Stabs In the Back and Big Lies

Stab-in-the-back PostcardBy the end of September 1918, the Germans were beaten.  Earlier that year Chief-of-Staff Erich Ludendorff commanded the “Kaiserschlacht”  offensive that briefly seemed to turn the tide, but the Germans lacked the resources to support the effort. Ludendorff himself told the Kaiser and Germany’s Chancellor to ask for a ceasefire on September 29th.

But the myth that Germany’s civilian leaders betrayed their military started to spread before the Treaty of Versailles was completed.  It said that the army had won but was forced to surrender by Jews, or Bolsheviks, or Socialists. This story later became known as the Dolchstoßlegende, the “stab-in-the-back myth,” after Ludendorff said that the civilian government in Germany “stabbed him in the back”. Despite the fact that he had admitted defeat, and later recommended accepting the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.

This myth is no small thing. It’s not “spiders eggs in Bubble-Yum” or “Paul is dead”. Even “FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming” is trivial compared to this one. It was a central belief of the Nazi Party, and I’m sure you noticed the part about Jews being behind it. Ludendorff himself, who obviously knew it was false, went on to support Hitler.

The myth is strong enough that still around today. I’m not going to link to the sites, but a search yields a few “truther” sites that blame it for just about everything bad that’s happened since 1918. Which of course means that, you guessed it, the Jews are responsible. Think about it: if you believe this myth you can draw a straight line from the end of World War I to 9/11. Or, if you believe 9/11 was a conspiracy than this myth is a no-brainer. (Literally.) I’m sure there are more than a few people that hang out at Trump rallies that are very familiar with the Dolchstoßlegende.

There is, of course, absolutely no historical basis for it. I’m not going to bother debunking it any further. It’s just bullshit.

The stab-in-the-back myth is hardly the first big lie, and it’s certainly not the last. Today we have Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City, Benghazi, Obama the Muslim, and the murder of Vince Foster, to just name a few. There’s even a modern variation of the stab-in-the-back myth for Vietnam.

My book deals directly with the stab-in-the-back myth. The antagonists are right wingers that will eventually become prominent members of the Nazi Party. They believe the myth, or at least contribute heavily to spreading it. Even though I based the characters on real people, I’ve struggled a bit with bringing them to life. It’s tough to write someone who believes these things without making them seem like a cartoon character.

But today’s current events remind me that sometimes cartoon characters come to life. I can usually pick up some inspiration by checking the day’s current events.

Sigh.

Research on Liedolsheim

Greetings from LiedolsheimMy grandfather’s story starts in his home town, Liedolsheim, moves to France for World War I, and then returns to Liedolsheim until he is forced to leave before members of the NSDAP (Nazis) try to kill him. Again.

So of course, writing about this involves a lot of research about Liedolsheim. Liedolsheim has always been present: pictures of the Village Church were always visible in my grandparent’s home, and I heard the name many times in my childhood. I visited there a few times in the 80’s when I was in Germany too.

But writing about it, and especially writing what I want to be more historical fiction than just fiction, is a different story. Especially when the story starts in 1914 and ends in 1928.

There’s a lot of information easily available about this period in Germany. The transition from the German Empire before the war, to what was effectively a military dictatorship by the end of the war, to the doomed Weimar Republic, has been studied quite thoroughly, and the information is readily available.

Liedolsheim has a Wikipedia page under it’s new name, Dettenheim. (The German version is better.) the Wikipedia even contains some information about the period I want to write about. And of course the village is still there. Visiting again will help me a lot.

But how do you learn what it was like to live in a small village 30 kilometers from “the city” before cars and trucks were common? Before even radio was readily available? This has been my challenge the last few weeks. I should have started this project 30 years ago…but too late for that now.

Fortunately I have family still there, and the process of reaching out has begun. But there’s still that but that’s hard to quantify: thinking like a man born and raised at the turn of the last century.

The Capture of Montauban

British Artillery
If you look back at the picture of grandfather in my post in December you can see the “109” on his helmet. He was the in the 109th Reserve Regiment, part of the 28th Reserve Infantry Division. (You can a listing of military units at the Somme here.) Unlike the United States, which entered the war much later, both Britain and Germany built units from communities. (I am not sure if France and Canada did the same.)  Both sides paid a terrible cost for this during the war when entire units were devastated, leading to the devastation of the corresponding communities.

The 109th consisted of draftees from the area surrounding Karlsruhe in Baden. (Now Baden-Württemberg.) My family is from Liedolsheim, now Dettenheim. That article about Dettenheim contains some interesting facts about Liedolsheim after World War I, which will be a big part of my story later.

The 109th was at Montauban, one of the places where the German lines fell during the bloodbath of July 1, 1916. July 1, 1916 is colloquially (and somewhat confusingly) referred to as “The First Day on the Somme.” It was the first day that the British and French attacked the German trenches. For the most part that day was a terrible failure for the Allies, and their losses were terrible.

As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, when the lines broke many members of the 109th retreated back behind their own artillery. My grandfather was one of the leaders of that retreat because he knew the way, and he was considered hero because of the many lives he saved. The German trenches were, by design, a baffling maze 2 or 3 kilometers deep depending on where you were. He knew the way because he maintained the telephone lines between the trenches and the artillery.

For seven straight days prior to July 1, British and French artillery pounded the German trenches, in an attempt to soften them up. This strategy failed, and other than a few small pockets like Montauban, the German lines held and July 1 was the first day in a long and bloody battle.

At some point after July 1 my grandfather was captured and held as a POW of the French. That’s one of my next research projects.

The Battle of the Somme – Starting My Research

I wrote a few weeks back about my grandfather and his experience in World War I on the Somme. There’s more to my grandfather’s story: quite a bit more. I’ve been engaged in quite a bit of research and plan on writing a book.

I’ll be posting bits and pieces here as I go along.

This week is a couple of Youtube videos with footage from the Somme. It’s not much. I promise much more to follow.

There are many photo and even some video from the Somme available, but most of it is from the British perspective. What’s universal however, are the terrible conditions the soldiers on all sides had to deal with.

What really interesting is the footage of the British soldiers handling the German POWs in the first video.

More to come.

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