Foreign Correspondence

More letters from the battlefield: A Phoenix soldier witnesses the destruction of Europe in 1945

By April 9, the Rainbow Division had shot past Würzburg and was poised to take Schweinfurt, whose ball-bearing works and other industries had made the city a target of intense Allied bombings.

"Everywhere, the German army's moved out, we move in," wrote Creasman on April 10, "occupying the finest houses in town, sleeping on feather beds, burning German wood in fine German stoves, listening to German music (very good) on German radios (also very good)...

"You write that you listen quite regularly to the Army Hour, and I hope you heard the Rainbow's 3 minute spot on Sunday's program... featuring an interview with a Lieutenant and a sergeant who were the first to cross the Main River into Würzburg when the Division assaulted the town...

Jimmy Creasman's troop ship docked at Marseilles.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman's troop ship docked at Marseilles.
TOP: Shortly after the war ended, Creasman took the lighting filament from Hitler's movie projector at Berchtesgaden.

BOTTOM: Jimmy Creasman brought home an SS insignia and a site plan from the Dachau concentration camp.
Paolo Vescia
TOP: Shortly after the war ended, Creasman took the lighting filament from Hitler's movie projector at Berchtesgaden.

BOTTOM: Jimmy Creasman brought home an SS insignia and a site plan from the Dachau concentration camp.

"Some heavy artillery pieces are almost in our back yard and every time they fire, the radio, which has a habit of fading suddenly begins playing again. Incidentally I jump. The walls shake like the house is going to fall...."

In every part of captured Germany, the roads began to swell with some of the more than seven million Europeans displaced by the war. They moved in bedraggled droves.

"I have seen these little milk carts pulled by many," Creasman wrote. "Some have their stuff loaded on farm wagons which they pull, having no horses. I even saw one woman pushing a little two-wheeled 'dolly' or warehouse hand-truck! One man was actually pushing a baby buggy loaded with his belongings. A girl was carrying a huge bundle on her head. About fifty Frenchmen were loaded in a big rubber-tired wagon which was pulled by a tractor which shook... every time the motor turned over. At a snail's pace it was chugging along, and the men waved tri-color flags, while on the back and on the motor were chalked 'France' and 'Paris.'

"Every few kilometers these people would collect in pathetic groups, trying to decide where to go and where to get something to eat.... One old couple made a pitiful sight; he was pulling the cart and she, with the aid of a cane, and holding onto the back of the cart with the other hand, hobbled down the road, bent almost double. Three girls carried all their belongings on a long stick held between them. In one town about thirty poor refugees were eating lunch. They were definitely backwoods Poles. The men wore those 'hick' caps with big bills, and the women wore shawls. Out of sacks and boxes tied to carts and bicycles, they dragged black bread, sausages, sow-belly (one woman was eating it like cheese) preserved fruits, and cheese. A young mother came over to where our mess had hot water for washing and asked for a little to heat a bottle of milk for her tiny baby. Where she had obtained the milk I do not know, but imagine how unsanitary it must have been. And, sadly, one of the young women was taking long swigs from a bottle of what appeared to be schnaps -- very potent German wine..."

"Get the picture, thousands of these poor slaves, on the roads, been away from home as many as five years, may never find their families again, nothing in the world but what they carry with them; starved, beaten, neglected. Bad teeth, lame, homeless, drifting. And still the 'master race' has the gall to come to us and 'cry' about being displaced. Yes, in one town we were the last to leave when the division moved, and for several hours were the only soldiers there. The Burgomaster brought his troubles to us, and these included two German women who wanted to reach some town down the road where there was a 'friendly family' and wanted a pass to leave town. One spoke fairly good English and explained that she didn't know how to carry all her stuff with her. Actually it appeared that she expected the U.S. Army to furnish a truck to move her! When we gently suggested that she leave her stuff in the town until she could send for it, she had the gall to say, 'If I do, the American soldiers will take it!'

"One of our men who is Jewish... flared up and said, 'The French people carried their stuff on their backs when you drove them out of their homes. I saw them do it, and they didn't cry. Now it's your turn, so solve your own problem.'

"Confusion, displaced people, both friend and foe, broken homes, despair, hope, suffering, joy. A strange mixture of emotions and events we see each day here. Too much to grasp; to comprehend. We're too close to it all. On that same day two French officers came to us, saying, 'We have 100 comrades up here at the next town; we've hidden in the woods for 10 days to escape recapture; where do we go?' Questions like that are hard to answer. And, strangely, the Frenchman is speaking English mixed in more German than French. He called the forest walde and 'camp' stalag and American Amerikaner. That shows what five years in a Nazi environment will do. A few minutes later four Russians showed up, one an aviator -- fine looking men -- and their question was the same: 'Where do we go?' They could only make themselves understood by speaking German too. What irony...

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