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Remembered Today:

German archives in Germany


Mat McLachlan
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Hi all,

I've recently heard rumours that somewhere in Germany there's an archive (or several archives) of German Army records relating to WWI that are virtually untouched. The suggestion is that they were bound up at the end of the war and are still there, waiting to be opened and examined - someone even mentioned to me that the dusty string that binds the bundles has never even been undone!

Can anyone shed some light on this?

More broadly, where are the main archival records on the German Army in WWI housed?

Cheers,

Mat

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There was no German army. The Prussians had their army, like the Bavarians and all other states that formed the German empire. Prussian records were held in Berlin, Bavarian documents in Munich, the records of Baden in Karlsruhe and so on. So there's not one single city were all documents were (are) stored. At the end of the war most records were to be found in Berlin, but the Prussian archive was destroyed during an air raid in march 1945. The few records that survived (if any) were taken away by the Russian army.

I'm very curious about the untouched archives you are referring to. Let's hope it's true, but I have my doubts to put it mildly. About the 'dusty springs': there will be lots of them. Many records have never been examined after the war, because there simply was no reason to examine them.

Perhaps your source is referring to WW1-records the Russians have returned to the German authorities since the 90's. These records were among records the Russian army had taken away from Germany. Many of these were never examined by the Russians, and are also still awaiting German inspection.

Roel

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The two biggest surviving Great War archives are those in the Kriegsarchiv Munich and the Hauptstaatsarchiv in Stuttgart. There is also material in Karlsruhe, Freiburg and, to a limited extent, in Dresden. The archives I use most frequently are the first two mentioned, with that in Munich being a particular treasure trove. As Roel says, the Prussian archives were almost totally destroyed during an RAF bombing raid on Potsdam on 14 April 1914. Not everything was burnt. Some files were out loan, others were salvaged but, to all intents and purposes all the Prussian records, not only military ones, went.

The archives of the Army in Wuerttemberg, located in Stuttgart are well laid out and quite comprehensive. Unfortunately there was a waste paper drive during the Second World war and large quantities of documents were pulped. Bearing in mind that although almost every formation of the army of Wuerttemberg has a published history, so we are well informed about all their major actions and the material used to write them is essentially still there. What went were the documents which provide colour, background and detail of the lesser events - which is a pity.

Munich is a different story. When the Bavarian army ceased to be in the early 1920s its archives were assembled, roughly bundled and stored in the attic spaces of a barracks in Munich where they survived until after the Second World War through benign neglect. What is more astonishing to relate, the barracks was not bombed so, in the aftermath of the war, this great, comprehesive mass of material was recovered and placed for safekeeping with the Kriegsarchiv in Leonrad Strasse, Munich. There it sits largely untouched, as you have heard. Two archivists did open the bundles in the late 1940s and roughly noted the contents, so at least the researcher has a starting point. Working there is a grubby business. The bundles are tied up with any old piece of string or cord, unbound, unsorted and thick with the dust of the decades. At one end of the spectrum are the files of Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht, which contain a great deal of interesting information and communications up to OHL and down to the armies, right down to regimental, battalion and company records from every front, throughout the war. For example for the tour of duty of Bav RIR 8 at Thiepval in July 1916 the documentaion is complete down to every patrol report and twice daily company returns. When the envelopes containing them are opened, dried Somme mud, in the form of dark brown dust, falls out.

The utility does not end there. All military formations exchange information upwards, downwards and sideways, so it is often possible to locate Prussian material copied to neighbouring Bavarian ones. That was how I found the 79th Res Div daily situation reports for March-April 1917 on Vimy Ridge. The archive also holds maps and mining records galore.

A visit to Munich really is a voyage of discovery because until a bundle has been opened - and, yes, it is usually for the first time in 60 years - and until every document has been examined, it is impossible to say what might be found.

Jack

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Can I just add to Jacks' and Roels' posts that the Allies had Document Retrieval Units working in Germany at the end of the Second World War. As Jack says not everything burnt, but a vast amount was. The RAF by 1945 where using 2 types of incendiary and where getting very proficient. The Germans certainly put some draft copies of books they where working on in safe places, prior to the raid, and I know for a definite fact the US Document Retrieval Unit got there after the capture of it, and took some stuff. I do not know their brief, nor what was taken, and certainly not where they all ended up. Some ended up in Private hands. I do know that they took some Great War Books from the library at Postdam. I have an article somewhere that covers one book, that was written in 1948, I will try and locate and share the contents. I will also scan the bookplate of the archive.The Allies where more concerned with records from the Second World War, and records leading up to it, and had trains and ship loads of the stuff leaving Germany.

One avenue of research would be to get to the archives documenting what these Document Retrieval units got up to.

As Jacks says it's a case of we don't know what will be found, but we all live in hope, and we need Mycroft and his brother.

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Zabecki provided details of the work that was done by the American military after WW1. A liaison was set up whereby several Americans were stationed in Berlin after the war. The relationship ended sometime in the 1930s, by which time vast numbers of Prussian army documents had been transcribed and shipped back to the USA. Mostly these documents related to the period of the war in which the USA was involved, so 1917 and 1918. IIRC (and I don't have Zabecki's book with me) Zabecki organised for copies/originals to be sent back to Freiburg (?).

Robert

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I meant to add that another great asset at Munich is a huge collection of personal files. When I wrote my Vimy book I used the P File of Oberst Brunner, CO Bav RIR 2, the circumstances of whose capture were subject to a Court of Honour later (which exonerated him). Contained within it were the entire Board of Enquiry findings, including all the statements taken and the supplementary documentation collected for it. This provided an excellent account of what happened in that regimental area on 9 April 1917. There must be many more such gems hidden away.

Jack

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Munich is a different story. When the Bavarian army ceased to be in the early 1920s its archives were assembled, roughly bundled and stored in the attic spaces of a barracks in Munich where they survived until after the Second World War through benign neglect. What is more astonishing to relate, the barracks was not bombed so, in the aftermath of the war, this great, comprehesive mass of material was recovered and placed for safekeeping with the Kriegsarchiv in Leonrad Strasse, Munich. There it sits largely untouched, as you have heard. Two archivists did open the bundles in the late 1940s and roughly noted the contents, so at least the researcher has a starting point. Working there is a grubby business. The bundles are tied up with any old piece of string or cord, unbound, unsorted and thick with the dust of the decades. At one end of the spectrum are the files of Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht, which contain a great deal of interesting information and communications up to OHL and down to the armies, right down to regimental, battalion and company records from every front, throughout the war. For example for the tour of duty of Bav RIR 8 at Thiepval in July 1916 the documentaion is complete down to every patrol report and twice daily company returns. When the envelopes containing them are opened, dried Somme mud, in the form of dark brown dust, falls out.

The utility does not end there. All military formations exchange information upwards, downwards and sideways, so it is often possible to locate Prussian material copied to neighbouring Bavarian ones. That was how I found the 79th Res Div daily situation reports for March-April 1917 on Vimy Ridge. The archive also holds maps and mining records galore.

A visit to Munich really is a voyage of discovery because until a bundle has been opened - and, yes, it is usually for the first time in 60 years - and until every document has been examined, it is impossible to say what might be found.

I think I know the connection in which Matt heard about dusty bundles of documents bound up with undisturbed string, and it relates to the Kriegsarchiv in Munich, as most eloquently described above by Jack.

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Is it possible to trace WW1 German Soldiers along the lines of MICs?

Tony

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Tony - sorry about that. I have been somewhat distracted assisting with the transition of my mother from rehabilitation to home following a hip replacement. In view of the fact that she is almost 90, every aspect of it is somewhat time-consuming. Did you get my thoughts on Beaucourt Redoubt?

Jack

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Jack, yes and will investigate! Message was thanking you for information , so thanks!

Tony

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  • 2 weeks later...

I wonder if Matt is actually referring to the virtually untouched Red Cross archives in Geneva, Switzerland which were on the news earlier this year and contain the details of soldiers from all combatant (or is it British and Empire?) nations. The records have hardly seen the light of day since the 1920s:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/498...-historian.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7940569.stm

http://www.genealogyblog.com/?p=1907

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I wonder if Matt is actually referring to the virtually untouched Red Cross archives in Geneva, Switzerland which were on the news earlier this year and contain the details of soldiers from all combatant (or is it British and Empire?) nations. The records have hardly seen the light of day since the 1920s:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/498...-historian.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7940569.stm

http://www.genealogyblog.com/?p=1907

This is odd. IN the intervieuw with Mr Barton it is stated that the german army notified the red cross of the death of commenwealth soldiers which in turn notified the british etc. But in what I have read (like in the book passendale 1917 from mr Bostyn) there is no reference to such red cross notifications. Only when a death was confirmed by the british army themselves a death was reported to the family. A reference was made to a wounded and missing department from the british redcross who searced for the missing.

So i am overlooking something .. a suggestion please ?

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I'll throw in my two cents to the great information already posted here.

The cross "cc copying" of documents is an important aspect when thinking about the smaller archives. I've found great stuff in Stuttgart simply due to the fact that one or two units from its army were attached to the organization in question.

Freiburg has things to discover as well--mainly due to the rather weak catalogue system. Many times papers were copied from other files and filed with only remotely related documents. For example, I've found copied 10-day loss figures (which were destroyed) in other files.

The untouched dusty files with string applies to Frieburg as well (in fact that sounds like my story!) I spent half a day fighting with the staff to get files that when produced, had obviously not been looked at in a long time (ever?). They were covered in what seemed to be brick or cement dust, and looked as if they had been thrown in the corner (they were literally bent into a "U" shape.)

The other state archives, Hessen comes to mind, have yet to be explored. I've spoken with the man in charge of the small library/museum in the Mainz fortress, and he indicated it might be worth my time to come over--now I just need to make the six mile trip there!! Darmstadt has a collection of soldier's Great War mail. Who knows what there is to be found?

Some other places, such as Koblenz and Ehrenbreitstein could yield "new" materials. We recently visited the royal palace in Bad Homburg. I noticed the library (sealed behind glass) contained a large amount of very old military texts. Food for thought.

There were also what we would now call "centers of excellence," in various places in Germany. The Darmstadt Uni library received a large number of texts on artillery. The Wiesbaden library contains a large number of works on tactics and doctrine.

There are treasures out there. A friend is in possesion of a box of original German trench-maps--very unique. Who knows whwre they came from originally, but they have the look of something that was put in the attic.

The catalogue of the NARA details most of what was copied by the Americans after the war. Most of it relates to 1917-1918 operations against the American forces. Copies were sent back to the German archives.

Having said all of that, the destruction of the archives in 1945 affects any research into German army operations during the war. There are huge gaps--most of the unit files are simply gone. It does add a unique difficulty factor to research.

Following Jack's advice I hope to make a longer trip to Munich this year. I know there are files there related to my reserach that I haven't found anywhere else. I'm looking forward to the visit very much.

Paul

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When is one of the German speakers here going to post a list of military slang terms from the book Wie der Feldgraue Spricht?

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1. Ancestry.com began uploading ALL 1.3 MILLION Bavarian military records last weekend!

I have a lot of obscure militarpasses and so far am 10:10 in finding my men.

2. The Potsdam archive were largely crated up Before the bombing. Apparently the Russians captured them, stuck them in a warehouse and returned them @ 6-7 years ago. They purportedly now sit in an airplane hanger in the crates from 1945 awaiting some archive to take them. Normally I'd roll my eyes at this sort of story, except my source has always been 100% correct in the past and if someone knew about this, well, he'd be the chap who did. It's kind of his job.

3. Large number of city archives remain untouched. Lubeck and Bremen apparently are still sitting unrsearched and unloved and there was a LOT of stuff available immediately after the Wall came down that suddenly evaporated behind the screen of privacy concerns and DDR-inspired laws.

4. then there is the case of the German naval archives, which are still extant and complete and almost inaccessible because the staff just don't want to help you.

The US records available out there are still vast and worth researching. The U. of Michigan has a vast store of obscure stuff that NOONE has looked at since 1945. UMA. Amherst also has some stuff that is uncatalogued but there-notably German officer career summaries and correspondence and LOTS of Bavarian Interior ministry files etc. relating to the 1919-1923 events in Munich, all untouched.

God knows what else is out there. I have an unpublished german regimental history with extensive notes that I bought years ago. The Major who commanded the regiment completed it but it was never published. I can (sadly) only read @ 15% of the pencil scribbled sutterlein.

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