witches’ kettel and chaos.” Hence the Hitler/Keitel order for massive reprisal killings in cases of resistance. General Loehr, when briefed about food supplies, commented, “a starving population loses its appetite for rebellion.”

Who’s who: The single hardest part of Nuremberg document analysis is identifying authors with incomplete, ambiguous, and contradictory information, of which there is an abundance. We have the case of Christoph von Auer, clearly identified in an affidavit, and “W. Auer (?),” a queried name in a wartime document. They held the same position, at the same place, at the same time, and I am 90% sure they were the same person. Ninety percent is not 100%, however, so in the relevant documents I kept the two names distinct as separate authors, and added a Note indicating the likely connection between the two. In contrast is the good German name Wolfgang Cartellieri—spelled three different ways. There was enough information to establish that there was only one person (and multiple typos), so only one name is listed. Speaking of names, one key source of evidence had a name so long that it broke the database, exceeding the space allotted for names: Friedrich-Ferdinand, Prinz du Schleswig-Holstein-Gluecksberg.

Creative writing: Chief staff officers were required to prepare the frequent reports that their commanding generals sent to army and military headquarters. Headquarters expected to receive reports on reprisal actions following guerrilla attacks and sabotage, according to the Hitler/Keitel order, and of course the Nuremberg prosecutors submitted these reports as evidence. Some of the defendants argue (fairly persuasively) that some of those reports were crafted to satisfy headquarters that reprisal killings had been conducted when in fact they hadn’t, or had been much less than the 100 to 1 ratio ordered for attacks on Germans. In one document these were mentioned as “Fictitious shootings.” The officers in the field did not object to reprisals morally, since the tactic was standard doctrine for an occupying army in hostile territory, but they often noted that killing civilians outraged the local population rather than pacified it, and sometimes there were not enough civilian hostages on hand to meet the quota. One tactic was to count partisans killed in battle as reprisal killings in order to meet the target without killing civilians; another was to report a German killed in a guerrilla attack (which would call for 100 reprisal killings) as a battle casualty instead; a third was simply not to report many sabotage episodes, forestalling the issue. We might call these “fictitious reports.”

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

March 10: The Magna Carta Lectures … and lunch!

Help us celebrate the closing of the Harvard Law School Library’s exhibit, One Text, Sixteen Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library, by joining us for a program on Magna Carta through the ages. A light lunch will be served, but due to space limitations attendance is limited to 45.

Thursday, March 10, 2016, Noon – 1:30 pm, Caspersen Room, HLS Library, Langdell Hall, 4th floor

Program:

Magna Carta in the Fourteenth Century: From Law to Myth? Charles Donahue, Paul A. Freund Professor of Law, HLS

The Interpretation of Magna Carta in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Stephen White, Visiting Professor of History, Harvard University

Moderator: Elizabeth Papp Kamali, Assistant Professor of Law, HLS

poster magna carta lectures-blog

Sponsored by the HLS Library and the Harvard Committee on Medieval Studies.

The Harvard Law School commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials (1945-1949)

 

Robert Jackson, Opening Statement, November 21, 1945 U. S. Army Signal Corps, photographer Nuremberg Trial photograph collection VIA Record ID: olvwork373967

Robert Jackson, Opening Statement, November 21, 1945
U. S. Army Signal Corps, photographer
Nuremberg Trial photograph collection
VIA Record ID: olvwork373967

The first Nuremberg trial began on November 20, 1945.  The final trial ended in April 1949.  In the intervening time approximately 200 high ranking Nazi leaders were prosecuted for crimes committed during the World War II. The military tribunals created to conduct the trials sought to carry out criminal charges unprecedented in scope and complexity.  As  U.S. chief of counsel Robert H. Jackson said in his opening statement, “The wrongs we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated”.   The Nuremberg trials provided the basis for the modern law of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and a model for recent international prosecutions for such crimes.

The Library has created a webpage, The Nuremberg Trials at 70, dedicated to the trials themselves and the Library’s extensive collection on trial related material. This site highlights both circulating and non-circulating material as well as additional resources located across the United States.  There is also a section that reviews Harvard’s connections to the trials (many Law School graduates served on the prosecution team) plus a timeline for the trials. A physical exhibit has also been installed in the case located just outside the Library’s Areeda Hall entrance. It features books and DVDs from the circulating collection, plus examples of manuscript material from various collections. The exhibit will be on display until the end of February.

Caselaw Access Project: What We’re Finding in the Case Reports

The HLS Library’s Caselaw Access Project aims to provide free online access to our Library’s entire collection of U.S. court decisions. Every day we’re transforming over 100,000 pages into digital images. Eventually those images will become machine-readable text that lawyers, citizens, researchers and developers of all stripes will be able to access and use.

But along the way we’re making some amazing discoveries in the centuries-old print material we’re digitizing. The latest?

Take a look at what Digital Projects Archivist Kerri Fleming found in this Reporter’s Note from Volume 32 of the Georgia Reports, which includes cases decided in 1861:

 

FTL GA Case Reporter 1861

Reporter’s Note from volume 32 of the Georgia Reports (1861). (click image to enlarge)

The anonymous Reporter of Decisions explained in striking detail why the volume’s publication was delayed until 1869: “Early in 1862, the Reporter entered the military service of the Confederate States, and continued therein until he was disabled. … During the war, the house of the Reporter was burned, and his books and papers, including many of the cases in original manuscript, were destroyed. The printed part of the volume was destroyed with the Printing House in the city of Atlanta. … The close of the war, found the Reporter, like thousands of his fellow-countrymen, poor and destitute …  Sixty-five cases in this volume were destroyed, and had to be gotten up anew … ”

This extraordinary note highlights not only the historical and geographical context in which these decisions were published but also the dedication and professionalism of Reporters of Decisions, who continue their important public service today.

The Harvard Law School Library’s collection of manuscript and printed case reports spans the centuries from 1268 to the present, and includes jurisdictions around the world. As our work on the Caselaw Access Project progresses and we continue to rediscover the print materials making this digital project possible, we hope to share more finds like this!

Post contributed by Kerri Fleming and Adam Ziegler. Post edited 8/30/2016 to update the name of the project.

Scanning Nuremberg: transcript mapping, a brother’s tale, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, February 10, 2016

Scanning Nuremberg shares the observations and insights of Matt Seccombe, Nuremberg Trials Project Metadata Manager/Document Analyst, as he analyzes documents for digitization as part of the HLS Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project website

The plan for December was to complete the Hostage Case prosecution documents, but I finished those in November, so we had a project’s dream come true: free time. I split the time, spending 10 days working through the defense portion of the trial transcript and the final proceedings, and then started the defendants’ papers. By the end of January I had finished the documents of two defendants (Dehner and Felmy) and half of the next (Foertsch). This amounted to 264 documents and 1077 pages of material.

Transcript mapping: Knowing where defense cases, and particularly their documents, appear in the transcript, compared to not having this information in advance, is like having a complete map instead of a blank sheet to fill in each day. The defendants’ cases and final proceedings fill about 7000 pages, so flipping through them is little fun, but it’s a great advantage to know where a defendant’s documents books and pleas were entered. In previous trials there was no open period for this work, so it had to be done in the course of analyzing the documents, with a success of rate of about 95 percent; the remaining 5 percent untraced documents are like peas under a mattress. Besides connecting documents to their place in the proceedings, the transcript provides key information: whether a document became an exhibit or not, whether a name or date or evidence number was mistyped and needs to be corrected, and in one case, what “Ro.” in a letter refers to (General Rommel).

The defense argument in brief: The transcript also makes the general argument apparent. For the generals three points were key. 1. The general Nuremberg issue of “following orders” was literal, as the basic actions were directly ordered by Hitler. 2. Guerrilla warfare was conducted outside the customs and laws of warfare, so Germans were not legally bound to follow rules that the partisans ignored. 3. In occupied territories, the occupier has a right to punish sabotage by “reprisal measures” against the population. (This was a surprise to me.) Reportedly, Allied commanders, including Eisenhower, authorized the execution of civilian hostages when they occupied Germany.

Records and actions: The German military documented many reprisal measures in Yugoslavia and Greece, including the execution of thousands of civilians, just as Hitler ordered. However, General Dehner reported that commanders often ignored the orders and filed “doctored reports” documenting executions that never occurred, in order to satisfy headquarters. For documentary historians, this is a reminder that not everything that happened was documented, and not everything that was documented happened.

Entertainment in the field: According to Gerhard Merren, mess-nights at his army offices “often culminated in impersonations of Hitler, Goebbels and others which would have induced a National socialist to take the severest measures.” Fortunately, Berlin was far away.

A brother’s tale: On July 21, 1944, the day after Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler, Lt. Alexander von Stauffenberg was in an awkward situation in Greece. He knew nothing about his brother’s plans but was obviously under suspicion and offered to leave headquarters. General Felmy, he said, responded that he had “committed no dishonorable deed” and should remain. When an arrest warrant arrived, Felmy placed Stauffenberg under military protection and delivered him safely to Berlin, and he survived.

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

852 Rare: Colorful Collections – Picture Books in Historical & Special Collections

Although Historical & Special Collections items may sometimes have… colorful… content, you might not expect our material to be terribly colorful at first glance. Recent re-shelving work in the HSC stacks turned up two cheery picture books—an illustrated printing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, illustrated by William Wilson, and Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, written by Kathi Linz and illustrated by Tony Griego.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.

Two picture books that are part of Historical & Special Collections.

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson.

William Wilson’s illustrations that accompany the UDHR celebrate the 50th anniversary of the document’s adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1948. The book’s introduction states that the “vision [of the book] was to portray this historic instrument with the colours of life and the power of art: an artist is ‘a political being,’ as Picasso said.”[1] Each of the articles of the Declaration is laid out alongside Wilson’s illustrations, one of which is shown here. The goal of the book is to disseminate the entirety of the UDHR with the belief that “there is a vital and urgent need for the Declaration to be understood and learned.”[2]

Shelved just alongside this book is another picture book—Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws. The pen and ink and water color illustrations depict characters acting out strange offenses with the accompanying law prohibiting such behavior alongside it. Further explanation of (crazy) laws are answered in a series of questions throughout the book, including “What is the Oldest Set of Laws Ever Written?” “How About Having No Laws?” “We, the People of the United States, Have Rights, Right?”[3]

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, Illustrated by Tony Griego

These books are just two examples of educational material that can be found in Historical & Special Collections that isn’t just aimed at law students. Many more surprising and illuminating (and illuminated!) items pepper the stacks in HSC, waiting for someone to take a closer look!


[1 & 2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Illustrated by William Wilson. [New York]: United Nations, 1997, Title Page.

[3] Chickens May Not Cross the Road and Other Crazy (But True) Laws, Kathi Linz, illustrated by Tony Griego. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

In Ruhleben Camp: with goodwill for friend and foe alike

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the day that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

Detail of Xmas tree. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 596.

In December of 1915, Ruhleben held its own Christmas truce. As we saw in the previous post, the German authorities gave internees special permission to send copies of In Ruhleben Camp’s “Xmas Number” back Home, where family and friends would find a full-page note of thanks and holiday greetings.

Peace on earth seemed years away, but the editors wished to extend goodwill towards men in the enemy’s camp. They had come into possession of the September issue of a “bright little four page journal” created by German civilians interned at Stobs, a camp in Scotland with roughly 4,500 German civilian internees. Moved by the good humor and fortitude beneath its wry tone, IRC’s editors opened the Xmas Number by translating long passages from the newsletter for the benefit of their readers in Ruhleben and beyond (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 559). (The original newsletter can be viewed online, courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.)

Stobsiade plays on the title of an 18th century mock epic poem The Jobsiade by German physician Carl Arnold Kortum. This satirical poem relates the antics of Hieronymus Jobs, a “Bummelstudent” (“strolling-student”) who remains at university as long as possible not because he takes his studies seriously but because he takes his leisure seriously.

If the editors of IRC caught the joke, they would have enjoyed it. Ruhlebenites often complained of being treated like schoolboys with curfew, roll call, and rules abounding, and no doubt the internees at Stobs resented similar encroachments on their adult autonomy. Moreover, while non-commissioned military POWs could be forced to do labor under the 1907 Geneva Convention, civilians were generally exempt. And if Stobs was anything like Ruhleben, then internees on both sides used this “enforced leisure” (as the British Camps Library committee called it (qtd. in King, p. 256)) to become students once again, attend public lectures or take classes in the camp, and “swot”* languages.” In many cases, they did so not because they took their studies seriously, but because they took their distractions seriously.

The editors of IRC don’t mention the allusion, but their comparisons of the mud, snoring, and lousy conditions at the two camps place a seal of barbed wire brotherhood on the Stobsians. As the highest honor of all, the editors quote the Ruhleben “motto” when they remark approvingly that Stobsiade is “redolent of the “Are-we-downhearted? No!” spirit” and makes it “very apparent that life in a “Prisoner of War Camp” is very much like the life in a “Civil-Gefangenlager.””**

This was probably true, but it flatly contradicted the jingoistic British press, and it is curious to speculate how readers back Home responded. The popular press on both sides exaggerated the miseries of its own imprisoned civilians, while rebuking the home government for (fictional) indulgences lavished on interned enemies (e.g. Stibbe, pp. 83-84). Paul Cohen-Portheim, a German civilian interned in the “gentleman’s camp” at Wakefield, near Leeds, blamed the media titan Lord Northcliffe for propagating absurd reports that the “pampered Huns” at Wakefield supped at fabulous feasts, played on “golf courses that never existed,” and enjoyed “liaisons with women that would have been impossible” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 74). As Cohen-Portheim mused bitterly, “the real truth” was that “what happened to the prisoners on one side happened to those on the other,” based on “a system of mutual reprisals from which the authorities dreamt as little of abstaining as…the flying forces refrained from ‘punitive expeditions’” (Cohen-Portheim, p. 75).

Even if IRC did not intend to discredit propaganda, it could nonetheless do some good for German internees. The historian Matthew Stibbe confirms Cohen-Portheim’s description of “reprisals,” but also observes the potential for “reprisals of good” advocated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1916. For example, when the Swiss Quaker and peace activist Elisabeth Rotten solicited scientific instruments from German firms and individuals (including her friend Albert Einstein) for Ruhlebenites, the Friends Emergency Committee in Britain responded with similar donations for interned Germans (Stibbe, p. 145). Such exchanges were more frequent later in the war, especially as Germany began to see defeat engraved in the trenches across France, but the editors of IRC may have picked up the principle early.

Of course, In Ruhleben Camp remains staunchly patriotic. The editors bridle at Stobsiade’s description of the Stobs camp commander as “half pug, half terrier with bulldog legs which are ever atremble with fright,” an indignity to which IRC would never subject the “Ruhleben Löwe.”*** And they answer cries of “God bless Germany! God bless the Kaiser!” with cheers of “God bless England! God bless Georgie!” before concluding: “And then, reaching hands across the sea to you, we will both cry together: ‘Damn that barbed wire!’” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560)

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Detail. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 560.

Postscript: the end of In Ruhleben Camp

As yet another generous gesture, the Xmas Number announced that donations collected to endow a “Ruhleben Bed” at a Red Cross Hospital would be sent Home around Christmastime. This spirit of charity and goodwill turned out to be the high note on which In Ruhleben Camp folded its pages and bid goodbye. Its rambunctious items give no hint that this issue would be the last, nor is it clear why the offices at Fleet Street closed their doors for three months. But so it was. Apart from a literary journal called Prisoners’ Pie that rang in the New Year, there was no substantial Ruhleben publication until March 1916, when the “Camp Rag” returned with the slightly less catchy title of The Ruhleben Camp Magazine, under new editorial direction but up to the same old tricks.

* British slang for “to learn”
** A misprint for Civil-Gefangenenlager, meaning “Civilian Prison Camp”
*** “Ruhleben lion,” most likely Commandant Count Schwerin or his deputy Baron von Taube

Bibliography & Further Reading

Cohen-Portheim, Paul. Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918. London: Duckworth, 1931.

King, Edmund (2013). ““Books are more to me than food”: British prisoners of war as readers, 1914-1918.” Book History 16. pp. 246-271.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

The State of the Union Address

According to the US Constitution, The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” U.S. Const. art. II, §3, cl. 1.

President Barack Obama will deliver his last State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  Since George Washington’s first address in 1790, presidents have delivered a report to Congress about the state of the union either in person or by written letter.

There is speculation that Obama’s 2016 address will be a non-traditional message.  The NY Times provides a well documented account of Obama’s promises and results in How Did He Do? Assessing Obama’s State of the Union Promises.  Follow more news and analysis about the speech.

See what your members of Congress are saying about the speech, before, during, and after, on Twitter, Facebook, and official press releases by using Voxgov.com.

Interested in State of the Union messages from past presidents?  Check out the outstanding archive at the American Presidency Project.  You can also search recent addresses and other presidential documents using HeinOnline.

In Ruhleben Camp: A belated Merry Xmas and Happy 1916 from Ruhleben Camp

In Ruhleben Camp follows the production schedule of the magazine created by prisoners at Ruhleben, an internment camp for British civilians in Germany during WWI. Around the day that an issue of the magazine was released a hundred years ago, Marissa Grunes will post highlights from that number and tell part of its story.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

Front Cover. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 557.

He thought he saw the Lager “Rag” *
Appear when it was due.
He looked again, and saw it was,
Not a report, but true.
“Now, isn’t this top-hole” he said,
In time for Xmas too.”
(Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 580)

The final issue of In Ruhleben Camp for 1915 appeared around Christmas of that year, and it wears its holiday spirit with a difference. Peppered with humorously cynical cartoons depicting what might happen “If Santa Claus came to Ruhleben,” the Xmas Number also extends jovial greetings across the Channel to friend and foe alike. We will start with friends in this post, and look to foes in the next.

Having received special permission from the German censors to send the Christmas issue to Britain as a gift for loved ones, Ruhlebenites may have been both moved and amused by certain editorial choices. Between the handsomely printed covers, for instance, Ruhlebenites found a page thanking “the folks at home” for supporting “their Ruhlebenites,” as well as offering characteristically pragmatic advice: send butter, margarine, or dripping, please! (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 603) Meanwhile, the stiff back cover doubled as a pre-formatted card that could be filled out, detached, and sent separately, perhaps for those without the means to send the whole thing.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

Cartoon. In Ruhleben Camp, Xmas 1915. Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 592.

The editors may have had a bit of fun with their extended readership as well. In particular, a comic piece titled “The Ruhlebenite at Home” seems teasingly calculated to evoke the worst nightmare of a wife, mother, or sister who feared her Ruhlebenite would come home a changed man. The story is narrated by an internee who has been released early and has “arrived Home in time for Christmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). His convenient timing makes for a tongue-in-cheek homage to the disappointed hopes of the previous year, when men on both sides had assumed the war could only last a few months. A year later, it was harder to maintain that anyone would “be Home before Xmas” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 519) without being called a wishful thinker. By the end of 1915, no reader could avoid the cruel contrast between the narrator’s happy timing and the reality for most men, whether in camps or at the front.

Having finally arrived Home for Xmas—a year late and most likely declared “military unfit” for poor health—our Ruhlebenite soon finds himself in hot water with the women of the house. His crime? He does everything, including bathe himself, Ruhleben style. He bewilders his sister and her housemaid by complaining that “nothing is ever where it ought to be,” and is in turn baffled to discover that wash basins are not kept under the bed, but on the washstand, and that it would be more appropriate to bathe in his own room (and with less swearing) than out in the hall (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 569). At each turn, the story seems to guffaw: you can take an internee out of the camp, but you can’t take Ruhleben out of a Ruhlebenite.

The humor is darkened when one recalls the increased rate at which internees were hospitalized for mental breakdowns as the years dragged on, a danger which Ellis Loring Dresel of the U.S. embassy would observe in July of 1916 (Stibbe, p. 73). Has our protagonist been declared “military unfit” not due to physical illness, but because he has truly lost his “mental perspective” at Ruhleben? (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 513)

Still the story keeps a light tone, even as our hero’s Ruhleben habits enact a complete cultural inversion. The manners and customs of this respectable middle-class household are alien and barbarous to him, and he insists on “proper” behavior that only a Ruhlebenite would understand. Such a reversal of values offers the perfect formula for social satire, but the author doesn’t rise to the bait. There is no room for cultural relativism here: lampooning the sister’s shock would doubtless have struck too close to home. Instead, the jokes rely on the fact (or hope) that Ruhlebenite readers can still tell a hawk from a handsaw when in the presence of a lady, or at least know better than to toss bathwater down the corridor or to call one’s sister a “lazy beggar” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 570).

It is no accident that the author’s satire is entirely directed against the hapless Ruhlebenite. If the story plays on the apprehensions of womenfolk at home, it more pointedly reflects anxieties plaguing Ruhlebenites themselves. After so much time in a camp of 4,000 men, roughly a quarter of whom were sailors, many internees worried that they would never scrub the blue streak from their language, or remember how to comport themselves in mixed society. The Swiss physician Dr. Vischer’s research into “barbed wire disease” after the war suggests that these concerns were not unfounded, either.

As a kind of verbalized anxiety dream, then, waking up from this story may have been reassuring. After all, if readers laughed at its humor, understood that a free man need not carry around wire and nails for emergencies, and knew enough to reverse the protagonist’s complaint that his sister had “changed tremendously” (Masterman Coll., Box 2 Seq. 572) during his internment, then hope was not lost.

What readers at Home thought—well, that too may have been part of the joke.

 

Portable Xmas Tree. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

Portable Xmas Tree owned by a Ruhleben internee. N.D. VIA record number olvwork430260

* Lager is the German word for “camp,” and was adopted by Ruhleben internees. Rag is English slang for a magazine or periodical.


Bibliography & Further Reading

Bing, M.D. and A.L. Vischer, M.D. “Some Remarks on the Psychology of Internment, Based on the Observation of Prisoners of War in Switzerland.” The Lancet. 26 April 1919. Pp. 696-7.

Stibbe, Matthew. British civilian internees in Germany. The Ruhleben camp, 1914-18. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Vischer, Adolf Lucas. Barbed wire disease; a psychological study of the prisoner of war. Tr. from the German, with additions by the author. London: Bale & Danielsson, 1919.

Marissa Grunes is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Harvard University, focusing on transatlantic literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her dissertation project explores frontier architecture in 19th century poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the United States.

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