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The Game Ancestry - Second Edition - Part 1 - Chapter 5
© Felix G. Game

Robert Franz Schenk, Oberleutnant

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Robert Franz Schenk, 1st Lt.
30 Dec 1882 - 13 Aug 1914
My Grandfather's sister's grandson
Grandson of Eulalia Zwierzina
As told to me by cousin Ida, Robert Schenk was on a honeymoon cruise when the war broke out in 1914. He was a passenger on the cruise ship Baron Gautsch(1) of the Triestine Lloyd Line when she hit a mine. It was reported that Robert Schenk, instead of attempting to save his life, helped to distribute life preservers to the very last minute. When the ship blew up, both Robert and his bride lost their lives. I could not help but challenge her knowledge about the goings on of the last minutes aboard the Baron Gautsch. Ida said that there had been an article in the newspaper - perhaps on one of the anniversaries of the mishap - and that it had mentioned the heroic actions of Robert Schenk. This was, of course, the kind of family legend I, a family historian, was honor-bound to investigate and, if possible, prove and document. It seems that Cousin Ida was so used to everyone in the family being an officer, that she never mentioned Robert having been an Oberleutnant.

Robert was the son of Moriz Schenk1851 and Wilhelmine Kollmann, and he was also the grandson of that other Moriz Schenk who married Eulalia Zwierzina, my grandfather's sister. Robert's uncle, General Alfred Schenk, was the son of the elder Moriz and Eulalia. Robert was born 30 December 1882 at Prague in Bohemia (now Praha, Czech Republic), but had domicile entitlement in Vienna. He was a Roman Catholic. After attending four years at the Gymnasium in Prague, he transferred to the Infantry Cadet School in Vienna and he achieved "very good" results at both schools.

1903 August 18, after completing 2 years at the Infantry Cadet School in Vienna, he joined the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.4 as officer aspirant. (This happens to be the same Regiment where his uncle Alfred Schenk, then a captain, had been commander of the second company back in 1897). Robert's father was a Regierungsrath with the Ministry of Finance (a bureaucratic rank, which translates into something like counsel to the Government). All on the same date Robert was assigned, and nominated, received his 6 Kronen "Handgeld" (something like the "King's Shilling"), and his 30 Kronen "Bekleidungspauschale" (a clothing allowance) plus another 24 Kronen equipment allowance.fggdoc218-1

In his very first appraisal, Robert is described as being tall, slim and of strong build, healthy and fit for any kind of duty. He only spoke German, but "was otherwise a very good officer with all the right mannerisms". Having already scrutinized his uncle's military records, I found it very interesting how similar the appraisals sounded. Perhaps the two men were very much alike, or the military had adopted certain buzz words to be used in appraisals. There was one significant difference though, Robert's uncle Alfred appears to have been more precise and responsible - and not surprisingly Alfred achieved exceptionally high military ranks before and during the First World War.

1905 May 1 - Robert was promoted to Lieutenant.

1907 Nov 1 Assigned to the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment #1 only seven months after his uncle Alfred, by then a colonel, had been named commandant of that very regiment. Robert obtained good marks in the first part of the Infanterieequitation (2) course that he took in Vienna. He was also 1200 crowns in debt which caused his commanding officer to hasten with the comment that "existing personal debts in no way diminish his usefulness". At least one of his debts did not get paid. A Mr. M. Hofstädter of Triest was obviously unaware that Robert had been killed during the sinking of the Baron Gautsch 13 August 1914, and was still trying to contact him with the help of the Army as late as October 1915.fggdoc217

1908 Dec 2 Received the Military Jubilee Cross. Robert was a gymnast, a fencer and a very good horseman. He had taken two communication (field telephone) courses for a total of nine weeks in 1908. His "Reinpare" (the clean, or final copy of the report) for 1908 shows among others the signature of Alfred Schenk, Commander of the Regiment. Alfred was Robert's uncle.fggdoc219-11

1909 Was was put in command of the improvised regimental field telephone unit during the 1909 maneuvers, an assignment he carried out in an excellent manner. Uncle Alfred Schenk's signature appears again as Regimental Commander.

1910 Shows Lieutenant Robert Schenk performing regular company duty. Although this report contains no changes, it is interesting in that another Schenk signature appears at the bottom: A Major Ferdinand Schenk, and uncle Alfred is also signed twice. (3)fggdoc219-14

1911 May 1 promoted to Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) with the 3rd Battalion.

1912 Jul 1 transferred to the Kriegshafenkommando (Command of the Navy Port) of Pola.

1913 Mar 1 transferred to the Infantry Cadet School in Vienna as a teacher.

1913 Dec 7 transferred from the Infantry Cadet School Vienna to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment #4.

Through a review of the Vienna Heimatschein und Passprotokoll for 1914(4) I have established that Oberleutnant Robert Franz Schenk did obtain a passport on 19 May 1914. The record gives his date of birth as 30 December 1882, and the place of birth, although difficult to read, looks like "Prag 74 G.Niklas". He was Catholic and single, and gave his residence as Triest.

In the column which deals with the destination of the traveler (Angabe der Länder auf welche die Paßanweisung lautet) the response was a scribbled, illegible word. The space asking for the duration of the trip was left blank.

1914 Aug 1 He went into Pension status as he was found unfit for troop service. The word for his "domicile" appears to be Dresden (with a Hachek above the r). Could someone have misunderstood and misspelled Triest which he wrote on his passport application just three months earlier? A notation indicates that his place of residence was somehow connected with "Evid. beh. 9 KorpsKmdo." His total service to date was 10 years, 11 months, 13 days. He was given an annual pension of 800 Kronen plus a housing allowance of 134 Kronen 40 Heller annually.

1914 Aug 13 Cousin Robert Schenk drowned during the sinking of the Lloyd steamer Baron Gautsch.

The Austrian Lloyd Steamer Baron Gautsch
The corresponding entry in his Grundbuchblatt (file) simply states "Victim of an accident at the Sinking of the Baron Gautsch. Abt.1, Nr.37924". The last bit of information must refer to the file number at Department 1. Because his body was never recovered, the army would not strike him off strength for three years.fggdoc218-3

What a year 1914 had been for Robert Schenk. In May he applied for a passport in preparation for his honeymoon cruise, he retired from the Army effective 1 August and 12 days later he lost his life in a marine disaster. He never had a chance to enjoy his retirement, or his young wife. With a deep feeling of sorrow for this cousin whom I had never known, I set out to try and prove the details of this family legend. It took almost 7 years before I found the proof, and in the interim amassed the following references to confirm that the Baron Gautsch sank. Here is the entry from page 71 of Volume 1 of the "Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam 1824-1962" by Charles Hocking:fggdoc95

BARON GAUTSCH. Lloyd Austriaco; 1908; Gourlay Bros.; 2,069 tons; 270x39.1x17.1; 565 n.h.p.; 16 knots; triple-expansion engines.

The Baron Gautsch left Lussinpiccolo, S. of the Gulf of Quarnero, for Trieste on Thursday, August 11th, 1914. The ship was carrying a little over 300 persons and on the 13th struck a mine which exploded and killed 20 men and damaged the ship to such an extent that she sank soon after. About 150 were drowned.

The New York Times on 15 August 1914 carried the following brief notice on page 3, column 5 under the Headline:

150 Die on Austrian Liner:

Killed or drowned when Vessel Hits Mine in the Adriatic. London, Aug 14 - About 150 of the passengers and crew of the Austrian Lloyd Steamer Baron Gautsch were killed or drowned when the vessel was blown up today by a mine off the Island of Lussin, on the Dalmatian coast, according to a Reuter dispatch from Triest. She carried about 300 passengers and crew, of whom about 150 were rescued.

All of the Viennese newspapers carried bulletins starting 14 August 1914. Below is a report taken form the Neue Freie Presse of 14 August, but datelined 13 August 1914:

Sinking of the Lloyd Steamer Baron Gautsch. On the way between Lussin and Triest.

Vienna 13 August. The Austrian merchant navy suffered a heavy loss. Because of a yet undetermined cause the Baron Gautsch, steamer of the Austrian Lloyd sank today. According to reports received so far, 130 of the passengers and crew on board were saved. The simultaneously released official number of those lost speaks of the recovery of 20 bodies. It cannot be determined at the moment how many lives were lost all together. The sunken steamer was equipped with a total of 127 cabins; it also took on passengers who did not book specific cabins. The crew would have numbered about 30. At the height of the season when the steamers of the Dalmatian Line are fully utilized, several hundred people would be on board at any one time, and it will be necessary to await the official numbers before an accurate assessment of the accident's magnitude can be made.

As further stated by the official report, the Baron Gautsch was on the way to Triest. The accident occurred at noon today on the way between Lussingrande and its port of destination.

News of the ship accident (Telegram of the Imperial, Royal Telegraph & Correspondence Bureau):

Triest, 13 August. The steamer Baron Gautsch which today left Lussingrande en route for Triest, sank on this voyage. So far 130 passengers and crew have been saved and twenty bodies were recovered.fggdoc206-1 translated by Felix G. Game

The Neue Freie Presse of Vienna ran in its 14 August 1914 edition (p.10) a description of the unfortunate ship:

It is described as a new, and modern member of the Lloyd Fleet, which along with her sister ships Prinz Hohenlohe and Baron Bruck had been assigned to the express lines of Trieste-Cattaro and Trieste-Corfu. She had 87 first class cabins, 40 second class cabins and based on size and speed was one of the best ships of the Dalmatian Line. Interior design satisfied even the most modern requirements. Each cabin had cushions which in an emergency could be used as life preservers. The steamer had two large dining rooms - one for first class passengers and one for second class passengers. There were also 150 third class accommodations. The walls of the first class dining room had been covered entirely in wood paneling, each panel richly decorated with pictures. Above the dining room was the music salon, entirely decorated in yellow brocaded silk. Attached to the music salon was a smoking and gents' room which included a small coffee bar. The 270 foot ship had been built in the Scottish boat works at Dundee.

The Neue Freie Presse in Vienna reported in its 15 August 1914 issue that official sources have stated there were 246 passengers and 64 crew aboard the Lloyd steamer Baron Gautsch. Of 310 people, 179 were saved, but the number saved could be higher because two additional people who had not been on Lloyd's list of survivors had reported in. Lloyd's management ordered the steamer Graf Wurmbrand, which was on a return trip from Dalmatia, to stop at the port of Pola, and authorized the captain to advance the funds required to replace the bare essentials lost by the survivors.fggdoc206-3

The same paper in its 18 August 1914 issue (p.9, c.2) ran an eye witness account of the incident: Regierungsrat Engelbert Neubauer, director of the classical, private girls' high school in the Rahlgasse was traveling in the company of his wife and his two daughters, one of whom had her 20 months old son and her nursemaid with her. Dr Neubauer tells how they felt a heavy jolt about 3 p.m. and almost immediately realized that the ship was sinking. There was big panic on board. He credits a chief railway inspector from Brno for keeping his wits about himself, breaking open the cabin door in which the life preservers were stored, and thus providing his fellow passengers the only means of saving themselves. Dr. Neubauer's party also managed to obtain life preservers and they jumped into the water. His daughter Bertha with the baby in her arms did find a place in one of the life boats, but after a few men jumped into it, the life boat capsized dumping in the water those already seated. The waves tore the child from the mother's arms and it was never found. Continuing to swim, Neubauer found his other daughter Luise (who was a teacher at her father's school), but never again did he see his wife, nor his daughter Berta's maid.

In the same issue an article dated 17 August was run about the drowning of Colonel Kutschera of Baden (no relation to our Kutschera), together with his wife and two sons aged four and five. This caught my attention because his name is spelled exactly as that of my grandmother. fggdoc206-4 There were many other references to the sinking in the Vienna pressfggdocs221-228, but what I was specifically looking for was, of course, the proof that Robert and his bride were in fact on that ship, and that they in fact had perished. I also hoped to discover in the process the identity of his young bride.

Since Lloyd's of London had a reputation for knowing everything to do with shipping, they seemed like a good place to start my investigations.

The Guildhall Library of London turned out to be the custodians of the Lloyd's archives, and they informed me that Lloyd's List had reported the loss of the ship, but that little additional detail was available:

The Baron Gautsch sailed from Lussin-Grande on the afternoon of the 13th August for Trieste, and sank during the voyage. The cause of the sinking was not given, but neither the lists published by the Admiralty after the war, nor the record kept by Lloyd's, includes the Baron Gautsch as a war loss. It is possible that the actual cause of the loss could not be definitely established. The ship had 310 persons on board (64 crew and 246 passengers), of whom 179 had been rescued on the 14th August. At that time there was still hope that more might be saved, but no further reports appeared in Lloyd's List. The steamer Wurmbrand had been sent to Pola to bring those rescued to Trieste.

The Guildhall librarian noted that Lloyd's Marine Collection includes no passenger lists, and thought it would be unlikely that such a list would exist in England. The letter closes with a suggestion to try the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv at 1030 Vienna , Nottendorfergasse 2, where a passenger list may have survived. When I wrote to Vienna my inquiry was passed to the Kriegsarchiv who informed me that the papers were missing and believed to have been destroyed during the famous burning of the Justice Building (thinking they had been loaned to the ministry of justice who had many civil suits to work on after the First World War)(5). It was suggested that original papers might still be available in Rovinj, which in 1914 belonged to Austria, and was the district court closest to the accident. My inquiry via Zagreb produced a reply from the chief archivist of Rovinj suggesting that any papers still in existence would be in the hands of the owners, that being Lloyd Triestino. Unfortunately, Lloyd Triestino did not reply to my query.

While I was still searching for a copy of that newspaper story which according to cousin Ida had mentioned Robert by name and detailed his exemplary behavior under panic conditions, the Neue Kronen Zeitung of Vienna in its Sunday issue of 7 August 1994 ran a story about the discovery of the Baron Gautsch in 40 meters of water roughly 15 kilometers out of Rovinj.(6) It seems a Croatian diver named Nadi Sinia discovered the wreck and told a group of eight Styrian scuba divers about it - without knowing exactly what he had found. The Austrians have been exploring it for the last two years, and have brought to the surface objects, such as dinner plates and silverware, which have positively identified the sunken ship to be the Baron Gautsch. One interesting detail this article provides is the fact that the Austrian navy ship Basilisk had just been laying mines in those inter-island shipping lanes.fggdoc194 It appears then that the first victim of Austrian anti-shipping mines was an Austrian luxury liner.

A further source of information may have been discovered by Erika Ulbing of Vienna who often assisted me in my research. She found a Dr. Jung at the Kriegsarchiv who appears to have taken more than just a passing interest in the Baron Gautsch. He provided a written report in the form of a letter to Mrs. Ulbing, who in turn kindly forwarded this letter dated 4 June 1996 to me. Below is a summary of its contents as he speaks Of the Baron Gautsch:

The vessel was used on the express route Triest-Cattaro-Triest. The Austrian Navy leased her on 27 Jul 1914 for transporting additional troops to that southern Navy port, and on her return trips, to bring back family members and other civilians from the area of imminent hostilities. The ship was returned to Lloyd's at the beginning of August, and it continued to run back and forth between Cattaro and Triest .

On 13 August 1914 the Baron Gautsch stumbled into a minefield which had just been laid by the Austrian Navy, 7 nautical miles north of the Brionian Isles. The ensuing explosion and quick sinking of the vessel claimed over 200 lives - among them many women and children returning from the vacation spots of Arbe and Lussin. Barely 150 people were saved by the quick arrival of the torpedo boats S.M.S. Csepel, S.M.S. Triglav, and S.M.S. Balaton.

The Lloyd Steamer Baron Gautsch (courtesy Roman Schneider)

There was of course a judicial investigation into the tragedy, and it unfortunately dragged on for years while civil suits were also added. The files of the Austrian Navy, which had conducted its own investigation, were combined with the litigation files in 1923. The files were still open by 1927, at which time they were lost in the burning of the Justizpalast.

From the few remaining records the following can be reconstructed. An advisory meeting was held in the port of Cattaro before the steamer sailed. It was attended by the First Captain and the Second Captain (common designation at Lloyd's, where the latter carries out the duties of a First Officer) who were informed of the approximate extent of the minefield currently being laid. They were also warned to maintain a sharp lookout and to heed warnings that they may receive from Austrian Navy vessels. The subsequent voyage was uneventful as far as Lussin. In that port the vessel was under the command of the Second Captain, who would be relieved by the Second Officer from Rovigno on (the First Captain was at this point on his scheduled rest period). In Lussin the word was that no problems would be encountered if a distance of 10 nautical miles were maintained from the coast. Approximately abreast of Pola the commanding Second Captain had the Second Officer called, and told him that he was not feeling well, and asked him to relieve him 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. The Second Officer readily agreed to this without having any knowledge of the danger of the mines. He had been supervising the embarkation of passengers and the loading of goods in Cattaro and was for this reason not present at the pre-departure meeting. And strangely enough, none of the other people who knew thought of informing him about the dangers, allowing the Second Officer to sail blindly into the recently laid minefield. Nor did he acknowledge warning signals from the mining vessel S.M.S. Basilisk which was still in the area. Immediately after the catastrophe, there were of course suspicions of a bomb having been placed aboard - after all there was a Serb woman working in the kitchen.fggdoc220 - translated by Felix G. Game

Additional information which Dr. Jung gave verbally to Mrs. Ulbing suggests that the victims did not so much drown as suffocate from the fumes of the fuel which had escaped as a result of the explosion. Also mentioned was that the recovered bodies were quickly buried in a mass-grave in Pola (it should be noted that the Austrian military records state that Robert's body had never been found). The German web page of J. Krausser, whose source is not known, says that the Baron Gautsch was fueled by Naphtha which after the explosion spread out on top of the water resulting in turning the victims unidentifiably black. He quotes numbers of 150 rescued alive and 50 retrieved dead with 200 persons missing. I would like to think that bodies have been recovered and are resting at the k.u.k. Marinefriedhof in Pula.

One of the survivors, a Bosnian broom-maker, sued the State for compensation for the loss of his brooms and his tools. Several people joined this action, and a lawyer named Schapiro represented them all. In 1923 an assistant named Lorenz, acting for the Justice Department, fetched the files from the Naval archives. Schapiro's office was closed in 1938 by the Nazis because he was a Jew. He disappeared, and his files came into the hands of distant relatives (two elderly ladies were mentioned) where they remained until about 10-15 years ago. Since no one was interested in them any more, they were destroyed (perhaps after the relatives had died).

With the assistance of Erika Ulbing and Dr. Jung I obtained Robert Schenk's file containing his military documents from the Kriegsarchiv, and in it I finally found official proof that he in fact had lost his life during the sinking of the Baron Gautsch:

This inter-office advice from the military commander of Leitmeritz to the Ministry of War was the first official proof found to confirm Robert's drowning during the sinking of the Baron Gautsch.

At this point it looked as if finding any more was totally unlikely, then that piece of luck that all researchers need came my way in the person of a stranger. Paolo Benoli, a high school teacher in Triest came across one of my earlier messages I had sent out in case someone knew of a way how to find out who Robert Schenk's bride had been. Paolo knew where to look and found the whole court file that not even the Austrian archivist seemed to know about. With his help I acquired a big stack of photocopies and finally solved the mystery of Robert's last minute heroism. There was a little newspaper ad in the file and with it I was able to obtain a proper copy of the original from Vienna. The text in that official government ad more than adequately confirms that he acted in the best tradition of the Austrian Officers' Corps and that he was posthumously awarded the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class. There is, unfortunately not even a hint as to who his bride might have been, what her name was, where she came from, or what happened to her.

Robert's father got involved in the investigation and testified in court, but even he did not mention the name of his brand new daughter-in-law, only that Robert and his wife had been married but three days.

Moritz Schenk's testimony (the original is in his own handwriting, and in the German language) at Bezirksgericht Neubau, Abteilung VIII, 27 Jun 1917 - before k.k. LGR Höffner. C665/15 -/154:

Witness: Mr. Moritz Schenk, 66 years old, Roman Catholic, k.k. Hofrat retired, [residing at] Auhofstraße 40, Vienna 13. Has the following to contribute with both parties indicating that they do not insist on an oath being taken:

I have not been on the ship but my son First Lieutenant Robert Schenk has been - along with his wife of three days. Because of that I had reason to be interested in this matter, and tried to obtain details from the marine branch of the Ministry in Vienna. I spoke here in Vienna with the secretary of the Chief of the relevant department and he told me the following.

The captain of the ship, Paul Winter had been given firm instructions to not come closer to shore than 15 nautical miles because the area inside that line was mined. I asked why, in view of such danger, the captain would not have been assigned a pilot, and he told me that the captain refused a pilot with the remark that he was intimately familiar with that stretch.

I was further told that it was confirmed that the ship ran into an anchored, and not into a free drifting mine. Essentially the same information was also given me by the navy port command of the port captaincy of Pola as well as by the Head of the investigating court of L.G.H. Peraši of that port.

There was a report in the Wiener Zeitung of 3 Mar 1916 which said that: "The Emperor awarded 1½ years after his death the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class to First Lieutenant Robert Schenk of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment #4 who lost his life on 13 August 1914 during the sinking of the Lloyd Steamer Baron Gautsch while engaged in the saving of numerous humans lives in a heroic, and extremely selfless manner, but whose deeds have only now been clarified through witnesses.

I am further more receiving numerous letters of thanks from the people who were saved by my son.

Signed: Moriz Schenk, k.k. Hofrat retired. Translated by Felix G. Game


What made this disaster so awful, is that the Austrian steamer was the first victim of a new weapon - a nautical mine, and it was a mine that had just been laid by the Austrian navy. Testimony indicated that the captain and the first officer had been to a meeting with Austrian Naval officers prior to their departure. They had been warned to stay 15 Kilometers from shore because of the mines. The captain was not scheduled to be on duty and the first officer who was, did not feel well and passed his duties on to the second officer who had not been at the meeting nor had he been told about the 15 Km requirement. Once the ship hit the mine, there were other problems of an incredible nature. There was confusion and panic, the life preservers were locked up, the crew was looking out for themselves, etc. Robert Schenk apparently became instrumental in busting open the locked containers to get at the life preservers which he then distributed, and he helped to control the panic as best he could.

Award bearing the signature of Emperor Franz Josef I.

1916 Feb 24 the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class was conferred upon him ("with the tax having
                 been forgiven"), PV Blat. No.42M 1916. The text of the notice placed in the Vienna newspaper
                 Wiener Zeitung of 3 March 1916 is as follows:

den Orden der Eisernen Krone dritter Klasse mit Nachsicht der Taxe:
dem Oberleutnant Robert Schenk des bosnisch-hercegovinischen Infantrieregiments Nr. 4, der am 13. August 1914 beim Untergang des Lloyddampfers "Baron Gautsch" nach heldenmütiger Rettung zahlreicher Menschenleben den Tod fand, dessen bewunderungswürdiges Handeln aber erst jetzt durch Zeugen klargestellt wurde.

The Order of the Iron Crown 3rd class [awarded] without tax to: First Lieutenant Robert Schenk of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment number 4, who after saving many lives died on 13 August 1914 during of the sinking of the Lloyd steamer Baron Gautsch, but whose admirable actions have only now been clarified by witnesses. fggdoc218-4 Translation by Felix G, Game

Government notification placed in the Wiener Zeitung's official page of 3 March 1916: "[Awarded] the Order of the Iron Crown Third Class to First Lieutenant Robert Schenk of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment #4, who lost his life during the sinking of the Lloyd steamer Baron Gautsch as a result of heroically and selflessly saving numerous lives, and whose admirable deeds have only now been clarified through witnesses".
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For more information about the Baron Gautsch and its wreck, now a destination for SCUBA divers,
visit the Web site of Herwig Strauss at http://www.adventuredives.com/barong.htm.

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Alfred Franz Schenk, Field Marshall Lieutenant

Alfred Edler von Schenk, FML.
5 July 1863 - 12 Oct 1952
My Father's First Cousin
Younger son of Moritz Schenk and Eulalia Zwierzina

I first learned of these close relatives from cousin Ida Birman in 1989. At 93, with a mind like a steel trap, she summed it up for me like this:

This younger son of my grandfather's sister Eulalia had a fantastic military career. While still a young officer, he was sent to Russia to spy for the Austrian Army, and seems to have done a good job of it because he later became a General.(7) Between spying assignments, he found time to meet and marry a girl who fell in love with this dashing young officer. That girl became our Tante Vita (aunt Vita - a nickname derivative of Victoria) who brought enormous wealth with her into the marriage.

Alfred had been born into a middle class family which already had, for almost a hundred years before him, a military tradition on his mother's side. Eulalia Zwierzina had been the daughter of a retired Lieutenant, and her brother Johann Nepomuk was only five years away from retiring as a captain. Luckily for Alfred, this glorious but materially meager tradition was balanced out in his family by his father's steady and adequate income of a senior employee of the State. It would have been quite enough, in the early stages, to help out a son who had become the family's pride and joy, and who with his slim build and erect carriage seemed taller than he was, and looked very handsome in his uniform.

He was first enrolled in a Gymnasium, which is a misleading Austrian name for a classical high school. Students enter at the age of ten years, after four years of primary school, and if they continue for eight years and if they are successful, they graduate with a senior matriculation known as the Matura. The Matura was considered an above average level of education, and mandatory for admission to university. It appears that Alfred completed the first three years of the possible eight, and then switched over to a school for cadets. The fact that both these schools were located in Prague is a valuable hint that his parents may have lived there; a hint which may be the only indication of a residence when trying to locate, and further research his mother Eulalia, my grandfather's sister. Since both his parents were of ethnic German background it is safe to assume that German was spoken at home, while living in the capital of Bohemia the opportunity to grow up fully conversant in the Czech language was available. Alfred's military record strongly indicates that he was bilingual from the start, and that he had a better than average aptitude for learning additional languages.

Alfred and Vita Schenk had a daughter Olga and a son Georg (Jurko). Little is known of the daughter except that in 1927 her address was given as "London" (presumably England). Olga is mentioned in the 1952 probate of Alfred's will as Mrs. Schmidt indicating that she had married someone named Schmidt. Son Georg was married to a Hungarian girl, who was either Jewish, or half-Jewish. As Ida tells it, Jurko had become an ardent Nazi, and divorced his wife during the Hitler Regime to avoid any unfavorable consequences for himself that could arise out of his wife's non-Arian background. This sort of thinking, and some patronizing utterances about Jews, made him a persona non grata in the Birman household (cousin Ida Birman was married to a Slovak Jew, and had spirited her daughter out of the country for her safety). Consequerntly, what she had to say about Jurko (Georg) Schenk is bound to be somewhat biased.

As with everything else that cousin Ida had told me, I was able to verify most of these statements. The personnel records of Alfred Schenk are on LDS film #1230755 (Qualifikationslisten, filmed at the Vienna Kriegsarchiv), all 91 pages. In addition to these the Vienna archives also yielded a copy of his request for permission to marry, which finally provided the name of his wife, and also several pages of his post-World War I retirement record. Another Branch of the Vienna archives provided some 27 pages documenting the process of how he obtained his nobility title of "Edler von", something which even cousin Ida had not mentioned.

It may appear somewhat arrogant to think that an accurate picture can be painted of a stranger from about 100 pages of military records alone. I do not intend to be arrogant. Those papers are not quite everything that I have to go on in the case of cousin Alfred Schenk, I also have about 200 letters written by him to his parents during the first two years of his military career as an officer. Additional material is held at the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna in the form of Alfred's war diaries and photo album, things his son donated to the archives. Because of his high military rank and significant involvement in the fortunes of the Austrian army many references exist buried in numerous books relating to events of the war 1914-1918. I am confident that I will be able to draw reasonable conclusions about my father's first cousin.

The Military Record of Alfred Schenk

Extracted from photocopies of the originals are over 110 pages of records pertaining to his military career and to his acquiring the title of nobility Edler von. The original documents are in German; all translations are mine.

1863 Alfred Schenk, born 5 July 1863 at Laibach in Krain. Entitled to domicile status at Prague, Bohemia. Roman Catholic.
            Son of a k.k. (Imperial, royal) retired senior civil servant. Completed three years of the Gymnasium in Prague, as well
            as the k.u.k. Cadet School in Prague from 1877 to 1881 and obtained very good overall results. Joined the (Austrian)
            army on 11 July 1880 as a volunteer for 3 years line duty, 7 years reserve duty, 2 years militia duty with 4 years of
            Präsenzdienst extension, and was assigned to the Infantry Regiment Freiherr von Mondel Nr. 21 as Infanterist (foot
            soldier).fggdoc136-01

Historical Events of the Period 
1878  
Austria annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina (as per Congress of Berlin).

1880 Sep 18 nominated to, and functioned as acting sergeant.fggdoc136-22

1881 Aug 18 Cadet-Offiziers Stellvertreter in the Feldjäger Battalion No.24. Doing company duty as of September.fggdoc136-22

The 1881 Evaluation of Alfred mentions under various headings:

Geographic areas familiar with: Krumau and Budweis through garrisoning; parts of Salzburg from passing through.
Knowledge of languages: German completely spoken and written; speaks Czech completely.

Abilities: Has many abilities and a very good grasp. Has all the knowledge and skills required to carry out his duties. Well-rounded for troop service. Good marksman.
Motivation: Very industrious and ambitious, and shows good results. Very duty-minded and service-oriented. Eager to develop himself further.

Conduct: Calm and relaxed, very ambitious. Open, frank, and obedient towards superiors. Strict, yet benevolently caring towards subordinates. Has a positive effect upon the morale. Off duty: Very decent, unassuming and accommodating; seeks the company of fellow officers. The officers corps considers him worthy of promotion to lieutenant.fggdoc136-28
Health: Healthy, suited to all field conditions.fggdoc136-28
Suitability for promotion: Within the normal career path.

Summary endorsement by the Brigadier, Colonel Paul Hastiness: "Will become a very good officer in the normal career path.fggdoc136-28

Historical Events of the Period  
1882  Insurrection in the Krisvosije region of Southern Dalmatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

1882 Zusatz zur Qualifikations-Liste is similar:

It shows him assigned to the 91st Infantry Regiment as a Cadet Back-up Officer with a total service of 2 years, 5 months, and 21 days. Doing company duty at the moment, but had taken part in operations in South Dalmatia in 1882. Wearer of the War Medal.
Geographic areas familiar with: South Dalmatia through garrisoning and war events.
Knowledge of languages: German, spoken and written, completely; Czech (language of the Regiment), completely.
Abilities: Has many abilities and a very good grasp. Very well suited to the demands of his present position. Has good capabilities for training and leading his detachment. Is a good marksman.
Industry: Motivated and industrious self-starter.
Conduct: Decisive before the enemy. Calm and relaxed, honorable, already a fully developed, solid character. Open, frank, obedient, and approachable towards superiors. Strict, yet benevolent towards subordinates. Knows how to introduce and maintain discipline. Has a positive effect upon morale. Off duty: Very respectful and unassuming dealing with superiors; else very decent, likes the company of fellow officers. The officer corps considers him worthy of promotion to lieutenant.fggdoc136-22
Health: Tall, slight build but healthy, and suited to all field conditions.fggdoc136-30 (author's note: describing him as "tall" may require that this be seen in the context of the fact that most Austrians were not very tall, and also in the context of being thin with a good posture which may have caused him to appear taller than he really was. In Kmenový List fggdoc191 his height is stated as 169cm which works out to 5'6½". That is not tall; as can be seen in fggdoc136-31, "tall" had been changed to "mittelgroß" meaning "medium height").
Suitability for promotion: Within the normal career path.
Summary endorsement by Major General Johann Edler von Németh:"Agree with the description; in the normal career path".fggdoc136-29,30,32

Campaigns and achievements in the field 1882:

25 Feb: Skirmish at Bunovic south of Ubli.
   8 Mar: Battles and occupation of the line Wratto - Ubli.
   9 Mar: Battles and occupation of the line Gekovar - Velivoh - Napoda - Akvire.

11 Mar: Battle at Vel Zagvozdak.fggdoc136-26
     May: He was commander of Fort St.Croce in the Boccha di Cattaro (Cattaro Bay).fggdoc136-03

1883 Jan 1: transferred to Infantry Regiment No.91. Company duty in Krumau and Budweis.fggdoc136-22

Comments: Honorable, solid character; gentle nature, quiet, calm disposition. Has pretty good knowledge of shooting and the skills to apply that knowledge in practical situations. Quite a good marksman. In dealing with superiors obedient and dutifully frank. Friendly towards peers. Good comrade and a good influence. Prefers to be among fellow officers but tends to be reserved. Is shortsighted and wears glasses.

Summary by commandant of 38th Infantry Brigade: "A cadet who is in every way well disposed to become a good officer".fggdoc136-31 1883/84 Infantry Equitation2 (Horse Training) in Budweis; passed with adequate results.

1884 May 1 Named Lieutenant with the Infantry Regiment Ritter von Fröhlich No.91.fggdoc136-22

Additional comments: Meets the requirements of his position in every way. Quite good instructor; average horseman. A solid, skillful, and very useful officer with good prospects.fggdoc136-33

1885 Doing company duty in Budweis and Krumau.fggdoc136-22,

Additional comments: Medium height, slim build. Had been given 12 weeks of leave due to illness. Otherwise healthy and fit for any kind of peace or war service.fggdoc136-33

1886 Doing company duty in Wittingau.fggdoc136-22

Additional comments: Honorable, solid character, very ambitious, somewhat sensitive. Is preparing himself for admittance to the Kriegsschule (General Staff School created in 1852). A very good, dutiful and excellent officer.fggdoc136-34

It is significant that while still a mere Lieutenant, he had already been earmarked for an out-of-the-ordinary career path and the grooming started with being sent to the General Staff School.

1887 Company duty until 8 October in Wittingau, Pilsen, Budweis, Wien. Until end of March also attended Infantry
            Equitation2 in Pilsen; passed with adequate results. As of 1 November starting attendance at Kriegsschule. fggdoc136-25

 Additional comments: In case of hostilities, he is slated for the general staff department in Brünn.fggdoc136-34

1887/89 Kriegsschule; passed with very good results.fggdoc136-34

1888 Nov 1 Promoted to Oberleutnant. Spent from 1 January to the end of December in the Kriegsschule.fggdoc136-25

Comment: "Well prepared for mapping". Everything else as in 1887. Qualifies for promotion within the path. (Signed at Vienna 20 December 1888 by two teachers, Lieutenant Colonels Carl Binder, and Alfred von Englisch, and the commander of the Kriegsschule Major General Emanuel Merta).fggdoc136-77

1889 Attends Kriegsschule until October, then (Nov 1) assigned to general staff of the 9th Infantry Brigade at Olmütz
            until 24 Nov
1891. The 1889 appraisal was also completed by the school.

Some of the more meaningful comments: mature nature, calm temperament, very capable. Quick grasp and decisiveness, good judgment, very precise in expressing himself. Works quickly, well and neatly. Pretty good horseman. Suited to service with the General Staff. Extremely industrious and ambitious, and obtains very good results. Exemplary behavior towards superiors and peers. Off duty he is reserved and undemanding. Has a very good way with people. Physically strong and enduring. Qualifies for promotion within the path. (Dated at Vienna 29 October 1889 and signed again by two teachers, Lieutenant Colonel Karl Binder, and Major Emil Wainovich, and the commander of the school, Major General Emanuel Merta).fggdoc136-25

1889 was the year when Alfred's first cousin Hans Zwierzina was born.

1890 11 Apr - 5 May General Staff Officer of the 9th Infantry Brigade in the area Olmütz, Märisch Ostrau.

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire (Commandant of the 5th Infantry Troop Division): (To be promoted) outside of the regular path because of the reasons given in the attached reportfggdoc136-07.

Comments: (much the same as 1891 below). Very talented, industrious and in every way a superior officer. Extremely well suited for transfer to the General Staff Corps. Therefore according to point 46 of the promotion regulations: outside of the path.fggdoc136-42

The second indication, of having been selected for an accelerated career path, came the year after he had passed the General Staff School: His Division Commander stated in writing that Alfred was to be promoted outside of the regular career path, meaning faster than normal.

Report on the Qualifications of First Lieutenant Alfred Schenk, of the Infantry Regiment Ritter von Fröhlich Nr.91, General Staff Officer of the 9th Infantry Brigade, for the purpose of promotion outside of the regular career path: Talented, modest, excellent officer who is fully qualified for transfer to the General Staff Corps, and who is worthy of promotion outside of the regular career path (dated at Olmütz 24 January 1891, signed "I. Ritter von Samonigg, Field Marshal Lieutenant").fggdoc136-74

1891 General Staff Officer with the 2nd Mountain Brigade (Trebinje).

Comments: Thorough and broad, general and military knowledge.
Geographic areas familiar with: Parts of Istria, Krain, Corinthia, Styria, and south-western Hungary acquired through a travel of study to Turkey.fggdoc136-03

1891 was the year when Alfred's first cousin Emil Zwierzina (my father) was born.

Additional comments: Speaks and writes German perfectly correct, with a refined style. Speaks Czech perfectly. Can make himself understood in French, and writes it quite well. Very realistic and decisive character; calm temperament; very capable, quick grasp and decisive; good judgement; very precise way of expressing himself; works fast, well, and neatly. Extremely suited for general staff officer of the Brigade. Pretty good horseman. Respected comrade with good mannerisms and excellent influence on younger officers; unassuming and modest. (The above description is based for the best part on the addendum received from the Kriegsschule). This excellent officer is completely suitable for transfer to the General Staff Corps.fggdoc136-35

Report on the Qualifications of First Lieutenant Alfred Schenk of the Infantry Regiment Ritter von Fröhlich Nr.91, General Staff Officer of the 9th Infantry Brigade for the purpose of promotion outside of the regular career path: First Lieutenant Alfred Schenk satisfies all requirements of item 46 of the promotion Regulations, and because of his excellent characteristics and mental abilities, his untiring industriousness and superior achievements, he is fully deserving of accelerated advancement. We request therefore his promotion "outside of the regular career path". (dated at Olmütz 31 December 1891 and signed by the commander of the 9th Infantry Brigade, a Major General, and the Chief of Staff of the 5th Infantry Troops, a Major).fggdoc136-73

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire: same as 1890 - outside the path.fggdoc136-07

1892 May 5 Promoted to Captain 1st Class in the General Staff Corps.fggdoc136-02 Until Nov 1 with the general staff of the
            2nd Mountain Brigade in Trebinje. Nov 1 1892 until Apr 30 1895 with the general staff department of the 12th corps
            inHermannstadt.fggdoc136-03

Comments: A rather good, and dashing horseman. Still has to write the exams for staff officer in the General Staff Corps. Generally suited for (further) promotion.fggdoc136-43

It is interesting that someone remembered about the exams still to be written when he had already been a General Staff Officer for three years.

1893 Comments: Honorable, genuine character; decisive, enduring. Very capable with quick grasp. Well suited for his present
           position, very knowledgeable, works quickly and is very dependable. Did very well during this year's weapons exercises.
           Good horseman. Has yet to write the exams for the position of major on the General Staff.fggdoc136-44

1894 Comments: Showed good aptitude for teaching while acting as assignment preparer, and instructor to the provisioning
           units during the war games.fggdoc136-44

1895 May 1 to May 14 1896 sent to Kasan, Russia(8) "for the purpose of learning the Russian Language".fggdoc136-03
           Has essentially perfected his knowledge of French and Russian through studies.fggdoc136-45

This is the confirmation for Ida's spy story. It would be expecting too much of Alfred's military records to actually say that he was sent to spy, but the fact that his next job after returning to Vienna was that of an "intelligence officer with the Evidence Bureau of the General Staff" does not leave much doubt in my mind.

The story of the infamous Austrian spy Redl, extracted from one of my references, is so uncannily similar to parts of Alfred Schenk's career that I must include it here for comparison: The 23 year-old Redl was promoted to Lieutenant in 1887. From 1892 to 1894 he attended the General Staff School, and was seconded to the General Staff in 1899 as a full-fledged General Staff Officer.

Because he spoke Polish and Ukrainian fluently, Captain Redl was sent to Russia in the same year in an exchange of General Staff Officers. The ostensible purpose of this trip was to learn Russian, but in reality both sides used this friendly arrangement to train spies.

Back in Vienna in 1900 Redl was posted to the Evidenzbüro for the Austro-Hungarian General Staff and put in charge of intelligence activities vis-à-vis Russia. What he did, however, he turned, and spied for Russia. Decorations and promotions were heaped on him. He was promoted to full Colonel in 1912, and General Staff Chief of the 8th Prague Army Corps.

He was unmasked 24 May 1913 by German General Staff and Austrian State Police. He killed himself the same night.

1896 May 15 to 1 May 1897 Intelligence Officer with the General Staff's Information Bureau (Kundschaftsoffizier im Evidenzbureau
        des Generalstabes
) in Vienna.

Comments: Russian spoken and written excellently. French very good. Performs very well in his present assignment as intelligence officer with the Evidence Bureau. Works independently and with much initiative. In 1896 he also took part in exercises involving observation balloons.fggdoc136-03

In October he was ready to marry at the age of 33, and this is where we find out, from a document in Alfred's own handwriting, the identity of the girl who later became the Tante Vita referred to by cousin Ida. The document is Alfred's "Request for Permission to Marry"fggdoc190. That this was an official document is signified by the 50 Kreuzer Stempelmarke attached to its upper left corner.

The document is written in the style of a letter, it is addressed to the Imperial and Royal Ministry of War in Vienna, and is dated 12 Oct 1896. Alfred is asking for permission to marry Miss Viktoria von Grahe, daughter of the Imperial Russian State-Council (Staatsrath) Gustav Ferdinand Ritter von Grahe and his wife Viktoria née von Bloßfeldt, of Kasan.

It may be an indication of how popular Alfred was, or how well he knew to pull strings, but his letter goes on to indicate that he had arranged to get around the numerical restrictions existing in his unit. He says that Captain Adolf Brunswik de Korompa of the General Staff Corps had deposited a statement giving up his permission to marry in Alfred's favor, and he names the next six in line as having no objections to this switch. Alfred came from behind and found a way to move to the front of the line. He ends his petition with the statement that the bride has secured an annual income supplement of 1200 Gulden.

The endorsement (with a signature which appears to be Kolozsváry) points out that the bride's family is known to "our officers who are in Kasan to learn the Russian language", and the intended marriage is without doubt entirely compatible in terms of social standing. Captain Schenk is in an immaculate financial situation, and the intended marriage would further improve his material position.fggdoc190

1896 Dec 14 Alfred Schenk Married Viktoria von Grahe upon securing an independent annual income of 1200 Gulden
           (property of the wife). He personally without wealth. Financially solvent.fggdoc136-37

Viktoria von Grahe (wife of Alfred Edler von Schenk)
Picture courtesy Johanna Rainer (née Zwierzina)
Some comments about Viktoria's family: The author obtained many years later additional information from cousin Johanna Rainer indicating that Viktoria was referred to by some of our relatives as "die Baltin", suggesting that her family originated in the Baltikum, the group of small countries germanized by the Teutonic Order. Germans formed the educated segment of the population. Later when Russia took posession of the region, the educated Germans were encouraged to work for the Russian government. An old picture of a Grahe burial place provides some indication  and confirmation that the Grahe family lived at Hohenberg, Kurland/Russia, where some of the family's graves can be found. It is perhaps significant that the gave stones do not show the honorific "von". As to their nobility titles, the Deutsch-Baltische Archives were kind enough to check for me, and did find the name Bloßfeldt in their records, but not Grahe. Focusing on the construct of the title as "Ritter von" the archives felt it would have to be an Austrian title, since that country was the only one that conferred the word "Ritter".

1897 Organizationally assigned to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.4 for troop service, but actually remained
           with the General Staff Corps.fggdoc136-02 1 May 1897 to 1 Nov 1898 Commander of the 2nd Company of the Bosnian-
           Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.4.fggdoc136-03

Comments: He instructs and leads a company very skillfully under all conditions. He grasps a situation in all detail and positions himself with ease. Outside the path.fggdoc136-46

Opinion of the Divisionaire: Captain Schenk is a dutiful, competent officer. He had, however, only recently joined us and I did not have much opportunity to get to know him. While acknowledging his past achievements, I am not yet in a position to agree to the application for promotion outside the path. Therefore "in the path".fggdoc136-16

A Report on the qualifications of Captain 1st Class in the General Staff Corps, assigned for troop duty with the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment Nr.4 for the purpose of promotion outside the regular career path: Captain Schenk has devoted himself with an iron will, and in a most goal-oriented way to the theoretical and practical duties with the Regiment, and obtained very good results. Despite the short time that he had spent in training and in leading his Company, and in the leading of the Battalion, he had developed considerable confidence which points out his unquestionable suitability for Battalion Commander. In view of this, and in full recognition of his excellent character traits, his sound judgment, and his good influence upon the esprit of the officers corps, the Rating Commission is moved to qualify Captain Alfred Schenk for promotion outside the regular career path. (dated at Vienna 4 December 1897, and signed by two Majors, and two Colonels, one being the Commander of the Regiment Miklo Stojsavljevi.fggdoc136-71

Opinion of the Brigadier: Captain Alfred Schenk has performed exceptionally well in both theory and practice. He has acquired great confidence in leading the company and the battalion. As far as his exceptional qualities, his positive influence upon the troops and the officer corps, he fully qualifies for promotion outside of the tour.fggdoc136-17

This must have been somewhat embarrassing for the Division Commander who went against the precedent set by Alfred's previous superiors, and did not recommend his promotion "outside" the normal career path. He was upstaged by the "Rating Commission" consisting of two colonels, and two majors, and by the Brigadier who agreed with the "Rating Commission". Or was the Divisionaire the only one right? See the rating of the following year.

1898 In March he passed the examination required for promotion to Major with "appropriate overall results".

Nov 1 Promoted to Major in the General Staff Corps, and transferred for duty as Chief of the General Staff of the 16th Infantry Troop Division.fggdoc136-02

11.3.1898 Alfred's son Georg Ferdinand is born.fggdoc191 There is some doubt about the day of birth since the Wiener Genealogisches Taschenbuch for 1927/28 show the date as 4 Mar 1898.fggdoc237 Added note of 2006: The newly connected cousin, Johanna Rainer (née Zwierzina) is said to have been in contact by correspondence with "Jiri" (Georg, or "Yura", or "Jurko") during WW1. A picture of him meeting with father Alfred Schenk somewhere on the Doberdo Plateau during WW1 had also become available. Son Georg seems to be wearing a marine uniform. Another picture of him is also available where he is quite old already. Georg is quoted as saying in one of his letters that he unfortunately never had any children from any of his three marriages. Johanna is said to have met a "Helga" supposedly the last of George's wives, and she seems to be the one who donated several keepsakes from George's estate to Johanna who passed on, among other things, Alfred Schenk's saber to Johanna's son Wolfgang Rainer. Somehow, there seems to have been also a contact with Luise Weber in this meeting.

Comments: Moves mostly in the circle of his family. Had been given 12 weeks leave because of illness, but is fully recovered and fit for any peace, or war time assignment. Suited for promotion to Regiment Commandant.fggdoc136-46

Father of a dependent son. Financially solvent.fggdoc136-37

Opinion of the Brigadier: Agree with the description by the Regiment Commandant. As far as his suitability to become regiment commandant, he should be given an opportunity to prove himself. In the path.fggdoc136-17

Opinion of the Divisionaire: A very capable officer who has performed very well in every respect. In the path.fggdoc136-16

Opinion of the Chief of the General Staff: Capable general staff officer. Made a good showing as Company commandant, was however ill for an extended period of time. Has to be tested in the service of the general staff before I can judge. In the path.fggdoc136-09

Opinion of the Corps Commandant (dated 14 Nov 1898 at Vienna): Measured up very well as company commandant. I cannot yet comment on his suitability for commandant of a regiment. In the path.fggdoc136-08

This appears to be an important mile stone in that the next promotion will give him command of a Regiment. All at once he is unanimously squeezed back into the career path. Could they have resented his illness? What was his problem?

1899 Comments: Partook in the big voyage of the General Staff Group VII. Entrusted with the direction of applications training
           for Doctors and Medics of the Group Hermannstadt; as well as with the general direction of the field signals training. He was
           also active as language teacher of Russian to officers of two different troop units.fggdoc136-03

Familiarity with geographic areas (1892-1899): Montenegro, parts of Southern France, Switzerland, North and South Italy, Monaco, Rumania, Bulgaria, Route to Belgrade, Sofia, Constantinopel, north-western part of Asia Minor, the better part of south-European Russia including Finland, Crimea, Caucasus, West Siberia, Turkestan, Bochara, northern Persia.fggdoc136-05

Very capable, energetic, active and self-confident staff officer, who according to the previous appraisals, promises to become a battalion or regiment commander.fggdoc136-47

Opinion of the Chief of the General Staff: Performs well as Chief of the Division's General Staff. In the path.fggdoc136-09

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: A very good, productive general staff officer who does justice to his position. In the path.fggdoc136-08

1900 Took part as party leader in the small voyage of General Staff Group VII.fggdoc136-03

Additional Language skills: Serbo Croatian - adequate for duty use. Russian - speaks and writes excellently, French - speaks and writes very well.fggdoc136-06

Opinion of the Chief of the General Staff: Capable general staff officer who meets the requirements of his role well. (not changed for 1901, 1902).fggdoc136-12

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: Very good, productive staff officer who performs well in his position. In the path.fggdoc136-10

1901 Chief of Staff of the general staff of the 16th Infantry Truz Division. Continued with responsibilities for the training
           of medical and signal units. (Hermannstadt).fggdoc136-03

          23.3.1901 Alfred's daughter Olga Viktoria is born.fggdoc191

1902 May 1 Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the General Staff Corps.fggdoc136-02 Chief of Staff of the general staff of the
           16th Infantry Truz Division, and carrying on with the responsibilities for the training of medical and signal units of Group
           Nagyszeben until 24 Oct 1903.fggdoc136-03

1903 Oct 24 Assigned for Troop duty to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1.fggdoc136-02 11 Nov Commander
           of the 2nd Field Battalion (Vienna).fggdoc136-03

Opinion of the Chief of the General Staff: Performed well as Chief of the Divisional general staff. In the path.fggdoc136-12

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: Very good, productive staff officer who performs well in his position. In the path. (dated 3 Nov 1903 at Nagyszeben).fggdoc136-11

1904 1 Nov Teacher at the Corps' Officers School in Vienna.fggdoc136-03

Opinion of the Brigadier: From my personal observation, I am in full agreement with the description of this excellent officer. Because the Regiment was not involved in the larger exercises this year, I did not have the opportunity to judge him on the leading of a regiment. He does lead a battalion very skillfully. Considering the flexibility and usefulness of this well trained and knowledgeable staff officer who has a very good influence on the staff corps, I second the opinion of his Regimental commander and consider him exceptionally qualified for a regiment commander. In the path.fggdoc136-13

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire: Performed well as battalion commandant. Lead the battalion skillfully and with understanding. Decisive, deploys well. Generally a very informed staff officer with a positive influence on the staff corps. Because the regiment was not involved in the big exercises this year, I was unable to judge in depth his suitability to be regiment commandant. I will state for now that he is qualified to be regiment commandant.fggdoc136-15

Opinion of the Chief of the General Staff: As before. Also performs in troop-related duties.fggdoc136-12

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: Leads a battalion very well. I am unable at this time to comment about his excellent suitability for regiment commandant. In the meantime - suited for Regiment Commandant. In the path.fggdoc136-10

1905 April 28: Transferred to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1 from General Staff Corps (but without
           changing his organizational assignment to the general staff).fggdoc136-02 Until 20 June full time teacher at the Staff College.
           21 June Commandant of the 2nd Field Battalion. 1 Nov teacher at the Staff College in Viennafggdoc136-03.
           Nov 1 Promoted to Colonel in the service of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1.fggdoc136-02

Opinion of the Brigadier: Met the requirements during this year's exercises in the leading of the regiment and functioning as party commandant. As in the previous year: excellent suitability for regiment commandant.fggdoc136-13

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire: He lead the regiment during this year's maneuvers very skillfully, and deployed it well. He has a good tactical sense. Is fully qualified to instruct and to lead the officers corps. Excellent qualifications for regiment commandant.

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: Not known to me. (then he proceeds to quote G.V.K. Gf Maküll(?) saying that) "he is extremely well suited to be regiment commander". (which is not what he said in 1904 - he said he could not comment). Signed "Fiedler FZM" (FZM=Feldzeugmeister(9).fggdoc136-15

1906 Until 1 July teacher at the Staff College in Vienna, then staff officer for special duties.
           Interim commandant of the regiment from 8 October to 21 October.fggdoc136-03

Opinion of the Brigadier: Brig. quotes the previous Brig. and repeats previous year's comments.fggdoc136-13

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire: Almost verbatim from previous year.fggdoc136-15 Opinion of the Corps Commandant: Leads with real grasp and understanding. Exceptionally suited to be regiment commandant. (signed Fiedler FZM - see his waffling the previous year).fggdoc136-10

1907 April 13 Named Commandant of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1

Picture courtesy Glenn Jewison

Opinion of the Troop Divisionaire: Performed admirably as Regimental commandant. Skillful in the tactical direction of the regiment, and also in the leading and training of the officer corps. Has gone to considerable length to upgrade the level of training in the regiment. Shows much care and consideration for the material welfare of the troops. Without a doubt he is also suited to become brigadier and Major General.fggdoc136-15 Opinion of the Corps Commandant: A very capable Regiment Commandant. Strong character, energetic, of very independent and sure judgement. Leads skillfully, with quick decisions and consequences. Very caring. Good influence on the martial training of officers and men. Suited to become brigadier and more senior ranks. (signed m.p.(10) Fiedler FZM, dated Vienna 29 November 1907).fggdoc136-10

1908 As of the end of August 1908 Alfred Schenk had served 28 years, 1 month and 20 days.fggdoc136-49 Präsident of the
          Committee for Animal Acquisition of the Vienna garrison.fggdoc136-50
          A new skill shows up for the first time: Exercises in ballooning.fggdoc136-51

Opinion of the Corps Commandant: A very skillful, in every way dependable and productive - with good results - Regimental Commandant who also has the suitability for Brigadier. (signed by Versbach m.p.)fggdoc136-10

1909 Versbach says "no change" (dated Vienna Nov 12 1909).fggdoc136-10

1910 Main Report fort the year 1910 about Colonel Alfred Schenk. (born 5 July1863, serving since 11 July 1880, took part in campaigns in South Dalmatia 1882). Speaks German fluently, Czech and Croatian adequately for duty use. Russian excellently, French very well. Rides very well, owns very good horse (beritten). Married with two dependent children. Bond placed. Himself without wealth. Wife is wealthy. Combines fine social graces with his good appearance. Spirited, decisive, energetic and sure of his objectives. Thorough subject matter knowledge. Has been an excellent General Staff officer. Shows good tact towards superiors, is strict in demanding performance from subordinates while being laudably caring towards them. Judges his subordinates justly and benevolently. Trains the Regiment very successfully in a martial manner, and leads it with a firm hand. Very caring. Tirelessly active and achieves complete results. Excellently competent regiment commander and leader of troops. Suited to become Infantry Brigadier. (signed Major General Emil List, Commander of the 49th Infantry Brigade). To this was added the following:

Opinion by Major General Thomas Madle von Lenzbrugg, commander of the 25th Infantry Troop-Division: Very intelligent, industrious, impulsive. An excellent commander, has the best impact on the training and standing of the officer corps, as well as the physical condition and effectiveness of the Regiment. Showed very well during this year's exercises as party and column commander. Is suited to become brigadier and major general "within the path".fggdoc136-81

To which was added the endorsement by the Commander of the 2nd Corps, General Ritter von Versbach (dated at Vienna 27 September 1910). And then finally the endorsement on 29 September 1910 by Feldzeugmeister Potiorek: Qualifies for the position of Brigadier and Major General.fggdoc136-84

1911 Alfred, who at the time was holding the rank of Colonel and was the commander of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Infantry Regiment Nr.1, petitioned Emperor Franz Josef I. in February 1911 to bestow on him the title of nobility based on his 30 years of uninterrupted military service and unblemished good conduct along with the appropriate behavior during his participation in fighting the enemy. It was understood that he qualified for a tax-free award of the diploma but that he had to pay the 330 Crowns issuance fee, and an additional 210 Crowns to have the title of honor "Edler" added to his name. For the next three months Alfred collected the various necessary certificates of good conduct from his past superiors all the way back to Cadet school. And he needed, of course, a testimonial to his bravery before the enemy in 1882. Furthermore he had to arrange to have a coat of arms designed and approved, to arrange for an advertisement to be placed in the Wiener Zeitung (Amtlicher Teil) informing the World that "His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty has with his signature deigned to bestow on Major General Alfred Schenk the status of nobility and the title of honor Edler".fggdoc200-3
Image courtesy Glenn Jewison

1911 Promoted to Major-General on 27 April.

Although Alfred had paid the money on 16 May 1911 and the draft of the diploma had been assigned its number of 747-1911/A., he did not receive it until 30 July when he signed for its receipt in Sarajevo. He was now among the many Austrian officers who could add to their name the visible signs of being of the nobility, of being a cut above the average. His wife came to Alfred with her own title, but lost it in the process of marrying a "commoner". She could now again enjoy a title which she had a right to bear.

The diploma not only refers to him as "our dear and loyal Alfred Schenk" , it also recites all the decorations he held up to that time: He was a
Knight of our Austrian Imperial Order of the Iron Crown 3rd class,

  • holder of the Cross of Military Merit,
  • the War Medal,
  • the Military Service Badge for Officers 3rd class,
  • the Jubilee Medal for the Armed Forces,
  • and the Cross of the Military Jubilee.

    When the diploma was finally presented to him, it was done by the Minister of the Interior Dr. Felix von Schmitt-Gasteiger "on the highest personal orders of his Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty" - Franz Josef did however personally sign the document. Alfred Schenk became Alfred Edler von Schenk.

    The Main Report for 1911 on Major-General Alfred Edler von Schenk, Commander of the 9th Mountain Brigade. The details are very much as in the previous year. His two dependent children are specified as "a son and a daughter". His personal presence is also elaborated on a bit more: A very impressive presence with winning social graces and a calm, always tactful manner. He was said to be well-read, well-traveled and to have a broad base of knowledge in the humanities. He had participated in exercises of the 1st Infantry Division between the upper Narenta and the upper Drina (rivers) in the capacity of party commander. He then took part in the General's Trip to Corinthia, and in all of the exercises of the Brigade and the Troop Division as commander of his Brigade, and in the final maneuvers of the 15th Corps. He also performed very well as task assignor. He judges military situations correctly, adjusts to them appropriately, clearly and decisively. He made it a point to familiarize himself with the local conditions and took them into account.fggdoc136-85

    Opinion: Qualifies as commander of a mountain (Infantry) Brigade in every way. According to his knowledge and overall personality, he would be suited to be commander of a Corps Officers School. Considering his rank, he has not yet been tried in the leading of an Infantry Troop Division. (Signed Michael von Appel, Major-General(?), Commander of the 1st Infantry Troop Division).

    Opinions added to the above: Expected to qualify for higher assignments. (Signed at Sarajevo on 12 September 1911 by Major General(?) Moriz Ritter von Amfenberg(?)), and then finally by Potiorek also at Sarajevo on 26 September 1911 stating simply that he was satisfied with the appraisal.

    National- und Dienstbeschreibung for the year 1911 varies slightly by giving his date of promotion to Major General as 14 Mai 1911, and by showing him as having been "entrusted with the command of the 15th Infantry Troop Division."

    A list of decorations contained in the same document (this document is not in my collection, but I have seen it on microfilm) shows Alfred as being:

    Ritter des Ordens der eisernen Krone 3. Klasse (Knight of the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd class); Owner of the Military Merit Cross, of the War Medal, of the Military Merit Badge 3rd class for officers, the Jubilee Memorial Medal for the armed forces, and the Military Jubilee Cross.fggdoc136-87

    1912 An Addendum to the Main Report (Zusatz zum Hauptbericht) of 1912 of Major General Alfred von Schenk, Commander of the 97th Infantry Brigade shows nothing new. The commander of the 49th Infantry Troop Division Carl Stitik(?) simply says that he has without doubt the qualifications for commander of an Infantry Troop Division, as well as for Field Marshall Lieutenant. (signed at Vienna 9 September 1912).fggdoc136-88

    The "Opinion" of GdI (General der Infanterie) Alfred Ritter von Ziegler, commander of the 2nd Corps, dated 14 September 1912, is very flattering and calls him a distinguished, capable and decisive general, very good Brigadier....Then finishes up saying that he wants to reserve judgment about Schenk's suitability for a commander of an Infantry Troop Division until tested further. Would be very well suited to be commander of Corps Officers School. Suited to higher rank.fggdoc136-89

    On the same document by hand, and a separate document typed and headed "Inspizierung 1912" is the opinion by Franz Freiherr Conrad von Hötzendorf, General of the Infantry(11): He lead the Brigade very well, is impulsive and very ambitious. As to his suitability to be Divisonaire, Conrad would like to have more opportunities to see him in the lead. According to Schenk's entire makeup it is to be expected that he would demonstrate these qualifications.fggdoc136-89, 136-91

    Feldzeugmeister Potiorek had added to this in his own hand writing: Functioned as commander of a Mountain Brigade with its own objective, which he reached according to orders, although not flawlessly, still in an acceptable manner. He is without doubt a strong-willed and intelligent general.fggdoc136-90 This was the first time that a slightly negative appraisal had been written.

    There was the Great Tour of the General Staff (die Große Generalstabsreise) between 9 June and 18 June 1914 with the exercises being directed by Field Marshall Conrad.fggdoc136-90

    Historical Events of the Period 
    1914 
    July 28 Austria declares war on Serbia.

    1914 Nov 1 Promoted to Field Marshal Lieutenant.(12)

    Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 25 September 1914 to February 1915 (actually only to the end of 1914). Shows him attached to the 15th Infantry Troop Division (ITD). Splendidly talented, ambitious general; makes decisions quickly; leads very adeptly; is personally brave. Suited for commanding a Corps. Very decisive in dealing with subordinates; demands performance. The author says that Schenk had already been his subordinate as a Brigadier in peace time which is why he knows him particularly well - (dated "in the Field" 25.9.1916 - yes, 1916; I guess they got behind in their administrative duties). The author's signature is barely legible but looks like Kritek, commander of the 17th Corps).

    Alfred was commander of the 15th Infantry Troop Division. His troops took part in (a) the October offensive from Dunajecs to the January battles between Lizajsk and Sagrilla, then the retreat of the 7th Army to Krakow. (b) The offensive north-east of Krakow into the Szreniawa with daily battles; the assault on Guwice and the front line; then the retreat to Krakow. (c) the battle at Linanowa - Lapanow. The offensive to the Dunajecs with battles at Miechowice and Pasilka.fggdoc136-56

    Historical Events of the Period 
    1915 

    1st Battle of the Isonzo 23 Jun 1915 to 07 Jul 1915
    2nd Battle of the Isonzo 18 Jul 1915 to 10 Aug 1915
    3rd Battle of the Isonzo 18 Oct 1915 to 04 Nov 1915
    4th Battle of the Isonzo 10 Nov 1915 to 14 Dec 1915
    5th Battle of the Isonzo 11 Mar 1916 to 16 Mar 1916

    1915 Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 24 November 1915 to 24 April 1916.
              Field Marshal Lieutenant Alfred Edler von Schenk, 9th Infantry Troop Division.
              (This came under the umbrella authority of the Command of the combined 3rd and 5th Armies.)

    Honorable, with good military characteristics. Very ambitious; calm and thorough during battle. I cannot comment at this time about his qualification for corps commander. Has good effect on subordinates. Is caring. Signed 305 (military post office?), 31 May 1916, by Svetozar Boroevic, Commander of the 5th Army).fggdoc136-58

    1916 In the Notes for the Qualification Description (Vormerkblatt für die Qualifikationsbeschreibung) for the period "Mobilization
              1914 to 31 May 1916", he is now shown as Alfred Edler von Schenk, and his rank as "aktiver Fmlt", meaning that he was a
              Field Marshall Lieutenant in the Regular Army. It also shows that he was assigned to the Command of the 9th Infantry
              Troop Division.fggdoc136-53

    Historical Events of the Period 
    1916 
    6th Battle of the Isonzo 04 Aug 1916 to 16 Aug 1916
    7th Battle of the Isonzo 14 Sep 1916 to 17 Sep 1916
    8th Battle of the Isonzo 09 Oct 1916 to 12 Oct 1916
    9th Battle of the Isonzo 31 Oct 1916 to 04 Nov 1916

    Notes for the Qualification Description (Command of the Isonzo Army - general Staff Department. Pers. Nr.3594), for the period 1 June 1916 to 10 March 1917. Units Alfred had been attached to: 9th Infantry Troop Division to 17 September 1916, Group Command FML Schenk to 10 Nov 1916, 23rd Corps Command to 10 March 1917. Described as having sophisticated, noble character and capable soldier. His very good military characteristics were unfortunately diminished during periods when exhausted nerves lacked the rest they would have required. He distinguished himself during the 9th battle of the Isonzo. He will qualify as Corps commander during normal circumstances, when decisions of consequence are not required. He cares very much for his troops. Staff and subordinate leaders suffered from the fact that he wanted to do everything himself. A good general, whose health has unfortunately suffered from the extended war. (Dated at Field post office #515 on 23 June 1917, signed by General Swetozar von Boroevic, commander of the Isonzo Army).

    It seems as if Alfred had reached the limits of his competence, or perhaps only of his endurance.

    There is a list of decorations on this form. Alfred had been decorated with the Order of the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, both K.D. with Swords; LO-R (Leopold Orden?); MVK 2nd Class K.D. with swords.fggdoc136-59 This document provides, with the utmost precision, all the different commands held, and lists all his commanding officers at various times.fggdoc136-54

    A second Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 1 Aug 1914 to 31 May 1916, (with a handwriting decidedly different from the previous one). States rather bluntly: "Was not energetic enough in some of the critical moments near Sokol - on the other hand developed much initiative during the offensive over the Stye." Suitability for next higher command: "No". Effect on subordinates, suitability for leading the officer corps: "Was too one-sided in the evaluation of his troops." The signature is difficult to read but could be Major General Karl Baron Kirchbach.fggdoc136-55

    This is the first time that someone says with an unequivocal "NO" that he is not promotable. Was Alfred getting burnt out? Alfred may have been tired, and perhaps not in the best of health, but somehow the blunt comments by Kirchbach do not seem to agree with the events behinds the compressed text in the paragraph signed by Boroevic. Without knowing some of the back ground, that paragraph seems to imply that Schenk had been transferred around a lot in a short time. In fact he didn't go anywhere instead his command was altered considerably. In 1916 the Battle Group Schenk consisted of the 9th and 16th Infantry Divisions, plus two Landsturm Brigades consisting to a great part of Czechs and Slovenes (since Alfred was fluent in Czech and Russian, the composition of his troops is probably not just a coincidence). The Battle Group was part of the 7th Army Corps under the command of Archduke Josef Ferdinand. In anticipation of major troop movements by the enemy to secure the heights surrounding the valley of Görz the 10th Division was added to the Battle Group Schenk in the fall of 1916, which now grew to the point where the Battle Group Schenk became the 23rd Army Corps in November 1916 under Alfred Schenk's command, and no longer under the command of Archduke Josef Ferdinand, but attached directly to the Isonzo Army of Svetozar Boroevic.

    8.10.1916 He was accorded the rights and privileges of a Corps Commander.fggdoc191
    Alfred (third from right) escorting a bearded Archduke Friedrich during a visit to the Italian Front. Note Boroevic, the commander of the Isonzo Army, at the extreme right.
    Picture from Kriegsarchiv, Vienna - via courtesy Luca C.R.A.S.G.

    After Emperor Franz Josef died at the end of 1916 the troops were required to swear allegiance to the new Emperor Karl I. Alfred Schenk (middle of picture), as their commander, accepts their oaths.
    Picture from Kriegsarchiv, Vienna via courtesy Luca of C.R.A.S.G.

    Historical Events of the Period 
    1917  10th Battle of the Isonzo 12 May 1917 to 05 Jun 1917

    Alfred Schenk, with his well-known white collar guard, in a trench
    (probably near Gorjansko)
    The changes to his command as described above appeared to have all the ear marks of a promotion. His Battle Group was now bigger and had become the full 23rd Army Corps, and he was now operating under the highly respected commander of the Isonzo Army, Svetozar Boroevic. But as fate would have it, during the 9th and especially during the 10th Battle of the Isonzo the Italian offensive aimed its thrust exactly at Alfred Schenk's troups who suffered the most losses - especially in loss of territory - requiring to pull back the Austrian lines.

    These were not minor battles. 36 Italian Divisions took part in the 10th Isonzo battle (compare that to the 17 British Divisions who attacked on the Somme on 1 Jul 1916). The consequences for Schenk can be seen in his next appraisal, where he is relieved of his command and sent home for a month's sick leave.

    1917 Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 10 March 1917 to 15 June 1917.

    Impulsive and ambitious. Reacts too easily to front-line and combat conditions to the detriment of cool judgment and object-oriented action. The desire to remain in control and to personally follow all regulations, results in the detrimental diminishing of independent action potential within a large unit. Is not always straight forward in his orders. Otherwise a distinguished, noble character, and a competent, fearless soldier. Is very caring towards his troops and benevolent towards his subordinates.

    The commander of the Isonzo Army added his opinion to the effect that "The especially heavy demands on his already not very healthy nerves during this appraisal period lie at bottom of his evaluation by Feldzeugmeister Wurm with which I concur".

    This is a generous gesture by Felzeugmeister Wurm. The rating however makes Alfred look like a rule-bound bureaucrat at a time when dashing entrepreneurs were wanted. The very characteristics that were probably admired in his early career have become his detriment. The peg no longer fits the hole - the hole had changed.

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    Karl I. Emperor and King of Austria visits the Isonzo Front 1917
    Picture courtesy Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna

    The people in the above picture from left to right:
    Field Marshall Svetozar Boroevic v. Bojna (as Generaloberst)
    Emperor and King of Austria Karl I.
    Generaloberst Wenzel Wurm
    Oberst d. G. Theodor Körner v. Siegringen
    General der Infanterie Alfred Schenk as Field Marshall Lieutenant

    1917 Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 22 June 1917 to 18 July 1917.

    The commander of the 3rd Army says: He has been under my command for only a few days, and I can therefore not judge his suitability for leading a Corps. At any rate, he seemed during this period to be stressed, and subject to mood swings in his decisions. I do know FML Schenk from before as a very intelligent and energetic general, and hope that after a few weeks of rest he will again be useful at the front.

    As of 18 July 1917 he was, because of health reasons, relieved of his command of the 13th Corps, and granted 4 weeks of sick leave. (He had been involved in the retreating battles of Maliny and Nowica as commander of the 13th Corps).fggdoc136-60

    In his well researched book, Die Bosniaken kommen, Werner Schachinger makes reference to Alfred Schenk in connection with the Russian offensive under General Kornilow. He points out that FML Schenk, who had previously commanded the 23rd corps at the Isonzo, had swapped that command with FML Csicserics, and had been in charge of the Austro-Hungarian 13th Corps since 23 June 1917. Schachinger's summary indicates that the Russian masses rolled over the Austro-Hungarian positions causing the loss of most of the Austrian artillery and causing an inorderly retreat of the affected divisions. As a result of this heavy setback at Stanislau several changes were affected in the higher levels of command. General Tersztyánsky was relieved of his command and replaced by General Citek. Schachinger does not mention how Schenk was affected.

     

    Historical Events of the Period 
    1917  11th Battle of the Isonzo 18 Aug 1917 to 01 Sep 1917
    12th Battle of the Isonzo 24 Oct 1917 to 10 Nov 1917

    1918 Promoted to General of the Infantry on 1 Feb 1918 (P.V.Bl. Nr.36), and on 21 February he was entrusted
               with leading the 9th Corps.

    Notes for the Qualification Description for the period 3 March 1918 to 15 April 1918: Description of 1917 must remain in force since no opportunity existed for trying him out with the First Army.

    This document looks again like it had been completed by Alfred, except the writing is no longer as immaculate as the last time, still quite legible, the evenness and precision have disappeared, indicating perhaps a nervous disorder due to the stresses implied in previous appraisals).fggdoc136-66

    4.05.1918 Named Military Commandant of Zagreb.fggdoc191

    8.10.1918 Relieved of the duties of "Military Commandant of Zagreb".fggdoc191

    1919 Jan 1: Effective date of Pension after 38 years, 5 months and 20 days of service. He was credited a further 6 years
               making a total pensionable service of 44 years, 5 months and 20 days, which gave him the very respectable pension of
               16,800 Crowns, in addition to which he received a further 1,152 Crowns as a housing allowance.

    1923 Dec 23: Taken over into the Czech Army as "salaried - in pension".

    In view of the regular adjustments to Alfred's military pension one would not think that he suffered any hardships during the postwar years. Yet in 1926 the Ministry of Finance approved additional amounts to him on the basis that he was "certifiably without assets, aged 63, and that the medical care, and treatments for his mentally ill wife represented an additional financial burden." His pension was now up to 24,210 Crowns and he still received a supplement of 1,920 Crowns as well.

    1927 Alfred's name appears as "brother-in-law" on the death notice of Wilhelmine Schenk, the wife of his brother Moriz Schenk,
                who was also a son of Eulalia Zwierzina as was Alfred.

    It is somewhat confusing where "abroad" was, but it seems that after Alfred's file was taken over by the Czechs, they started to financially penalize him for continuing to live in Vienna, which to them was "abroad". At any rate, in 1930 there is mention that his income would be reduced by 10% if living 'abroad'. Consequently his pension was reduced from the 39,000 Crowns he was then getting to 35,100 Czech Koruns, and his files were moved to a different jurisdiction. His file was finally transferred in 1939 to the German military authorities on 7 Aug 1939.

    Although the amounts paid to him in salary were consistently high, and his pension amounts would indicate an above-average standard of living, it all was used up somehow. An earlier reference to the care of a mentally ill wife, may account for some of that, but does it? Alfred lived through two World Wars and the Depression, and time was not on his side from a material point of view. When he died in 1952 his entire estate consisted of 1,000 Schilling in cash, 300 Schillings-worth of clothing and his wedding ring valued at 50 Schillings. His wife was still living and she signed his probate in a fairly neat, unassuming hand - not what one would have expected of someone who was alleged to be mentally ill.fggdoc276

    Alfred, a very prolific writer, attending to his diary at night.
    Picture courtesy Kriegsarchiv, Vienna.
    There can be no doubt about Alfred's personality. He was a very prolific writer and left about 200 respectfully pedantic letters he had written to his parents in 1891 and 1892 from his first posting to the Adriatic coast as an ensign. He also left an impressive collection of war dairies which his son later donated to the War Archive in Vienna. Throughout his career he was respected, admired, and obviously liked by every one he had any contact with. Most importantly, he was liked by all his military superiors who could, and did help him along his meteoric rise within their hierarchy. He was well brought up, spoke well, had good manners, was intelligent but behaved in an unassuming way which did not invite envy, nor did it make others feel threatened. The repeated references to his concern for the welfare of his troops, and later the reproach of perhaps not being ruthless enough in a tight spot, make him seem like a genuinely nice person. He had a quick mind and was able to demonstrate a quick grasp of things, and of situations at hand. His short stint into intelligence gathering, and the subsequent marriage to a wealthy Russian probably added enough of a mysterious, and at the same time romantic aura to his reputation which stamped him as the man to watch. Translating what I have learned about Alfred into today's corporate thinking, I strongly believe that Alfred's secret to success was the fact that he made his superiors look good. Every time there was some special challenge, he was the fellow they could nominate to do it, or perhaps he had already beaten them to the punch by volunteering, and he always discharged the tasks to everyone's satisfaction. That must be why he got involved in teaching doctors and other medical personnel, in directing the training of the signal corps, in teaching Russian at the Staff Academy, in being either the leader of one of the "parties" at war games, or the one who authored the scenarios for the parties to follow.

    Nowadays it is expected that a career-oriented person make it abundantly clear that he wants to reach certain goals, or attain a certain level in the hierarchy. It is now recognized that such commitment, or goal-orientation is absolutely necessary for success. What may also be recognized, but not admitted, is that the superiors of such a goal-oriented person often instinctively act as mentors and push that person towards the goal, which had become their own. Back in Alfred's days it may have been either very rare, or it may even have been looked down upon by society if someone was openly clamoring for advancement (the word Streber, a pushy person is almost always used in a pejorative sense). Alfred seems to have been able to let his superiors know that he wanted to get ahead without offending anyone. Most of the reports written about him include a reference to being ambitious, but there is not even a hint that this was not considered correct behavior.

    No one can ever accuse the Austrian military of the Franz Josef era of ignoring accountability. I could not believe my own eyes when I saw that Alfred was "evaluated" every year throughout his career regardless of the rank he held. Nor were the basic forms any different. What this also meant was that the evaluators were progressively of an extremely senior group. Some of them did not need to worry about someone reading over their shoulder and became quite candid without being brutal. When Alfred started to suffer from stress after three years of heavy responsibilities in a war that did not go well for Austria and its allies, the very brief, and very to-the-point commentaries were no longer complimentary, but they did make an effort to preserve the individual's dignity. For twenty years every appraisal seemingly automatically found Alfred suitable for the next higher rank. The psychology of it is not even difficult to understand. First of all if you are a colonel rating a lieutenant-colonel you will find it difficult to say that the lieutenant-colonel will never make a good colonel. You will find it difficult because it means that you are stating in writing that you consider yourself far superior to him. That is not in keeping with good social graces, and not the kind of statement you want people to question you about. So the most you can do is say that you have every confidence that he will show the required aptitudes for attaining the next higher level. Or you can take the easy way out and state that you are not ready to comment on his promotability without observing him a little longer. But when you get high enough, the rater no longer has an out. "The buck stops" somewhere, and since the Kaiser does not write appraisals, his senior officers have to take a stand. All of a sudden you see an unequivocal "NO" in answer to the question whether he is promotable to the next level. And so it should be.

    When superlatives in Alfred's appraisals started to become conspicuous by their absence, he was in his fifties. That is not old, but it is old enough for a burnout. He had been running in high gear all of his life, and many of the appraisals make a point of the fact that he cared for his troops. So now that he was required to make decisions that could mean the death of many of his troops, it is conceivable that a person who cared for them might be under great stress if required to make such decisions. Alfred was also pedantic. He would have wanted to have all the facts at his disposal before making those life and death decisions, but it was not possible to ever have all the facts. He was intelligent enough to understand the consequences of a bad decision, or even worse - the absence of a decision. This must have been the constant stress he lived under. Today we talk a lot about 'stress', and even Austrians have adopted that English word, but during World War-1 it was not fashionable yet to talk about stress, it was fashionable, and obligatory to be tough and enduring, but the bodies and the minds must have felt stress just the same.

    To show Alfred's caliber, I have to underline the fact, that after several less than complimentary comments from the top of the military, he stayed on the job, and as late as 1918 he received yet another promotion to "General of the Infantry". That is a big job, which becomes very obvious when you consider that several of his own appraisals as Field Marshal Lieutenant were written by Generals of the Infantry.

    Field Marshal Lieutenant Alfred Edler von Schenk definitely qualifies as a feather in any family's cap. I am convinced that my uncle Hans and my father Emo were extremely proud of their first cousin. And I do not know of any reason why I should feel differently.

    Alfred's Son Georg

    Cousins Ida and Dorli Birman referred to Alfred's son as "Jurko". Years later cousins in the Rainer family called him "Jiri". The most plausible and authentic nickname is used by aunt Alide Ratsch in her letter to Georg dated 3. VII. 1968 - she addresses him as "Lieber Yura" (i. e. Dear Yura). A little of my own research shows that Yura is indeed a nickname for Georg(e) in some cultures.

      A few documents state that Georg Ferdinand Schenk was born in March of 1898 at Vienna. The date is  quoted as 4 March by the Wiener Genealogisches Taschenbuch 1927/28, but Alfred's military records (his Grundbuchblattfggdoc191) show the date of his son's birth as the 11th of March - one probably the date of birth, while the other would be the date of baptism. What is significant is the year of his birth because it would indicate that he joined up during World War One when he was not even 20 years old. I am guessing that the photograph at right, showing him with his father on the Doberdo Plateau would have been taken about 1917. Georg is wearing what looks like the Navy uiform of a young officer.  One of the documents shows George as a "Volunteer Leutenant in the Reserve" but does not specify that it was the Navy's. 

    By the way, cousin Wolfgang Rainer insists that the town in the back ground is definitely Trieste.

    Later on in 1928 Georg is shown as "Privatbeamter" which could mean almost anything from being unemployed to running a family business, to simply being idly rich. The word "Privat..." usually indicates that the person is not "an employee of someone". According to cousin Ida Birman,  when the Hitler era started in 1938, Georg became an ardent and enthusiastic member of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party).  Ida was married to a Slovak Jew named Birman at the time, and she intensely disliked Georg Schenk for such comments as "Oh, I suppose Jews can be nice people."  Ida also said that Georg had been married to a Hungarian woman, one of whose parents was a Jew. Georg quickly divorced her so as not to hurt his chances of progression during the Nazi regime.  Subsequent research indicates that her name could have been Eva Orvay - certainly a very Hungarian-sounding name.

    He had been married two more times after that, but according to his own comment in a letter, he had no children from any of his three wives.(It was c ousin Johanna Rainer was the one who in 2006 indicated that in a letter written by Georg Schenk, he had said that he had been married three times but never had any children from either of his wives.

    It is difficult to judge someone without having known him, but I think that cousin Ida's judgement was perhaps biased because of her own circumstances. On the positive side, this "Tante Alide Ratsch" obviously found Georg deserving of her efforts of communication and wrote him a five page letter by hand and is sharing all sorts of details with him pertaining to some part of his mother's family. It was also Georg who respectfully guarded his father's papers and memoirs, and then donated them all to the Austrian War Archives (Kriegsarchiv).  He evidently was employed by the Austrian Government in the Department of Finance, and retired with the rank of a middle manager (Amtsrat). So he could not have been all that bad. And the fact that three women were prepared to marry him can not be taken as a bad sign either. Georg Schenk died 26 Oct 1975.

    According to the Web site of the Vienna Cemetery Administration (MA-43), the address of Georg's grave is "Ober St.Veit, Gruppe H, Grab 171. It becomes quickly evident, that he shares this grave with his grandfather Moriz Schenk, and with his grandmother Eulalia (née Zwierzina). The grave is also situated immediately beside grave #170 where his father Alfred Schenk, and his mother Viktoria (née von Grahe) are interred along with Georg's sister Olga Schmidt (née Schenk). A very orderly family, even in death.

    Alfred's Daughter Olga

    Of Alfred's daughter Olga only the bare minimum is known. Cousin Ida, not liking Georg, certainly had no reason to maintain contact and could tell nothing about Alfred's children or the possibility that they may have living descendants. But then, she didn't even know that Hans Zwierzina had a son, she only knew that when she attended Hans' funeral, his widow was six months pregnant. None of the Viennese sisters bothered to find out what came out of that pregnancy. I took this Canadian researcher to shake down the truth that Hans the flyer had a son whom it took 3 1/2 more years to locate also in Canada. There seems to be some kind of a formula, that the less your sources like a relative, the less they know about him/her. None of the Zwierzina women liked Hans' wife Anny because she was young and pretty, and well educated.That only leaves us to wonder whether daughter Olga had any children.

    The Wiener Genealogisches Taschenbuch 1927/28 where Alfred Schenk is described on page 262 does mention Alfred's children as follows: (1) Georg Ferdinand (Evangelical A. C.), born Wien 4 March 1898, Volunteer Lieutenant of the Reserve, and private bureaucrat. His address was Wien IX. Strudelhofgasse 13. (2) Olga Viktoria (Evangelical A. C.), born Hermannstadt 23 March 1901. Her address is simply stated as London.

    A little more was learned from Alfred's probate dated 23 October 1952. Here two adult children are named as (1) George Ferdinand Schenk, Amtsrat with the Ministry of Finance, residing at Wien 14, Einwanggasse 17, and (2) Olga Viktoria Schmidt (née Schenk), independent, residing at Wien 9, Strudelhofgasse 13.

    From the perspective of this work, the only consideration is for knowing whether any offspring are to be attributed to either of these two children of Alfred Schenk. Some informatin became available in 2006 through my cousin Johanna Rainer (née Zwierzina) which mentions a letter written to someone by Georg Schenk, stating that he had no children from any of his three marriages. In 1927 Olga Schenk, was 26 years old, and why was she living in London? We still do not know that, but information indicates that she was first married to someone name Sulkowsky. And then later, and perhaps to the end, to Dr.Ing. Max Schmidt, a Hüttendirektor (Manager or Director in the Iron or steel industry). Well, she was obviously married to someone named Schmidt since her burial record was found under Smidt. When her father died in 1952, she was in Vienna and staying at his home. Was she there visiting because he was dying, or was she there because she was no longer married? Either way, it still says nothing about whether she had children or not. What was the connection with London back in 1927?

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    Notes for Part 1 - Chapter 3

    1. Named after Paul Freiherr Gautsch von Frankenthurn (1851-1918) Austrian Minister of Education, Prime Minister, Minister of Interior, and President of the highest court of accounting (des Obersten Rechnungshofes). Listed as such in Die Wiener Tschechen um 1900, by Monika Glettler.

    2.Infanterieequitation was a course given to officers - particularly officers of the Infantry - to teach them horsemanship and everything else connected with having a horse. The 1870 directory of Vienna refers to it as Cavallerieschule and points at its probable location, as the Zentral Cavallerie Schule.

    3. LDS film #1230755 Dienstbeschreibung, Qualifikationsliste Schenek -> (p.83 near the end of the reel).

    4.LDS film #849061, Pässe 1914, Band 64 (Heimatschein und Pensionsprotokoll 1914), sequence number 156 under the letter "S". One column of the register deals with identifying the locals by stating where their local resident status can be found (Erscheint im Kataster der Einheimischen eingetragen und zwar:) This is responded with " V. (Vater) Moriz Sch geb 6/9/1851 katho. Einh." In the last column headed "Vormerkung" is written "Vater Moriz Mödling" (meaning his father Moriz lives in Mödling, or is entered in the Kataster for Mödling).

    5.During the civilian unrest in Vienna the Justiz Palast (Palace of Justice) and the police station were set on fire on 15 July 1927. 89 people died by gunfire before the night was over.

    6.The story by Werner Kopacka bears the title "Österreichs Titanic in der Adria entdeckt" and occupies pages and 4 and 5.fggdoc194

    7. That there was plenty of spying is well documented. The papers carried a story, for example, that Colonel Alfred Redl (Chief of Staff of the 8th Army Corps in Prague) committed suicide on May 24, 1913 after he had been caught selling secret military information to Russia. He had been Chief of the Austro-Hungarian counter-espionage and military secret service since 1900 - and his path could have crossed - even if only indirectly - that of Alfred Schenk when they were both in intelligence work.

    8. Town of Kazan is straight east from Moskva at abt. 55" N 49"E  in the province of Tatarskaya.

    9. A rank above general and one below full field marshal.

    10. m.p. (Latin) manu propria, which means "by his own hand".

    11. Full name is: Feldmarschall Franz Freiherr Conrad von Hötzendorf. He signed as "Conrad, GdI" (GdI=General der Infanterie) and added m.p. (manu propria) to his signature. Conrad wrote several volumes about his career: e.g. Aus Meiner Dienstzeit 1906-1914.

    12. Deák in his book Beyond Nationalism (p.15) tries some comparisons, and suggests that "...an Austro-Hungarian general with the splendid rank of Feldmarschalleutnant had in reality only two stars, and was consequently merely equal to a British or US Major General; and a Habsburg General Major wore one star and was therefore at the same level as a US Brigadier General or a British Brigadier". This writer is, however, not at all convinced that ranks of different armies can be aligned so neatly simply by counting stars. I would think that any army can sew as many stars on its generals as it wants, and as a matter of fact, I remember seeing in a publication about uniforms that the Austrian general had no stars on his collar at all - which was one way to tell them apart from the rest of the lower ranks, who all had stars, right down to the corporals.

    To Top of Schenk changed 8 Jul 2007 To Table of Contents

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