The following document that describes the internment of Eugen Lenz was given to us by his step-daughter, Gretel Lenz, living in Aalen in Württemberg. Firstly, we print the letter of Mrs. Lenz to Christophe, dated January 27, 2014, in which she comments and completes the story of her step-father:
"Attached,you will find some reading passages from 1915 and a text describing the time he was taken prisoner and then found himself in Ile Longue. Unfortunately, my step-father’ story is not dated. He may have written, another document before that seemed to have disappeared. We can conclude that he was very concerned and marked by that period.
Here is how I evaluate his relationship with “the” French: Primary and high school student here in Aalen, he learned French and through teaching got a very high esteem for the French people and its culture. At 21, he was called up and left without illusions, even with a critical mind (but “what will the people say at home?”) Then, prisoner of war in France, after his passage in Ile Longue, he will undergo hard times: in captivity in different farms, there will be problems with each farmer, because he was in charge of transmitting the complaints of the German prisoners. The darkest period for him was (in the pure sense of the term) when his secret writings were discovered: he spent four weeks in a cell without windows, having rats as company. Then came the famous “black camp” near Rouen, where ships from England loaded with coal came to be unloaded. There, a human life counted for nothing at all; one who fell into the water because he slipped with his wooden shoes simply disappeared. He only returned home in February 1920, he was a destroyed man. His family had him interned in Tübingen psychiatric hospital where he was presented to students as a typical type of war invalid. He spoke practically nothing about that period. When his son (my husband), then town councillor, spoke to him of a possible twinning of Aalen with the city of St. Lo, he told me that he could not support the project because he had lived too many things. "
And here is the story of Eugen Lenz
1. Essay on my 09/25/1915 capture
After travelling 4 days and 2 nights in tiring conditions, through the cities of Chalons-sur-Marne, Orleans, Blois, Tours, and Nantes , we arrived in Brest. See map: Brest fortress and naval port. Before the last stop to Brest, the guards were ordered to close all the windows of the cars; I could not understand what there was to spy, several times we passed through tunnels carved into the rock, and when we left the train, the Atlantic Ocean laid in front of us. Half of Brest stood on the right, on the coast above the sea. We arrived at the harbour station. What were we doing here, so close to the sea, and where were we going from here? At that time, we realized that some train cars were unhooked during the trip and that we were only 600 men. From that moment, a rumour spread; we were being transported to Algiers, in the French colonies, or perhaps we would be drowned. We will soon reach our temporary destination. Three tugs had came along the pier and we were going to embark; this is the first time in my life that I would sail (southern Germans had little opportunity). We felt the steady work of the engine under our feet, “slow ahead” said the captain; the propeller began to vibrate and the tug moved away from the coast, with its load of misery, distress, and men whose future was painted black and above all, whose freedom was stolen.
Gradually we lost the sight of the coast and we reached the open sea where the waves were rough, and our little tug began to swing from wave to wave like a nut shell. At the front of the boat, wave broke and splashed continuously our faces with seawater and as often as a stronger wave reached us we had to give up to the elements, we were soaked since a long time. We could not retreat because we were pressed against each other like sardines and we could not even take a step forward or back.
After about an hour, we saw in front of us a point coming from the mainland and our swinging boat was going in that direction. We arrived to an island where the rock plunged abruptly into the sea, and it seemed, that we also saw barracks up there on the island. At the outlet of the port we also saw several large steamers or warships, small cruisers and some torpedo ships that were anchored.
The landing was not as quick as the boarding, which was carried on from a pontoon. We anchored off the port and the landing was made down rope ladders to embark into rowing annexes that led us to the mainland.
We had just arrived in Ile Longue on which a civilian internment camp had been installed since autumn 1914; there must have been about 60 barracks. We were welcomed into the camp, what a welcome these men gave us .... What a comfort it brought us. We saw that the men took pity on us poor wretches, and we were not mistaken. The German delegate of the camp said that today, the German civilian internees had renounced their lunch and everyone could now go for a ration to the kitchen. How thoughtful, we were not used to so much goodness after suffering such humiliation the last days. We had eaten nothing warm since 8 days, only very little food and suddenly there were potatoes with roast meat and sauce, hunger was visible in our eyes because civilians were handing us bread asking “who has no bread, who wants some?” And, as we rushed on any piece of bread, what were they thinking of us, these men incarcerated since a long time?
Civilian prisoners were on the island since September 14, they had all come here from America, the steamer on which they were transported was called Charles Martel, they were captured by a French submarine and taken to the port of Brest. There were endless questions; “How are you? and what’s happening in Germany? how were they captured?” then we came to the particularities ... .The civilian internees of Saxony sought for the Saxon prisoners of war, those of Bavaria the Bavarian prisoners of war and we, from Württemberg we were few and were recognized by our compatriots because of the badge and the regimental number we wore. From what region, from Bernese or Unterland or vice versa, from where was the one who asked the question and quickly, we became friends and when he found a person from the same city or region who knew the same person, the pleasure and interest were greater. Someone called “all Swabians here” – I think he was from the region of Reutlingen - and each of us received a packet of tobacco, others brought shirts and socks or other clothes that had been set aside for us. I believe children receiving Christmas gifts would not have shown a happier face than us, we were spoiled prisoners at that time.
A man from Remstal, whose name I unfortunately forgot, and his friend Herr von Freitag, whose father was at that time a senior officer on the Eastern Front, picked me up at night to go to their barrack, and without saying a word, they served me soup, beans, bread and meat. “Do you have enough clothes, I’ve prepared a shirt, socks and underwear, when you go, take them.”They even served some wine; how could I thank them for so much consideration? How to render so much goodness?
A few days after our arrival, they let us write the first postcard to our families who must have worried a lot, because they had no news since that famous September 25, and that letters and packages sent to the front were shipped back to the country with “not part of the regiment” or had disappeared. Perhaps, believing we had died, they were already mourning. We were allowed to write 10 lines per postcard, we could write 4 postcards, and 2 letters per month.
There was also an orchestra in the camp. We were told that next Sunday there would be a concert performed for the troops, and in a packed room, overtures, and plays were performed solo as well as popular songs as long as they were permitted. Here, everything was organized to forget the sadness of reality, the work was not compulsory, the French guards behaved properly and left us in peace, not like in other camps where I will be interned.
In the camp, there was a well garnished library and I spent most of the time reading. The prisoners, had free access and I did not deprived myself. Somehow, the camp was ideally situated. Towards the west: open sea view, north-west and east: a view of the land. Far east we could see Brest and at night the city lights were .... such as ......
Every day we saw warships, large and small cruisers and some submarines manoeuvring around the island.
Daily, we were grouped and aligned in columns at the shore, to bring, meat, rice, potatoes, beans, to the camp, in short, the cargo of the famous “tug provisions” coming from Brest. What was interesting for us, new prisoners, was to wait for the tide, to observe the sea rising and see the foam as the waves were bursting against the cliffs. When the sea was calm, hundreds of fishing boats came out; the major income earned by the Britons, whose population, largely consisted of poor fishermen, where today there is still a majority of illiterates, but also where the best soldiers are recruited.
In the camp we could have French newspapers. Every day we could buy le Matin, le Journal, Le Petit Parisien for 2 “sous”, and we could follow assiduously every day, war stories, achievements and victories of the French, in the newspapers there was no question of anything else. The German offensive against Serbia began, the French press mentioned little about it, we just read from time to time that the Germans had gained ground and were able to move forward to the front. It was in October 1915, and at that time all the camp hoped for peace to come soon. Everyday, the thought to be home, probably before Christmas, spread through the camp and if someone had said that we would still be there in 2, 3 or 4 years, we would have taken him for a fool and fortunately, providence in its wisdom has willed that man should not know the future. Such were our hopes, in our pessimism.
The days passed quickly in Ile Longue and they were for us prisoners of war a moment of rest. Far too early, one afternoon, came an order saying that the soldiers had to leave the island because it was reserved for civilian internees. All those who were sick or convalescing could stay, others were to be ready to leave the next morning. We had to give back our cooking utensils, our spoons, our cups and blankets, then, with lighter luggage but with a heavy heart, we took leave of our civilian internees hosts,, wishing them, one after the other, a good luck and a speedy return to the country, which would unfortunately not be the case, for either. It was a morning of strong wind and the waves were high. Two tugs and a steamer were ready for the crossing to the land. Boarding was quick, the anchor chain began to creak and we were off again to an unknown destination. Interned civilians who remained on the island had accompanied us to the shore and while the tugs siren gave the starting signal and the propeller began to turn, the goodbyes continued: it was Germans who were torn from other Germans.
Just like when we crossed six weeks ago, we were squeezed on the tug, just in time, I could find a dry place and stuck myself against the front (the keel?) of the boat. Soon, we were off, away from our civilian internees from the island, and my thoughts turned hard about the future. It was obvious that we would never be treated as well as on the island. Meanwhile we had reached the open sea and the big waves which broke against the keel splashed us with sea water. The tug could only advance slowly and this time we were all seasick. High like some houses, the waves raised the tug and troughs of the same size opened. We were like a nut shell in the swell of the sea. The crossing in the storm lasted two hours until we got to the shelter of the harbour where we landed at the same place as six weeks earlier where we had embarked. Grouped into columns we went to the harbour station where a train was awaiting us, this time it was even a train with passenger cars. A young man of 19 years in the marines whom I asked why we were travelling in passengers cars explained that transport cars were all on the front to transport troops or for other use. After leaving Brest station we passed through Brittany and then reached Rennes (1am)
Translated from French by Barbara and Roger