Well, as I was saying yesterday, I’ve been pretty busy the last couple of days; particularly so yesterday. In the first place, as I wrote you dear, we are now working out of a large department store. It’s only a one story affair, but it occupies the width of perhaps 7 or 8 ordinary stores, and it is quite deep. We live upstairs in what was an apartment house. The Germans living there were told to scram – and although that sounds rather hard, darling – this is war and I can’t feel sorry for any one of them. In France and Belgium we couldn’t do that. Here – if we find an empty house – we just move in. If we need a spot because of the tactical situation, we so inform the military government and there’s no question asked – the people move out. Where they go – I don’t know, but they don’t argue with us. Of course our military government has said that we can’t be in the same house as Germans – or vice versa, and that makes it tougher on the Germans – because we sometimes have enough room for us and the Germans. It is so in this case, and thus, we’re occupying only about half this apartment house, but the other half is now empty. You don’t realize you are part of an invading Army until things like this occur. If we need stoves, for example, we inform our military government and they tell us where to go and get them – German stoves of course.
|American Military Government Headquarters|
Stolberg, Germany - December, 1944
Yesterday we had a very busy day for a second reason, but I can’t go into details on that, dear. Suffice it to say, I was on my toes for the greatest part of the day. It started off that way again this morning, but it looks as if I may have less to do this p.m. Right now I’m going to lunch, dear, and I’ll finish this later.
And it is now, later, darling – and let’s see, what was I going to comment upon? Oh – yes – you mentioned having visited the Christian Science Building and the Mother Church, and you wondered whether I had. Yes, dear, I did – a few years back. I think too few people in and around Boston are aware of how beautiful a structure that is. I’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere else – and I’ve seen some beautiful buildings in my travels. Ahem – that certainly sounded stuffy, didn’t it dear – but this war, if nothing else, has given me the opportunity to see more places and things of interest than I ever dreamed of seeing.
Yes. I too wish I had been present at our own engagement, sweetheart, but in lieu of that, I’m happy that we became engaged anyway, and it makes me even happier to read that you feel that same way. However, don’t forget, dear, that whether I put the ring on your finger or not – the significance is absolutely the same, the seal is just as strong, and you are just as much mine. I will want to put it on your finger myself, though, as soon as I see you, darling, – and then – and then we’ll be married. Lord – how often and how hard I think about that! I know I love you more than I’ve ever been able to tell you, dear – you’ll just have to wait until I get back, I guess, to find out for yourself.
That’s all for now, dear, I must move on. I hope you’re hearing from me fairly regularly now. My love to the folks – and
The procedure was the same everywhere, as it was to be throughout Germany. First came the posting of the Supreme Commander's proclamation and the ordinances.
The second step was to find the Buergermeister (mayor) or, if he could not be found or was obviously a Nazi, appoint one and thereby establish a link to the population. The military government officers had to make decisions on the character of certain Germans immediately, namely, those whom they appointed to administrative posts in the occupied communities. Such decisions were almost never easy. One of the first and most frustrating discoveries was that administrative ability usually went hand in hand with political taint; the Nazi party had been thorough in enlisting able men one way or another. The Germans themselves had unintentionally helped solve what was probably the easiest part of the problem, getting rid of Nazi incumbents, by evacuating almost the entire civil administration, including the police and fire departments; but they had also either destroyed or taken along the local records, which left military government nothing to go on in reconstructing the governments or in checking on the people who had stayed behind. One information source the Germans had overlooked was the Church. Since the occupied area was overwhelmingly Catholic, the priests knew nearly everyone and a great deal about local politics. In the early weeks, before both became a bit more wary of each other, the detachments relied heavily on the priests for advice, and a few priests became temporary Buergermeisters in their communities.
In Stolberg the 3d Armored Division uncovered a bona fide Nazi Buergermeister, Dr. Ragh, who had been in office since 1935. Under the Weimar Republic, he had been a leading member of one of the middle class parties. After all other parties were abolished in the spring of 1933, he had joined the Nazis. Under Ragh, the government of Stolberg had been markedly less Nazi than those of the surrounding towns, reportedly to the annoyance of the local party leaders. People questioned about him said he had done his job well and had made it clear that his party membership was a formality, necessary for being in office. While conceding that he was the kind of man who would probably win in a free election, the military government dismissed him.
His successor, Dr. Deutzmann, was just the opposite type. His ability as an administrator was unproven, but he was not a Nazi. He had supported the republic in the 1920s and had not switched after Hitler came to power. He had been a primary school principal slated for promotion. When the Nazis came in, he was demoted to the rank of ordinary teacher. In appointing him to replace Ragh, military government had deliberately chosen political character over administrative efficiency, no doubt both out of moral conviction and out of knowledge that a Buergermeister with Ragh's past service under the occupation would make headlines in the press from London to San Francisco. The local clergy and reportedly the people seemed to support the sacrifice of efficiency for character. For military government the Ragh case, nevertheless, raised qualms about determining who were "active Nazis or ardent sympathizers."
Next came a series of security actions. The first was to collect weapons, ammunition, and explosives in civilian possession and confiscate radio transmitters and other means of communicating with the enemy, including pigeons. The orders to surrender prohibited items were followed by house-to-house searches, which in fought-over areas frequently turned up sizable collections of arms that the civilians had not turned in, probably more out of fear than malice. For convenience and for security, the civilians also had to be kept out of the way of the tactical troops.
Collecting Guns and Cameras
Searching a House
Often the commanders would have preferred to have the civilians removed altogether; in early October V Corps tried evacuating a five-by-ten-mile area in the Eupen-Malmedy sector where the inhabitants were nominally Belgian although real loyalties were difficult to determine. V Corps' G-5 thought little of the experiment at the beginning, and even less later. It appeared only to prove what military government doctrine had assumed all along, namely, that people could be controlled best at home. Moving them was expensive; imposed hardships on the old, the young, and the ailing; made the evacuees economic charges of the occupation forces when their own crops and property were lost or damaged; and probably allowed dissidents to conceal themselves more easily.
From the start military government - and, after the V Corps' experience, the tactical commands too - preferred to rely on circulation restrictions and the curfew. The stringency of both tended to depend somewhat on the tactical situation and the whim of the local commander. In general, no one was allowed to travel more than three miles from his home, and gatherings of more than five people, except in food queues and in church, were prohibited. The curfew was always at least from sunset to sunrise, and very often local commanders extended it through the daylight hours as well, giving the men an hour in the morning and evening to go to and from work and the women an hour or two during the day to fetch food and water.
The key to population control was knowing who was being controlled; this problem usually provided the detachments with their first big job. Every adult civilian had to be registered and issued a registration card, which would give military government a permanent hold on him. In the towns occupied in September there appeared at first to be almost no one to register. The German authorities, to avoid the propaganda embarrassment of having Germans under Allied rule, had ordered all inhabitants to evacuate to the east. The towns seemed empty for several days after being occupied, until those who had disobeyed the evacuation order felt safe enough or became hungry and thirsty enough or just curious enough to leave the cellars and woods. None of the places occupied in 1944 had their usual populations, but on the average, excluding Aachen, about a third of the people stayed behind which, after the war had passed through the communities, was more than most of the towns could house or the land could support.
The Germans were easier to understand in the abstract and from a distance than as flesh-and-blood people in their own communities. The French had been friends and allies - even if frequently not very friendly. The Germans were enemies and alleged inveterate disturbers of world peace; but how well they lived up to their image seemed to depend on the angle and distance from which they were observed. G-5, First Army, was struck by their orderly behavior and reported that they kept to their homes but seemed to be watching the troops with great interest while attempting to conceal their curiosity. On the streets, the army reported, the men saluted the American soldiers or tipped their hats politely. The children were more friendly. Many of them ventured to wave at passing soldiers, which their elders allowed them to do.
Further removed, Headquarters or the European Civil Affairs Division (ECAD), described the Germans as outwardly blank, stolid, and indifferent, while inwardly harboring "subdued, latent hostility mixed with fear." Most of them, ECAD claimed, shied away from anyone in uniform and remained stubbornly taciturn under questioning. However, an observer from the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF, who actually entered the occupied area, reported:The crossing of the German frontier is something of a shock. Even in Nazi Germany the cows have four legs, the grass is green, and children in pigtails stand around the tanks. Self-indoctrination by years of propaganda make it a shock to rediscover these trivialities. All the officers with whom we spoke reinforced this. The people left behind in this area are human beings with a will to survive. Just because we are conquerors and they know it, they are in certain ways easier to handle than the liberated Belgians or Frenchmen. They know they must obey our orders, and if they are allowed to survive and reconstruct their lives by self-help, they do not of themselves cause any trouble. Behind the front line, for instance, every road and byway is littered with cables, telephone lines, etc. Minor sabotage would be child's play. It has not happened because the people are not interested in the war but in looking after themselves.