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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The introduction provides a short discussion of the importance and uses of war letters as historical documents, followed by a biography of the letter writer.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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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Epple, Bernhard, 1912– author. | Heisler, Barbara Schmitter.

Title: An artist as soldier: seeking refuge in love and art / [edited and translated by] Barbara Schmitter Heisler.

Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2017.

Series: American University Studies I: Germanic Languages and Literature; vol. 114 | ISSN 0721-1392

Includes bibliographical references.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016023381 | ISBN 978-1-4331-3511-8 (hardcover: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4539-1907-1 (ebook pdf) | ISBN 978-1-4331-3972-7 (epub) ISBN 978-1-4331-3973-4 (mobi)

Subjects: LCSH: Epple, Bernhard, 1912– —Correspondence. | World War, 1939–1945— Personal narratives, German. | World War, 1939–1945—Art and the war. Soldiers—Germany—Correspondence. | Artists—Germany—Correspondence. Art teachers—Germany—Correspondence. | Young men—Germany—Correspondence. Husbands—Germany—Correspondence. | German letters—History and criticism.

Classification: LCC D811 .E684 2017 | DDC 940.54/1343092—dc23

LC record available at

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