Letter April 22, 1919 and Letter April 26, 1919 from Jacob Wortsman [Wortsmann] (extracts)




Letter April 22, 1919 and Letter April 26, 1919 from Jacob Wortsman [Wortsmann] (extracts)




WWI conscientious objection / objectors


Wortsman [Wortsmann], Jacob


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.










Extracts from Letter [by] Jacob Wortsman [Wortsmann]

April 22, 1919

Dear Folks:-

Just a few lines of a change which occurred this morning. I must hasten in order to get this into today’s outgoing mail.

All but one of the political prisoners from the stockade were this morning transferred to the guard house. The one political objector who was not moved is Abe Abrams. ------ So far as we know, the 22 religious and the one political objector will for the present remain in the stockade - - - - - Conditions here are barely tolerable. The 25 men who were sent here this morning and 34 who were here total 59. 34 of us occupy one cell and the balance the other. This of course leaves us hardly room enough to even change our minds. The entire group has to get along somehow with only one toilet, although a bucket is placed in each cage. The food is given to us inside of our cells. So you see in our crowded condition with an emergency pail in the cell eating our meals in the cell without exercise or fresh air our surroundings can hardly be said to be conducive to good health - - - - - Col. Williams just entered this cell. One of our men approached him in order to explain conditions to him, but the Col. refused to grant him this interview. This man asked the Col. if he would permit him to speak a moment, to which the Co. curtly replied “No”. Gus and I are now together which is quite a consolation and the fact that the entire old bunch are together again makes us feel quite cheerful.


Post Guard House

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Saturday, April 26th, 1919

Dear folks:

Yesterday evening Major Dewan announced that an inspector from the War Department (Colonel Williams) has been sent here from Washington to listen to such complaints as prisoners in the Disciplinary Barracks may have to make. The Major read an order, the gist of which was that Colonel Williams will devote this evening to the prisoners in the Guard House. He will listen to all complaints, such as poor food, sanitary conditions or mistreatment. He asked us to submit our grievances to him, (the Major) first, for his approval, so that the Colonel may not be bothered with trivial matters.

We told him that we intend to complain about sanitary conditions, ask for exercise and make a report of Wednesday’s episode. The Major thought this important enough to be brought to the attention of the Colonel. But since it affects the entire group, he suggests that we appoint 3 or 4 men to represent us.

Bernstein who still suffers from a severe cold, told the Major that he has been ill for several days, but has not had proper medical attention. The doctor who visits us daily gave him pills repeatedly which however, brought no relief.

The major also approved of this. Moore, Seidenberg, and I immediately got busy on a statement of Wednesday’s affairs but before we finished the arrival of the Colonel was announced and Bernstein and the committee (Seidenberg, Moore and James) was sent for.

They went upstairs and were called into the office separately and interviewed individually.

Moore’s interview with the Colonel as Howard relates it, is as follows: After the preliminary formalities, given his prison number 15122, Howard mentioned the fact that we have but two wash basins and water closet for 52 men. The Colonel asked Moore if he is a conscientious objector. Moore replied in the affirmative to which the Colonel said, “Well, go to work and you’ll have sanitary conditions.” Moore replied that he did not come up to discuss his C O stand, but that he was under the impression that the Colonel came here solely to listen to complaints. “Well” said the Colonel, “this is a part of our disciplinary measures” and with a curt “get out”, he ended the interview.

James asked the Colonel if it would be possible to get some outdoor exercise or at least permission to walk around the corridor in this guard house. To this the Colonel replied “Why don’t you go to work and you will then be able to breathe God’s fresh air. The weather is very pleasant now. Perhaps you would like to ride around in a Senator’s car or would you prefer to have me send around the Colonel’s horse?” This was about all of James’ interview.

Seidenberg told the Colonel that he came to speak for the group in reference to Wednesday’s deluge. Colonel Williams told him that he does not want anyone to speak in a representative capacity, but is willing to listen to his personal grievance. Seidenberg suggested that he wished a written statement of his experience. The Colonel insisted on a verbal statement. Seidenberg insisted on a written one -----

Col – Do you refuse to testify?

Seidenberg – I’ll testify in writing only.

Col – Well, I’ll not take a written statement. – Seidenberg got up and walked out.

[page 2]

Bernstein put his grievances before the Colonel and was promised that he would look into it.

Last night (4-25) some of the mattresses and blankets were still wet and we again crowded 6 men into two double deckers, and about 10 o’clock the Colonel and a Doctor came here, examined Bernstein and gave him more pills.

This morning (April 26) Major Dewan picked 3 of us, Juger, Seidenberg, and myself for an interview with the inspector Colonel Williams. We were escorted to the Disciplinary Barracks. Seidenberg’s and my interview were almost identical, so I’ll just relate mine.

I walked into the office, Colonel Williams and his stenographer were seated at her desk. The Colonel asked my name and number, asked me if I am a conscientious objector and if I would be willing to testify under oath. I was sworn in. The Colonel asked me how long I am a D B prisoner and how long in the Guard House.

Col – Do you know if the fire hose was placed on some C O’s in the Guard House on the evening of April 23rd?

JW – Yes, sir.

Col – Were you in the cage at the time?

JW – Yes, sir.

Col – Now relate to me all the details as you saw them.

JW – I prefer to do that in writing.

Col – In writing?

JW – Yes, sir.

Col – The War Department wants this testimony and you’ll give it the way they want and not your way.

JW – Very well, is that all? (I rose to go) The Colonel got up walked over to a cuspidor, expectorated and said, “No, that’s not all! I want your testimony and I want it verbally.” I am perfectly willing to give you a detailed account but only in writing.

Col – Who told you to insist on that, the fellow outside? (meaning Seidenberg)

JW – Oh, no. That’s my own idea.

Col – Well, what are your reasons for not testifying verbally?

JW – Because I prefer to give it in writing.

Col – Get Out.

Jerger was finally permitted to write a statement affirming its veracity under oath. The Captain and non-coms were in charge during the flood were also called before the Colonel.

Bernstein was called. He testified orally relating his personal experience. How the shock of the cold water awoke him from his slumber and how he made an attempt to escape it by crawling under the blankets but the fireman stuck the nozzle of the hose under the blankets, and he was thus hurled bodily out of bed by the force of the water. How he passed a sleepless night in a sitting position enveloped in a semi-wet blanket, etc.

(signed) Jacob Wortsman.

  1. 14838

P.S. – Dry mattresses were issued to us today in exchange for those which were still wet.


Wortsman [Wortsmann], Jacob, “Letter April 22, 1919 and Letter April 26, 1919 from Jacob Wortsman [Wortsmann] (extracts),” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 30, 2020, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/1449.

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