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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The introduction provides a short discussion of the importance and uses of war letters as historical documents, followed by a biography of the letter writer.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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Postscript: Author’s Note



Author’s Note

The previous chapter concluded with Epple’s last letter, dated December 17, 1945, written after he had been released from the prisoner of war camp and returned home. Beyond the information contained in the letters, I do not know what happened in the last three months of the war. The two last letters (March 10 and 18, 1945) suggest that Epple was sent back to Stettin. What is certain is that he became a Russian prisoner of war sometime after March 18 and that he was released from POW camp in September 1945.

The letters indicate that he returned to Heidelberg and his teaching position after his release, while Gudrun remained in Wittenschwand with the two children for the remainder of that year. She and the children joined Bernhard sometime in early 1946 and the young family continued to live in a small one-bedroom apartment in Heidelberg for several years until they were able to move to a slightly larger apartment in the same building around 1952.

Life in the immediate postwar era in Germany was difficult until the currency reform of June 20, 1948 which introduced the Deutsche Mark (DM) in the Western occupation zones, eliminating shortages of food and consumer goods and a thriving black market. It also facilitated the introduction of the Marshall Plan (officially, the Economic Cooperation Act), a crucial component of European, including German, economic recovery. In May 1949, the←281 | 282→ Federal Republic of...

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