TEXT AS A STATEMENT OF HUMANISM
Richert's reflections on his dire plight in the trenches, taken together with what we learn about his actions, amount to a deeply felt statement of humanistic beliefs; beliefs which stood the test of his wartime experiences. Such beliefs made him highly critical of certain widely held ideas about war. Ideas which his observations implied to be myths. These myths, we know, must have been a necessary kind of remedial solace to the great majority of Richert's generation both during and after the war: Heroism in the name of Kaiser und Vaterland and the supposed inferiority of the enemy.
Richert's writing successfully conveys the depth of his convictions to the reader. It is reasonable to suppose that he felt compelled to remember and write down what he had experienced. These two points give these war memoirs their particular character. Everything he experienced was of immense importance to him. His account unfolds in a strictly ordered sequence of events: Incidents in his day-to-day life; actions attached to the role he was forced to play in the military; his reflections on both of these. Although written in the Winter of 1918, the detailed time references in the text give his account the structure of a carefully kept diary. Dominik Richert's experiences in the war ended with his desertion after almost four years of active service in the trenches. On the night of July 23, 1918, he crossed over the French lines. For this he was sentenced to death in his absence by court-martial. He died at the ageof 84 in 1977.
As can be seen from the large number of reviews which the book has recieved, it has proved itself of interest to both social andmilitary historians as well as to the general reader.The following reviews of Beste Gelegenheit zu Sterben may be cited as examples.
– Times Literay Supplement, 1.7.89 Fear in the 2'renches, Roger
– Die Zeit, 27.10.89 Ein Denkmal für Deserteure, Volker Ullrich.
– Franfurter Rundschau 3.3.90. Ac.kerer, Alsacien, Deerteur,
Schriftsteller Wolfram Wette.
– War and Literature/Kriea und Li.eteratur Vol.4 I 1990, Review,
– Sozialwissenschaftliche Informationen 2.90 Die lange
Vorgeschichte einer Desei-tion. Wolfram Wette
– Zeitschrift für Sozialctischichte des 20. und 21 Jahunderts 1.90
Review, Karl Holl
– Dernieres Nouvelles D'Alsace, 24.10.89 Lescarnets de guerre du
fantassin IZichert, Daniel Walther
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK BESTE GELEGENHIEIT ZÜM STERBERN, WITH A VIEW TO AN ENGLISH EDITION
Beste Gelegenheit zum Sterben: Meine Erlebnisse im Kriege 1914-1918 Edited by Angelika Tramitz anD Bernd Ulrich/415pp./DM 42 Munich: Knesebeck und Schuler 1989/ISBN 3-926-90115-2
In 1989 the Munich publisher Knesebeck & Schuler published the wartime memoirs of a First World War private. This publication was made possible by the discovery of a typewritten copy of a manuscript found in a Military Archive in Freiburg by the historian Bernd Ulrich in 1987.
The original manuscript had been written by Dominik Richert – a farmworker who was called up by Prussian Army and who served four years at many locations on the Front. His miraculous survival allowed him to tell the tale. He called the account of his wartime experiences quite simply "My Experience of the War (1914-1918)'. The original manuscript was found in possession of Richert's sons. With the help of army records it was possible to verify its authenticity, and the text is now considered a source of particular interest for social and war historians. (See Roger Woods article in the Times Literary Supplement 1 July 1989). The work of establishing its authenticity was undertaken by the book,s editors, who also amended the author's title. Using a quote from the text as a title, the original title became the subtitle, hence Beste Gelegenheit zum Sterben: Meine Erlerbnisse im Kriege 1914-1918. Translated literall the full title means 'best opportunity to die: my experiences of the War (1914-1918). A translation of this title with the same idiomatic succinctness as the German might be: Way to a Certain Death? What I
Experienced in the War (1914-1918). Such a title would however be unsatisfactory from a translator's point of view.
THE TEXT AND ITS AUTHOR
Dominik Richert's gift with words was instanced throughout his long life: As a much loved story teller within the family circle; as a respected narrator of his wartime experiences among his comrades in the rural community of St.Ulrich, Alsace-Lorraine. The reputation he achieved as a narrator is not hard to imagine for anyone who has read Beste Gelegenheit zmn Sterben. His writing style is disciplined. Most interestingly, he avoids obscuring the immediacy of a reported incident with reflections based on hindsight. Immediacy is also achieved through his close attention to carefully observed detail. He is also quick to refer to motives for actions that were uppermost in his mind at the time. The straightforward way in which he expresses himself is dramatic in its impact, and leaves vivid images in the mind of the reader.