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.
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.’]
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.
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.