Beyond the Trenches – The Social and Cultural Impact of the Great War

Second Edition

by Elżbieta Katarzyna Dzikowska (Volume editor) Agata G. Handley (Volume editor) Piotr Zawilski (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 322 Pages
Open Access


This collection of articles is the outcome of extensive investigations into archival materials, concerning the involvement of various nations in the Great War. The authors analyse the wartime experiences of individuals and local communities, as well as whole nations. They offer a closer, more personal view of the impact of the Great War. The book re-constructs individual war narratives, and studies the long-term consequences of the conflict. The result is a multifaceted portrayal of the war, seen from local and international perspectives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Introduction to the Second Edition
  • The Łódź War Losses Assessment Committees – an undervalued source for research into 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
  • Hauntings, Landscapes and Loss in Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers
  • Archive traces of the drama of war. Sources for investigation into the daily life of the inhabitants of cities in the Opole District in the archival fonds 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 War Alert Women’s League
  • East Prussia as the only province of the German Empire occupied during the Great War. Wartime histories of East Prussia
  • Ivan and the 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
  • Activities of the Łódź Exchange Committee (Komitet Giełdowy Łódzki) in 1914–1918 and their economic, financial, social and political aspects
  • Author Biographies

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A survey of publications on the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War may give the impression that the experience of events in the West of the continent is more vivid in European cultural memory than in Eastern-Central Europe. The great battles of the Western Front, fought on the fields of Flanders, near Verdun, or by the Somme, cost thousands of lives and, along with terrifying images of hopeless four-year-long trench warfare, have for long dominated the narrative of the Great War in the mass media and in school textbooks. We shall not discuss here the reasons for the very limited representation of the war fought in Central and Eastern Europe. Scholars from this part of the continent are not entirely blameless in this respect, as for some 50 years, they treated the Great War as if it were simply a prelude to the Great October Revolution. Language barriers, and the apparent poverty of sources, are also likely to have played a role in the marginalisation of events in the East. However, the war in Central and Eastern Europe differed significantly from clashes in the West in its dynamic movements and manoeuvres. The Central Powers, when occupying vast areas in the East, forced themselves and the conquered communities to face new challenges, not only in living conditions and food supplies, but also in political and social matters.

The purpose of our large-scale, inter-disciplinary project, was to examine local perspectives, and study the Great War through the prism of archival resources stored in modern-day Poland, a country which was not even on the map of Europe when the war broke out, and which was only re-established in 1918. The citizens of this future state were often forced to fight against their compatriots, such as Jews, Ukrainians and Czechs, who were conscripted to foreign armies, along with other inhabitants of Eastern and Central Europe. The war in the East had a direct impact on the daily lives of civilians, who went through the terror of occupation, the changes in the frontline, and the passage of armies. The conduct of allied armies also added to the ordeals suffered by local communities.

In their research, the authors of the articles in this book have made extensive use of archival materials and other sources from a number of regions of Poland, Austria, Israel, Germany, Russia and Romania, in order to investigate the impact of the Great War in these areas. Our focus was also on the question of multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity in the face of war, particularly in regard to the city of Łódź. The book also covers topics such as the development of museums dedicated to the war between Austria and Italy, and the image of Russia in the propaganda ←7 | 8→of the Central Powers, adding more perspectives to our understanding of the issue of cultural memory.

The project was coordinated by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research on the Multicultural and Multinational City of Łódź and Its Region (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 cultural experts) will present the results of their studies of the Great War.

This undertaking could only be successful thanks to the extensive support of the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation (Fundacja Współpracy Polsko-Niemieckiej); our sponsor, the Austrian Cultural Forum in Warsaw (Österreichisches Kulturforum Warschau); our partner, Historisches Institut, Osteuropäische Geschichte (JLU Gießen) and Prof. Dr Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg; the State Archive in Łódź (Archiwum Państwowe 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, Dr hab. Frank Schuster from the University of Gießen and Dr David Allen.

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Piotr Zawilski

State Archive in Łódź

The Łódź War Losses Assessment Committees – an undervalued source for research into the Great War in the Łódź region

Abstract: An attempt to analyse the course of the Great War in the Łódź region based on the information drawn from archival materials of the War Losses Assessment Committees. This information is a good reflection of the impact of the War on all aspects of local community life.

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

This study 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.

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The appraisals comprise a declaration of the injured party concerning the type and value of incurred losses (usually drafted on a printed form which also included 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 size of the claims. On many occasions, in the 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 as soon as the beginning of 1915, mainly to the Assessment Section (Sekcja Szacunkowa) established at the Citizens’ Committee of the City of Łódź (Główny Komitet Obywatelski m. Łodzi) or to the Imperial-German Police Headquarters in Łódź (Kaiserlich-Deutsches Polizei Präsidium in Łódź). Appraisal reports submitted during warfare, i.e. from 1916 to 1917, before the Municipal Assessment Committee (Komisja Szacunkowa Miejska)5 include the pledge: “I solemnly swear that, as a party injured in warfare, I will give truthful evidence concerning assessment of my losses, knowing that I might be called to account for my testimony”6. Probably due to the large number of submitted declarations, members of the Municipal Assessment Committee could estimate the damages first hand and evaluate them in a short time: The documents suggest that in practice, the Municipal Assessment Committee members assessed personally only the damages declared by injured institutions such as charity associations, religious associations or the railway.

Sometimes photographs documenting the scope of damages and technical drawings of destroyed or burnt down houses can be found. The losses were estimated in roubles paid in gold according to pre-war rates. If the injured persons estimated their losses in German marks (which happened very rarely), this amount was converted to roubles. The losses were subdivided into five categories:

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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, flight from the approaching war front or flight 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 citizens of Łódź and its industry.

Apart from military action, the basic causes of misfortune included forced sale and 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 majority were 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 the decrees of the 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 this duty, citizens were banned from selling objects covered by forced sale to any entities apart from the ←13 | 14→ones indicated by the occupation authorities10. They were also prohibited from processing raw materials. The German authorities usually paid a small advance on the sale11, deposited due amounts in German banks or “paid” them in the form of war loans receipts. The discovery of any earlier undisclosed goods resulted in their confiscation, which was performed at the slightest excuse. Additionally, the persons suspected of non-disclosure of goods were punishable by up to five years of prison or with a penalty of up to 10,000 German marks12.

Apart from the list of obvious “goods and products necessary for the army” which were subject to requisition and confiscation, the records include such unique items as a school globe and three blackboards taken from a school in Rzgów13, and the disassembled wooden surface of a bridge on the Ner river in the vicinity of the village of Zdziechów14. The groundskeeping of a church in Łagiewniki reported, apart from losses resulting from shelling, the theft of “a halter for burying the dead” and 72 candles15. Likewise, the injured party, Łódź Nursing Association (Łódzkie Towarzystwo Pielęgnowania Chorych) Bykur Cholim, submitted a requisition for four pillows for a Russian field hospital16. The administration of a Julianów-Marysin property reported a requisition by the German government of 330 carts with field stones intended for road construction17. Mendel Burak, ←14 | 15→forced to provide lodgings for Prussian officers, reported the 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 requisition and even the destination 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. As the files include the manufacturer’s name, production date, weight, dimensions and value, it is now possible to assess the condition of the machinery in Łódź factories at the outbreak of war. The machine metrics were signed by the Łódź owner, the German “buyer” and a representative of the company where the machine was sent21.

Another type of loss, purely a 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 the lease of flats occupied by reservist women (wives of reservists conscripted into the Russian army)23. During submission of appraisal reports, testimonies were collected from women24. The testimonies detail the ←15 | 16→address, the number of occupied rooms and the due rent. In addition, the number of crosses used instead of signatures indicate that about 50% of women were 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 the event of a forced evacuation of residents by the Russian authorities26. Similar losses resulted from the 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 was banned from renting rooms to civilians until October 191628. The appraisal reports contain questionnaires with the family name and the rank of the owner of the lodgings, 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 Łódź region. The documents contain, for example, lists of confiscated machines with indication of the ←16 | 17→machine type, manufacturer and even the year of production. Thanks to the lists of confiscated finished goods, it is possible to determine exactly the production profile, its assortment breakdown and the market value of individual products and raw materials29.

Very detailed lists and declarations presented by the farmers in the Łódź area enable the condition of the farmsteads to be determined 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 injured parties described their losses in a particularly meticulous way and did not focus on an exact determination of the time when their losses occurred.

The foundations and associations that appeared before both Committees often described, apart from their lost assets, a detailed profile of their business and the composition of authorities. While studying the lists of these organisations, it can be easily seen that they were mostly of a philanthropic and charitable nature.

The losses were only partially caused by the 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, it is thanks to these materials that a map of the sites affected by German bombing or the route of the front line in November and December 1914 can be drawn.

It is generally believed that contributions were imposed only by occupying authorities but there are materials that indicate that some were also demanded by the Russian side. For instance, the majority of Starowa Góra inhabitants reported that in November 1914, the Russian army imposed on the village a fine of 500 roubles for the breakage of the field telephone cable lines by unknown perpetrators31.

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It was also common to apply financial penalties for opening business premises or a bakery too early or for closing too late, for underweighing or overweighing goods, or for offering bread for sale that was too fresh (less than 24 hours).

Confiscation of the church bells is one of the best known facts often quoted to illustrate the policy of the German occupation. 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 the 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 fonds of the War Losses Assessment Committee of the Łódź powiat contains surprising information concerning a Catholic parish in Aleksandrów which instead of two large requisitioned bells received one smaller bell that had most likely been taken from a cemetery chapel32. It is unclear what the Aleksandrów parish priest had done 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, “a church organ detuned by soldiers” was reported by a church in Łagiewniki33. Apparently, the church organ was in a condition that prevented musical setting of the masses, and the re-tuning of this very complex instrument required the hiring of an expensive tuner. Another unusual loss covered the remuneration of forest workers due for the clearance of the forest in Kały which had been hit by shelling34. This loss entailed another: 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 in Konstantynów (Kasa Pożyczkowo-Oszczędnościowa w Konstantynowie), including a register of savings deposits and loans, meant that it was “almost brought to ruin” and was unable to enforce liabilities and properly estimate claims of its members, who wanted to withdraw their savings35.

I feel it is important to mention 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 in Rawa (Kaiserliche Kreis Kasse in Rawa) dated 12 November 1918. This small piece of paper is a reminder that the regaining of independence was not an outcome of a one-day upsurge but a continuous, ←18 | 19→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 an individual sample chosen from over 1400 files. Nevertheless, it is the author’s wish that the selected examples are interesting enough to attract researchers who will study this extensive material in a more disciplined way.


Archival sources

Archiwum Państwowe w Łodzi:

Komisja Szacunkowa Miejscowa w Łodzi.

Komisja Szacunkowa Strat Wojennych Powiatu Łódzkiego.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2017 (October)
Polish independence Archival Materials War experience Eastern Front Central Powers Centenary
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 322 pp., 16 fig. b/w, 4 tables.

Biographical notes

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

Elżbieta Katarzyna Dzikowska is Professor at the Institute of German Philology, University of Łódź. The main areas of her academic research include: German 20th century literature, Polish–German comparative literature and gender issues. Agata G. Handley received her PhD at the University of Łódź, where she works as a researcher at the Philology Department. The main areas of her academic interest are: British culture and contemporary British poetry. Piotr Zawilski is director of the State Archive in Łódź and former director of the State Archive in Piotrków Trybunalski. He is the Vice-President of the Association of Polish Archivists.


Title: Beyond the Trenches – The Social and Cultural Impact of the Great War
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324 pages