©2005, 2009 Bruno Ehlich
Days of Liberation
Slowly the insanity of war was replaced with the mad chaos of rebuilding a totally destroyed nation. We in the country had it a little bit better than our cousins in the city. We could gather food from the forest including all the firewood for cooking and heating which of course city dwellers were not able to do. Also we had the benefit of having been surrounded by farmers.
For a few weeks we totally relied on the food given to us by the Red Cross and other charities. The food was fresh and wholesome. Mum now was known in our district for her beautiful hand-made dolls. She spent hours on her sewing machine creating never-ending different models of dolls including dresses. Later she painted their little faces with colored pencils and the whole dolls were stuffed with sawdust. The end product was a simple 12-inch doll loved by all the girls around here and very popular with farm children. Commercial children's toys in the postwar months were nonexistent. Mum had no trouble feeding us boys. Today I laugh when I think of my first suit which was made by her out of an army blanket rescued from the castle chapel.
After we were released from our temporary holding camps and returned home, school resumed a few days later. It was a sad homecoming to our school. The building was totally ravaged by the fleeing German army. Sadly also it was stripped bare by looters and all that was left was our stove and nearly all our benches and the blackboard. The first two days were spent cleaning up the mess and then we received our first books with all the Nazi symbols cut out. Oh yes, that pathetic Hitler picture above the blackboard was now ceremoniously burned in our woodstove. The best was no more morning parades and Hitler songs.
Then, shortly after the liberation of Leuchtenberg, the whole population of our village experienced this hilarious incident. Six weeks after Easter a Corpus Christi ceremony is held commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Therefore our main street through the village, which is only wide enough to let a Sherman tank through without scratching the sides of the buildings on both sides, was covered the day before with nearly eight inches of freshly cut grass and mixed with flowers. The road on both sides was decorated with freshly cut birch tree branches and flowers. This highly decorated street led right up to our church. The distance from the entrance of our village to the church was about 500 meters. The celebration started at this point, so on this very day early in the morning, two separate groups of people were preparing for the day ahead. First, the village priest with hundreds of highly dressed up Germans in folk costumes; small children in their best outfits, and all the little girls in their white dresses with flower garlands in their hair. Then there were the floats. The whole idea was and it still is today as it was hundreds of years ago, that this procession follows the priest and a man sitting on a donkey acting as Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem over this grassy carpet up to the church. This was followed by a very special service. Not only do these highly dressed up village people march over the grass, there are hundreds more coming from miles around to witness this special event.
The same day, exactly at the same time, early in the morning, another party was getting ready to enter our village, not to occupy it but just to pass through on the way to Vohenstraus ten kilometers to the east. First we heard the rumble far away, then as it came nearer and nearer we all started listening and worrying, "What could it be?" To our amazement, approaching around the corner of our street and coming to an abrupt halt, was a huge, dirty Sherman tank, fully laden with GIs hanging from every point. It was followed by several jeeps, trucks, artillery and lots of infantry. I remember hanging out of our now repaired window, wondering what the hell they are doing here as the main road was only one kilometer away going in the same direction.
By now a lot of people had gathered around this convoy. It didn't take long for a high ranking officer to approach this gathering group. With his unmistakably Yankee smile and a Camel hanging out of his mouth, he asked to speak to the newly elected Burgermeister. The conversation lasted about 15 minutes, a long long time for a highly vulnerable military convoy to set there; although Germany had surrendered, there still were a lot of fanatic Nazis who took potshots at the moving troops, causing a lot of fatalities in the month to follow.
The comical scene that followed was like something out of a movie. The Burgermeister rushed up to the waiting convoy and approached this officer in this funny looking periodical Bavarian outfit. Not being outgunned by this GI officer, he put on a bright pearly smile and extended his right hand to greet this somehow nervous GI. So there they were standing in the middle of the road. The mayor standing about one foot from the beginning of the grassy road and the officer about one meter away from this tank. The conversation was as follows.
U.S. OFFICER: Please Sir, remove the grass!
MAYOR: I can't do that. The procession is to start in five minutes.
U.S. OFFICER: I can't take any chances to drive over your grass. There may be mines underneath. Okay?
MAYOR (laughing): Sir, we did not know you were coming. But MINES?
U.S. OFFICER: Okay, Buddy. You guys do your procession and we'll follow.
MAYOR: That's okay with me.
U.S. OFFICER (to his troops): Take five.
So the Mayor lined up this religious Corpus Christi procession and they all took off. Drums and trumpets and singing, following the "standing Jesus" on his donkey, the priest and all the villagers. Followed by a Sherman tank, jeeps, trucks, infantry and artillery. The aftermath of all that traffic was a mish mash of pulped grass and flowers. Today, thinking of that day makes me cry and laugh all at the same time.
The moral of this story is that the officer in charge of this convoy stopped the troops after clearing the grass and urged some of his troops to join us in the service in our church. Many did and others enjoyed the hour's rest. I hope that some day this story will shake someone's memory. I hope it will be a GI from the 90th Division.