Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wacht im Osten: German Encounters with the East Opens at the National Museum World War One Museum

The folks in Kansas City are making sure the Eastern Front is not forgotten during the Centennial commemorations.

Unknown German soldier on sentry duty in a trench. (The name for the exhibition stems from “Wacht im Osten” written on this soldier’s helmet).

When the German Army advanced into the western territory of the Russian Empire in the spring and summer of 1915, soldiers encountered a physical and cultural environment quite different from what they previously encountered. Those experiences are told through the eyes of German soldiers in Wacht im Osten: German Encounters with the East in World War I, open between 25 October 2016 and 12 March 2017. 

The exhibition’s narrative unfolds mainly through the stories of two German soldiers: Georg Oertel and Friedrich Volkmann. Oertel served as a medic in a field hospital in Poland and once helped deliver a farmer’s baby during the Christmas holiday. Volkmann was a father with two small children who served in the infantry in Poland and was killed there. They are experiences of two soldiers, far from home in a foreign land, caught up in war.

German soldiers excavating a Japanese 28cm siege howitzer near Grodno, a munitions or spare parts crate sitting to the side.

“This special exhibition is unique in that we share the stories and experiences of common soldiers tasked with overseeing the occupation of foreign lands,” says Museum Archivist Jonathan Casey. “Through their own personal photographs and diary entries, we’re able to gain an understanding of everyday life for soldiers in those circumstances.”

An example of this is the Belarusian village of Iwje, which is depicted using commercial photo postcards illustrating its diverse mix of religious cultures, including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

Personnel of the Landwehr Field Hospital No. 30 posed around a gramophone with a sign that translates as “Karl Lindstrom’s Field Music.”

If you have already visited the National Museum, you know what a treasure it is, and I'm sure you are planning to go there again.  If you are interested in WWI and have not been to the museum, all I can say is that you are missing one of America's cultural treasures. Remember, too, that their annual symposium is scheduled for 4–5 November. This year's topic is 1916: TOTAL WAR (Details). 

Thanks to Mike Vieti for the photos and background.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Any idea how a Japanese howitzer wound up in Grodno?

    1. Japan was on the Allied side the Great War, with an eye to obtaining Germany's Pacific possessions and furthering her (Japan's) designs on China. Speculating that Russia bought ordnance from Japan? Other ideas or knowledge?

  3. Excellent museum! I go to KC, MO, 2-3 times a year, and the museum always has a new exhibit. There's a lot to see, and excellently laid out.

    Thanks you for the article.

    1. Thank you, not Thanks you. Check spelling, check spelling…

  4. That sounds fantastic and long overdue.

  5. By the way, 'Die Wacht im Osten' was a feldzeitung (field newspaper) for the German army. I haven't seen those words on a helmet before. Could the 'soldier' actually be a journalist? The paper is available online via the Heidelburg University Library, it appears to have had an annual pictorial issue which in at least two issues included photographs of English prisoners. The University also has 'Die Wacht im Westen / Somme-Wacht: Kriegszeitung d. 1. Armee' which includes poems and war songs, puzzles, and humour. Some very interesting material by the looks though my German is most definitely extremely rusty.