May 18, 1946 – Circular #7


Circular #7

Im Dol 63-B, Dahlem, Berlin, Germany.
18 May 1946.

Dear Friends:

It has been some time since I burdened you with my last circular letter, but I feel that I must at least start another to-night, tho I may not finish it for several days. I have started a rough draft of a couple of letters – but stopped there, and now I’ll try to bring them into shape and attempt to give you a few more pictures of Germany – from the eyes of the “conquering American”. Frau Pieper has gone to bed, the radio is broadcasting a boxing match in Deutsch – and I’m turning it to some more agreeable program, AFN, the American Forces Network. The Hit Parade has just finished, probably that of three or four weeks ago, transcribed and brought to us without benefit of commercials – one of the delights of living in Berlin, and we are now getting some American jazz – something I challenge you to get away from anywhere in this puzzled world. Well, here goes with the first picture:

An historic anniversary in a peculiarly appropriate spot. V-E Day, 1946, in Berlin. Although the real anniversary, the capitulation of this city was about a week ago. It is a period which the Berliners prefer to erase from their memory, not only because of the smarting defeat but perhaps more because of the almost unprecedented horror of devastation and death which went hand in hand with it. In those last few weeks successive waves of British and American bombers dropped an almost continuous rain of demolition, fragmentation and incendiary bombs on the almost defenseless city, hardly permitting the several million harassed inhabitants to emerge from their bunkers long enough to draw their breath. How human nerves stood up under it is more than I can understand. Apparently the ultimate cracking point of humanity is further along in the scale of toleration than I had any realization – but there is no question but that it left the stamp of the terror and suffering ineradicably impressed on the faces of most of the people, people who, even down to the little children, are prematurely aged by the mental agony of the experience.

But to-day is an ideal example of what Spring can be in Berlin. Uninterrupted sunshine, a gentle breeze, and a temperature in the middle sixties. The serenity and peace of the day is shattered every once in a while by the dull reverberations resulting from the purposeful demolition of the more dangerous of the ruined structures, sounds to which one grows accustomed after a few weeks despite the fact that many of the detonations are heavy enough to shake all of the buildings within a radius of several miles. To-day, they seem to have a new significance which must bring poignant remembrance to those who were here a year ago.

It is a holiday here, as I suppose it is in the States, and, as Heath, Edith and I sat on the terrace in the warm sun, nibbling a light, late lunch, he encouraged her to unburden her heart and share with us the memories of her experiences during the last grim days of the war. – a harrowing tale, told quietly enough and without dramatic intent in the garbled mixture of German and English which we three generally use, but lacking nothing in vivid drama and emotion when one let his imagination play during the telling. Frau Edith Bröer Pieper was Berlin born, but her comings and goings took her all over northern Germany, from Frankfurt am Main and Leipsig to Stettin on the Oder, 65 kilometers from the Baltic Sea. She was in Pomerania, on the Oder, when the Russians approached that city. Then she, her invalid father (permanently crippled in the last war), her mother and her two small children started to flee to Berlin. They were forced to leave their car on the road, for the Germans had blown up the bridges ahead of them, and they finished the hundred odd mile journey on foot, pushing the invalid in a wheel chair. Then Berlin became intolerable, and they fled back into the Russian territory – slipped out of a barn where several hundred Germans, mainly women and children, were sleeping, when the Russians and Poles set fire to the structure. They watched their companions die horribly behind locked doors – and were at her parents’ home when activities stopped. Later she and the children returned to Berlin, where they are awaiting the return of Hans-Güenther, her husband, recently released from a British prison camp and still somewhere in the British sector where he is trying to make a subsistence living. Enemies, ex-enemies, call them what you will depending on whether you believe the war is over, still they are humans, those who are left, humans who in their little lives had nothing to do with starting or directing the war.

It was not a pleasant recital, told first hand by one who had lived through it. But Frau Pieper is honest, she has admitted to me that German friends who witnessed the rape of Poland have convinced her that the inhuman reign of terror was first instigated by the Germans when they swept through Poland. She is one of the comparatively few Germans to-day who do look through seeing eyes who admit the necessity of living down the reputation which Germany earned in those days and in the camps at which the unspeakable atrocities were perpetuated. She wrote a letter early this Spring to her husband, then a prisoner of war, and translated it with the help of a friend. A copy of it is appended – and I urge that you lay this letter aside for a moment and read it. It will give you some idea of the forces which are at work in Germany to-day, by no means expressing the opinion of the majority but at least a leaven in the midst of this unhappy country.

——-But enough of that, let’s move on to another picture. This was drafted on Muttertag, Mothers’ Day, May twelfth.

Yesterday, Heath Onthank was awarded the Order of the Fertile Turtle, Third Class,- and a little sprig of mountain pink from one of his grateful daughters——

A Saturday afternoon garden party at Im Dol Drei und Sechzig B, with the departing Personnel Officer, OMGUS, as host, and most of those with whom he has worked most closely during the past ten months – at least those who are still here – as his guests. It was another lovely afternoon and the garden was never more beautiful, – hawthorne, fruit trees, tulips, mountain pink, a gorgeous purple primrose, and many other flowers forming a variegated frame for the picture. About thirty people were present, a stringed orchestra gave the party a musical background, and all of the available German help from our and surrounding homes attended to our needs. There was an amazing amount of champagne, cognac, whiskey, gin, Benedictine and beer to satisfy those needs, with what seemed like limitless platters of hors d’oeuvres to fill in the chunks. And eventually the party culminated in the award. Silly? Yes, but Berlin.

The cross awarded with a great deal of mock heroics and much merriment was one of those given by the Schickelgruber to the deutscher Mütter for distinguished service in bringing into this war-torn world more little Nazis, whether legitimate or not was of little consequence. Bill Woolley, Lt. Col., AUS, officiated, while the privileged guests sat in a semi-circle on the sun-drenched lawn and the recipient perched on a little stool in the center, draped in a lace window curtain, and humbly accepted the honor so worthily bestowed. Again I say, silly. Yes, but Berlin.

But behind and underneath is the realization on Heath’s part that he is permanently leaving the work and the life of the past ten months, into which he has poured all of the energy and idealism and Americanism of which he is capable – more than most of us have to give. Ten months which have taken from him almost more than one can afford to give at his age, but ten months which have given him something in experience and happiness which is shared by few. And to the rest of us was the realization that we were saying good-bye to a leader and friend who has been more to us than we can express. The party gave us a comedy relief. Poignant? Yes, but Berlin.

The party broke up early and most of us went down to Harnack Haus and danced, leaving Heath, as he wished to be left, with his thoughts. It was a hard last week for him. Three days later I went with him to Templehof Airport, and I watched his plane fade into the mists of a wet morning. I hope I may catch up with him again in Washington, where he has gone to resume his old job as Chief of Civilian Personnel in the Office of the Secretary of War. He and I have been working a bit on plans for a home which he wants to build some day when it is feasible in the Virginia countryside within commuting distance of Washington – plans, by the way, which would suit me to a T if I were able to do the same thing.

Dependents are arriving in the American colony throughout the U. S. Zone and the U. S. Sector of Berlin. Yesterday I stood on the street outside the Commisary Store with Wally Dietz (now Lieut. Col., on his way to civilianization) waiting for our car to draw up. Behind us were two recently arrived wives, clothing obviously American, talking up a storm about all of the things which our gals discuss outside the Super-Markets in the States. We grinned at each other and Wally remarked, “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that sort of thing.” And it came to me with a shock how completely we adjust ourselves to our particular life here, so easily losing many of the little things and experiences which are an integral and often subconscious part of our previous existence. The Commisary these days is full of American wives, buying quantities of food staples necessary in establishing a new home. They seem to fit very easily into the new life – I hope that they are all able to take it. But I presume that there must be certain cases of mal-adjustment and psychopathic development. We have some of it among the employed personnel, how much more it may appear among women who will not be actively employed – and I’m thinking more of the childless wives than those who continue to care for the youngsters whom they have brought overseas.

I, too, am among the group who have acquired dependents in the ET. For a couple of weeks now I have owned – or been owned by – a dog, a grand, pedigreed, two year old male Boxer. Ah-yacks (phonetic pronunciation, Ajax to you) is a rather aloof aristocrat who makes friends very slowly and whose reactions you cannot accelerate, although there is not a sign of viciousness or bad temper in his make-up. I get to the point where I think that he is completely adjusted to Frau Pieper (whom he adores) and to me, when he cuts out under the fence and goes back to his old home, about three blocks away. While he is here he seems completely contented and I have never had a more devoted companion. But every day or so he disappears and shortly after is brought back by the cute little kids of the housekeeper in the home of the German woman from whom I bought him. They rather enjoy it, for it means a romp with their old friend and a candy bar for reward, but I wish he could get over the habit, for it keeps me concerned about him and means that we must keep him in the house more than we would wish. No more lying abed for me Sunday mornings, for at a quarter of eight every morning he and I are out on a brisk, before-breakfast walk, and Sundays are the same to him as every other day.

At the moment I’m continuing to live on alone, except for Edith and Ajax, in the old billet. I’d love to stay here with some other American but the Billeting Office needs homes such as this for arriving families and I expect to be dispossessed any day. I have tried to find a suitable permanent lodging, but there doesn’t seem to be any available at the moment. I would like to get a small house or an apartment of my own, and there is a slight chance that it may materialize, but the probability is that I shall have to billet in B.O.Q. (bachelor officers’ quarters) with four or five other men, military and/or civilian.

It’s Sunday morning now and I’m typing in the living room, just inside the large modified picture window which separates the room from the lovely yard. The Germans have a very interesting window detail which we might copy with advantage in America. The window is about ten feet long, double glazed, with eighteen or twenty inches between the two sash. Under the bench so formed is the low radiator, providing a slight tempering of the air between them in winter. In this space they have a window garden, consequently I have a foreground of a variety of plants, some flowering, which stand up about two feet from the low shelf which forms the sill of the window. In this tempered atmosphere the plants grow more luxuriously than in the warm room, they get the full sun, for the garden windows are on the south side of the house, and they are protected from harm. Heath plans to install one of them in his new home, when, as and if. —— Ajax has run away twice already this morning, returning once by himself (the first time he has done that) and once in company of the kinder. —– Shucks, my plans for an enjoyable evening have somewhat gone a-glimmering. I had arranged for a dinner party this evening, with George and Harold as guests and also a close friend of Edith’s, a charming German girl of 25 who is a gorgeous pianist. We were to spend most of the evening listening to Eve’s playing. But poor Eve just called on the ‘phone, hardly able to speak, with a painful sore throat and definitely confined to her home until it improves. There is quite a bit of strep throat around here at the moment and she is probably one of its victims. I’ve tried to get a couple of the American women, one an old Washington friend, but they are at Wannsee for the day and can’t be reached.

My work continues most interesting, but discouraging withal for the job I have to do demands the full time of several people and I am sadly without help. We have been trying to find a good procedures assistant who could take from my shoulders the greater part of the writing on which I spend a great deal of my time, – Heath found one, a girl in Washington who has done much this sort of work with the War Department for a number of years. Now word comes on the teletype that, inasmuch as he has gone home, she no longer appears interested in coming over. I haven’t entirely given up hope but am not very sanguine of success. And recently I have taken over the Reports and Statistics Unit of the Personnel Office, a shop very sadly in need of a thorough housecleaning. It can and should be an important and valuable adjunct of the office, for it gathers all of the information on personnel strength and control throughout all of the offices of U. S. Military Government in Germany, tabulates it, puts it in usable shape and transmits it to those people who need and use it, from General Clay down. Under the gal who has had it in charge it has been rather ineffectual, slow to report, sloppy in operation and so inaccurate on occasion that we have had hot criticism from the brass upstairs. I know that we can cut the operations of the unit in half and give better service, but to-date I’ve not had time to make a real study of its procedures. Now I believe I have a chap coming in who will really do a first class job as its chief, a lieutenant from Frankfurt who appears to combine the necessary qualifications of experience with the willingness to accept the challenge and make it a constructively live organization rather than just a perfunctory statistical reporting group. We are shortly to install a direct teletype machine in the Personnel Office, connected with all of the field offices and USFET, which will give us instant contact with these groups and considerably increase the efficiency of our leadership. We are also hoping to get an IBM machine for machine tabulation of personnel statistics. It has been intimated that I shall be responsible for the operation of these two new operations. Well, O.K. by me, if I can get the personnel to help me. Also, I am supposed to be now writing Title 25 of the new Military Government Regulations governing all of our operations. This title will be the law and the Scriptures in connection with organization for and administration of all military government personnel, military, American and Allied civilian and German civilian personnel in American occupied Germany. It’s an interesting thing to set my teeth into, but I’ve hardly had time to outline it yet. However, I have been given an indefinite extension until I can get some help and bring my nose above water.

The past few weeks, prior to Heath’s leaving, have been a hectic round of parties which have been prima in their enjoyment furnished but very trying on the human constitution. Now I’m turning over a new leaf (oh, yeah, did I hear you say?) and am going to get a bit of rest and catch up with my correspondence and necessary personal business affairs. Also I want to get my dark room set up and get back into my photographic hobby. I have bought a Leica enlarger but still lack some of the other details of equipment. In Berlin you cannot just go down to the nearest store and buy what you want. Sometimes the articles just don’t exist and you must get along with substitutes. Sometimes you must have connections and scrounge from Government sources – and sometimes you just get along without what you want. But I think I may be able to get going before very long – and then I’ll illustrate my letters with photos.

Best regards to you all,




(NOTE: This letter was from a German wife and mother, written to her husband, then prisoner of war with the British. Just prior to the writing the people of Greater Hessen, in the U. S. Zone, had just held their first election in twelve years, and probably the first one in Germany which wasn’t “fixed”.)

(circa February 1, 1946)

My dear Hans-Güenther:

Perhaps now you too hear the first results of the elections in the Gau Hessen.

At this moment only I realize that there is peace. No longer war! No ‘planes! No sirens which interrupt our sleep! And though you are still far away my heart need not tremble any longer about the loved one.

The wireless seems to give me new hope, new strength, and deeply happy I foresee a new real, free Germany. What must the Hess feel like. After 13 years can elect, elect freely. I think we have all to learn again to be free and to think free. The result of the election is such that the world will realize that the Germans begin to feel themselves again. A long – and certainly a difficult way lies before us, but with the strength of our hearts and the love of our country, we shall regain the respect of the world.

You and I together shall work and conquer fate. Our children will find a way into a happy and peaceful future. And you have no idea what this means to a mother. The thought that our son Klaus need not act like his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather, and to take arms, is so overwhelming that everything seems to be nothing compared to this. Elke will not weep for her beloved one. Don’t tell me that as long as the world exists there has been war and that it will always be. Never before the women of our country were allowed to utter their opinions in politics. But now I will tell every woman and mother: we must help, we must have but one goal and that is to show to our children the way into a peaceful future. And are we not mothers entitled to such a future? Not only the mothers in Germany, also those in France, in England, in America, in Russia tremble for the lives of their children. I am convinced that we, united, form a great power with which the politicians of the whole world will have to reckon. We mothers have something in advance to you men, that is, we don’t fight for gaining power for a country or a party. We fight for the lives of our children, the best that we possess. The different language will not hinder us. We all brought to life our children with the same pains, we feel the same joys in them, should that not be enough to win the goal? In the war from 1914 to 1918 the wives trembled for their husbands but they were not condemned to this everlasting waiting and they had their children at home. During this war, the country was front just as it was for you at the front, not only you suffered destruction and demolition, we too had to fight, we had to try to save the children out of crashing, burning houses and homes. In January 1845, when war came into Germany, I carried dead babies out of the trains for fugitives. At thirty degrees of cold the women got their babies only to lose them at once. Hans-Güenther, we women became hard during this war, we experienced the destruction and we have learned to hate war.

You know that at the beginning I believed the words of this man, when he said in 1933: “We shall give peace to the people”. And now this belief turned into my greatest guilt. I am guilty for my children being without house or home. I am guilty that so many Germans had to give their lives in this senseless war. I am guilty that you sacrificed so many years of your life. This “I am guilty” stands so lively before me that I have but one wish, to repair. We all stand with open hands, ready to sacrifice, ready to help our country, to find a new way into the future. If only I could give hope to everybody. Hans, I know how hard life is for you now. Years of hardest fighting lie behind you. War, that means cruel experiences, giving up all personal life, it means fighting and not knowing whether perhaps the family at home lies buried under ruins.

And all this in vain?

No, Hans, not in vain. We have lost the war, but we have found a possibility for our country to find a new way into the future. We shall fight again, not with arms, but with all of the gifts which were given to us. We shall work, we shall build, we shall conquer a new position in the world through science – by our abilities.

Germany, the heart of Europe, must prove she really is the heart of Europe, she must be the intercessor in Europe.

I think to strive for this is the inheritance of your dead comrades. We shall all work with a strong heart and with all our might for a peaceful life in Germany. We have lost much, but I think we may win more for our children.

Don’t worry about us. I hope, and that is much.

Ever yours,