Longform

Foreign Correspondence

Page 8 of 12

The German countryside that spring was "so full of beauty, it hurts to look at," he wrote. "Green fields covering low rolling hills, pink-tiled villages nestling in little valleys and reflecting the afternoon sun for their roofs, with the church steeple invariably dominating their skyline. White swans in the town pond, age-crusted watch towers at every town gate, and the road passes under the tower thru a great arch. Forests and hills that surprise you by leaping suddenly from the farmlands... castles dominate these heights. Fruit trees are in bloom, everything is green, the roads are good and pleasantly winding, with intriguing country lanes leading off to the side."

His division was driving deeper into Bavaria: "home of Wagner -- supposed to be inhabited with the least war-like of Germans, large, easy-going, fun-loving peasant people. Well, they are peasants all right. They live in stone houses with built-in barns and stables, and have many privies, community pumps, manure piles, home-made brush brooms, cellars full of potatoes and sugar beets (the beets are for the livestock quartered in the house).... In the bigger towns these simple houses are mixed up with modern, luxurious houses. These last give the impression of having every comfort, and led one of our men to ask the other day, 'Why did these people want to go out and conquer the world when they had all of this?'

"That brings us to the Germans themselves. They seem docile enough, but it must be an act. As a cartoon shows it in today's Stars and Stripes, a G.I. is walking down the street of an occupied German village and from a hundred windows people wave white flags and shout 'Nobody here but us Anti-Nazis.' Yes, they are anxious to be Anti-Nazis now for a time while they hope it will do them some good, but just a week ago they were waving swastikas. And there is pathos. They are human. Two women were pulling a cart full of their clothes away from their living quarters in this castle yesterday -- they had just been ordered to vacate to make room for us. One of them -- perhaps with a touch of defiance -- asked, 'How long are you going to be here? This is our home and we're coming back.'

"This is the problem of Germany. A defeated nation with ruined cities, millions of the best (maybe that isn't the word) of them dead. No transportation. Very little food, burdened with the psychological nightmare of defeat. Feeling guilty, depressed, hopeless, vengeful, and full of self pity all at once. This is a hideous problem for the Allies. As one analyst put it in Time, these people seem willing enough to be told what to do by us.... They've always been used to having people tell them what to do. The general attitude seems to be, 'Germany is an Allied problem: go ahead and solve it for us, tell us what to do.' In a survey conducted not long ago, most Germans said they wished to be made some sort of American colony or protectorate. But on the heels of this attempt to shove all their problems onto our shoulders will come almost unbearable depression and frustration and discouragement.... These people have shown all the symptoms of the unstable people we study in abnormal psychology -- fits of high spirit and hope followed by plunges into the blackest despondency. And out of that plunge comes the pathological cruelty... and mental sickness that the world has seen too much of already, sickness called Naziism."


At the end of April 1945, with the Rainbow Division closing in from the north on the outskirts of Munich, Creasman saw just how far that sickness had gone. It was something he could never have imagined and would never forget.

On April 28, the Rainbow Division advanced to the small town of Dachau.

Allied commanders had known about Germany's concentration camps for some time. Soviet forces had liberated Majdanek in July 1944. In the months since January 1945, theirs and other Allied armies had taken Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Ohrdruff. At some of these camps, Nazi forces had tried to kill or ship prisoners by train ahead of the onrushing Allies. But the Dachau concentration camp was intact when the Rainbow Division got there on the morning of April 29.

Opened in 1933, it was the oldest of Hitler's solutions for undesirables and his political opposition. That morning, it held an estimated 32,000 prisoners. Many were sick and dying. On a rail line that terminated not far from the camp's metal gates inscribed with the Nazi slogan Arbeit Macht Frei -- [Work Makes One Free] -- was a 40- to 50-car train that reportedly had left Buchenwald earlier that month with a load of inmates. All but one of the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people packed into its cars were dead when the Americans liberated the camp. Most had died of starvation and exposure in the cold. Others had been shot.

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow