Then and Now

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by Annie, May 3, 2004.

  1. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    Via LGF: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=10908_Infidel_Apparel

    4/12/2004: The Granite of Mauthausen

    LGF reader Ronnie Schreiber posted this powerful letter by Fred Friendly, who would become the president of CBS News, written in 1945 when he was a master sergeant with the American Army unit that liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp.


    ***

    May 19, 1945

    Dear Mother,

    In just a few days I will be in an airplane on my way back to the APO to which you write me. Before I leave Europe, I must write this letter and attempt to convey to you that which I saw, felt and gasped at as I saw a war and a frightened peace stagger into a perilous existence. I have seen a dead Germany. If it is not dead it is certainly ruptured beyond repair. I have seen the beer hall where the era of the inferno and hate began and as I stood there in the damp moist hall where Nazidom was spawned, I heard only the dripping of a bullet-pierced beer barrel and the ticking of a clock which had already run out the time of the bastard who made the Munich beer hall a landmark. I saw the retching vomiting of the stone and mortar which had once been listed on maps as Nurnheim, Regensberg, Munich, Frankfurt, Augusburg, Lintz, and wondered how a civilization could ever again spring from cities so utterly removed from the face of the earth by weapons the enemy taught us to use at Coventry and Canterbury. I have met the German, have examined the storm trooper, his wife and his heritage of hate, and I have learned to hate - almost with as much fury as the G.I. who saw his buddy killed at the Bulge, almost as much as the Pole from Bridgeport who lost 100 pounds at Mauthausen, Austria. I have learned now and only now that this war had to be fought. I wish I might have done more. I envy with a bottomless spirit the American soldier who may tell his grandchildren that with his hands he killed Germans.

    That which is in my heart now I want you and those dear to us know and yet I find myself completely incapable of putting it into letter form. I think if I could sit down in our living room or the den at 11 President, I might be able to convey a poertion of the dismal, horrible and yet titanic mural which is Europe today. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that for months or maybe a year, and by then the passing of time may dim the memory. Some of the senses will live just so long as I do - some of the sounds, like the dripping beer, like the firing of a Russian tommy gun, will always bring back the thought of something I may try to forget, but never will be able to do.

    For example, when I go to the Boston Symphony, when I hear waves of applause, no matter what the music is, I shall be traveling back to a town near Lintz where I heard applause unequalled in history, and where I was allowed to see the ordeal which our fellow brothers and sisters of the human race have endured. To me Poland is no longer the place where Chopin composed, or where a radio station held out for three weeks - to me Poland is a place from which the prisoners of Mauthausen came. When I think of the Czechs, I will think of those who were butchered here, and that goes for the Jews, the Russians, Austrians, the people of 15 different lands, - yes, even the Germans who passsed through this Willow Run of death. This was Mauthausen. I want you to remember the word... I want you to know, I want you to never forget or let our disbelieving friends forget, that your flesh and blood saw this. This was no movie. No printed page. Your son saw this with his own eyes and in doing this aged 10 years.

    Mauthausen was built with a half-million rocks which 150,000 prisoners - 18,000 was the capacity - carried up on their backs from a quarry 800 feet below. They carried it up steps so steep that a Captain and I walked it once and were winded, without a load. They carried granite and made 8 trips a day... and if they stumbled, the S.S. men pushed them into the quarry. There are 285 steps, covered with blood. They called it the steps of death. I saw the shower room (twice or three times the size of our bathroom), a chamber lined with tile and topped with sprinklers where 150 prisoners at a time were disrobed and ordered in for a shower which never gushed forth from the sprinklers because the chemical was gas. When they ran out of gas, they merely sucked all of the air out of the room. I talked to the Jews who worked in the crematory, one room adjacent, where six and seven bodies at a time were burned. They gave these jobs to the Jews because they all died anyhow, and they didn’t want the rest of the prisoners to know their own fate. The Jews knew theirs, you see.

    I saw the living skeletons, some of whom regardless of our medical corps work, will die and be in piles like that in the next few days. Malnutrition doesn’t stop the day that food is administered. Don’t get the idea that these people here were all derelicts, all just masses of people... some of them were doctors, authors, some of them American citizens. A scattered few were G.I.s. A Navy lieutenant still lives to tell the story. I saw where they lived; I saw where the sick died, three and four in a bed, no toilets, no nothing. I saw the look in their eyes. I shall never stop seeing the expression in the eyes of the anti-Franco former prisoners who have been given the job of guarding the S.S. men who were captured.

    And how does the applause fit in? Mother, I walked through countless cell blocks filled with sick, dying people - 300 in a room twice the size of our living room as as we walked in - there was a ripple of applause and then an inspiring burst of applause and cheers, and men who could not stand up sat and whispered - though they tried to shout it - Vive L’Americansky... Vive L’Americansky... the applause, the cheers, those faces of men with legs the size and shape of rope, with ulcerated bodies, weeping with a kind of joy you and I will never, I hope, know. Vive L’Americansky... I got a cousin in Milwaukee... We thought you guys would come... Vive L’Americansky... Applause... gaunt, hopeless faces at last filled with hope. One younger man asked something in Polish which I could not understand but I did detect the word “Yit”... I asked an interpreter what he said - The interpreter blushed and finally said, “He wants to know if you are a Jew.” When I smiled and stuck out my mitt and said “yes”... he was unable to speak or show the feeling that was in his heart. As I walked away, I suddenly realized that this had been the first time I had shaken hands with my right hand. That, my dear, was Mauthausen.

    I will write more letter in days to come. I want to write one on the Russians. I want to write and tell you how I sat next to Patton and Tolbukhin at a banquet at the Castle of Franz Josef. I want to write and tell you how the Germans look in defeat, how Munich looked in death, but those things sparkle with excitement and make good reading. This is my Mauthausen letter. I hope you will see fit to let Bill Braude and the folks read it. I would like to think that all the Wachenheimers and all the Friendlys and all our good Providence friends would read it. Then I want you to put it away and every Yom Kippur I want you to take it out and make your grandchildren read it.

    For, if there had been no America, we, all of us, might well have carried granite at Mauthausen.

    All my love,
    F.F.
     
  2. krisy
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    krisy Senior Member

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    Another great post Kathi. The WW 2 generation has always fascinated me,as has the war itself. My older brother has a knife that my grandpa had somehow got off of a German soldier, It looks as hideous as the Nazi's themselves. It has the swatztika-(I know that's spelled wrong,sorry)and has a huge blade. I am just fascinated with the history it carries. Reading this just reinforces how proud I am to be an American and how proud I am of our grandfathers and fathers. I love reading anything about WW2 and wish I had time to do more than I can. They were in fact the greatest generation.
     
  3. insein
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    insein Senior Member

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    Im speechless. That was beautiful and horrible at the same time.
     
  4. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    As Krisy, I've always been interested in WWII. Interestingly so, my 14 year old students are too. They were so thrilled and surprised when I brought my dad to class for 'show and tell'. He was at Omaha Beach and has the purple heart to show for it.

    A more anti-war person, not to mention anti-military person you could meet. Don't get me wrong, he supports the troops and thought what happened during the late 60's and 70's was a travesty, but strongly believes that the US shouldn't concern itself with any but its own defense.

    Needless to say, we do not always agree. However, I do respect him. Get him to talk about the 'war' and he'll tell you stories about the British girls and the great pubs. He'll tell you about the 'crazy' paratrooper who couldn't wait to get released from the hospital to return to duty, but got sidetracked by teaming up with my father to steal a tandem bicycle to ride to the pub, ripping open over 200 stitches in his butt during the ride back to the hospital. For some reason the MP's looked the other way for both of them.

    For my dad, WWII ended on D-Day, he still carries scrapnel in him, but he was appalled by some of the tales of his friends regarding Gemany and the holocaust tales. As I said, he believes that there are societies different than ours, where humanity is missing. I hope he is wrong.
     
  5. Avatar4321
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    Avatar4321 Diamond Member Gold Supporting Member

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    War is such a horrifying display. I wish we could do away with it all together but we cant until there is no more evil in the world.
     
  6. insein
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    insein Senior Member

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    With that firsthand account, its astonishing he doesnt believe it what we are doing then. We are fighting a society where humanity is missing.
     
  7. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    We agreed along time ago to disagree on certain points. He does support the War on terrorism, but always has a problem with the young being killed. Perhaps too many of his friends-his whole group was killed on D-day. He pitched a royal fit when my daughter wanted to sign up for service, prior to 9-11. After that, he mellowed somewhat.

    He seriously is concerned with the politicians getting involved with war planning, at the same time, doesn't have 'due respect' for the war college either. lol

    As I said, we disagree on much of this, but I am the first to admit my interest and opinion is more on the academic/patriotic side, his is first hand, though an 'uninformed firsthand'. He never was one much for the books, though smart enough.
     
  8. Hobbit
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    Hobbit Senior Member

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    I don't blame him. I bet every time he hears the casualty reports, he has flashbacks. The guy who cut my hair at the Naval Academy was at Omaha beach as well, and after over 150 days of non-stop combat, he was the only survivor out of his whole platoon. One out of ever two men who stepped onto Omaha beach in the second wave never made it off the beach, and only one out of five in the first wave saw another sunrise. It's one moment in history that always burns in my mind. I always wonder how any veterans of that hell of a place ever deal with the memories, and there's little in this world that could make me do something like that, although I would have done it gladly had I been in one of the units going. D-Day was a day of sacrifice, and those who sacrificed themselves on D-Day payed for our freedoms and those of all of Europe, and for that, I will always be grateful. I only hope I never get the opportunity to do the same, though I will take the opportunity if it comes.

    Now, while we're bragging on our WWII relatives, I have a grandfather that served in the Navy. He was on the destroyer escort U.S.S. Dionne and served as the lead AA gunner for all the stern (rear) AA guns. He saw the first wave of Kamikazis ever used in combat, and saw heavier combat than anything you'll ever hear of today. To this day, he's half deaf from the gun he shot, and, though you'll never hear him speak of it, he saved the ship by going onto the deck in a typhoon to strap down a depth charge. He was at every major naval battle after Midway Island. My grandmother tells me it was a long time before he stopped waking her up in the middle of the night, screaming things like, "Light up those dive bombers before they can finish their run!" or "Hit that thing before it hits us!" He left for the war having never had a drink and returned alcoholic, though he has since quit. I'm thankful every time I think about it that he did something like that so that we wouldn't have to.
     
  9. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    posted by Hobbit:
    That's interesting, my dad says that the Pacific was worse than Europe. He had several cousins over there, more were killed than he knew in Europe. There service like that of those before and since, should always be appreciated. Just because the politicians often get it wrong, doesn't mean those that served did.
     
  10. Hobbit
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    Hobbit Senior Member

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    Yeah, the Japanese fought to the death and starved and tortured prisoners since they saw surrender as dishonorable. Fortunately, my grandfather's ship never took a serious hit, which is amazing, since those ships got sunk a lot. Fortunately, he never had to go ashore. That's where the really bad crap was going on. The ground fighting against the fanatical Japanese was so bad that the pentagon estimated that it would cost us 1 million soldiers to conquer the Japanese mainland, as many as it took the tactically and technologically inferior Russian army to push back the Nazis. The only thing in Europe worse than the Japanese was the concentration camps.
     

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