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Poetry copied for Binkley by Berthe Fischer in Strasbourg.

In April Binkley was still at school in Lyon, short of money – he borrowed from friends and even pawned his watch. He was living in barracks but spending a lot of time with the Alliod family, pursuing the reciprocal language tutoring that they called “l’Université du Gourguillon”. He also paid rent, though – for what? Perhaps he actually rented a room from the Alliods, and somehow escaped the discipline of barracks life. The American contingent were confined to barracks on Apr. 13 when a Socialist demonstration took over the town.

He attended the Easter service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and went on a hike to Izeron the next day with the Alliods. Having received his pay, he then left Lyon for a week of train travel (perhaps there was a week’s vacation at the university). He went to Vittel, expecting to meet his friend Armand de LaCroix-Laval, but Armand was gone. On his way there, staying over in Langres, he felt the return of “that old war-tense feeling” – the only reference I’ve found in his diaries or letters to psychological effects of his battlefield experience (though his description of the events at St. Juvin during the Argonnes campaign show the stress that he experienced.)

From Vittel Binkley decided to travel on to Strasbourg, which had been restored to French sovereignty immediately after the armistice. There he spent a lot of time with a young German woman, Berthe Fischer, perhaps forming the beginnings of a romantic relationship. Binkley was certainly in the market; he noted several contacts with girls, even minor ones. He wanted to cross the Rhine and visit German soil, but he was prevented by a French Colonial guard.

Strasbourg had a special place in Binkley’s work on European history, perhaps influenced by this visit. While in France he copied out an announcement in French concerning the plans for the arrival of the French army on 22 Nov. 1918 (Doc. 81; the original was an earlier version of this), perhaps shown to him by Berthe. In 1939-40 he included a long chapter on Strasbourg as the exemple city in his undergraduate textbook A Sense of History, inviting his students to image a “slow-motion moving picture of Strassburg, taken from the air through two thousand years”. And when the city was evacuated in September 1939, Binkley engaged friends in conversation about the historical status of the empty city, and wrote it up in the textbook:

Here is Strassburg without people – save as its two symbolic figures – mayor and bishop – remain on the ground as a gesture against civic extinction. Houses without people, streets without traffic, a temple without worshipers – are they a city? Does the city of Strassburg exist in October 1939? Consider two possible contingencies – that the stones should he levelled by artillery, but the people ultimately return. Or that the stones should be left standing, and the people never return, but a wholly new population settle in the buildings. In either case, I believe, we would say that the life of the city had been merely suspended. And in this we would be right. For the old population returning would build new buildings and continue otherwise in most of their old ways; and a new population would find it necessary to maintain the same services – of water, fire, street lighting and cleaning, police and justice and schools and parks, and all the rest. Their power structure and their ideas would be different, their needs the same. They would still observe the law of Strassburg’s first written constitution – the 12th century document which asserts that “the city must be a place of safety for all, and the public peace must be respected by all.”1

And he continued to attend the theatre. During the 23 days he spent in Lyon in April, he attended eight operas and one play, making 25 performances for the year so far.

Operas and plays:

  • Manon
  • Aïda
  • Lakmé
  • Pagliacci
  • Esclarmonde
  • Faust
  • Brittanicus (Racine)
  • Thaïs
  • Cloches de Corneville
  • Carmen

  1. Partly quoted by Max Fisch, along with his memory of Binkley raising the question “around a luncheon table” in his biographical essay, p.26.↩︎

Diary: April, 1919

  • Red Cross is open at last -- get meals on credit -- I am down to 3. f and 20 centimes.

  • Eat at Red Cross -- A meeting of students gives out passes

  • See Manon at night and sit behind same ones with whom we saw Werther. Draw same seating, too.

  • Red Cross sheets done on credit. I owe Van Every 14.65 after borrowing 5 francs.

  • Aida at the Theatre seen from the 3rd gallerie

  • Go for a walk with the Alliods -- dinner with them

  • Spend evening with Alliods again. Open project of a walking trip

  • Captain Berl in Lyon takes us to dinner. lends us money.


    Eugene E. Berl, commander of SSU 578.

  • I am invited to go to Foyer des Etudiants on Friday. Law lectures are good in spite of interpreter.

  • Lackme & Paillasse at the opera. Van & I start buying our livrets

  • Esclarmonde at the Opera -- I did not like it particularly -- I

  • Go to Faust in evening -- Paid in morning -- I get my watch out of shop. Roughhouse in poulot line. Talk with several about the strike in May. Expect bloodshed. Demonstration tomorrow

  • Socialist demonstration keeps us all in -- from 1:00 to 6:00 P.M. I see some of the parade from the tower of the basilica -- Movie at night

  • Paid comendation 237 francs -- Pay rent & Bill Adams -- get theatre tickets. have 107 francs left.


    Rent for a room at the Alliods' house?

  • Art class in morning -- Buy English books -- Read in Library. Sign for rations. Have 100 francs left.

  • Saw Brittanicus at the Grand Theatre. played by the Comedie Francaise. Last day of Art Class.

  • Took afternoon walk with Alliods to aquaducts Saw Thais in evening

  • Had a short session of school at Universite de Gourguillon

  • Get my pass all ready to go to Vittel. Cloches de Cornville at Celestins --

  • Service at the cathedral of St Jean under the Cardinal -- Carmen at the Opera -- Pass thru the carnival grounds -- see merry laughing spectacle Van goes to tea chez Aynard


    This was Easter Sunday.

  • Go out on picnic with Alliods -- take train at St Just and walk across hills to Izeron -- Breakfast & supper with them

  • Start out on trip. make Dijon & Go see Till -- Arrive at Langres at midnight. sleep in little red cross -- get that old war-tense feeling. Read Mark Twain with girl.


    This reference to “that old war-tense feeling” is the only reference in Binkley’s diaries or letters to any after-effects of his experience in battle.

  • Langres to Mery in the morning and then on to Vittel. Armand has gone, but I find S.S.U. 621. Decide to go to Strasbourg. Poles are in this country. Take train and sleep at Mirecourt [?].


    The reading “Mirecourt” is not at all clear, but it is my best guess among places along the railway route from Vittel to Nancy.

  • Arrive Nancy in morning -- go out to look over town Meet Miss Conrad, and then Dr. Coone. / Strasbourg -- trouble with the M.Ps. talk to ticket window girl. Everyone is sore at both Italy and America over the Dalmatian affair.


    The ticket window girl was probably Berthe Fischer with whom he spent time in the next few days in Strasbourg. She mentions in a letter to him in June that she worked part-time at the station (Doc. 53, 1919-06-17).

    I don’t have any more information about Miss Conrad or Dr. Coone.

    On April 15 Woodrow Wilson had issued a memorandum on the border between Italy and the new state of Yugoslavia, drawing a line down the middle of the Istrian peninsula. This gave Italy much less than it had been promised when it entered the war on the Allied side in 1915. On April 26 Prime Minister Orlando walked out of the Paris Peace Conference and returned to Italy.

  • Spend day looking over Strasbourg -- See Rhine but don't cross it on account of Territorial Colonial. Meet Berthe Fischer in afternoon and walk with her.


    The “Colonial” was presumably a French African soldier, part of the occupation force in the Rhineland. Binkley must have needed a pass which he did not have to cross into Germany.

  • Another day in Strasbourg. Walk with Berthe in evening. M.Ps send me out of town

  • Take train in morning. Bishop is leaving town. Celebration at Mulhouse. Pretty valley at Belfort. Get in late, find pay roll already in.


    Berthe Fischer gave Binkley two short poems in German by Nicolaus Lehnau that she had copied out in her immaculate script: “Bitte!” and “Dein Bild!” They were in an unposted envelope dated “Den 27.iv.19 / Morgens 5½ Uhr”, suggesting that she saw him off on an early train. She added a farewell note:

    Leben Sie wohl! Behüte Sie Gott!

    Nehmen Sie auch diese Zeilen als kleine Erinnerung mit, welche ein bescheidenes Elsässer-Mädl für Sie geschrieben hat – .

    Möchten Sie nun recht freundliche Grüße entgegen nehmen

    Ihre Sie hochschätzende

    Berthe Fischer

    “Farewell! God protect you! Accept these lines as a little remembrance, which a modest Alsacian girl has written out for you. Friendly greetings from your admirer, Berthe Fischer.” More friendship than passion, I think. In her letter in June, answering one from Binkley, Berthe had to clarify the sense of “hochschätzend” which he had misunderstood: “es heisst ungefähr im Englischen so: Sincerely Yours???.”

  • Van has deserted Art Class. I have missed pay roll. Evening with Alliods

  • Art Class again -- Kleinclausz lecture on Germany good. Dinner with M. Alliod chez Guillaume Tell, and theatre afterwards at Y.M.C.A.


    Arthur Kleinclausz was a medieval historian at the University of Lyon.

  • Inspection in morning -- student body meeting -- walk a few blocks with Mlle Cheney in af evening. Spend soiree with Alliods Start reading l'Aiglon.