Return to Germany






HAPPY over the radio’s midnight news that Japan would surrender, my husband and I drove up to the Air Transport Command at Bonnington Airport, where I was to take plane for Frankfurt, Germany. I was checked in, had my luggage weighed, and was then passed on to the airline bus. Seated at an open window, I talked with my husband outside. No word had reached us in long months of our dear ones in the Orient. We spoke with restraint, yet with hope, of my sister and her husband, taken into custody at Shanghai by the Japanese, and of others, friends and strangers, Chinese and Western. A release of mind and spirit had come to us both with the end of Nazi power in Europe, and now we were feeling a further lift of heart. My husband gave me final messages to friends in Germany and asked, “You have the book of addresses of all the German Quakers? And the vitamin tablets for Karl?” The bus was moving. “Good-bye.”

Soon after the Nazis fell, I began to get letters from my German friends, sent me by the courtesy of American and British soldiers and O.K.’d by Army censors. It has been wonderful to have these letters. Forever I shall be grateful. They opened a room which closed and grew dark when I published Reaching for the Stars. After that I was afraid to communicate, even by covered ways, with Germans whom I knew to be anti-Nazi, lest I hinder them.

On the way to the airport, to turn my mind to the task ahead, I reread a letter. It was from a German friend, and had been sent on to me by an American soldier who, in passing her home, had noticed that her goat had broken loose and was rooting up the vegetable garden. He had stopped his jeep and knocked on her door to tell her. When the goat was tied up, he waited outside, as it was then forbidden to go in, while she wrote me. Her words were hurriedly written, but with them was an enclosure, a page with this on the top: “Extracts from General Eisenhower’s Recent Message to the German People in the United States Zone.”

Our denazification program has proceeded sufficiently so that it is timely now to speak to you of our plans for the occupation of the United States zone in Germany, plans which accord fully with the policies agreed on in the recent conference of the Allied leaders in Potsdam. After two wars in twenty years, we intend to prevent Germany from ever again threatening the peace of the world. Nazism and militarism are being rooted out in all their forms. War criminals are being tried and punished as they deserve. Germany is being completely disarmed. In short, German power to make war will be destroyed. But our aim is not merely a negative one.

We do not desire to degrade the German people. We shall assist you to rebuild your life on a democratic basis. Your courts and your schools are being reopened as quickly as they can be freed of Nazi influence. Justice and education founded on true liberal principles will be supported vigorously.

Copyright 1945, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved.

Already you are publishing some of your own newspapers, electing shop stewards to represent you, and serving on advisory groups for the military government. Now these and similar steps will be carried further. You will be permitted to form local unions and to engage in local political activities, and meetings for these purposes may be held subject to the approval of the local military government. An initial aim of trade unions and political parties should be to help in the measure necessary now to prepare for the coming winter.

The coming months will be a time of trial. All signs point to shortages of food, fuel, housing, and transport. These are the consequences of a war of aggression. Yet you have it in your power to reduee these hardships by steady work aud by helping each other. There must be no idleness. The prospects for the harvest are good. . . . Coal will not be available for heating houses this winter. In the nest few months you must cut and gather enough wood in the forests to take care of your essential needs. Housing is your third major problem. While the weather still permits, damaged houses must be repaired to provide as much shelter as possible this winter, using salvaged material and lumber cut from the forests to the fullest feasible extent.

All these are your problems. Their solution depends on your work. German civil authorities have been set up by the military government in many fields to enable you to help yourselves until the time comes for you to select your own government. If you do your part, we can help you in other ways. Already I have made military transport available to help prevent loss of crops in the fields. Members of my command are now permitted normal public contacts with you. In this way we will be able to understand better the problems which face you in the coming months. Despite all hardships you need not face the future without hope.

Across the bottom of the page she had added, “A man of character.” My thought was one with hers concerning this.

In returning to Germany I had a dual purpose. Among the Germans of my friendship and acquaintance and new ones I might meet, I wanted to give support to the ideals which General Eisenhower expressed; and I wished also to write of conditions as I should find them. A task new in our history falls on us Americans now, a task in Europe and the Orient. I wanted to help.


THE airplane was a Dakota. The sun was shining. We flew over fields, homes, and towns; below us was a land fair and lovely, softly colored. Farmers were working at the English harvest. Children played by a stream. A train went along, trailing puffs of smoke. I hoped to pass over the house where I have lived these seven years, but we didn’t. We passed over a field of wheat and a factory. Bomb craters and broken buildings still showed despite the steady efforts at repairs. Looking down, I was glad that soon there would be more men free to help rehouse the bombed-out in the British Isles, and I thought of many I know who need homes before another winter sets in.

There was fog over the Channel and over France, in the plane the passengers were friendly. Everyone talked about the end of the war. All were young except me — young Americans in uniform.

“Give me ten dollars in the United States rather than a hundred in any place I’ve seen in Europe or the Pacific,” I heard on my left.

Everyone desired to go home as soon as possible. Not one had the wish to stay in a conquered country. Occupational government presented no lure to them. They accepted duty abroad as a fate which would fall on some of them for a while. Not one cared for the job. “Home” was the refrain of their talk, and I knew how they felt. A task has come on us which we did not invite.

When we came down to earth at Paris, the day was fair but we could not go on because of fog over Frankfurt. On Saturday we set forth in sunshine, saw below us forests, fields, farmhouses, villages, the Rhine with broken bridges, cities of rubble with occasionally a church standing; and at noon we came down on the Frankfurt airfield.

Our American zone in Germany is about the size of Tennessee. We cannot move it into the United States. We have to do what we do where the land is and in partnership with others. According to the ration card census, which is not yet complete because not all have registered, we have a German population of between fourteen and fifteen million. Some people, who do not wish to have any contact with the military government authorities, are avoiding the food offices, hiding out on farms, or living with friends or relatives who have ration cards and endeavor to feed them, or are living off the black market. Of our population, about four million have been farmers; the rest are urban. I have not yet learned what proportion are children. My first week’s impression is that this is a land of children.

They are numerous and of all ages. It may be that they seem more numerous to me now because they are running loose. It is not easy to see where they have a home. They appear to swarm up out of the rubble. At Frankfurt, where I can find scarcely a house standing, twelve thousand have registered. At Wiesbaden, where I am comfortably billeted with other correspondents, in a partly bombed hotel, our front windows look out on a great heap of rubble. By it, on street and square, rain or shine, children play until they disappear as by magic when a siren, which calls the curfew, wails its warning.

Children press their noses against the windows wherever Americans are. They gather round our soldiers, wanting games and stories as well as chocolate and gum. I cannot sit down on a park bench without being surrounded by ten or twelve. On my first evening, I happened to respond to their friendliness with a cowboy tale, a western of no high merit, and followed it with a very ordinary yarn such as I remember from the street minstrels of China. I have had no peace at all outdoors since then.


KARL and Gisela live miles out in the country. There are no buses running; and while there is transport for correspondents, I did not feel that I could ask for a jeep to go visiting. I couldn’t send word that I was in Germany, or ask to be met along the road, as the postal service wasn’t yet restarted. Risking that they might be away from home when I should arrive, I went on foot, leaving Wiesbaden early.

That is, I left at eight o’clock. I met a steady stream of women, children, and elderly men coming in toward Wiesbaden laden with bags, baskets, knapsacks, and suitcases. Some were on bicycles; others were walking — often pushing carts or pulling small wagons. They had been gathering food. Citizens of the town go out as early as four in the morning to get what they can from the countryside.

When I had walked probably four miles, a storm came up, a heavy, driving rain, and I took shelter under a shed with a dozen or more people who had done the same. It wasn’t until I had been there a while that I noticed that they were staring at me with set faces. Then I realized that I had heard no response to my greeting. People had been responding when met singly or when only a few were together along the road. Now in a crowd they didn’t. I felt the chill that not being welcome gives one.

Pride, and not the reluctance to get wet, forbade me to leave. The silence was long, broken only by the rain. Finally a child — she may have been eight — made a remark, rude but true. She whispered that khaki is an ugly color, unbecoming to the woman wearing it. I was the only one wearing khaki.

“Why has she come in here?” asked a prim older child.

“They can go where they like and do what they like. Nobody dares to stop them,” replied a big woman in a blue gingham dress and white linen coat, very clean and starched.

Voices ceased. Staring continued. It wasn’t pleasant. I decided to try something. In our view was a lovely tree. I remarked on its beauty and quoted a German poet. An elderly man, sitting on his knapsack, his head down in his hands, looked up at the tree and slowly gave the next verse, on trees in the rain. A sensitive-faced girl, perhaps nineteen, spoke then, saying that we live in an ugly time — beauty is forgotten. “Manners are also forgotten and kindliness of heart to a stranger,” the elderly man reminded us. “We have a new era. It’s time human behavior improved.”

The starched woman glared and her face was very white. She did not say anything, nor did any of us say anything further. The storm ceased. They went townward while I continued up the road. A farmer out testing his sodden hay called “Grüss Gott ” before I addressed him, and further on a fair girl who had been milking in the fields smiled cheerfully. She was having trouble with her cow, who wanted to follow her through the gate, and she readily accepted my help, handing the full pail to me and then climbing over. We walked together until I turned down the little lane to Gisela’s home.

When Karl and Gisela were over the surprise of my coming, it was as if we had not been parted. There was no bridge of awkwardness to cross. They wanted news of my family, as I did of theirs, and they were eager to hear how it had been in England.

I found Karl well — more than well: clear of mind, spirited; and Gisela lit as by a candle with the wonder of having him home.

“Your Americans did it. They released him. It is a miracle of God,” she declared.

“She is right,” Karl endorsed. “We had no power within Germany great enough to free ourselves from the Nazis. Our opposition was too small.”

Taken into Nazi custody under suspicion that he had information about the movement of children into Sweden and other outside lands, the children of Jews and Nazi opposers, Karl had been tortured and revived alternately in the office where he was questioned, and then had been sent to a concentration camp. He had survived six years of it. What he had endured showed only in the scars on his head and hands — his thumbs are gone — and in his swollen joints.

“I’m fit as a fiddle,” he insisted. “Six months of Gisela’s cooking — and the vitamin tablets — will give me the strength of ten.” He sobered. “Those of us who knew exactly why we were there fared better than those who didn’t. We had an extra power as from beyond us. We had to live into the new time to be here to work in it. The new time has come. It’s been given to us.”

“Eisenhower,” Gisela kept repeating. “That’s a German name. Probably the descendant of someone who went from here to seek liberty in the New World. But it isn’t just the German names I think about. Those Americans are the sons of all Europe returned to put down evil. And what a price they have paid for us in their dead and wounded. We must be worthy of it.”

“We must be worth it,” affirmed Karl, “and we must not trust in outward appearances or rest in the belief that Nazism is easily got rid of. There is only one sure way. That is to strike at its root with education — adult education and an education for every child.”