Mannheim to Landsberg
Six Horrendous Concentration Camps
We hurried over the pontoon bridge across the Rhine to Mannheim, where, oh joy!, we had our second shower. Though Mannheim was rather heavily bombed out, there was a more or less intact factory with showers for the workers—one large, high-ceilinged room that could easily accommodate our whole platoon—some 45 men. Pipes descended everywhere from the ceiling with faucet handles and shower heads at the end. Warm water! Heavenly! The only word to describe it.
Outside, winter was not yet dead. It was deadly cold inside, too, except in the showers. Fully clothed women circulated among us with soap and towels. Yes. No big deal, apparently, to them. As nearly as I could determine (I didn't want to look their way), they didn't bother to avert their gaze. I would have turned my back but then my front would have faced others.
Next to the shower room was a toilet with squattie potties. Nothing more than holes in the concrete connected to sewer pipes. The only time in all my months of combat that I didn't "go to the bathroom"* outside in the great outdoors. Effete Europeans sometimes assure comfort-loving Americans with their padded toilet seats that squatting is the only way to "go." It facilitates elimination. Could be. I didn't know diddelly squat about that.
*Isn't that the dumbest expression? I mean, even pet dogs "go to the bathroom" in American English!
Nonetheless, the effete elite notion was like a sudden revelation to me. Nothing but squatting for months—bare butt barely clearing primarily snow, if not mud—and then realizing that it was approved posture—not enemy bullets, grenades, land mines, shellfire, screaming meemies, and bombs that had been abruptly liquefying* the products of digestion and salutarily moving my bowels.
*Bonus revelation: In basic training, commissioned officers and non-coms referred to our simulated battle exercises as "dry runs." Though the weather there in Texas was sometimes rainy, it made no difference. Our "runs" were always dry as dust. So what on earth was a "wet" run? Oh, yeahhh, I finally got it... I think. Wet in combat: blood. Wet known as No. 1. Wet known as No. 2 (once for me—which I kept 100% to myself—and putatively a time or two or more it happened to others).
Oops! On second thought, I remember using an outhouse side-by-side with an empty pig pen back at the abandoned peasant farm where Corporal -ylie (name partly suppressed to protect the innocent) started to fill his canteen cup with barnyard Schnaps* from a barnyard pump. When a brownish-yellowish stream came out, -ylie let out a large cuss word and (to the eyes of this old farm boy) jumped back like a grasshopper in the path of a hay mower. A grasshopper can jump 20 times its own length. (I throw out this valuable bit of information free of charge.)
*German, Schnaps is clear, colorless, and has a light fruit flavor. It is distilled from fermented fruit, is bottled with no added sugar, and normally contains about 40% ABV (80 proof). In northern Germany, almost all traditional distilled beverages are grain-based. The main kinds of fruit used for German Schnaps are apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Who knows when a G.I. joker start calling it Barnyard Schnaps?
Nitrates... without which, inexorably, inevitably, crops up—no crops—and, consequently, cupboards and tables nightmarishly bare of staples and our just desserts. It was a German, Neils Bohr, who in 1943 invented the process of nitrogen fixation, the key to production of non-biological fertilizer. The greatest source of this in the world, from the Pacific Ocean coast of Peru (courtesy of millenia of birds feeding on vast schools of fish, trillions of their foul fowl droppings spattering, splattering, besplattering and soiling the soil ashore), was inaccesible to Germany because of the war and, despite Bohr's tremendous non-malodorous contribution, every indispensable bit of fertilizer remained tremendously valuable.
The inhabitants of Mannheim, quite naturally, feared the worst from this forward thrust of our troops but soon discovered that we respected civilians—and for that matter the German soldiers too, only doing what we had to do and deeply regretting the resultant injuries, deaths and destruction. We were particularly fond of the little children and wouldn't harm them for the world. My younger brother Donald just sent me a letter related to this:
I have a great footnote to the activities of your 103rd Infantry Division. A month ago Gene and I were eating at the Riverdale Senior Citizens Center when an older lady sat across from us at the table. She introduced herself in broken English that caused us to ask where she was from.
In Mannheim the troops were given the job of flushing out Wehrmacht deserters. The biggest joke of my life. Our platoon was assigned to a large apartment complex, unscathed somehow by bombs and artillery fire. We were supposed to go door to door and git 'em. Have you ever seen a Germanic door? When I was at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship (1952-53), where we roomed with Frau Telisman (on Breitegasse, right off the Ring near Mariahilferstrasse and Parlament), the thick, heavy door had one large lock, a solid dead-bolt, a chain, a clasp, a sliding bolt, and a rod from the bottom of the door into the floor.
"I'm from Germany," she replied. "I came to Ogden in 1967."
Then she startled us as she could hardly contain her emotions as she blurted out, "I was 14 years old when the American soldiers arrived in Mannheim. We were afraid that we would be harmed and brutally treated, but the soldiers gave us food and treated us kindly. They played with us. They hugged us and loved us and we cried when they moved on."
When I mentioned that my brother Wendell was part of the 103rd Infantry Division that entered Mannheim, she indicated that she remembered the unit identification very well. So, her story is a great parting note to the 103rd as well as to all other American army units. The U.S. does not go into battle to conquer and enslave people—to keep them down in a subservient position; but the purpose is to free and build people up—to recognize the sanctity of life and the value of each human soul.
So, add that footnote to the 103rd which was a common experience of all American fighting soldiers wherever they went.
Donald's letter overwhelmed me with emotion. Imagine! I could have actually given that then young girl a hug as I shared some K-rations with her and others.
An amazing coincedence: 66 years later, at a Senior Citizen luncheon in that same Riverdale center, I met her husband and talked to her on the phone. She was ill and unable to attend, but how we enjoyed the opportunity to communicate with each other again! Gene was also there, as well as Donald.
Obviously it was that way in Mannheim. I knocked on door after door. With metal knockers. There were no doorbells. Dozens and dozens of doors. No response. Dead silence. In my mind's eye I could see movie heroes smashing in doors with one kick or one crash of a shoulder.... Photogenic heroes smashing open locks with one pistol shot. Someone behind the door could get hurt or killed, and having survived that far, I wasn't about to do the same to myself with a ricocheting bullet. In any case, I could see it would be useless. Let the poor deserters go, I thought. Why tie up men to guard them? They were out of it. It was over for them.
Not a single deserter, not a single soul, was seen by our platoon in that complex. If the high command had bothered to research the terrain, including German doors, they could have forewarned and forearmed the combat troops, providing the wherewithal to not botch up the vital task of blowing up or smashing in every remaining intact door, carrying forward and onward the glorious work of total terrible destruction. And it would have given the troops more to do. We could have earned our dollar a day. When forewarned and forearmed, chances are that a "necessary" job might get done. Not.... not.
Oh, we had great training for combat. I recall exactly two days of target practice with M1 rifles (I was rated Expert, the highest ranking) and one day with pistols: Colt 45s. Rating: Totally Inexpert. Nobody could hit the silhouette at a distance of 20 paces. Everybody said that in combat they wouldn't shoot the thing at the enemy—they'd throw it! Before the war was over, however, we were pretty good shots with them. With Lugers, too. A number of these were liberated by our platoon—especially near Landsberg, in Bavaria, west of Munich. After lobbing a few anti-personnel shells at a cadet school far up a mountainside, we found that everyone had taken a powder by the time we got up there so guys helped themselves to weapons and stuff.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, our commander in chief, had declared "No Looting!" "No Fraternization with the Germans!" Do you think Private First Class Hall took even one of those terrific German officer caps? Hmmm. It's been claimed that I did. Well, if so, where the heck is it? (Note: 03/02/08 It has disappeared, apparently forever, though a photo of it has just been discovered.) No, and not a Luger, either. I still had a subserviency streak in me almost equal to that of servile little me back in that music class.* I preserved a fairly clear conscience, though, which I figure is worth something, even at today's excessively discounted rates. Whenever we were behind the lines for even a very short interval, we would plug away with Colts and Lugers at bottles, empty K-ration boxes, a tiny knot on the trunk of a tree, or any possible target.
*Our music teacher in Jr. high school often made a point of demonstrating how the lips should be rounded for certain vowels and he would demonstrate this in a very exaggerated way. You know.... just to get his point across. Young Subserviency Hall put his whole little heart into doing what the alpha male desired. One day the district music supervisor paid a surprise Gotcha! visit to the class. The teacher was confident of scoring high, knowing that his students would perform their very best for him.
Their performance commenced with a relatively simple selection so that they could get off to a good start and shine. Barely under way, their singing was shocked to a sudden halt when the supervisor pointed his finger directly at Master Servility and shouted, "You! What do you think you're doing? This isn't a circus, you disgusting, dimwitted little clown!" In his deep desire to please, little Mister Starting-To-Wise-Up-To-The-Realities-Of-The-World-Around-Him had rounded his lips a displeasing trifle too much .
The upshot was this: The evolving Mr. Independent Thinker never took a music class again. Over the years that followed, he did learn much more about music and much more music—informally, on his own. Only then did he begin to sense in all its severity the great sensual deprivation inflicted on him—sorrowfully, self-inflicted to an inescapable extent. Just as the poor young fellow was starting to come to his senses. Or they were beginning to fully come to him. Somewhat convincing evidence of this can be found at the end of a finger tip clicking on this. Not a few of the selections relate directly or indirectly to his wartime experiences. Examples: from "Kilroy Was Here" and "You Guard My Back, I'll Guard Yours" to "Danny Boy," "Quand tout renait a l'esperance" and "Die Lorelei." (The war over and I, a survivor alive to the glory of Normandy was possessed of renewed hope, just as that land, scene of great devestation and destruction, was now seeing renewed green life arising from its roiled soil.)
Just prior to that, at Landsberg itself, three forever memorable things happened. First, a Hungarian regiment surrendered to the 411th Infantry Regiment, having endured enough misery, suffering, and death in Hitler's war after he maneuvered Hungary into an alliance with the Axis (Berlin-Rome-Tokyo). I remember well standing at attention with my company as the Hungarians marched past and formally laid down their arms at the feet of Colonel Donovan P. Yuell.
Second: Just by chance (I don't recall exactly how it came about) a number of us with knowledge of it had time to rush over before our units moved on to have a look at the prison cell where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Just a plain unadorned downstairs cell, with a commemorative plaque, a cot, a washstand with a water jar and a porcelain wash basin on it. A fairly large framed photo of der Führer on one wall. A small table with a potted plant on it. One chair. All very plain. And, of course, there was a first edition copy of Mein Kampf on another stand. Colonel Yuell seized Hitler's flag, on display there, and added it to the regiment's trophies.
Third: Hard to believe, but no one had the slightest inkling of the existence of concentration camps. Our 411th Infantry Regiment liberated the one just outside of Landsberg. Correction: Our company went directly past only one of what turned out to be six concentration camps there, as we found out later reading our 103rd Division history. The Gestapo officers and men in charge had fled, but the regiment compelled the citizens who had remained in the area to "neatly" lay out the corpses until they could be identified, if possible, and given proper burial.
Our company had to move on, but as we passed by, restrained tears burning in our eyes, our hearts filled with horror at the thought that such inhumanity was possible, we threw K-rations to the survivors. To our continuing horror, we realized that the poor living skin and bone corpses able to crawl or stand were too far gone to ingest solid or even liquid food and had to be fed intravenously by the medics. I sorely wanted to stop to investigate—to the extent possible—just what it was that we were seeing. At the same time, I was glad to make tracks away from the awful, unspeakable horror of it.
So most of what I know about this is found in the official wartime history of our division: Report After Action, The Story of the 103rd Infantry Division. Just looking at the photos of the concentration camp within its pages still makes me sick to the stomach—more than that.... about to throw up.... about to heave up even my bowels of mercy toward the perpetrators.... and that without the stench that pervaded the actual site. Nazi skinheads and others who claim that the Holocaust is just a fiction, a myth....! Those who were there and survived, those who liberated them, justly seethe with uncontained disgust and disbelief that such perfidy can exist. But there is a God. There is judgment and justice.
A note added in December, 2006: Vicious, evil deniers of the reality of the Holocaust are still releasing their vile, noxious poison into the atmosphere. The president of Iran, while proclaiming that there was no Holocaust, threatens to create his own by wiping Israel off the planet. This letter to the editor was my response to this:
Everyone in the civilized world should have a look at pages 132-133 of this division history. Throwing up will do us good.... Purify us. Of insouciance, of forgetting. It will fill us with a terrible determination that such things will never be permitted to happen again. Yes, you do not need to bring to my attention the fact that similar things are happening right now. But we must not despair. We must not give up the fight. We must non-violently fight our own politicians, if necessary.
The intensity of my feelings was far surpassed by that of Lou Lifson, Paul Yesenow (the remaining best friend among the four that have been mentioned) and Martin Feldstein. The realization had struck them in the face that these corpses and living corpses were Jewish. (Though Gypsies, religious dissidents and others were also there, according to the division history.)
From REPORT AFTER ACTION: The Story of the 103D Infantry Division, pp. 131-135
At Landsberg the men of the 103d Infantry Division discovered what they had been
fighting against. They found six concentration camps where victims of the super race had died by the thousands of atrocities, starvation, and exposure. The grounds of the camp were littered with the skeletonized bodies of Jews, Poles, Russians, French, and un-Nazified Germans. Every evidence was that they were only the latest of untold thousands who had suffered and died in these six concentration camps, a few among the hundreds which dotted Grossdeutschland
. German civilians who were forced by the 411th guards to pick up these wasted bodies for decent burial sniveled that they had not known such things existed. They had not known, yet they had spent their lives in this town of 30,000 which was ringed by six horror camps.
At one camp alone 300 bodies lay on the barren, filthy ground while 600 living "zombies"—weak from five and six years of starvation shuffled aimlessly. Inside many of the huts which lie half-dug into the ground—about five feet high and 24 feet long—lay prisoners who could not walk, or move—those who would not live. Military government officers who took charge immediately cautioned the soldiers not to offer food or cigarettes to these people, who would automatically cause a riot and die attempting to get a morsel of sustenance. Military doctors prescribed a diet, and military government officers scoured the countryside for supplies—1,000 loaves of bread, 1,000 quarts of milk, 750 pounds of fresh meat a day, plus all the Wehrmacht
stocks in the vicinity—in an almost futile attempt to save the lives of these 50 and 60 pound remnants of human beings.
The stink in the "hospital" when the GIs entered was not refined enough to be called an odor or smell. But two days later the Americans had it scoured and spotless by German military prisoners. Two of the six camps had been filled with Jews from every country in Europe. Men, women, and children had been shoved together, about 100 to a hut. Ironically enough, Landsberg was the birthplace of the German "New Order." For it was here in the prison of this infamous town that Adolf Hitler wrote a Nazi best-seller, "Mein
Two of the first 411th soldiers to approach the cold-looking greystone walls of Landsberg Prison were Sergeants Howard Brown of Detroit and Arthur Iopf of Hackensack, New Jersey. The men regarded the odd onion-shaped towers on the prison before they entered the cell suite where Hitler, Rudolph Hess, and Maurice Grebel were imprisoned after the abortive Munich beer hall putsch
. Three comfortable rooms and a foreroom where the three revolutionists were free to mingle all day had been assigned to them. Cell No. 7 was Hitler's. The place had been made into a national shrine, and as the Cactus men entered the Hitler cell, they saw a plaque above the door which read in German:
"Here a dishonorable system imprisoned Germany's greatest son from November 11, 1923 to December 20, 1924. During this time Adolf Hitler wrote the book of the National Socialist Revolution, Mein Kampf
Can any Christian innocently sidestep awareness of the holocaust (a burnt offering to a deity), a term Jews rightly object to inasmuch as so many of them literally were jammed into ovens like the ones at Dachau and burnt to a horrifying residue by devils? How horrendously sacriligeous! Jesus.... a Jew. How could any Christian treat His people so? How grateful all should be for their great contributions in religion, philosophy, music, the arts, science... no end of things. Why must we obtrude upon them? Can't we back off and respect them as they are, for what they are? Must we approach them with kindness and tact? A very offensive tack when experienced as a tactic in a meddling, "rescuing" attack. A recommendation to all Christians: "Live so nobly and virtuously that Jews may be interested in inquiring about your beliefs." A must reading for all: James Carroll's Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. Also read Jesus for Jews—Ruth Rosen, editor. Note by Wendell Hall.
Laws were on the books during World War II that would have allowed thousands of European Jews to obtain U.S. visas. Nevertheless, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Under Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, in his now infamous memo to U.S. consular officers, ordered his subordinates to "postpone, postpone, postpone" the applications of Jewish refugees.
Even after the war, Jewish holocaust survivors and even Catholic applicants for visas were shunted aside in favor of more politically acceptable refugees. Roosevelt, ultimately, was responsible for this. In all the analyses of the century about to pass as the year 1999 came to an end, all the liberal pundits ponderously or gleefully announced the name of the greatest man of the century: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Enough to make a certain ex-private first class puke!
All those who know actual history without the liberal spin on it, and especially those who actually lived through the Great Depression, know very well that F.D.R. did not take the country out of it. It was only the build-up for World War II that finally did it.
On the eighty-second day of his fourth term—April 12, 1945—while vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia, with a lady not his wife, Roosevelt suddenly died. Not too many people seem to be aware of the detailed circumstances of his death. Wonderful how the liberal media shield the masses from information we are too politically naïve to properly assess.
After Landsberg, we encountered little resistance. Fortunately, we were experienced enough to be alert and wary right up to the end. After the war, I learned that one of my most admired friends had died in combat just as American and Russian forces were about to link up and the war was considered over—except by an enemy combatant who still had a weapon and a bullet for Dan Bradshaw. How tragic! Please! In no way have I intended to infer that Dan was not alert.
To view a report on how teenagers struggle to understand how the horrors of the Holocaust could be possible, click here