This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Monument to the Fallen, Königsbrück 1918

01 August 2021

 

This is an artist, a sculptor
who happens to be French.
He leans against his latest work,
a stone figure of a wounded soldier
lying prone on a battlefield.
 
However his sculpture is not
of a French combatant
but instead is a Serbian fighter.



 
The soldier's statue lays atop a stone plinth
with a text carved onto the front in Cyrillic letters.

СРПСКИ ЗАРОБЉЕНИЦИ
~
SERBIAN PRISONERS


More curious is that its installation
is located in the heart of eastern Germany,
very far from France and Serbia.
 
It is in a cemetery for prisoners of the Great War of 1914-18.


The monument was placed before long lines
of dozens of freshly made graves,
each marked with a cross.
 
On the postcard is a caption written in French:

Cimetiere Serbe
Le Monument
par Delphaut Adgt 153-
~
Serbian cemetery
The Monument
by Delphaut, Adjutant 153-

 

 
This card, like the previous two, was sent to Madame Gigout of Meurthe-et-Moselle in eastern France, a large city named after the Meurthe and Moselle rivers in the Grand Est region. It was posted by her husband Alfred Gigout, a French soldier captured by the German army during World War 1.



Alfred was a sergeant in the 153rd infantry regiment of France when early in the war his unit was overwhelmed by the German advance in the Battle of Lorraine. On 20 August 1914 the German army listed him as a prisoner of war and sent him to a camp in Königsbrück, Germany, a town in the Free State of Saxony, about 27 km (17 mi) northeast of Dresden, the Saxon capital. Though he signs the card with just the simplest wish to his wife, Baisers ~ Kisses, Alfred, his Kriegsgefangenensendung, or prisoner of war postcard, provides more information. It has a rubber stamp that shows it came from the Königsbrück Sachesen Neues Lager, or new camp. Alfred's identification number was #5348 and he lived in barracks no. 7.

 
Map of Prisoner of War camps in Germany during World War I
Source: Wikipedia
 
I have written two other stories about this POW camp, The Prisoners of Königsbrück, and Art in a Time of War. For some unknown reason the camp at Königsbrück produced a larger variety of photo postcards during the war than any other POW camp, and my collection now has so many that they have their own album separate from the photos of other camps. Most of the postcards depict the everyday life of a military prison camp and were published as propaganda to demonstrate the supposedly humane treatment that enemy soldiers were accorded by their German captors. There are pictures of soldiers at meal times, in the barracks, getting their mail, working at gardens. 

But many photo cards reveal that the Königsbrück prisoners enjoyed an extraordinary variety of cultural activities. There are images of individual musicians, camp orchestras, theater productions in both French and Russian, and even examples of fine artwork made by the prisoners. Though these pursuits were permitted at other POW camps, in Königsbrück these pastimes were documented at a higher level. 

This is a very challenging history to research and describe. And not helped by my poor language skills reading French, German, and even Russian.  My previous blog stories were only a kind of prequel to the real story I wish to tell about the Königsbrück POW camp. So today I present a set of photos that first sparked my curiosity to collect more ephemera from this camp. Who was this artist? Why would a Frenchman create a monument to a Serb soldier? How did he manage to acquire such a large stone, much less the masonry tools, to make it? What did it cost and who paid for it? I do not have many answers yet, but I think I have enough to begin the story.  

This POW camp was one of the first to be established by the German military command in 1914. As the war progressed, many more would be built in Germany and Austria to confine hundreds of thousands of Russian, French, Belgian, British, Italian and Serbian soldiers captured between August 1914 and November 1918. At the end of 1915 the German authorities recorded over 1.4 million prisoners, both military and civilian, and when the war ended in 1918 it was estimated 2.4 million soldiers from thirteen nations were interned in German camps.
 
The Königsbrück POW camp was built near a training base for the German XII Army Corps (Dresden).  It was described in a gazetteer produced during the last stage of the war for families of British POWs as "situated on sandy soil amidst pine-woods a short distance from the town. Capacity, 15,000." Most of the prisoners were Russian, French, Belgian, and Serbian. All were enlisted men, as officers were confined separately at the Königstein Fortress 30 miles south on the Elbe River below Dresden.


 
Last year I acquired a number of postcards of this Serbian prisoner of war monument which were all posted from Königsbrück by Sergeant Alfred Gigout to his wife in Meurthe-et-Moselle. Evidently he was a devoted husband who regularly wrote to his family, and fortunately for me, Madame Gigout dutifully saved Alfred's postcards which recount his years in captivity. In this photo of the monument, Sergeant Gigout adds a note and date. Inauguration du Monument Serbe (4 Septmbre 18) Exécute par Delphaut, Adjt au 153e
 
Surrounding the base are several large floral wreaths, presumably given by different persons or groups. It's an unexpected extravagance to see in a prison camp, and it implies that this was an important occasion. Moments after I spotted this card on a postcard dealer's listings, I came across the next postcard, also sent by Sergeant Gigout. It was then that I realized Alfred must have a personal connection to this memorial. By the end of the day, I had bought dozens of his postcards.
 
 

 In this photo the sculptor Delphaut stands in front of his Serbian monument
with six other men, all wearing a mix of civilian and military garments.

The plinth has additional text below the upper words.

СВОЈИМ ДРУГОВИМА
~
TO HIS COMRADES

The names of the other men are not recorded, but Alfred Gigout has left a caption, Monument Serbe –, so that his wife will understand what it is. There is a wooden beam across the plinth which is part of a scaffold, so this photo was taken before any wreath laying, probably on the day when Delphaut made his final finishing touches. I think these men are his assistants who help him fabricate this sculpture. In this era woodcarving and decorative masonry were familiar craft trades and a professional artist would likely recruit men with the right skills to do the rough stone work. Because I have five postcards of this Serb monument which Alfred Gigout sent home, I also believe that he is one of these six men. 
 
In the ICRC historical archives for Prisoners of the First World War, I was able to find records for Alfred Gigout which directly place him in the Königsbrück camp and with the 153rd infantry regiment. His date of birth is listed as 26 March 1881, so in 1918 he would be age 37. Though this age fits several of the men, my hunch is that he is the man standing just next to Delphaut, third from the right, because somehow that man looks like an Alfred to me.



In this next photo postcard Alfred writes a caption along the top. Bénédiction du Monument Serbe par le Pope Russe ~ Blessing of the Serbian Monument by the Russian Pope. The statue is covered with a sheet, awaiting its official unveiling. Nearby is a small altar set up with liturgical candles and icons for the Russian Eastern Orthodox priest. All around are a great number of soldiers, including several German officers in Pickelhaube helmets. The tall one looking at the camera is, I think, the camp commandant.
 
 


Alfred had witnessed this kind of solemn ceremony before. Another postcard which he sent to his wife shows a French monument next to fresh graves covered with wreaths. It is a short obelisk about 12 feet tall, with a year 1914 over a large palm frond and the Latin words PRO PATRIA ~ FOR COUNTRY.  On the obelisk's plinth is an inscription: 

Les Prisonniers de Guerre
de Königsbrück
a leurs Fréres d'Armes
~
The Prisoners of War of Königsbrück
to their Brothers in Arms




A second card shows three French officers in full dress uniforms with medals, standing next to the monument. One holds a large wreath made of flowers and palm fronds. Their serious expressions impart the solemnity of the occasion. 

One of the difficulties with Sergeant Gigout's postcards is that he rarely dated them and the military postal service did not apply a postmark. In the center of this card is a circular embossed franking mark, visible on the back, but it only identifies the place, Königsbrück, and the type of correspondence, i.e. Kriegsgefangenensendung. 

During the war, hundreds of thousands of letters and packages were conveyed between the belligerent nations. I don't know exactly how this was done, but I think the postal exchange likely went through neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden which must have added a longer delay before a card or package was delivered. Postcards were likely more expeditious since their bulk weight was less than with letters and parcels. Since the obelisk's year 1914 commemorates the start of the war, and not the middle or end, I believe it safe to date these photos to the fall or winter of 1914/15.



The German military command segregated captured soldiers into various types of POW camps with one type of prison for officers, who were exempt from being impressed for any war work, and another for enlisted men, who could be drafted for heavy labor details. Generally each nationality was also segregated, so in Königsbrück the French, Belgians, Russians, Italians, and Serbs were each confined to different compounds. With 15,000+ men this required rigorous management to guard so many soldiers until whenever the war might end. Many captured soldiers arrived wounded and needed hospital care for their injuries. Illness and disease were also constant problems, so consequently many of the soldiers died in the camps. By one estimate I found the Königsbrück cemetery had around 600 graves.

This postcard sent by Alfred Gigout shows a funeral cortege in the Königsbrück camp of Russian soldiers following a horse-drawn wagon draped in black. The men are bareheaded except for the German guards. An Eastern Orthodox priest walks in front of the horse. The camp photographer applied a caption instead of Alfred, but its mournful meaning is clear. This was no.279 and copies of the photo were sold to both the prisoners and to the German soldiers guarding them. Alfred probably bought it at the camp canteen and sent it to Madame Gigout to fulfill his regular postal allowance and let her know, "I'm still okay."




This next photo shows another somber event at the cemetery.
Again captioned by the camp photographer followed by a date: 22.3.1916. 


Gefangenenlager Königsbrück
Russen Friedhof Denksteinweihe

~
Prison camp Königsbrück
Russian's Cemetery memorial stone consecration

Alfred added no notation here, perhaps because he did not participate in this Russian ceremony. Early in the war after the German army defeated the Russian forces in several enormous battles on the Eastern Front thousands of Russians soldiers were captured. That German victory meant that a POW camp like Königsbrück contained a much larger population of Russians than either French, Belgian, or British soldiers. The idea of a memorial was a common sentiment and somehow the Russian POWs commissioned a monument for their dead comrades. I don't have a postcard of it yet, but it appears similar to the French obelisk, perhaps a bit taller. Notice that there is an altar to the left of the monument, and just in the center. There was also a smaller monument built for the Italian prisoners of war, but I have not found a postcard of it.



This next photograph has a printed back that indicates it came from the Königsbrück POW camp, but it was never posted so I don't know if it was one of Sergeant Gigout's. It shows a soldier's burial service conducted by an Eastern Orthodox priest. It is winter with several inches of snow on the ground. I think the soldiers gathered around the grave are dressed in Serbian army uniforms rather than Russian, so I've labeled this as a burial in the Serbian side of the cemetery. But I could be mistaken and they may be actually Russian as the Eastern Orthodox church was the state religion in both Serbia and Russia. A few soldiers hold large floral wreaths which must have been both expensive and difficult to obtain in Germany during wartime.


 


Finally I return to my first image at the top of this story with the photo of the artist and his work. In the corner of the full postcard Alfred Gigout adds a note, Monument funéraire des Serbes, Königsbrück ~ Serbian funerary monument. The sculptor Delphaut sits on the wooden scaffolding dressed in a white suit more in the style of Paris rather than a POW camp. In his right hand he clasps a stone mason's hammer. On the right is a box of steel tools including a masonry chisel and iron feather wedges to split stone. I think his expression and posture conveys the pride of an artist, not a soldier. 

Because of Alfred Gigout's notations on the other postcards, we know that his surname was Delphaut and that his rank was an adjutant, a non-commissioned officer similar to a staff sergeant or warrant officer. His army unit was the 153rd infantry regiment, the same as Sergeant Gigout. 

With these useful clues I was able to find several records of him in the ICRC historical archives. His full name was Edmond Henri Delphaut, assigned to a machinegun company in the 153rd infantry regiment. He was reported missing in action on 17 April 1916 which would be when the 153rd took part in the Battle of Verdun. Later I found a copy of his full military service record which notes that Edmond H. Delphaut was born in Paris on 11 November 1891, and first joined the army in October of 1912. 



By good fortune, Edmond Delphaut survived the war and according to his military records even returned to army service in 1919 joining the 1st regiment of French Zouaves. During the years between the wars, he became a professional artist and sculptor. There are at least five war monuments in communes around France that are attributed to him. Delphaut married, raised a family, and died on 7 August 1957 in Ploërmel, a commune in Brittany in north-western France. He was age 65.  



There is much more I want to tell about this artist, but today I decided to present the man that Alfred Gigout knew. Did they have a close friendship? Did Alfred help Edmond in the crafting of this impressive statue? I don't know. The answers to those questions, and many more, may never be be found. But this is the first of a series of stories I plan to write about the artistic life of the Königsbrück POW camp.



* * *



How do we preserve history? Retain a memory? Each of these postcards represents a simple communication between a husband and wife isolated from each other by the calamity of war. In the summer of 1914, neither Sergeant Gigout or Madame Gigout could predict the outcome of this terrible conflict which engulfed Europe. Like many people that year, they thought Alfred's imprisonment would be over in just a few weeks. Instead it became an ordeal of 4 ¼ years sustained by a wish that they both might survive the war to embrace each other again. These postcards are a very personal record of their memories of a grim time.

Yet in this set of photos, Sergeant Gigout was preserving another memory, a soldier's remembrance of his friends and comrades. Men who have endured the trials of combat and suffered the debilitation of prison share an intense experience that creates an unbreakable bond of brotherhood. The graves at Königsbrück marked a common sacrifice between these men who spoke different languages and worshipped different faiths. Yet all of the men, whether French, Russian, Serbian, or German, understood a soldier's need for a tangible memorial to their fallen comrades. That is ultimately the purpose of a cemetery, to preserve memory.

Unlike the hundreds of cemeteries erected near the battlefields of the Great War, the graves of its prisoners of war are not well known. As I wrote in my 2018 story to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, The Faceless Statistics of War, the millions of soldiers taken captive between 1914 and 1918 is just too enormous a statistic to fathom. Its scale is only exceeded by the number of deaths. How can we comprehend the human cost of this horrific war? Perhaps when there is a face with a name. 

When Alfred wrote his captions identifying his comrade/artist, Edmond Henri Delphaut, he was just sharing with his wife a memory of his friend. He could never have imagined that a century later someone would buy his postcards because they preserved a name and face that might otherwise have vanished into the dark fog of history. I believe that Gigout's postcards of the Königsbrück POW camp, and the many other cards that I have found, represent an important record of a time and place that deserves to be remembered. If names and faces are not saved, then the history will vanish. 


Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020
Source: Volksbund.de

Shortly after I acquired this collection of postcards last year, I found a website which had modern photos of Delphaut's Serbian Monument. The cemetery is still in Königsbrück, now under the protection of the German government with the support of an organization called the Volksbund. This is a quote from their website that describes their mission.

The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge is a humanitarian organization charged by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany with recording, maintaining and caring for the graves of German war casualties abroad. The Volksbund is Germany's war graves commission and provides information to relatives on all matters related to war graves. It also advises public and private institutions and promotes a culture of remembrance as well as international cooperation in the area of war grave maintenance, and encourages young people to come together to learn at the last resting places of war casualties.
Last year in August 2020, a local volunteer group from Germany's armed forces undertook the task to clean the cemetery's monuments after a century of neglect. By a wonderful coincidence they posed for a photo next to the Serbian Prisoner's Monument in nearly the same position as Delphaut and his assistants. 


Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020
Source: Volksbund.de

On 11 November 2020, the Volksbund arranged a rededication of the Serbian Monument to honor the Königsbrück prisoners who died there during the war. I think Edmond and Alfred would be very pleased to see that their memory of the camp has been respectfully preserved for future generations to understand its history.


Serbian Monument at Königsbrück, Germany, 2020
Source: Volksbund.de



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every photo has a story.


3 comments:

La Nightingail said...

It is a beautiful cemetery and the statue is beautifully done. And if the prisoners were, in fact, treated so well and allowed to interact in such positive ways, I say kudos to those who supported such a place and would hope what was shown and spoken of was the truth and not word out of only one side of the mouth, so to speak.

Molly of Molly's Canopy said...

A truly amazing post. I can see why you bought the post card collection -- the history, the monuments and the solidarity of the prisoners of war, not to mention the steady communication of the husband and wife amidst the calamity of WWI. Of course the photos make the camp look much better than it probably was, but fortunately the monuments are a lasting tribute to those who died there. That modern photo of the group is a particularly moving echo of the sculptor and his assistants so long ago. Well done!

ScotSue said...

A very illuminating post on an aspect of WW1 that I knew nothing about. We learn much about POW camps in WW2, but I have never seen anything on WW1 prisoners of war in Europe. Thank you for presenting us with such a vivid account.

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