At the outbreak of the Great War, August Reiffel worked as a solicitor in the town of Altkirch in what used to be - between 1871 and 1918 - the German province (Reichsland) Upper Alsace (today’s Département Haut-Rhin). Immediately after hostilities began in he was taken hostage by the French military. To date it has been impossible to tell if this happened on the basis of lists prepared beforehand or if he was the victim of denunciation. Either way – it turned out to be the beginning of an odyssey through different internment camps that would last for 2 ½ years, 10 months of which he spent in Île Longue.
Immediately after his return Reiffel composed a report for his superiors. We discovered this account in the university library in Strasbourg (MS3783). Including two appendixes it comprises some 92 type-written pages, 61 of which you will find attached to this introduction.
There are quite a few parallels between Reiffel’s account and the one written by Theodor Hommes, a fellow hostage. However it is more interesting to compare Reiffel’s testimony with that given by bailiff Xaver Rimmelin, who was detained as hostage in Dammerskirch (which is but 10 km distance from Altkirch) on almost precisely the same day. Both of them simultaneously passed through the internment locations of Belfort, Besançon, Moulins, Kerlois and Île Longue, although neither mentions the other in his account. Their perspectives on events differ hugely, though.
Reiffel was detained on August 19th, 1914, in Altkirch and moved through the camps in Belfort, Besançon, Moulins, Kerlois (near Hennebont) and Carnac (where he temporarily lived in a hotel) before being transferred to Île Longue on October 19th, 1915. Like others he confirmed that Île Longue offered better conditions than other camps: “There has been no camp where we felt at home to such a degree. Bracing sea air, lovely views of the ocean, of islands and of ships passing by, little work.“
Throughout his often painful odyssey from camp to camp August Reiffel kept an open and inquisitive mind (he was particularly interested in flowers and plants in general). This is as remarkable as the fact that he always managed to maintain an unbiased perspective towards circumstances and events.