Children in Germany


IN THE Bavarian hills, one of the loveliest parts of this earth, Berta and I sat by a wide window in her house. The white-capped summits, the evergreens, the wild ducks on the inland sea, the tinkle of cowbells, combined to give the place an atmosphere of peace. Close by were great stacks of wood which she had ready for winter, and similar woodpiles stood near every house in sight. But when I leaned forward in my chair and peered round to the left, I could see on a ledge of rock a large German gun with its camouflage torn away, a grim reminder of the Nazis who put it there to dominate the valley.

Berta had asked me to visit her, sending the invitation to me at the Third Army press camp by an American Army officer stationed near her home. Her husband is a German Army officer held prisoner by the Allied forces.

The houses and barns dotting the landscape were all neatly painted. The houses had white walls with colored pictures painted on them — pictures of rural scenes, or just bouquets of flowers. They had doors and window frames and balconies of brown wood, and wide roofs with overhanging eaves.

The men wear leather breeches and green hats ornamented with feathers; and the women, printed-cotton dresses with puff sleeves and pretty aprons. Berta had on such a dress, blue and white, and her blonde hair was in an attractive plait round her head. She closed the window to shut out the cold. Two teams passed, drawing wagons loaded with potatoes. The children who went by on their way home from school looked more warmly dressed and better nourished than the children of the British Isles. I was thinking of this when an American Army truck went down the road loaded with fish.

“They are taking hundreds of these fish out of the lakes of Bavaria,” said Berta. “Carting the fish away, taking our dairy products, killing our deer for meat, taking our potatoes.”

“After your war of 1914 to 1918,” I reminded her, “people had plenty in some parts of your country and in other parts they starved to death.”

“That was wrong,” said she.

“Of course it was wrong.”

“It was caused by the profiteers — the Jews.”

“Who is catching the fish?” I asked her.

“Germans,” answered she. “Germans under the direction of the American Army. They are fishing the lakes too close. They are spoiling the whole fishery system. After this season there won’t be any.”

She turned from the window with tears in her eyes.

“We are going to have a grim winter, a bitter Christmas. We are even short of salt. You Americans have butter, white bread, and everything.”

“We Americans are not eating your food,” I said. “I brought my rations with me. American food is brought in for Americans. You invited me to your house. I can go back to the camp if you wish.”

“Don’t go.” She laid her hand on mine. “Please don’t go. I am so lonesome. Let us read together — poetry or a novel. Better still, I have a linen breakfast cloth ready stamped with a pattern. We can start, work on it, each doing a side.

My mood was stubborn. I could not read or sew with her and I rudely kept on talking: “Berta, this food which is being taken in one part of our zone in your country is taken for distribution in the less fortunate parts. It goes to Germans of the bombed cities who would otherwise starve. It is shared by destitute people whom the Nazis brought into your country as slave labor, people who cannot yet get back to their native lands. And it goes to concentration camp victims.”

“That is good,” she replied. “Still it is hard on the Bavarians. The people here work hard to produce food and they have always had enough to be well fed. They give you no trouble. They like you much better than they did Nazism. They hated it. But if there is famine in Bavaria this winter, there will be rebellion. There will be American soldiers shot, food stores robbed, ugly uprisings.”

I did not answer. Instead, I tried to tell her about an UNRRA camp which I had visited just before I accepted her invitation, a depot for orphan children. I had stayed two days and had the pleasure of helping to care for the little ones brought in there from all over our zone. Berta listened with interest. She asked who the children were. I told her that they were Czechs, Norwegians, Poles, French, Belgians, Dutch, Yugoslavs, Russians — children from every country that the soldiers of her country overran; and that some of them were Germans, the sons and daughters of political opponents of Nazism.

“The camp is an assembly center,” I said. “The children are examined when they are brought in. They are given medical care, nursed to health enough for traveling, outfitted with good clothes. Some of the bigger ones have whip marks on their backs and wounds that came from bayonet prodding. All those big enough to work have been used in forced labor. The babies are frail, undersized, but so lovely.”

“The camps were terrible,” said Berta. “Every man and woman and child in Germany ran the danger of being sent to such imprisonment. Fear was a whip they had over us.”

She brought the conversation back to food for Germans in Germany, saying, “You have had the chance to travel over my country. Since the war ended I have not been even as far as Munich. Do you think that there will be starvation?”

“There is hunger, malnutrition, death, for want of food,” I answered. “Everywhere that I have been I have seen our men doing the best they can about it.”

“Hunger?” she stared. “We had many bad things under the Nazis, but economically they were competent. We did not have starvation.”

“Didn’t you?”

“Well,” she finally responded, “perhaps we did. I never saw it, but I heard rumors that food was used as a political weapon. Those who openly opposed the Nazi Party may have been deprived of food. That was wrong.”

“But look,” she said, her mood changing as she pointed to a group of Polish Jews who were walking past her home, staring as they loitered by. “Look at them. They are rude and they are dirty. Homes in this neighborhood have been taken from their owners and given to Polish Jews. Some of the nicest homes. The owners had to get out with just half an hour of notice. They could not pack up and take away their own personal belongings. They were allowed to move no more than each could carry.”

“Those Poles are nicely dressed,” I remarked.

“They are not wearing their own clothes. They have remade the clothes they found in the homes, clothes they have stolen. They give parties to one another. They are using up the stored food and wine. They have broken the locks in every home where they have been given shelter.”

When the Poles had passed I asked her: “If this winter you are hungry, do you realize that others went hungry because of you for years?”

This is a question that I have been asking women whose cupboards are filled with fine clothes and good food, women with beautiful jewels, and stores buried in their gardens. They are the sweethearts, the wives, the sisters, the daughters, and the mothers of the German men who set out to conquer and rule. All over Germany I have found women who have had the luxuries of Europe as a tribute from German men. Berta’s response to my probing was but an echo of what others have said.

“Men ran the government,” she replied. “We women could do nothing but obey.”


IN Hessen at Wolfsgarten near Egelsbach, sitting round a table on which lay a letter from Clarence Pickett of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, we talked of the misery in Germany. I was the only American present. The others were our hostess, — an Englishwoman, Princess Margaret of Hessen, daughter of Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes, who was at one time Ambassador to Washington, — Princess Christoff of Greece, Princess Oulie, granddaughter of the Kaiser, and Luise Sixt von Arnim, called “Sister Luise.”

We spoke first of the children— the lost children of the bombed cities, whose parents cannot be found, and the newborn children of poor mothers who have neither food nor shelter for them. These babies born to mothers who have no milk in their breasts and no other food to give them die shortly after birth.

“Do you think that your country will eventually help with this problem? What will the Quakers do?” my hostess asked, and I had to say I did not know.

She has two hospitals under her care. She takes in sick babies up to two years of age, Jew and Gentile; children from cellars, from homes with a hole in the roof; lost children and the newborn. The hospital at Odenwald shelters up to ninety. The one at Rimdidim up to sixty. She mentioned the difficulty of keeping the little ones alive because of the scarcity of medicines and food that sick children need. They sink under a cold; their chilblains fester and will not heal.

“The war has come to an end. Grownups caused it. Children have no part in the guilt. Surely there must be help, not hate, for the child of a conquered land.”

I could give no assurance that help will come from our country for the German children, the German old, or the uprooted peasants. We talked of the plight of the German farmers ejected from the places where their ancestors have lived for generations — folk sent from east of the Oder and the Neisse and from Czechoslovakia; people who trek forward, losing their children along the way, leaving the old and the sick to die, trying to live on the land they enter, and finding town after town closed against them. We talked of the bare feet, the physical and mental condition of these unwanted people, of their hunger and grow - ing hopelessness.

And as the conversation went on, the task which confronts our men in the zone they must administer in Germany seemed greater than mortal man can do. Their Christmas over here will be one in which they will need all the remembrance and love that the home folks can send them.

While my thoughts were away the others talked.

“When I was growing up, there was a general idea among many religious people that suffering in some mysterious way redeemed the sinner,” said Sister Luise. “I have lived now sixty years and I think it takes Christ to redeem the sinner. I try to walk in His footsteps healing and helping through love. Each of us ought to do what she can. I feel that my call is to search for the members of scattered families, bring them together, and somehow get them settled. What I can do is little, but that little I will do.”

Sister Luise is small, just over five feet. She has a sweet face, a happy face, and capable, comfortable hands. She travels considerably because she has the protection of the Soviet authorities. She carries a special paper as her identity card. Among them she is known as “the little grandmother.”

She was in the United States, where she had been living for ten years, when she heard God tell her to go back to her native land as He had work for her there. She returned when the Nazis were in power. Until arrested she worked at breaking people from their Führer worship, winning them for Christ. The Gestapo could not understand her. They mistook her for an American or British spy. Searching her papers, they found among them one bestowing British citizenship on her. Her direct, straight answers that she was a German come home at God’s bidding seemed to bother them also. She was condemned to hard labor and confined in one of the vilest of the Nazi prisons — Yauer in Silesia.

She survived the hard labor, the low diet, the repeated questioning, the beatings, the pinchers, and other tortures. Nothing broke her spirit. But the Gestapo never ceased to think that she had information which they wanted. She was a helpless skeleton when the Soviet soldiers liberated her.

“They gave me back my life,” she told us. “Never will I forget it. They set me free to work and they help me.”

On arrival at the prison, the Soviet soldiers looked into everyone’s record. They nursed her to sufficient health for her to answer and then questioned her in an examination which took five days. After that everything was all right. She was sent to a good hospital and was given everything she needed. The energy she has seems amazing at her age after what she has been through.

When one has been much among the Germans, there is relief in talking with our own people. I went up the elevator in the Headquarters Building, U. S. Forces, European Theater, nicknamed the “Junior Pentagon,” and called on Colonel Wilson of our Public Health Department. It takes hard effort and a crusading spirit to control the spread of diseases. The more I see, the more I realize that the job for which the war was fought is not yet accomplished. And as winter approaches, the problems multiply.

“The winter wall be a critical time,” Colonel Wilson reminded me. “Even in summer in Berlin the infant mortality rate was ten times that in the United States. We had 1148 deaths out of 2866 births in August. Adults are underweight with no reserve against a continued deficit of caloric intake. The consumption of food is below the minimum required in a large proportion of the population. There just is not enough food here for the need. It is the same over most of Europe.”

When we had talked for a while, he suddenly said: “We must succeed in Germany this time. We must not fail our dead, our wounded, our children. We cannot do this tremendous task alone. We must let Christ in.”

(To be continued)