Photo by Fritz Herschel (1943)

Fritz Herschel

December 17, 1914 - February 13, 1945

Fritz Herschel was born in Brodowo, Silesia, on 17 December 1914 and died in Budapest about 13 February 1945. Little is known of his childhood or youth. His writings tell of him attending an NSDAP event in 1930 and joining the SS in 1933. He trained as a teacher in Breslau (Wroclaw), writing a treatise on ‘’Gotsdorf village as a race-biological community”. He joined in the Second World War from its outbreak, as a plain soldier, then as an officer, in the 36th field artillery division throughout. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1942 and first lieutenant in 1944.

It can be assumed from letters Herschel wrote to his wife that his unit had a relatively quiet December 1944 stationed between Érd and Vecsés. Interestingly, his letters avoided any positive or negative assessment of the war, but they also convey that the war in 1944 was at best a necessary evil, for which he felt no personal mission. This is backed by euphemistic remarks. Only in his final letters are there signs of concern between the lines.

Herschel wrote every other day. On 10 December he sent separate Christmas packages to his wife and daughter (including a rabbit on wheels of his own making). “You can see that everything is being best run,” he added to his wife, who received the letters in about a week, i. e. no slower than 70 years later, which says much for the 1944/1945 German postal services in view of the war and censorship. Herschel even had time on 14 December to return a wrongly sized pullover to his wife, saying she could make thick socks for their daughter with the material. (“Everything needs using as they don’t give anything for clothing coupons these days.”)
On 20 December Herschel sent his wife another package containing a book of verse he had written, illustrated and bound himself. This was to mark their third wedding anniversary, but it didn’t arrive until 11 January 1945. On 18 December 1944, Herschel gave rough coordinates for where he was stationed, but added, “We are staying meanwhile in a village where [in April 1941] I was in charge of lodgings after the Serbian campaign. The village is almost wholly German-speaking and the people very friendly and hospitable.” On 18 December he went to the cinema and saw a (“none too overwhelming”) film, Two Fortunate People. On 24 December he wrote his wife a ten-page letter. He also spent time on Christmas Eve writing, unusually for him covering the military status as well: “Christmas largely went otherwise from how we’d imagined. The situation was quite hectic and uncertain.” This emerges also in his inability to post his letter: he wrote a line on the 25th and a whole page on the 30th. “I had to take a longer break. We had hectic days. Now finally I can get on with sending the package. I’m well, there’s no need to worry about me. It’ll all turn out well in the end. Don’t worry even if the post comes less often and unexpectedly. I’ll always write when there’s a way to send things off.

Herschel in his dugout making a Christmas gift for his daughter

“I’m not allowed to tell you more specifics about us. We only hope it’ll all turn out right. I have great hopes. Christmas with us was quite hectic, but I’ll tell you about that later. I’m curious to know how we’ll spend New Year’s Eve.”

Herschel wrote his last letter on 1 January 1945: “So don’t worry unduly. What will be will have to be. We can only hope and carry on. We’re all doing our duty. Things will turn out well again. We have to believe that firmly. So heads up, my little soldier’s wife…. Whatever happens, keep your head up. Think always of how much I love you and how much I’m going to love you all.”

This letter arrived on 7 January 1945 at the Herschels’ flat in Breslau, where his wife was still living with their one-year-old daughter. Two weeks later, the wife had to flee before oncoming Soviet troops. She was never able to return to their flat.

A portrait in oils Herschel sent home from the front in December 1944.

Meanwhile Herschel fought on in Pest, then Buda. On 9 February 1945, he was slightly wounded in his right hand at Southern Railway Station. He took part in the Breakout, his route taking him up Törökvészi út towards Hidegkút Airfield. He was last seen north of Nagykovácsi at noon on 9 February 1945.

Herschel’s fate can surely be seen as average. His intellectual background did not prevent him sympathising with Nazi ideas to an extent, but he played no active part in sustaining the dictatorship. He quite accepted the spirit of the time, while busily reading high-quality literature. He was a loving husband and adored his child in a way clear from packages he sent from the front. His death left a lame family, lacking forever both a breadwinning husband and its entire home.

Herschel saját kezűleg készített ajándéka lányának: egy fából készült nyúl, amely a gurulás során mozogni is tud