Leaves From a Coblenz Diary. Ii: Being Fragments From the Notebook of Heinrich Scheinstutzen, Apothecary

January 3, 1919. — Much to our surprise the Americans at the Peace meeting do not seem to be standing up for Germany. This, in spite of our kindness to their soldiers. The news from foreign lands indicates that we are to be made the victims of the greediness of other nations who are full of envy of our achievements. They speak of ‘reparation’ as if they considered us responsible for bringing on the war. Surely the clear statements of our statesmen at Berlin should have convinced any reasonable man that it was not of our seeking. Has not our Kaiser himself declared, ‘I did not will this war’? But there is no end to the malice of our enemies.

January 7. — The vast projects for the amusement of the American soldiers have become the topic of much talk among our citizens. Our monster Festhalle, adjoining the Kaiser’s palace, has been leased, and there they have fancy-dress balls, and theatricals, and boxing-bouts; while the lower floor and some of the smaller chambers are fitted up as rest-rooms and readingrooms. Many other buildings in the city have been taken over for clubs and canteens and moving pictures.

We have never seen anything like this; and fortunately, too, for the discipline of soldiers cannot be maintained if they be petted and pampered after such a fashion. Yet even now the Americans are not satisfied.

‘So you think this is doing a lot for the soldiers?’ one of their officers said to an acquaintance of mine when leasing a house. ‘Why, the generals and colonels all over the area are complaining because we are not doing enough. We have n’t started yet; the railroads have been too tied up with hauling food and clothing to bring us the material we need. Later you will see some real action.’

January 13. — With all their prating about Germany’s misdeeds, the hypocrisy of the Americans is proved by this thing alone: they bring their women along with them. And they are shameless enough to put them in uniform, and flaunt them in the face of all the world. Of course, no respectable women would come across the seas, away from their families. It is not necessary to apply the word to them; it is too plain.

January 14. — All the past unbecoming behavior of Maria’s has been eclipsed by her display of temper today. Truly, I had not imagined her capable of such language, such rebellion. It came about through my making a casual remark about these American women — practically the same as I set down in my diary last night. She fairly leaped out of her chair.

‘You shall not say such a thing — I will not have you say such a thing!’ she cried in a rage. ‘Two of those girls let me go up in the Festhalle while you were at the store yesterday, and look at the soldiers; I could see what those girls were like, and they told me about all the others. You shall not say such a thing! It is — it is a slander, a lie!’

Such words from my wife! Then I, in my turn, grew angry.

' “Shall not, shall not,” you say?’ I replied. ‘ You tell your own husband he shall not? And what if he says what he pleases? What then, woman?’

Whereupon she narrowed her eyes, — I never thought that Maria could wear such a look — and came closer to me.

‘ “ What then? ” ’ she repeated. ‘ I ’ll tell you what then. One more such shameful word, and, husband or no husband, I’ll go right upstairs and tell those two boys just what you said about them. If I can’t tell them so that they ’ll understand, I’ll take their little dictionary and show them each word at a time until they do understand. And just what do you suppose they will do with you, then? How long before I would be your widow instead of your wife, do you think?’

I said no more. There is no use trying to talk to Maria when she is like that. I shall not bring the subject up again.

January 17. — We are not troubled to keep ourselves from social intercourse with the Americans, because they have themselves made a rule against any sort of association — ‘fraternizing,’ they call it. In the streets and public places the foreigners always keep to themselves, and their military police have even been seen to rebuke soldiers who have broken the rule by holding a moment’s conversation with a German. Inside homes where they are quartered, they exchange pleasant greetings with the women and children, as they pass in and out, but go by the men in silence.

Having in mind the fact that Germany may be helped by our gaining their friendship, I have once or twice smiled pleasantly at the sergeant and corporal, encouraging them to speak, but they have walked on by as if their faces were made of stone.

After I had thought over their conversation on the steps, I decided it would be much better to pass off as a joke my pretending not to understand English; and so, when one of them was talking to Maria in Ihe hall, I said laughingly, —

‘You young rascals were too clever for me. I thought I would play a good joke on you, but you found me out. Ha! ha!’

His lip curved into a sort of smile, and he finished what he was saying to Maria, — something about getting him a bath, — and walked upstairs.

He was no doubt flattered by my compliment to their cunning. I cannot help congratulating myself at my skill in thus disarming whatever suspicion they might have. Unquestionably they are very simple.

January 19. — Wilhelm Stieffel, the merchant, was telling me to-day of the American lieutenant who lives on the second floor of his house. For three years Wilhelm has had hanging at the head of the stairs, just outside the lieutenant’s room, a fine painting of FieldMarshal von Hindenburg. Desiring to do everything possible to win the American’s good-will, my friend asked him if he would like to have the portrait removed. Of course, a German officer, in a like situation, would never permit an enemy general’s image to be kept to stare him in the face several times a day. But the lieutenant laughed gleefully as he declined the offer.

‘Lord, no,’ he said, ‘let the old boy stay there if you want to. Rather like it myself. Every time I look at him it makes me think of the day we had such a fine romp across the Hindenburg Line.’

Such impertinence is typical of them, and shows their lack of respect for greatness.

January 25. — Last week Friedrich Schnitzel and I were in thorough agreement as to the unwarlike qualities of the Americans, but I found this evening that he shook his head doubtfully when I touched upon this topic. It seems that Friedrich and his younger brother Otto were walking through Goeben Platz. Otto is less level-headed than Friedrich, and, like some others of our citizens, has become somewhat nettled at the continuing lack of any sign of assistance from the Americans at the Peace meeting. They were talking of this, when they met an American soldier on the narrow sidewalk. Instead of drawing to the right and giving room, Otto held to the curbstone on the left and bumped full into the soldier. One who recalls his broad shoulders, and his disposition, may be sure it was no gentle bump.

The foreigner did not protest, as my friends thought he might do. There were no words — the soldier’s arm just shot out, so fast that Friedrich says it looked less like an arm than a streak, and caught poor Otto under the chin and brought him flat upon the pavement. Without noticing him further, the American turned to Friedrich and said, —

‘Do you want to meet the twin to that punch?’

‘No,’ said Friedrich quickly.

‘All right — then you and your chum better try to get along with half the sidewalk.’

With which the soldier passed on. Friedrich thinks they may not be so soft as we had thought . But this particular American is an exception. From what I have observed of them, with their laughter and childlike ways of acting, I do not see how they can be fighters like our German troops.

January 26. — A cousin of mine, Jacob Stietz, whom I had not seen since he was called into the service two and a half years ago, came home to-day. His regiment has been demobilized, and he has been allowed to come through the American lines to take up his life again in his native city. I had a talk with him this afternoon about many things, especially the Americans. I told him of their doings since coming here, and of my opinions about them. He listened to me for a while, but at last rudely interrupted me.

‘You are talking like a fool, Heinrich,’ he said. ‘If you want to find somebody to agree with you, pick out a man who did not fight in the Argonne Forest. You talk of their laughing. I know of it, too. I could hear them laughing, sometimes, from our trenches. And, soon after, they would be piling over on us and fighting like devils. I like their being here no better than you do. But do not talk to me of their being “soft.” It makes me sick.’

Jacob was always a bumptious young fellow, without due respect for his elders.

February 1. — Just before the evening meal, when I came home, I found the American sergeant and corporal out in the street, playing with the child Marguerita and several of her friends. There were eight or ten of the children. Instructed by the Americans, they were running from place to place, and knocking a ball back and forth, and screaming and laughing. The two soldiers behaved just like Marguerita and the other infants, the only difference being that their laughter was deep instead of shrill. And yet these are the men who, during the war, are said to have adopted the coarse motto, ‘Treat ’em rough’!

February 7. — The brother of the man who serves as butler in the house of the Countess of Altbieber, at the neighboring town of Neuwied, was in Coblenz to-day; and I was able to hear from him an authentic account of what occurred at a dinner given by the countess a few days ago. It appears that both high and low circles in Neuwied and the surrounding country are agog with the story. The countess decided to have a dinner attended only by women. There were nine of them present, and they talked all the time about the Americans, men and officers, a large number of whom are quartered in and around that town.

According to the butler, who repeated the conversation to the brother with whom I talked, the women at the dinner related to one another their experiences with the Americans dwelling in their houses, — all the fine residences in that section, including the princess’s palace, are partly occupied by officers, — and the discussion resolved itself into the most shocking judgments upon the conduct of German men toward their wives and women in general.

‘I confess I have had my eyes opened to a few things in the last two months,’ the countess herself declared. ‘The men have been having their way in this country a long time, and don’t seem to have learned much. It looks as if we could now set about teaching them a little about behavior, anyhow.’ And then she added — in a very serious tone, the butler said — the following words: ‘But let us not forget that our great chance is with the children.’

Thus it is that women who call themselves German are becoming tainted by shallow and dangerous ideas. But for the high position of those present at this dinner I should not consider such prattle worthy to be set down here. As it is, one may be excused for a feeling of alarm at the sinister suggestion conveyed by the incident. Especially disquieting, when one looks to the future of our Fatherland, are the countess’s final words — about the children.

February 12. — Several times I have noticed that, after three or four days of depression at reports of how our less well-balanced citizens welcome new and perilous ideas, I find occasion to congratulate myself that the mass of our citizens are proof against these newfangled forms of nonsense. Especially am I thus reassured after spending an evening with my companions at the Schloss Café. We discuss all these things at length, in our own circle, and at the hour of parting we always decide that the Fatherland is safe.

As to the women, I learn with a mixed feeling of satisfaction and humiliation that Maria’s new turn of mind is not general among those of her sex. Friedrich Schnitzel tells me that his wife has spells of weeping two or three times weekly over the unhappy fate of our exiled Kaiser. Johann Schmidt and the others also testify that their helpmeets retain that feminine tenderness and loyalty, which, alas! are no longer found in my own household. Displeased as I must be at the situation there, I rejoice at the thought that most of the women of Germany stand staunch for the old and true faith.

February 18. — Never did I think that my eyes would look upon such a desecration as met them when I turned into Clemens Platz to-day. There, on the very grounds of the Kaiser’s palace, the foreigners had erected a monstrous wooden building which they say is for some form of entertainment for the soldiers. To think that this ground, which was always held so sacred, — upon which even our own citizens were forbidden to tread, so that it might be smooth and beautiful whenever the Kaiser came to visit us, — to think that this place should be so profaned!

I recall what the American officer said to my friend about the increase of amusement facilities; and what he foretold has indeed come true. Coblenz has been made what they call a leave centre; and barracks have been built on vacant lots all over the city, to accommodate several thousand soldiers who come in from outlying towns on threeday leaves of absence. Clubrooms, restaurants, libraries, moving-picture theatres, have sprung up in bewildering numbers. One cannot make a turn without seeing a sign bearing the letters ‘Y.M.C.A.’ or ‘K.C.,’ or an army poster, announcing the readiness to satisfy some particular kind of want of these holiday-makers. They seem to go out of their way to think of new wants to satisfy.

February 26. — There is evident throughout our city a tendency to relax from the bearing of friendship toward the Americans. Attentively the citizens have been reading of the doings at the Peace meeting in Paris, and they have observed no sign that the Americans’ President and his assistants are seeking to lighten the burden to be placed upon the Fatherland. If our kindnesses have only this result, ask the impatient ones among us, of what use is it to keep them up? But this view is to be deplored. Patience and persistence have always been two of our most valuable national virtues, and we must not lose them now. Several persons who have come through from Berlin, and who are in close touch with the sentiment of the authorities there, insist that the policy of amity and helpfulness must be maintained. They say that it is bringing benefits, under the surface, which those who do not think deeply fail to realize. This is to my mind the correct view, and it is our duty to swallow our pride and continue in the way that the men high in our councils advise.

March 2. — From snatches of conversation between the American sergeant and corporal, I gather that the foreigners throughout the whole occupation area are homesick. Truly, I join them in the wish that they may have a speedy return to their firesides. They sing slangy ditties about their country, and recall longingly to each other agreeable incidents in their past; but with it all they seem to keep their cheerfulness. Yesterday I heard the sergeant singing, —

‘Hello, Broadway, good-bye, France!’

Whereupon the corporal, in a louder voice, interrupted him, bellowing, — ‘But we won’t go back till it’s over, over here!’

Then they both joined in the meaningless laughter that I am becoming used to.

March 3. — Even at the midday hour, I cannot enjoy the peace that a busy man is entitled to. To-day, on approaching my home, whom should I meet but the child Marguerita, with little Hans Pfeffer and about a dozen of their playmates in tow, marching up and down the sidewalk singing. Coming nearer to them, I found that their song was one they had picked up from the foreigners, of which the boisterous refrain was, —

‘Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.’

March 10. — It, is only the very small children for whom we have to fear, in connection with the new doctrines that foreigners — and, I regret to say, a few firebrands among the Germans themselves — are sowing abroad. The youths of fifteen and over have been well grounded in sound principles, and will not be led astray. Proof of this is supplied, not only by the testimony of parents: one has only to observe the manner of our young men, as they walk the streets and rub shoulders with the Americans, to know their true feelings.

March 15. — Authentic reports from Berlin bring the welcome news that men who were high up in both civil and military affairs during the war still wield a powerful influence. New names have been adopted for the form of government and the various branches of the government, but I notice that those in nominal power have had to call in experienced army officers, and statesmen well trained under the Kaiser, to do the real work. Along with the names of president and chancellor, new men who have a temporary popularity, we find other names that give us full confidence in the future of the Fatherland.

March 16. — Though our war is over, lesser struggles continue in Eastern and Southern Europe. What these portend is not clear, with the meagre news at hand; but, as I see it, they are all to the advantage of Germany. This is the judgment of all the citizens with whom I talk. Enemies who might combine against us are wearing their strength out fighting among themselves; and it may be that the rich regions to the east and south, wasted of their man-power, will be of great use to us in the forthcoming contest with our arch-enemies to the west. These greater powers are still in apparent accord, but any day may bring dissension among them.

They keep numerous forces here; but they are sending home auxiliary units such as hospitals, labor-battalions, engineers, and so on — which are indispensable in war. True, Germany also is not prepared to renew the fight now. But only let us stay united! Then nothing is impossible to our people. Shall we not always bear in mind the inscription on the statue of our great Kaiser Wilhelm the First here in Coblenz: ‘Never will the Empire fall while Germany stands united and faithful.’

I recall constantly, with tears in my eyes, the shouts of the last of our homecoming soldiers who crossed the Rhine ahead of the Americans. Waving their caps, they looked back at our cheering citizens and said, ‘We will come back to you — some day!’

March 18. — Yesterday, apparently, was a feast-day among a large proportion of the Americans. They call it St. Patrick’s Day. It is an Irish festival. So curious was I to understand why the Americans made it the occasion of celebration, that I overcame my reluctance to hold conversation with the foreigners, and asked the corporal the meaning of it.

‘Sure it’s Irish,’ he said; ‘but we’ve got a few million of the Irish in the U.S., and we never let an excuse go by to celebrate a holiday, — with an extra feed if we can work it, — so a lot of the rest of us join in and shout for old St. Patrick too.’

Indeed, these people’s minds operate in strange fashion.

‘But I always heard that the Irish were friendly to Germany and hated England,’ I ventured, smiling to keep the talk on the level of banter.

‘Friends to the Dutchmen! Ha! ha!’ he shouted. ‘You ask some of your birds in the Prussian Guard who got up against the Rainbow on the Ourcq.’ Then he stopped laughing and asked, with a sort of surprised expression, ’Say, who’s been stringin’ you, anyway? Just because a few Irishmen can’t keep their shirts on when they talk about England, do you think the Irish in the U.S. ain’t Americans first of all?’

I saw that there was no use trying to explain to him. Being only a corporal, of course he cannot be expected to be well informed. Our own leading men, officials of the government and editors and preachers, have told us that the Irish throughout the world were ready to take up arms against England at any moment; and if Irishmen were enrolled in the American army, plainly it was because they were forced to be and could not follow their natural desires.

March 23. — The most unruly element among our people, the so-called Spartacists, have attempted an uprising here in Coblenz, but it has been nipped in the bud. One of their emissaries came from Berlin, and they had made plans to capture the post-office and the banks; but the American military police learned of the plot and arrested the leaders.

In the rest of Germany, the excesses of this element do not serve an altogether bad purpose. They create a reaction in favor of law and order; by contrast, they give our sound leaders a chance to regain their hold, and at the same time, by the alarm they stir up, reconcile our enemies to the reëstablishment of a strong government with which they can deal. But I should prefer that they do not disturb the quiet that now reigns in the occupation area. We are secure here, and, though we lack many things we sadly need, we have plenty of food to keep us from danger of starvation. This is because the foreigners bring in their own provisions, and furthermore do not permit foodstuffs to be shipped out of the Rhineland. It is better that the outbreaks be confined to Berlin and Bremen and Hamburg and other distant places.

March 26. — A remark of Maria’s has renewed in me a vague feeling of uneasiness, of which I find it difficult to rid myself. When I returned from the Schloss Café last night, feeling, as usual after these talks with my companions, more cheerful about the aspect of affairs in general, I remarked to her that things were beginning to look more bright for the Fatherland.

’If the Germans stand fast, and stand together,’ I said, we shall soon be able to face the world again and show it that we are invincible.’

She replied with that combative spirit that she now so constantly displays.

‘Yes,’ she said bitterly, ‘if you men have your way we’ll have the war all over again — the killing and the hunger. And half the women or more are with you, like sheep.’ Then she brightened and went on, ‘But if it can be put off long enough, those who are now children will fix it better. Little Marguerita and Hans and millions like ’em will be grown up, and oh, God! I hope they will not be so blind. Our hope lies in the children!’

Always that same idea keeps forcing itself upon me. When she said this, at once I recalled the sight of the infants playing in the streets with the Americans, and what was said at the Countess of Altbieber’s dinner, and a dozen other little incidents and remarks, all carrying the same suggestion. Doubtless, after another conversation with my good friends Friedrich and Johann and the others, I shall feel cheerful again. But at the moment I cannot shake off my depression. There is truth in what Maria says. Always it is — the children! There lies the danger to our dear Fatherland.

(The End)