Edited and with a preface by his son Dr. Adolf Zahn.
Hagen i.W. and Leipzig
Published by Hermann Risel & Co 1882
Chapter 2 ( p.12 - 19)
The French War (1806 - 1814)
The strange year of 1806 was approaching. The Prussians were up against the mighty Napoleon; a battle was expected every day. The unfortunate one was fought. Jena was only fourteen hours away from us and we went to our mountains, put our ear to the ground and heard the cannon thunder. The Prussians fled, the victor pursuing them by every road and footbridge. Two armies of the French divided; one went over the Saale and Halle to Magdeburg, the other through Thuringia, where the king had also fled. With some of the debris of his army, he passed through our little country. These tried to cover his escape and General Kalkreuth sat down near the small town of Greußen. A small skirmish ensued; we hurried up the mountains and now not only heard the thunder of the cannons, but also saw their fire in the night. Now some relatives appeared, the senator Schönemann with his family, and described the horrible behavior of the French in looting and violence. The father did not want to believe this and rebuked the flight of the relatives. For he, also strongly inspired by the ideas of freedom in France, considered the French to be such enlightened people that they would not be capable of this. The night passed quietly, the hamlet was too hidden and the big army road was away. The other day also brought undisturbed early hours. A few drunken Prussians then rushed through ́s village. About nine o'clock we saw the first French: about twelve men, who wanted to pass through quietly. But they had taken a peasant's horse by force at the mill and were leading it in their midst. Our candidate approached them fresh
and reclaimed the horse. They gave it back for a few thalers. There were two large estates in the village. Here they tried to enter, but the gates were too strong and they left. We thought we had escaped the danger, but we were wrong. The careful mother thought of gathering laundry and the like and packed up; the father, however, scolded her and stuck to his sentence: "The French do not steal, they are enlightened people. The mother brought only one small suitcase to the dovecote. At ten o'clock the sound of shotgun blasts was heard. Three Frenchmen stood in front of the gate and threatened to enter. They were two sappers with long beards, bare axes and a small rifle, the third an ordinary soldier. The father immediately left the room, opened the gate, and greeted them in a friendly manner. "Bravo!" they replied. He was now to have an experience of the educated French. They pushed him into ́s house, placed a man with a felled bayonnet in the door of the house so that no one could escape, and the other two herded the father into ́s living room. One of them drew his side-gun and put it on the father's chest, so that he felt a sensation from the tip of it, shouting, "Thalers, Thalers." The father led them to the chest of drawers, opened it, and handed them a bag of small coin, from which the daily expenses were paid. The Frenchman threw this angrily into the room, shouting "big Thalers" over and over again, and now they rushed to the upper floor, where we children had fled crying and screaming from the strange guests. The French soon found a small room where we children and the relatives waited in fear. The senator in his beautiful official coat caught their eyes: they robbed him of his watch. The father and we with him used this moment to hurry down the stairs to leave the house, but the guard's bayonet turned us back. I can still hear how he spoke, shaken and completely broken: "I'm going to my room. I followed him there, and all the survivors scattered to all sides, some of them jumping out of the windows, as did their dear mother. Now the father opened the window and jumped out, and I followed him. Hurrying through the village, I shouted, "Help." Then I met the night watchman, an old invalid, who raised his knotty stick and shouted, "Crew out, to the parish!" Now I hurried into the yard to call the uncle to help: "Come on, the French are killing us and taking everything!" "What," asked the uncle, the mighty man, "the dogs are stealing?" He grabbed his massive knotted cane, stepped up to the window, and let out his shrill whistle. Immediately his servants, stewards ect. rushed out and armed themselves with forks and scythes at his command.
He placed himself at their head and marched down the village with them to the parish to his beleaguered brother-in-law. I stayed with my aunt and was not an eyewitness to what I am now but faithfully recounting. Arrived at the parish, the uncle lined up his people in battle order at the entrance of the gate and the house door. He seized the Frenchman still posted in the doorway with a strong fist, snatched the rifle from him, which he handed to a servant, forced his way into the upper floor, where the two sappers had finished packing the church funds, etc., seized them as well and rushed them down the stairs and so on out of the house, where they were received by his men, who not gently hit them in the neck with their karsts and gave them a good shaking. In the meantime, two Frenchmen on horseback appeared in front of the parish, loaded with sacks of coats. They stopped and when they saw their comrades in action, one of them took his double-barreled rifle and pointed it at his uncle, who had no other way to save himself than to grab the disarmed Frenchman, lift him up and hold him up to the shotgun pointed at him, so that it would have killed him first. A servant seized the gun and snatched it from the enemy's hand: uncle and Frenchman were saved. All this happened in a few moments and the three Frenchmen were driven out to the village. The uncle helped by throwing stones, and a bullet grazed his skirt. The two horsemen also had to leave the village, one of them was relieved of his horse and rode triumphantly through the village.
After this cleansing of the village, we suddenly heard a commotion of comers; we looked toward the mountains: hundreds of Frenchmen descended from there into ́s valley. All fighting ceased and in a few minutes all the men had disappeared.
The poor night watchman, who wanted to stay at his post, received a tremendous head and cheek wound. The great gate to the courtyard of the estate was burst open by horses. Twenty and thirty of them rushed into the chambers like greedy wolves. Here, too, little was hidden and they found rich booty. The aunt with her daughters and maids remained on the place, dangerous as it was.
As a good housewife, she knew every nook and cranny and followed the thieves everywhere. The thieves understood their work and the good aunt had to watch them pull out a purse from a spring barrel. It contained in a beautiful, blank double louis ́or 8000 thlr. The finder lifted it up and shouted: comme ca! In addition, they found another 12000 thalers in cash. In those times, people did not do such enormous business with every hundred thalers they took in; the spirit of usury was still far away, and people only opened the rich boxes when a relative or other young, well-behaved businessman needed a loan. This evil economy continued until the evening. There was nothing left in the way of laundry or witnesses. Food and drink, available in abundance, were more devastated than enjoyed. The uncle had to watch all this from a distance, for he had hidden himself in a hidden corner at the very top of the roof. His greatest pain was that his twenty-four stately working steeds, such as he had never owned more beautifully, were taken away from his stables.
But we return to the parish and its inhabitants. I, the little eleven-year-old boy, kept to the aunt at first. I had crept through the village and tried to get close to the parish house, but did not dare to go in. What ́ devastation confronted me there! A cart stopped in front of the house, on which they were loading all kinds of things. They also brought the richly gilded, silver communion chalice, kicked it wide open on the stones and put it in a sack. The rebellious geese of the court, however, could not be captured without resistance and soon slipped away again from the predatory hands. Looking around for my mother, I finally found her in the community bakehouse, where baking had just begun. She had dressed as a peasant's wife and because she knew something about baking, she pushed the cakes and bread into the fire, so she was protected when the French came, who desired fresh bread and cakes from her and always raised a laugh when she called out, "it's not cooked yet." I crept through ́s village again and noticed a gradual departure of the French: after all, everything had already been plundered. Then another man, who looked very puny, approached me and visited my pockets. He took the three sixes that I possessed as my entire fortune. An earlier visitor had pocketed what little I had. Evening came, and a hider emerged from many a nook and cranny. Father and siblings, however, still did not show themselves. The village was becoming emptier and emptier of Frenchmen, and we were revived when we were once again startled by the arrival of the first French horsemen, who requisitioned a lost coat sack and threatened to set the village on fire if they did not get it. Fortunately it was found in a barn. Night fell, the parsonage finally saw its relatives gathered again. The father was shaken and quite silent and now they went to a very small neighboring cottage. I threw myself on my knees and laid my head on my father's lap, sobbing. Soon everything was sobbing in the little room where my mother had brought some beds.
How the French had plundered the parsonage! All linen and clothing had disappeared, even all valuable metal had been taken. The kitchen presented a rare sight: Here the French had stripped off their old rags, boiled them, and the shells of six to eight shocks of eggs, which they had beaten out, lay there in great heaps. Some of the other rich supplies had been trampled on, but they were still there.
In the next few days, news was received from the neighborhood. The two uncles from Bliederstedt appeared dressed in their servants' clothes in order to hide. Everywhere it had gone similarly as with us. Even people had been murdered. The next Sunday, the congregation gathered in a melancholy mood; the father had also been robbed of his church clothes and had to climb the pulpit in an old black skirt.