We were surrounded by silence. Unfortunately, this filled our minds with thoughts – unfortunately because this was accompanied by despair, terror and fear of death.
Hans Pölzer

Within the military apparatus pervaded by the spirit of camaraderie and community, where there was no room for individuality, soldiers did nonetheless have intimate thoughts. Inside this impersonal and nameless military system, each soldier created his own intimate universe in order to preserve his humanity, the necessary amount of sanity and parallels to their former civilian lives and families living far removed from the trenches.

Because of the lack of opportunities to escape the realities of war, many would learn to let go, simply following the currents of military duties and responsibilities by “shutting off their minds and their hearts,” becoming the “perfect killing machines.” Often soldiers would attempt to avoid this state in various ways. Most commonly, it included communicating via letter with relatives and friends, reading newspapers and books or praying while others resorted to writing poetry or keeping diaries when faced with the direst of personal distress. At the darkest of moments, however, they would take one last look at the photograph of their loved ones, or at least say their farewells quietly before leaving for battle. Many turned to God and attempted acknowledging their destinies through religion.

The anxiety and fear of death and debilitating injury, despite being confronted with them on a daily basis, did not fade away, and would flow into the consciousness of every individual soldier. Soldiers as a rule did not discuss matters of death, fear or killing. If they did however engage in such conversations, they were spiced up with a healthy dose of cynicism and gallows’ humour, enabling a safe personal distance and detachment. Even diaries and letters usually did not include descriptions of personal and inner-most thoughts on death and the killing. This could be attributed to a number of factors: censorship, which would prohibit such writing, or even self-censorship in order to prevent the spread of further fear and shock among relatives, or simply due to the inability of putting into words the anxiety and horrors they witnessed. Often soldiers could no longer bear the burden, being driven mad or suffering shorter periods of mental shock, while others found no other exit but to end their own lives.