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Gertrud Schädla

Tillmann Bendikowski / glbApril 9, 2014

Caught between euphoria and incredulity: How did the Germans experience the outbreak of World War I? DW takes a look at what was going on in the hearts and minds of Germans 100 years ago.

Gertrud Schädla
Image: Stadtarchiv Verden an der Aller

At the turn of the century in Germany, Gertrud Schädla is what was known as a good Christian. Raised in a Protestant preacher's household, she was known to go to church regularly and to listen to what was said in the sermon. In the summer of 1914, when Schädla was 27 years old, church was a very popular place all around Germany. Of her small town of Verden, near Bremen, she writes: "The soldiers received the preacher's blessings, knelt down at the altar: 'Are you ready to give your lives for your brothers?'" With God's blessing, they were sent off to war.

"God," in this sense, can most certainly be understood as the "God of the Germans." For Gertrud Schädla, the throne and the altar - the Empire and the Protestant Church - were firm pillars of life. When the emperor announced that Germany wasn't responsible for the outbreak of war, this was how it was - no questions asked. Just as irrefutable as divine providence: "Our dear God has once again offered his help," she noted in her diary after Germany's quick defeat of the Imperial Russian Army in Tannenberg in August 1914. And: "England, those perfidious traitors, will be delivered to us at God's mercy, too."

As a primary school teacher, she decided against marriage and to concentrate her energy on her mother and two younger brothers. After the outbreak of war, Gottfried and Ludwig were sent to the Western Front. Gertrud wrote of a "necessary readiness to die," as they marched off. Gottfried, for one, viewed his military service with a sense of dejection. His mother and sister offered their encouragement, pleading with him to overcome his fears and offer his young life to the Fatherland - with a sense of "joy" if need be.

It was the fallen soldiers on the front who ultimately paid the price for such jubilation at home. Ludwig and Gottfried Schädla are just two of them. They both died by October 1914, on the battle fields of France, and were either not buried at all or only provisionally. A short notice was sent to the family, followed by the belongings of the two soldiers. "Death, you are bitter! How shall we console ourselves?" This was Gertrud Schädla's question to her God. Such horror at death came too late for the fallen soldiers. And, at that point, death on the front would continue for four more long years.