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Dominik Richert’s memoirs of the First World War were discovered in a military archive by Bernd Ulrich in Germany in 1987. He and his colleague Angelika Tramitz were able to establish contact with Dominik Richert's family. By researching military archives they were able to verify the authenticity of the text. They prepared the memoirs for publication, and they were first published in German in 1989. They have subsequently been translated into French and English. They have also been the subject of academic study. The book was also used as the basis for a television documentary.
Although he was twice decorated,Richert was a reluctant soldier who was willing to stand up to authority – and to avoid risks – in order to survive. After being heavily involved in fighting French troops in 1914 and Indian troops from the British Empire in 1915, Richert was sent back for recuperation. As a consequence of telling some new recruits that an order to take no prisoners had been given, he was admonished and sent to the Eastern Front.
Richert’s combination of humanity and scepticism resulted in a willingness to flout authority, and developed into a determination to desert when the opportunity arose. As the risk of their desertion was greater, soldiers from Alsace were not transferred back to the Western Front till 1918. There Richert was involved in an attack on British forces before being transferred to a section of the Front opposite French forces. With two others, he crossed over no-man’s-land to become a “deserteur Alsacienne”. The account ends with Richert’s return home early in 1919.
Richert's attitude to the War was clear from the outset: ... I thought straight away that the most likely thing that can happen to you in a war is that you will be shot dead. That was a really unpleasant prospect. In addition, I was worried about my relatives and my home, because they were near the border and therefore at risk of being destroyed.
While in Northern France in 1914 Richert was ordered to run across an exposed position: Now it was my turn. As it would have been certain death, I refused to go, although my superior shouted at me. An NCO gave me a direct command to jump. I cold-bloodedly said to him that he should show me how to do it, but he also lacked the courage to do so.
Richert had little respect for military values: Bravery, Heroism – does it exist? I doubt it very much, because all that I saw when under fire was fright, fear and desperation written in every face. But I did not see courage or bravery at all, because in reality it’s only the fearful military discipline, the force, that drives the soldier forwards to his death.
Second World War
In 1942 Alsace was in German hands again, and Dominik Richert’s two sons were called up for military service. In view of his experience of the First World War he encouraged them to escape across the border to Switzerland. As a result, he and his wife were sent to forced labour in Germany. His sons joined the French Resistance. Richert and his wife returned home at the end of the Second World War. Their health had suffered as a consequence of their treatment in Germany. His sons both survived the War.
- Dominik Richert: Beste Gelegenheit zum Sterben. Meine Erlebnisse im Kriege 1914-1918. Published by Bernd Ulrich und Angelika Tramitz, Knesebeck München 1989
- Dominique Richert: Cahiers d'un survivant. Un soldat das l'Europe en guerre 1914-1918 Translated by Marc Schublin, la Nuée Bleue 1994
- Dominik Richert: The Kaiser's Reluctant Conscript. My experiences in the War 1914-1918. Translated by D.C. Sutherland, Pen & Sword 2012
- Hilda Inderwildi: Naissance et constitution d'une conscience pacifiste dans les rangs des paysans alsaciens au moment de la Première Guerre mondiale. L'exemple de Dominik Richert (1893-1977). In: Jean-Paul Cahn, Françoise Knopper, Anne-Marie Saint-Gille (Editor.). De la guerre juste à la paix juste. Aspects confessionnels de la construction de la paix dans l’espace franco-allemand (XVIe-XXe) siècle. Villeneuve d’Ascq (Presses universitaires du Septentrion) 2008, Pages 199-210.
- How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender edited by Holger Afflerbach, Hew Strachan Oxford University Press 2012, Page 266
- State, Society and Mobilization in Europe during the First World War edited by John Horne Cambridge University Press 1997 Page 112
- Kriegsende 1918: Ereignis, Wirkung, Nachwirkung edited by Jörg Duppler, Gerhard P Groß, Gerhard Paul Groß Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag 1999, Page 197
- No Man's Land of Violence: Extreme Wars in the 20th Century By Richard Bessel Wallstein Verlag 2006 Pages 138-141
- German Soldier Newspapers of the First World War By Robert L. Nelson Cambridge University Press 2011, Page 238
- The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson New York: Basic Books 1999
- The First World War , Volume 3 by Hew Strachan Viking 2004, Page 277
- Die unheroischen Kriegserinnerungen des Elsässer Bauern Dominik Richert in Der Krieg des kleinen Mannes: eine Militärgeschichte von unten by Wolfgang Wette Piper Verlag 1992 Pages 127-135
- World War I by Michel Neiberg The International Library of Essays on Military History, Ashgate 2005 Pages 86 and 353
- "Modern War in Film:Beste Gelegenheit zum Sterben". Krieg-film.de. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
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