Letter September 20, 1918 from David Eichel to Parents




Letter September 20, 1918 from David Eichel to Parents




WWI conscientious objection / objectors


Eichel, David


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.






[September 20, 1918]

Dear folks:

I have been made to understand that hereafter I will be permitted to write but one letter a week, and that on every Friday. This same arbitrary restriction has been imposed upon all the other C.O's with me. I say arbitrary considering the fact that we are at most only awaiting trial. Our guilt has not been established yet. In fact there is still a possibility, tho I confess a very slight and slim one, that we may all be exonerated. yet they have imposed this restriction upon our mailing right. I wish you to please inform the following people, my very good friends, that my side of the correspondence must cease indefinitely. They however can write me at all times. Explain to them that I have been placed under arrest because I could not

conscientiously perform work that the Colonel, commander of this post, sternly insisted upon my doing. Besides my performing such work under those conditions, would be obeying a military command, and I cannot recognize any military authority. Also tell them that I am almost sure of being able to resume my correspondence with them shortly since I still feel that this imposition is unwarranted. Write to

Mr. Henry J. Klein
Met. Life Ins. Co.
Stats Bureau, 11 East 24th St.

[see notebook at home if this address is correct]

Mr. George Robinson
112 W. 144th St.
Miss Sibyl Minster
656 Csatona [sp?] Pk. So.
Bronx, N.Y.

Of course Phil can personally inform my friends in the

immediate vicinity with whom he too is acquainted. Be sure to inform them how I can be addressed here. And above all, I feel I don't need ask this, write Julius. He will be especially interested in the names of the boys with me, and so will Roger.

Since my arrival here, Tuesday evening, C.O's have been brought here every day. Yesterday 7 more were brought here, for precisely the same offense. Their names are Philip Caplovitz, Julian Dombrowsky, and five Russian religious objectors. It may be of especial interest to you to have me tell you something about these last five, for I doubt whether I every though[t] of doing so before. The men are Russians and American aliens without any papers. The name of their religious sect is Molaken or Molachen (Russian for Christian) commonly termed by Americans "Holy Jumpers." They are to my knowledge all married and have children. They are bearded fellows of austere and determined appearance.

They had been living in the state of Arizona. On Registration Day, June 5, 1917, 35 of them marched to their local board and informed the chairmen that they absolutely refuse to register. A day or two later the 35 were sentenced to one year imprisonment. When the questionnaires were issued all but six were willing to fill them out. Those who complied with the filing of the questionnaires were instantly released. The remained six were kept in jail.

Right here I must stop to admire these men. Every one of them is a strict vegetarian. They'll eat nothing containing meat or meat products. They won't wear woolen clothes or use woolen blankets because cutting or shearing wool from sheep is painful to the animals. They won't wear leather shoes since leather is made of animal skins. They refused to eat the prison fare. I don't know precisely how many days they did without food, but finally they were

given raw rations and permitted to cook them themselves. In prison they did no work at all. They are by all odds the most determined group of men I have yet met.

From prison they were taken direct to camp. I am told on one occasion they were lined up for Reveille with other soldiers. Soldiers had to hold them in place. However they threw themselves prone on the ground and refused to get up. Water was squirted thru a hose upon them for two continuous hours yet they refused to get up. They were finally carried off bodily to the guard-house.

The remark of some officers to the effect that it was dishonest of them to accept gov't food and do nothing in return made them indignant. In order that such reflections be not cast upon them, they refused absolutely to accept any food at all for a period of eleven days. It was only after they had been

assured that some irresponsible person had made this remark that they again consented to eat. They are now with us, and I fear that unless some arrangement is speedily made they will again refuse to eat. In fact they have already refused to eat the prison fare since they trust no cooking but their own.

The food here, by the way, is the very same food we get anywheres in camp. It is entirely palatable and well prepared. This I consider remarkable, considering the miserable stuff I received at the N.Y. Tombs. I have absolutely no complaint here.

My cell, or rather to be more explicit I should say that I and four others are staying in an immense iron cage that at full capacity can comfortably accomodate 16 men. As my mate so aptly describes it, its long sides are made of iron bars while its short sides are made of solid steel. Believe me, I am safe and secure here.

I occupy this lower berth

of a double decker bed. I have a real mattress for the first time since I've been drafted. This bed is far more comfortable than any cot I have occupied in the army.

There are now all told 34 C.O's in this place, and I see no reason to believe that this is all. In fact it appears to me that before the week is over every man at the tent colony will be here.

Our treatment, beyond some petty impositions, has been fair and satisfactory and bids well to continue so.

Since I am permitted but one letter a week, I will write it in the form of a diary, so that I omit nothing. I'll leave it to you to make the proper connections and inferences and draw your own conclusions.

The boys are still in great spirits and all feel fine. I am perfectly content and have no dread for the outcome. Dont' worry on my account. There is no need for it.

Fond regards to Will, Rose, Abe, Phil, Clara and baby. Remember me to all my friends. Have them write me.

As ever,

Co. A, 1st Casual Bat.

Guard House

P.S. Since writing the above, I have been called out to answer to charges. A captain questioned me. He read the charges.

1. Willful disobedience to orders of a superior officer.
2. Writing an insubordinate letter to a superior officer.

To the first I answered that I was not a soldier and recognized no superior military officer or authority and hence would obey no order. Secondly I did nothing because I was wilful. Everything I did was the result of the dictates of my conscience.

I was then asked by some Lieut. whether I recognized any civil authority. I said I did but if any thing in civil authority tended toward destruction of society, I would disobey it.


Eichel, David, “Letter September 20, 1918 from David Eichel to Parents ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 22, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/47.

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