(Comments in italics are not Albert Rist’s words, but were added by the translator as explanations.)((So if you’re keeping score – This is written by my grandfather, translated from the original German by my father, and then posted by me…))
I was born in the rough November days of the year 1887 in Oelkofen (more accurately Ellkofen, derived from Elnkofen, which means outlying farm). The following day, November 17, I was baptized in the faith in the parish church in Hohentengen. I was later told that much fun was had at my christening. I grew up as the favorite of my mother and grandmother Briemle. My earliest recollection are the walks to see “Nana” (Grandmother), which I had to do with my younger siblings. In 1890 a farm burned down in our village. My eldest sister, Marie, took me on her arm, so that I could see the flames, which made an overwhelming impression on me. Often the little ones (Lina, Rosa and I) were in the care of my older sister Anna (later Sister Seraphina after she became a nun, died 1923 in Schellenberg near Berchtesgaden), who was told to take care of us. Once camels came through the village. When I saw the huge animals I ran into the stable and watched the “monsters” from there.
Farm children are always happy when they are allowed to go along to the fields. As soon as they can help, which they can do at age 6 or 7 when gathering potatoes, they are satisfied. Otherwise they are more trouble for the grown ups: Once I was allowed to ride on top of a wagon fully loaded with sheaves. When the wagon hit a bump in the road I was flung off and hit a rock, but was uninjured. Once a young farm worker put me on top of a young horse in the stable, which,
naturally, threw me off with a jerk. I liked to go to the Wasenried (peat meadow) and watch the cutting of the peat. Hansjoerg, who was doing the work was my best friend for many years. In 1894 I entered the village school. Because my sisters were good students, doing writing assignments for half the village, my older fellow students often came to our house in the evenings to “copy”. That was a lot of fun. At school all seven age groups were in the same class. I liked to listen when the “big kids” received instruction in mathematics, reading, religion and other subjects. I did not like going to school very much. I was not a friend of restraint and the school room: fields and woods, the expanse of the marshes (Danube marshes) and the solitude of the meadows on the Beerenberg were much more attractive to me. My father, however, wanted me to study. Liebhart, who was curate in Hohentengen, was supportive and offered to instruct me in Latin. At first I received instruction together with Alois Knittel in 1897. But he soon walked out because he felt the hard hand of the often irascible priest too often. I often felt sorry for “Wiese” (meadow) – as we called him – when Liebhart beat him up without mercy. Later he was often very rough toward me. In the fall of 1899 I was sent to Latin school in Riedlingen. It was truly a pugilistic institution but we learned Latin, Greek and mathematics. Joseph Maier, (called “Maierseppl from the Burg“) one year older than I, from Hagelsburg, was in the same class. But he soon left because he felt homesick and could not bear the severe treatment. Several farm boys left for the same reasons. Those who persevered in Riedlingen had an advantage in the upper grades and had no problems up to high school graduation. I lived with the pewter caster Sturm on the Bahnhofstrasse (railway station street). Sturm sold his house in town and moved in to a former factory which had gone belly up. I experienced how the skilled but somewhat headstrong master craftsman – of the old school – had difficulty adapting to changing times, his business declined, people preferred the cheap mass produced articles to the neat craftsman’s products. Sturm suffered much from this – he was unhappy with God and the world. The food was good but not plentiful. Every morning at 7:00 o’clock we first had to go to church, then to school until noon. Afternoons there was school again from 1:00PM or 2:00PM until 4:00PM or 5:00PM. After the vacations I disliked returning to Riedlingen and I often looked with longing for the church steeple of Hohentengen, which greeted you from the south through the Danube valley at a distance of 16 kilometers.
In 1903 I went to Rottweil a.N. (on the Nahe river) to high school. I stayed at the students’ home
(Collegium Sancti Aloysii). In Rottweil I saw again some of my old school mates from Riedlingen. I did not find the almost monastic discipline difficult. The accommodations in bright, large sleeping quarters was good, the food hardy and ample. The treatment of the “big ones” starting with the seventh class was lenient. I often wished that the prefect or director would have been a little more strict and responsible. Fewer things would have happened. I liked Rottweil better than Riedlingen. I could breathe more freely in spite of the students’ home. I gained a better understanding of the subjects of the school. In mathematics I soon advanced sufficiently to be able to help my classmates. In the eighth class I tutored one of them with modest success. This work probably helped me more than my student. I gained a certainty in mathematics which has helped me ever since. I learned that those problems which you have to solve to master the subject in context really foster deeper understanding. In the “Kasten” (box), as we called our school, I also met a student who was reading critical commentaries on religion.
In the context of such reading and the unintelligible presentations of “Goi” our religion teacher I developed serious doubts in the catholic dogma and the entire Christian teaching. Unfortunately I did not have access to writings in religious history. I would have really been interested in such reading because history was my favorite subject. I often took walks by myself into the close and far surrounding of Rottweil because I did not like the common though prohibited beer bashes. In general I was not very tolerant of either alcohol or nicotine. Often I would go into the park instead of church and read “Faust” instead of the prayer book. The inner hypocrisy of my fellow students – in church pious and drunk at noon – repelled me. For these reasons I surely heard and felt this or that, but I was physically strong enough, to hold my own.
During the vacations I helped at home. I felt sadness to see the rift ever widening between the simple people of my home and myself. My sisters stayed strongly connected to the church as they had always been – but I drifted away more and more. I did not have a clear vision of my future because I did not know whether or not I could somehow ever get the money to go to a university. I definitely did not want to be a Catholic priest. This would have been the hope of Liebhart, Lina and my father.
After I put my high school graduation behind me in July 1907 I immediately volunteered for one year in Munich with Royal Bavarian Infantry Regiment 1. I left home early on September 30. I arrived in Munich about noon. I soon felt how awkward and clumsy I was in spite of high school and graduation. We had strict recruit training. I did not mind it. I did not develop a good feel for the big city and its life. On free Sundays I generally visited museums and collections. Evenings I went to the theater or the movies. I did not like the beer joints in spite of the Munich beer and white sausage. I was not able to get into the mountains lacking money and equipment. I did sign up for mathematics and physics at the technical university but managed only once to attend a lecture. When I did I realized that I understood nothing, absolutely nothing. Mathematics was being taught at a very high level. I did not have a connection from my schooling. Only later did I realize what I was missing. Since I had worries about money in addition I looked for a way out of my confinement. I thought of the colonies and America but it would not have been right to leave my family stuck. They were more confined than I was. Marie had not gotten married and my father had grown to be
quarrelsome, aimless, dissolute and wasteful. After finishing my service I worked for a time as a substitute teacher at a preparatory school. When I returned home for the funeral of my sister in 1908 I realized how everything had deteriorated. I was unable to change things because farming was depressed. Equipment and labor was expensive, grain and cattle were cheap. It is nonsense when people praise the time before 1914 as the golden time. It was an insincere, liberal and material time. Money was all that counted. On the one side status swagger and arrogance, on the other side poverty and desperation in the villages and factories.
Liebhart offered me the funds to attend a university without preconditions. I leveled with him and told him that I wanted to study mathematics. First I attended the university at Freiburg. I paid heavy dues. In my first semester I was not able to warm up to my subjects. No advice. What to select, how to get started, for which exam? In those days Baden had a surplus of students. The future chancellor Wirth could be seen frequently at the mathematics club of which I was a member. He treated us younger members in a paternal way and frequently admonished us to set a target. Finally it became clear to me that for my profession the South was more than filled and that I would not be able to last through a waiting period. Liebhart was not going to advance that much money. For this reason I switched to Strassburg to prepare myself for the state exams in Prussia and a quick move into a job. In Strassburg I did not join any clubs – nothing – my single contact was Theo Seidel – now a pysician in Muehlhausen in Alsace – I spent my time in the university. On Sundays we would take walks in the Vogesen. In spring 1911, I applied for the state exam and passed in July. I was not satisfied. Professor Sapper with whom I had a little more contact because of earth sciences – would probably have accepted me as an assistant, but what to live on, and to go begging was not my style. So I completed the practice “B” in Neuburg on the Danube and started looking for a private school east of the Elbe river because they needed mathematicians. I do not remember who pointed me to the vacancy in Schwarz’ school. I applied for several positions. Among others at the Institute for Higher Learning of Butter. I had just returned from the fall maneuvers in 1911 when a telegram from director Butter reached me in Oelkofen. I accepted immediately and traveled to Hirschberg a few days later. At home a few things had straightened out. Maria married in 1909 and moved to Rosswangen. Rosa married 1910 at home. By ruthless action I was able to neutralize my father and transfer the farm to Rosa and her groom. So I felt a little less burdened as I arrived in Hirschberg.
Teaching gave me as little difficulty as keeping discipline. Since I was the only employee who had finished the exams I realized quickly that I should be able to move ahead. I stayed in contact with the opening in Schwarz’ school and sent applications to Smyrna and Rio de Janeiro. Exceeding my expectations I soon received a telegram in response. I was embarrassed to accept the position because Butter had treated me gentlemanly. We found common ground and I could leave in peace. As a goodbye present the girls of the institute gave me pictures of the Riesengebirge, Gertrud Bahr gave me a picture of the Ziegenruecken (literally “Goats Back”), that was the first present I ever received from Mutti (the name we called our mother).
During the Christmas days of 1911, I traveled through Vienna, Belgrade and Constantinople to Smyrna. On New years day, 1912, I arrived. I enjoyed the new impressions and felt more free abroad than at home. The school was a remarkably pedantic outfit, which I did not fully appreciate. As an example Turks and Jews had to learn by heart verses like “Oh, you my dear little Jesus”. I was for progress, freedom of thought and openness to youth, but management was not inclined that way. Soon I made contact with Greeks and citizens of the Levant. I tried learning Greek and Turkish and decided to explore the backcountry of Asia Minor as soon as possible. I read the works of Tschihatscheff and Texier played with the idea to take off in local garb, since it was pretty expensive for a European to take off in Kawass (A form of clothing) and with horses. The atmosphere within the German colony was dull and stuffy as you might imagine. Stale European jokes and Levant gossip formed the menu of an evenings conversation in the German club. So I was not seen there very often. On Sundays I often hiked in the neighboring mountains (Jamanla, Iki Kadash) and also Budja Bournabad. From Smyrna I tried to get to Australia. However the German schools there were built on a different basis. Since I did not want to extend my contract I decided to explore the backcountry in the summer of 1913 before it ended. I learned that an engineer (Kischke) was putting together a little caravan to travel to the southwestern part of Asia Minor. We took off in September, 1913. The column was assembled in Aidin. In addition to Kischke and myself there were two Sap-tin (policemen), one dragoman (interpreter), two horse hands or mule skinners and about ten animals in the column. From Aidin we first traveled through the Maeander valley to the Beschparmak mountains. The area had been described to us as so unsafe that we slept with pistol in hand, safety off. Then we moved farther up the valley of the Maeander to Nasillue and into the side valleys. I remember a romantic ride to the Bey of Bozdogan, deep in the mountains of the western Taurus. Past the ruins of towns, on narrow paths, through dried riverbeds and bright mountain woods we passed. We rested in half decayed village houses, under fig trees and shady plantain trees, drank from clear mountain streams and cool cisterns. We ate in Greek taverns and Turkish pubs with simple village elders and high government officials. The solitude and calm of the mountains of Anatolia attracted me mightily. Life in the villages proceeded without haste – the image of the towns was timeless – as they had for hundreds of years the craftsmen plied their trade on the street, veiled women carried the water from marble fountains, heavily loaded burros tripped over the cobblestones. People here stayed unchanged in their food, and their clothes, in their homes and their furnishings, just as things had been for generations. Black buffaloes carried the joke and pulled the primitive wooden plow, today as they had two thousand years ago and the farmer worked with the hand shovel just like the Bible tells us. At noon when the sun had reached its zenith the Muessin climbed up the minaret and called with a clear voice “La illuahu il Allah” over the hot town. “Ulet Hawler getsher” The dog barks but the caravan moves on, as a Turkish saying goes.
We did not have much luck looking for iron ore or for coal. I believe that Kischke was led astray by people who never had been in the interior. In the towns of the Levant there were always people who wanted to make a buck. Without judgment and critical thinking they would listen to any gossip. Dozens of times we arrived at places where ore veins were supposed to be on the surface without our ever seeing even a trace of a deposit. What there was of value had long been in the hands of the English, or English-Levantine firms.
When war broke out in the middle of the summer of 1918 I was in Milas on the Sary-tschai. As soon as I got the telegram from the consulate I got on my horse, rode through the night and reached the station at the end of the railroad in Soeke (Sokia) in the Valley of the Maeander. I had to wait a few days in Smyrna before I could get on a steamer to Italy. In Piraeus (Athens) I switched ships and reached Brindisi through Korfu. By the middle of August I was in Munich. On September 10, I was sent off with a group of soldiers to move the equipment, which had been left behind in Lothringen, up to the regiment (Bavarian Infantry King’s Regiment). That was not easy considering how overloaded the railroad was behind the front lines. I managed to find the stuff near Metz, chartered a railroad car and attached it, filled with everything, to a transport of the 16th Infantry Regiment. We were deep in Belgium when the chief of the transport noted the strange company in the last car. I was scolded but had managed to solve the problem. As we caught up with the regiment two men and I were almost taken captive by the French. A few days later we had the first severe firefight near Vermondovillers on the first of November at Lihons. I received the Iron Cross II for leading a scouting party. We were then at rest first in Peronne, then in Halles near Peronne. Our battalion II I.L.R (King’s Infantry Regiment) (commander Major Epp) had the task of holding the section between Maricourt and Hardecourt in the winter of 1914/1915. On December 8 the French launched a sudden attack. The fifth company, of which I was a part, had severe losses. In February I was called back from the front by telegram. I was to report to Konstantinople. Before my departure I got engaged to Gertrud Bahr in Hirschberg, Contessastrasse, on March 6, 1915. I was put in charge of the 8th company of the 58th Turkish regiment. The company was first stationed in San Stefano. Then we were moved to the Black Sea. The time at the Black Sea was recreation for everybody. The enemy was nowhere in sight. In July the division was moved to the right flank at the bay of Suvla. Later, across the narrows to the virtual entry to the Dardanelles into a position in Kum Kale with the Archanjin battery. We stayed there for three months, the English were relatively quiet. Only occasionally would they shoot at us with heavy caliber guns. The images were impressive, specially at night when the Queen Elizabeth or other heavy ships shot at our positions. Blood red the columns of fire would light up the raven black waves. On moonlit nights or at first dawn I would ride frequently to the ruins of Troy nearby. At the end of December 1915 malaria got a hold of me more seriously and I had to be evacuated. A rickety destroyer took me across the sea of Marmara to Constantinople where I was admitted to the German hospital. Kischke was by chance also in Constantinople and accused me behind my back at the military mission of some irrelevant transgression. Never before had I felt and experienced the underhandedness and meanness of people as I did at that time. It was a good lesson for me to be careful in my dealings with people. This is part of the Orient. In the spring of 1916 I traveled back to Germany, arrived in Munich, had a relapse, this time more serious, so that I could return to duty with the replacement battalion only in the fall. Early in January 1917 I was sent to the west to join the Bavarian survey detachment. I was put in charge of a mapping center of an army and that way I reported directly to the 1c (communications officer of the general staff). The work was extremely interesting. You could see all of the activity behind the fighting force. Later I was put in charge of a photogrammatic group. I could gain insight into a larger section. In the summer of 1917 I was supposed to go to Turkey again. I was told I was to be transferred to Aleppo as a military police officer. These plans, however, broke apart because the rail station of Haidar-Pascha had been blown up and the planned action was abandoned. So I returned to the west. In the winter of 1917/1918 there was a great rush because of the spring offensive of 1918. In Douai I was in the focal point of troop movement for the great spring battle. Unfortunately our penetration of enemy lines at Arras did not succeed. This is not the place for a discussion of the strategic details, but I anticipated the failure. In the fall of 1918 Germany collapsed. On November 9, I was in Mons in Belgium. There were no more orders, so I tried to save a load of valuable survey instruments across the Rhine river. I succeeded. I delivered the whole load to Hannover and took a train to Hirschberg.
Already in 1917 I had applied for entry into the high school system at the provincial school authority in Breslau. I was accepted and in January 1919 I was assigned to the high school in Hirschberg as a “Studienreferendar”. In April of 1919 I was transferred to Goerlitz with a steady job and salary. In the fall of 1919, on September 26, I passed the pedagogical exam and became a “Stdienassessor”. One day before that exam we were married in Hirschberg. From that point on I was no longer all by myself. I was responsible for wife and family. In the first years after our marriage we had to live separately because there was no housing. Our parents had given us the top apartment in their house in the Wilhelmstrasse and Gertrud furnished it very lovely. I always found it very hard to leave this comfortable home. From Goerlitz I was transferred to Bunzlau and on June 1, 1920 to Kreuzburg, Upper Silesia, as “Studienrat“. Now I had a solid job. But as yet we could not move. First we had to wait for a referendum and reattachment of the area to the German state. In may of 1921 the Polish rebellion broke out. I participated in the defense of the German interests as leader of the Self Defense Batallion of Kreuzburg. On November 11 of 1921 we could finally start our joint household in Kreuzburg. We received a temporary apartment in the Villa Georgii with three large rooms. In 1922 Mutti had a severe illness. On February 23, 1923, Hansjoerg was born.
It was Inflation time. Thanks to some work on the side, the Self Defense connections and the help from friends we were better off than many others. In Kreuzburg I would go into the town park when I had free time to jog and do some chin-ups on a tree. This way I kept myself in shape and able to perform. On October 18, 1924 Helmut was born. At Christmas, Grandfather (Bahr) came for his last visit. I went to the train station with Hansjoerg. Grandfather died in January 1925. In April of 1925 I was transferred to the high school in Ziegenhals on my request. The first half year we had separate apartments again. Then I could arrange an apartment in Mueller House, which had a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Here pages 37 and 38 of the manuscript are missing. The birth of Inge (1927), the purchase of the property and house in Langendorf, restoration of the house, the birth of Karsten (1931) and the move fall in those years. Also transfer as principal to the Eichendorff high school in Neisse and the death of Hans in 1935.
He took our hopes for him with him into his grave. He now rests in Grandfather’s garden in Hirschberg. From April 1934 until he fell ill (of typhoid fever) he took the train to Neisse with me to go to school. As of April, 1935, Helmut is with us every day. The whole family lived through the historic events of 1938 and 1939. Since fall 1938, Grandmother has been with us so that everybody is together. The children are growing and bring ideas and a future into our house.
The time which is left for myself after work at school, the party and its organization, I spend on the garden and the property. I believe that neither walking nor exercise keep one’s body as fresh as purposeful work in the fresh air. For me as a farm boy daily activity in the fresh air is one of life’s necessities. The children have gotten so used to Langendorf that they do not want to leave and Mutti is most comfortable here.
(My father was promoted to superintendent of schools in Upper Silesia and transferred to Kattowitz in 1941. He first commuted weekly from Langendorf to Kattowitz. Later, with a heavy heart, he decided to sell the Langendorf property and in 1944 we moved to Kattowitz. When we fled from the Russian advance in January 1945 my father stayed behind and joined a retreating army unit. He came through Hirschberg in the late summer of 1945 and visited briefly with us. My father became missing in action in 1945 in Czechoslovakia.)