Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection

One hundred years ago, Gustav Klemp, a trained artist from Podgorz-Thorn in what was then West Prussia, served as a medic in the German Army on the Eastern Front in World War I. Today, selections from the postcards and artwork he sent home to his wife and family during the war are on display outside of Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) in Fenwick Library.

The journey that the collection took to get to Mason reflects the complex 20th century history of the former German Empire and Eastern Europe. After Germany and Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War, Poland became an independent nation for the first time since the 18th century. The victorious Allied Powers gave most of West Prussia to the new country, and the Klemps and other ethnic Germans in the province were given the choice to become Polish citizens or emigrate elsewhere. Klemp and his family chose to leave for the United States, and they initially went to Iowa before settling in Wisconsin. Their hometown of Podgorz-Thorn is now Torun, Poland. Gustav Klemp’s grandson, Richard Passig, resides in the DC area, and he donated his grandfather’s extensive collection of postcards and original watercolors and sketches to SC&A in autumn 2014, one hundred years after the outbreak and early months of the war in which his grandfather served.

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding, March 1916

Watercolor by Gustav Klemp of a grenade exploding (March 1916). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 22. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

Klemp’s postcards and artwork provide an intimate portrait of what life was like for ordinary men on the front lines of World War I. Klemp himself was not a soldier (he was in his early 30s during the war, and was older than the ideal age to fight), but he lived alongside and experienced many of the same hardships as the men he tended to as a medic. Several of the postcards that Klemp sent home show soldiers and medical staff in the downtime between the German Army’s offensives against the Russian Empire in modern-day Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Klemp himself is featured in many of the photos, playing cards, celebrating Christmas in bunkers, and sitting and smoking with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with his comrades.

Gustav Klemp (bottom left) celebrating Christmas 1915 with fellow staff and soldiers (December 1915). Gustav Klemp World War I German graphic materials collection, Box 1, Page 6. George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives. Copyright not held by George Mason University Libraries. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives.

The collection is remarkable for the human face that it provides for an army that was the enemy of the Allied Powers, including the United States beginning in April 1917. In the spirit of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and the French film Joyeux Noel, both of which illustrate the common experiences of soldiers and staff on both sides of the First World War, SC&A is proud to present Picturing the Eastern Front: Postcards and Watercolors from the Gustav Klemp World War I German Graphic Materials Collection, on exhibit until April 2015.

George Washington’s Last Will and Testament available in SC&A

Although we are supposed to be celebrating George Washington’s birthday, a recent donation to Special Collections & Archives recalls Washington’s life just prior to his death. Included in the recent donation made by Randolph and Ellen Lytton is a published copy of George Washington’s last will and testament that he completed in July 1799 only six months prior to his death. Perhaps the most interesting section of the will states that following the death of his wife, Martha, “that all Slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom” (page 3). Washington, like other Founding Fathers, faced an obvious contradiction as he fought for freedom from tyranny while at the same time he owned people that worked in his houses and in his fields. His will appears to be an attempt to reconcile this contradiction. The will also includes a detailed description of his property and how he wanted it to be divided up among his heirs. According to the Papers of George Washington website, “[t]he language of Washington’s will and its contents combine to make it a document of particular importance among his papers.” The will was first printed in Alexandria shortly after being filed for probate in Farifax County, Virginia in January of 1800. According to the title page of the copy held by SC&A, it was printed in New York “from the Alexandria edition.”

GWwillpage

Title page from a published copy of George Washington’s will and testament (January 1800), Randolph Lytton Historical Virginia Graphic Material Collection, George Mason University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives. Public Domain.

There are some noticeable differences between it and the title page from the copy that was printed in Boston in February of 1800 that is available through Google books and held at the New York Public Library.

For further inquiry into this document, the Papers of George Washington includes a transcription of the will as well as the original handwritten will.

Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989-1990

In late December 1989 two young men, Page Chichester and Helmut Brinkmann, were drinking and watching a soccer match on television in the city of Bonn in what was then called West Germany.  Brinkmann suddenly suggested that they tour East Germany, beginning the next day.  The two stayed up all night planning their hastily-conceived trip.  At Noon on December 29th the two took off in a Volkswagen van carrying cameras, film, and very few provisions.

Photographers Page Chichester (left) and Helmut Brinkmann (right) at the Berlin Wall during their eight-day trip to East Germany. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Photographers Page Chichester (left) and Helmut Brinkmann (right) at the Berlin Wall during their eight-day trip to East Germany. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Just about a month earlier the Berlin Wall, the main symbol of the division of the two Germanys had begun to fall.  Ironically, this event came just a few short months after the German Democratic Republic celebrated its fortieth anniversary as a communist state.  The festivities included a guest appearance by none other than the leader of the communist world himself, Mikhail Gorbechev.  By late December, however, curious people began to move cautiously between the two countries, being extremely careful not to arouse the suspicion of the Stasi, the State Security Police of the crumbling, but still-functioning GDR.

A Stasi guard poses for a photo in Dresden. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

A Stasi guard poses for a photo in Dresden. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Chichester and Brinkmann spent eight days touring East Germany.  The two visited Erfurt, Jena, Dresden, Leipzig, Bitterfeld, Connewitz, Berlin, and other surrounding locales before returning west to Bonn on January 5, 1990.  Speaking to people and photographing the architecture, industry, transportation, and people of the east, they got a first-hand look at the conditions in that part of the Iron Curtain in the period between the fall of the Wall and reunification in October 1990.

A young boy plays in the rubble of a demolished housing project in Connewitz. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives,  George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

A young boy plays in the rubble of a demolished housing project in Connewitz. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

The “Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989/90” exhibit collection contains 53 framed photographs and supporting documentation for the exhibit “Scenes from Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany, 1989/90” that traveled throughout Virginia as part of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Statewide Exhibition Program from 1995 through 2009.  The finding aid for this collection can be accessed here.   A digitized collection of the images can be found at this link.

 

 

 

League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area finding aid updated

The League of Women Voters (LWV) was founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader in the women’s suffragist movement. Its purpose is to encourage citizens to participate actively in government by supporting the party of their choice. While the LWV is a nonpartisan organization, and therefore does not support individual candidates, it does take a position on issues of a national, state, and local scale selected by the membership. In the past the LWV has garnered support for such issues as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, and equal opportunity for women in government.

I recently had the opportunity to update the finding aid for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax area with new accessions from 2012 and 2013. Within these new accessions I noticed a folder for the Observer Corps with materials dating from 1970 to 1980. Inside the folder is an Observer’s Manual from the League of Women Voters of Michigan. I was instantly interested. What is the Observer Corps, I wondered. The graphic on the manual is of a young woman peeking from behind a notebook.

Observer’s Manual, League of Women Voters of Michigan, December 1970. League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area records, Collection #C0031, Box 72, Folder 2. Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University.

Apparently members of the Observer Corps go to meetings of interest, observe the proceedings, and report back to the League through a short report that is featured in a bulletin. A position description from 1980 specifies qualifications such as: “1. Interest in government and desire to learn. 2. Ability to keep eyes and ears open and mouth shut. 3. Reliability.” According to issues of the Fairfax Voter from 2010 and 2012 it seems that the Fairfax league has restarted their Observer Corps and is looking for interested individuals.

A glimpse at the Broadside photograph collection

Two images of the interior of T.T. Reynolds in downtown Fairfax, VA from Dec. 5, 1977. Detail from GMU Broadside photograph collection, box 10 page 8. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.

Local bars are a common site in any town, especially one with a University nearby, and Fairfax is no exception. The restaurant and bar T.T. Reynolds was a popular meeting place for students, professors, and locals to congregate and imbibe for years in downtown Fairfax. Broadside photographer Myrna Garza captured T.T. Reynolds in all of its 1970s glory during December of 1977. It remained a fixture in Fairfax until July of 2008 when it closed. Today it has relocated to the D.C. neighborhood of Petworth and has fittingly changed it’s name to D.C. Reynolds.

These images are found in the newly acquired Broadside photograph collection. This collection comes to us from the Student Media Office and includes contact sheets and negatives for photographs taken by Broadside staff from 1973 to 2001. This collection is currently being processed. As shown below subject matter includes all kinds of student interests including local watering holes, pills, and Student Government Senate meetings.

Contact sheet containing images of the interior of T.T. Reynolds in downtown Fairfax, VA, a spilled bottle of pills, and a meeting of the Student Government Senate from Dec. 5, 1977. Detail from GMU Broadside photograph collection, box 10 page 8. Copyright held by George Mason University. Restricted to personal, non-commercial use only. For permission to publish, contact Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries, speccoll@gmu.edu.