The Authors of the Letters
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 .
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.
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).
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”.
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
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.”
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.
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. 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. 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.
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].
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.
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].
 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.
 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.
 Thomas Schiller, NS-Propaganda für den ‚Arbeitseinsatz‘. Lagerzeitungen für Fremdarbeiter im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Entstehung, Funktion, Rezeption und Bibliographie, Hamburg 1997, S. 126f.