Viking, the river cruise line which sponsors Downton Abbey on TV, provides beautiful video showing its ships on Rhine Cruises and also shows film of the many side-trips possible to cultural sites when the ships dock. They don’t mention one of the least popular trips, the bus ride from Prague to the nearby Terezin concentration camp. We took that trip five years ago and you can see from my long shadow over the grave of a prisoner named Salomon that it was late afternoon when I took the picture.
I said to myself as I stood there, “I wish I could do something for Salomon to mark his time in life.” His is one of many graves in a huge cemetery outside the concentration camp where the multitudes who died there are buried. It’s the camp the Nazis used to fool the International Red Cross, which sent a delegation to see if rumors of Nazi death camps were true.
The Red Cross concluded Terezin passed muster as what the Nazis said it was – a facility to protect Jews, especially musicians and artists. On the day of the Red Cross visit, there were candy shops set up displaying bon-bons and only neat, well dressed residents out on its streets. One survivor remembers a Red Cross delegate asking her how life was going at Terezin and the prisoner, having been warned by the SS guards, feared making an explicit statement. She tried to give away the scam to her questioner by saying it would be a good idea if the inspectors made sure to look carefully at the camp and she said she rolled her eyes as she spoke. Didn’t help. Continue reading →
What is it like to have your country taken over by an enemy Army, while it is defeating your own country’s Army? I hope we never find the answer to that question here in the United States.
But that’s the way life was in Germany in 1945 when it was on the verge of defeat after nearly conquering all of Europe. It was to become an occupied country with its population at the mercy of enemy soldiers as we swept through village after village pursuing the German Army.
I was in the conquering Army and Germans told us when we got to talking to them — the them mainly being frauleins, German women — that they were happy their part of Germany was being captured now by Americans rather than Russians.
Rape and rough treatment was the theme of the narrative they picked up from relatives fleeing the Russian-captured portion of Germany, the East.
Symbols of manhood come in many forms. Grow a mustache. Curse a lot (though women have encroached on that one). Develop big muscles. Try to ‘make out’ with almost every woman you encounter.
As a Combat Engineer with my fellow 19-year-olds and a few guys into their 20s, the symbol was hand grenades. We wore them hanging from the lapels of our green mid-length field jackets. The idea was you were ready in case of an attack by Germans sneaking up on you, day or night.
American hand grenades of World War II were sturdy. They didn’t explode unless you pulled a ring attached to a pin hard enough that it came out of the grenade. You did the pulling while holding the grenade tightly, really squeezing, to put pressure on a metal handle curving around the grenade. The handle stayed in place as long as it was gripped tightly. Continue reading →
After the fighting ended in Europe, when an opportunity for fun or doing work that was interesting presented itself, I was determined to make the most of it. In parts one and two, I described how my buddies and I got transferred to the MP’s outside Antwerp in Belgium but opted instead to go AWOL to Paris in search of better jobs. During a tryout at Stars and Stripes, the Army daily newspaper, I’d impressed the editors enough to get them to send for me once they had the address of my new unit.
Back in Antwerp, my buddies Charlie and Bob decided to try again for a way to avoid the MPs.
At the area headquarters, a major interviewed the two in a hallway, giving their resumes quick glances. “No, nothing for you here,” he said, “report to the MPs.” Then he motioned for me to come forward and looked at my records, “You stay,” he said.
Me and a couple of buddies on one of our "excursions". (I'm in the middle.)
I went AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) three times during my military service. It was no great drama like it might be in a movie. For example, once just after the Germans surrendered I got a pass to go to England for a week. My buddies and I enjoyed it so much we stayed for three weeks. The war was over and the Army wasn’t paying much attention so we figured no one would notice, and they didn’t. But it was a short “excursion” to Paris that impacted my writing career.
In Part 1 I talked about how a couple of buddies and I took a train to Paris using some forged three-day passes. Charlie and Bob went looking for a job at Special Services producing shows for the troops, but it didn’t work out. I decided to try for a job at the Army daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, also located in Paris. The officer I spoke to there asked if I had done any “deskwork”.
I had no idea what he meant but I said I had. He asked me “at what newspaper?” I named the Bronx Home News, a small paper in one of the five boroughs of New York City my family read. But I had never worked there.
The officer took me to where the paper was edited, which was when I learned what he meant by desk work. He was referring to editing articles and writing headlines, which was done as a group activity at the copy desk. Continue reading →
After Germany surrendered in 1945, the U.S. Army lost control of its huge force in Europe. At least they lost control of rambunctious soldiers like me.
The control began to slip when the Army disbanded units like the 280thCombat Engineers where I had served as America beat Germany on its home turf. My roots were cut and I was transferred to Antwerp in Belgium to join what my orders said was a Machine Records Company. And I wondered, what the hell is that?
I’d grown accustomed to living in comfortable apartments we had taken over from Germans so when I arrived at a tent village in the middle of a swamp in Antwerp I was mad and ready to do battle.
I had a target immediately. A second lieutenant sat behind a desk wearing a tie neatly tucked into his well-pressed shirt. Wow. I hadn’t seen anyone wearing a tie during 18 months in Europe’s combat zones.
The lieutenant studied my Army bio, which showed I had two years of college before I enlisted. Continue reading →
Mad Men, the TV show about advertising in the 1960s, takes place just at the dawn age of television commercials. It was then that the taste test became prominent.
Blindfold an actor and feed him/her two competing products. The sponsor’s product is chosen as best.
But that blindfold test idea must have been created long before TV. I saw it used during World War II in a blacked-out German farmhouse where our squad of combat engineers was preparing for a night spent clearing mines from a road. Continue reading →