Germans v Nazis as the US Army approaches

United States Army soldiers supported by a M4 Sherman tank move through a smoke filled street in Wernberg, Germany during April 1945

United States Army soldiers supported by a M4 Sherman tank move through a smoke filled street in Wernberg, Germany during April 1945

12th AD soldier with German prisoners of war, April 1945.

12th AD soldier with German prisoners of war, April 1945.

Ordinary Germans faced a dilemma. Many could see by now that the war was at an end and wanted to surrender as quickly as possible. Yet dedicated Nazis remained in power and were readily hanging or shooting anyone even suspected of ‘defeatism’.

Journalist Ursula von Kardorff had finally left Berlin at the end February and had eventually reached the ‘picture book’ German village of Jettingen, near Ulm. She was staying at the village Inn close to friends who lived in the village. Now they knew that the US Army was approaching and wanted to avoid the village becoming part of the frontline. It would not be easy:

24 April 1945

I was almost thrown out of my bed at the Eagle by shells bursting outside. A German company has moved into position with heavy mortars on the edge of the wood opposite the Wetzels’ house. The thing which the village feared so much has happened. Perhaps there will be a battle here. Burklin’s driver has dug a slit-trench for us all.

5pm

Just now a woman came rushing into the garden. ‘They’ve got to the station and there’s a white flag on the church!’ We went up to the attic with the Wetzels and ourselves hoisted a white sheet. Then I cycled through the village on one of the army bicycles which Burklin brought in his truck for his driver and himself. Everyone was excited and smiling. The village crier was ringing his bell and announcing that anybody who resisted would be shot. This is perfectly right, but depressing, all the same.

A Frenchman shouted, ‘Alors, la grande nation, elle met le drapeau blanc?’ ‘What do you expect?’ I answered. ‘C’est ce qu’il faut.’

[“So, the great nation, it puts up the white flag?”What do you expect? “I answered. ‘That’s what it takes.’]

6 pm

Distant gunfire and dull explosions. We are sitting in the Wetzels’ parlour, Burklin, his rather crusty driver, Barchen, deadly pale, and I. I am spending the night on the sofa here, because I am frightened of being alone at the Eagle. I could almost cry – Barchen is crying. But I am too stunned, I suppose.

Here come our new masters. Shall we never be free?

Frau Wetzel has just come in. ‘We cheered too soon. We have to take the flags down.’

The parson, the mayor, the policeman and the Ortsgruppenleiter have been arrested by the SS and taken away. The SS are now our most dangerous enemies, worse than the Americans who are overrunning us.

Midnight

I am alone in the Wetzels’ parlour. An aircraft hums somewhere overhead and the guns are firing in the dis- tance. Frau Wetzel came tottering in, saying that she did not want to be shot in her nightdress. Her husband came down too and is making coffee.

I have just been outside. A clear, starry sky. What extra-ordinary people the Germans are, to go on killing one another up to the very last minute and to destroy their country with their own hands.

We were told that the SS man had accused the mayor of cowardice because he had hoisted a white flag. He told him to get up against a wall and was going to shoot him, but then he changed his mind and took him, the Ortsgruppenleiter, the policeman and the parson off to another village. When they got there somebody suddenly shouted, ‘Here come the tanks!’ and they let all four of them go. They came back white as sheets.

See Ursula von Kardorff: Diary of a Nightmare, Berlin 1942-1945

Soldiers from the 358th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division battle enemy snipers, house-by-house, in Hof, Germany – April 1945.

Soldiers from the 358th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division battle enemy snipers, house-by-house, in Hof, Germany – April 1945.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Meillier May 28, 2017 at 12:58 am

Thank you for what you’re doing. We need to remember the sacrifices that were made by these brave men. My grandfather served in the 90th division, 358th infantry, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion. Although he survived D Day and returned home safely he rarely spoke of the heroics that these men displayed on a daily basis. Thank you for taking us there to appreciate the risks they faced. I’m forever proud of his and their service. TO… Tough ‘Ombres!!!

Ed callahan May 10, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Although my father passed away many years ago,I am reminded of him daily when I read your post…reading your accounts of the GI’s and their brave deeds explains so much to me why my dad was the way he was in life.Greatfull every for every day after surviving the long ,dangerous journey from Normandy to Berlin.Thanks again,Martin for a job well done!

Chris April 26, 2015 at 5:39 am

Seeing that last photo makes me think of my grandfather, who passed away a little over 2 years ago… He could very well have been near where that picture was taken 70 years ago yesterday, as he was a rifleman in the 359th Infantry of the 90th ID.

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