Travels: Germany

Prague | Ship to New York

Germany, Nov.-Dec. 1945
Pilsen to Nurnberg
I met up with a Mr. le Belle who had been in Czechoslovakia opening up the textile trade. He complains that the Czechs are dumping the Sudetan Germans out of the country with little ceremony and a good deal of vindictiveness. I think articles to this effect have appeared in some of our journals, too. But the government officials swear that it is being done with all possible consideration, but that THEY HAVE TO GO. It will only make further trouble if present conditions continue. It is hard to find the truth amid all the claims and counter-claims. Mr. Le Belle's attitude was certainly colored by his interests, and I do not know how much his point of view (and that of similar American industrialists) has been instrumental in coloring the stories which have reached the American press. The Sudetan Germans are the ones who have been in positions of authority in the Czech factories and mills. There is a feeling that they can get things going and the cheap glass and textiles coming to America more quickly than if they reconversion is left to the Czechs themselves. There is talk that maybe the Czechs will relent and keep enough of them to do this. On the other hand there is disappointment among the American buyers that the Czechs are no longer willing to sell their lovely goods for next to nothing. (Even considering the low prices we have paid for Czech goods in the U.S., it has afforded our importers a huge profit, and now the Czechs are thinking maybe they ought to have a little more for the workers who produce the stuff.) Mr. LeB. Told me about reestablishing contact with some of the people with whom he did business up to seven years ago. He threw a huge party for them at Prague which cost a young fortune (all black market of course, which in spite of the fact he is a pious church member and gave his church the money for a new carpet for the auditorium just before he left, he recounts without a blush!) Then he went out to one of the factories where he had bought linen towels to sell for 15 cents in the United States. They threw a party there, too, the piece de resistance being a whole pheasant apiece, with champagne, rick pastries, and what have you. He was surprised when I told him people were living on rations of 1350 calories-almost exclusively bread and potatoes.

I tracked down just how the evacuation of the Sudetans is supposed to take place. All are supposed to be on call for evacuation. A survey is made of German territories, and according to the proportion of people to dwelling house floor space, they are assigned so many of the Sudetan Germans whom their community is supposed to absorb. Orders are that this transfer shall be done humanely with due notice, but of course by the time you get to the level of actual evacuation processes, a good deal of vindictiveness and assumption of authority creeps in and a lot of things happen which shouldn't.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the World Council of Churches ought to be in a strong enough position to take a stand on matters of this sort, and let it be known that it has enough at stake in human rights so that it cannot sit idly by either while American business libels the Czechs in order to further their economic exploitation, or which the Czechs as individuals violate with immunity the fair treatment of the Sudetan people which as a government they have pledged.

The press interests itself in such matters and in a way constitutes itself the spokesman for the conscience of the world. But like all consciences its functioning is too often tempered by personal interests.

Aren't such matters a real concern of the Church?

We are critical of the German pre-war church for not acting as the conscience of the German people and for not bringing the judgement of the gospel imperative to bear on life situations and national policies.

Shouldn't our World Church be functioning in similar areas internationally?

Germany, November 1945
Nurnberg to Furth, From Mimeograph, pp. 2-7
…At Nurnberg I wrangled a meal from the U.S. army mess and then a bunch of the boys took me for a look at the town-or the pathetic remains of it.

Here, too, I got my first real look at one of the crowds of wandering people that beset the German stations at night. The station itself was a wreck, but such shelter as it afforded was aswarm with humanity. No one seemed sure where anyone was going or why. Most everyone carried a pack on his back. Families settled down in secluded corners of the platform and munched black bread. Mothers nursed their babies. A group of young people gathered around an accordion player and sang German folk songs. Some d.p.'s retorted with some insulting parodies. Every now and then a train came in and everyone tried to get on. An announcer said a train of box cars was going through, with so many people piled on top you couldn't see what was in the car itself. Whole families would pile up on top of the coal, and of course the coal was slippery and every once in a while a child would fall off while the train was in motion. There was nothing to do about it. They'd find the bodies beside the tracks.

I was supposed to take a train out of Furth at midnight and the U.S.A. boys decided they wanted me to see their pet Red Cross over there. The one at Nurnberg was all right and had more in the way of activities , but the one at Furth made them feel at home. We took a tram over to Furth. The Red Cross wasn't a large affair, but it was pleasant and homelike. There were some American books and magazines, a phonograph, ping-pong table, coffee and plates heaped with hot doughnuts. The place was crowded with boys reading, writing letters, sitting peacefully at tables drinking coffee and listening to the music. I suspect I have never been so welcome anywhere. The boys who had brought me introduced me to a few of the others, and for two hours I stood there, while one boy after another sidled up and joined in the conversation, and finally moved along to make room for another. They couldn't believe it. An American woman-somebody direct from home-a civilian travelling in Germany, without benefit of uniform, and not visiting dignitaries or making an official investigation, but just stopping in, quite casually, at their favorite club, to have a cup of coffee with them and chat for a while. I honestly believe that some of them realized for the first time that the war was really over.

The formula is the same on all such occasions: "What state are you from?" "How long have you been in?" "When are you going home?" "Any family?" These are the things they want to tell you.

The club closed at 10:30 and I went over to the depot and reported to the rather astonished ATO. They already had a dozen or so assorted varieties of people bedded down in corners and (literally) on top of tables in the office, but they hospitably offered to clear a spot for me and my luggage, assuring me that the train was probably going to be at least a couple of hours late and would offer nothing in the way of sleeping comfort when it came. I left my luggage, but as I came up the platform I had seen a sign in a lighted office that said "Railway Chaplain", and I simply had to find out about an army chaplain who was busy at work under conditions such as these at eleven o'clock at night.

The sign in the window said CHAPLAIN VAL B. STRADER, RAILWAY CHAPEL, 750th R.O.B. (Railway Operating Battalion). I opened the door and stuck in my head. "May I come in?" I asked.

Now they say the first requisite of a minister, and especially a chaplain, is that he be "shock-proof". To Mr. Strader's credit be it said that he never batted an eye, but rose, smiled, held out his hand and waved me to a chair. This was a pleasant novelty for me in Germany, where I had been rounded up at curfew time, practically thrown off troop trains and refused all manner of ordinary service and courtesy (to say nothing of the colorfully insulting vocabulary aimed in my direction) by both the armed forces and their German henchmen, on the natural supposition that I was a German civilian.

Whether Mr. Strader knew I was an American, I don't know; I suspect he might be one to treat even a German woman with a degree of civility. At any rate, I introduced myself and we settled down for what, due to the lateness of my train, proved to be practically an all-night session. I was anxious to hear all he could tell me about conditions in Germany; he was eager for word of what the churches at home were doing, and especially anxious to hear about how the various churches in America were working together in their program of overseas relief and reconstruction. He seemed to feel that all chaplains should know about this program, so that they could pass on the knowledge to their men. Having learned to worship together during these years of war, the men would be impressed by the intent of the church people to unite in the spirit of Christ to serve their fellow men. This concept of group responsibility was one which would have a far deeper meaning to them now than it would have had when they attended their home-town churches in pre-war days.

We talked of the situation in Germany. Like all thoughtful people who have seen it, he was asking by what miracle some semblance of order, some hope for the future, could emerge from this chaos. All one could do was perform the task at hand, and his answer to the task at his hand was the establishment of the Railway Chapel. We went out to the tracks, where two cars stood on a siding. One was clearly marked "Railway Chapel". The other, smaller, car provided sleeping and eating accommodations for the chaplain and his assistants on trips up and down the railway systems, storage space for literature, etc.

He opened the chapel car for inspection. Through the clean, painted vestibule one looked down the long center aisle, with attractive oak pews on either side, to a white alter and pulpit. On the table before the alter was an open Bible; to the right, a small Army harmonium. There was a runner of carpet down the center aisle, and feel rose-colored drapes hung on either side. It was beautiful and worshipful.

For a long time, Val Strader had cherished the idea of a chapel which would enable him to hold services for the isolated army units. At last, he was told that such a thing could be arranged IF-

It was up to him to fix up his own chapel, and he must use for it a German coach which was not usable for military purposes. He accepted the challenge. It was a long search, but eventually he discovered a completely dilapidated coach which he believed could be transformed, with enough labor. It had been condemned by the military because it was of such light construction that it might collapse if it were used in the middle of a train.

However, it would be safe enough hitched on the end of a train-and that made it all right with the chaplain. Later, he found the smaller second car of the same construction, and on both cars, with volunteer help, he set to work. Somehow they wangled wood for the pews and pulpit, glass for the windows, and paint. The chaplaincy services for them the little organ, and a Protestant Estonian d.p., who had been helping on some of the construction, and who was a pianist, volunteered to act as organist, accompanying the chaplain on his trips. Some lengths of used white cloth were obtained, and German women of the church at Furth, where Mr. Strader holds services each Sunday, volunteered to dye them and make them into the required drapes.

The finished chapel accommodates 50, and there is never a question about its being full for every service. It is intended primarily for American service men, but no one is going to turn away either the d.p.'s or German civilians, as long as there is a place for them. And many of them, especially those who understand English, seem to like to attend the services.

There is always a crowd around the literature table after the service, and many are Germans who are extremely grateful for any Christian literature in their mother tongue.

"I could take 15,000 German Bibles out tomorrow and distribute them to people who would be really anxious to read them," said Chaplain Strader. "The German people need the Church and what the Church stands for to fill the terrible void that their disillusionment concerning Hitler has left in their lives."

Germany, Nov. 1945
Furth to Frankfurt
The train for Frankfurt finally arrived at Furth at 4:30 a.m. A young seargeant of the ATO office undertook the job of getting me located in one of the army coaches. It was really a job, for the coach was aswarm with Germans and d.p.'s and the first job was to get these out. Each one of them had a good excuse for staying and when they were told to go they just got up and turned around while the officer was at their elbows, and then settled down again right where they were. Others climbed in the windows, jammed the corridors.

Just as the sergeant managed to clear a seat for me on one of the hard wooden benches, along came the second lieutenant in charge of the train. "Get that ______ _______ ______ out of here." He yelled at the seargeant. The lieutenant's vocabulary was mighty colorful, considering he proved to be only twenty. "She's an American citizen and has travel papers" said the sarge. "The _____ she is!" yelled the lieutenant. "Get her off!" And this time his vocabulary was really choice. "Would you like to see my papers?" I asked sweetly. "You're ____ ____ I would." "Sir," said the sarge, "there's going to be a report made on this incident. You can't talk to an American woman like that." I held out my papers, which were pretty good. The lieutenant looked, turned green, and swaggered off to another car. Pretty soon he came back and sat down beside me. I thought he was going to cry. "I just been over here too ___ ___long," he said. After that he came back and talked whenever he wasn't busy. It was true what he said-he's just been over too ____ ____ long. He'd enlisted before he was 18, just out of high school. He was still 20. He'd landed in France on D Day, been in Germany most of the time since. He showed me the revolver he carried, which he had "taken off a German". So the rest of the night passed. The afternoon of the next day we arrived in Frankfurt. And suddenly I had a comfortable room, an officer's mess card, some occupation money and reservations on the officers' leave train for Paris two days later.

…It was funny in a way, but I was horrible distressed on behalf of the German women who must accept the profane insults as part of their lot, and I was embarrassed on behalf of my country-men who had no more self-respect than to indulge in them. It happened often but I don't want to give the impression that it was the general attitude of the Army. Most of the boys even believing I was a German, were courteous and decent enough, and when they found out I really was an American-they wanted to talk and talk and talk.

A good many of them were re-enlisting. There is heavy propaganda going round that due to strikes and reconversion problems it is practically impossible to get a job in the United States, and that they had better stay in the Army and be taken care of. And besides, they get a free furlough home right away. My personal opinion is that they type of soldier this sort of thing will appeal to is not what is needed in the German reconstruction program. Nor do I see it as a job for newly recruited 18-year-olds from the United States. I talked to just one man-an older major-who was re-enlisting because he saw the job as half-done and thought it was a challenge he couldn't ignore. He was most enthusiastic over the idea of strengthening the hands of the churches as focal points of hope in the reconstructing communities.

The Germans, too, took me for one of themselves, and as long as I confined my conversation to an occasional "Ja", I could listen to stories by the hour without giving myself away. I had suspected that the turning against Hitler was a dish for American consumption, but now I'm convinced that it is genuine. Several times while I would be standing on the street looking at the ruins, some stranger would say sourly, "For one man-we have this!"

Hitler is their Azazel. Our experiment in letting the Japanese save face by retaining their Emperor seems successful. Why not let the Germans save face by making Hitler their scapegoat?

People have told me that Frankfurt Central Station is Germany. Seven to ten thousand people pass through its ruins daily. At night they sleep there, packed closely together with their bundles of belongings under their heads, the lucky ones with a blanket or old newspaper between them and the floor. The children crawl in and out amongst the elders. There are completely inadequate sanitary facilities. Feuds flare up between the German civilians and d.p.'s. Gangs of young people flaunt themselves, staging demonstrations that get out of hand and in violence among the dark ruins of the city. The curfew requiring civilians to be off the street at 10:30 is strictly enforced, but these young people are reckless and defiant. Many of the girls seem to think their interests best served by making up to the American soldiers, of whom a certain percentage are always interested in their overtures.

School started in the Fall, but I was told it would have to be discontinued when the weather becomes really cold. It is a problem, anyway, for teachers who practiced or trained during the Hitler regime are not acceptable. Many of the posts were therefore given to teachers of earlier days-teachers of whom the young people say, "They don't know there's been a war!" Teachers who by their academic detachment-their emphasis on "pure scholarship" (for which they were much admired in certain academic circles of America) helped pave the way for the phenomenon of Hitlerism. "You don't expect us to go to school to those old fogies?" queried the children. And stayed home.

Many of the younger children seemed to have a genuine liking for the American soldiers, and an admiration for them as victors. They think of America (as I'm afraid much of Europe does) as a fairyland with Hershey chocolate bars and Wrigley chewing gum trees lining every road. One little 12-year-old told me with much pride of his brother who was in a P.O.W. camp in Colorado. He supposed he had milk, butter, meat, fruit, and ice cream. He implied that he would gladly be there with him. As we talked, a crowd of youngsters accumulated on the corner, and asked one eager question after another about America. They would have kept it up indefinitely. I do wish we had something very definite and constructive to offer them. It's a big job for the educators. Some folks think if we could send the right people in with tools and supplies for vocational training-for trades that are obviously "useful"-it would be most worthwhile. But they should be people both well equipped for the teaching task and with a strong Christian motivation and counseling ability.

It is impossible to describe the horrible desolation of Frankfurt. Block after block of nothing but bombed ruins. London and The Hague and Prague gave one the impression of being "under control." The streets had been cleared after a fashion, and the bricks were being cleaned and stacked with an eye to re-building. The vastness of the devastation in Germany makes any such attempts seem inconsequential. It had been impossible to do more than clear a few main streets. From blasted walls, room floors were seen to sag precariously, ready to collapse under the added weight of winter rains and snows or the pressure of high winds. Yet in their shelter, people lived.

The amazing thing is how much life goes on about the wreckage. Where a wall is standing, a human shelter has been built. Families inhabit the ground floors of buildings above which the skeletons of upper stories threaten at any moment to collapse. In the middle of piles of rubble, one finds ramshackle cottages without benefit of windows or doors, inhabited by families of several adults and children.

One came suddenly upon huge piles of debris from which emanated a sickening stench, while red-mouthed rats looked boldly out from the rubble-and one passed by quickly. Here and there the incongruous traces of the settled, pleasant life of other days stood out in pitiful mockery-the ornamental grillwork gates of a garden walk, the rose-tiled stove in the corner of a living room, the "Professor of Languages" sign dangling crazily from a solitary standing doorpost, the pile of twisted wreckage of what had been the beds of a baby clinic.

Above the rubble, the spires of many churches have miraculously been left standing. The auditoriums have been put into shape for use, and those into which I paused to look on Sunday morning were crowded to the doors.

Germany kids

German boys show great admiration for American soldiers. Frankfurt-am-Main. Central Station, Frankfurt, Germany.

Germany kids
Downtown street corner in Frankfurt. This is typical of most of the cities except that here streets have been cleared and tracks repaired so that trains can run out to the "round-up"-allied military headquarters.

Germany kids

Children always look so tiny and helpless against the hulking ruins of a devastated area.

Germany kids
Whenever groups like this waited for infrequent transportation, someone was sure to remark bitterly, "So-this is what one man got us into."

Germany kids

Boys of Frankfurt. One had a brother in P.O.W. camp in Colorado. Wanted to know all about America. Sighed, "I suppose he has milk to drink and even fruit!"

Germany kids
Three little boys of Frankfurt-am-Main. Children play on the rubble heaps. The schools opened in the fall but would have to close if it got too cold as there was no fuel for them. Rubble is rat-infested and one is likely to find most anything in it.

Germany kids
When this little girl opened a box of gifts from an American churchman visiting her home in a half-wrecked, bombed building, she touches the pretty gifts with a caressing finger and exclaimed, "You know life can be beautiful even in a place like this.

Prague | Ship to New York

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