The Rhine steamer Aimée’s last tour

[Germany, August 1914]  A few days had passed since Kaiser Wilhelm’s war speech. Huge numbers of people were passing through the streets, waving the black-white-red flag of the Kaiserreich (Imperial Germany) and cheering the Kaiser and the fatherland in patriotic exuberance.

“Germany, Germany above all!”

The atmosphere was charged almost everywhere, enthusiasm for war had swept away all other emotions. Suspicion was growing, foreign-sounding names were hastily germanized, even neighbors were denounced of being spies or enemy agents planning to contaminate the drinking water. And in between all that was a family with [connections] to Alsace-Lorraine who wanted to put their ship in the service of the Red Cross rather than the military’s.

It was hard for those left behind at home. Deeply mourning her mother Sophie’s death, and fearing for her husband Matthias at the front, her uncle Hans and Etienne on the “Aimée”, this flag-waving patriotism tore into Lottie’s heart like a dagger. Her mother was a victim of war before the first shot had been fired. Often Lottie’s thoughts wandered her father Andras and her brother Joscha in Austria-Hungary. She knew that the Austro-Hungarian army was in bad shape. Yet, the military leaders in Vienna did not expect a long war, the Serbs would be finished quickly. But Russia and Serbia recently had fought modern wars, whereas Austria-Hungary could hardly have been less prepared.

Bad news

Hans and Etienne had been away for days already, and still Susan had not heard from them. Fear for her husband and Hans overwhelmed her.

A few days later an elder officer stood in the doorway. Susan knew him, he was stationed in Bonn and had already cruised the Rhine with them on the “Aimée”. She immediately sensed that he brought bad news. Hans and Etienne had brought their ship to Coblenz, Mainz, and Wiesbaden. But just before Strasbourg the “Aimée” had to stop to let another ship pass. In the wartime situation on both sides of the Rhine, many saw an enemy in anyone they did not know. Apparently, some had believed that the ship with the French name was to be handed over to the enemy, whomsoever they considered the enemy. Hans had shouted that they wanted to offer the “Aimée” to the Red Cross. Then a shot had been fired from somewhere, and Hans was killed. Etienne had rushed to him, and another bullet had wounded him lethally.
“You have my sincere condolences,” said the officer. “I do not want to urge you, but you better bring them home soon. I appreciate your intention very much, but we are at war, and many people are no longer themselves, they want to see their enemies dead.”

Farewell to Hans and Etienne

Upon hearing the news, Joscha Csabany had taken a night train from Austria-Hungary to the Rhineland, to be with his family and friends. He was wearing the gray uniform of an Austro-Hungarian captain. With Emil Bergmann he set off for Strasbourg. Their uniforms and his diplomatic passport helped to transfer the mortal remains of Hans and Etienne quickly and without questions to their homeland. They were buried quietly.

For days Susan was stony-faced, she did not speak, sleep, nor eat, and she had no tears. Although she was sitting amongst them, she seemed to be no longer a part of life. Her daughter Marie, her parents Lena and Emil, Lottie, and her lifelong friend Jacob were always around her, as if to give Susan strength by their loving presence. They knew that words could not comfort her. Finally Susan spoke: “I should have been with him.” “Then Marie would be an orphan now,” her father said softly, “Etienne would not have wanted that.”

Captain Joscha Csabany

Soon Joscha had to leave. “They’ve drafted you,” Lottie said to her brother, “but at least you do not have to go to the front.” “How could I ever be glad about staying behind,” Joscha replied sadly, “my heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of poor fellows out there. For our peasants, mobilization in the midst of the harvest is a terrible disaster. Our family estate in Hungary will be back area, we shall support our troops and the people around us as best we can. We will run our house as a convalescent home and a field post station, and outside there is an exercise field. We will mobilize all the tailoring companies with whom Mama has worked together, they have to produce uniforms now.”
He said good-bye to all of them. “I am there for you, whatever may come,” he told Susan and Marie, “we all are, you’re not alone.” Marie hugged him spontaneously. “But you’re alone in Hungary,” she said. Joscha was touched. “Many men are gone, almost every family had to let a husband, son, brother or fiancé go to war,” he said, “they all pray and hope that their loved ones will come back home safely. Only the elderly, the women, the children are there to do the work at home, and papa in Vienna and myself. I just have to help, and I’m not quite so alone when you write to me.” “We will also help,” Marie said bravely, “the Fatherland Women’s Association and other help committees now need everyone who has logistical skills. Jacob and I have already made plans, we will run a soup kitchen in the ‘Stübchen’.” The elderly gentleman nodded sadly. “Rest assured, young Count,” he said, “I’ll do as best I can.” Now Susan smiled tearfully. “You do not have to do it all alone, Jacob,” she said, “I’ll take over the cooking.”

With a last embrace for family and friends, Joscha made his way back to Hungary.

References
The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

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