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Remembered Today:

Forgotten soldiers


roel22
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Just been reading the 'eeriest WW1-pictures'-thread in the Classic Threads-section. Looking at the pictures I wondered about something I read in a -Dutch- book on WW1 about a hospital in Vienna, where, in a secret section, men were treated wit horrific wounds. Although they had survived the war, their families were told they were KIA. Because showing these mutilated men to family & friends & the public in general, would simply have been too much. They were hospitalized until they finally died, the section of the hospital was I believe closed in the 30's. Does anyone know more about this story? And how other countries took care of their seriously multilated soldiers?

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I'm not sure of those who were shut away from society, although it wouldn't surprise me, but Jay Winter offers a couple of examples in 'Sites of Memory: Sites of Mourning', in which the 'Mutiles de Guerre' were often cared for by friends and family, and sometimes totally unrelated people, such as the neighbours of Charles Berg's mother, who took over the responsibility after Mrs Berg died, and continued to care for Charles for a further seventeen years. Quote:

'Mr and Mrs J. Semple, who did what they could "with unremtting kindness" to help a man who throughout his life "hardly knew what it was like to be free from pain"' [p45]

Charles Berg, an Australian soldier, was hit in the spine by shrapnel aged nineteen years. Winter also cites other examples, along with the bonds that were forged between the mutilated themselves, particularly in France [and no doubt elsewhere], and the organizations that were set up in and after the war. Rather than excluded, it would seem, 'les mutiles de guerre' formed an active and inclusive part of postwar French society and politics. I think much the same happened in Germany--almost certainly up until the early 1930s, at any rate.

Kind Regards,

Dave

PS: Are you reading from 'Forgotten Lunatics'? I keep meaning to re-visit it.

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...particularly in France [and no doubt elsewhere], and the organizations that were set up in and after the war. Rather than excluded, it would seem, 'les mutiles de guerre' formed an active and inclusive part of postwar French society and politics.

On the Paris Metro, next to the train doors, there are always seats which, if occupied, should be given up to, among others, 'mutiles de guerre.' These seats first appeared during the 1920s and have remained ever since. There were many veterens organisations, right and left, throughout the 1910s-30s in France and they did play a very active role in politics, although I cannot be sure if the mutilated were the most active members. I am sure that a large number continued to play an active role in politics iuntil the 1950s and early 60s.

Jon

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Thanks Peter & Dave.

I read the story in a -very impressive- book by Leo van Bergen, called 'Zacht en Eervol, lijden en sterven in een Grote Oorlog' ('Soft and Honourable, suffering and dying in a Great War')

I'll (try to) translate it (page 284):

'Not just a few preferred life in a hospital over returning to society and quite a few were kept hospitalized because they, in spite of all operations, still looked too horrendous to return to normal life. They were in such a poor state that it was believed to be better to keep them in closed homes, instead of returning them to their families. Those families were told their beloved ones had died. An article in a Dutch newspaper in 1936 read:

What only very few know

Secret Victims of the World War

One of the most terrible after-effects of the World War has come to light in Vienna, after 18 years. At a remote part of the large Franz Josef-hospital is a small building. Strangers are not allowed to approach it. Ex-nurses of the hospital, aware of the secret, stay away voluntarily. The only ones not refused access are six carefully selected doctors and about 25 nurses. In this building about 80 'dead men' live, victims of the world war. The world believes they are dead, even their relatives were officially informed they had fallen. In casualty-lists they are registered as 'fallen on the field of honour'. But they are still alive!

The reason for their secret isolation is their horrendous appearance and their mutilations, caused by bombs and toxic gasses. Every one of these 80 wrecks, once men, is now completely paralized, blind and deaf. All they can do, according to their caretakers, is breathe and eat. No one knows and will ever know what they think, assuming they can still think, and of the tortures they have to endure. Because no complaint ever leaves their lips.'

Must have been unimaginable to work in a place like this.

Or, even worse, to be one of the 80.

Declared dead by the country you suffered for so much.

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Thanks Roel,

I've just had a Google for Leo van Bergen to see if there is a translation of his work. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one, which is a pity because I would have liked to have read more.

However, I've just dug out an old essay [1987] by James M. Diehl on 'Disabled Veterans in the Third Reich', where Diehl asks, 'Victors or Victims?' Diehl's conclusion is that disabled veterans inevitably lost out in the 'denazification' process post-1945 due to Nazi policies themselves, and while no apologist for Nazism [likewise, myself], the main content of his work makes for very interesting reading, and almost certainly highlights the German response to the treatment of its disabled in the interwar years. [German Nationals, that is, and not other groups, who, as I'm sure most are aware, were often discriminated under Nazi 'purification' and eugenic laws].

Much of this, of course, was as much to do with Nazi propaganda, and the claim that the veterans had been 'stabbed in the back' by the 'November Criminals', and Weimar Republic, as it was about rhetoric, and the promise that their status as heroes would soon be returned under National Socialist leadership. Nor were the propagandists, including Hitler himself, reticent about stressing Hitler's time in the Army, and the fact that he had also served at the Front, with a great deal of myth and mileage being made out of both. As Diehl points out, though, and here is the irony: Hitler owed his political career to the November Revolution, and had the 'class and caste-bound system not been swept away', then Hitler would 'never have found a place'. Ultimately, though, I don't suppose it makes much difference which 'system has been swept away', there's always the possibility that one tyrant is replaced with another.

James M. Diehl 'Victors or Victims? Disabled Veterans in the Third Reich' IN: Journal of Modern History, No. 59 [December 1987] pp.705-736 [The University of Chicago]

Regards,

Dave

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Roel

There is a very sombre American made film about a WW1 French soldier who had his limbs and face torn away by a shell but still survived.

The film is narrated through the claustrophobic thoughts of the soldier and the relationship that he develops with his nurse.

I am racking my brains about the title but without success.........

Regards

Mel

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The Film is Called Johnny Got His Gun..i Believe.

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Peter, Mel & Dave, thanks for your replies!

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In his book "The Road to Nab End" by William Woodruffe which is a story of his Lancashire childhood in the 20s and 30s in Blackburn.

The author mentions the male neighbour who came back severely wounded from the war and who is put at the front door each day in a long bed affair with wheels. The man cannot communicate with anyone but everyone treats him with respect. Eventually he is not put out one day and Woodruffe realises that he has died.

I can imagine that this was not uncommon.

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Hello Roel,

not so long ago i bought the movie "La chambre des officiers".

It's a french movie (with dutch subtitles) and it is a movie made from the book by Marc Dugain with the same title.

There's also a dutch translation from the book published by "De Arbeiderspers" in there "oorlogsdomein" series. the ISBN-number is 90-295-1400-0.

It deals with a french officer who in the first days of the war was seriously wounded in the face and his recovery from it.

Recommended.

Regards Arie

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Thanks Arie. Another book to read!

dank

Roel

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