In the summer of 1914 after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, the countries of Europe and of the wider world declared war on each other based on mutual protection agreements those countries had previously formed. On one side were the Central Powers including Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey; on the other side were the Allies, including France, England, Italy, Russia, Japan, and later the US.
The three sons of Gerson Blumenfeld II and his wife Berta Alexander—Moritz, Friedrich, and Isaak—all served in the German army for the Central Powers. But only one of those sons came home alive.
Moritz, their oldest son, was killed on the Eastern Front of the War in Niedzieliska, Poland, on December 11, 1914, according to his German death record.1 The report of his death came from the commander of his reserve infantry unit, as indicated on the death record, and stated that he’d been shot in the abdomen.2
Niedzieliska was a small village about 42 miles east of Krakow. During the summer and into the fall of 1914, the Russians were successfully fighting the German and Austrian troops in that general area, winning an important battle in Lemberg (now Lviv) in the late summer of 1914 and then moving west and capturing Przemysl in the spring of 1915.
I am very grateful to Eric Feinstein of the GerSIG Facebook group for providing me with access to a description of the battle of Niedzieliska from a book entitled (as translated) Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 83: edited from official and private war diaries by Hans Wahrenburg, published in 1924 by Stalling Verlag in Berlin. Eric pointed me to page 42 which describes the Niedzieliska battle, and I used DeepL to translate it, though some of the references are not clear.
At 12:12, II and III Battalions will be moved out of the forward line during the morning and III Battalion will be housed and fed at Niedzieliska. At 1.30 a.m. the II Battalion also follows there, while at the same time the III Battalion from the eastern exit of the Dorsel is deployed for another assault against the Russian position at the windmill Wszeliwn in the subsection of the 49 RJB.
Heavy flank fire from the right initially hampered the advance of the companies and only after the arrival of II Battalion on the obstructed right wing did the assault proceed briskly, especially since the enemy apparently had little artillery, but was able to bring the assault to a halt with even more intense infantry and M.C. fire.
Exhausting effort! 4 o’clock in the morning the position on the Wszelimn-Dsief road was taken by assault, during which, among others, the leader of 12 Company, Captain a D Rudel, and by roughing up the enemy MC Sergeant Emilius and Muss. Cohn 11 Compagnie, Ref. Zinf. Kriegsfreim. Ludwig and Ref. harms 12th Compagnie and Ref. Deja quite particularly distinguish.
About 1500 prisoners and 12 MC find the spoils of the day. I Battalion advanced as a division reserve to the west exit of Niedzieliska, but failed to enter.
It was sometime during this battle that Moritz Blumenfeld II, oldest child of Gerson Blumenfeld II and Berta Alexander, was mortally wounded.
His younger brother Isaak was killed on the Western Front. Although I do not have a death certificate for Isaak, I have information from the lists of German casualties located on Ancestry and elsewhere. Isaak died in a field hospital in Sainghin-en-Weppes in the north of France on January 8, 1915, after being seriously wounded. He was only 21 at the time.
Like Niedzieska where Moritz was killed, Sainghin was just a small village with no obvious strategic importance, but it was located in the region of France where during this time period, thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed during trench warfare where the two sides were essentially deadlocked, going back and forth slaughtering each other’s young soldiers and others.
This UK website on World War I described it in these terms:
By the end of 1914 the battles of movement in the first weeks of the war had been brought to a halt. The fierce defence of strategic landmarks by the Allied forces resulted in a situation which became one of deadlock. Carefully selecting the most favourable high ground the Imperial German Army began the construction of a strong defensive line from early in 1915.
The consolidation of the Front Lines consisted of trenches, wire defences, mined dugouts and deep bunkers, reinforced concrete emplacements and selected strongpoints, usually a reinforced farm, in an Intermediate, Second and Third defensive line. Gradually the building and digging was carried on on both sides of the wire along a distance of approximately 450 miles, creating a more or less continous line of trenches separating the warring belligerents along the length of The Western Front.
In 1915, 1916 and 1917 both sides made attempts to break the deadlock with major battle offensives. The characteristics of siege warfare which developed on the Western Front in these three years created conditions never witnessed before. Instead of expecting to achieve objectives at a considerable distance from the start of an offensive, the type of trench warfare fighting created a situation where attacks were carried out in phases with short distance objectives and usually following a bombardment of enemy trench lines beforehand. This strategy led to prolonged periods of fighting with success counted in gains hundreds of yards rather than miles. The human cost of casualties and dead in such a grinding type of siege warfare would be recorded in the thousands in the space of a single day.
Isaak Blumenfeld, Gerson II and Berta’s youngest son, was killed during the early days of this period of warfare, less than a month after the death of his brother Moritz.
A January 29, 1914 article in the Frankfurter Israelitisches Familienblatt reported, “The G. Blumenfeld family was hit by a heavy loss. Two hopeful sons both suffered heroic deaths for their fatherland. Both stood out from the enemy with their outstanding bravery honored, the eldest carried a seriously wounded man out of the most terrible shell fire at great risk to his life. The youngest last stood as a teacher in Petershagen on the Weser.”
The deaths of Moritz and Isaak left Gerson and Berta with just one surviving son, their middle son Friedrich. But Friedrich also served in the German armed forces. His great-nephew Michael Rosenberg shared with me Friedrich’s military record, including translations of the information on each page done by Richard Bloomfield.
As translated by Richard, this record indicates that Friedrich began his military service for Germany on August 24, 1915, just months after the deaths of both of his brothers. He was transferred to the homeland and away from the front in January 1917, perhaps because the family had already lost Isaak and Moritz. Friedrich was discharged from service on December 26, 1918, six weeks after the war ended, and came home alive.
His father Gerson Blumenfeld II, however, died in Momberg on July 29, 1919, just seven months after Friedrich returned home. Although Gerson was 66 and thus was not particularly young for that era when he died, I nevertheless wonder whether losing two of this three sons in some way hastened his death.
One might have thought that sacrificing two sons to the cause of Germany in World War I would have somehow kept the rest of this family safe from the Nazis, but it was not to be, as we will see.
- At least one secondary source reports that his death occurred on December 12, 1914, but I am relying on his actual death record. See the list of Jewish World War I casualties for Germany at http://denkmalprojekt.org/verlustlisten/rjf_orte_m_wk1.htm ↩
- Thank you to the members of the GerSIG: German Jewish Genealogy Special Interest Group on Facebook for transcribing and translating this record. ↩