Above, wrecked remnants of a Red Cross train by a bridge blown up by Germans at Marne, Keystone View Company, Library of Congress
Hedda Burgemeister, September 1914
September 15, 1914
My dearest Emmy,
I am beside myself. Otto left for Germany almost three weeks ago, and I have not received even a one-sentence telegram from him to assure me he is safe.
What in the world were he and his wife thinking to risk traveling during these perilous times? They took their niece Hettie with them, endangering her life as well.
The lightening attack by the Kaiser’s armies almost made it all the way to Paris, but he has withdrawn many of his best troops from the Battle of the Marne to ward off Russian advances in Prussia. With the British and French nipping at the heels of his army on one side and the Russians trying to advance on the other front, how can any place in Germany be safe?
I comb the newspapers, trying to ascertain the safety of Lower Saxony. I pray they did not venture farther. Will they be able to safely make it back to Bremen? And under what flag is it safe to voyage with the conflict embroiling so many nations?
I know it irrational, but I want to sail there myself to try to find him. No news is unbearable.
Of course, I need funds to do so, so I took one of the notes Otto gave me to the bank. He always assured me the notes were my protection. As good as gold. If anything ever happened to him, I would have no financial worries.
My visit to the bank was the most embarrassing experience possible. I presented the note, and the vice president of the bank peered at me as though I were a common criminal, skeptical of its origins and my right to possess it. He declined to honor it. He said he would have to contact Otto upon his return to vouch for my right to the funds.
What does that mean? What good does it do to have the notes if they cannot be used? Surely, that was not Otto’s intention. He said he would always take care of me.
Of course, if Otto returns safely, I will have no need for the money. As I have not pursued the issue any farther, though, I hope the banker will not contact him. He might be irate that I let a friend know of their existence.
I also fear he will be furious that I telephoned his secretary at the brewery to learn if there was any word about the Koehlers’ safety or when they might return. His secretary, a Mr. Stevens, had no idea who I was. Obviously, I could not explain. I resorted to saying I was a nurse who had cared for Mrs. Koehler and was concerned. Mr. Stevens revealed absolutely nothing to me.
Of course, I care little about incurring Otto’s ire at this point in time. I only want to know he is alive and well.
I so wish you were here to comfort me. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. I have no one here in whom I can confide.
I will let you know if I find a way to travel to Germany or, better yet, when Otto returns.
The Koehlers did travel to Germany during this tumultuous period, a journey that seems unusual in timing given events occurring in Europe. The Battle of the Marne lasted from September 6 through 12.
During testimony given later, Joseph Frost revealed Hedda’s efforts to dispose of a $10,000 note from Otto Koehler during his absence. This imaginary letter is based on her justification in court as to why she requested the money.