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Franz Pfeifer Family World War I Correspondence


Scope and Contents

Adminstrative Information

Detailed Description

Box 0

Franz Pfeifer Family World War I Correspondence | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

By Aaron M. Lisec and Tanja Burkhard

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Collection Overview

Title: Franz Pfeifer Family World War I CorrespondenceAdd to your cart.

Predominant Dates:1915-1918

ID: 1/7/MSS 315

Extent: 1.0 Boxes

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically.

Date Acquired: 04/00/2004

Subjects: World War, 1914-1918

Forms of Material: Soldiers - Germany - Correspondence, World War, 1914-1918 - Prisoners and prisons, Russian

Languages: German


Approximately 270 postcards and letters (in German) documenting the service of Franz Pfeifer and his sons Franz Jr. and Johann during the First World War.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The correspondence covers the period 1915 to 1918 and consists primarily of letters and "Feldpostkarte" (army-issued postcards) between Franz Pfeifer, his two sons, and their relatives at home.  The collection includes eleven permission slips for leave of absence for Johann Pfeifer and Franz Pfeifer Sr., one summons for medical examination, one hand-drawn battlefield map, and one tuition waiver for Johann Pfeifer dated 1906.

Johann Pfeifer's correspondence chiefly covers his detainment as a prisoner of war in Russia.  He describes the conditions, camp morale, education, and his hopes for the future, as well as specific training measures.

Franz Jr. was killed in 1916, and family letters depict how long it took for them to receive news of his death.  The correspondence also reflects a great disparity between the transmission of information from the Russian front and the Italian front, as Franz’s letters rarely reached his parents while Johann’s were received frequently.

Letters are datelined Vienna, Sterlitamak, Russia, Rowno, Ukraine, Italy, Dolomites, and Vladimir, Russia.

Collection Historical Note

The Pfeifer family resided in Wien (Vienna).  They included Franz Pfeifer Sr. (rank: Oberleutnant), Franz Pfeifer Jr. (rank: Kadett, born 1895, died June 1916), Johann ‘Hansl’ Pfeifer (POW in Russia, 1916-1918), Valerie ‘Ridi’ Pfeifer (born 1899), Josefine Pfeifer (mother), and Toni Resch.

Subject/Index Terms

World War, 1914-1918

Administrative Information

Repository: Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Access Restrictions: Unrestricted use.

Use Restrictions: To quote in print, or otherwise reproduce in whole or in part in any publication, including on the World Wide Web, any material from this collection, the researcher must obtain permission from (1) the owner of the physical property and (2) the holder of the copyright.  Persons wishing to quote from this collection should consult Special Collections Research Center to determine copyright holders for information in this collection.  Reproduction of any item must contain the complete citation to the original.

Acquisition Method: Purchased from Charles Apfelbaum.

Preferred Citation: Pfeifer Family Correspondence, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],

Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Documents, 1906-1916Add to your cart.
Military papers include leave of absence permissions for Johann Pfeifer and Franz Pfeifer; summons for medical examination; hand-drawn battlefield map; tuition waiver for Johann Pfeifer dated 1906
Folder 2: Correspondence, 1915Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Correspondence, 1916 January-FebruaryAdd to your cart.
Folder 4: Correspondence, 1916 March-AprilAdd to your cart.

April 25 1916. Johann Pfeifer to his parents, Franz and Josefine.

"These have probably been the most beautiful Easter holidays of my life. Not because I had to spend them on the battlefield, but because they were a beautiful contrast to the past three months of boredom. Early in the morning on Sunday, two Russians came to our post bearing a white flag and a basket of gifts, but got chased away. But when white flags were hung all along the enemy frontline, we received orders to cease fire, after which no shot was fired for two days. The Russians left their post; we left the trenches and walked in front of the wire. There was an incredibly large crowd on the area between enemy lines, which no one had set foot on for a whole year. The Russians in their light uniforms hugged and kissed our soldiers and brought loaves of white bread and Easter eggs, which we exchanged for rum and wine. The officers spoke to each other in French. The enemy treated our boys the way he treated his own. The leaders had to promise each other that every soldier who did not want to return to his post would be removed by patrols. Many of the Russians begged to stay with us. It is really rare that the enemy has to be violently removed from your quarters. The Russians used the cease fire to carry away the bodies of those who had died on Good Friday in wraps made of tent cloth. A deep longing for peace spread through us all and one of them, who was able to understand a bit of German, asked Toni: ‘Sir, when will there be peace?’ This quietude after the turmoil lasted until last night. Just now, when I was at the post, fighting was resumed and shrapnel was shot. The Russians, however, have not fired a single shot. These events, and the beautiful weather improved the morale everywhere and I believe this Easter celebration will be remembered by us all forever."

April 28 1916.  In a letter to Franz Jr., Josefine describes Franz Sr.'s work as a specialist in medical examinations of new soldiers.

[Summaries and translation by Tanja Burkhard.)

Folder 5: Correspondence, 1916 May-DecemberAdd to your cart.

October 6 1916. Johann describes the visit of a German Red Cross nurse to the Austrian detainment camp.

December 15 1916. Johann writes to his parents about his brother Franz’s death, reminding them that there are worse things than ‘a beautiful death in nature.'

Folder 6: Correspondence, 1917Add to your cart.
May 25 1917.  Johann Pfeifer writes about the emotional toll that the loss of his brother Franz and 24-hour long marching have taken on him.
Folder 7: Correspondence, 1918Add to your cart.
May 25 1918. Johann writes from Russian ‘quarantine’ waiting to be sent home.

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