The Eichel Family papers provide a unique glimpse into the lives of conscientious objectors from one family over two generations. Brothers Julius, David and Albert were all absolutists who went to prison for their convictions; Julius' son did the same. Other family members provided emotional support and lobbied for the rights of the C.O.s. Daily letters passed back and forth between the C.O.s and their family and friends, many of which have been preserved in this collection. Diaries show what details of life as a C.O. were important enough to be recorded.
Raised in the Jewish faith, but grounding their convictions in Socialism, David and Julius spent time alone and together in U.S. Disciplinary Barracks during WWI. Their Socialist outlook contributed to their unwillingness to remain silent about the treatment of conscientious objectors during that time. Many C.O.s, including the Eichel brothers, were mistreated by army personnel, enduring beatings, soaking by water hoses, shackling to prison doors, lack of mattresses or blankets, lack of exercise, or solitary confinement on bread and water. David and Julius were instrumental in making sure that the public found out about the abuses being visited upon C.O.s in army prisons.
Little is known about David Eichel. He was probably born in 1894 in Austria, son of Isaac and Kate Eichel, and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1899. He refused to comply with the Conscription Act in 1917, and was sentenced to 30 years of hard labor for this stance. He served time at Camp Upton, Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Douglas, from 1917 to May 1920 when he was parolled. He died in Los Angeles (CA) in 1956, leaving behind his wife, Celia Kleinfield Eichel, and sons, Robert and Berkeley.
The bulk of this collection is about Julius Eichel who was born in 1896 in Austria. Like his brother David, he too refused to comply with the Conscription Act, was arrested in 1917, and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. Julius Eichel spent the next 18 months in the Tombs in New York City and in internment camps and disciplinary barracks in Ft, Jay, Camp Upton, Governor's Island, Ft. Leavenworth, and Ft. Douglas. During these years he refused to cooperate with any compulsory actions other than those required to fulfill his own personal needs. Eichel was sometimes sentenced to solitary confinement and bread and water rations. He was "a conscientious objector not only to war, but to the extension of the Government's control over the convictions of the individual." He opposed the "crushing of individual conscience by majority rule or legal interpretation" and believed that "conscience without individuals sacrificing for it simply cannot exist."
In 1928, Julius Eichel married Esther _____. The Eichels ran a small chemists business in New York City (after 28 years at 188 Oakland Street in Brooklyn, the business had to be moved -- because of a street widening project -- to 58 Clymer Street in Brooklyn. In 1969, that area was to be taken over by a housing development, so the business was sold to a competitor rather than find another new location for it). In 1942, Julius Eichel again refused to register for the draft, was tried in a civilian court, and sent to prison for two weeks. During World War II, Julius Eichel started the Absolutist War Objectors Association. This organization was founded on the principle of total opposition to war, conscription and regimentation. Eichel edited its newspaper The Absolutist whose motto read "The health of the nation is periled if one man be oppressed." Together Julius and Esther founded Friends and Families of Imprisoned Conscientious Objectors. Both of these organizations repeatedly urged immediate and unconditional release of all imprisoned objectors and attempted to help and encourage C.O.s in prison.
Julius Eichel was also very active in and wrote for the War Resisters League (DG 40) and other peace-related organizations. He continued to champion the rights of the individual from government oppression both in the United States and abroad by writing to officials, writing editorials, speaking, and taking part in peace marches.
In 1947, both Julius and Esther Eichel were honored by the Friends and Families of Imprisoned Conscientious Objectors. In 1976, Julius Eichel was given the War Resisters League Sixteenth Annual Peace Award. Julius died in 1989.
Albert Eichel was a younger brother of David and Julius, probably a schoolboy when they were in prison in WWI. Albert went to prison in WWII as a C.O. Nothing more is known about him. Other siblings were Philip, William, and Rose (Dorsch).
Seymour Eichel, son of Julius and Esther, was born on June 14, 1930 in Brooklyn (New York). He received a BA from the New School for Social Research in 1953, and a Master of Arts from Columbia University in 1954. He later earned a PhD and taught at New Jersey State College. In June 1956, he was arrested by the FBI, indicted by a grand jury in July for non-registration for the draft, and sentenced on December 27, 1956 to a year and a day in prison. He was sent first to the West Street House of Detention, where he undertook a hunger strike that lasted nearly a month, and then to the Federal Correctional Institution Danbury (Connecticut). He was released after serving nine months and eighteen days of his sentence. He and his parents wrote letters nearly every day; some of the letters written by Seymour have been transcribed for easier reading. Seymour was still living as of 2013.
The collection also includes extensive correspondence between Julius Eichel and William J. Sidis, the reclusive, mathematical genius. Sidis claimed to have been a CO during WWI and was interested in the issue.