Research Thoughts

Letters to Germany

At the turn of the century, (yikes!) I spent a lot of time in the Kaukauna Public Library snooping on the lives of the Fassbenders living a century ago. As I moved through the years scanning the Kaukauna Times, a weekly newspaper, I not only followed the lives of my Hollandtown ancestors, but would often print items that were about Outagamie County that interested me. It’s always about the background information to flesh out the two dimensional look at the people I am researching.

Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917

Kaukauna Times, 20 Apr 1917

This past weekend I spent some time filing. Paper filing, electronic filing, it all needs to be done. While going through a file of paper, I found this item. The paper was dated April 20, 1917. What caught my eye, then, and now, was the headline: “No More Mail to Germany. Letters From United States to Germany Have Been Stopped.” No letters would be received or delivered until this “unpleasantness is over.” I can only imagine the fear, sadness, even heartbreak over this news. Although my Germany ancestors had been in this country for many decades by this time, they still had family and friends back in their homeland. Letters brought news of births, deaths, moves, and even the occasional plea for financial help. The sense of loss, and being cut off had to be acute. There was no longer any way to learn how family was faring during this awful war. How long would it be before the “president and the kaiser are again in a mood to shake hands?”

Germany formally surrendered on November 11, 1918, and the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, was not signed until June 28, 1919. Over two years would go by with no news from home, or any way to get news to family. I wonder if the letters put into the “dead letter office” were ever delivered.

We live in such an age of instant news through 24 hour television, the internet, and telephones, both land line and cell, that allow us to keep in touch, with each other, and with what is going on in the world. Imagine waiting over two years for news from home.

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