|Apr/May 2014 Nonfiction|
Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream
Editor's Note: Sol Metzger died in 2004. The following manuscript, submitted on behalf of the Metzger family by past contributor Bruce Bentzman, recounts Metzger's experiences in the military government imposed on Germany by the United States as World War II was drawing to a close. In his memoir, Metzger recalls his time in training in England, then moves to mainland Europe at the point where the Allies have pushed past Normandy and on toward Berlin. —David Ewald, Nonfiction Editor
While many of the senior officers were encamped at Shrivenham, the lower grade officers and enlisted men were sent to Manchester. They were greeted on their arrival in February 1944 by icy blasts and rain. The space assigned for training, organization, and mess hall was a dimly lit brick building. Many of the men were quartered with private families. I, too, arrived early in February and was assigned to the 3rd Military Government Regiment and sent to Heaton Moor, a suburb of Manchester. For the next six months, I lived with the rest of the men in one of the old, vacated houses on a street bordering the railroad tracks.
The daily routine was demanding. There were language classes for those trained in German, and schools for the jeep and motorcycle drivers, the medical supply personnel, and the criminal investigators. There were instructions for the handling and firing of the carbine and pistol, the arms of the MG personnel. There were lectures from various specialists. One was on the method of defusing bombs, delivered by a Yorkshireman. We applauded politely, but his dialect was so thick that none of us understood him.
There were air raid drills, with lectures given by a local Air Raid Precaution organization. "The teachers were men whose methods had worked successfully during the great blitz of Manchester in 1940 and 1941."1 We took these lectures seriously after watching trainloads of mothers with their children arriving from London after the V-2 bombing raids, pale, wide-eyed, and unsmiling. Seeing them made the war more real to us.
There were constant reports that the invasion forces were gathering in the south of England. The failure of the Dieppe raid in August 1942 was behind us. We were all impatient for the promised landing on the French coast. The rumors intensified late in May and early June. The night of June 5 and early morning of June 6 found me on guard duty. During the early hours, a constant drone overhead filled the air. The planes were flying too high to be seen, but the sound of thousands of them flying south was awesome. Our civilian neighbors, wakened from their sleep, gazed up at the sky to the bombers and fighters they could not see. We knew before General Eisenhower's announcement that morning that the English Channel was being crossed, that D-Day had begun.
There was no change in our routine. The studies were intensified; we were giving more of our attention to our lectures. Our destination, we were told, was to be Bavaria. The detachments were classified by letters and numbers. I was assigned to the smallest detachment—I3A3. Each detachment was to govern a county, a Kreis. Ours was to be Hassfurt, in Mainfranken, in the north of Bavaria. We concentrated on the study of the area; its method of government, the number of towns and villages in the county, the occupations of its residents, the major roads. This study was called pin-pointing, an often repeated phrase during the next few months.
The English, who had tolerated us before, were now anxious for us to leave. They kept asking us when we would join our forces. There were irritations on both sides. We were restricted; we could not visit London, due to the bombings. The children in the area were entertaining, but their parents considered us a bad influence. The local church did provide some entertainment, but the men tired of that. The GIs, too, wanted to get on with it. When we did get orders to leave, the joy on both sides was unbounded.
The war of the hedgerow-living banks of bushes bordering the dirt farms of the French farmers, easily defended, had made the Allied advance difficult. That was now over. The Germans were retreating, and our forces were in Caen and Cherbourg. The road to Paris was open. We were receiving orders to leave. Our jeeps were cleaned up, our detachment numbers freshly painted. The excitement was high. Our marching orders came through: we were to leave for the south of England. We waved good-bye to our gleeful hosts and drove towards Southampton and the landing craft, heading for the French coast.
We drove through St. Lô, awed at the destruction. It was our first sight of bomb craters, of houses gutted. The memory of one house, bathroom fixtures intact but the surrounding walls gone, is still vivid. As we drove east, there was less evidence of war damage. The Germans were routed after their defense of Normandy, and they retreated to Paris and beyond. Our stopover was now to be Rochefort-en-Yvenlines. We set up our pup tents on its lush green grounds. While we were there, Paris was liberated. Because of the food shortage, this jewel of a city was off-limits to us.
As the combat troops moved east, so did the 3rd Military Government regiment. From pup tents we moved indoors. During October and November we lived in a huge warehouse outside of Troyes where it was colder indoors than out. Tired of our area and language studies, we walked the countryside and drank calvados and marc to the delight of the tavern owners, gambling with the occupation francs that were issued to us. We moved on to Verdun, the German border less than 100 miles away.
We were alerted and on the move again. This time we had orders to go north to Clervaux, at the northern point of Luxemburg. We drove that winter day under heavy, ominous clouds. There had been some snow, but the armored trucks, tanks, and heavy artillery had reduced the white patches to mud. As we approached Clervaux, we passed the multitude of arrows pointing to the location of various regiments and divisions in the area. The traffic was heavy and heading in the opposite direction, all going south. We were driving north, almost alone on our side of the road.
We stopped a command car. "Where is Clervaux?"
"Why are you going there?"
"We have orders to join the 28th Division."
"All hell has broken loose. The 28th is retreating. You better turn around and get out of here."
The date was December 17; the Battle of the Bulge had begun. Once more the 28th, the Pennsylvania Division with the red keystone shoulder patch aptly named the Bloody Bucket, was caught in the crossfire.
The Germans had broken through our lines. Rumor placed them everywhere. We withdrew to a nearby town and moved into a four-story brick barrack. The days were cold, the nights colder. There were pot belly stoves on all the floors, but no fuel. The surrounding woods were policed by the local gendarme; cutting the trees was prohibited. It began to snow again. Exploding shells lit up the sky. We were kept awake by the sirens warning of the nightly air raids.
We looked for some relief from the cold, but there was no coal or even wooden scrap to be had. The only lumber was the floors of the barrack. The more daring GIs pried up a section. The lumber was hard and tar impregnated, the fire warm and comforting. More pieces were used. The pot belly stoves were burning hot on every floor. Soon we had an atrium, an open view from the fourth to the bottom floor. The damage was not discovered until February, just before we left for Germany. Nothing much was said, but undoubtedly, the War Claims Commission received a full report.
The Battle of the Bulge was over. The troops were still shaken by the events of the past weeks, the breakthrough, the infiltration of German troops through our lines. We were more cautious, and a quick victory was not taken for granted. The Siegfried Line, with its concrete bulwarks built in the mountain passes along the Luxemburg border, was a formidable obstacle for the 6th Armored Division. Our advance into Germany would be sharply contested.
Before the Battle of the Bulge, the first German city to be taken and governed by a detachment was Aachen, immediately over the border and about 50 miles north of Clervaux. Detachment F1G2 was the first team to make use of the instructions we had received in England and France. F1G2 had arrived on a Sunday, but no church bells welcomed them. Aachen had become a ghost town. Of the 300,000 original population, only 2,000 remained.
After the people began to realize that the military government of Germany was not to be one of vengeance or terror, they began streaming back into the city, and by this time the detachment had things well in hand and no serious difficulties were encountered.2
This was in October, before the Battle of the Bulge. It was regarded by the press as the first major test of the U.S. military government. The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Time, and Newsweek all publicized its role.
The detachment assigned to take over Aachen was fairly typical. Like most other military government officers, those assigned to Aachen knew little about Germany or Germans. They were under considerable pressure to get a government started, and were impressed by the local clergy and relied on its advice.
Unfortunately they chose as Buergermeister a German businessman who turned out to have had a bad Nazi record, and with his assistance they mired in more deeply by filling the other key positions with Germans whose pasts more often than not could not bear the searchlight.3
As we found out in the months to come, the imperative to follow a strict anti-Nazi policy, versus the need to establish essential services, was faced by all the detachments, and in this, the most popular of wars, we found we could not accomplish what we had set out to do.
We were moving with the 6th Armored Division along the narrow mountainous roads to Alsfeld in the Pruem area, where an artillery battle was being fought. This was to be our first MG operation. A jeep drove up to our station, and the driver asked for an interpreter. I was now to put to use the many months of instructions I had received.
Alsfeld was a small town, a village. It had been under constant bombardment for the last few days. The civilians had to be ordered out of their homes and isolated. There were a few hundred of them, terrorized by the shelling and in fear of the soldiers. I ordered the Buergermeister to round them up and isolate them at one end of town with enough clothing and food to last a few days. They had to obey the curfew or be shot. However, we were held up longer than expected, and the curfew had to be lifted from time to time.
The Allied front did not move for several days. Night and day the town shook from the blasts of both our own and the German artillery. The sound of the mortars and anti-tank guns was constant, as was the rattle of the machine-guns. I was kept busy. Prisoners-of-war had to be interrogated. Once, preceding them in a jeep after they had been questioned, I saw their truck blown up by a land mine. Our car had been too light to set it off. That was my first day in Germany.
My major responsibility at that time was to find housing for the officers when held up by the resistance in front of us. Indoor shelter had to be secured. The civilians had to be removed. There was not time to negotiate with the Buergermeister or with the officials who remained behind. We had no time for apologies or sympathetic consideration of their plight. Our orders to them were curt, harsh. They were the enemy. Only later did I think about the fear, the terror they must have felt. We had burst in on them, giving them an hour or less to vacate their homes and take some possessions.
We bustled about, area to area. Complaints came to us about looting, rape. One woman claimed a pregnancy, though our troops had taken the town only a week before. One large mansion we used repeatedly. The owner treated us coldly, the walls of her home covered with pictures of SS men in uniform. One day she came to me in tears. Her home had been ransacked and the paintings on her walls slashed. We avoided using her facilities again.
We saw no hunger among the Germans whose houses we commandeered. Their cellars were filled with Kartoffel (potatoes) and canned goods. They looked fat and healthy. However, there were other Germans begging for food. They dug into our garbage cans for discarded morsels. Though we tried to discourage them, they kept congregating behind our kitchens asking for handouts. That had greater effect on the GIs than the non-fraternization orders that we were beginning to receive.
We left the 6th Armored Division and joined a cavalry unit. Despite its name, it was actually a light armored group used on the back roads to wipe out pockets of resistance. The Colonel in charge was said to be a protégé of Lieutenant General (George S.) Patton, Jr. and, to us, appeared to be his clone. The insignia of his rank was an eagle. The regulation called for silver, but his was gold, soldered on his helmet, blazing in the sun. Like Patton, he was always seen standing erect in his jeep beside the driver, ivory-handled pistols at his sides. We were now trouble-shooting, looking for small units of Nazi soldiers that had left the main battle lines.
The cavalry unit had been with Patton as he fought his way north, through Luxemburg, to the rescue of the besieged men at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. It was only two months since they had fought through the circle that surrounded Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe and suffered the many casualties of that Ardennes campaign. The German infiltration of the American lines, the SS men in American uniforms, the horror of the Malmedy massacre, were still in their memory. The men were hardened to the war, and weary.
Winter seemed to be losing its grip. However, there were still large patches of snow covering the fields. The bare spots were covered with the swollen carcasses of cattle. Now and then we heard the popping noises of their hides exploding. The sight of the dead horses was traumatic for one of our officers. He cried.
We passed several towns. The Germans were now offering no resistance. The white flags fluttered from the rooftops. At times we saw children quietly waving as we passed by. It seemed we would have no opposition as we headed towards the Rhine.
There was yet another town immediately ahead of us. The road passed through its center. Store fronts and houses lined the main street. The basement windows below the storefronts, half oval, opened at street level. Weather had dulled the paint, but in back of them through the trees and on the hills above could be seen the larger homes splashed in fresh color. As in the other towns we had just passed, white flags waved from the roofs covering the windows.
The tanks and armored cars led us into the town; the rest of the convoy followed. There were no crowds lining the road, but we didn't expect any. Suddenly shots rang out. The tanks screeched to a stop. The cars circled for position. The jeeps halted and the men scrambled for cover.
Moments went by, but no more shots were heard. The command car drew up beside me. "Tell the Buergermeister I want the bastard who fired the shots. I'll give him 30 minutes."
I raced to the town square. The mayor, with several of his aides, stood on the steps of the City Hall. He seemed to be expecting me and smiled as if to offer greetings. I cut him short, asked for his identity, and repeated the Colonel's orders. He stuttered, started to plead. I drove away.
We may have waited as long as the 30 minutes allowed. The Colonel gave the order to fire, and the guns positioned at both ends of town tore into the dismal structures. The buildings caved in on themselves. Fire caught the rooftops and spread throughout the central area. Flame and smoke covered the town. Heads, half bodies, were trying to push through the basement windows.
Finally, the guns stopped firing, but the cries and the screams continued. The townspeople had found no safety in their homes, and many died there. Once it was safe to emerge from their shelters, those still intact pulled the dead and wounded out into the street. Bodies were laid out in the square. The marketplace became a funerary.
The Colonel drove up. "Set up a soup kitchen for them." We spread out our best rations on tables set up in front of the City Hall. At first the people held back, but they soon surrendered their pride. They had had so little food. As I stood by, I caught them looking at me and felt their fear and hate.
They all seemed middle-aged or older. The long war had wearied them, and their faces showed it. One woman came up to me. She was dressed in black, as they all were, and her hair was hidden under a kerchief. "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" I nodded. Her voice was bitter. "Look what you did. You destroyed our town and our good people. Your enemies are the Nazis; we hate them, too. Look there, up in the hills at those beautiful homes. That's where they live. Their homes, their lives, are untouched. Ours are destroyed." I shrugged and turned away. Within the hour our convoy regrouped, headed out of town.
We never found out who fired those shots. None of our men were hurt.
As the armies sped towards the Rhine, they found the newly freed slave workers wandering about the countryside. They were now to be called the displaced persons, DPs. They had few belongings and no food. They crowded the roads, asking to be sent back to their home countries. A military government team, taking over in Cologne immediately after its capture, reported that there were 15,000 in the town waiting to be repatriated. As their numbers increased, the DPs were collected in camps where they were given food, clothing, medical attention, and shelter.
Our troops were capturing more towns, pushing the minor resistance further east. The Germans were still hedging, reserved or curt, or open in their resentment to our presence. A few came to us, informing on the Nazi officials. We were on the move and didn't do much to investigate them. We left that to the military government teams that were to follow. One civilian led us to a Mercedes-Benz that had been used as Hitler's touring car when he visited the area. We confiscated it. Seated in the back, our troops thought I was the commanding general and saluted me as I passed.
We moved up to the Rhine, to Wiesenthurm. We had left a town five miles behind and turned over the house to another MG team that replaced us. The day after we left, the house was shelled and the men in it were killed. More than 200 military government personnel were killed or wounded during the combat stage. When men we knew were killed, it became more than just a statistic.
On the 7th of March 1945,the tanks of the 1st U.S. Army seized the railway bridge at Remagen on the Rhine and crossed it. The troops created a pocket on the east bank and expanded their hold north and south of the river. German resistance was strong at first, but melted as more troops raced across the river. They were fighting their way south; we expected the town opposite us, Neuwied, to be captured within a few days.
Up the river at St. Goar was the Lorelei rock, its sharp edges hidden in the mist. The rock was made famous by Heinrich Heine's poem and song, and the words "Sie kammt ihr goldenes Haar mite ein goldenes Kamm" (she combs her golden hair with a golden comb) I still remembered from my school days. Wiesenthurm was a resort town and a wine distribution center. Storage houses were located all over town.
It was after curfew. I accompanied the mayor home. We had told him that the dead cattle had to be buried and that houses would be requisitioned for our officers. I left him and headed back. I passed a man in a recessed doorway. He said, "Wein darein." I looked in. As far as the eye could see there were racks filled with bottles of wine. It was a massive warehouse.
I made three or four trips, carrying as much as I could hide. The news could not be hidden. On the third trip there were soldiers pulling bottles off the shelves. On the fourth trip, they were battling for whatever they could grab. There were more smashed bottles on the ground than there were intact ones on the shelves. The warehouse was jammed with yelling, joyful GIs.
More such warehouses in town were ransacked. The engineers building the pontoon bridge across the river were waving their bottles of wine. The German artillery aimed at them; the engineered laughed, scattered, and returned to the bridge. No direct hits. It may be that the Germans, too, were having their wine party.
Our new house was on the river, with a penthouse roof facing the enemy in Neuwied across the river. It was late afternoon. Down the river the cloud of dust heralded the advancing American troops. The Germans were firing in both directions, against the troops and across the river toward the engineers. We watched with our field glasses. Tracer bullets north and west accompanied the firing. The sun had set; it was getting dark. The column of dust was on the edge of Neuwied. Then the church bells rang, the white flag was hoisted to the top of the steeple. The battle was over.
The bridge was now completed. We had orders to cross. Our inventory had grown to two Mercedes. We intended to pack the cars with all the wine we had confiscated, but those cars had to be left behind. The only vehicles permitted across the Rhine were army vehicles. We turned the cars over, reluctantly, to the MG teams that replaced us.
Organized resistance was breaking down; only small pockets remained to hinder the advancing troops. However, there was no rout. German discipline was being maintained. Throughout the early stages the Germans continued to withdraw all administrative officials in front of the Allied advance. Some, though, were left behind. The uniforms these officials wore confused the GIs. They mistook the postmen, railwaymen, foresters, and police for soldiers.
Up to now the advance was so rapid and our stay in the occupied towns so temporary, it wasn't possible to see if our orders were being obeyed. The German civilians had to turn in all offensive weapons; we received hunting rifles that had been family heirlooms for generations. Knives and swords were also turned over to us. Cameras were to be held by Military Government for security. These were likely never returned.
We began hearing about MG teams that had been left to themselves when they were dropped off by their host divisions. Sometimes the territory was hostile or not completely subdued. There were times when MG was left to their own resources to solve difficulties not anticipated. One official report ran as follows: "The town is probably three-quarters blitzed... they faced civilians and DPs looting clothing and food... two officers gained control after inflicting casualties... the commander of the detachment gained control after making house arrests of the entire population."4
In other towns, there was still fighting when the MG team moved in. Sometimes it found complete or major destruction, and no water, sewage, or electricity. MG teams came upon scenes of uncontrolled drunkenness, rape, and murder. Police were mobbed by the DPs and their bodies hung from lampposts. Reports came to us as we entered Mainfranken, in northern Bavaria, and approached Hassfurt, the county seat and town that we were to control.
We were in Bad Kissingen with orders to join the 3rd Division. It was a forward position, but the fighting was to the south of us. In a day or two Hassfurt, 15 or 20 miles to the south, would be taken. The stories we had heard of anarchy, looting, murder, were ignored. There was some entertainment while we were awaiting the work ahead of us. Marlene Dietrich, the well-known actress with the million dollar legs, came around to shake our hands, but her legs were hidden by heavy GI slacks.
While the American troops were completing their advance across central Europe, discussions were being held at Yalta and later at Potsdam. These discussions would affect the work of military government. Germany was to be divided into three zones of occupation, and the country so broken up that there would be no fear of her resurgence in the future. Nazism and militarism would be eliminated. Germany was to be forced to pay for the losses she had incurred. Reparations were to be levied and German assets appropriated.
The Germans were to lose their economic power by splitting up the industrial combines. Cartels and other monopolistic organizations were to be eliminated. Economic institutions were to be controlled so as to prevent any future war potential. The Allies were to govern Germany with a common policy, and she was to be treated as a single economic unit. The only concentration of resources to be permitted was in agriculture and peaceful domestic industries.
Germany would not be destroyed. The purpose of the occupation was to give its people a new direction, which was to reconstruct their lives and place their government on a democratic and peaceful foundation. Furthermore, it was necessary "to convince the German people that they have suffered a total military defeat and they cannot escape responsibility for what they have brought upon themselves, since their own ruthless warfare and the fanatical Nazi resistance have destroyed the German economy and made suffering and chaos inevitable."5
It was at this conference that the decision was made to transfer large numbers of German nationals from Eastern Europe. It was estimated that there were 7,000,000 in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and in the Baltic countries. They were to be distributed throughout the divided German Zones in a manner that would take into consideration the host populations. Within a few weeks after Potsdam, it was estimated that the actual number of displaced persons was thirteen million.
Up to our entry into Hassfurt, our Military Government detachment was on hand in order to deal with the civilian population in such a way that the military operation would be unhindered. When the Germans threatened our military progress, we had to remove them. As we moved east from the Rhine, the DPs were becoming more numerous. They greeted the Army as saviors, but their new freedom of movement became an obstacle to the troops.
Approaching Hassfurt, we knew that we would find few who did not have some connection with the Party or with affiliated organizations. In Bavaria, particularly Mainfranken, it was understood that we would find the most ardent followers of Hitler. We did not expect to find anyone who had actively opposed the regime. With the prosperity they enjoyed, and the discipline and order imposed upon them, the Bavarians at the very least tolerated the Third Reich. As long as Hitler succeeded, the people were behind him. That was the theory; we were too occupied with immediate problems to give much thought to the position we were in vis-à-vis the German civilians. Now, with Hassfurt in front of us, some reflection was given to the power we were to exercise. We were "the occupying power with executive, legislative, and judicial rights."6 Germany was to be treated as a defeated country with Nazism eliminated and war criminals apprehended. We were to use the existing organizations only to provide essential services. For the apprehension of criminals we were to work with G-2, the Army Intelligence.
We knew we had to order a strict curfew. The Germans had to be restricted to their homes except for certain daylight hours. Strict rules had to be applied to public assembly. The war was still on, so all transportation had to be controlled. If there were any industry in the area, their production had to be reported. We were to start a civil administration, to get the public utilities operating, to reactivate public health facilities, to get police and fire protection operating again.
We entered Hassfurt following the 3rd Division column, down a narrow road into the center of town. There were two major crossroads. The road to the west, 20 miles distant, led to Schweinfurt, which was home to a large ball bearing works, not in Allied hands. Fifteen miles to the East was Bamberg, where the Germans were putting up some resistance. The 3rd Division continued on; we stayed.
Hassfurt was a town that retained much of its medieval aspect. The Gothic architecture of the church dominated the town center, as did the two towers arched over the roadway, which slowed the military traffic running east and west. The chapel was covered with the coat of arms of Franconian noble families; we learned there were 240 of them. Hassfurt was an agricultural center. The farmers would bring in their produce for distribution. Some of the business specialized in the distribution of farm equipment. We learned later that the area was well known to sport hunters, that in the surrounding hills were deer and wild boar. There were hiking trails in the hills and woods to the north. At the edge of the county, on a mountaintop, was a castle occupied by a baron.
The 3rd Division pulled out and headed towards Bamberg. We were left behind with the warning that isolated Nazi troops were hiding out in the surrounding forests. That thought preoccupied us as we drove around the town that was to be our home for the duration of our stay. We were to re-educate these people, to bring democracy to a community whose size and people we sometimes compared to those in Appalachia.
We drove down the main street leading from Schweinfurt to Bamberg, and up the road leading to Hofheim. At a distance beyond a wooded area, dominating the hilltop, was the castle. We circled around and drove back into town. At one end was the railroad station. Running alongside Hassfurt was the Main River. The bridge across had been destroyed. The main road and all the streets were deserted. The walls of the railroad bridge on the road to the heights of Hofheim was destroyed. The bridge itself, however, was intact. At this first inspection, the town seemed in good condition.
No one was on the streets. The store fronts, the windows of the houses, were all boarded up. As we drove down the cobblestone thoroughfare, the motors of the jeeps was the only sound heard. We had been told that Hassfurt had a population of 5,000; we found out later that the influx from the bombed-out cities such as Frankfurt, Coblenz, as well as from the nearby towns of Schweinfurt and Coburg, had swelled the number of people considerably.
We had entered Hassfurt with a job to do; our explicit instructions included the following:
1. Find the Nazi officials and remove them from office.
2. Investigate the Nazi organizations.
3. Support new institutions.
4. Find new leadership.
The largest building there was the Kreishaus, the long, three-story administration building where the county executives and the Nazi chieftains held office. The large oval emblem of the swastika jutted from an attic window. We parked the cars and forced the locked doors open. There was a large lobby and evidence that the occupants had left in a hurry. Our commanding officer selected the largest office, pulled down the Nazi flag hanging on the wall, telling us he would send it home as a souvenir. The most nimble one in our group ran up to the attic and, as we watched him, climbed out the window and unscrewed the bolts holding the swastika. He kicked it free and sent it crashing to the ground below. The broken pieces remained there until we ordered them picked up several days later.
Of the personnel who first entered Hassfurt, three were officers and four were enlisted men. The commanding officer had received training in Charlottesville at the Military Government School, University of Virginia. He had been a lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington. Of the other officers, one had been in the ROTC at a small university before entering the Army, the other was a physical education instructor in a mid-western high school. Two of the enlisted men were our jeep drivers; one of them had been a truck driver in civilian life. The others were clerks. I had worked for the Federal Government as a junior statistician, had two years of college background, and was trained in the ASTP. With three years of study, I was the only one who spoke German in the detachment.
We saw no evidence of industry in the town, but the farms were green with spring growth. We weren't there to help administer the county, but knowledge of agricultural problems might have helped. However, none of the seven men in the detachment were at home on the farm. All of us had been raised in large cities. Our commanding officer was from Rochester, had lived in Cleveland and in Washington, D.C. Of the other two officers, one was raised in Milwaukee and the other in the Los Angeles area. One of the enlisted men was raised in St. Louis, one in New York City, the other two in Philadelphia. None of us could distinguish a plow from a puncheon.
We spent the rest of the day establishing ourselves in the offices at the Kreishaus. The physical layout was reviewed. We decided to requisition a house for our living quarters the following day, but to spend the first where we were in the Kreishaus. We reviewed our orders and decided to interview the priest and minister and officials outside the church. After reflecting on their recommendations, our commanding officer would then decide who the new officials were to be.
There was no one on the streets that morning, nor that afternoon. However, late afternoon, an elderly man and woman were seen walking the cobblestones toward us. There was no need to knock at our door; we had broken the lock and the door was open. I was there to meet them. They apologized for their presence. "We have had news," they said. "The announcement just came over the radio. Your president is dead." It was April 12, 1945. So ended our first day in Hassfurt.
The Landrat (county administrator) and Hassfurt Buergermeister had fled before we arrived. However, the priest we interviewed the following day spoke English quite well. He had been educated in American schools. For that reason, his suggestions were seriously considered. The man selected to be the Landrat was Count von Xanthier, who had been an executive in a theatre group. He was not a native of Hassfurt and not well known to those who were. The mayor was named Hart. He was a large landowner but retired. Neither had been members of the Nazi Party. Von Xanthier was tall, of substantial weight, ruddy cheeked. He took over every meeting we had. As extroverted as he was, Hart was the opposite. We considered him the typical Bavarian farmer.
The second day found us looking for living quarters. Hassfurt had no heavy industry, but the owners of the Schweinfurt Ball Bearing works lived in a house on top of the hill overlooking the farms to the north. Two sisters owned the house; the husband of one was at the Eastern front, the other a prominent Nazi. G-2, Army Intelligence, was looking for him. He was later found and jailed. The women found quarters elsewhere, and we took over the house.
With our encouragement, the selected officials re-established essential services. It was in their interest to get the job done. Though we had to approve the appointments, which became urgent, the ban on hiring members of the Party had to be enforced. German customs were difficult to understand. Every job carried set procedures and uniforms. Men seemed unwilling or unable to take on the work of others, even in an emergency. Master craftsmen had to be consulted to get the simplest work done. No one wanted to take on the responsibility of the superior who had left with the Wehrmacht.
With von Xanthier and Hart we reviewed the background of the men they needed to fill the existing vacancies. Townspeople began to pour in on us requesting permits to travel to neighboring areas. We turned them down. Though the resistance at Bamberg seemed to be ending, the war still continued. Truckloads of war prisoners, jammed against the wooden side rails, raced down the highway, barely missing the stone supports as they squeezed through the archway of the 12th century towers. The prisoners, thrown off balance, screamed, but the drivers kept up their speed. Military procedure required that our offices maintain a guard, and I had that duty the second night. Before daybreak, I was startled by a sound from a dark shape in the corner of the room. As I grabbed my carbine, an excited voice explained that she was a farm worker and wanted to return to her home in Poland. I told her to return to the farm, that transportation would be available shortly for the DPs.
With our arrival, the DPs began moving off the farms and into Hassfurt. Shortly, there were thousands of them milling around the town, demanding they be sent home. The Germans were ordered to provide food for them, though they complained they had little themselves. There was a shortage of trucks, and our troops required that the roads be clear.
The classification and care of the DPs became a formidable task during much of our stay in Hassfurt. It was estimated that there were 4,000,000 from all over Europe. Sometimes it seemed as if most of them had poured into our county. Military Government established a 2,000 calorie ration for them, some of the food taken from the Germans. Complaints from the local officials that they were a public nuisance, a security threat, were generally ignored. There were reports of looting and theft, but none of the violence as was reported from other detachments.
One day a delegation of DPs came in to see me. They complained that they were better fed by the Germans, that the supplement to their diet by the Americans was unsatisfactory. Curious, I investigated. Our kitchens were giving them a balanced meal. The DPs had been accustomed to the bread and potatoes the Germans fed them, and which they had been raised on.
The printed posters—proclamations—that we had been carrying in our jeeps were now posted throughout the town, in stores, on trees and walls. Occupation troops arriving later helped us post them throughout the county. The proclamations listed the restrictions we were imposing. There was to be no assembly without approval, firearms and cameras were to be turned in to us. We began to register officials of the Nazi Party. We became privy to the grudges people bore these many years under Hitler's rule. There were reports of Nazi atrocities. We were made familiar with all the secrets of the townspeople.
Once again handguns were turned in to us, as well as the rifles used in hunting the deer and boar. Along with SA and SS knives, swords that may have served the ceremonial uniform of the past century were deposited with us. In time these, as well as the cameras, were taken as souvenirs of the war.
We were still troubled by the reports from our troops, repeated by the Germans, that SS men were hiding out in the surrounding woods. One of the officers and I decided to scout the countryside. We had frequently paired in our investigations. We thought our names alone terrified the Germans—Jaeger and Metzger—Hunter and Butcher in German. As we approached a clump of trees, we saw several forms around the edge. Lt. Lee Jaeger shouted for me to shoot. I held my fire. As they came closer we saw they were young teenagers, in tears. They hadn't eaten for several days. They were Hitler's last desperate attempt to replace his heavy casualties.
The first test of my wisdom came within a few days after we had arrived. A man came to my office, recently released from a concentration camp. He showed me the papers to prove it. One of his ancestors was a Jew; that was his crime. That statement alone was a sufficient credential.
The man had been a mechanic. He had worked with farmers repairing their equipment. In looking for work, he discovered equipment on the railcar at the station. With our permission, he could use it to fix agricultural tools. It seemed a reasonable request. Up to that time, my only experience with farm equipment and farmers were the scenes of the farms I passed traveling from city to city. I don't think anyone in the detachment knew more than I did. We all grew up on concrete sidewalks; I assumed the implement on the railcar was a small tool.
The Buergermeister saw me later that day. The small tool, I was told, was an agricultural combine. The equipment occupied the entire floor of the railcar. A crane was needed to lift it. The weight was several thousand pounds. The mayor diplomatically suggested, and I agreed, that the machine could be used to greater advantage by the town as public property.
The proclamations we posted said in part:
Supreme legislation, judicial and executive authority and power within the occupied territory are invested in me as Supreme Commander... All persons in the occupied territory will obey immediately and without question all the enactments and orders of the Military Government.7
We became more and more aware of the power that we were to wield.
The two towers, their bases spanning the roadway, had been there for 800 years. They loomed large in this small town in more than size. They stood at both ends of the twisted road. The trucks, packed with POWs, managed the curves with some of their wheels spinning in the air. One day a truck, swerving from one arch to the other, crushed the prisoners against the wooden slats, which cracked and splintered. The prisoners were thrown out of the truck and over the roadway. Many of them were hurt; a few died. The transportation corps demanded that the tower be torn down.
The news spread around town. We had only been there a few days, and had little communication with the officials and none with the townspeople. Though we were the conquerors and our orders were to be obeyed, their delegations converged on us. The towers were their treasure, they pleaded that they be kept intact. The towers represented their history; their destruction would demean them.
We conferred with the Transportation Corps and the 3rd Army. The front was crumbling, and there were now few prisoners trucked along the road. To eliminate the danger, it was suggested that the drivers cut down their speed. The decision to destroy the towers was withdrawn. Our detachment, still maintaining an official reserve, acquired a human face.
While the Germans were facing food and housing shortages, in Hassfurt life was comparatively calm. We managed to organize and classify the DPs. Food was scarce, but there was no critical shortage. In the rest of Germany, the military government had to take over from a collapsed government and, with the occupation troops, had to register war equipment, aircraft, merchant vessels, and mines, among other properties. Thousands of tons of war material had to be destroyed.
Less than 10% of the production plants in existence when the war began were still in operation on V-E Day. The school buildings were closed, and the radio and press were shut down. The decision was made that only a limited amount of production would be allowed, and only to the extent necessary "to meet the needs of the occupation forces or to produce the goods which would prevent disease and unrest which might endanger the occupying forces."8 The one brewery in Hassfurt we ordered closed, except for a small production to meet the needs of the military government personnel. Military government was forbidden to take any step to relieve German economic problems.
The streets now began to show some life. The German military had confiscated the cars and trucks from the civilians. Moreover, there was little gasoline. Produce was being shipped by wagon, pulled by oxen. The women drove the wagons, for there were few men but the very young and the very old. They were hardy, though. A woman, pregnant, had her child one day and was out in the fields the next.
Our rations were delivered by the service company from Wurzburg, but our resourceful housekeeper, Frau Berge, thought fresh foods from the farms would be more suitable. We had a cook, her assistant and several maids, but Frau Berge was our greatest asset.
Frau Berge was a Scotchwoman [sic], who came to Germany after World War I as a student. She married and had a child. She had lived in Frankfurt. Her husband, a Jew, was taken away by the Gestapo. His ashes were later sent to her, but she would never speak of her daughter other than telling us she wasn't alive. When she wasn't absorbed with her own plight, she was entertaining, vivacious. She managed our kitchen, exchanged our rations for eggs and meat from the farmers. She was our substitute mother.
She had taken refuge in one of the villages near Hassfurt to escape the bombings in Frankfurt. She complained to us about the mistreatment she received there. She knew of a prominent Nazi we should investigate. One day I had to be in that village. Frau Berge asked me if she could accompany me. As we drove through the village square, she spotted a man limping along in front of us. "That's the Nazi I told you about. Arrest him, arrest him." The man was lame, sickly, undernourished. He was obviously no threat, but we loved Berge. I picked him up and turned him over to our legal officer. We agreed to hold him a few days and then release him. Power was corrupting us.
There was some looting and a few major thefts. A few small vases placed around the arch in the chapel had been stolen. The dust around them had accumulated for more than a century. We wondered why one house was a popular stop for GI truckers. A CID (Criminal Investigation Detachment) raid found the house filled with Army clothes and rations. One GI, in charge of a warehouse with clothes for DPs, was selling them to the Germans. There were minor acts which we called "liberation." Though prohibited, the officials condoned the taking of small items which were considered souvenirs. One officer tried to send home several horses. That was not overlooked; he was chastised.
A counter was installed in the lobby of the Kreishaus, and we had an interpreter who intercepted all applicants for passes to points outside of Hassfurt. He also listened to their complaints and problems. The lobby was usually crowded with people requesting travel permits. Truckers were not restricted, but shopping and visiting requests were ignored. Other detachments were more lenient.
There were necessary official contacts with the Germans, with the officers we selected and the civilians who came to us for help. However, we stayed aloof from social contacts. The orders were strict: we were not to fraternize with the enemy.
The wisdom of non-fraternization was questioned soon after the German border was crossed. Many Germans expressed their resentment at being treated as outcasts, for they were ready to throw off all vestiges of Nazism and accept a democratic government. The Bishop of Muenster was reported to have said the following:
It is a denial of justice and love if it is declared that every German person participated in the guilt of each criminal act and thus is deserving of punishment. The unavoidable results of war, the sorrow of our dead, for the destroyed cities, dwellings, and churches, we will accept and patiently bear with God's help; but not unjust accusations and punishment for injuries and cruelty under which we sighed and suffered heavily.9
That suffering was not obvious in Hassfurt.
Our orders had come from President Roosevelt. The Germans were to be held at arm's length. Public contact with them was to be restricted. Our troops were not to be billeted in German households or eat in the same restaurants. Even attending the same religious services was prohibited. The reasons were clear, and in our detachment we adhered to it. While the war was on (it lasted for three weeks after we entered Hassfurt) and for a short time thereafter, there were obvious reasons for keeping ourselves distant. There was the question of security, and we were to convince the Germans that they were thoroughly defeated.
When the newspapers began displaying photographs of GIs handing out chewing gum to the children, or in conversation with German girls, General Eisenhower was reported to have said, "This must be nipped in the bud." The ban on fraternization was tightened. Whether the ban contributed to the large number of rape cases as was claimed couldn't be proven, but there were 402 cases listed in March 1945, 501 in April, 241 in May.10 The V-D rate was high.
In our own detachment, we remained aloof from social contacts, despite the personnel increases in our staff. After V-E Day more men were available to help relieve our work load. We acquired a German speaker more fluent than I, and a sergeant who spoke Czech and a little Russian. There were also others, including one corporal who couldn't resist the women. When he was seen too frequently escorting them in town, we shipped him out. One sergeant transferred to us began an enterprise of buying Schnapps from the farmers and trading it for cigarettes received from the GIs. As his business grew, he expanded his trades to include women. We sent him to the infantry.
During the early days, the war still fresh in our minds, there was no way of distinguishing true friends from foe among the Germans. It was generally felt that the German psychology was foreign to us, and the best policy was to remain aloof from them. Undoubtedly, many Germans could have used our friendship in their desire to create a democratic country. In some areas, our stiff attitude produced an indifference among the Germans that made our program more difficult to implement. Attitudes toward the Germans had become so inflexible that refugees, returning to Germany to help in the various programs, were looked on with suspicion.
All Germans were bad Germans for the time being. There was no time to separate the good, and so they were turned away. Stories in Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper, had an effect: "Don't get chummy with Jerry" and "Soldiers wise don't fraternize." "Don't play Samson to her Delilah—She'd like to cut your hair off—at the neck." There was also "In heart, body and spirit… every German is Hitler! Hitler is the single man who stands for the beliefs of the Germans… Don't make friends with Hitler. Don't fraternize. If in a German town you bow to a German girl or pat a blond child... you bow to Hitler and his reign of blood."11
The non-fraternization did not last. Restrictions against talking to children or giving them gifts were lifted. Eisenhower, in relaxing the restrictions, was asked to what age this exception was to apply. The General refused to be specific and only voiced the opinion that it was meant to apply to the very young. This was given a liberal interpretation. There were demands for services, such as laundering and sewing, which clouded the age issue. There was further relaxation. The British permitted conversation in public, and we relaxed our rules to include standing, talking, and walking with Germans. In August 1945, General Eisenhower relaxed the ban further by ordering, "Members of my command are now permitted normal public contacts; in this way we will be able to understand better the problems which face us in the coming months."12
In I3A3, isolated as we were, news of the relaxation came to us late and affected us little when the orders did arrive. Only slowly did we meet with the Germans on a friendly basis. Our commander, the labor lawyer from Washington, left in July to assume a command at the Berlin Supreme Headquarters. He was replaced by an officer who had been a captain of detectives in Chicago. Whether it was the new commander or the lifting of restrictions, the effect was to relax us in our approach to the Germans. We became friendlier with the secretaries and we attended small concerts given for our benefit.
The war was over, and truck transportation was becoming available. The displaced persons who had been camping in and around Hassfurt were eager to be repatriated. Their problems had occupied most of our time. Though the Germans were supplying most of their food, we were supplementing it due to the shortages. They had to be grouped and classified. They represented all the countries of Europe. Most of them were Poles, but there were also Russians and men and women from all the Eastern European countries, as well as a few from Belgium, Holland, and France.
We had a few refugees from the Baltic enter the Hassfurt area. These were German nationals who had escaped the Russians as they advanced to the west. Many of them were well educated. Our commanding office hired one as a secretary, an older woman who spoke English well and had been a school administrator in Estonia. Until the week before we left, she acted extremely reserved towards us. We never knew whether it was her personality or reluctance to become friendly with the Americans.
The DPs who came to us were a healthy lot. They had lived on the surrounding farms. Though most of the forced laborers were anxious to go home, some stayed behind and continued to work on the farm. Those who appeared at the Kreishaus were in a hurry to be processed and shipped to their native lands. By this time, we had our occupation troops stationed throughout the Kreis. They provided us with MPs to control the activities of these laborers. The Germans also provided police to increase the security.
Relief for the DPs was the responsibility of the military government. Efforts were made at group headquarters to maintain supplies of food, fuel, and clothing, as well as medical necessities and everything else that was considered essential. Trucks and trains were requisitioned as soon as they became available. There were social problems, such as quarrels over the few women among them. Now that the Russians were occupying their counties, political differences became frequent. Our judicial interferences may have saved some lives.
The greatest problem facing us was the care of thousands of these workers from Poland, Russia, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and other areas that had been overrun by the Soviets. Many of them were reluctant to leave, either due to the fear of punishment for collaborating with the enemy or political differences. At first we tried to persuade them to leave, but towards the end of our stay we permitted them to remain if they wished. We may have believed their claim that it was certain death if they returned. If that were so, we didn't want to cooperate in their demise.
As time went on, many found it difficult to keep up the warm relations with the DPs. There were many reports of looting and violence. The Germans received some sympathy from the Americans, for the Kreis was forced to provide a minimum of 2,000 calories for the DPs. The Germans, however, had to subsist on a ration of 1,000. Moreover, the Russians and the Poles lost the goodwill of the Americans when the unruly ones had to be rounded up for pillaging the countryside, driving off the cattle and killing the farmers who wanted to protect their property. These acts may have been due to the years of forced labor they had to endure, but to the American officials, these were criminal acts that could not be condoned.
Our DPs were farm laborers, physically strong and healthy. Their time in Germany had been spent on the farm where they were well fed. We had no camps for the survivors of the concentration camps, the death camps. The closest one was below Bamberg. One day a man ran into my office. He had a large farm, and had been in to see me on several occasions. "The DPs are destroying my crops." We drove out to his farm. Out in the field we saw the men. They were not the DPs that were encamped around us. They had come from the Bamberg camps. They looked emaciated, gaunt. Their clothes didn't fit, they looked like scarecrows. They had curved themselves into a long line, like a scythe, pulling at the growing shoots. Other than the shuffling of their feet, they made no sound. Without paying attention to us, they continued to pull at the stems at their feet. The farmer looked at me. There was no need to say anything. We left the farm.
As the DPs began to be evacuated, we had time to devote to our major purpose: denazifying Hassfurt. The Landrat and the Buergermeister had been selected. It was essential to dismiss the officials in the other towns in the Kreis and to appoint new ones in their place. As the only German language speaker in our detachment at that time, now experienced in military government affairs, I was selected to make the changes. There were about 60 towns and villages in the county.
The problem of denazification created disputes within military government detachments. It was found that one county could not carry out its work due to the inability of finding capable men. Others disregarded the political background of the Germans and selected men based on their abilities alone. General Patton, commander of the 3rd Army and to whom we reported, was known to distrust the program. He compared German politics to the Democrats and Republicans. In most areas, the soldiers distrusted the Germans and considered them all Nazis. There is the example of the corporal pulling furniture out of a house designated for occupancy. The house belonged to a woman with two children. "She addressed the corporal in charge of the eviction, explaining to him, in English, that she was not a Nazi but an anti-Nazi. He said 'Too bad, lady.'"13 Directive JCS 1067 ordered that the Nazis be removed even if it was believed that their employment was necessary. Despite this order, there was little coordination from Command Headquarters. Their attention was on the large detachments, and there were problems in making changes there. In the small detachments, there was no one we could trust to counsel us. We listened to the priest and minister but heard that there were clergymen who were active members of the Nazi Party, who dressed in SS uniforms and had backed Nazi programs.
When in power, the Nazis had integrated every phase of German life. Teachers had to belong to the Nazi Teachers Association or surrender their position; doctors and lawyers also had to join Nazi groups if they wanted to practice. Artists, musicians, writers were all brought into party cultural organizations. Those who refused to join were threatened with loss of their liberty. Few refused to join. "The proportion of the German population with Nazi records has been variously estimated. Some would place the figure as high as ninety percent; others consider two-thirds or three-fourths a more accurate figure."14
Instructions to the detachments in the American zone varied from area to area. The Group Command issued different directives to the Armies under them. One commanding general ordered that all Nazis be removed, another suspended denazification for the time being in order to get the job done. There were those who only removed Nazis if they had joined the Party before 1936. Our detachment had three categories; those who joined before 1933, who were to be further investigated by G-2, Army Intelligence. There were those who joined before 1941, and those who joined after that date who were considered to have been forced into the Party. At one time during the early summer of 1945, military government detachments were operating under four different denazification directives.
In combat areas, and in Hassfurt, we asked the Germans about their political background. The response always was "Ich war nie ein Nazi" (I was never a Nazi). We realized, of course, that was not true. The county had as high a percentage of Party members as any other part of the country. There were lists being prepared of Party officials, but we never received them. Nevertheless, we went ahead with our job of removing those Nazis we were able to find.
In Washington, and in our military headquarters, there was a purpose, an aim, to denazification. Nazism had to be eliminated as a system, and the apparatus had to go with it. The institutions, leadership, symbols, philosophy, and psychology had to be destroyed. In putting this policy into effect, we became aware that the civil administrators at all levels had to have been members of the Party. That was the condition of their employment. We had to remove them, but in doing so we knew we would create a toothless administration.
Patton, not enthusiastic about our purpose there and no diplomat, was quoted as saying:
In Germany practically all, or at least a very large percentage of trade people, small businessmen and even professional men.... were beholden to the party in power for the patronage which permitted them to carry on their business or profession and that, therefore many of them gave lip service only... When they paid Party dues, it was in the form of blackmail, but we must put up with them until we [have] restored sufficient organization to Bavaria.15
For that remark, he was read the riot act by General Eisenhower. Statements such as these made our role more difficult. I added to it by introducing my own procedures. With no official plan to follow, I thought the American ideal was the one to use. I thought Hassfurt needed American style democracy. Starting in the smallest village, I brought the farmers in from their fields to the local church. I explained to them that their Buergermeister was to be dismissed and that their new mayor was to be selected by popular vote. However, their choice had to be free of any Nazi taint.
I used the simplest expression; my German vocabulary was limited. However, the farmers understood me. We had been in Hassfurt a few weeks. Even in the hills, they had heard that we had set up our government in Hassfurt and that we intended to make changes in their government. I had no problems with them. They nominated their men, and I approved the nomination.
My luck didn't hold out for long. In one town I went through the same preliminaries. The farmers were called together and the priest introduced me. I delivered the same speech. The debate became heated. There were discussions among rival groups. The vote was taken; the man selected had been a member of the Nazi party. He was popular with the townspeople; they wanted him to represent them. This was the democratic ideal. Returning to Hassfurt, I wrote my report and explained the vote.
The response was not long in coming. "Who gave you the authority to put a Nazi in office? Remove him." I did.
Our detachment, like all the others, faced the same dilemma. The men who had been the most educated, the most popular, had all been members of the Nazi Party. In Hassfurt, possibly more than in other counties, the men selected for official positions had to join. We weren't permitted to use our judgment. The newsmen were there to report on our progress, and their readers perceived all Germans as suspect, and all Party members as guilty. We played it safe, tightened our procedures and examined the histories of the applicants more thoroughly.
To classify the Germans, we distributed the Fragebogen (questionnaires). These contained more than 130 questions that had to be answered. All applicants for jobs in the public sector, including past and present officials, had to submit these completed forms to us. The job of distributing these and checking them was formidable. It was estimated that there were as many as 13,000,000 completed questionnaires returned to the MG in the American zone. To do a proper job of analyzing them would have required thousands of trained personnel.
Buergermeister appointments were progressing, but our selections were less than ideal. Eager citizens were not rushing forward to lead a constituency onto a new path. Democracy as we knew it had never been practiced in Germany. Their leaders had been authoritative figures: emperors, military heroes, dictators. That's what they knew, and they were satisfied with that.
The position of agricultural administrator was filled. The legal administrator had joined the party after 1941, but we had no other choice. It was considered important that the office be filled, and there was no one else available. Selecting educators was to prove our greatest difficulty. Eliminating Nazism and militarist doctrines to ensure the development of democratic ideas in the school system was no easy task. There were no trained teachers, no curriculum, that would pass our examination.
During the time we were in Germany, the entire education system came to a halt. General Eisenhower had passed the word. "All educational institutions within your zone, except those previously established by Allied authority, will be closed." When there were attempts to reopen the schools later in the year, it was done by stages and started with the elementary school. We received no instructions from our Command. Only at the request of the Landrat and the Buergermeister did we attempt to install personnel to guide the education in the county. The attempt was limited, for we found no one who did not have a Nazi past.
In Germany, each county had a doctor in charge of hospital administration and medical certification. He was the Kreisarzt, the county doctor. That, too, was completely Nazified. There were many doctors in the county and many hospitals. The air was considered to be healthful for tuberculosis patients, and there were many of them. In the U.S. zone, 60% of the cattle were considered to have the disease, and "the custom of pooling milk from these infected cows [was] a serious threat to the children. . . Veterinary experts [were] working to find a solution... The standard of medical education [was] low. Medical schools were isolated from world progress and the professional standard lowered throughout the Hitler regime."16 The man we did find for the post was a neurotic and unstable. He mumbled to himself. In his walks, he always seemed to be near collapse. His selection amused the people of Hassfurt. We understood why the Nazis never forced him to join the Party.
Travel restrictions were now being liberalized, and the Germans were returning home. Cattle-driven carts, wagons and trucks were now filled with men and women, dressed in their finery, returning to their destroyed cities. Walking to our house on the hill, crossing the crowded bridge, we saw the freight cars chugging below. Facing the crowd, one of our members shouted, "Da geht das Herrenvolk" ("There goes the master race"). We had become insensitive to the pride of the Germans around us.
Thirty-five years later my wife and I, touring Germany, stopped over in Hassfurt. It was a bustling community in 1980. As an artery between Bamberg and Schweinfurt, the streets were heavy with traffic. We stopped at a dress shop owned by a woman I'd known during the war; she had been a teenager then. I recalled her knocking at the door of the Kreishaus repeatedly. She had wanted clothes left behind by her mother when we'd confiscated her home and forced her family to leave. She'd asked me then when she could move back in again. I'd told her it would not be long.
Thirty-five years later, she and I spoke about the war. She was bitter about the role her parents played in the Party. One brother was killed, another badly wounded. She asked me to visit her mother at the house on the hill. We did. There, the mother recalled the bad times. She pointed to the picture of her husband, now dead. "You didn't treat him well," she said. Outside, my wife questioned me. I told her I remembered another picture. The husband was in his full Nazi uniform. With his riding crop, he was forcing a line of prisoners into a freight car.
The prime responsibility for the administration of the zones, in late 1945, was to be placed in the hands of the Germans at all levels. The civil administrative machinery was beginning to function. The detachments had provided some form of democratic government. It was decided that the Germans were to form their own political parties. We were no longer needed. It was time to go home.
Based on a point system, two of us were the first selected to leave. Non-fraternization had been relaxed many weeks before. Frau Berge, our Scotch housekeeper, decided we were to have a farewell party. We opened the house for the event and invited all the officials, interpreters, and secretaries. They represented the most educated, sophisticated men and women in Germany. Few of them had been raised in Hassfurt.
I had known these people for nine months. They may have been the most clever, cultured, people I had ever met. They seemed open, withheld no secrets. They had cooperated with the military government and were apparently popular with the people in the Kreis. Like the other Germans in Hassfurt, they conformed to the rules of our proclamations. I listened to them singing sentimental German songs. Frau Berge danced a highland jig, and we applauded. Herr Buehl, once an editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung, who had been dismissed from his post, philosophized in a corner. Frau Vieweger, secretary to the commander and former Estonian, played selections from Brahms, Bach, Beethoven on the piano. The conversation was in the most cultured German, in hochdeutsch, High German. We were all pleased to have them there.
However, what did I really know about them? They told us they had never been Nazis. How many times did we hear, "Ich war nie ein Nazi"? With so many non-Nazis in such high places, could Hitler have taken over Germany? How did these people react to the Nazis during the Hitler days? What was their state of mind? None of these people suffered in concentration camps. How could they have escaped! That evening there was no mention of the Nazi Party, or of Hitler. We had forced ourselves to believe them. We had no other choice.
I left Hassfurt, and Germany, the following day.
1U.S. National Archives, Suitland Branch, Maryland, folder titled "One Morning in Manchester," p. 15.
2U.S. National Archives, Suitland Branch, Maryland, folder titled "One Morning in Aachen." p. 22
3Harold Zink, The United States in Germany (Toronto, London and New York, 1957), pp. 134-135
4F.S.V. Donnison, Civil Affairs and Military Government, North-West Europe, 1941-1946 (London, 1961), p. 217.
5Eugene Davidson, The Death and Life of Germany, (New York, 1959), Protocol of the Proceedings at Potsdam, pp. 60-61.
6Morris Edwards, An Historical Evaluation of Military Government During and After World War II, from the Handbook for Military Government in Germany (Washington, D.C., 1951), p.32.
7Wolfgang, Friedmann, The Allied Military Government of Germany (London, 1947), p. 277
8Lucius D. Clay, Decision in Germany (Westport, CN, 1950), p. 17.
9Donnison, op. cit., p. 238.
10U.S. Military History Institute, "The Germans in World War II" (Carlisle Barracks, PA, 1948), p. 81.
11Davidson, op. cit., p. 54.
12Ibid, pp. 55-56.
13Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free (Chicago and London, 1955), p. 300.
14Zink, American Military Government in Germany, p. 136.
15Edward N. Peterson, The American Occupation of Germany, (Detroit, MI, 1977), p. 219.
16Clay, op. cit., p. 275