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An Artist as Soldier

Seeking Refuge in Love and Art


Barbara Schmitter Heisler

At the center of this book are the World War II letters (Feldpostbriefe) of a German artist and art teacher to his wife. While Bernhard Epple’s letters to his wife, Gudrun, address many of the topics usually found in war letters (food, lodging conditions, the weather, problems with the mail service, requests for favors from home), they are unusual in two respects. Each letter is lovingly decorated with a drawing and the letters make few references to the war itself. In addition to many personal communications and expressions of love for his wife and children, Epple writes about landscapes he saw as well as churches, museums and bookstores he visited. Epple’s letters give testimony to how a particular German soldier who was drafted and survived the war did his best to remain a civilian in uniform; distancing himself from a reality that was not of his choosing, seeking comfort and refuge in his love for art and his ability to share this love with his wife, herself an artist. While Epple’s letters are deeply personal, this book is about the human experience of war and the separation from civilian life and from family and friends.

The introduction provides a short discussion of the importance and uses of war letters as historical documents, followed by a biography of the letter writer. The letters make up the two central chapters. e drawings form an integral part of the letters; each is reproduced and accompanied by an English translation of the letter. In addition to the drawings, the text includes several photographs of the letter writer and his family.

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Chapter I. The Feldpost letters of Bernhard Epple to his wife Gudrun, 1940–1945



The Feldpost letters of Bernhard Epple to his wife Gudrun,1940–1945

Figure 1.1 Bernhard and Gudrun Epple, circa 1939←1 | 2→

A Short Biography of the Letter Writer

Bernhard Epple was born on October 11, 1912, the oldest of four children in Eutingen/Baden (today part of the city of Pforzheim) as the son of Julius Epple and his wife Karoline, née Klingel. His father was co-owner of a watch and watch casing factory in Pforzheim founded by his grandfather Julius Epple, Sr. in 1907.1

Bernhard graduated from the Oberrealschule (academic high school without Latin and Greek) Pforzheim in 1932 with the Abitur, one year before Hitler came to power.2 His father wanted him to follow into the family business, but Bernhard who had shown an early interest in art was not interested. His long-term career goal was to become an art teacher at the Gymnasium (academic high school with Latin and Greek) level.

As his parents were not supportive of that goal, Bernhard first enrolled in the Badische Kunstgewerbeschule (Art and Crafts School of Baden) in Pforzheim, founded in 1877. In addition to classes in sculpture, drawing, and fashion design, the Kunstgewerbeschule offered courses and degrees in jewelry design and engraving that might be useful in the family’s watch and jewelry business, but did not offer the academic art curriculum and degree required for a career of teaching art at the Gymnasium level....

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