By Glen Dresback, I.R. 23 „von Winterfeldt“
So you’ve decided to create a “first person” impression for yourself. Congratulations! Actually, It’s very hard not to try, since the 23rd requires that all members have their soldbuchs and other paperwork, but it is still something to be proud of anyway. Not everyone tries to take living history to this extent, and it isn’t always possible to, but it is one part of going that “extra mile” to make your impression really top-notch.
But how do you do this? The article “First Person Impressions” in the Summer/Fall 95 On The Wire gives many steps toward creating a workable first person impression. Some of these steps include choosing a home, occupation, unit history, and so forth that are specific to the unit, or should be. If you’re going to create a “first person” style of impression, you should fine-tune it toward the unit and the region that your unit is from, and to you personally. Most of any unit would be from the home area, although people were allowed to sign up in any unit they wished. If called up, (conscript) you would probably go to the local unit. Why are you in this or that unit? Where are you from? All these are questions that you’ll have to answer, as well as know the general history of your area of the German Reich.
The 23rd regiment was the 2nd Upper Silesian infantry regiment, located in the VI army corps district. The regiment was headquartered in Neiße, a small city in Upper Silesia. Silesia was a province of the much larger German state of Prussia. Silesia had been forcibly taken away from Austria, its’ former ruler, by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, during what are sometimes known as the “Silesian Wars” in Germany. The wars, also known as the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, began soon after the death of the Austrian emperor and the rise to the throne of the Empress Maria Theresa in 1740.
Dissent over her succession rose in many parts of the Austrian Empire, and Frederick seized the opportunity to attack the Austrians and take Silesia. The wars were very hard fought. During them, the entire Prussian army was killed three times over. The Russians and Austrians occupied Berlin for a time, even as Prussian armies fought in Austria.. Here in America, the French and Indian war was being fought, as Fredericks’ war spread far beyond Europe. Prussia was attacked by Austria, Russia, France, and seemingly everyone else in Europe in the Seven Years War. Her only allies were England and Hannover. Outnumbered in nearly every battle, Prussia beat all her enemies, both times, and got to keep Silesia and her new status as a great power.
During all of this, Frederick recruited some Silesian regiments, the officers of one of which would later be in the 23rd. Silesia is normally divided into two parts, Upper and Lower, referring to their height, (Uplands/Lowlands) not their map position. Lower Silesia is actually north of Upper Silesia, and was also known as Northern Silesia, or NiederSchlesien. Much of Silesia is a flat plain, rising in the west and south to become mountains. Large mountain chains run all along the southern border of the province. The mountain chains form part of the border with Austria Hungary. On the other side of the southern border of Silesia is the Sudetenland.
The 23rd was the 2nd regiment raised in the Upper Silesian area, and was known by that name and others. Neiße (shown on the map as Neiße) is a small city, located south of the main city in the region, Breslau. It is located in Poland today, and is now called Nysa.
A very old German city, it was very pretty, boasting many wonderful old German buildings, a Jesuit university, museums, and concert halls. Neiße had been a center of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the Wars of Religion, and was called the “New Rome” by many in Northern Germany. Neiße was still strongly Catholic in the Kaiserzeit, with a large and well-known Cathedral. There was also a strong Protestant minority in the city by 1914, that was almost entirely German and likely Lutheran.
Neiße is built around a large central square, called the Rynek today. Facing this (huge and rectangular) square is the Cathedral of St. James on the eastern side, and the buildings of the Jesuit college along the north side. The Cathedral is the largest in the area, and dominates the skyline. It was quite an accomplishment, since it was built in only 6 years in the 1450’s. Most Cathedrals took many more years to build. Near the Cathedral is a large bell tower, which was intended to be 100 feet high. Started in the 1400’s, work continued on it for about 50 years, but it was never finished, and is still unfinished today. Several of the houses in town are quite beautiful, including a house known as the “Dutch” house, dating from the renaissance. Neiße had its own Bishop, and his residence was also very nicely built, dating from the same time as the “Dutch” house.
The Neiße river runs through the town, to the north of the great square. Neiße was an agricultural and college town for most of its life. Travelers guidebooks list it as very nice, quiet, and sleepy provincial city, without a really large night life except for a theater or two. The town likely really came to life for harvest festivals and holidays, with the attendant fairs, displays, and traveling acts. The Jesuit college may not have been fully functioning in 1914, except as a seminary, but was certainly still a school. There was also some manufacturing in town, especially of leather goods, foodstuffs, clothing, wood, metal goods, and likely several factories. There are sizable coal and mineral deposits near by, which would have likely given rise to several small factories in the area due to the cheap local fuel and raw material.
It is likely that the Jesuit school was connected to the Roman Catholic grade school for the entire area in 1914. There were certainly other schools in town, branches of the Prussian school system, with civilian teachers and administrators. Neiße is listed as having a population of less than 50,000 people in the 1954 map, but the town was not much smaller than that. The streets are laid out in a loose grid fashion, without much turning and twisting in modern maps, but much of that could be the result of W.W.II destruction of the old town. The old medieval walls had long been torn down by 1914, with the exception of one gate, which now stood surrounded by houses.
The town was heavily German, with the country side being mixed Polish/German. Also on the square, on the south and west sides, were nice homes, businesses, and probably a cafe/biergarten or two in 1914. The square was the natural gathering point in the city, and concerts, parades, puppet shows, and dances would have all been held right there. It is also typical in Germany to have a large flea market or produce market in seemingly any open area near any Cathedral, and Neiße was likely no exception. The cathedral side of the square probably held quite a Bazaar on weekdays.
Breslau, the provincial capital, was one of the largest cities in the German Empire in 1914, rivaling cities like München, Stuttgart, or Hamburg at that time. It was known as a really great city, with beautiful buildings, the famous river Oder running through the town, parks, boating, symphonies, operas, theaters, fine restaurants, and other amenities. It was an industrial city, but a very pleasant place to live as well. Breslau had a very significant Jewish population in 1914, with some very old and well-known synagogues.
There was a large and well known university in Breslau, and of course libraries, newspapers, and courts as well. Breslau was mostly German. It was actually so German that the city was apparently not an area that the new Polish state wanted in 1919. The areas that they wanted were far to the south, in the vast industrial sprawl located in the eastern side of Upper Silesia.
The industrial area in eastern Upper Silesia was only a small part of the province, but had the highest population concentration in the whole region. Silesia was nicknamed “black Silesia” due to the good black coal that came from this region, but this same area shortly became so polluted that many thought that it was due to the soot all over everything. Many industries, large steelworks, coal mines, and manufacturers of every variety were located here, and the area showed it.
Many of the towns (Beuthen, Gleiwitz, Königshütte, and Kattowitz, for example) ran into one another, and the area was basically one large urban sprawl. This area had a very large Polish population, and was the scene of heavy fighting (Freikorps vs. Polish rebels) after the war was over, with about half of it eventually choosing to become Polish in a League of Nations mandated vote in 1921. Quite a few Landwehr regiments were raised here during the war, and may have been used for strike breaking and keeping order in the area if not sent away.
The 23rd’s barracks were in Neiße, and so was the training area for the 23rd. The 23rd had two training Ersatz battalions during W.W.I, both operating at the same time, with the first in Neiße. The second ersatz Battalion was located in Münsterberg, a town north-west of Neiße. It can be assumed that it did most of it’s training there, and it did have its depot there.
Neiße was a very busy place. The 24th brigade headquarters, to which all of the infantry units of the 12th division belonged, was in Neiße, as was the 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 12th Reserve Field Artillery Regt., the 6th Reserve Foot Artillery, the 24th Brigade Ersatz Battalion, the I & II Battalions, 6 Pioneer Regt., and the Ersatz Battalion for the 6th Pioneers. The 12th Infantry Division Headquarters were also in Neiße, as was the 12th Cavalry Division’s HQ and the 12th Field Artillery Division’s. Life in Neiße must have included constant parades and guard mounts, since all the Headquarters were there. While the Cavalry division HQ was in Neiße, the Cavalry units don’t seem to have been, which may mean that the infantry troops covered the guard there as well.
During the war, there were two Landsturm infantry battalions raised in Neiße, with the first becoming part of the 34th Landsturm infantry regiment. The 34th would wear a VI/15 on their collar, and were in service in the Ukraine in 1918. You could have your Father or your Uncles in the Landwehr, and it would be very likely for both to be! Unfortunately, the Feldpost number for this Landwehr unit has not yet been found.
The Feldpost number for the 12th division, which probably worked something like a zip code, is 719. This would be the Feldpost number for I.R. 23, 62, and 63, as well as other units in the 12th division, like the 57th Field Hospital or the 21st Field Artillery Regiment.
For the other units of the VI Army Corps, the feldpost numbers were: 1001 for the 11th division, and 669 for the corps support troops, (of both the 11th and 12th divisions) 854 for the 11th Reserve Division, 772 for the 12th Reserve Division (including the 23rd Reserve Regiment), and 761 for the Reserve Corps support troops. The VI Corps support troops included stuff like the 606th Telephone detachment, but did not include the hospitals or ammunition trains, those being controlled at the division level.
The first (mobile) ersatz battalions of the 23rd and 63rd Regiments were also combined to form one battalion of a new infantry regiment, the 352nd of the 88th division, by 1918. This new units’ feldpost number was 915.
When sending mail to yourself at the front, use some of the other local units and their Feldpost numbers! These people all knew each other, and you might even have family in another unit, especially in the Reserve Division. You can also spin stories of Silesia, using the information here and your own research and imagination! Have fun with it!