The Great War

Insights and Perspectives

by Elżbieta Katarzyna Dzikowska (Volume editor) Agata Handley (Volume editor) Piotr Zawilski (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 285 Pages
Open Access


This publication is a collection of articles which summarise results of investigations into archival materials concerning wartime stories of various nations involved in the Great War. The objective of the authors was to analyse the wartime experience of individuals and local communities as well as whole nations. They further tried to present a closer, more personal overview of wartime drama. As a result the book portrays the impact of the Great War on the lives of multicultural communities, re-constructs individual war narratives and studies consequences of the conflict. The use of various types of historical materials from state archives and from other sources enabled the authors to create a multifaceted portrayal of the war seen from local and international perspectives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The Łódź War Losses Assessment Committees (Łódzkie komisje szacunkowe strat wojennych) – an undervalued source for research of the Great War in the Łódź region
  • Polish military formations of the First World War in documents preserved at the State Archive in Łódź
  • The influence of World War I on the activity of the Russian military and naval clergy
  • Christian Religious Experiences within the Austro-Hungarian Army during the Great War
  • Archive traces of the drama of war. Sources for investigation into the daily life of inhabitants of cities in the Opole District in the archival fond of the State Archive in Opole
  • World war from a local perspective. School chronicles from the border areas of the Province of Posen (Prowincja Poznańska) as a source of information
  • The organization and the operations of the League of Women of the War Emergency Service
  • East Prussia as the only province of the German Empire occupied during the Great War. Wartime histories of East Prussia
  • Ivan and aria for the dying world. The image of Russia in the propaganda of the central powers during the Great War
  • Between paralysis, crisis and renewal: The effects of the war on the polyhedral industrial city of Łódź (1914–1918)
  • Jews, Poles and Germans in Łódź during the Great War: Hegemony via Acknowledgment and/or Negation of Multiple Cultures
  • Betrayed twice. The German community in the Kingdom of Poland during the Great War
  • War museums at the former frontline between Austria-Hungary and Italy during World War I
  • The Middle East and the Centenary of the Great War
  • Bibliography
  • Author Biographies

← 6 | 7 →


The Great War in local perspectives in the Central Europe

The study of publications related to the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War may give the impression that in the European cultural memory the experience related to the events in the west of the continent is more vivid than the experience related to East-Central Europe. Moreover, it may seem that this western viewpoint is dominant not only in media but quite often also in scholarly debates.

The objective of our large-scale, inter-disciplinary project was to approximate local perspectives and to study the Great War through the prism of archive resources stored in locations that today belong to Poland – a country which was not on the map of Europe when the war broke out and which revived in 1918. The citizens of this future state were often forced to fight against their compatriots who were conscripted to foreign armies like other inhabitants of Eastern and Central Europe such as Jews, Ukrainians, Czechs. The war in the east had a more direct impact on daily life of civilian communities which went through the terror of occupation, changes of the frontline, passage of armies. Additionally, the conduct of allied armies also affected the local communities’ ordeal.

The authors of the articles used in their research the extensive archival materials from a few regions of Poland in order to investigate the issue of the Great War in these areas. Our focus was also on the question of multiculturalism and multi-ethinicity in face of war, in particular as regards Łódź. The issues regarding the musealisation of memories of the war between Austria and Italy as well as the image of Russia in the propaganda of the central powers add to our perception aspects of memory of culture.

The project concept and the work on the project was coordinated by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research on Multicultural and Multinational City and Region of Łódź (Ośrodek Badań nad Wielokulturową i Wielonarodową Łodzią i Regionem) of the University of Łódź in collaboration with two other academic institutions: The Department of Literature and Culture of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (Katedra Literatury i Kultury Niemiec, Austrii i Szwajcarii) and the Institute of History (Instytut Historyczny). Our special gratitude is due to the historian, prof. dr hab. Przemysław Waingertner. We are planning two further publications, in German and Polish, in which other project participants: philologists, historians, archivists, political scientists and culture experts, shall present results of their studies of the Great War. ← 7 | 8 →

This undertaking could only be successful thanks to extensive support of the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation (Fundacja Współpracy Polsko-Niemieckiej), our sponsor: Austrian Cultural Forum in Warsaw (Österreichisches Kulturforum Warschau), our partner: Historisches Institut, Osteuropäische Geschichte (JLU Gießen) and Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg, State Archives, The City of Łódź Office (Archiwum Państwowe, Oddział w Łodzi), Łódź City Council (Urząd Miasta Łodzi) and Goethe Institute Examination Centre (Prüfungszentrum Goethe-Institut) in Łódź. Our sincere thanks to all the above mentioned institutions.

We would like to thank Ed Lowczowski for his linguistic support and Dr. habil. Frank Schuster from the University of Gießen.

← 8 | 9 →

Piotr Zawilski

State Archive in Łódź

The Łódź War Losses Assessment Committees (Łódzkie komisje szacunkowe strat wojennych) – an undervalued source for research of the Great War in the Łódź region

The State Archive in Łódź preserves two archival fonds that potentially are an excellent material for extensive research of the history of Łódź and the Łódź region during the Great War.

This refers to the archival material of the War Losses Assessment Committee of the Łódź powiat1 (Komisja Szacunkowa Strat Wojennych Powiatu Łódzkiego) (8244 archival files accounting for almost 12 linear meters) and the Local Assessment Committee in Łódź (Komisja Szacunkowa Miejscowa w Łodzi) (5923 archival files covering over 15 linear meters)2.

Most likely, this impressive size of the fonds together with the absence of collective or statistical materials (the fonds preserve only appraisal studies of incurred losses) mean that these holdings remain pristine materials, untouched by the hand and unseen by the eye of researchers who prefer to use press materials and general reports3.

The appraisals comprise: declaration of the injured party concerning the type and value of incurred losses (usually drafted on a printed form which also included ← 9 | 10 → instruction4), the injured party interview report, sometimes a separate statement of the State Main Assessment Committee in Warsaw (Państwowa Komisja Szacunkowa Główna w Warszawie) which functioned in this case as the second instance entity. The Committee statement was of a decisive nature and determined the final value of losses (very often it reduced the claims’ amount). On many occasions, in absence of comments from the State Main Assessment Committee, the declaration was stamped with the Committee’s stamp of approval.

The first losses were reported by the injured parties already at the beginning of 1915 mainly to the Assessment Section (Sekcja Szacunkowa) established at the Main Civil Committee in Łódź (Główny Komitet Obywatelski) or to the Imperial-German Police Headquarters (Cesarsko-Niemieckie Prezydium Policji). Appraisal reports submitted during warfare, i.e. from 1916 to 1917 in front of the Municipal Assessment Committee (Komisja Szacunkowa Miejska)5 include such pledge: “I solemnly swear that, as a party injured in warfare, I will give a truthful evidence concerning assessment of my losses, knowing that I might be called to account for my testimony”6. Such solution was used probably due to a large number of submitted declarations. Members of the Municipal Assessment Committee could estimate the damages first hand and evaluate them in a short time. Based on the preserved documents it can be stated that in practice the Municipal Assessment Committee members assessed personally only the damages declared by injured institutions such as charity associations, religious associations, the railway.

Sometimes we can find in the materials the photographs documenting the scope of damages as well as technical drawings of destroyed or burnt down houses. The losses were estimated in the rouble paid in gold according to pre-war rates. If the injured persons estimated their losses in the German mark (which happened very rarely), this amount was converted to the Russian currency. The losses were subdivided into five categories: ← 10 | 11 →

I. Losses resulting from army requisitions including lodging infrastructure,

II. General losses (regulations of occupying and civil authorities, confiscations, contributions and penalties, forced sale, administration or operation),

III. Losses due to damages resulting directly from warfare,

IV. Losses due to a direct material losses (theft, robbery, fly from the approaching war front or fly from the areas occupied by enemy, relocation or deportation by authorities),

V. Losses due to claims (financial).

According to materials included in the fonds the most obvious subject of research seems to be the evaluation and presentation of material losses incurred during the Great War by the Łódź citizens and industry.

Apart from military action, the basic causes of misfortune included: forced sale, confiscation or requisition. They concerned mainly industry machines and facilities, raw materials, fabrics and metals, livestock and fixed assets, food and firewood. Interestingly the injured parties addressed their claims to all three occupant countries7 but the largest number of them was addressed to the German party8. According to the preserved documents, the first requisitions were performed by the Polish civil committees on their own initiative or pursuant to decrees of German authorities and concerned weapons owned by citizens9.

The order on forced sale of goods and raw materials (only for drastically reduced prices) was applicable not only to production plants and warehouses but also to regular citizens. Together with the introduction of the above mentioned duty, people were banned from selling objects covered by forced sale to any entities apart from the ones indicated by occupation authorities10. They were also ← 11 | 12 → prohibited to process raw materials. On the sale the Germans usually paid a small advance11, deposited due amounts in German banks or “paid” them in the form of war loans receipts. Discovery of any earlier undisclosed goods resulted in their confiscation, which was performed on the slightest excuse. Additionally, the persons suspected of non-disclosure of goods were punishable with up to 5 years of prison or with penalty of up to 10 000 German mark12.

Apart from the list of obvious “goods and products necessary for army” which were subject to requisition and confiscation we will also come across such unique items as: a school globe and 3 blackboards taken from a school in Rzgów13, a disassembled wooden surface of a bridge on the Ner river in the vicinity of the Zdziechów village14. The groundskeeping of a church in Łagiewniki reported, apart from losses resulting from shelling, a theft of “a halter for burying the dead” and 72 candles15. Likewise, the injured party – Łódź Nursing Association (Łódzkie Towarzystwo Pielęgnowania Chorych) Bykur Cholim reported a requisition of 4 pillows for a Russian field hospital16. Administration of Julianów-Marysin property reported a requisition by the Germans of 330 carts with field stones intended for road construction17. Mendel Burak, forced to provide lodgings for Prussian officers, reported a theft of bed sheets and a hamper18.

The requisition receipts or copies thereof that were often attached to appraisal reports indicate the entity that performed the requisition, the exact date of the ← 12 | 13 → requisition and even about the destination place of the requisitioned materials and raw materials19.

From the beginning of 1915 requisitions covered also machines and equipment20. They were carefully checked before being dispatched from the city. Their files include the manufacturer’s name, production date, weight and dimensions as well as their value. Consequently, the researchers are able to assess the condition of machinery in Łódź factories at the outbreak of war. The machine metrics was signed by the Łódź owner, the German “buyer” and a representative of the company where the machine was sent21.

Another type of losses, a purely financial one, arose in consequence of the lost bank deposits and interest rates22, a ban on practising law by lawyers and notaries and the loss of income from lease of flats occupied by reservists women (wives of reservists conscripted into the Russian army)23. During submission of appraisal reports testimonies were collected from women24. The testimonies inform us about the address, the number of occupied rooms and the due rent. Besides, based on the number of crosses used instead of signatures, we can state that about 50% of ← 13 | 14 → women was illiterate. Using the same documents we can also estimate the scale of conscription into the Russian army. The Joint-Stock Company of Widzew Cotton Manufacture (Towarzystwo Akcyjne Widzewskiej Manufaktury Bawełnianej) reported a loss resulting from rent that had not been paid by as many as 104 reservist women. And not all the workers of this factory lived in multi-family houses for factory workers25. Losses due to unpaid rent were also estimated in case of a forced evacuation of residents by the Russian authorities26. Similar losses resulted from a forced provision of lodgings for servicemen27. This was particularly painful for the Łódź hotels and in particular for the Grand Hotel which had been fully taken over by the Prussian army and which till October 1916 was banned from renting rooms to civilians28. The appraisal reports contain questionnaires with the family name and the rank of the lodgings owner, the number of months and sometimes the name of a military unit.

Declarations presented in front of committees can also provide material for historians studying the development of industry in the Lodz region. The documents contain for example lists of confiscated machines with indication of the machine type, manufacturers and even the year of production. Thanks to the lists of confiscated finished goods it is possible to determine exactly the production ← 14 | 15 → profile, its assortment breakdown and the market value of individual products and raw materials29.

Very detailed lists and declarations presented by the near-Łódź farmers enable determination of farmsteads’ condition in terms of livestock, the type and volume of their agricultural produce as well as the farming equipment, furniture and facilities of the farms30. This group of the injured persons described their losses in a particularly meticulous way and did not focus on exact determination of the time when their losses occurred.

Foundations and associations that appeared before both Committees often described, apart from their lost assets, also a detailed profile of their business and the composition of authorities. While studying the lists of these organisations we can easily note that they were mostly of a philanthropic and charity nature.

The losses were only partially caused by direct military actions of 1914 (only ca. 10% of claims in the Municipal Assessment Committee and ca. 30% of claims in the War Losses Assessment Committee of the Łódź powiat). However, generally, it is thanks to these materials that we can specify exactly a map of sites affected by the German bombing or the route of the front line in November and December 1914.

It is generally believed that contributions were imposed only by occupying authorities but there are materials that indicate the Russian side. For instance, the majority of Starowa Góra inhabitants reported that in November 1914 the Russian army imposed on the village a contribution of 500 rouble for breaking of the field telephone cable lines by unknown perpetrators31. ← 15 | 16 →

It was also common to apply financial penalties for opening business premises or a bakery too early or for closing them too late; for weighing too much or too little goods; for offering for sale too fresh (less than 24 hours) bread.

Confiscation of the church bells is one of the best known facts often quoted to illustrate the policy of the German occupant. This fact is also reflected in the materials of both Committees, in which we can find data concerning not only the weight and the value of bells but also the names of their founders, their proper names, the year of casting, the exact date of confiscation and even information that the bells were destroyed immediately after they had been taken down. The fond of the War Losses Assessment Committee of the Łódź powiat contains a surprising information concerning a Catholic parish in Aleksandrów which for 2 big requisitioned bells received 1 smaller bell that had most likely been taken from some cemetery chapel32. We do not know what the Aleksandrów parish priest did to deserve such “special” treatment.

The material also depict numerous intermediate losses that are difficult to classify. Yet, the removal of these losses was surely very important for the injured parties. For instance, we can mention “a church organ detuned by soldiers” reported by a church in Łagiewniki33. Apparently, the church organ was in the condition that prevented musical setting of the masses and the re-tuning of this very complex instrument required hiring of an expensive tuner. Another unusual loss covered remuneration of forest workers due for the clearance of the forest in Kały which had been hit by shelling34. This loss entailed another one – the forest owner not only lost lumber but also had to bear additional costs for the removal of forest down timber. The burning of all accounting documents of the Credit-Savings Bank (Kasa Pożyczkowo-Oszczędnościowa) in Konstantynów, including a register of savings deposits and loans, meant that it “is almost brought to ruin” and unable to enforce liabilities and properly estimate claims of its members who wanted to withdraw their savings35.

I cannot stop myself from sharing with you the information about a document included in one of the appraisal reports. The archival files include a copy of a confirmation issued in German by the Imperial-German Powiat Bank (Cesarsko-Niemiecka Kasa Powiatowa) in Rawa dated 12 November 1918. This small piece of paper reminds us that the regaining of independence was not an outcome of ← 16 | 17 → a one-day upsurge but a continuous, long and complex process36. Withdrawal of the German army and administration from the areas of the former Russian annexation was gradual and continued in 1918. Withdrawal from the Prussian annexation (in particular from Pomerania) lasted until 1920.

Due to the limitations of this report, the author has randomly selected only individual sample material chosen from over 1400 files. I hope that the selected examples are interesting enough to attract researches who will study this extensive material in a more disciplined way. ← 17 | 18 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2016 (June)
Polish independence War experience Eastern Front Archival materials
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 285 pp., 16 b/w fig., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Elżbieta Katarzyna Dzikowska (Volume editor) Agata Handley (Volume editor) Piotr Zawilski (Volume editor)

Elżbieta Katarzyna Dzikowska works at the University of Łódź, the Department of Literature and Culture of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The main areas of her academic research include German 20th-century literature, Polish-German comparative literature and gender issues. Agata Handley works as a lecturer and a researcher at the University of Łódź, the Department of Literature and Culture of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The main areas of her academic interest are literature translation, British culture and contemporary British poetry. Piotr Zawilski is the director of the State Archive in Łódź. He is the Vice-President of the Association of Polish Archivists and a former director of the State Archive in Piotrków Trybunalski.


Title: The Great War