WWI Memoirs—Helmut Freund, a physician from Berlin

A page from Helmut Freund's Memoir

A page from Helmut Freund’s Memoir

About 300 memoirs in LBI collections describe the experiences of Jewish soldiers in the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, from ordinary infantrymen to celebrated pilots to physicians and Jewish field chaplains.

Helmut Freund was born around 1896 in Berlin and served as an auxiliary physician in the German Army. Like many highly assimilated, middle-class German Jews serving on the Eastern Front, he was keenly interested in the lives of the relatively isolated and impoverished Yiddish-speaking Jews in the East.

His description of the Jewish inhabitants of Iŭje (Belarus), a town about halfway between Vilnius and Minsk, reflects viewpoints common in similar contemporary documents. Freund is taken aback by the squalor and poverty in which his fellow Jews live, but impressed by their piety and independence.

I am billeted with a Jewish family of just three members. I’ve had great luck in this regard, since all the other families have at least 10 children, but often as many as 16 or 18. What a racket such a large bunch can make. What screaming! […]

The guest room is literally crawling with fleas, and the old oilcloth sofa that I’m spending the first night on is home to an army of bedbugs. So, the next morning I approach Rebekka [the teenage daughter of his hosts] gingerly about the plague of fleas.

‘Fleas,’ replies Rebekka, ‘But everyone has fleas.’ […]

The polish Jewesses are the only girls I’ve observed during the war who spurn the horny advances of the thousands-strong horde of soldiers. Whether this is more attributable to religious commandments, racial instincts, or other interior circumstances I cannot say. One will likely find few war bastards in this area.

Freund, Helmut. Skizzen und Bilder aus dem Kriegstagebuch eines angehenden Arztes 1916-1918. pp. 121 et. seq. Memoir, ME 264.


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