Each afternoon at one o'clock the incarcerated German Frauleins
were allowed to spread their blankets in the compound yard and
expose their legs to the October sun; and exactly at one o'clock
each day the one hundred GIs that made up the guard detail at
the compound were positioned in every window on the four levels
of the adjacent building to watch the spectacular scene on the
other side of the barbed wire enclosure.
Displaying generous portions of their legs, the soldiers thought
the women were following through with a seditious scheme to drive
them crazy. But to back up a bit.
In early May of 1945 after the Nazis surrendered to the Allied
Expeditionary Force, there were over two million American soldiers
who wanted to catch the next ship home. Of course that was not
possible; there were not that many ships afloat. So the War Department,
with General George C. Marshall's blessing, devised a system
of Points for each veteran that seemed fair to everyone except
those on the bottom of the list, far removed from the eighty-five
points needed for passage home.
The chosen system allowed one point to a soldier for each
month he spent in the army; and one point for each month he served
overseas. Campaign stars and medals received for heroic achievement,
including the Purple Heart, each earned five points. Twelve points
were awarded to married soldiers for each child they had at home
- up to three children.
So the first veterans to walk up the gangplanks were those
who were drafted in the early 1940s and had kids at home. The
rest of us would have to forget about being part of the wild
victory celebrations that were taking place on the streets of
hometown-America. Our families and girlfriends would have to
remain patient. We were to stay in Europe with the Army of Occupation.
That summer the army kept us occupied with educational and
athletic programs, but in September many units were assigned
to administrative duties at prisoner-of-war compounds.
Our unit of one hundred men was trucked to a hamlet near Stuttgart
where we were to guard and, hopefully, help de-nazify eight hundred
German women that would be trucked in from all over Europe.
We were told that these women had served in the SS - or Gestapo
- as telephone operators, secretaries, chauffeurs, or other occupations
judged to be detrimental to occupational policies. Our program
was meant to moderate the chain-of-allegiance that bound these
women to venomous, Nazi beliefs. We understood that their ages
would range from eighteen to seventy.
The Internment Camp was a complex of three, large, multi-level,
brick buildings that sat on the crest of a flat-topped, grassy
hill in an isolated area overlooking the hamlet. An earthen road
that ran through shade trees led up to it. Our first assignment
was to construct a double-row of barbed wire fencing around two
of the buildings. We trucked in male POW for this task. Our unit
would occupy the third building.
Then we trucked in cots, blankets, wooden-soled shoes, soap
and detergents, toiletries, mops and buckets, light bulbs, medical
supplies, DDT and other institutional necessities.
The one hundred men looked forward to the day when the women
would arrive. The assignment promised to be a trifle more interesting
than the boring garrison life we were tolerating while awaiting
passage home. But our captain quickly shot down any romantic
intentions that any soldier may have anticipated with the interned
women. The day they were to arrive, he called a company formation.
"The Frauleins will be arriving this afternoon,"
he announced. "You've been instructed on your assignments.
One thing I want clearly understood. You are to stay out of
their living quarters. Except those on a work permit, any
soldier caught in their quarters without my permission will be
court-martialed and can expect a sentence of no less than ten
years at Leavenworth Prison. Now this will be firm. There
absolutely will be no fraternizing with these women. Understand
this and get on with your assignments. Dismissed."
After serving in combat for several months with the captain,
every soldier in the unit was familiar with his rigid system
of command. He wouldn't hesitate a second to follow through with
his threat. We would have to walk a very fine line and not show
the slightest hint of fraternizing.
When the women began arriving that afternoon with their luggage,
and we helped them step down from the backs of deuce-and-a half-ton
trucks, we came to understand that our assignment for the ensuing
weeks was to be cruel and abusive duty. Most were stunning. Marlene
Dietrich could not have qualified for a stand-in for many of
them. Adam's temptation for Eve in The Garden of Eden could now
only be thought of as a platonic interlude. But, of course, the
SS and Gestapo had handpicked these women not only for their
occupational skills, but also for their physical attributes.
How would it be possible for one hundred young animals, who
were lucky enough to have survived ten months of mortal combat,
now with fire in their bellies and an ocean away from their sweethearts,
handle the temptation of being close to eight hundred alluring
Frauleins corralled in an internment camp? But our captain, who
possessed the fortitude and dedication to duty to commit a man
to Leavenworth for ten years, suppressed our actions.
-- DELOUSING --
The situation only worsened when we administered our first
assignment. As the women arrived with their trunks and suitcases,
they were ushered into a reception area, where we sprayed them,
as well as their luggage, with DDT - a camp rule to eliminate
possible body lice. We would instruct them: "Welcome to
the world of internment, ladies. Now if you will kindly lift
your dress with one hand, and hold your nose with the other--"
then, with the DDT gun, we'd cover them in a cloud of white powder.
While there was nothing exactly romantic about these delousing
sessions, they decidedly were more interesting than a tour of
guard duty, pacing along a barbed wire fence in the moonlight.
-- CLARA --
I happened to have been on duty the afternoon Clara arrived
from Paris with two large trunks, ornately decorated with gold
lettering and designs. I helped her step down from the truck.
She attracted an unusual crowd of soldiers. After she bossed
those who fought to carry her trunks, I led her to the reception
area, the others tracing along until I closed the door, shutting
On her admittance form she wrote that she had been a telephone
operator for the SS, but I didn't believe it. No one else did
either. She had too much class. In the German's system of selection,
we felt she must have held a privileged position, such as an
entertainer, or an SS general's private secretary - or perhaps
even more intimate obligations after working hours.
Had we conducted a beauty contest at the compound, Clara would
have fared not worse than First Runner-up. She was petite, not
too tall, brunette, attractively dressed in the latest Parisian
style, and very indignant when I explained to her the mandatory
DDT spraying routine. But accustomed to military procedures,
she finally complied with a minimum of resistance. I remember
she even made some sort of joke during the process.
A daily routine was soon established in the Internment Camp.
Since uniforms were either unobtainable of discouraged, the women
wore the clothes they had brought with them -dresses or skirts
and blouses. Slacks were not in vogue during the mid-1940s.
In the compound yard at eight o'clock each morning, the women,
carrying mops and buckets, were formed into several groups of
forty. Two guards with slung-rifles would march each group out
through the double-gate to our building, where they would scrub
floors, walls and ceilings. What better way to modulate a turnaround
of lifestyles than mundane, hard work? At noon they were returned
to their enclosure for lunch, followed by their sunbathing session.
One morning soon after Clara's arrival, I was supervising
a scrub-detail and found myself alone in a room with her. She
had sent another girl on an errand and after the girl had left,
Clara leaned against the door until it clicked shut. She was
aware the inside knob on the door was missing. She leaned against
the door smiling coyly, bewitchingly, her dark eyes dancing with
lust. Anyone could understand she was not above bartering her
exceptional charm for certain compound favors - such as they
She wore a short skirt and a flowered, low-cut blouse that
revealed a bosom that not only intensified the situation, but
heightened the room temperature as well.
At that moment the captain's promise of ten years at Leavenworth
flooded my thoughts. I grew uneasy. The captain often patrolled
I had scant seconds to make the most crucial decision of my
military career. I rapped on the door until someone passing by
It was one of those decisions made at age twenty-two that
you often think about during your twilight years, and each time
you think of it, you smile amusedly.
Near the end of the first week, at three o'clock one morning,
an elderly Frau jumped out of a fourth story window and landed
on her head. The soldier patrolling the off-limits lane described
the suicide as a sickening thud. It was known around the
compound that her husband, a high-ranking Nazi, had been accused
of heinous war crimes and, at the time, was imprisoned at Nuremberg.
-- THE CAPTAIN --
Our captain, raised in the Bible Belt, was a chaste, basically
decent man, whose conservative, simplistic beliefs and actions
on military matters reflected what he deemed essential tenets
for successful command. But he didn't exactly graduate among
the top ten at West Point and, for example, if for some qualifying
reason he had been required to take a multiple-choice exam of
nineteenth century notables, he perhaps would have checked Karl
von Clausewitz's profession as symphonic composer.
The point is, nobody thought of the captain as a military
genius. He didn't attend West Point at all, and perhaps won his
commission on the basis of a year-or-so of pre-war National Guard
duty. Instead of allocating menial duties to junior officers,
he personally supervised every detail at the compound.
One morning he was seen running alongside a deuce-and-a-half
that was carrying a load of light bulbs and bouncing wildly over
a rutted road. Waving his arms frantically as he ran, he yelled
at the driver, "Slow the son of a bitch down! You'll break
all the light bulbs!"
Early one morning the captain called an unexpected company
formation. A wave of impending disaster swept through the ranks.
Did he catch someone in the girls' living quarters?
We sweated . . . and wondered.
Is he about to make a blanket indictment and send us all
to Leavenworth? Are we about to lose our accumulated Points that
would cancel passage home?
After the formation was called to attention the captain appeared.
He was holding a stick at arm's length. On the end of the stick
dangled a condom that hung as limp as a windsock on a windless
"EVERYONE LOOK AT THIS!" he began. "I FOUND
IT THIS MORNING IN THE WOMEN'S LAUNDRY ROOM! NOW YOU WERE WARNED
. . . ANYONE CAUGHT FRATERNIZING WITH THESE GERMAN FRAULEINS
WILL BE SENTENCED TO TEN YEARS AT LEAVENWORTH! AND I MEANT IT!"
He paced along the front rank, holding the condom on the stick
before him as he paced. He suddenly turned and faced the one
hundred soldiers. "ALL RIGHT," he asked. "WHO
The silence that followed extended into an incredulous suspension
of time. The captain's gaze swept the length of the ranks, expecting
the perpetrator to step forward and admit: "It was me, captain.
Give me ten years at Leavenworth."
Of course no one stepped forward, and we've wondered thereafter:
had the captain attended West Point, would he have ranked in
the top ten?
-- MARGARET --
As the days wore on, the condom incident faded to ho-hum status
after Margaret came to our attention. In her early thirties,
slender, statuesque, she carried the militaristic deportment
of a field general complete with a no-nonsense, icy stare.
No one dared call her Maggie, as one would a truck-stop waitress.
During the daily sunbathing sessions, the other women gave her
space when she entered the compound yard with her blanket. It
was obvious that she once held a rank of importance, which she
had carried with her into the compound.
As if on cue each day, just after the girls were settled comfortably
on their blankets, the captain entered the yard through the double-gate,
and each day as he entered, Margaret would jump to attention
and yell ACHTUNG! All the women would then snap to attention
on their blankets, their arms rigid at their sides, while the
captain sauntered leisurely across the yard on some bogus errand,
basking in the misplaced show of authority.
Of course this daily routine spoiled the spectacular show
for the one hundred rapturous soldiers hanging out of the windows
of their nearby quarters. So a scheme was put in place to end
the women's habit of jumping to attention each time the captain
strolled across the compound yard. We found an occasion to speak
"It perhaps isn't wise," we explained, "to
confuse our captain with Hitler by showering him with such reverence.
In truth, Margaret, he might resent such attention. Our captain
is a simple, conscientious, American officer who knows his place
in the armies' pecking order and might object being elevated
on the same level of authority as your Führer. When he enters
the yard tomorrow, Margaret, don't bring the girls to attention.
Just stay on your blankets. It'll be okay. Trust us."
She seemed warm to the idea.
The following day when the captain entered the yard, the girls
remained on their blankets. Obviously perplexed, he advanced
twenty yards, stopped, and curiously glanced around the yard
but the women didn't move. It was a moment of tense showdown.
The captain finally sauntered across the yard, and the practice
was dropped for as long as we were at the internment compound.
The women were beginning to understand that certain codes of
conduct in the American army were more relaxed than those of
the Waffen SS - at least when it came to blind adulation.
As the days turned into weeks, a few men qualified to leave
for the states, but the remainder of us, on the same Point level,
stayed well into late autumn of 1945.
Occasionally, in Stars and Stripes, there would be
pictures of victory celebrations on the home front. There was
a memorable photo taken in Times Square during the V-J celebrations
showing a veteran planting one on a joyous female with the caption:
Veterans returning from the ravages of war adjust easily to
We prayed fervently for the day our ship would come to dock.
-- JO HANNA --
The day Jo Hanna came to the compound in mid-October and was
helped down from the back of a truck, was the day that Clara
and Margaret obviously would now have competition as camp favorites
among the remaining soldiers.
There was something about her innocent, china-blue eyes, her
blond, clean appearance, her voluptuous, mature body that turned
every head on the guard detail - ostensibly with the exception,
of course, of our captain's head.
To augment her native charm, Jo Hanna could speak English
flawlessly. She quickly won a leadership role, such as they were,
and I got to know her quite well during the scrubbing details.
Often, we would stand in a corner and talk while she bossed the
working girls. She was approachable and easy to talk to. The
reason she was confined in the compound, she explained, was because
she held a lead-telephone operators' position in the Gestapo
- again, an innocuous job and also difficult to believe because
of her intelligence and innate charm.
I learned that she was thirty-four, born in a small German
hamlet, had met an American student while he was touring Europe,
had later married him and moved to St. Louis as a young bride.
She further explained she had experienced marital difficulties,
divorced her American husband and returned to Germany in 1935,
at about the time the Nazi movement was gaining momentum.
Many soldiers found reasons to visit the floor on which Jo
Hanna was working. Within a week she had developed a good-sized
Gawking Club. They either loitered around her work area gawking,
or passed by in droves gawking.
Everyone began calling her the St. Louis Woman. The
flood of traffic passing her work area became so heavy that the
captain himself often visited to put a stop to it. But many of
us were suspicious that he, too, was fascinated by the captivating
temptress. Isolated from their stateside sweethearts, and starved
for female companionship, there was a buzz among many of the
men that they would gladly exchange Five Points for a chance
to cuddle with Jo Hanna for a single evening. But, of course,
such an arrangement was fantasy out of control - that is with
everyone except Ed Belanger.
It was no secret among a select few of the men, that Ed Belanger,
at great risk, had found a way to rendezvous with Jo Hanna during
the early hours, and that they hit it off beautifully.
Before he was drafted, Ed Belanger was a potato farmer from
Aroostook County in northern Maine. Tall, light complexioned,
the strong-silent type and appearing older that his years, he
was a bronze star winner, a damned good soldier, well respected,
loyal to himself and to others and hopelessly smitten with Jo
Ed's close buddies questioned his dream: to pass up his turn
to go home and wait until she got her life straightened out,
so they could marry.
They doubted if Jo Hanna would be the type to work potato
fields in Aroostook County, Maine, after basking in the glitter
of Berlin and Paris. They also wondered if Ed's parents would
accept a German bride in their family so soon after hostilities?
-- JO HANNA'S SECRET --
A week later I was witness to part of the answer when I was
returning a forty-girl scrub-detail to their quarters. We were
crossing a field outside the compound. Jo Hanna and I, at the
end of the line, were chatting amicably, her blond hair loose
in the wind, her china-blue eyes scanning the late afternoon
We came to a swampy area where the women had to pause and
then cross single file on a plank. At the end of the plank I
saw one of our men poised with a camera photographing the women
as they crossed with mops and buckets. He wanted a souvenir picture.
When Jo Hanna, crossing in front of me, saw the camera she quickly
raised an arm to cover her face and lost her balance on the plank,
stepping into the marshy area. I helped her back on the plank
and we continued across the field as if nothing had happened.
But I remembered that suspicious incident when Jo Hanna's
wartime records finally caught up with her in late November,
the same day those of us who were left at the compound were preparing
to leave for the States. We learned that during the war, Jo Hanna
had been deeply involved in Hitler's genocidal program. She had
been an SS official in a Nazi death camp, and was responsible
for the torture and slaughter of thousands of Jewish and other
ethnic prisoners. Upon hearing that, none of us had any desire
to say farewell to Jo Hanna - not even Ed Belanger. We just wanted
to get the hell out of there.
During the long train journey down the Rhone Valley on the
way to Marseille, where we were to board a Liberty Ship for passage
home, we asked each other (and ourselves) over-and-over: "How
could this possibly have happened?"
Ed sat by the window watching the French countryside slip
past, not talking to anyone. Once on the ship he stayed pretty
much to himself on the voyage home.
After all these years, I can still see Ed amid ship, leaning
on the rail, staring out at the rolling waves of the north Atlantic
that cold December of 1945.
It took us seventeen days to cross the ocean.
|Note: With the exception of well-known
military personalities, certain names have been changed to protect
the privacy of individuals.
Copyright © 2004 by Dick