There was nothing strange about them. Diary of a German soldier
Based on real diary entries
There was nothing strange about them really. They were men. Boots. Uniforms. Things I knew very well. But what were considered men? In my experience of boots and uniforms and red banners that was a call of judgment, not fact. Opinion could determine an individual’s idea of what constituted humanity, and what did not. I learned well not to look down so much upon the damned. Yet I could not help but look down on myself. I was damned. The boots had been stripped away. There were no remaining uniforms. The banners had been burned. Instead, I was in a wool sweater on a stretcher being pulled through a foreign country as a war criminal; an invader.
I was aware that a noble mind still existed amongst the English people, but recently, it had been elusive to my eyesight. There was no hospitality any longer to a foreign man, whether or not at war. Enemies yes, but mainly humans. And human I was, and human I was not being treated as. I only hoped that this mindset would change. Men became vicious in war, but I was here, hopefully, to make an end of this war.
I landed in Glasgow just months ago, wishing to impart some knowledge to the English that could potentially slow the bombings between them and Germany. I wanted the governments of our respective nations to come to their senses if they had any. They didn’t understand what we were trying to do, to unify a purified world. These men looked at me like a monster. Their eyes at first were wide, startled, disgusted. They thought of me as nothing more than an animal. They were blind to the truth. Later I would understand that they were the animals.
Immediately I sent letters, hoping to attract envoys and ambassadors to come to my aid. My letters were going nowhere. The consulate wouldn’t come. No one could hear my pleas. I was cut off, simply, and I realized it. I also realized that, for my own safety, I needed to get out of this place. Little did I know I’d soon be turned into a lab rat. Me, a statesman, a leader of German people, now confined to a hospital room where the door is locked and the windows are barred, with no fresh air but a pile of carcasses outside my opened window and the sound of lazy guards playing ball. Those were the least of my worries.
Within my first few weeks of captivity, throughout the night a lantern would be shown in my face to see if I were still alive, waking me every time and this behavior was continual. The Tommies around me, members of the royal guard, supposedly here to show that I was under royal protection were boorish. They carried themselves provokingly and taunted me at every turn. Even my physician Dr. Graham started to act as they did. I had only seen him acting acceptable once and it was on the first visit, welcoming me generously, examining my injuries which I incurred after my descent into Britain. He bandaged my wounded my leg, and wished me a pleasant stay. After that instance, nothing around me would feel sane again.
The second time I met Graham, he came to my locked room. I spoke to him of the painful headaches I was experiencing, and that my leg was incredibly swollen. The look on his face was incredibly strange, a glassiness came over his eyes, matched with a manufactured smile seared on his face. Upon getting nowhere with my medical complaints, I asked if I could receive a newspaper. No one would inform me what was happening in the outside world, how the war was going. He, and the Tommies, made abundantly clear there was no allowance for news, radio, papers, or any other way of knowing what was going on in the world to reach me. I was alone in this room, listening to dreadful humming right outside my door every time I try to lay down to catch up on sleep I so desperately needed to recover from my injuries.
Once again that concern soon moved to the back of my mind. I had been continually offered food and drink that others did not partake in and because of this I was increasingly suspicious of my food. I already didn’t feel comfortable eating food from an enemy nation considering my life was no more than a sentimentality, and probably a convenience. My life was no more than a beating heart and some breath. It did not matter if I were mentally or physically sound. It may be better if I were a raving lunatic.
After avoiding the food and drink, my stomach twisted and churned with the need for food, but no trust or ability to partake in what was put before me without the knowledge of what was to follow. It was a test, what was stronger, my will or my stomach? At the moment, my stomach was winning. In either case, I would suffer. If I did not eat, I would starve. If I did eat, I may be poisoned. With no way to bring in my own food, I had no choice. That night was the first of many instances of illness. I drank some milk and immediately felt incredibly ill. I suffered from peculiarly sharp headaches and eye disturbances. The light hurt my eyes and caused pressure in my forehead, yet not similar to a migraine. The pressure felt external and became exceeding detrimental as the hours went on. It became difficult to stand, or walk, or move my fingers. My fears were correct. They were trying to poison me.
That night was only the beginning of my continual war with food and sleep. There were up to four air-raids every night. The sirens went off inside and outside the building, one after another, after another, without any sign of there being any real danger outside. In later days if the sirens did not go off, it was still impossible to sleep. Incessant knocking and banging of doors and humming in the room beside me raged as soon as I laid in the metal cot. The stress of these occurrences built in me.
After having been in captivity for two weeks, with little food and sleep, Tommies entered my room and sat around me, asking peculiar questions about my past. If I answered correctly, their faces betrayed disappointment. If I simulated a fading memory, they remained content and would leave me be. Concerned about these expectations, I sent a letter for an ambassador to come and meet me. Of course, the letter had to go through the British Government in writing. I wrote what I believed to be the truth, I needed a diplomatic envoy to be delivered to me as I was concerned I was being subjected to a brain poison. I realized my suggestion sounded insane.
The government sent me an envoy soon after. Surprised that they received and accepted my request, I made sure to avoid eating for three days prior to the meeting, and only drink water. The envoy came with a physician to examine me and my claims. This doctor seemed like an upright, reasonable fellow with bright eyes and a confident gait. He listened to me kindly and wrote down my grievances with interest. Yet the following day he became exceedingly strange. His eyes changed dramatically since the day before. Now, he appeared glassy with a dreamy expression on his face. He was set in his opinion that I was the victim of prison-psychosis, and I couldn’t convince him otherwise. Richard, the physician, was assigned to me and prescribed me tablets to help me sleep and free me from pains.
Hopeful, I took the medication. On the contrary, though, I realized they did not help, instead they caused a stoppage in my bladder. It was incredibly difficult, if near impossible, to urinate. When I told him of this problem, he only advised me to drink a great deal of water. I did that, but the result was increased pains. Looking for relief, I stopped taking the tablets, pretending only to ingest them. The stoppage ceased within a few hours and I was able to urinate. Upon taking a small part of the tablet, another bladder cramp affected me. I did this experiment numerous times to make sure. Believing my original understanding was true, I stopped taking the tablets, hoping to regain some comfort. Richard came to my room and sat across from me and asked why I was no longer taking the tablets. I relayed my findings and made clear I refused to take them due to their effects. He sighed, nodded, and left the room without another word.
After a week of relief, the tablets were ground and mixed into my food. I realized this when the symptoms returned with a vengeance. The food became not only laced with the substance, but incredibly salty so I would need to drink water in order to satiate my thirst. The water appeared to be salted as well, making me wish to drink even further! The cramping became so severe that it would keep me up all night in pain. There was no hope for relief from these ailments.
I spoke to the Lieutenant on duty, Malome, a man who seemed very reasonable about my problems. He was one of the few men with bright, alert eyes, and a good disposition. I thought he would listen. At first, he refused to believe the effects of the tablets. He said it was impossible as I was under the protection of the Royal Guard. I had to be treated well under the law. Upon speaking to him further, he agreed to test the tablets himself. I kept tablets hidden in my room, taken from those I was expected to ingest, but did not. The following day he returned to me. At first, I was hopeful that there would be someone to believe me and listen to my grievances. Unfortunately, my hope was soon dashed. He had the same look in his eyes as the physician, glassy and dreamy, but he was also no longer polite. His voice became incredibly dense and gruff and he yelled that I was insane that it was a crime for me to suggest that the government would do such a thing to someone under the protection of the king. I was just a victim of my own mind.
Attempting to overcome my own nerves, I repeatedly requested books to be brought to me. Apparently, no book in English or German about mathematics, medicine, or world history was available in the country. Even upon requesting simple novels, those too were not made available. They provided me with no ability to occupy my mind, only adding to my nervousness.
Often Tommies would pass by my room and make it abundantly clear that I would not be able to return home. They would yell that as a war criminal, I was to be executed, or worse, imprisoned as I was for the rest of my life, never to see my family again. As an example, one day Richard asked me who would care for my family should something happen to me. I said I had a plan, but would not reveal it to him. He only replied with, “Let’s hope.” The very same day, a Tommy asked me the very same question while he delivered my food. I responded that I did have a plan. He replied with the same words as Richard, “Let’s hope.” I believe it was a mistake of management.
Another envoy was sent to me, a lord from London. He was curious about the German-Russian War. I spoke to him freely about what I knew. That appeared to be his only reason to speak to me. Feeling like I may be able to trust him, a few days later I sent him a letter, expressing my grievances and protesting to the British Government, expecting that this scandal would come to an end at once, calling for the punishment of those responsible for my treatment. I received no answer to my protest. I felt as if no one had any honor to cling by.
By autumn, the cast was removed from my injured leg, and I was moved to a room with windows facing the street. At first, I enjoyed the view, but was quickly disappointed. For many hours a day, the street was used as a training ground and a motorcycle course. The noise was constant and unusually loud for motorcycles which usually happens to be silent, and machine guns were stationed close to my window and fired often at targets. Airplanes circled around the building constantly and every half an hour a siren screamed forcefully right into my window.
A brigadier who delivered my food became a welcome friend from the beginning. He was a news-specialist with good standing and took part in medical classes both in America and Germany. He knew some German and offered me sympathies both personally and for Germany. He was sensitive and often played the piano in my room, Mozart, and Haydn. Soon after showing his sympathies for me, he was transferred, and left in tears. Once he left me, another brigadier was assigned to me. He spoke faultless German and was a gentleman with a large family and would speak to me about world affairs, usually ten years prior to avoid getting in trouble speaking about current events. Yet having a companion was enviable. Soon after, though, his father died. Together we spoke about the grief of losing a father, as I lost mine during the Great War. He became incredibly sympathetic to me, and I to him.
Many of the men who were around me seemed as if nothing was wrong with them, yet I knew they were responsible for the terrible circumstances I found myself in, including the poisoning and inhibiting of my sleep. These men had to be mentally ill, insane, and yet that was contradictory to the fact that they appeared completely normal but they were torturous individuals. I did not know how these men were driven to a state of partial insanity. Perhaps they were being hypnotized into doing these things, but I did not know how that could have such a far reaching and long-lasting effect. The man who lost his father, Major Foley, said I was the victim of auto-suggestion. He and the other men swore on their honor that they were not trying to make my stay difficult. The fact that they were lying on their own honor defeated me.
I mailed another letter for my Swiss envoy to come and speak to me, but as soon as it was sent, the brain poison crept into my food in great quantities. Soon I realized what they were doing and feigned the loss of my memory so I would not miss an opportunity to speak to the Swiss envoy. Once he arrived, I drank wine and pretended the drink returned my memory to its full capacity. The British men had no ability to stop the meeting at this point and I was allowed to continue. I suggested that the envoy confiscate the medications that were given to me and have them tested. I asked that the German Government not be informed of this situation as I did not want them to know the state I was currently in. Instead, I appealed to the King of England to show me courtesy, and to help me on his honor. I begged the Swiss ambassador to hand the letter to the king in person, to make sure it was delivered. The ambassador took the letter, but declined to test the medication.
As soon as he left, however, the attempt to drive me insane doubled. The food caused the stoppage of my bladder once again. In addition, the food became incredibly salty, or strong curry was added. I suffered incredibly from burning internal cramps. I was careless enough to tell the doctor during an examination that I was worried my kidneys were not functioning properly. Immediately afterwards the salt in my food compounded further, so much so it was not eatable. Many of the Tommies agreed with me in that fact, saying they would not be able to eat or survive off the food delivered to me. Any complaint I made to the physician Richard, Major Foley, or the cook, came to nothing. After weekly kidney testing, they found that my kidneys were still functioning properly, perhaps they gave up on trying to poison me with salt, as the food returned to normal.
Instead, another special chemical was added to my food to cause incredible constipation. When I complained about this, powerful purgatives were given to me. Surprisingly this did not produce any results past the most painful cramps of the stomach and intestines I’d ever experienced. I went to the physician after weeks of suffering these difficulties and begged for relief. I was prescribed a hundred anadin tablets at once. Even taking a few a day for relief, which was powerful, there was a severe reaction with my nervous system. I needed to use all my self-control to restrict this use as this was the only relief I could get. The number of tablets I was given was also a clear indication that I could end my suffering any time by taking all the pills. When I didn’t, the curry added to the food increased the stomach pain considerably.
Trying to distract myself and find further relief, I decided to spend time drawing architectural designs, sitting near the window with a pencil and paper, which I was allowed. Almost immediately my vision blurred so badly I could not write or read. Due to that, I could not draw any longer. When I woke in the morning, a sticky mucus coated my eyes and made it difficult to open them, and often painful. Breakfast was the only meal which I had alone, all other meals Tommies were around me. I feigned consumption of the hot cocoa in the morning, and my vision returned to normal. A Tommy noticed that I was no longer drinking the breakfast drink, and surely the poison was added with my food. My vision blurred and the secretions returned.
My vision became so bad that even up close, all images were severely blurred. I thought I was going blind. When I spoke to Foley about this problem, he laughed almost diabolically in response, but nonetheless said my situation was regrettable. He did promise that an eye doctor would examine me. Doctor Richards said he would bring in a doctor from London who specializes in things like that. He took ill and did not come. I requested again for him to examine my eyes, but repeatedly I was told that he was too ill to see me.
Richard brought me a radio, though, to ease my tension as I could no longer see. I was able to listen to symphonies, many of which had origins in Germany. I spent time sitting near the window in the sunlight, listening, enjoying the music. Major Foley came by and asked if I were fond of listening to this music. I agreed and said it was very calming. In two days, the broadcast was very disturbed. Major Foley said that signal could not be fixed, nor could the radio. He laughed as he said this, too, was regrettable as it was useful to me because of my eyes.
Without the radio, books, drawing, or even eyesight to keep me occupied I tried to think through things. I had numerous things to walk through mentally, my past, my family, and my current predicament. There was much time to think and process items. Major Foley asked what I was doing. I was too scared to respond. He only laughed. That night I was given another medication that was supposed to help with my eyes. Severe headaches overtook me as well as incredible fatigue. It was nearly impossible to stay awake or focus even on the simplest of tasks.
Once again, I needed to be cautious about the consumption of food given to me. I did not drink the cocoa and restricted my food intake. Foley noticed and sat down beside me, making eye contact with those glassy eyes of his. He told me to rid myself of this mad suspicion. I had to eat. He said, on his honor, that there was nothing unfit on my plate to eat. He made me promise to drink and eat. I did not promise.
It’d been months since I sent the letter with the Swiss Ambassador. I received no word in response. I called for him to speak with me. He replied immediately, saying he would come in three weeks. Off and on I restricted my food intake to keep my mind sharp. I feigned severe amnesia and such nervousness that the Tommies could be assured no one would believe me. I acted like a madman.
When the Swiss Ambassador came, there was some sense of hope overcoming me, but he said he was not allowed to hand deliver my letter to the king. He was allowed to give the letter to a Duke, however, who refused me any help. There was nothing he could do. The Duke claimed that I was only the victim of an obsession. There was no proof of anything I claimed. Once again, I pressed the ambassador to take the medication in for testing in a Swiss laboratory. He was reluctant to listen to me. I did not blame him for this. How would he believe me, a war criminal, over more than a dozen officers, a doctor, and an envoy, all in good standing? There seemed to be no evidence justifying my claims. He was friendly to me and went beyond his duty to help me, even bringing me a few poetry books of his own collection for me to read. He promised to deliver the medicine to a laboratory to have it tested and to have me moved to a quiet hospital in Wales.
His promise came through, and I was moved. Unfortunately, the predicament I was in, did not prove any better. There was no ability for me to sleep either by day or night. Constant banging and hammering shook through this dwelling as much as the last. Once again, I appealed to the Swiss Ambassador. I said sleep was impossible. When he came to visit, he slept in the room beside mine. This night, though, everything was silent. There was no switching of cars at the railway station, no locomotives going by, but as soon as he left, satisfied, probably, that I was mad, it started all over again. While here, though, he said he had the samples analyzed at a London laboratory, for his convenience. He had to reveal where the samples came from before they would analyze them, and the laboratory claimed they could not find anything wrong with them “For reasons essential to warfare”. The ambassador, nonetheless, was convinced that everything was in order.
There was little I could do to change my situation. I was subject to the most inhumane treatment, near torturous living conditions, and all I could think of, was a hunger strike. Unfortunately, the Swiss envoy disagreed with my threat and said if I did that, I would be force fed. In an attempt to better my living space, he ordered flowers to be put in my room. My room was filled with them constantly. The smell and pollen caused me to be uncomfortable, so I asked for them to be removed. Richard came to me and attempted to urge me into taking sleeping pills to help get rest. I knew very well that science agreed that pills would damage the nervous system. I preferred not to take any, and said I would try to adjust to the noise in the dwelling instead. I adjusted and was able to sleep after many weeks. Much of the noise ceased when I became comfortable with it, only adding to my belief that the noise was made intentional.
It was quiet for about two weeks, and then new manners of noise making appeared. There were loud banging noises surrounding my place of sleep which always woke me up followed by incredibly deep growling noises. I spoke to Foley about these noises, and he explained it away saying they only came from the heating system, yet I noticed the noises when the heating system was out of use. Further noises were made, the guard who stood outside my door would repeatedly load and unload their rifles. One man would go repeatedly into coughing fits at night, when he had no disruptions to his respiratory system during the day. I begged for them to stop making all the noise, but they would laugh and continue, often louder than before. At times, I was so distressed I thought I’d strangle them, but I always had enough self-control not to do anything. That would be what these men wanted me to do, they wanted me mad enough to be in an insane asylum. I knew I had to avoid that. I needed to remain sane.
Doctor Richard left me and I was instead in the care of Doctor Jones, who was very pleasant and assured me that he’d do everything in his power to make me comfortable, and to stop the cramps in my stomach. He had very broad shoulders, a proud face, and stood upright when he walked. From the beginning, he expressed some sympathies for the National Socialists, and openly criticized England’s social programs. He even read the English version of “Mein Kampf.” He spoke with gusto and had bright, expressive eyes. When he came to speak to me two days later, he was nearly unrecognizable. His eyes were absent, glassy, and he walked with a stooped position, and he spoke without force. The changes in his appearance were startling, and lasted the entire time I knew him. He was still responsible for my treatment, however, and he became terrible. He gave me a larger dose of poison, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was effected by something. The men around me were put into some abnormal state by something otherwise unknown to the world.
I managed to get a scrap of newspaper speaking about the war and Moscow, reminding me of the Moscow trial before the war and the strange circumstances that occurred there. Reports recorded that the defendants who accused themselves had glassy eyes just like these men. I realized these methods had been used before in Moscow. The victims were hypnotized into freely admitting crimes, just as these men were hypnotized into criminal behavior. It was clear that there was something going on here and in the wider world.
I still did not become insane and did my best to keep my mind intact. The food I ate was now mixed with acids to increase my pains. The acid was put in bread and cookies, which was a majority of my food intake. My insides would burn soon after ingestion. For relief, any relief, I started to scratch chalk off the walls with my nails to reduce the acid, but it was not enough. When the acid began to lose some effect upon me, another type of chemical was added to the food. My mouth was burnt to shreds, little wounds burned my mouth and throat. Vegetables were expired, the butter was rancid and tasted strange. In addition to all the other foods, the cramps in my intestines was nearly unbearable. Hard bits were placed in my food with the attempt to break my teeth, which was successful. Bits and pieces of teeth broke off, even when I was careful with what I consumed. I begged Doctor Jones for a dentist to come and assist me. Jones brought in a dentist he said he trusted, who analyzed me and said that there was nothing wrong with my teeth. I very well knew both physically and visually that my teeth were broken. I could feel the sharp edges, and I knew there was serious decay, but he denied any of this was true.
A few weeks later, as I was scratching chalk off the wall, I received a severe cut on my arm. I was given treatment for the wound with alcohol. The wound became rancid itself and developed a pussy infection. Curious, I started to cut myself with razor blades. I made sure only half were treated with the alcohol. The ones treated developed pus while those that were not treated did not. They were attempting to poison my blood. Even the simplest things here could not be trusted.
The Swiss envoy sent me some books in English, which I decided to translate into German. I could see rather well at this point as I refused to drink the breakfast cocoa. He also sent me a dictionary to assist me in the translation. Now, occupied, I coped better with the pain. As soon as Foley noticed my entertainment, the dictionary was destroyed.
In a few days, I developed skin lesions and was treated with Vaseline and a powder. Upon using it, my skin became dry and itchy. Large red patches developed and soon I felt very strange. The stuff must have been a heart poison as well. My heart was exhausted at the slightest movement. I could barely move around my room. Once again, I complained, feeling like if this continued, I’d either go mad, or die. Major Foley replied, again, that I enjoyed the protection of the King, and that if what I said was true, the men around me who were responsible, should be shot. I agreed with him.
The Swiss envoy sent me a newspaper to read. There was a trial happening in Italy in relation to the war. Italy was quitting the war on account of their leaders. Those who were being interrogated and interviewed showed the same glassy, empty look in their eyes. He too, had been put into a state of partial insanity, just like these men. There was nothing, otherwise, strange about him.
Nina Wilson is a locally published author and photographer who recently received her BA in History and Writing. She has been previously published in The Pearl, Coe Review, The Fishfood Magazine, Adelaide Magazine, Rascal Magazine, The Sea Letter, Dark River Review, Deluge Magazine, and is the author of a novel titled Surrender Language, published by Adelaide Books on December 4th.