Same War – Different Battlefields
Inspiring stories from civilians impacted by World War II.
This collection of poignant stories from World War II gives first-person accounts about the bombing of Hiroshima, the London Blitz, the POW camp near Greeley, CO, refugees fleeing invading Russian armies, living under Nazi occupation, life in wartime Germany, Japanese American internment and Colorado’s own Camp Amache, German and Japanese war brides, the SS St. Louis, the US home front, and MORE. The narrators are your friends and neighbors from mostly the Front Range of Colorado.
All tell stories of courage and endurance that range from grim and dramatic to heart-warming and reassuring. One is guaranteed to make you laugh. These are inspiring tales. You will see the best of humanity in the midst of the worst, and learn from both. And, you just may never complain about anything ever again.
The extraordinary diversity of these stories just underlines what a remarkable country the United States is. So many people with incredible stories to tell – all now living in just one part of America. A rich source of stories about how the war affected people individually. Jean Goodwin Messinger has done a valuable service in gathering them all together for posterity.
Elsie Streeb was ten years old when the war began. She grew up with the war in Germany – and then met her future husband in May 1945, only to see him return to the USA in October. Otto was the son of a Lutheran pastor who had emigrated from Germany in 1900. They conducted their courtship in secret because of the US Army anti-fraternisation regulations. The bond must have been strong because she did not see him again until 1948. She was given permission to enter the USA for just five days, time enough to get a medical check up and then get married!
This excerpt covers her earlier experiences in the war:
My father would never have shot a gun. He was a shoemaker. This is how he stayed in the army without having to shoot, because he made boots and shoes for the officers. He made shoes that fit like a glove. He made all my mother’s shoes and shoes for the family. He could make new shoes from old ones. In Europe you had to go to an apprenticeship and then a yeomanship and then you became a Master.
My father was a Master shoemaker. After the war, he and another man had a shoe repair shop. I came over here with a pair of boots he made. I don’t have them anymore; I’m sorry I gave them away. In this country, there’s nobody that can do like that.
My father could have been an officer. They offered him training, but he never accepted it. He always saw to it that he didn’t have to shoot. He said, “If I see on the other end of the rifle another man, that man has a family and a life. I can’t shoot him.” In June of 1940, the German troops entered France, and my father was right away transferred to France, and my mother came home from Posen.
From France he was sent to Smolensk in Russia. Also in Russia were two brothers of my father. His brothers died in Russia. One was in Kiev. He died when he was shot in the stomach. His officers sent us a picture of his stuff hanging out; that’s how cruel they were. An older brother was at Stalingrad, and he was on a ship that left Stalingrad and it was sunk. He never came back.
Our city wasn’t bombed seriously until the 16th of September, 1944. The British did the main bombings at night, and then the Americans did the cleanup next day. We had two bombings in one night, and that was it; that just wiped everything out. The city was completely gone in the center of it; only a few houses were left on the outskirts.
There were forty units in our apartment block. My father was stationed temporarily at a military camp just up the street. When bombs fell through the roof of our building, he could see the building burning. He came, and we were already in the cellar. On the roof they had sacks of sand lying all over the attic. He took me and a neighbor boy, and he said, “Our house is burning; let’s go up there.”
The bombs that came onto the roof were incendiary bombs. They looked like a grenade with a handle. When they hit, they crawled along like a snake and set everything on fire. So we watered those sacks of sand with buckets we took up there. By the time we finished, everything was wet, the flames were out, and we were out of water.
Often when the sirens blew that the planes were on their way, I wouldn’t get up out of bed. My mother just had a fit. That night I did get up. I was looking out the door and saw bombers that had reached their goal, and they began bombing. They dropped a flare, and that flare stuck in the sky. It was shaped like a Christmas tree covered with green lights. It was a signal to the other planes that that was the place to bomb. I went into the cellar.
That night I could have stayed in bed though, because when the bombing was over and we went up to see what was left of our apartment, my bed was not touched with one splinter. Everything else was a mess. The next day my mother sent me across the city to find her sister and her family and see if they were still alive. I had to wear my gas mask, because everything was still smoking and burning.
You have no idea what I saw. There were houses that were still burning and buckets standing around with bones in them. There were signs on the buckets saying, “Eleven people”—“Twelve people”—those were the bones of those people. There were piles of trash everywhere. There were bones sticking out, arms and legs sticking out. There was not one house left, not a hospital standing.
The schools got bombed, too. Before, we were able to continue living in our apartment. We had to have the windows and doors repaired because the pressure from the bombs blew them out. We covered the windows with cardboard. Now there was nothing left of the city and we had to leave. Why were they bombing Darmstadt? Factories, strategic targets? No, none of that. It was a maneuvering area, with several camps in the area. They just bombed everything.
Our town was completely bombed out. There were 120,000 people living in that town. Several thousand people were killed; many more left town. We left too and went into the country where my mother had a brother. He lived on a farm but didn’t farm it himself.
We stayed until everything was repaired and the war was over. When we moved into the country, the family didn’t have to worry about bombing anymore, but there were shortages of everything. Fortunately, we were able to raise some vegetables when we lived in the apartment. The city would rent allotments; that is a plot in back of the building where we could grow potatoes and other vegetables.
Malnutrition was a problem and TB was rampant. For example, for our family of four—mother, brother, sister and me — we received a ration of an eighth pound of butter for a month, one loaf of bread per week, one pound of meat per week, and one egg per person per month. Milk was literally blue, with every bit of butterfat removed. wheat substituted for flour. My mother saved coupons for a year so she could bake a cake. We had bread for breakfast coffee (instead of milk) mid- morning, and our main meal was at noon. We had potatoes and vegetables that we grew in our little garden. Coffee wasn’t real coffee; it was made from ground up wheat kernels.
My mother cried a lot. She was worried because we were so hungry, and she couldn’t feed us. I gave some of my bread to my brother because he was always hungry – I was working at the time for the Army. I worked for an administrative center that took care of all the camps in the area and kept their records. I did clerical work as a civilian employee, until the Americans came.
They were all officers working there. In the morning I had to get to work at that camp, which was on a hill outside the city. I went there by bus from my relatives in the country. It took about a half hour. The way I got that job was this: When I was fourteen years old, I was in training for two years in a Nazi officer’s household to take care of his two little boys, to be a nanny.
But when my two years were up, I wanted to quit and get a job at a bank, because I wanted to train to be a journalist/ foreign correspondent, and I wanted to learn another language. I could learn English better at the bank. I was allowed to go to the English school or to the higher school, but my mother wouldn’t buy my books. My father said, “No way! You’re going to train to work as a civilian for the Army so they can’t draft you.”
I was seventeen then. In a year, I would have been old enough and they would have drafted me. Toward the end of the war, my father came back from Russia as the German troops retreated from there.
He was put in charge of a prison camp for French soldiers in the western part of Germany, close to the French border. That was his last post. He was most of those soldiers’ friend, not their keeper. They helped him escape when the war ended. When he came home, he came on a bicycle. Those French soldiers who were his friends got him a net filled with apples so he looked like a shopper and wouldn’t be stopped by the American troops. Then they wouldn’t know he was in the German Army.