Description of the Correspondence

The Authors of the Letters

1.1. Hilde

Hil­de Lau­be was born in 1920 to a working-class fami­ly in a rural vil­la­ge in Sax­o­ny, Ger­ma­ny. She worked for a year as a domestic ser­vant, then in a a hosie­ry fac­to­ry. She knew Roland from the Lutheran church choir in O.; in fact she joi­ned the coral socie­ty in order to be clo­ser to him; but by May 1938, she had only spo­ken to him once. After Roland had to move away from O., Hil­de wro­te him an impas­sio­ned let­ter (on 4. Mai 1938) in which she reve­a­led her hid­den love for him. The let­ters reve­al Hil­de to be a strong, cou­ra­ge­ous, ambi­tious, and roman­tic woman who wan­ted more from life. She was a pious Chris­ti­an, and she was some­ti­mes credu­lous in poli­ti­cal ques­ti­ons, she asked cri­ti­cal ques­ti­ons about important the­mes in con­tem­pora­ry events. 

1.1.2. Roland

Roland was born in 1907 to a bour­geois fami­ly in ano­t­her rural vil­la­ge in Sax­o­ny. After he aban­do­ned his music stu­dies, he worked as a vil­la­ge school­tea­cher in O. In Spring 1938, he was for­ci­b­ly trans­fer­red to L., ano­t­her rural vil­la­ge in Sax­o­ny, appar­ent­ly becau­se he did not par­ti­ci­pa­te in the NSDAP to the degree expec­ted of him. Around this time, he joi­ned the Nazi Par­ty. Roland was a reclu­se who had only a select few men friends and litt­le con­ta­ct with women. He pre­fer­red to spend his free time alo­ne at home or in natu­re. Until Hil­de wro­te to him, he had assu­med that he would spend his life as a bache­lor. His edu­ca­ti­on (Bil­dung) was an essen­ti­al aspect to his self-image.

2. The Periods of the Correspondence

2.1. Getting to know each other

Bet­ween May and Decem­ber 1938, Hil­de and Roland got to know one ano­t­her. They still used the for­mal pro­noun “Sie” and they met secret­ly a num­ber of times in order to pro­tect their young rela­ti­ons­hip from public scrutiny.

2.2. Courtship

Bet­ween Janu­a­ry 1939 and July 1940, Hil­de and Roland gra­du­al­ly shared their rela­ti­ons­hip with their par­ents, friends, and neigh­bors. They used the infor­mal “Du” with one ano­t­her, exch­an­ged terms of ende­arment, and deve­lo­ped a “couple’s lan­guage” uni­que to their rela­ti­ons­hip. The year­ning for phy­si­cal inti­ma­cy incre­a­singly beca­me a chal­len­ge. Both moved resi­den­ces: Hilde’s fami­ly moved to a lar­ger apart­ment, Roland to ano­t­her vil­la­ge becau­se of a new tea­ching posi­ti­on. They announ­ced their enga­ge­ment in the Spring of 1940, which took place on 13. July 1940. Just befo­re their nup­ti­als, Hil­de stop­ped working out­side of the home.

2.3. Basic Training

After a brief break in the cor­re­spon­dence, Hil­de and Roland began wri­ting one ano­t­her again in August 1940 as Roland was con­scrip­ted into the mili­ta­ry. He did his basic trai­ning in Schles­wig-Hol­stein as a pet­ty offi­cer (Maat) so he could ser­ve as a clerk (Schrei­ber) in the Ger­man Navy (Kriegs­ma­ri­ne). Ano­t­her break in the cor­re­spon­dence took place the end of Novem­ber 1940 when Hil­de and Roland were per­mit­ted to meet again for a short fur­lough in a small vil­la­ge in the vicini­ty of Kiel.

2.4. Military Deployment

In the let­ters that have been publis­hed so far, Roland was trans­fer­red first in 1941 to Plov­div in Bul­ga­ria and the­re­af­ter to Thes­sa­lo­ni­ki in Greece, whe­re he was still sta­ti­ons in 1942. Throughout this peri­od, Hil­de remai­ned in her vil­la­ge in Saxony.

2.5. Subsequent Events in Letters not yet Published

Roland ser­ved in the Ger­man Navy until the end of the war when he was cap­tu­red by the Red Army. The cor­re­spon­dence only ends in Febru­a­ry 1947 when he retur­ned to Hil­de after being incarce­r­a­ted as a Pri­so­ner of War.

3. Collection Description

The cor­re­spon­dence remai­ned and remains in the pri­va­te owners­hip of of the [Nord­hoff] child­ren. After the war, Hil­de orga­ni­zed and stored them in 24 ring bin­ders. They are only par­ti­al­ly num­be­red. In 2012 the fami­ly deci­ded to make the ent­i­re collec­tion avail­ab­le to the T&S rese­arch team for the pur­po­ses of a public histo­ry pro­ject, though under the con­di­ti­on of main­tai­ning their anony­mi­ty “as much as possible.”

3.1 Scope

The cor­re­spon­dence con­sists of some 4000 let­ters, inclu­ding some post­cards, tele­grams, and gree­ting cards. The let­ters are bet­ween one and twel­ve pages long, with some inclu­de two or three dif­fe­rent let­ters at one pos­ting. The vast majo­ri­ty of the let­ters are bet­ween four and seven pages long. The num­ber of let­ters alrea­dy publis­hed in any given year or mon­th can be found in the Let­ter Archi­ve on the right column of the main pages.

3.2. Delivery Times

In times of peace, it took only few days for a let­ter to reach its addres­see. Hil­de and Roland cal­cu­la­ted this dura­ti­on care­ful­ly and awai­ted the arri­val of the let­ter with gre­at anti­ci­pa­ti­on. In times of war, deli­very times were much lon­ger. At the end of July 1941, for instance, it usual­ly took a let­ter six days to tra­vel from Hil­de to Roland: “Your loving let­ters now come very quick­ly and regu­lar­ly to me, taking only 6 days” [410722–1–1]. In the same peri­od, it took “5 days, may­be even lon­ger” [410723–2–1], for a let­ter from Roland to reach Saxony.

3.3. Writing Frequency

During the pro­cess of get­ting to know one ano­t­her and their courtship, Roland and Hil­de wro­te very regu­lar­ly, typi­cal­ly one let­ter per week each. This fre­quen­cy incre­a­sed to one or two let­ters per day when Roland was in basic trai­ning or deploy­ed, alt­hough they some­ti­mes were for­ced to take a break from wri­ting for a day or two due to other preoccupations.

The­re are few long inter­rup­ti­ons in the cor­re­spon­dence. When inter­rup­ti­ons took place, it was typi­cal­ly the result of ill­ness; when they were able to eit­her meet in per­son, as in the case of a ren­dez­vous, a trip tog­e­ther, or a fur­lough; or when they were able to live tog­e­ther for a brief time after their wed­ding as a mar­ried couple.

3.4. Enclosures

Alrea­dy during their courtship, the cou­p­le exch­an­ged pho­tos, gifts, and docu­ments with their cor­re­spon­dence. After Roland was con­scrip­ted, he sent his dir­ty laund­ry back home to Hil­de for her to clean; and she sent him hard-to-find or ratio­ned goods in packa­ges. The­se enclo­sures con­ti­nued during the war. From Bul­ga­ria, Roland repeated­ly sent his pho­to­gra­phic nega­ti­ves to Hil­de for deve­lo­p­ment in their home town [z. B. 410416–2–1]. Hil­de dis­tri­bu­t­ed the pho­to­gra­phic prints among the wives of the sol­di­ers with whom Roland was sta­tio­ned [z. B. 410609–2–1]. We publish the­se pho­to­graphs in appro­pria­te let­ters. Hil­de also sent Roland cash to his out­post [z. B. 410611–2–1].

4. Qualities of the Letters

4.1 Writing Materials

At first the cou­p­le sought out a high qua­li­ty wri­ting paper that even smel­led good. The paper qua­li­ty decli­ned steadi­ly during the war, however.

In order to place the let­ters in ring bin­ders, Hil­de made holes in the paper. As a result, one or more let­ters are some­ti­mes mis­sing at the­se loca­ti­ons, but only in a few cases can the word not be infer­red from the remai­ning letters.

The vast majo­ri­ty of let­ters were writ­ten in ink, though Roland some­ti­mes used a pen­cil when he was tra­ve­ling. As much as pos­si­ble, irre­gu­la­ri­ties in the ink or splot­ches are demons­tra­ted in the blog with illus­tra­ti­ons like this one .

4.2 Handwriting

Hil­de and Roland wro­te their let­ters by hand. Espe­cial­ly when they were first get­ting to know one ano­t­her, they both wro­te for­mal­ly and ten­ded to use High Ger­man. It is evi­dent that the final ver­si­on was mai­led only after one or more drafts were com­po­sed and care­ful­ly writ­ten down. Alrea­dy by the time that Roland left for Basic Trai­ning, they both wro­te more quick­ly, more infor­mal­ly, and more emotionally.

Briefauszug, Zwei Handschriften
Brief­aus­zug, Zwei Hand­schrif­ten, 380615–1‑1

In the ear­ly years, now and then they dis­cus­sed their respec­ti­ve hand­wri­ting styles. Roland wro­te most­ly in an older Ger­man script, some­ti­mes (in the peri­od from 1938 to 39) in Süt­ter­lin, and in extra­or­di­na­ry cases using two dif­fe­rent scripts in the same let­ter for dif­fe­rent kinds of text, as in the let­ter illus­tra­ted abo­ve,). Hil­de com­po­sed her let­ters in a more modern, huma­nistic-latin wri­ting style (below).

Aus­zug aus dem Brief 380520–2–1

The lar­gest shift in Roland’s wri­ting style took place during the war, when he began to wri­te in a more rela­xed, free, and quick man­ner. He beca­me par­ti­cu­lar­ly careless with his hand­wri­ting when he was drunk.

Over the cour­se of their courtship, Hil­de and Roland deve­lo­ped a secret code uni­que to their rela­ti­ons­hip in which they wro­te their words smal­ler when they were exch­an­ging inti­maci­es as if they were whis­pe­ring to one another.

Con­ver­se­ly they wro­te other words lar­ger as if they were spea­king them in per­son with stron­ger emo­ti­ons. As far as pos­si­ble, the­se chan­ges in sca­le are repre­sen­ted in the blog by alte­ring the size of the type smal­ler or lar­ger (10 point or 14 point as com­pa­red to the stan­dard 12 point font) or with the intro­duc­tion of an illustration.

4.3 Language and Orthography

Both aut­hors attemp­ted to use High Ger­man at the begin­ning of their rela­ti­ons­hip. Alrea­dy during the courtship, they began to wri­te more and more the way they spo­ke, which is to say, in the dialect of their regi­on and in their own per­so­nal idolect.

Both employ­ed typi­cal expres­si­ons from the Saxon and Bava­ri­an-Aus­tri­an idi­om, though Hil­de did so more fre­quent­ly than Roland. Both also used words that even at the time were out of regu­lar use in High Ger­man, in this case Roland more than Hil­de. For­eign loan-words from Eng­lish, French, and Greek appe­ar in the let­ters from time to time as well. 

The­re were fewer rigid rules for punc­tua­ti­on at the time as com­pa­red to the rule for pro­per wri­ting today. Moreo­ver, words were often abbre­via­ted in the let­ters, espe­cial­ly when they were wri­ting in the first per­son sin­gu­lar as in “I have/ich hab” ins­tead of “ich habe” or “I would be/ich wär” ins­tead of “ich wäre”. In kee­ping with the times, some words were writ­ten tog­e­ther like “how much/wieviel” and “not at all/garnicht”. Dimi­nu­tive forms can often be found as cor­re­sponds to their way of spea­king like “Weibel/little wife or woman”.

4.4. Abbreviations

Hil­de and Roland used the fol­lowing abbre­via­ti­ons and sym­bols most frequently:

  • km = kilometer
  • M. = Mark (Ger­man cur­ren­cy unit)
  • Pf. = penny
  • ℔ = pound
  • u. = and
  • usw. = etc./and so on

They also abbre­via­ted insti­tu­ti­ons of the Ger­man Reich:

  • NSDAP = Natio­nal Socia­list Ger­man Workers Party
  • NSV = Natio­nal Socia­list People’s Welfare
  • SS = Schutzstaffel

4.5. Nicknames

During their courtship, the cou­p­le deve­lo­ped a set of nick­na­mes that they used as terms of endearment.

Hilde’s nick­na­mes Roland:  “Hubo”, “Dickerle/little fat boy”, und “Männerli/little man”.

Roland’s nick­na­mes for Hil­de:  “Holde/a woman’s name”, “Weibel/little wife or woman”, “Das Mäd­chen vom Westen/the girl from the west”, refer­ring to the ope­ra by Gia­co­mo Puc­ci­ni of the same name.

Both for each other: “Herzelein/My litt­le heart”, “Herzlieb/Love of my heart”, “Herzallerliebster/Dearest love of my heart”.

Hil­de cal­ler her par­ents “Mutsch/little mom­mie” und (weni­ger häu­fig) “Pappsch/little papa.”

4.6. Zeichnungen

Aus­zug aus dem Brief, mit Kusszeichnung

Hil­de some­ti­mes added small drawings into her pro­se to illus­tra­te a rhe­to­ri­cal point (as seen abo­ve). Roland some­ti­mes added lar­ger drawings to give Hil­de a sen­se for the very dif­fe­rent world in which he was living (as seen below). Drawings are always illus­tra­ted in the blog.

“Unser Johann,” Zeich­nung von Roland, Aus­zug aus dem Brief.

5. Censorship and Self-Censorship

5.1. External Censorship

The pri­va­cy of per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons was alrea­dy de fac­to abolis­hed in Ger­ma­ny by Febru­a­ry 1933 through the Ordi­na­ry to Pro­tect the Peop­le and State/Verordnung zum Schutz von Volk und Staat.[1] But a com­pre­hen­si­ve sys­tem of cen­sor­s­hip was hard­ly pos­si­ble given the dra­ma­tic incre­a­se in let­ter traf­fic. The mili­ta­ry post had their own cen­sor­s­hip offices and, at least sin­ce the attack on Poland, the for­eign post was moni­to­red through spe­cial­ly desi­gna­ted offices cal­led Auslandsbriefprüfstellen.[2] Except for the toll, that made it clear that offi­cials had ope­ned the let­ter, their moni­to­ring of let­ters was not evi­dent to the let­ter wri­ter or receiver.[3]

Hil­de and Roland dis­cus­sed the ques­ti­on of whe­ther their let­ters were being ope­ned by the cen­sor and whe­ther that crea­ted a dan­ger for them in various ways in their cor­re­spon­dence. Embed­ded in a gene­ral depic­tion of their traf­fic in let­ters and packa­ges, Roland wro­te: “I belie­ve that none of our mail has got­ten lost thus far. In Bülk several com­ra­des com­p­lai­ned about the loss spe­ci­fi­cal­ly of food packa­ges. Some­ti­mes the let­ters also get ope­ned for moni­to­ring. Then they are mar­ked with a stamp. Who knows what they will think if they get a hold of one of ours without knowing the con­text. Lovers! And so we are, You!” [401108–1–1] Hil­de also so no dan­ger for herself and Roland in a poten­ti­al­ly ope­ned let­ter: “And what is in it? Oh, that I have so much love for you, they may all know that, I am not asha­med of that at all! And my gues­ses about whe­re you might find yourself next? They are all so harm­less, not dis­clo­sures of mili­ta­ry bases! Only real­ly the anxious ques­ti­ons of a lover who worries” [410322–2–1].

Aus­zug aus dem Brief mit Hil­des Zeich­nung eines Feldpoststempel

In the cour­se of the war, ope­ned let­ters were men­tio­ned in the cor­re­spon­dence: “When your two let­ters arri­ved today, my heart was poun­ding so hea­vi­ly! Ano­t­her one was ope­ned” [410801–2–1]. Again Hil­de saw no dan­ger in this sur­veil­lan­ce. She did attempt, howe­ver, to pro­vi­de legi­ti­ma­te rea­sons for the­se pro­ce­du­res and con­di­ti­ons. Several lines later she wro­te: “Just think: the let­ter was ope­ned and not­hing, not­hing at all was cros­sed out! Even though Salo­ni­ki stood right the­re! Must not be the same per­son who opens it each time. But it irri­ta­tes me none­theless that someo­ne alrea­dy read your dear let­ters! Whe­re they were meant, yes, for me alo­ne” [410801–2–1]. The cen­sor offe­red an explana­ti­on for Hil­de for the delay­ed arri­val of the let­ter, as she had alrea­dy begun to worry about whe­re it could have lan­ded [410801–2–1].

It is not always easy to deter­mi­ne why par­ti­cu­lar topics are not addres­sed in let­ters. Roland occa­sio­nal­ly expres­sed cer­tain cri­ti­cisms on his supe­ri­ors as a sol­dier but also wro­te: “Of cour­se, some of our supe­ri­ors have mana­ged to get around the strict sus­pen­si­on [of fur­lough]. In the mean­ti­me, they talk to the sol­di­ers about the pro­per objec­ti­ve of com­radship and cou­ra­ge­ous per­se­ver­an­ce! Oh, Love of my Heart! The­re are so many dif­fe­rent kinds of peop­le in the mili­ta­ry! But I dont want to let go about that here!” [410710–1–1] It is hard to deci­de whe­ther Roland fea­red the cen­sor­s­hip office of the mili­ta­ry mail or did not want to bur­den his let­ter with nega­ti­ve the­mes, and it shows the ways in which inter­nal and exter­nal forms of cen­sor­s­hip were mutual­ly entangled.

5.2.     Selbstzensur

Next to the exter­nal forms of cen­sor­s­hip of the­se various insti­tu­ti­ons, Hil­de and Roland’s let­ters were also influ­en­ced by forms of self-cen­sor­s­hip. Espe­cial­ly when it came to let­ters to and from the war front, the Nazi Regime impar­ted pre­cise norms and values in their pro­pa­gan­da that they wan­ted com­mu­ni­ca­ted. Hil­de refer­red to the­se nor­ma­ti­ve expec­ta­ti­ons in her let­ters while also distancing herself from them to some degree. After repor­ting one day to Roland exhaus­tively about a fami­ly con­flicts, she ended her let­ter: “Such things do not belong in a let­ter that will be sent to our dear sol­di­ers. But none­theless, I know — I could not with­hold them from you[,] I have lean on you, must tell you — after all, it con­cerns us both, you” [401226–2–1].

You can read more about the inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry back­ground to this pro­ject here and our edi­to­ri­al methods here.

[1] Klaus Lat­zel, Wehr­machts­sol­da­ten zwi­schen ‚Nor­ma­li­tät‘ und NS-Ideo­lo­gie, oder: Was sucht die For­schung in der Feld­post, in: Rolf-Die­ter Mül­ler, Hans Erich Volk­mann, Die Wehr­macht. Mythos und Rea­li­tät, Mün­chen 1999, S. 574–588, S. 574. Ver­ord­nung des Reichs­prä­si­den­ten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat vom 28.2.1933, in: Reichs­ge­setz­blatt 17/1933, S. 83.

[2] Ben­ja­min Zie­mann, Feld­post­brie­fe und ihre Zen­sur in den zwei Welt­krie­gen, in: Klaus Bey­rer, Hans-Chris­ti­an Täubrich, Der Brief. Eine Kul­tur­ge­schich­te der schrift­li­chen Kom­mu­ni­ka­ti­on, Hei­del­berg 1996, S. 163–171, S. 164f.

[3] Tho­mas Schil­ler, NS-Pro­pa­gan­da für den ‚Arbeits­ein­satz‘. Lager­zei­tun­gen für Fremd­ar­bei­ter im Zwei­ten Welt­krieg, Ent­ste­hung, Funk­ti­on, Rezep­ti­on und Biblio­gra­phie, Ham­burg 1997, S. 126f.

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