American humanitarian aid to Central Powers of WWI?

  • Author: Michael Foight
  • Published: February 12, 2016

Posted for: Darren Poley, Outreach and Theology Librarian, Villanova University

Deutschwehr commemorative coin: “For support of the widows, orphans, and war suffers”

Deutschwehr commemorative coin:
“For support of the widows, orphans, and war suffers”

Prior to the entrance of the United States into the First World War, Deutschwehr, a German volunteer aid society often involving prominent socialites, was particularly active in and near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Deutschwehr may very well have been one of the “auxiliary organizations” to which Gen. Kurt von Pfuel, chairman of the central committee of the German Red Cross, mentions in his letter of appreciation written Feb. 25, 1915 which was later translated and published in The New York Times (April 9, 1915, p. 4, c. 3). The Deutschwehr motto: “He who helps his brothers does a noble deed.”

Reporting on the Deutschwehr-Fest, Riverside, N.J. which included a ball and a well-organized bazaar, a Philadelphia Inquirer news article indicates Deutschwehr activities were “to relieve the war suffers of the Central Powers of Europe” and headed by “the general committee with headquarters in Philadelphia” (May 7, 1916, p. 8, c. 3). Soon thereafter in the same newspaper a two column-wide advertisement with intended shock-value announced “Deutschwehr War Films” shown “for the benefit of war widows and babies” (May 14, 1916, p. 14, c. 7-8). The August 1916 records of The Relief Fund of Philadelphia (Hilfsfond), a German-American charity founded shortly after the beginning of World War One indicates it gave funds raised for civilian war relief in Germany and Austria-Hungary to both the Philadelphia office of the Berlin Deutschwehr and the German Red Cross (Rotes Kreuz). Nevertheless, a Philadelphia Inquirer feature later in the same year identifies Deutschwehr with the “German Red Cross” and said it was “one of the most potential aids to the cause of charity in the United States” with the purpose of “providing for the needy widows and orphans who survive slain soldier husbands and fathers” (Dec. 24, 1916, p. 7, c. 4-5).

Given the large number of German-born residents, the Attorney General of the United States issued a “circular communication” the day the U.S. declared war on the Central Powers, April 6, 1917. It stated, “No German alien enemy in this country, who has not hitherto been implicated in plots against the interests of the United States, need have any fear of action by the Department of Justice so long as he observes the following warning: Obey the law; keep your mouth shut” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7, 1917, p. 1, c. 4). The suspicion of an uprising of America’s estimated 30 million German-Americans in favor of Pan-Germanism was a chimera. However in the teeth of anti-German zeal and especially after the U.S. entered the conflict, “Patriotic Americans of German lineage” were reorganizing to “Americanize Deutschwehr” in its efforts to “aid wounded and widows” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1917, p. 9, c. 4). Thus proving Americans with a German heritage were ‘for the United States first, last, and all the time’ as was quoted in a report about the 1916 series of Deutschwehr charity events “being held for the widows and orphans of German, Austrian, Hungarian, and their allied soldiers at Madison Square Garden” labeled a “Teutonic Bazaar” by The New York Times (March 14, 1916, p. 9, c. 3).

Although the American Red Cross in keeping with the Geneva Convention of 1906 attempted nationality-neutral aid to the sick and wounded in 1914 it wasn’t until after the United States declared war and President Wilson was made honorary chairman that the American Red Cross became the preeminent U.S.-based aid society for providing impartial relief at home and abroad. Some Deutschwehr publications preserved by The German Society of Pennsylvania have been digitized by Digital Library@Villanova University.


Photographic Album of Beatrice Mae Correia, 1917-1918

  • Author: Michael Foight
  • Published: May 21, 2015

Posted for Marjorie L. Haines, Spring Digital Library Intern, Villanova University:

Beatrice Mae Correia’s WWI scrapbook, now a feature of Villanova University’s Special Collections, displays graphic and often disturbing images from the Great War. Many war-themed scrapbooks tend to portray personal or familial involvement, such as the scrapbook of Einer Smestad, WWI US Infantryman, or Captain James Archbald’s scrapbook of the Mexican Revolution Border War. Correia’s collection, on the other hand, exhibits the gruesome death and destruction of WWI. A number of the photographs appear to be acquired from retail sources, as duplicates are found in other WWI special collections. Photography of war corpses developed into a popular practice, particularly during the American Civil War, and Correia represents the consumer market for this distinctive product.

Photos of war corpses wash away the clean, sanitary picture of war and bring to light the ghastly consequences. Yet today’s surplus publication of gore and death, as seen in movies, YouTube, and other media sources, seems to dampen the sobering effect. Reality and imagination tend to merge, predominantly with the former morphing into the latter. The people viewed in this scrapbook existed. They were someone’s child, sibling, parent, friend, and confidant. They had dreams and aspirations. Where would you draw the line of respect and remembrance in regards to these immortalizations of others’ suffering and death?

Deadmans hill

“Deadman’s hill. Verdun 1916.”

The first page of Correia’s scrapbook contains an image of Deadman’s Hill commonly found on the face of postcards. This photo depicts dead Germans at Morte-Homme – Deadman’s Hill – in France after the Battle of Verdun. In 1916 the Germans sacrificed a significant amount of men and arms in an attack that was intended to acquire a swift and decisive victory; this anticipated success was to come at a time when Germany needed to reaffirm her superiority in the face of internal dissention and external skepticism. The resulting German ‘defeat’ led to Verdun’s nickname as “The Slaughter-House of Germany.” (The Battle of Verdun (1914-1918), p. 29, 1919, Michelin & Cie: Clermont-Ferrand, France) The photo acutely conveys the horror of the aftermath, notably with a bare leg bone protruding from a disfigured boot in a fashion worthy of Hollywood carnage scenes.

Refugees Fleeing

“Refugees Fleeing Before German Adfance Near Chateau Thirry”

It is estimated that WWI generated a minimum of 10 million refugees, almost a fifth of which were internally displaced French persons. (Refugees, 2014, Gatrell, Peter, International Encyclopedia of the First World War) Imagine your own life as a WWI refugee. Fleeing meant leaving your home with the understanding that it will likely be uninhabitable when – if – you return. You could only take what you could carry. You would lose contact with almost everyone you know. Your livelihood would depend on the goodwill of strangers, who may eventually tire of the influx of refugees. You may try to stay near your home, hoping to return soon, only to be pushed farther and farther away along with additional refugees.

Mine Explosion

“Mine Explosion. Chevoncourt.”

This image, on record in two other locations (WorldWar, Durham Museum), likely shows the German mine explosion in French-occupied Chauvoncourt, France on November 18, 1914. (The New York Times Current History: The European War, Volume 2, p. 1011, 1917, New York Times Company) Where would you prefer to be in the Great War: on the surface with poisonous gas, bullets, and explosives, or below the ground with poisonous gas, potential tunnel collapse, and explosives?

After the marne

“After the Marne fighting 1914. 1916.”

Countless skulls, long bones, and ribs, all piled together in an indistinguishable mix. Is it easier to objectify these corpses, as they no longer resemble a single, complete human form, with no human identifiers such as clothing? Does it matter if these are allies or enemy? This grisly pile of human bones represents only a sampling of the death accumulated, on both sides, during the Great War.


Last Modified: May 21, 2015