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German Correspondence from the World Wars Collection

Call Number



1916 - 1946, inclusive


Apfelbaum, Charles (Role: Collector)


6 Linear Feet (17 boxes)

Language of Materials

German .


German Correspondence from the World Wars contains letters to/from German soldiers and their friends and family. Only one set of correspondence, that of soldier Hermann Lappan, is from the First World War. The collection also contains two diaries of a German soldier involved in the Balkan Campaign, miscellaneous soldiers' documents, as well as correspondence (in English) between a young Italian soldier and a young American student.

Historical Note

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The estimated death toll of the Second World War (1937-1945), perhaps the most extensively studied event in the twentieth century, is between 50 and 56 million people. This includes democides, military and civilian casualties, and those missing in action throughout all of the war's various theatres. It may seem difficult to imagine "life" in such a deadly and uncertain time, and yet, as these letters mainly written by German Wehrmacht soldiers and their families demonstrate, the everyday, or a nostalgia for it, persisted. Here, a soldier's letter back to his parents might complain about a small ration of sausage, and how his mother's cooking is missed, only to be followed by a letter that details an injury sustained on the front. The "immediate" quality of the letters obviously cannot always be taken at face value. A soldier, aware of the severity of censors, was probably not able to write as freely as he wished. The letters often do not contain as detailed information of military activities as some researchers might wish. Apart from the generally strong sense of Heimat, political attitudes and statements about the government, especially critical ones that could lead to the death penalty, are infrequently broached directly. Yet, this collection reveals, sometimes strinkingly, the often missing "human" aspect of a seemingly very inhumane time and place - National Socialist Germany. These Feldpostbriefe[letters from/to the front], though an infinitesmal representation of the 40-50 billion sent and received in Germany throughout WWII, will prove interesting to researchers interested in the Axis from "the bottom up" and in German war correspondence in general. A short bibliography on Feldpostbriefeand the German soldier, which may assist the researcher, follows.

Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: the German soldier in World War II. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.

Buchbender, Ortwin, and Reinhold Sterz, eds. Das andere Gesicht des Krieges: Deutsche Feldpostbriefe, 1939-1945. Munich: Beck, 1982.

Golovchanski, Anatoly. "Ich will raus aus diesem Wahnsinn": deutsche Briefe von der Ostfront 1941-1945: aus sowjetischen Archiven. Wuppertal: P. Hammer; [Moskow]: Verlagsvereinigung des Schriftstellerverbandes der UdSSR, 1991.

Knoch, Peter. "Feldpost - eine unentdeckte historische Quellengattung." Geschichtsdidaktik11, no. 2 (1986): 154-71.

Knoch, Peter, ed. Kriegsalltag: Die Rekonstruktion des Kreigsalltags als Aufgabe der historischen Forschung und der Friedenserziehung. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1989.

Kretschmer, Volker, and Detlef Vogel. "Feldpostbriefe im Zweiten Weltkrieg: Propagandainstrument und Spiegelbild von Kriegsauswirkungen. Sozialwissenschaftliche Informationen2 (1990): 103-10.

Lakowski, Richard, and Hans-Joachim Büll. Lebenszeichen 1945: Feldpost aus den letzten Kriegstagen. Leipzig: Militzke, 2002.

Wette, Wolfram, ed. Der Krieg des Kleinen Mannes: Eine Militärgeschichte von unten. Munich, Piper, 1992.


At the series level, the correspondence is arranged first by its larger historical context (i.e., first World War I, here represented solely by the Lappan correspondence, and then World War II), and then alphabetically by the last name of the soldier by/to whom the correspondence is written.

At the folder level, correspondence is arranged alphabetically by last name of the writer. When a writer's name is either not present or not at all legible, that writer's correspondence is presented at the end of the series. Each writer's correspondence is presented chronologically in his/her respective folder(s). When an item's date is either not present or not legible, that item is presented at the end of the writer's folder(s).

Series X contains miscellaneous items that, at the time of acquisition, were, seemingly arbitrarily, grouped with the correspondence of Gottlob Zieher. These items, labelled as miscellaneous documents, include soldier identification books, certificates of military honor, and an application to the Evangelical church, among others.

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Hermann Lappan
  2. Series II: Wolfgang Berger
  3. Series III: Engelhard Hellmuth
  4. Series IV: Kurt Jensen
  5. Series V: Helmut Riedel
  6. Series VI: Pietro Schiavi and Shirley Messinger
  7. Series VII: Eugen Uhl and Josef (Sepp) Jung
  8. Series VIII: Jakob Werle
  9. Series IX: Gottlob Zieher
  10. Series X: Miscellaneous Wartime Documents
  11. Oversize - Series VI: Pietro Schiavi and Shirley Messinger

Scope and Content Note

The majority of German Correspondence from the World Wars consists of letters to and from German soldiers and their families. The correspondence varies from a brief New Year's postcard to a long letter from the front. There is also correspondence (the only in English) and related ephemera mailed between a young American student, Shirley Messinger, and a young Italian soldier. There are two small diaries, which include details of the German campaign in the Balkans, of WWII soldier Engelhard Hellmuth. The collection also contains two Soldbuecher (military identification cards), certificates of honor (e.g., Ehrenkreuz für Frontkämpfer), as well as some photographs and newspaper clippings accompanying individual pieces of correspondence.


SERIES I: Lappan, Hermann

The majority of these letters are from Hermann Lappan to his family. This is the one series in the collection that dates from World War I.

SERIES II: Berger, Wolfgang

The majority of these letters are to and from Wolfgang and Richard Berger and their family.

SERIES III: Hellmuth, Engelhard

Series III contains two diaries of Engelhard Hellmuth, who, in 1942, was a Hauptscharführer [Head Company Leader] (the equivalent of the Wermacht rank of Oberfeldwebel, which is roughly equivalent to the American Master Sergeant) with the S.S., or Schutzstaffel [Protection Unit]. During this time, Hellmuth was involved in the German campaign in the Balkans.

SERIES IV: Jensen, Kurt

Series IV is entirely comprised of letters from Jensen back home to his parents in Schleswig, a city that is between Hamburg and Denmark, closer to the latter. From late January of 1942 to February of 1943, Jensen was on the Russian front. His last letter (April 1, 1945) bears the postmark of Wittenberge, which was bombed by the American Ninth Air Force on April 10 and 12.

SERIES V: Riedel, Helmut

The majority of the letters in this series are to Helmut Riedel, who was an Obergefreiter [Corporal] in World War II. There are also a number of letters addresed to Matrose [Sailor] Riedel. Most letters are from family and freinds in Chemnitz. There are some letters, usually sans envelope, penned by Helmut. There is a large number of letters without a corresponding envelope.

SERIES VI: Schiavi, Pietro, and Shirley Messinger

Series VI contains the letters of a young Italian, Pietro Schiavi, to his Rhode Island penpal, Shirley Messinger. The correspondence of this series is in English, not German. The letters, which date from April 1935 to January 1945, trace Schiavi's trajectory from student to soldier to prisoner of war in Germany. Schivai signs his name first as Pietro, then as Pete and Piero; he also begins to refer to Shirley as Wally. The series contains the various "gifts" that Schiavi sent - a pressed flower, photos, newspaper clippings, and a postcard book. The series also contains memorabilia from Messinger's high school and college (Pembroke) years and a manuscript, "Facts about Pietro Schiavi," which includes an inventory of "Letters Received."

SERIES VII: Eugen Uhl; Josef (Sepp) Jung

Subseries A: Uhl, Eugen

Series VII, Sub-series A contains roughly 450 pieces of correspondence dating from 1936 to 1946, with the majority of the letters dating from 1942 to 1944. The letters center around Eugen and Waldemar Uhl, both of whom were in the German army, and their parents in St. Ingbert (Saar), Ernst and Therese Uhl. Waldemar's last letter home is from June 23, 1941. The letters from Ernst and Therese begin in late 1942; almost all are addressed to Eugen. It appears that Ernst Uhl successfully petitioned for his son Eugen's removal from the front to "[a less dangerous post]" in March of 1943 (see Atbacher, March 18, 1943, and Hauptmann [...], March 22, 1943). The majority of letters in this subseries are between Eugen and his parents.

Subseries B: Jung, Josef

Interspersed with the Uhl family letters were about 35 letters addressed to Obergefreiter [Corporal] Josef (or Sepp, with the familiar form Seppel, which can be abbreviated as Sepp'l) Jung. No immediate relationship between Jung and Uhl is apparent.

SERIES VIII: Werle, Jakob

The majority of the letters in this series are to Jakob Werle. The remaining letters are addressed either to the Werle Family or sent by Jakob himself. The reader will notice that Werle's hand is radically different in the letter of February 14, 1944 from the military hospital at Wenden due to his injuries from a grenade explosion in Russia. From the German hospital in Wenden, Werle was transferred to a military hospital in Choroszcz, near Bialystok, in Poland. From Poland, he was moved back to Germany, to the hospital at Erfurt, from where his last letter, the latest dated (February 15, 1945) letter in this series, was sent.

SERIES IX: Zieher, Gottlob

With the exception of a single letter, dated February 18, 1943, Gottlob Zieher's correspondence is comprised of letters received. The majority of these are letters from Zieher's siblings, many from Frieda Zieher, who wrote from the family's hometown, Dinkelsbühl. The last letter sent to Zieher, from his sister Lina, is dated August 20, 1944.

SERIES X: Miscellaneous wartime documents

Series X contains miscellaneous items that, at the time of acquisition, were, seemingly arbitrarily, grouped with the correspondence of Gottlob Zieher. These items, labelled as miscellaneous documents, include soldier identification books, certificates of military honor, and an application to the Evangelical church, among others.


All three items placed in oversize are from Series VI: Schiavi and Messinger.

Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Use Restrictions

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Collection title, date (if known); German Correspondence from the World Wars; MSS 161; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.


The collection was purchased from Charles Apfelbaum Rare Manuscripts and Archives in 2003.

Separated Material

There is no record of materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Related Material at Fales Library and Special Collections

The Erich Maria Remarque Papers

Collection processed by

Daniel Callahan and Sam Markham, September 2004 - June 2005.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:15:34 -0400.
Language: Description is written in: English, Latin script.


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
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