Foreign Correspondence

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

Creasman sent copies of his account to his family, to KTAR and to the Arizona Republic, which reprinted it in mid-June 1945. He wrote home that the general ordered a copy made for every soldier in the division and attached units. "This is pretty strong, but it needs to be told. It is all true. I saw it."

While Creasman lingered at Dachau, his division roared down one of Hitler's prized four-lane highways leading to Munich -- part of a tremendous convoy of Americans sweeping into the birthplace of Nazism and mopping up what remained of them and the war.

"For days now I have been witnessing the complete defeat of the German army," Creasman wrote on May 8, the day after Germany's surrender, "...Prisoners are everywhere -- still coming out of the woods and mountains to surrender. Hundreds of thousands of them jamming every type of vehicle imaginable and streaming on foot back to the PW cages. These are the first German vehicles we have yet to see that run. Seems strange to see anything but wrecked and burned German trucks. The beaten Germans even come along in wagons...."

Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Creasman trained in Texas, then joined the Army's Rainbow Division in Oklahoma.
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.
courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman's favorite photograph of himself from the war, taken in Germany after weeks of no showers and continual advances by his infantry division.

These were the survivors. On his way across Germany, in every house his division had occupied, Creasman had seen other evidence of the Reich's losses.

"Behind every room we live in there's a history," he wrote a few weeks later from his quarters in Kitzbuhel, Austria, "and the history of this one is told in the photograph album on the chest of drawers here in the front room. There are many snapshots -- and very artistic ones -- of Alpine snow scenes. Two people, a young man and woman, are in nearly all of them -- climbing the face of a cliff with ropes, playing with a dog, eating with a group of friends in a cabin high in the Alps. Then there is a picture -- evidently a wedding picture -- showing the two. He is in uniform, a German soldier. Very handsome. There are no more pictures of the couple after that. Just a black card, of the kind so common in so many German homes, a card announcing that Sepp Siberer was killed on the 21st of October 1944 in the field against der Sowjets fur Grossdeutschland -- greater Germany. Then there is a picture of a woman and a baby. Nothing more...."

Creasman's story didn't end there. "Day before yesterday," he continued, "just before the 9 o'clock curfew, I saw a young woman dressed entirely in black in the hallway, getting some linens from a closet. She looked up and -- as I came out of my room -- asked in English, 'You live there?' When I answered yes and asked if that were her room, she answered, 'the whole house is mine.' It was the same woman whose pictures are in the album. I assured her that I would take good care of the rooms, and she said she was sure of that and 'I hope you boys stay here -- that no others come -- because you really seem like such a nice bunch.' Hmmmmm. These people really know how to 'soft soap.'

"You can get an idea of the cost of this war in German lives by the death notices you see in nearly all the houses. All the way from the Rhine to Austria, wherever we stopped, there was in about 90% of the cases at least one black-bordered card with a soldier's picture and the date and place of his death. Sometimes two cards. And 'sharp' looking men too. What a shame that their minds were twisted by a little maniac. And the gal I mentioned talked to some of the other men here the other day, asking 'what about the Russians? Now you will have to fight them.' These people still believe Hitler's propaganda."

In the weeks following the German surrender, Creasman took a Jeep out to Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had built himself a fortress with a view of the Alps. The place had been overrun and trashed by American troops. Nevertheless, he found what remained of Hitler's movie room, and he filched the carbon lighting filaments out of the projector Hitler had used to watch the triumphal movies Leni Reifenstahl had made of him.

In July, Creasman left Kitzbuhel for Salzburg, to organize the Rainbow University.

He remained in Europe long after the Pacific war ended in August. What he saw heading into the winter of 1945 disturbed him.

"Conditions are almost frightening in places like Vienna," he wrote home in October 1945. "There is so little of everything that people will give anything for food. Black market prices are fantastic. I know people who are getting rich right today -- Army people -- simply by making a business out of selling soap, cigarettes, candy, cloth, shoes, and Scotch in Vienna. Some people are having their families mail them Crisco and cooking oil. These items bring about 35 dollars a pound. Cigarettes sell for 10 dollars a package. You can just about name your own price for a yard of cloth or a new pair of shoes. Some people have recently told me they have cleared 1,500 and as much as 3,000 dollars off of this traffic in the past few weeks. Some of the soldiers stationed in Vienna are carrying 5, 10 and 15 thousand dollars on their person. Restrictions have been placed on the amount anyone can send home from Europe, but men are bribing Army postal officials, sometimes splitting their wad 50-50 with them in order to get their money orders passed, I hear...

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