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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The introduction provides a short discussion of the importance and uses of war letters as historical documents, followed by a biography of the letter writer.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 III. 1943–1945




The year 1943 marked a turning point in the war. Germany suffered a crushing defeat in the battle of Stalingrad, which ended in February 1943, with an estimated 800,000 Axis soldiers killed, or missing, among them Epple’s best friend, the artist Hermann Fischer. The North Africa Campaign which had started in 1940, ended in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis forces, to the Western Allies, setting the stage for the Italian Campaign, followed by the invasion of Sicily two month later and the Italian mainland in September 1943.

Throughout the remainder of 1943, the Soviets continued to push the Germans back from previously occupied territories in the East and advanced toward German territory. Starting January 12, 1945 the Red Army breached the German front marching West through East Prussia, Lower Silesia, East Pomerania and Upper Silesia and reaching Berlin in April. The battle of Berlin lasted until May 2. In the West, Allied forces landed in Normandy June 6, 1944, D-Day, eventually crossing the Rhine in the early months of 1945.

For most of this period, the German homeland was under constant air attacks and these intensified dramatically throughout 1944 and 1945. On certain days, over 2000 Allied aircraft were operating over Germany. Industrial production was increasingly halted; railroad and waterways and communica←157 | 158→tion systems were severely damaged; and everyday life disintegrated. Cities were filled with refugees and evacuees. There are no exact figures...

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