Centenary of Passchendaele

Today, 31 July 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. This morning descendants, dignitaries, and royalty gathered to mark the occasion of a battle that lasted 103 days and while the exact number of total casualties is still debated we can surmise it was over 400,000 (see G. Sheffield, and R. Prior & T. Wilson).

Reinach was at Passchendaele, fighting as a soldier in the field artillery of 185th Regiment. It would be his last battle, he died 6 days after it ended. There are no letters from him during this time to Husserl or his best friends, the Conrads, so we don’t have a record of his experience or feelings from this battle.  However, the one glimpse we do have into his state of mind comes when we look at the philosophy he was writing during Passchendaele: specifically, rough notes under the heading Bruchstück einer religionsphilosophischen Ausführung (Fragment of a Treatise on the Philosophy of Religion) titled Das Absolute (the Absolute), Struktur des Erlebnisses (Structure of Experience), and Skeptische Erwägungen (Skeptical Considerations) (Sept/October 1917).  I will also note that he expressed a desire to lecture on this topic, the philosophy of religion, when he returned from the war. In summary, Reinach explores and describes phenomenologically the feeling and the knowing of the presence of God, what the structure of that experience might resemble, and how to respond to those who doubt the validity of the experience.

I will return to these notes in greater detail in a later blog post, since I am working with them at the moment for an article on Reinach and Gerda Walther, but I have to admit that I have wondered if he possibly had a mystical experience on the field (there are plenty of ghost stories and uncanny experiences documented by soldiers), or if the horrors and brutality of WWI (and particularly the blood-and-mud of Passchendaele) were weighing very heavily on his mind. In 1916 he converted to Protestantism with his wife, Anna, so considerations about God and religion were already active in his thinking. But the timing of these notes is very telling, I think. The tone of these notes is also very special in that they are very phenomenologically poetic and deeply moving. Reinach is, as usual, the skilled phenomenologist in his descriptions, but there’s something more going on. When I read them, I see a man who is searching for joy and beauty in a world that is exploding in front of him, and, at the same time, rekindling the creative spark of a profoundly meaningful life endeavour that he had before enlistment — doing phenomenology.  He once told Conrad-Martius that he believed phenomenology was what the new Germany and the new Europe needed after the war ended (letter dated 10 September 1915).  Phenomenology was a saving grace for him, and for the continent. In these final fragments it is clear that ‘Reinach the soldier’ would always and forever be ‘Reinach the realist phenomenologist’.

To begin to understand what Reinach witnessed and participated in, I would like to include in this post some videos.  As you watch, think to yourself what it would have been like to be an academic like Reinach, or many of his Munich and Göttingen colleagues who enlisted, fighting in a war as a soldier far away from your desk and classroom. What impact would this have on your philosophy?

Reinach’s Final Resting Place

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~ Composed by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium


Remembrance Day 2016 I landed in Brussels very early on a rainy, dark morning.  I made this journey to Belgium expressly to see the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, and finally meet up with my colleague who works there, Pieter Trogh, and to finally visit Adolf Reinach’s grave. Since the summer of 2015 I had been helping Pieter with information and materials on Reinach (and other early phenomenologists when possible) for an exhibition they would hold in 2016 titled ‘The War in Writing‘.  This exhibition would highlight the ways people dealt with the experience of war through writing: letters, diaries, poetry, literature, but also afterwards, through official histories, regimental histories, critical reflections or pamphlets, and so on. This included the works of writers, poets, artists, philosophers, and journalists of different nationalities. In my case, Pieter was looking for written accounts by Reinach and other phenomenologists of war experience, reflections, and any philosophizing that happened on the battlefield in Belgium. It was a real pleasure to work with Pieter on this project, and it was wonderful to have the chance to meet him and tour the Ypres Salient with him as a guide.

The permanent WWI exhibition is breathtaking in its detail, scope and artifacts. It’s also highly interactive for the visitor (the poppy bracelet with microchip that enables the visitor to discover 4 personal stories throughout the permanent exhibition is so awesome), and the audio/video components are well done and often griping (for example, the film depicting the accounts of two field nurses and a doctor is as much touching as it is unsettling). I’ve never seen an exhibition like it and it took me over 3 hours to see it all (including an excursion to the rooftop where the view of Ypres is sensational). Best of all, this exhibition is available in 4 languages:  English, Dutch, German, and French.After the permanent part of the exhibition, with its uniforms and weapons and photos galore, you move onto the reading room where you can sit on a comfy chair or couch to peruse the written works of WWI notables such as Sassoon, Blunden, McCrae, and many more.  For Reinach, there was a display holding a first edition copy of his Gesammelte Schriften (1921).I will add that after we went out and did a bit of touring of the Salient (to St. Julien Canadian Memorial, to see the Remembrance Trees that mark the frontline on Bellewaerde Ridge, etc.) and experienced the pea soup mist and mud, it really brought to life the photos and videos of tanks and soldiers getting stuck (and killed) in the mud on display at the museum.  This stuff is epic!This journey with Pieter has introduced me to a whole new world of research. I’ve learned so much about WWI history and German military history as well. Reinach’s military record has been very challenging to uncover in detail.  He enlisted in the summer 1914 in his hometown of Mainz, he was placed in the Reserve Battery of the 21st Field Artillery Regiment of the 21st Reserve Division. He was then transferred to Reserve-Feldartillerie-Regiment 12 on 16th April 1916, and later on transferred to the 185th, in October 1916. With this final regiment he ended up in Flanders, taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres (which came to an ‘end’ at Passchendaele, 12th November 1917). Unfortunately the regimental history of the 185th Feldartillerie-Regiment has yet to be written. Further complications are encountered when you are informed by the Bundesarchiv in Freiburg, Germany, that since Reinach’s records were Hessen they were incorporated with the Prussian Army, and these were all lost when the Heeresarchiv in Potsdam burnt down during an air attack in 1945. As Pieter noted to me in an email, it’s astonishing how many military records from WWI were destroyed, not just in Germany but also in England during WWII bombing raids – somewhere around 60% of what was preserved in the National Archives in Kew were lost in the Battle of England in 1940.  This poses a monumental challenge to anyone working in or researching WWI soldiers and regimental histories.

So, what I know up to this point for Reinach are the regiments he was in, thanks to German military historians and private collectors (and his postmarked letters), and then records kept of German regiments and their movements by the British and other Allied Forces.  I know now he was killed in Klerken, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Houthulst Forest, outside Diksmuide. This makes sense as he was in the artillery, and they were positioned about a mile or so behind the forest, since it was one of the objectives for the Allied Forces.  He was killed four days after Passchendaele, most likely by an allied soldier sweeping out the last remaining Germans from hiding.  The record of his death is dated 12 January 1918, found in the German list of dead and missing soldiers. His body was moved to Langemarck German Military Cemetery, placed in the Kameradengraf (mass comrade grave) with approximately 25,000 other soldiers. This large space is surrounded by 68 bronze panels bearing the names of over 17,000 non-identified soldiers.  His name can be found on a newer panel titled NACHTRAG.

Pieter and I struggled to find his name on the giant slabs when we visited: it was raining, cold, and the panels are not easy to read. However, the lovely folks at the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge who take care of things made sure he is there. (The final photo in this set is cropped so you can see the line where his name is.)

I still hold out hope we can complete Reinach’s military record, gaining a full picture of his activities and journey during the war. This would certainly add some additional and much needed context to his letters. This task will no doubt take a lot of time and energy given the obstacles, but it’s worth it. This coming November I have been invited to do a commemoration event at the Flanders Fields Museum for the 100th anniversary of Reinach’s death. More on this as later as details are cemented. Pieter has also promised me a grander tour of the Salient, more battlefield hopping and education with some Belgian spirits to help warm the bones – I’ll pack my wellies and woolies for sure this time!


I must extend immense thanks to Pieter Trogh for his efforts with this exhibition, for asking me to be part of it, for being a fantastic tour guide of the Ypres Salient, and for his friendship.

Most of these photos were taken by my good friend, colleague, and fellow WWI history research junkie Edouard Jolly (thank you so much! You took so many brilliant photos it was hard to pick just a few!), with the exception of the NACHTRAG slab which was taken by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, and the photo of the reading room (complete with Husserl quote) were taken by Pieter Trogh, and the old colourized photo of the soliders in Ypres was downloaded from the internet.

Centennary of The Battle of the Somme

 

Somme Monument

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air–
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
~Alan Seeger, Letters & Diary (Posthumously Published, 1917)

On 1 July 2016, we marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. This offensive would last for four months, and go down in history as one of the largest battles of WWI and one of the bloodiest in military history. On the first day alone the loss of life was immense: the British army casualties (including a regiment from Newfoundland, Canada) were more than 57,000, the French army around 1,590, and the German military approximately 10,000 – 12,000 men. By the time the Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916, the total casualty number was roughly 1.12 million men and the gain for this incredible loss was a six-mile movement of the British military into German territory.

Reinach’s regimental history is incomplete at the moment, so it is hard to say with certainty his participation in the Battle of the Somme, in what phase, for how long, etc. He was stationed in France during the timeframe of the battle, and it is known he fought in the Battle of Arras. The epic battle of the Somme does, however, come up in his letters, one to Hedwig Conrad-Martius and one to Edmund Husserl. But the details are sadly little.

In a letter dated 24 October 1916, Reinach writes:

Dear Mrs. Conrad,

You are quite right; I am not longer in the platoon. Since February 1916 I wanted to leave. Finally I succeeded. On the first of October, I left that part of the unit of the regiment (consisting of two field guns) and came to a new-formation. How much nicer it is to be the unit leader in an active regiment, instead of the section leader in a platoon of the Reserve Regiment. I belong now to the 9th battery of the 185th field artillery regiment. Because all the components of the new-formation come from the Battle of the Somme, partly from the Battle of Verdun, and so at the moment we have calm, a large, nice, quiet town on a wooded hill with a wonderful view at our feet. (s…..s) I have very pleasant comrades, tolerable superiors and capable subordinates, and feel very comfortable.

A note on the ‘new-formation’ Reinach mentions – In August 1916, General Falkenhayn was relieved of his duties on the Western front, and replaced by Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg. These two felt a change of strategy was needed, the war of attrition General Falkenhayn led until now had been wasteful and ineffective. Ludendorff and von Hindenburg felt the best course was a defensive strategy that aimed at prolonging and preserving Germany’s position in the war: all operations had to measured by the proportion of losses in men and material rather than the gain of territory. This resulted in a flexible defence, where the battlefield was divided into two zones (the forward, and the area of main resistance). Unlike the Allies’ rigid system, German defenders could now fall back, join a much stronger second line of defence, and assume superior positions to exhaust the enemy. There could be relief divisions with reinforcements for the front divisions. This strategy later resulted in the infamous Hindenburg Line (1917) which consisted of three very strong, well-defended trench systems, and shorter lines. Hence, this ‘new-formation’ paved the way for Reinach’s promotion from the platoon and his position in a defensive line behind the first (i.e., behind the forward zone).

Hindenburg Line 2
Aerial view of the Hindenburg Line

One of the most interesting things about this letter comes when Reinach describes the civil, very gentleman-like fighting arrangements had with the French soldiers nearby:

With the French we have tacit but strictly followed agreements.  To shoot in the mornings is considered impolite. Shooting time for respectable people is from 3 – 6. During nighttime you have to be quiet. Calibers larger than 9 or at most 12cm are frowned upon – it is delightful! Also the trenches are so peaceful that you believe that you have been relocated to the base.

He ends this letter with “Will the war end sometime?”

The second letter where mention of the Somme occurs, the one written to Husserl, is dated 12 May 1917.  It is here we see evidence that Reinach was at the Somme, and even at the Battle of Verdun, but once again the details are very few. He writes,

So, for a long time already you have heard nothing from me.  And nevertheless I thought of you always and in longstanding warmth and gratitude, at Verdun, and the Somme, and now in Arras.  It was there, during the fourth battle of Arras, when I received your invitation to lecture at Freiburg.  I was laying flat – already 12 hours – in a shell hole where I was set up with my *trench binoculars. (*Scherenfernrohr, most likely donkey ear or rabbit ear binoculars, sometimes simply called Trench Periscope)

In the rest of the paragraph, he speaks of fighting the British at Fresnoy (between Arras and Douai).  He then describes the new British artillery methods as being part of their offensive failure, and how magnificent things are with the New German tactics and task system. In the final paragraph, he tells Husserl that he feels absolutely safe (as compared to the Somme).

The Second Battle of Arras lasted from 9 April to 4 May 1917 (the First Battle took place in 1914) and it had several phases: [1] the First Battle of the Scarpe (9 to 14 April 1917); [2] the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9 to 12 April 1917); [3] the First Battle of Bullecourt (10 to 11 April 1917); [4] the Battle of Lagnicourt (15 April 1917); [5] the Second Battle of the Scarpe (23 to 24 April 1917); [6] the Battle of Arleux (28 to 29 April 1917); [7] the Third Battle of the Scarpe (3 to 4 May 1917); and [8] the second Battle of Bullecourt (3 to 17 May 1917). It is likely what Reinach calls the fourth battle is the phase called The Battle of Lagincourt. This battle of Arras resulted in 160,000 British and roughly 125,000 German casualties.

What an interesting time to get a letter of invitation!  There is also a very dramatic contrast in day-to-day experience expressed here:  Husserl is in Freiburg teaching and mentoring, and Reinach is lying in a hole on an active battlefield trying not to get killed. While he says that he is happy Husserl is doing well in Freiburg, and he hears good things from Edith Stein, he does’t say whether he accepts the invitation or not. In my opinion, this shows hesitation on his part, that he wanted to decline the invitation.  Of course, he could also have been simply holding off on making a decision until he had a quiet moment and clear head to think about it. We shall never know his feelings on this issue with absolute certainty, and it is also difficult to say what Reinach would have wanted to do after the war was over had he survived (maybe he’d take up farming, like his friend Daubert). However, I will say, Reinach’s letters to Conrad before the war show he was not entirely happy in Göttingen, he missed Munich and his friends very much, and the growing theoretical distance between he and Husserl was making him uneasy.  Feelings such as these would make the move to Freiburg a bad choice.

 

“Good morning, good morning,” the general said,
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” muttered Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
~The General, Siegfried Sassoon (1918)


Alan Seeger, Letters and Diary (posthumously published 1917).                             See Also, Poetry Foundation.

John Keegan. The Face of War (2001).

Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems (1918).                                     See also Poetry Foundation, and BBC.

The letters presented here are my own translations (the letter to the Conrad-Martius was translated with the assistance of Dr. Thomas Vongehr).

Happy Birthday, Adolf Reinach!

reinach.BDay.pic
Today in 1883 Adolf Bernhard Philipp Reinach was born.

According to Edith Stein, in her unfinished autobiography Life In A Jewish Family: 1891-1916, Reinach came home to Göttingen on furlough for Christmas of 1915 and arrived in time to celebrate his 32nd birthday. Pauline Reinach, Adolf’s sister, wrote Stein a letter inviting her to visit and celebrate the two occasions. Stein of course happily accepted, exclaiming to herself: “Furlough! That possibility had never even occurred to me. So far ‘seeing Reinach again’ had been synonymous, always with ‘peace at war’s end.’ It was almost too good to be true.” (pgs. 377-378) She arrived in Göttingen on the 22nd of December with a birthday gift in hand – a good timely book – and made her way to the Reinachs’ home. After seeing Adolf Reinach for the first time in over a year, Stein writes: “Reinach had grown broad and strong; military service agreed with him. It was on this occasion that I truly got to know Frau Reinach. Formerly my visits to their home had been mostly on a student-to-teacher basis. But now I belonged to the most intimate circle, to the ‘mourners of the first rank’ as Reinach once facetiously put it when he imagined how things might go should he be killed.” (pg. 379) This circle consisted of his wife Anna, his sister Pauline, and then Stein and Erika Gothe. This comment of Reinach’s, while made in jest, turned out to be rather prophetic since he was killed on the battlefield in 1917 and this circle of friends came together to mourn. Stein and Anna Reinach became very close friends, and it was Stein who helped put Adolf’s philosophical writings in order after his death.

It’s rather interesting to think that 100 years ago today Reinach was alive and at home celebrating his birthday with his friends and family. Stein’s notes on the joyous occasion are brief but her deep fondness for the Reinachs’ is alive in her descriptions.

So rather than focus on Reinach’s death, let us think of his life and legacy. Today a major figure of both the Munich and Göttingen phenomenology circles was born; a philosopher and realist phenomenologist who inspired the great minds of Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Winthrop Bell, Edith Stein, and many others.

Happy 132nd Birthday, Adolf Reinach!

His End is Our Beginning

Today in 1917 Reinach died on the battlefield just outside Diksmuide in Flanders, Belgium.

In a conversation with Edith Stein and Fritz Kaufmann about his enlistment in the army, Adolf Reinach said: “it is not that I must go; rather I’m permitted to go.” After Germany’s declaration of war on France in the summer of 1914, Reinach, like many German intellectuals, immediately volunteered for the army with great enthusiasm, even attempting to exercise pressure to be admitted as quickly as possible. He was recruited in his hometown of Mainz in mid-August, and after two weeks of training he was assigned to the Reserve Battery, specifically the 21st Field Artillery Regiment of the 21st Reserve Division under the command of his younger brother, Heinrich. This platoon consisted of two field guns.  By February of 1915, he was fighting in the trenches against France, and later he received the Iron Cross for his efforts during this time.  In a letter to Theodor Conrad and Hedwig Conrad-Martius postmarked 5. 11. 1915, he recounts the event:

Before, my brother and I were with 2 heavy field guns on Hill 191. We lost both the hill and the artillery. But we left the guns only when our infantry was already behind us and we were in danger of being shot at by our own artillery. When we went back to the battery we came across another German battery that was already abandoned by the gunners and we mounted the field guns and shot at the advancing Frenchmen until night fell. There were often terrible hours, in which one settled one’s accounts with life. But this was nevertheless the proudest time in my life. And that’s the reason why my Iron Cross, which I received exactly for days like these, means so much to me.”

After this courageous event, he was promoted to Assistant to the Sergeant Major of the 9th Battery of the 185th Field Artillery, a position more to his liking: “How much nicer it is to be the unit leader in an active regiment, instead of the section leader in a platoon of the Reserve Regiment.”  In a letter to Husserl dated 1. 12. 1915, he mentions he took part in “The Big Offensive” (also known as the Second Battle of Champagne) from 22 September – 6 November 1915.

By December of 1915, Reinach is stationed in Belgium.  In a letter to the Conrads dated 5. 12. 1915 he describes the beauty he is surrounded by.  He really seems to enjoy his 4 weeks in Beverloo, and his Sunday travels to Brussels, Antwerp or Leuven. Even the fighting seems almost enjoyable!  Later, in a letter to Conrad-Martius dated 24. 10. 1916, he writes:

Because all the components of the new-formation come from the Battle of the Somme, partly from the Battle of Verdun, and so at the moment we have calm, a large, nice, quiet town on a wooded hill with a wonderful view at our feet. I have very pleasant comrades, tolerable superiors and capable subordinates, and feel very comfortable. With the French we have tacit but strictly followed agreements.  To shoot in the mornings is considered impolite. Shooting time for respectable people is from 3 – 6. During nighttime you have to be quiet. Calibers larger than 9 or at most 12cm are frowned upon – it is delightful! Also the trenches are so peaceful that you believe that you have been relocated to the base.”

The last letter the Conrads receive from Reinach was dated 12. 11. 1917.  It was a very brief letter, the shortest he ever wrote to them and it contained a photograph. It said,

I am the man with the belly.”

4 days after this letter was posted Reinach died.

"I am the man with the Belly"
I am the man with the Belly

(Sincerest thanks to Dr. Thomas Vongehr for this picture and his assistance with translating the WWI letters between Reinach and the Conrads.)