The Heathen Are Come

63_2_quantrill-raid

Long before the guns at Ft. Sumter ignited the American Civil War in 1861, another war was waged on the distant border of Kansas and Missouri. There, in 1854, the fight between pro-slavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans began. The anger and hatred of the two parties soon escalated from a war of words to a war of violence in which Americans finally got down to the bloody business of killing one another over this question: “Will slavery continue in the United States or will it not?” By the time the entire nation, North and South, finally joined in the fratricidal blood-letting in 1861, Kansans and Missourians had already been engaged in the hate and slaughter for seven years.

Soon, and little noticed by the nation at large due to the bloody contest at its own doorstep, the war in the west quickly descended into one of savagery; of arson, theft, torture, mutilation, murder, and massacre as “Jayhawkers” from Kansas raided Missouri and “Bushwhackers” from Missouri raided Kansas.

By the summer of 1863, the hatred along the Kansas-Missouri border had reached a flash point. Convinced that the federal occupation authorities had declared war on their women when five were killed in a prison collapse in Kansas City, the Missouri guerrillas lead by William Quantrill decided the time had come for a bloody revenge.

Since the onset of the troubles in 1854, Lawrence, Kansas, had been the epicenter of anti-slavery agitation and violence on the western frontier. It was here, along the banks of the Kansas, or Kaw, River, that many Jayhawking forays into Missouri had originated and it was here where much of the stolen loot had returned with the Unionist guerrillas known as Red Legs. Unlike the devastated Missouri border, the area around Lawrence, beyond the reach of rebel raiders, had hardly been touched by war. Thus, although it seemed suicidal, the 450 Missouri irregulars who rode west with Quantrill were determined to strike a blow at what they viewed as the heart of the problem.

At dawn of August 21, 1863, after a grueling all-night ride of fifty miles in which he had “dodged and baffled” his Yankee pursuers, Quantrill finally halted his force on a ridge just east of Lawrence.

(To recognize the 154th anniversary of this event, the following is from my first book, Bloody Dawn—The Story of the Lawrence Massacre)  

***

The day came clear and calm on Friday, August 21, 1863. Not a cloud in the pale morning sky, nor was there a trace of wind. Looking down from Mount Oread a few threads of white smoke were visible, curling straight up as early risers began preparing their breakfasts. Reaching to the heights came the faraway low of milk cows and the tiny, strained efforts of dueling roosters. Black, impassive, the Kaw turned the bend and silently slid east.

Although the land was yet dark, from the summit several figures could nevertheless be seen stirring in the twilight. There were the local hounds trotting their morning circuit, scouting leftovers from the evening past. But there was also Sallie Young, the Eldridge House seamstress, taking her customary ride from town. Two beaux were with her, and at the moment the showoffs were racing their horses south down the Fort Scott Road. Directly below, on Massachusetts Street, the boy recruits were just beginning to rise and dress. Charles Pease was close by, coming down the street from his slaughterhouse with a carcass of beef in the back of the wagon. His dog tripped along beside. Arthur Spicer had begun sweeping out the first of the day’s dust from his beer hall, and in the streets George Sargent was making the rounds, tinkling his bell, delivering milk door to door.

At the Eldridge all was silent save for the kitchen sounds of colored help beginning breakfast. Across the misty river, parked in the cottonwood grove, two teams loaded with salt for R & B’s waited on the ferry to start service for the day.  And winding his way up the face of Mount Oread was Charles Robinson. Leaving his wife at home by the riverside, the troubled former governor was taking advantage of the splendid new day.  Above the slumbering town he approached the stone barn where his first house had stood. Here he would hitch a carriage and take a jaunt over the countryside while the air was yet cool and fresh and where one could remain undisturbed and lost in thought. By his watch, it was five o’clock.

Songbirds began their morning ritual, and gradually, as it grew lighter, several more people emerged to stretch upon porches or visit a back building. In all, it was a tranquil scene—the dawn of a typical summer day in Lawrence.

The more he watched, however, the more George Bell realized there would be nothing typical about this day. He was the first to see them. From his home on Mount Oread the county clerk’s attention had for some time been focused toward the Wakarusa where he spied a huge column of riders slowly materializing from the murky valley.

Bell had naturally assumed they were Union troops. But then there had been the alarms and the “great scare” of three weeks past, and the longer he watched and the more he thought, the greater his suspicion grew. As the horsemen neared, there were mysterious starts and stops and then, when they halted on the rise and two men rode into town and back and two more split off to Sam Snyder’s farm, Bell became certain that this was not the federal cavalry. They didn’t even have a flag.

Grabbing his musket and cartridge box, the clerk ran for the door. His wife and children tried to stop him; if it were true, they begged, there was little one person could do, for the town was asleep. The man brushed their pleading aside. “If they take Lawrence,” he announced, “they must do it over my dead body.” Rushing down the slope, George Bell headed for the armory.

Sallie Young was next. Someone with her said that the column to the east was a Kansas outfit. But no one had mentioned anything about their arrival yesterday. They watched for a bit, but their curiosity was up and soon the friends rode back toward town. As it grew lighter, a few people in the south also saw them and turned to watch.

***

Finally, William Quantrill paused for the last time. The young guide was passed to the rear. A number of men quickly jumped down and loose saddle girths were hurriedly cinched. Blue jackets were stripped off, red sleeves rolled up. Revolvers were drawn, percussion caps checked. Some of the best stuck leather reins in their mouth and bit down hard, leaving both hands free. One final time Quantrill turned and reminded the Missourians why they had come. They knew. Then, at five past five, Quantrill’s horse broke away at a gallop. Behind, a wild, explosive shout went up and the entire command lunged forward at a run. A few shots rang out but most held their fire.

As the roar came nearer—an unearthly scream some thought, unlike anything ever heard in Lawrence—people in the south of town jumped startled from their beds and ran to windows, then to one another.

Those men . . . they have no flag!

There’s a regiment of them!

The rebels have come!

The bushwhackers are here!

Quantrill’s band as sure as you live!

Quantrill is here!

QUANTRILL!

At his barn Governor Robinson turned sharply to the east. He saw a number of tiny flashes followed by as many puffs of gray smoke and these in turn followed by the faint rattle of small arms fire. Unfamiliar as he was with actual warfare, Robinson nevertheless under stood. As he inched his way back into the barn the governor saw below a long, dark mass moving rapidly through the south of town striking for the center.

In East Lawrence, blacks were already pouring from their huts and dashing for the river. “The secesh have come,” they screamed. “The secesh have come.”

Across the ravine in West Lawrence, those who were awakened by the gunfire thought first of Independence Day and firecrackers . . . then the marshal’s dog killers . . . then the recruits acting up. But the Fourth of July was long past and most of the stray dogs had been killed. As for the recruits, they had no weapons. US Senator, James Lane, rose on an elbow and cocked an ear to the south window.

In the quiet surrounding his farm one mile west of Lawrence, Levi Gates also heard the strange sound. Without a second thought he reached for his long-range hunting rifle, and like George Bell and a good many others, Gates rushed straight for town.

At the south edge of Lawrence, Sallie and her friends stopped by the yard of the Reverend Snyder. The group could just make out the distant rumble in town, and here was Mrs. Snyder leaning over her husband Sam, sobbing uncontrollably. A milk pail was turned over, the cow was gone, and the front of the reverend’s shirt was covered with blood. But the woman wouldn’t say what had happened. The noise drew the riders further into town.

***

Charging across open lots, the raiders soon began to separate. With waves and nods, scores of men, mostly farmers and young recruits, split off to picket Mount Oread and the roads leading from town. A little further on, the main body itself broke into three columns, with Quantrill leading the larger to Massachusetts Street while two smaller groups turned down New Hampshire and Vermont. The shooting became more regular.

Ahead, as the roar approached, the boys in the recruit camp came falling from tents, struggling to get into their clothes. Across the street the black camp was already deserted.

When the main column spotted the tents and blue uniforms a moment later, it never slowed, but with shouts–Osceola! Kansas City! Remember the girls!–it rode right on through. As it did, there came a deafening explosion as hundreds of shots were fired up and down the ranks. In a few seconds, when they had passed, all that remained was settling dust, blood-spattered canvas, and a pile of twisted bodies, hands still clutching jackets and trousers. Seeing this, Charles Pease leaped from his meat wagon and flattened himself on the ground. Hard beside him, his dog shivered from paw to haunch.

Eldridge4516Hotel_t460With the cry “On to the hotel,” the main column stormed into the business district. Thundering down broad Massachusetts Street five and six abreast, shots were fired randomly at storefronts while on the adjoining streets others fired into the back doors. At last, in a huge cloud of dust, the three columns converged and washed against the Eldridge House (left). Here they pulled up. A few shots rang out, but soon all became still, and as the shouts and swearing died away only the horses, rearing and plunging, were heard. With hundreds of guns moving from window to window the guerrillas watched and waited. A cannon was parked across the street at the courthouse, but no one was there to use it.

Inside the hotel, there was no panic. Most guests were still in bed, for it had been too sudden. After looking out, some men thought fast enough to slip their money to women. An employee quickly tossed his life savings of $100 in gold through a trap door onto the roof, and someone shouted that “half-wit” Jo, the hotel owner’s brother, had been shot while scaling the courtyard fence. But most were simply too groggy to be frightened. Eastern guests were outraged at being roused at such an hour.

One look and Alexander Banks knew it was hopeless. From his third-floor window the state provost marshal gazed down on a sea of upturned faces, fantastic faces—unshaven, deeply tanned, distorted faces, streaked with sweat, dust, and powder, burning with red-rimmed eyes, and framed in long, greasy hair. There were probably no more than a dozen weapons, including his own, in the entire hotel, so Banks made a quick decision. Yanking a sheet from his bed, he hung it out the window.

Below, there was a thunderous cheer at the symbol, and when all had quieted the provost marshal asked for the leader to come forward. As soon as Quantrill appeared, Banks wisely began bargaining for the safety of the occupants; the hotel would be surrendered without a fight, but first, he insisted, the well-being of the guests must be guaranteed. Quantrill was about to answer when a loud clanging echoed throughout the hotel. Startled, the mass of riders whirled and sprang back, ready to open fire. Quickly Banks yelled out, begging the rebels not to shoot; it was a mistake—only the excited night clerk raising the guests with the dinner gong. For a moment, everything was “breathlessly still.” Shortly, Quantrill again spoke with Banks and soon agreed to the terms, much relieved that the hotel had not become a fortress as feared.

With wild shouts and cheers for Quantrill, many guerrillas then left for the stables and other parts of town while another group dismounted and, with brass spurs jingling, tramped into the plush hotel. Upstairs, fine ladies and gentlemen, scantily clad, had their rooms burst into by dirty, cursing men who with a splash of tobacco juice and wave of a pistol ordered them out and down to the lobby. Trunks and carpet sacks were ripped open, and jewelry, currency, and ladies’ apparel were crammed into pockets. The looting went from room to room as the stupefied boarders—a travelling bishop and priests included—fled down the staircase. Banks and his assurance of safety did little to calm nerves as the celebration above grew in fury. Downstairs, the trembling night clerk was forced to open the safe while other rebels passed quietly about the crowded lobby, tapping men on the shoulder and asking, “your money, if you please!” much as a railroad conductor might pause for tickets, thought one man. With some remaining humor another captive asked if he might keep just fifty cents for a drink or two. The bushwhacker stared at him for a deadly moment or two, gave a slow smile, and then handed back eighty.

Down Massachusetts Street, store doors were kicked in and food and liquor were located. Miniature US flags were also discovered, then with a laugh fastened to the rumps of horses. The offices of the Republican and State Journal were quickly put to the torch. Near the river, the rope on the liberty pole was cut and, amid loud cheers, the huge red, white, and blue banner came fluttering down.

Among the twelve soldiers across the Kaw there was no longer any doubt. First came the mad flight of blacks furiously paddling boats and logs or simply swimming the swollen river. Then the flag fell. Then the cheers. Taking aim, the troops opened fire. On the opposite shore, several raiders trying to cut the ferry cable went spinning up the bank again. When a horseman was spotted, more slugs whizzed up Massachusetts Street and between homes near the river.

***

Sallie Young and her two companions came into Lawrence quite some distance before they realized their mistake.  Warning her friends to stay calm, the three quietly turned and rode slowly from town. When the outskirts were reached and a rebel picket sighted them, the two boys set spurs and were off south. Sallie rode back into town.

***

Soon, Quantrill entered the hotel. Stepping into the packed lobby he met a number of old faces, whereupon he shook hands and spoke briefly. He assured them of their safety. The guerrilla chief then climbed a flight of stairs and strode to the landing where he looked over the crowd and watched while his men went about their work. Everyone below seemed stunned. Terrified, most expected the leader to be the essence of his men; wild, vulgar, and snarling. On this score, however, they were gratefully surprised. Although he gripped a big pistol, with another in his belt, there was a pleasant, calm, even benign look spread over his boyish face and clear blue eyes. His gray hunting shirt was open at the chest and he wore a low-crowned Spanish hat with gold neck cord and little tassels dangling around the brim.

“A fine-looking man,” mused a captive.

Some in the crowd attempted to humor and flatter, grinning sheepishly, reminding him of old times in the territory and congratulating him on his brilliant success in capturing Lawrence. Unmoved, Quantrill received the tribute with “marked complacency,” simply adding that yes, it was by far his greatest exploit. Another ventured to ask why he hadn’t come during the full moon as he had threatened.

“You were expecting me then,” he smiled.

Then, after once more vouching for their safety, Quantrill asked if Governor Carney was in town. He was not, someone answered.

Again, he queried if anyone knew where Senator Lane lived? Arthur Spicer “volunteered.” After ordering the captives across the street and assigning several men to guard them, Quantrill detailed a squad to follow Spicer to Lane’s house: if he misled them, the saloonkeeper was to be shot on the spot; otherwise Spicer was to be returned alive as there was an old score yet to settle.

9764039820aee137b79a732761bcb370As they were being herded across the street, a number of bushwhackers cast crude remarks and curses at the captives. Already some raiders were glutted with liquor. One angry guerrilla, clamoring to murder the hostages, rode up, called a man a Red Leg, then aimed and fired. Although the shot missed, a guard threatened to kill the drunk should he fire again. This was seconded by Quantrill (right), who came out after hearing the disturbance. Quickly, he ordered the prisoners to the City Hotel near the river where they would remain safe. At this, the terror-stricken men and women sprang headlong for the refuge, Quantrill escorting a short distance behind.

Reaching the hotel, the rebel warmly greeted Nathan Stone and his beautiful daughter, Lydia, and shouted to the raiders nearby that the Stones were his friends and that neither they, the hostages, nor the building was to be touched. He then turned to leave. Before he left, however, Quantrill once more reminded the captives that Stone’s hotel was their haven: “Stay in it. . . . Don’t attempt to go into the streets.”

***

Although no Red Legs were there this morning, the rebels didn’t know it, and thus the three-story Johnson House was quickly surrounded by a large band. Unlike the Eldridge, however, the score of people inside refused to come out. Consequently, the bushwhackers began sniping at the windows, mixing the gunfire with calls to surrender.  “All we want is for the men to give themselves up,” they yelled, “and we will spare them and burn the house.”

Two doors down, in a home of screaming children, Getta Dix was doing everything in her power to get her husband to move. Earlier, while Ralph was still in bed, Getta had looked up the street and watched in disbelief while “half-wit” Jo was shot off the Eldridge fence; now with more shooting at the Johnson House the street was full of men. Again she pleaded—the raiders were too busy at the hotel—there was still a chance. But Ralph, his brother Steve, and several employees seemed frozen, uncertain, feebly reassuring one another that it was only a matter of time before help arrived.

Again the woman begged. But nothing. Putting her children in the arms of the men, she then ran down the flight of stairs to the side of the house and struggled a heavy ladder up to a window. As she was coming back, however, Getta looked over toward the Johnson House, and there to her horror she saw several men leaping from windows only to be shot upon landing. Running back into the home, the woman barred the doors and told her husband what she had seen, warning the rest to stay inside. This and the fear of fire jolted the men. Together, despite his wife’s pleas, Dix and the others decided that their only hope now rested behind the stone walls of the Johnson House. Thus after climbing out a window and crawling over the roof of the adjoining barber shop, every man did eventually reach the hotel.

After seeing Ralph safely on the other side, and after taking her children to a coal shed out back, Getta desperately searched for her black nurse. The woman was finally discovered locked in a closet, refusing to come out. Grabbing a meat cleaver from the kitchen, the frantic mother hacked open the door and ordered the frightened nurse toward the shed to mind the children while she herself went to the Johnson House.

No sooner had Getta left than she saw her brother-in-law tumble down the steps at the rear of the hotel. Running to his side, she settled his head into her lap and sought to comfort him. But Steve was dead, and when Getta tried to move, his brain fell into her hands.

Then, as the blood-smeared woman staggered to the front, she could see that the hotel had surrendered. And there, standing among the rest, Getta saw through a rush of pain and tears her husband.

“Oh my God, Ralph,” she screamed. “Why did you do it? I know they will kill you.”

Another prisoner nearby had just handed a pistol to his captor. As soon as the weapon was given up a gun exploded behind the man, blowing out his stomach. Horrified, Dix and the other seven captives screamed for mercy.

“I have killed seven Red Legs,” laughed the head of the gang, “and I’ll kill eight more.”

Wildly pleading that it was a mistake, that they weren’t Red Legs, the white-eyed, sobbing men knelt and crawled on the ground, reaching up to the guerrillas for life. Although she too was pleading for his life, Dix begged his wife to try even harder. At length, the prisoners were kicked and punched to their feet and driven by three guards across the street toward the Methodist Church. With Getta clinging to Ralph’s arm, she begged the men at every step not to harm him. Two of the rebels bent, then broke, making her a promise. But the leader was firm.

“No, I won’t let you take your husband away,” he said. “I’m going to kill every damn one of them.”

Hanging desperately to Ralph, striking at the raider’s horse as it tried to nudge her away, the woman walked sideways, never taking her eyes from the leader. Up from the church, in the alley, Getta stumbled over a pile of rocks, breaking her hold, and before she could rise again the guns went off. Somewhere in the swirling blue smoke she saw Ralph go down. As in a dream, she stood while all around her the others fell away.  Racing down the alley, another group of riders spotted the pile of bodies; without slowing they trampled and mashed them into the ground.

Getta wandered along Massachusetts Street for some time—to a store where looting guerrillas chased her away, to a figure that was still breathing. But nothing, it seemed, could hold her attention. She continued to drift aimlessly until at last she found herself again in the alley. Noticing a straw hat laying nearby, Getta picked it up, quietly placed it over her husband’s face, then calmly walked back to her burning home.

***

bloodybillAlthough a number of raiders roamed Massachusetts Street, exploring one store after the other, most broke into squads and covered the town. Many, like the guerrilla leaders, George Todd and Bill Anderson (left), rode over the bridges spanning the ravine and paid a visit to affluent West Lawrence. From out of shirt pockets came the lists with the long row of names, and the firing that opened the morning so terrifically now settled into short, methodical bursts from every corner of town. The Missourians had finally gotten among those they hated most, and no power on earth could stop them now.

***

Panic gripped Mayor George Collamore. Springing from window to window, he, his wife Julia, and their Irish servant saw on all sides only nightmarish guerrillas, angry and shouting. There was no way out. Suddenly the desperate man thought of his well and quickly ran for the rear. There, in a wing of the house the tiny mayor dove down the dark hole followed closely by his servant.

At the front door the gang entered, met by Julia and her frightened children. Cursing and yelling, they demanded her husband. Receiving no reply from the terror-stricken wife, the men crashed through the home, up and down, from one room to the next, madly hunting their prey. Failing in this, it was decided simply to smoke the victim out. Setting the house on fire, the raiders fell back into the street to watch and wait for the mayor’s appearance.

Refusing to leave, Julia slipped to the well, and as the flames spread throughout the home, she spoke down to her husband.

***

By the time George Bell reached the center of town, Lawrence was surrounded. There had been no resistance. Nowhere could Bell hear the distinct crack of a militia rifle, and as far as he could see he was the only citizen shouldering a weapon. His courage dissolved. Bell looked for a way to escape, returning to home and family his sole desire. At last he ducked into the ravine. There, to his surprise, he met many others, just as confused and frightened as he.

“Where shall we meet?” he whispered. Aghast at such a notion, those nearby warned that it was pointless to think about a stand any longer; fighting would only get them all killed. A friend urged Bell to throw down his musket and perhaps draw less malice should he be taken. The sounds of gunfire and pounding hooves were more than enough to convince Bell of the wisdom in this. Dropping the rifle and cartridge box, the county clerk inched his way up the ravine toward home.

***

When Levi Gates reached West Lawrence from his farm he realized that it was too late. Across the ravine he could plainly see rebels in the center of town and more to the south, and it was obvious there was little he could do. All of Gates’ friends and neighbors who had come on the run had turned back home in dismay. He was about to do the same. But Levi Gates took pride in the fact that he was an excellent shot, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to try his hand on a human target and bag a rebel proved irresistible.

Dismounting, the farmer steadied his hunting rifle on a fence, sighted his mark, then squeezed the trigger. Although it was a long shot, a guerrilla in the distance jumped in his saddle. Tempted further, Gates once more loaded and fired, then raced for the wooded ravine. He failed to notice the rider closing on his right, however, and after he was brought down and the rebel had finished with him, Levi Gates lay sprawled in the dust, his head flat and mashed “to a jelly.”

***

The first Jim Lane knew of anything was when a “flying Negro” passed his home and yelled that the bushwhackers were in town. Instantly the mansion became a bedlam, and while the wife and children flashed about in their night clothes trying to locate two guns stored somewhere, the senator peered out the window watching for the approach of the raiders. The guns could not be found. Grabbing a ceremonial sword as his only recourse, Lane quickly dropped it as the horsemen led by Arthur Spicer drew up at the front gate. Bolting through the house, the Jayhawker flew out the back window and ran for a small gully, bobbing and weaving, pausing just long enough to look for Rebel pickets. In a few moments Lane emerged from the gully and went streaking west through his cornfield, nightshirt flapping in the breeze.

Meeting them at the door, Mary Lane politely informed the guerrillas that the senator was not at home. Foiled at not coming face to face with the most famous Jayhawker in Kansas, the rebels settled for next best and proceeded to dismantle his home. Pianos, furniture, china—much of it ironically, stolen in Missouri—were broken up and strewn about, as were the senator’s private papers. The rings worn by Mary and her daughter were snatched from their fingers. Having finally located one of the shotguns, James, Ir., was warned to give it up. He refused. When a blast smashed into the wall nearby he at last did as he was told. The home was then set ablaze. But the mother and children hurried and put it out. Again a fire was lit in a different spot and again the family rushed and extinguished it. Finally the flames caught and spread in a third area and the frantic attempts to save the finest home in Lawrence at last ceased.

At that, the gang mounted and rode away. With them not only did they take Lane’s “magnificent banner” presented to his Indiana regiment for duty in the Mexican War, but the senator’s shining sword as well.

By now Lane himself was almost a mile away, crossing over the California Road, still running.

***

One block east of Lane’s, another group surrounded the stately home of Jerome Griswold. The swoop completely stunned the four families inside. With loud, ugly shouts the men were ordered to come out. Looking down from the second-floor bedrooms at the terrifying array below, Dr. Griswold, Jo Trask, Harlow Baker, Simeon Thorp, along with their wives turned and spoke excitedly about what they should do. Again the men were demanded; again there was no response. A moment or two passed and then, anxiously, someone in the house called out and asked why the men were wanted.

“The damned sons of bitches must come out of there,” yelled an impatient guerrilla. He was echoed by his companions. No one in the home moved at this awful demand.

Soon, another raider, wiser than the first, urged the Kansans to come out, that he would guarantee their safety once they did. No one would be harmed, he insisted, adding that they came only to rob Lawrence, and “if the citizens quietly surrender . . . it might save the town.” This last approach softened the four men in the home. And besides, there was nothing else they could do.

“If it will help to save the town,” Trask advised, “let us go.”

The men—balding State Senator Thorp, handsome newspaper­man Trask, and dark-bearded, husky Griswold—filed down the staircase and reluctantly walked out the door. While Baker was getting into his clothes, the bushwhackers quickly encircled the others. The captives were asked their names and occupations, then robbed, and when Baker at last came down, the raiders formed the four men into a line. As the wives watched, the husbands were ordered to march toward town, and with Baker in the lead and a guerrilla riding at the side of each, they walked off.

Just as they cleared the yard one of the rebels cursed the men for going too slowly. This caused the prisoners to quickly pick up the pace. Something exploded behind him, ripping through his neck, and before Baker hit the ground another shot shattered his wrist. The rest of the guns went off. Thorp fell down near Baker while Trask managed to run only a short distance before he too went down. Wounded several times, big Jerome Griswold stayed on his feet. He made it all the way back to the yard and was on the verge of escape, but just as he was scrambling over some cordwood a well-aimed ball tore the life from him once and for all.

As the women stood shrieking in horror the Missourians paused to scan their work. One man was dead outright, whereas the other three were still breathing. Screaming hysterically, the wives raced down the stairs and through the door toward the dying men. Before they could reach them, however, the raiders, cussing and shouting, drove them back again. Jo Trask, rolling and kicking in terrible pain, pleaded with a rebel to let his wife come to him. The guerrilla listened for a moment, thought the matter over, then agreed. Cocking his pistol, he aimed down and sent a chunk of lead whizzing through Trask’s heart.

“He’s dead,” shouted the killer to the wife. “You can come now.”

It was decided to leave the two yet alive to lay and suffer as they were, and while the gang moved down the street a mounted guard was stationed a little beyond. After the others had left, the women again tried to reach their husbands but were once more frightened back when the rebel rode down on them at a charge. There was nothing they could do. The mayor’s house was burning and others were starting to smoke, and there were the men lying all alone.

In great agony from a stomach wound, Senator Thorp writhed in the blood and dust. His friend Baker lay a few paces off, bleeding from the neck and hand. Harlow Baker had come close to drowning once in a swirling black river of his native Maine, so he understood death a little better than most. Although they were painful, the grocer knew that his wounds were not mortal. He remained still nonetheless. Beyond, no sound or movement came from Griswold or Trask.

***

Around the burning home of George Collamore all the guerrillas had gone. They left fully satisfied that Collamore had either escaped earlier or burned to death in the fire. But to them the most certain thing in the world was that the mayor of Lawrence could not be in the house and still alive. Even Julia, who had remained by the well talking down to her husband until the very last, was forced out by the murderous heat.

Standing back, she watched. The fire engulfed the house and spread to the wing, and then the orange flames crackled and licked over the mouth of the well.

***

Old Joseph Savage wasn’t in that great of a rush to leave town–at least not until he had hitched his buggy and safely loaded everything of value into the back, including his brand-new silver baritone, which he was eager to show off at the next band concert. But finally, he and his wife and a German friend did pull away from their home just south of Lawrence and drove up Cemetery Road. “Mine pipe, mine pipe,” cried the German, who wanted to go back and get it. But Savage wasn’t turning around just for a pipe, and the German and his smoke would simply have to wait.

After a short ride the group came to the home of Otis Longley; here they stopped. To their surprise they saw Otis suddenly bolt out his back door and run to the front, “making a frightened noise, unlike any other sound I ever heard,” thought Savage. Close behind came two men cursing him to halt. Otis kept going, however, and just as he was about to reach the fence along the road, a shot rang out. Otis went down. As the stunned people watched on, the moaning man struggled to climb the fence. But another explosion sounded behind him and another bullet blew open his jaw, knocking him back to the ground. When the two rebels walked up—one greedily chomping slices of cantaloupe—Otis was on his hands and knees, coughing streams of blood. Again he tried to rise. A loud blast at close range dropped him for good. The men then crossed the fence.

Joseph Savage, “some times crawling, and some times running and rolling,” had already made a break for cover. But trembling and pale, the German sat beside Mrs. Savage stiff with fear. The woman’s pleading and the sight of the horrified German was just too much, however, and the wagon was allowed to pass.

The two guerrillas strolled back to the house, the one still eating melon and the other merrily tooting his new silver horn.

***

“Now is your time to make your escape,” whispered one of the raiders behind Lemuel Fillmore. Earlier, Fillmore had taken his valuable horse to the ravine for safekeeping. Instead of staying there, however, he returned to his house for a pistol. That’s when they caught and disarmed him, and that’s why he was now being marched toward Massachusetts Street.

“Now is your time to run,” the captor whispered as they neared the ravine. At this, Fillmore decided to make his move. He got only a few paces, however, before he was shot in the back and killed.

In West Lawrence an old man stood by a fence, idly spectating. A rebel rode up. Water was demanded. The old man ambled off and soon returned. Taking the cup with his left hand, the bushwhacker shot the man dead with his right.

Like these victims, most common people were at first impervious to the peril around them. Many were still under the impression that as with Olathe, Shawnee, and the others, this raid was for plunder alone, where only “marked” men would suffer. Otis Longley had seen rebels on Mount Oread earlier, but he went right on with his chores. When finished, Otis drew buckets of water and sat patiently waiting, just in case his home was set on fire. The attorney, Sam Riggs, despite the warnings of his wife, Kate, continued to help neighbors along his street by removing furniture and dousing flames. Many others reacted similarly.

Looking down from his stone barn, however, Charles Robinson harbored no such illusions about this raid. Below, he watched the drama unfold. He saw the home of Mayor Collamore ablaze, as well as that of Ralph Dix. He saw Lane’s house burning. As the sun rose, Robinson also saw through the smoke the machine movements of the guerrillas, their door-to-door calls, the citizens breaking from their homes at a run, the pursuit by men on horseback. The governor also heard the muted pistol fire, the shrieks of wives, the shouts and laughter of killers.

Charles Robinson had founded Lawrence barely nine years before, and a kind fate had allowed him to be absent during the first sack in 1856. Now, to his utter misery and grief, he had a front-row seat to the second, but this, unlike the other, was a much more thorough, much more tragic affair.

***

Larkin Skaggs was accustomed to having things just his way. He had already laid claim to one of the finest horses taken in the Lawrence stables, a magnificent white, and few were the men to contest it. Skaggs was big and burly and strong, and his long hair and beard were grizzled because he was quite a bit older than the rest. But Larkin Skaggs was also exceedingly cruel. When drunk, the bushwhacker was even crueler than usual, and thus when Lydia Stone’s sparkling diamond ring caught his eye, it was wrenched from her finger in the same brutal way Skaggs took whatever else he wanted in life.

When Quantrill entered the hotel the attractive young woman made a tearful appeal. Still in the building, Skaggs was located terrorizing the Eldridge captives; after a few words from the leader, he was “obliged” to return the ring. On his way out, Skaggs paused just long enough to glare down at Lydia Stone.

“Miss,” he growled, “I’ll make you rue this.”

***

sallie2BeFunky_68_2_young_quantrill.jpgNot long after she arrived back in town, Sallie Young (left) was taken prisoner and robbed of her pony. But shortly afterward she was put back in the saddle and ordered to go with a squad of rebels to identify men and point out which homes were which. But Sallie wasn’t very helpful. Every other house it seemed was that of a brother, a cousin, or an uncle, and with tears rolling down her pretty cheeks she begged the raiders to spare the home and occupants. They did and they did and they did, but after this the girl was allowed to leave whenever she chose. Although she might have left at any time, Sallie tagged along instead and followed the squad wherever it went. Some of the people who caught a glimpse of her were confused: how odd she looked in her natty riding habit, they thought, alongside the rough and ugly men.

Arthur Spicer was also with a group of rebels. Unlike Sallie, however, the saloonkeeper was religiously pointing out men, homes, and businesses. And unlike the girl, Spicer couldn’t just pick up and leave anytime he wanted; and to have had so many relatives would have been his end. It was coming soon enough, he thought, when he was handed back to Quantrill.

***

The man with the salty little grin wasn’t grinning today; he was praying. As he lay on his back in the dark cellar, squeezed up between a dirt ledge and the kitchen floor, he knew it was only a matter of time before they came.

Like his old boss Jim Lane, Hugh Fisher entertained no rosy notions about tomorrow should he fall into rebel hands today. That morning at Sibley had proven how important he was to George Todd and the Missouri bushwhackers. Nor was he as ill as previously thought. At the initial shout, the Jayhawker jumped from his sickbed and “bounded” out the door. First, he turned his horses loose from the barn, and then with his two young sons, Willie and Charlie, he ran for Mount Oread. The illness had sapped the preacher, however, and the sight of rebel pickets on the crest made him think twice. Sending the boys on alone, Fisher fled back to his South Park home. Elizabeth, with a baby in her arms and a tot by her side, thought her husband was insane to return and said as much, but as he slipped into the tiny cellar the woman made up her mind to do everything she could to save her man.

His wait was not long and Fisher soon heard the sounds—horses to the gate, spurs on the porch, knocks at the door, boots on the kitchen floor.

“Is your husband about the house?”

He was not, lied Elizabeth.

“I know a damned sight better,” snapped the guerrilla. “He’s in the cellar; where is it?”

Startled, yet composed, taking the four men to the door, the woman pointed with a straight face: “The cellar is open; if you think he is there, go look for yourselves.”

Staring down into the black, a light was demanded. While the mother went upstairs to fetch a lamp, still keeping a grip on herself, the baby was placed in a bushwhacker’s arms. Waiting, the man made faces and cooed to keep the infant from crying.

Below, Fisher could hear everything. When he heard his wife returning with the lamp and the cocking of revolvers, his left foot began to tremble uncontrollably. He placed his right foot over it to keep it still. Then as the light entered the cellar and boots came slowly down the steps, Hugh Fisher’s heart and lungs slowed, then stopped, and his whole life flashed across his mind in an instant.

And Elizabeth, holding her baby tight to one ear and pressing her hand hard to the other, went quickly into the front room.

As the rebels reached the bottom, they were forced to stoop under the low ceiling. The man holding the lamp came to where the reverend was laying and stopped. In the glow of the lamp Fisher squinted upon the guerrilla’s face, less than two feet from his own. Because of the low ceiling the lamp too was held low; thus the preacher’s face remained in the shadow cast by the ledge he lay on. The men looked a bit longer but soon walked back up the stairs.

“The woman told the truth. The rascal has escaped.”

There was no time to listen to the echo in her ears. Elizabeth Fisher reached deep down, drew up every ounce of self-control she possessed, then let the words roll.

“You will believe me now, I hope. I told you my husband had gone.”

The rebels lingered awhile, robbed the house, torched it, then left one of their men behind to see that the fire spread. But it wasn’t in him to stop the woman as she raced from the well to the blaze and back again, and so the reluctant guard just left. When the last of the flames were doused, Elizabeth came to the cellar door and spoke softly to her husband.

“Pa,” she said, “Pray and trust in the Lord, and I’ll do all I can.”

***

After leaving their father, the two Fisher boys became separated somewhere in the hazel and sumac up the hill, and twelve-year-old Willie fell in with Robert Martin, a lad a little older and bigger than himself. Young Martin wore a blue shirt made from his father’s old uniform, and he also carried a musket with a cartridge box slung from his shoulder. So when a picket spotted them, he gave chase.

The two boys raced over the hill, side by side, as in a game where home base and blue sky are always just ahead and everything somehow ends as it should. But a blast sounded behind them, and as Robert tripped, Willie felt something wet and warm spray his face. Robert didn’t get up to finish the race because half his head was gone. And when Willie wiped his face he found his hand dripping blood, bone, and bits of brain.

Little Charlie Fisher also joined with another boy and together they hid in the cemetery. But a child’s superstition forced them to a nearby cotton patch instead.

***

As he crept along the ravine toward home, George Bell soon came to realize the futility of it all. He was cut off. Peering between the weeds and limbs, he could see no hope of reaching his family on the hill. In the streets, in the alleys, around burning homes and barns, only guerrillas were about. To climb the barren slopes of Mount Oread would be suicide. But his nerves cracked. Bell panicked.

Convinced it was just a matter of time before the raiders swarmed in and murdered them all, the county clerk and another man ran into the street. Once in the open and alone, the two abruptly returned to reality. But then, as fortune would have it, they spied a familiar sight—a partially completed brick home. The men dashed in, climbed to the second story, then crawled up among the joists. They could only keep quiet, count the seconds, and pray they hadn’t been seen.

But they had.

***

When a gang came to the home on South New Hampshire Street looking for Louis Carpenter, they didn’t have far to look. He was right there.

Absorbed with the more important things in life, the good judge had never given much thought to fear; and so, being unfamiliar with it, he could not fully express it. Thus when hate and the big black guns stood around him he didn’t react as most men might. He certainly didn’t run because running never entered his head. His hands didn’t tremble. His bodily functions didn’t betray him. His voice didn’t waver, and when lethal questions were posed the New Yorker replied straightly and honestly in a clear upstate accent. There was also a strange, kindly quality about him. Some rebels could not resist the temptation and stole a few items from the house, but no one was in a mood any longer to burn it. And certainly no one could bring himself to harm the judge. When the guerrillas left the yard, Carpenter was still standing there while behind him, his bride, Mary, and her sister, Abigail, began to breathe once more.

It was no act—the judge was always like that. A little later, another mob came and, seeing the pretty home, decided to burn it. But once again and as calm as ever, Carpenter met the raiders and sent them away disarmed. The pressure on the women, however, was almost unbearable.

***

It was a miracle! The bushwhacker had just started shooting at the men clinging to the beams when George Bell yelled out. The firing stopped, and everything became still.

It was true. The rebel was actually Bell’s old friend. In happier times the two had often broken bread together at the Kansan’s table, and each had greatly enjoyed one another’s company. Bell and his companion were told to come down, for from that moment on both men were home free. The old friend would talk to the Missourians and straighten things out. The county clerk jumped down followed by the other man, and together the three walked outside. That’s where the miracle ended. The crowd of guerrillas standing around them, wild and bitter, didn’t care a dime about old acquaintances.

“Shoot him! Shoot him!” was their cry, and not a word was uttered by the old friend. A religious man, Bell asked for a moment to pray. Granted. Finished, the clerk said amen, and in a burst of fire his companion fell down and George Bell dropped dead.

From there the gang scaled Mount Oread to complete the job. At home, Mrs. Bell met the raiders and recognized the former guest.

“We have killed your husband,” he blandly informed her, “and we have come to burn his house.”

***

When a group of bushwhackers broke into the home of Edward Fitch and shouted for him to come from hiding, he did. While Sarah and the three terrified children watched, the Massachusetts native walked down the stairs and into the circle of waiting men. As soon as Fitch hit the foot of the stairs he was dead. But just to make certain, the rebel who shot him grabbed another revolver and continued to pump slugs into the corpse until that gun too was emptied. The guerrillas then moved on to rob and torch the home.

As the smoke began to drift about, Sarah pleaded and tried three separate times to remove her husband’s body. But three separate times the murderer forbade it. She then ran to retrieve a small painting of Edward, but once more was denied. Finally the woman ceased all efforts and just wandered from room to room watching as her home was destroyed. At last, when the place was engulfed in flames, and with sparks and debris showering about her, a guerrilla forced her to leave.

Sarah walked with her screaming children across the road, sat on the grass, and watched while the home and everything she owned crackled and roared over the body of her husband. Above, on an adjoining shed, a small Union flag hung limp. The children, playing soldier a day or two before, had planted it high so that everyone in town could see they were loyal and proud to be Yankees.

***

Escape was the thing, escape by any means. Politicians, doctors, and merchants bellied toward safety side by side with local lay-abouts and town drunks, crawling in underclothes through flowerbeds and cabbage rows, along weedy lots and ditches until they finally reached what to them seemed a God-sent sanctuary—a cottonwood chicken coop or a tiny, stinking outhouse. Others simply hurled headlong into wells or shimmied beneath wooden walkways. An outdoor cellar in the center of town with a hidden entrance was a haven where many fled. But more found refuge in the ravine, along the tangled banks of the river, or in Jim Lane’s vast cornfield. Often chasing a victim right to the edge of these places, guerrillas always slammed to a halt and galloped away as if expecting a volley of shots to ring out. In the cornfield, scores of thirsty citizens were hidden. Several times the raiders rode along the perimeter, some were for going in. Uncertainty, however, always held them back. A woman living on the hem of the field who had carried water to the fugitives was asked by a group of rebels, who themselves had stopped for water, what was in the corn.

“Go in and see,” she replied, in a tone that left no doubts.

Had they gone in they wouldn’t have found Jim Lane; nor would they have found him anywhere near the field. Instead he was among the bluffs far to the southwest of Lawrence, “on his belly under some bushes.”

Escape was the thing; there were other ways. After somehow avoiding the slaughter, the lieutenant of the recruits eluded his pursuers and ran naked into an abandoned shanty. There he found clothes and quickly dressed. In a moment or two he left the hut and walked into the street unnoticed . . . wearing a dress and bonnet.

Another man burst into a home occupied by three women and begged for help. Soon a noisy gang stomped through the door. Searching the rooms without success, the guerrillas loudly entered the parlor. At this the indignant ladies scolded the rebels to please be quiet and more considerate, since “poor Aunt Betsie” was neither well nor accustomed to such excitement. Sitting in an invalid’s chair, “Aunt Betsie” was eyed suspiciously–an old woman’s cap, a shawl across her lap, medicine bottles and cups nearby, a “niece” fanning her. Finally, the raiders left and the grateful “Aunt Betsie” and three resourceful women breathed easily once again.

Some men without recourse simply put on the dirtiest, most ragged set of clothes they had and mixed with the Missourians. One dentist went even further. Besides finding money for the guerrillas and guiding them to the best stock of liquor in town, he also joined in and set several homes on fire.

When raiders knocked on their doors, women too employed almost any device in an attempt to save their homes—and very often the men hiding just above or just below.

Where in hell is Fred Read?

Gone east for goods.

Peter Ridenour?

Gone east to buy goods.

What are your politics?

Sound on the goose.

Has your old man ever stolen any niggers in Missouri?

Never been in Missouri.

But as often as not, no amount of pleading or lying would suffice, and a home was put to the torch anyhow. And as soon as the bushwhackers had done their work and moved on, behind them women and children rushed with quilts and slopping buckets of water in an attempt to smother the flames. But as was commonly the case, after gamely battling and subduing a blaze, the soot-smeared ladies looked up only to find another squad approaching with the same intent.

“Put that out if you can!” said an exasperated guerrilla to a woman who had just stopped one fire. When he had gone, she did just that.

***

Those at the home of John Thornton were more persistent. When the straw bed they ignited was put out, the rebels returned and started it again, but this time Nancy Thornton was forced to leave. In a short while, when the husband too appeared and raced out the back, the guerrillas were ready and waiting. A chunk of hot lead burned into Thornton’s hip. He didn’t go down, however, but turned and fled back into the house. Again the heat became unbearable, and when he reappeared another shot was fired, this time blowing his knee apart. Once more, and followed by his horrified wife, Thornton limped back into his blazing home.

Blinded by smoke, the wounded man soon came out again, leaning on Nancy for support. One of the raiders rode up, took aim, but just before he could jerk the trigger the Kansan lunged for his leg. Thornton was unable to reach the weapon, however, and a slug at point-blank smashed into his eye and exploded out the cheek. Another gun went off and a ball entered his back, ripped down the spine, and tore into a buttock. But still Thornton clung to his attacker. Frustrated and out of ammunition, the bushwhacker tried again.

“I can kill you,” he growled as he used the heavy revolver like a hammer to bash the head of the struggling man. At last John Thornton lost his grip and released the leg. But he wasn’t dead.

“Stand back and let me try,” yelled an impatient guerrilla nearby. “He is the hardest man to kill I ever saw.” With that, the enraged attacker let fly every ball in his weapon, striking the target one, two, three times. Thornton stumbled a few steps, then collapsed in a heap. Still doubtful, one of the rebels reared his horse back to stomp the body, then leveled his pistol to fire again.

“For God’s sake,” shrieked the hysterical wife as she grabbed the horse’s bridle, “let him alone, he’s killed now.”   Satisfied, though amazed at the time and energy needed to do it, the bushwhackers finally moved on.

To preserve it for burial, Nancy managed to drag the body away from the fire to an open space across the street. There, she saw that her dead husband had a wound for almost any given place and was literally soaked in blood from head to toe. Looking closer, however, the woman saw something else—John Thornton was still alive!

***

“Fred, one of them damned nigger-thieving abolitionists ain’t dead yet . . . go and kill him.” Neither Harlow Baker nor Simeon Thorp could be sure which of them had moved, but it was certain that one would soon find out.

Since being shot, the two had lain in the street feigning death as the guerrillas rode nearby. When it was clear, they had whispered back and forth to one another describing where they were hit. Baker still had the strength to get up, but dared not. Senator Thorp, hurt much the worse, could not.

The horse stopped beside them and they heard the rebel dismount. When he was kicked over onto his face, Baker knew he was the one. He heard the explosion, felt a sharp sting, and in a rush all the air left his right lung. He grew dizzy and almost fainted, but through the pain Baker was still around to hear “Fred” congratulate himself as he rode back to his pal.

***

GeorgeToddThis time George Todd (right) came in person. Only a twist of fate had kept him from meeting the preacher that morning near Sibley, and Todd today wanted no stone left unturned.

Despite this, Elizabeth Fisher, as unflappable as ever, insisted that her husband was not at home; that he had gone over the hill long ago and was by now probably well on his way to Topeka. And again the woman boldly invited the doubting rebels to search the house. To his great relief though, Hugh Fisher did not hear the cellar door open, nor did he hear the thud of boots down the steps. He did hear, however, the breaking of chairs and shutters for kindling and a guerrilla swearing to kill his wife if she tried to extinguish the fire.

Ignoring the threat, Elizabeth slammed the door in the raider’s face and raced to the well to fill buckets, pans, and tubs. This took time, however, and meanwhile more fires were being set. By the time she returned with the water, her two-story home was hopelessly ablaze. Running back to the front of the house, the desperate woman turned her energies toward saving the one-story kitchen and trying to keep her husband from being broiled alive. Climbing on the cook stove she doused the ceiling first. Then lugging two tables outside—setting one atop the other—Elizabeth scrambled up to the roof and threw more water on. But just as these flames were quenched much of the burning roof on the house crashed across the kitchen.

Dipping up more water the woman drenched her clothing, then once again waded into the flames. But it was hopeless. At length, as the rebels stood around the home watching her futile efforts, Elizabeth ran for more water and began flooding the kitchen floor under which her husband lay. A neighbor woman, as mystified as the bushwhackers, asked her why she was trying to save a piece of floor when her entire world was burning.

“A memento,” she yelled back above the roar.

But as the fire and debris fell into the kitchen even Elizabeth saw that it was only a matter of time. Slipping into the smoke-filled cellar, the frantic woman spoke to where her husband lay.

“You must come out of there or burn alive; I can’t keep the fire back any longer.”

“Almost roasted,” the preacher decided it was his last chance. As he crept out the cellar door Elizabeth quickly threw a dress over him. Then as she lifted a heavy carpet the husband ducked under and, crawling as low and as close to the woman as possible, the two went out of the burning home. While the guerrillas watched on, the carpet was slowly lugged across the yard until the weary wife at last dropped it down beside a small weeping willow. Running back to the house she grabbed chairs, bedding, and other items and stacked them over the rug. And finally, like candles on a cake, the mother sat her two children on top of the heap. After this, she could only wait and watch and pray the rebels didn’t suspect.

With guns in their grip, the bushwhackers glanced from the house to the pile and back again. They always looked from a distance, however, and much to the woman’s relief, none of them approached.

Sitting quietly by the baby, Elizabeth’s little boy was startled when he heard from far below a hoarse voice whisper for water.

“Pa is here somewhere; I heard him speak,” he said, looking up to his exhausted mother.

The child was quickly hushed and the father ordered from here on out to keep still.

***

Battle_of_LawrenceNot every raider had the stomach for it. Caught up in the pathetic efforts of a crying woman struggling to remove a divan, desk, or piano from her burning home, some could not hold back and soon found themselves wrestling over a piece of furniture just as frantically as the woman. And after setting a fire, not a few who imagined their hearts stone beyond hope caved in to tearful appeals and joined to save what they had intended to destroy.

After fleeing her home one woman returned to find it ablaze, yet curiously, neatly laid under a tree was a box containing her family photographs. Other Missourians stared like children at the beautiful parlors they entered, and many simply could not bring themselves to destroy the pretty cups, saucers, and heirlooms. Had it been left to them, some would have spared even “marked” homes. But harder sorts were always just around the corner.

“No, God damn the abolitionists,” shouted an angry guerrilla. “Why should this house be saved?”

And most were not cold killers. Rummaging through homes, searching for plunder, many obvious hiding places were avoided, and often a raider either winked or turned his back while a man escaped. But others were quick to remind that these same Kansans were the ones who had been in Missouri “killing our people.” Most were not cold killers—but enough were.

You have killed my husband; let me keep his ring. . . .

 No matter!

The Germans fared the worst. Their antislavery views were well known and, unlike other men, they couldn’t escape by lying; their tongues were judge and jury.

“Nicht versteh,” said one when the rebels popped him a question.

“God damn you, we will make you versteh!” they shouted as they shot him dead.

For some time the town’s German blacksmith had remained hidden with his little child amid a patch of corn in the Central Park. Later the baby grew restless in the heat and began to cry, prompting several passing guerrillas to venture in. When they left, the father was dead with the child still crying in his once-powerful arms.

At a German home, the people were ordered out while the Missourians sacked the contents and torched the place. Among the occupants, a man on his sickbed had to be carried from the house and placed upon a mattress in the yard. When the gang finished indoors they walked over to the invalid and pulled out their pistols. With guns staring down, the German strained on weakened arms to rise but was instantly blasted back upon his cot.

***

Again a squad came to the home of Judge Carpenter bent on burning and killing. But just as the others did before, the men left quieter than they came.

***

When they had finished with him, Arthur Spicer was brought back to Quantrill at the City Hotel. Despite his earlier threat, however, the guerrilla leader now seemed totally unconcerned at Spicer’s return, and after entering the building the saloonkeeper passed discreetly to the rear.

***

Activity picked up on Massachusetts Street as many of the raiders drifted back. Stores gone over lightly before were now cleaned out. Some merchants and clerks were compelled to wait on bushwhackers as if they were regular customers while liquor and food was served and boots, shirts, and hats were tried on. In the apartments above terrified families were forced out, but not until they had filed past the rebels and been robbed.

I’ll take that watch!

Give me those earrings!

Fork over them greenbacks!

Shell out, God damn it . . . and be quick about it!

As fewer rebels moved through the lesser streets some people came out and made their escape. With his wife, little daughter, and a friend, the Reverend Richard Cordley left his home and splendid library and quietly threaded his way through the streets. After some “exciting moments” the four entered the brush and walked to the riverbank. There, in a marvelous stroke of luck, an alert friend on the opposite shore recognized the Cordleys and, risking his own life, rowed a boat across and ferried the group to safety. One man and his wife stuffed a change of clothes into a pillow slip, sat their children in a play wagon, and simply walked away.

If one could muster the courage, getting through the streets and beyond the first line of pickets was to escape, for those patrolling further out—farmers and boys mostly—showed little inclination to stop or harm the refugees. Most citizens, though, remained fast in the same places they had throughout the morning–whether indoors or out.

One man holding an umbrella sat in the open undisturbed, shading his wife and child. Another, after being chased and shot at, fell and was immediately covered by his wife. Long after the assailants had left the woman continued to wail and shriek. Afraid she would draw even more attention his way, the husband at last whispered, “For God’s sake, wife, don’t take on so. I don’t know if I’m even hit.”

After helping the bushwhackers load pack horses, the two young clerks at R & B’s, still barefoot and half-clad, eased off to the bushes and raced to the river. The frightened New Yorker saw no point in stopping there, however, and after swimming the Kaw he sprinted up the Leavenworth Road.

At last, the Eldridge House, thus far spared though picked clean from “cellar to garret,” was put to the torch. As some raiders were busy spreading the fire on the ground floor, a woman ran up screaming that a black baby, left by its mother and forgotten in the excitement, still remained inside. After listening for a moment, the men went on with their work.

“Burn the God damn little brat,” was the grim reply.

The fires caught, then climbed rapidly to the fourth floor. In a very short time “the finest building in Kansas”—plush carpets, chandeliers, music, dancing, laughter, all—was enveloped in flames.

On the adjacent corner the courthouse went up. Across the street from that, Danver’s Ice Cream Saloon burned, and so on down the street until both sides were completely ablaze. And while the fires were set the rebels celebrated; walking or riding through the street in fancy new clothes and shiny black boots, wearing rings on their fingers and gold chains and crosses from their necks; gulping down canned lobster, oysters, and figs; smoking black cigars; guzzling beer, brandy, and French champagne; waving hats in the air as the huge liberty flag was dragged past them in the dust. From time to time there were small explosions as stocks of powder and sealed canisters heated, and the acrid smell of tar and oil mingled with the sweet scent of burning tea and molasses.

***

At the end of the business district, a large gang of drunks spotted Dan Palmer and a friend standing in the door of Palmer’s gun shop. Before they could duck back in both were shot and wounded.

While some of the bushwhackers set the building on fire, others stood the two men up and bound them together with rope. Then, when the flames caught and began to roar, the startled captives were pitched inside. Wild with fright, Palmer and his friend regained their footing and struggled out the door, pleading with the rebels for mercy. But amid hellish laughter and waving pistols the men were again hurled into the furnace. At last the rope broke, but there was nowhere to run. By this time only Palmer was able to rise. Standing in the flames, arms reaching for heaven, he screamed above the roar, “O God, save us!” This brought a new round of applause and laughter. Soon, the cries inside ceased and the drunken gang moved on.

***

Except for a number of pickets, by 9 AM most of the raiders had drifted back to the South Park and much of the residential area was left deserted. That’s when Mary, Abigail, and Louis Carpenter “began to breathe again.” But then there was another violent pound on the door. As they had done all morning, the family kept its composure, and while Mary went to the door the judge came down the stairs to deal with these rebels as he had the rest.

The door was opened. Stepping partway in, a stone-faced guerrilla stared at the judge, then asked him where he was from.

“New York,” came the even reply.

“It is you New York fellows that are doing the mischief in Missouri,” was the cold comment. The rebel raised his pistol and fired.

Breaking from the door, the wounded man bounded up the stairs and into a bedroom. Pushing Mary aside, the guerrilla gave chase. As his pursuer was searching the rooms above Carpenter slipped by and ran to the basement. But a rebel below saw this, and when his friend came down, the two found windows leading into the basement and opened fire. The judge was hit immediately. And because the room was unfinished there was nowhere to hide. Helplessly, Carpenter could only flatten himself against the walls and try to dodge the bullets. As the raiders paused to reload, the blood gathered in pools at the victim’s feet. Finally, with no other hope, Carpenter broke for the stairs leading outside. Once in the yard, however, he stumbled and fell and was unable to rise.

As the guerrillas approached, Mary ran screaming to her husband’s side and covered his head with her arms. Walking around them several paces, a bushwhacker at last bent down, jerked up one of Mary’s arms, jammed in his pistol, then fired. Within inches of her own, the judge’s head shuddered for an instant, then splashed apart.

***

A lone rebel walked to where Harlow Baker was lying and stopped. Partially turned on its side, he looked down at the dusty body for a moment, at the blood, black and caked on the hand, neck, and back.

“Poor devil,” he muttered.

Pulling out a sharp knife the bushwhacker knelt down and ripped open a pocket. Finding nothing he rolled the body over and slashed the other. Again nothing. Spotting Baker’s hat, the man mumbled that at least here was something, and a good one at that. Taking his prize, the man walked back into town.

***

At last the pickets rode in and the entire force of guerrillas converged on the South Park and began forming. Pack horses high with plunder were brought up, as was an ambulance. A large, fat ox was selected, killed, skinned, quartered, then quickly stored for travel. Amid the movement and general excitement, Quantrill found the young guide, and handing him a new suit of clothes and the reins to a fresh pony, the boy was pointed toward home. The rebel leader then said goodbye to his friend Nathan Stone, his wife and son and daughter Lydia, and hoped that someday, some place they might meet during happier times.

“The ladies of Lawrence were brave and plucky,” he confided to someone before he left, “but the men . . . were a pack of cowards.”

Quantrill then joined his command. And, at a little past nine, with the smoke from Massachusetts Street rolling up like the walls of some towering black canyon, the raiders moved south and the long, uncertain retreat to Missouri began.

Several minutes passed. Only the sounds of the inferno were heard in the deserted streets. Across the river, the squad of soldiers watched intently. Finally, with a few citizens they boarded the ferry and inched toward the town.

But one man was not quite finished. Although he had bragged about the streets that eleven Kansans had been sent to hell by his gun, for Larkin Skaggs this was still not enough. Skulking around until Quantrill left, Skaggs galloped back and pulled up beside the City Hotel.

“All you God damned sons of bitches come in front!” he shouted. “Come right out here!”

Foolishly, many did step out the door. But others, including Lydia Stone, either remained inside or, like her brother, dove out the back. As they filed down the steps, men and women were ordered into separate lines, and while waiting for the rest to appear, Skaggs, terribly drunk and teetering in his saddle, asked one of the captives where he was from.

“Central Ohio,” answered the man. He was instantly shot.

“That is worse than Kansas,” growled the bushwhacker.

Another round was fired into the hotel itself which brought an immediate plea from the owner, Nathan Stone. Without a word Skaggs turned and fired again, striking the innkeeper flush in the abdomen. While the screaming people fled the front of the hotel, more jumped out the back. Spying a boat, two men quickly pushed off from shore. In their haste, however, they failed to attach one oar properly and the two furiously paddled around and around in circles as the current carried them down the river.

Hearing the gunfire and seeing the renewed exodus, the men crossing on the ferry quickly returned to the north shore.

Growing impatient, Skaggs finally wheeled and rode back through town. After killing a man along the way and chasing another, the burly bushwhacker trotted leisurely from Lawrence down the California Road, confident that Quantrill had left the way he had come. He soon realized the mistake, however, when he saw farmers coming in his direction. Spurring cross-country toward Eudora, the drunken man weaved and wobbled in the saddle as the big white horse raced through fields leaping fences and ditches. But more men were riding from that way, and cornered, Skaggs was finally captured and taken toward Lawrence.

When the party reached the outskirts and learned what had taken place, the prisoner without further ado was slain on the spot.

***

Slowly, slowly the people began to come out—peering cautiously from the brushy ravine, parting carefully the stalks in the cornfield. The ferry started inching over again. Governor Robinson stepped out of his stone barn. The county sheriff crept up from under his floor. A man who had feigned death even though he lay near a building on fire rose with the clothes burned from his back. And Harlow Baker, too, on painfully weak legs pulled himself up and staggered to the house. Others emerged from the hidden cellar in the center of town, popped up from tomato patches, or, dripping wet, gazed over the mouth of a well. What they saw when they came out was overwhelming.

Everywhere one turned, the enormity of the raid attacked the senses. Those cut off, those who thought their experience an isolated case, were numbed to learn that similar acts had been going on all around the city. Like a twister it had come so swiftly, so tremendously, so utterly—yet like a twister it too had gone so quietly and completely that many were confused and still had no conception of time. And the bodies . . . no one had expected this.

“One saw the dead everywhere,” said the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the town, “on the sidewalks, in the streets, among the weeds in the gardens.”

And the day was actually darker than it had begun. Burning homes and barns sent spires of smoke upward until they converged to form a huge pall over the city, blotting out the sun and sky. Massachusetts Street was a raging wall of flame and churning black clouds. Crunching timber and toppling bricks fed the roar, and the heat was so intense that none dared enter the street. Even the sidewalks were burning. And everywhere was the suffocating dark fog. Women, some carrying babies in their arms, ran through the streets shielding their faces from the fire, crying and screaming for husbands and sons. Some, like Charles and Sara Robinson, found one another.

Then, down a side street, flaying the hide of a plow horse and shouting at the top of his lungs came Jim Lane trailed by several farmers. “Follow them boys,” cried the senator as he passed, “let us follow them.” Some did respond, and together they galloped south. But even had more felt the inclination, there simply were no horses left in town.

***

5BMBF00ZBy  noon a goodly number of citizens had straggled back to town as had curiosity-seekers from the countryside. And by this time even Hugh Fisher, sweltering all morning under the rug and furniture, felt safe enough to crawl from his torrid hiding place to get a drink of water.

Later, as the fires subsided, several men began the grisly task of trying to retrieve the dead and wounded. One of those thus engaged was George Deitzler. At first glance the victims nearest the fires were thought to be blacks. Coming closer, however, the old general was shocked to discover that the corpses were not Negroes, but white men “completely roasted. The bodies . . . crisped and nearly black.” Reluctantly, Deitzler bent down to pull a man up, but to his horror as he yanked he merely came away with two chunks of steaming dark flesh. Reeling backward, the general retched and had to leave. Most others, try as they may, could fare no better and turned away “crying like children.”

One corpse lay on a sidewalk near a fire. The body was normal in every respect except that the skin of the head had been burned away, leaving only a grinning skull. Another man was half body, half skeleton. Others had rendered down into a “shapeless mass.” And without a trace of wind the stench of cooked flesh weighed like a blanket in the hot fog. Relegated to stronger sorts, recovery did go on.

After the pews were moved out, many of the dead and wounded were taken to the Methodist Church. While two physicians probed an ugly hole in a man’s face, searching for a lodged ball, another, lacking both medicine and instruments, performed delicate surgery using only a sharp penknife. Lying in a corner, “half-wit” Jo Eldridge, also shot in the face, raved deliriously. Crying women, themselves on the verge of collapse, tried to help those waiting by bringing water, cleaning wounds, and fighting off the swarms of blowflies. The mangled bodies of Ralph and Steve Dix were brought in and laid out; Ben Johnson, some Germans, and others not recognizable were also carried up the steps. In his rush to get the wounded indoors, one minister keeled over from exhaustion. Elsewhere it was much the same as people waited for the few available doctors.

A young woman, just as confused and frightened as she had been all morning long, ran into the Griswold home for comfort. In the back parlor she first saw Mrs. Baker fanning her husband who lay on the bed, his clothes bathed in blood. Fleeing into the dining room, the girl suddenly froze at the sight of Doctor Griswold and Josiah Trask stiff, white, and stretched side by side on the dinner table. In the front parlor she glanced in to see Senator Thorp, twisted and rolling in terrible agony, his clothes black with blood and dust. He was struggling to speak to his wife but couldn’t. Bearing no more, the sickened young woman fled the house entirely.

Just up the street, surrounded by the smoldering ruins of her home, Julia Collamore could get no response from either her husband or the servant as she shouted into the well. When a close friend arrived, he volunteered to go down. Tying a cord around himself, and with the aid of two men to lower him, the friend entered the hole. About halfway down those above felt a sharp yank and frantically began to pull the man up. The strain was too great, however, and the cord snapped. But to the surprise of everyone above, there was no cry for help from below.

Despite everything, some paused a moment to behold the phenomenon. Flocks of killdeer, attracted for some reason, flew about carefree from yard to yard, calling their sprightly refrain.

***

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening the people continued to trickle back. Some returned wearing the same nightshirt they had awakened in, while not a few husbands came back in the dresses that had enabled their escape. Strong men, finding a dear friend whom they had presumed dead, fell into one another’s arms and wept. The devout knelt in circles and prayed.

Those who had fled Shantytown that morning also began appearing, coming across the river or out of the woods. One black, atop a white horse, rode bareback down Massachusetts Street singing with all his might “John Brown’s Body.”  Behind, with a rope around its neck, he dragged the naked corpse of Larkin Skaggs. With other former slaves, the rider hauled the body to the Central Park and tried to burn it.

As the fires cooled and gardens and weedy lots were combed, more dead were discovered. The floor of the Methodist Church filled until there was no room. Forty identification tags had already been provided, but for others only a number distinguished each from the next disfigured form. Robert Martin, killed by the side of young Willie Fisher, was found and carried down from Mount Oread in the arms of his crying father. Charlie and Willie Fisher also returned, and the grateful parents sped to heaven their thanks and bowed to pray. But both Elizabeth and Hugh couldn’t help noticing that there was something different about Willie; he was not the same Willie who had left that morning.

It wasn’t so easy for editor John Speer. Of his three sons, the youngest was alive and with his mother. Another son, Junior, was dead. Someone said he was murdered while running along a street, shot by a mounted rebel dragging the Union flag. But the other son, seventeen-year-old Robbie, was still missing. Speer refused to believe that Robbie too was gone. And so, covered with soot and ash, the father kept up his search, calling out as the night descended.

I want you to help me find my boy. They have killed one, and the other I cannot find.

***

“The fires were still glowing in the cellars,” noted the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the darkened streets. “The brick and stone walls were . . . standing bare and blackened. The cellars between looked like great caverns with furnaces glowing in the depths. . . . Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had perished.”

John Speer and others seeking a son, a brother, a husband were praying that the bones they saw down among the cinder and fire were not those of the loved ones they sought.

That night the dogs howled without ceasing, and for miles around a vast angry glow was seen throbbing in the skies over Lawrence.

***

Saturday, August 22, 1863. Hardly had glint of dawn reached Lawrence when the weary people, straining to gain a few minutes of sleep, were jolted by a long, piercing scream heard throughout the town. Followed to its source, a woman was discovered in a gutted building sitting among the rubble. Her husband, she feared, had been shot and burned there the day before, and after searching the wife had found his remains at last—a blackened skull that she hugged to her breast.

This chilling scene “added much to the . . . sadness and horror which filled every heart,” said a viewer, and stamped an accent on what was already becoming known as “Black Friday.”

There was no awakening from the nightmare. Massachusetts Street, normally a hive of activity on Saturday, was black and idle now, only a jagged gash through piles of ash and debris. Red coals still glowed in the basements. At the south end of the street, two stores remained standing, to the north, by the river, several more stood, including the armory with weapons intact. In between, all else was ruin. Vermont and New Hampshire streets were much the same—a barn, the ice house, the City Hotel, a home in which George Todd had taken breakfast and left his voucher of safety.

In the residential area the condition was somewhat better. Although close to one hundred homes were destroyed, many of these the beautiful structures of West Lawrence, anyone could see how much worse it might have been. Dozens of houses were torched and torched again only to be saved by the women. And for those not doused, the absence of wind prevented the flames from leaping to a neighboring home. Most brick and stone dwellings stood untouched, and because of the soldiers, all the houses along the river, including the Robinson mansion, went unscathed. Except for a Negro church, every other still stood. The county land records were somehow preserved. But all this in itself, as the citizens viewed things, was small cause for thanksgiving. The bushwhackers had been meticulous. The town was devastated.

“Lawrence,” wrote one, “is as much destroyed as though an earth quake had buried it in ruins.”

And even had there been anything left to buy, there simply was nothing left to buy it with, for very little money remained. Of the three banks in town, two were robbed of every cent and the third spared only because a stubborn vault could not be blown. Practically all the cash and merchandise in the stores and offices was stolen or burned, and among the citizenry as a whole, the gold, silver, jewels, notes, and watches that were not stolen outright were generally lost or destroyed in the confusion. Much of the furniture, clothing, shoes, and linen were also gone. Most people, young and old, wore the same grimy apparel in which they had come away twenty-four hours before. In addition, there was virtually no food in the town.

Although the suffering and privation were extreme, the material loss paled beside that of the human. At first glance even the most sanguinary estimate placed the toll of dead at no more than sixty, a staggering number considering that nearly all were unarmed civilians. But even this grim figure was soon surpassed as more victims were discovered hourly.

When workers finally entered the Collamore well they brought up three dripping bodies–the mayor, his servant, and the would-be rescuer, all dead. After filling the Griswold home with hideous screams and groans, Simeon Thorp, in terrible agony, at last succumbed. As for the photographer, William Laurie, his flight was ended. Kansas City . . . Shawnee . . . the war had overtaken him once and for all in faraway Lawrence. The charred bones of other victims were raked in from the embers or found sprawled among the weeds and gardens. The dead seemed to crowd the living as the toll grew to one hundred and  climbed.

The human loss was as unfathomable as the material loss was seemingly irreparable. There was little talk of rebuilding. Fear of a similar occurrence ran so high that it seemed foolish to do so, and some raiders had even warned that Lawrence must be entirely abandoned or they would return. The herculean task of trying to reconstruct their world also caused many to despair. But perhaps most disappointing and unbearable of all was the lack of anything tangible to strike at; the inability to reach out and smash the authors of so much misery and woe. For some, at least, this simple, savage act could not but help ease the pain and frustration.

Throughout the morning, travelers, emigrants, teamsters, and curiosity-seekers, jammed on the main roads for twenty-four hours, began to stream into town. One unsuspecting arrival quickly found himself surrounded by an angry mob. Identified as a proslavery man and active during the territorial struggle, he was led away to the barn by the river. There, despite pleas to the contrary, he was accused of being a spy for Quantrill, and being thus charged he was promptly convicted. A noose was thrown around his neck, and in a few moments the stunned man was drawn up and left kicking in the air. There was no hard evidence, as most admitted, but the victim was a Missourian, and that was close enough.

The body was then cut down and given to a black on horseback, who galloped through the streets followed by a snarling crowd. As the corpse was dragged along, the clothes tore away and the mob pelted it with rocks, sticks, and anything else available, each person dealing their share on the lonely trophy. Four other men blundered into town and were collared under the same pretext. Fortunately for them—and for consciences later on—they were only held, not hanged.

Sallie Young was next. Hooted and jeered viciously wherever she went, the young woman was arrested, accused of collaborating with the raiders, then confined to await transfer to Fort Leavenworth. The fury temporarily vented, Lawrence turned to more pressing matters.

As the morning wore on and the temperature rose, the stench from the corpses became insufferable. Already, many bodies had swollen so great that the clothing had burst, revealing grotesque wounds “full of flies & worms.” Frantically, the work began to identify the victims and get them under ground as rapidly as possible. There was little wood left and certainly no coffins. Many of the carpenters were either dead or wounded and nearly all the tools of the trade destroyed. Nevertheless, the citizens began. Oak and walnut logs were sawn and fashioned into rough boards. Most nails had melted in the kegs, but enough good ones were found and the planks were soon joined to form crude boxes. The dead were quickly deposited and the covers hammered down. For many, “it sounded rather harsh . . . to have the lid nailed over the bodies of their loved ones.” But there simply was no time for anything more elaborate, especially since the threat of epidemic increased with every hour.

When the Methodist Church was full, bodies were taken to other churches. Not all victims remained in town. After identification, three corpses, including that of the Irishman, Jim O’Neill, were loaded onto a wagon and returned to Lecompton for burial. Coming from the opposite direction, farmers brought fruit and vegetables and gave freely. And from Leavenworth the first real relief came when several wagons loaded with food, clothing, medical supplies, and caskets arrived.

Throughout the day and into the night the tempo increased and the sounds of the terrible work continued. At the cemetery atop Mount Oread, a ghostlike gathering moved in an arc of lamp­light, and some of the boxes were at last lowered down. Slowly the recovery began.

***

50235698_133263993699When he wasn’t helping out around town, Peter Ridenour (left) was at the bedside of his friend. “Well, Mr. Ridenour, I am gone up,” Harlow Baker had whispered when his partner rushed into the room on Friday. But though he wasn’t given much hope by others and could barely breathe, Baker surprised everyone, including himself, by continuing to hang on.

And so the old friend stayed by his side, waiting for the end­-fetching ice, tending the wounds, chatting.  Jokingly, Ridenour admitted that the only reason he was sitting around this moment was because of a few potato plants and a garden bed he’d hugged so dearly that a leaf might have covered him. His home was gone, he added, even though he had naively taken the precaution of locking the door. But the two young clerks had made it. After running so long and hard that his feet bled, the athletic New Yorker hadn’t stopped until he had reached Leavenworth. There, he went straight to a family friend, Governor Tom Carney, and borrowed money enough for clothes and a one-way ticket east. But after some rest and reflection he had hesitated. The boy had come back today on the Leavenworth stage. Although admittedly he had never been so scared in his life, not even at Gettysburg, the youth discovered that indeed he had survived the battlefield and now, although his feet were very tired and sore, he had survived Black Friday as well.

Ridenour didn’t mention to his partner that the business was wiped out. Five years of savings had vanished in a blink when the banks were looted. The store’s huge inventory was also gone and although their insurance covered most everything, including fire, a clause excluded “invading enemies.” There were also many out­standing debts and no way to meet them. Although he didn’t burden his friend with business matters, Peter Ridenour had already taken the first faint look down the long road back. He was yet young and strong and energetic and his name was respected by all. And if he lived long enough, every creditor would get his due. The store’s safe with the books and a modest sum of cash had somehow weathered the storm, and if one put stock in such things, there was a benign omen of sorts—the salt wagons from Leavenworth had arrived and were now parked outside the gutted store.

But while he sat and waited and watched his old friend suffer, the thought uppermost on Mr. Ridenour’s mind was not salt or creditors or even the store, but whether the partnership, the friendship would continue as always or if the “B” would yet be stricken from R & B.

***

Early Sunday morning at the usual time, work was set aside while a few citizens gathered to worship. They were women and children mostly at the Reverend Cordley’s church, dirty and disheveled and dressed in men’s work clothes. No one said much. For some, the press of the past two days had been a sore test of faith, and a moment’s respite to collect their thoughts and drift in meditation was a welcome balm. There were whispers and silent prayers and then a passage from Psalms, verse 79:

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of earth. Their blood have shed they like water round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them.

After a moment more of silence, work was resumed.

Again, as the heat of the day approached, workers were made aware of their dilemma. The coffin building was not keeping pace with the decay of the bodies. The caskets that came from Leavenworth helped, but there simply weren’t enough coffins there, nor in all Kansas to meet the needs. And more victims were being found. At last, in desperation, it was decided to dispense with formalities altogether and inter the more advanced cases with as much haste as possible. Into a long, deep trench gouged from the cemetery ground, forty-seven black and bloating bodies were finally lowered down. Similar burials, like that of Judge Carpenter and Edward Fitch, took place in backyards. With this, some of the terrible trauma and urgency began mercifully to wear off.

More help came from the countryside and another large wagon train of food, clothing, and supplies arrived from Leavenworth. Visitors continued to enter the city, some to aid and some simply to gawk and assess the destruction. Early estimates placed the damage in the millions of dollars, with over $250,000 stolen in currency alone. Almost every businessman and merchant was totally cleaned out. Still, there were increasing murmurs of rebuilding and renewed investments.  Flagging spirits began to revive somewhat as a few took heart.

Included among the strangers in town were a number of correspondents and illustrators from large Eastern newspapers who began sketching scenes and taking down eyewitness accounts. A few unabashed individuals came forward with their stories. One black related that when the raiders had entered Lawrence on Friday morning, he had dashed over the meadows south of town and hid in a tree above the Wakarusa, out-legging his imagined pursuers and establishing some kind of record for the three-mile course. When asked about the feat, his simple reply: “The prairie just came to me.” Another man, a dentist, described his escape and return to Lawrence and his utter amazement to find that, though everything else was gone, the rebels had entirely overlooked his inventory of  gold and silver plate.

Others had similar tales to tell, though not always so jocose. They told of a morning replete with hairbreadth escapes and terror, of miracles, irony, and death. But as the journalists scribbled away, always from each new tale there surfaced the same consistent theme—the steely defiance and grit of the women. Almost all their acts, although carried out under fantastic duress, were marked by an uncanny degree of calmness and courage. Instances of their heroism, their “sand,” ran on. There was Lydia Stone: When the Eldridge prisoners became frightened of retaliation, the young woman, risking her own life, raced down the riverbank in the teeth of the soldiers’ bullets waving a hanky for them to stop. There was Kate Riggs: By grabbing the horse’s bridle and hanging on until she had been dragged around the house and over a woodpile, the tenacious woman succeeded in saving her husband Sam from the monster Skaggs. There were Elizabeth Fisher, Eliza Turner, and a score of other equally doughty heroines.

And never had female ingenuity been better displayed, from the “nieces” of “Aunt Betsie” to the woman who saved not only a feather bed to sleep on but a neighbor man as well whom she rolled up inside and carried to safety. Another woman fooled the rebels by burning oily rags in kettles, thereby making it appear that her home was engulfed in flames.

And even after their bravery and resourcefulness saved many a man and home, the women’s work had but begun. When the initial shock had passed, many, like the “ministering angel” Lydia Stone, carried on, moving with quiet grace among the crowds of victims, “attending to their wants and speaking words of comfort and cheer.”

As Sunday wore on, the women, arms scorched, hair singed, continued their labors with an air of increasing confidence. Some optimistically saw in their great trial a hidden treasure. Although they left little else in Lawrence, the guerrillas overlooked something very precious nonetheless, something that could not be burned with a torch or strapped on a pack horse: Courage . . . the only thing in life that really mattered. When all else was taken, this at least remained and gleamed more brilliantly than ever before. Then others took note and drew inspiration from a familiar sight at the river’s edge. Amid the ruin and devastation the old liberty pole stood straight and tall, defiantly holding its ground. Even the tortuous hot spell was at an end. Late in the day a refreshing north wind kicked up, clearing and cooling the air. If the truth be known, for many of these women, as well as the surviving men, there was within them the dawning of that warm and golden glow that shines only in the hearts of those who have faced off with the worst in life and come away victorious. For Lawrence, the worst had come. The trial had passed. There was nothing more from life to fear.

***

As the work progressed into the evening, a lookout on Mount Oread, watching the activity below, happened to glance south toward the Wakarusa. There to his horror he saw rising from the valley floor an all-too-familiar sight—smoke and flame. Without a second thought the rider flew down the hill and galloped into town, screaming with all the power in his lungs, “They are coming again, they are coming again! Run for your lives, run for your lives!”

With these startling words reserves cracked, then crumbled, and suddenly there was nothing left. In a moment, as if from one mind, panic seized all, and like a cannon shot the race from Lawrence instantly became a mad stampede. Someone rang the armory bell but no one was fool enough to rally. Men who had naively held to their homes at the onset of the first raid and who thus experienced the most terrifying hours of their lives didn’t wait around for the second, but broke from town at a run, hair streaming in the wind. Women, whose courage hadn’t wavered during the Friday attack and whose poise had been a comfort to all, now caved in completely and became “utterly unstrung.” Men, women, children—all raced blindly, filling the streets with a bedlam of sobs, shrieks, and shouts, expecting the slaughter to overtake them with every bound.

Run for your life . . . Quantrill is coming back and will kill all of us! 

Run to the country, Quantrill is coming!

Take your children and run . . . Quantrill is coming!

After a few short minutes the dust finally settled. The town was deserted. Except for a few wounded, not a soul, black or white, resident or visitor, was left in Lawrence. As time passed, men on the opposite shore anxiously watched for the attack to begin. But mysteriously, there was only silence. Shortly, one hundred citizens recovered sufficiently to cross back and pass out weapons from the armory. Their plans for a stand were for naught, however, for they soon learned the cause of the lookout’s alarm—imprudently, a farmer had chosen this moment to burn off a field of straw.

Knowledge of the error came too late to reach the majority of people, however. Some were far away and still running while others were even further along and had no intention of ever stopping, like the clerk at R & B’s, who this time would not pull up until he reached New York and absolute safety. But for the rest, many carrying footsore children, there was no run left, and they simply alit in fields and thickets fringing the town.

That night proved to be one of the coldest, cruelest summer nights in border memory. The temperature plunged, the rain and hail came in sheets, the lightning cracked, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with all the fury of a cyclone. But still—soaked, frozen, and huddled as they were—few ventured back, for the wind and cold and rain were far preferable to Lawrence, where it was firmly believed Quantrill was adding the final touches to the bloody work begun on Friday.

One of these miserable refugees, seeking an answer to it all, later questioned his aged father. “Why have we been so terribly punished? Why so infinitely worse than any other place in all the history of this war? Why beyond comparison and precedent?” After brief reflection on the territorial days of the fifties, the war on the border and the sagging fortunes of the South in the sixties, of the bloody days of rampage when Lane, Jennison, and their Jayhawkers had turned western Missouri inside out, the son found the answer to his own question.

“lt has come,” he finally admitted, “and they have had their revenge.”

But another, angrier than the first, and speaking for a great many more than the first, considered the scales once more uneven.

“Oh! God!” he implored heaven, “Who shall avenge?”

Massacre

63_2_quantrill-raid

Long before the guns at Ft. Sumter ignited the American Civil War in 1861, another war was waged on the distant border of Kansas and Missouri. There, in 1854, the fight between pro-slavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans began. The anger and hatred of the two parties soon escalated from a war of words to a war of violence in which Americans finally got down to the bloody business of killing one another over this question: “Will slavery continue in the United States or will it not?” By the time the entire nation, North and South, finally joined in the fratricidal blood-letting in 1861, Kansans and Missourians had already been engaged in the hate and slaughter for seven years.

Soon, and little noticed by the nation at large due to the bloody contest at its own doorstep, the war in the west quickly descended into one of savagery; of arson, theft, torture, mutilation, murder, and massacre as “Jayhawkers” from Kansas raided Missouri and “Bushwhackers” from Missouri raided Kansas.

By the summer of 1863, the hatred along the Kansas-Missouri border had reached a flash point. Convinced that the federal occupation authorities had declared war on their women when five were killed in a prison collapse in Kansas City, the Missouri guerrillas lead by William Quantrill decided the time had come for a bloody revenge.

Since the onset of the troubles in 1854, Lawrence, Kansas, had been the epicenter of anti-slavery agitation and violence on the western frontier. It was here, along the banks of the Kansas, or Kaw, River, that many Jayhawking forays into Missouri had originated and it was here where much of the stolen loot had returned with the Unionist guerrillas known as Red Legs. Unlike the devastated Missouri border, the area around Lawrence, beyond the reach of rebel raiders, had hardly been touched by war. Thus, although it seemed suicidal, the 450 Missouri irregulars who rode west with Quantrill were determined to strike a blow at what they viewed as the heart of the problem.

At dawn of August 21, 1863, after a grueling all-night ride of fifty miles in which he had “dodged and baffled” his Yankee pursuers, Quantrill finally halted his force on a ridge just east of Lawrence.

(To recognize the 153rd anniversary of this event, the following is from my first book, Bloody Dawn—The Story of the Lawrence Massacre)  

***

The day came clear and calm on Friday, August 21, 1863. Not a cloud in the pale morning sky, nor was there a trace of wind. Looking down from Mount Oread a few threads of white smoke were visible, curling straight up as early risers began preparing their breakfasts. Reaching to the heights came the faraway low of milk cows and the tiny, strained efforts of dueling roosters. Black, impassive, the Kaw turned the bend and silently slid east.

Although the land was yet dark, from the summit several figures could nevertheless be seen stirring in the twilight. There were the local hounds trotting their morning circuit, scouting leftovers from the evening past. But there was also Sallie Young, the Eldridge House seamstress, taking her customary ride from town. Two beaux were with her, and at the moment the showoffs were racing their horses south down the Fort Scott Road. Directly below, on Massachusetts Street, the boy recruits were just beginning to rise and dress. Charles Pease was close by, coming down the street from his slaughterhouse with a carcass of beef in the back of the wagon. His dog tripped along beside. Arthur Spicer had begun sweeping out the first of the day’s dust from his beer hall, and in the streets George Sargent was making the rounds, tinkling his bell, delivering milk door to door.

At the Eldridge all was silent save for the kitchen sounds of colored help beginning breakfast. Across the misty river, parked in the cottonwood grove, two teams loaded with salt for R & B’s waited on the ferry to start service for the day.  And winding his way up the face of Mount Oread was Charles Robinson. Leaving his wife at home by the riverside, the troubled former governor was taking advantage of the splendid new day.  Above the slumbering town he approached the stone barn where his first house had stood. Here he would hitch a carriage and take a jaunt over the countryside while the air was yet cool and fresh and where one could remain undisturbed and lost in thought. By his watch, it was five o’clock.

Songbirds began their morning ritual, and gradually, as it grew lighter, several more people emerged to stretch upon porches or visit a back building. In all, it was a tranquil scene—the dawn of a typical summer day in Lawrence.

The more he watched, however, the more George Bell realized there would be nothing typical about this day. He was the first to see them. From his home on Mount Oread the county clerk’s attention had for some time been focused toward the Wakarusa where he spied a huge column of riders slowly materializing from the murky valley.

Bell had naturally assumed they were Union troops. But then there had been the alarms and the “great scare” of three weeks past, and the longer he watched and the more he thought, the greater his suspicion grew. As the horsemen neared, there were mysterious starts and stops and then, when they halted on the rise and two men rode into town and back and two more split off to Sam Snyder’s farm, Bell became certain that this was not the federal cavalry. They didn’t even have a flag.

Grabbing his musket and cartridge box, the clerk ran for the door. His wife and children tried to stop him; if it were true, they begged, there was little one person could do, for the town was asleep. The man brushed their pleading aside. “If they take Lawrence,” he announced, “they must do it over my dead body.” Rushing down the slope, George Bell headed for the armory.

Sallie Young was next. Someone with her said that the column to the east was a Kansas outfit. But no one had mentioned anything about their arrival yesterday. They watched for a bit, but their curiosity was up and soon the friends rode back toward town. As it grew lighter, a few people in the south also saw them and turned to watch.

***

Finally, Quantrill paused for the last time. The young guide was passed to the rear. A number of men quickly jumped down and loose saddle girths were hurriedly cinched. Blue jackets were stripped off, red sleeves rolled up. Revolvers were drawn, percussion caps checked. Some of the best stuck leather reins in their mouth and bit down hard, leaving both hands free. One final time Quantrill turned and reminded the Missourians why they had come. They knew. Then, at five past five, Quantrill’s horse broke away at a gallop. Behind, a wild, explosive shout went up and the entire command lunged forward at a run. A few shots rang out but most held their fire.

As the roar came nearer—an unearthly scream some thought, unlike anything ever heard in Lawrence—people in the south of town jumped startled from their beds and ran to windows, then to one another.

Those men . . . they have no flag!

There’s a regiment of them!

The rebels have come!

The bushwhackers are here!

Quantrill’s band as sure as you live!

Quantrill is here!

QUANTR1LL!

At his barn Governor Robinson turned sharply to the east. He saw a number of tiny flashes followed by as many puffs of gray smoke and these in turn followed by the faint rattle of small arms fire. Unfamiliar as he was with actual warfare, Robinson nevertheless under stood. As he inched his way back into the barn the governor saw below a long, dark mass moving rapidly through the south of town striking for the center.

In East Lawrence, blacks were already pouring from their huts and dashing for the river. “The secesh have come,” they screamed. “The secesh have come.”

Across the ravine in West Lawrence, those who were awakened by the gunfire thought first of Independence Day and firecrackers . . . then the marshal’s dog killers . . . then the recruits acting up. But the Fourth of July was long past and most of the stray dogs had been killed. As for the recruits, they had no weapons. US Senator, James Lane, rose on an elbow and cocked an ear to the south window.

In the quiet surrounding his farm one mile west of Lawrence, Levi Gates also heard the strange sound. Without a second thought he reached for his long-range hunting rifle, and like George Bell and a good many others, Gates rushed straight for town.

At the south edge of Lawrence, Sallie and her friends stopped by the yard of the Reverend Snyder. The group could just make out the distant rumble in town, and here was Mrs. Snyder leaning over her husband Sam, sobbing uncontrollably. A milk pail was turned over, the cow was gone, and the front of the reverend’s shirt was covered with blood. But the woman wouldn’t say what had happened. The noise drew the riders further into town.

***

Charging across open lots, the raiders soon began to separate. With waves and nods, scores of men, mostly farmers and young recruits, split off to picket Mount Oread and the roads leading from town. A little further on, the main body itself broke into three columns, with Quantrill leading the larger to Massachusetts Street while two smaller groups turned down New Hampshire and Vermont. The shooting became more regular.

Ahead, as the roar approached, the boys in the recruit camp came falling from tents, struggling to get into their clothes. Across the street the black camp was already deserted.

When the main column spotted the tents and blue uniforms a moment later, it never slowed, but with shouts–Osceola! Kansas City! Remember the girls!–it rode right on through. As it did, there came a deafening explosion as hundreds of shots were fired up and down the ranks. In a few seconds, when they had passed, all that remained was settling dust, blood-spattered canvas, and a pile of twisted bodies, hands still clutching jackets and trousers. Seeing this, Charles Pease leaped from his meat wagon and flattened himself on the ground. Hard beside him, his dog shivered from paw to haunch.

Eldridge4516Hotel_t460With the cry “On to the hotel,” the main column stormed into the business district. Thundering down broad Massachusetts Street five and six abreast, shots were fired randomly at storefronts while on the adjoining streets others fired into the back doors. At last, in a huge cloud of dust, the three columns converged and washed against the Eldridge House (left). Here they pulled up. A few shots rang out, but soon all became still, and as the shouts and swearing died away only the horses, rearing and plunging, were heard. With hundreds of guns moving from window to window the guerrillas watched and waited. A cannon was parked across the street at the courthouse, but no one was there to use it.

Inside the hotel, there was no panic. Most guests were still in bed, for it had been too sudden. After looking out, some men thought fast enough to slip their money to women. An employee quickly tossed his life savings of $100 in gold through a trap door onto the roof, and someone shouted that “half-wit” Jo, the hotel owner’s brother, had been shot while scaling the courtyard fence. But most were simply too groggy to be frightened. Eastern guests were outraged at being roused at such an hour.

One look and Alexander Banks knew it was hopeless. From his third-floor window the state provost marshal gazed down on a sea of upturned faces, fantastic faces—unshaven, deeply tanned, distorted faces, streaked with sweat, dust, and powder, burning with red-rimmed eyes, and framed in long, greasy hair. There were probably no more than a dozen weapons, including his own, in the entire hotel, so Banks made a quick decision. Yanking a sheet from his bed, he hung it out the window.

Below, there was a thunderous cheer at the symbol, and when all had quieted the provost marshal asked for the leader to come forward. As soon as Quantrill appeared, Banks wisely began bargaining for the safety of the occupants; the hotel would be surrendered without a fight, but first, he insisted, the well-being of the guests must be guaranteed. Quantrill was about to answer when a loud clanging echoed throughout the hotel. Startled, the mass of riders whirled and sprang back, ready to open fire. Quickly Banks yelled out, begging the rebels not to shoot; it was a mistake—only the excited night clerk raising the guests with the dinner gong. For a moment, everything was “breathlessly still.” Shortly, Quantrill again spoke with Banks and soon agreed to the terms, much relieved that the hotel had not become a fortress as feared.

With wild shouts and cheers for Quantrill, many guerrillas then left for the stables and other parts of town while another group dismounted and, with brass spurs jingling, tramped into the plush hotel. Upstairs, fine ladies and gentlemen, scantily clad, had their rooms burst into by dirty, cursing men who with a splash of tobacco juice and wave of a pistol ordered them out and down to the lobby. Trunks and carpet sacks were ripped open, and jewelry, currency, and ladies’ apparel were crammed into pockets. The looting went from room to room as the stupefied boarders—a travelling bishop and priests included—fled down the staircase. Banks and his assurance of safety did little to calm nerves as the celebration above grew in fury. Downstairs, the trembling night clerk was forced to open the safe while other rebels passed quietly about the crowded lobby, tapping men on the shoulder and asking, “your money, if you please!” much as a railroad conductor might pause for tickets, thought one man. With some remaining humor another captive asked if he might keep just fifty cents for a drink or two. The bushwhacker stared at him for a deadly moment or two, gave a slow smile, and then handed back eighty.

Down Massachusetts Street, store doors were kicked in and food and liquor were located. Miniature US flags were also discovered, then with a laugh fastened to the rumps of horses. The offices of the Republican and State Journal were quickly put to the torch. Near the river, the rope on the liberty pole was cut and, amid loud cheers, the huge red, white, and blue banner came fluttering down.

Among the twelve soldiers across the Kaw there was no longer any doubt. First came the mad flight of blacks furiously paddling boats and logs or simply swimming the swollen river. Then the flag fell. Then the cheers. Taking aim, the troops opened fire. On the opposite shore, several raiders trying to cut the ferry cable went spinning up the bank again. When a horseman was spotted, more slugs whizzed up Massachusetts Street and between homes near the river.

***

Sallie Young and her two companions came into Lawrence quite some distance before they realized their mistake.  Warning her friends to stay calm, the three quietly turned and rode slowly from town. When the outskirts were reached and a rebel picket sighted them, the two boys set spurs and were off south. Sallie rode back into town.

***

Soon, Quantrill entered the hotel. Stepping into the packed lobby he met a number of old faces, whereupon he shook hands and spoke briefly. He assured them of their safety. The guerrilla chief then climbed a flight of stairs and strode to the landing where he looked over the crowd and watched while his men went about their work. Everyone below seemed stunned. Terrified, most expected the leader to be the essence of his men; wild, vulgar, and snarling. On this score, however, they were gratefully surprised. Although he gripped a big pistol, with another in his belt, there was a pleasant, calm, even benign look spread over his boyish face and clear blue eyes. His gray hunting shirt was open at the chest and he wore a low-crowned Spanish hat with gold neck cord and little tassels dangling around the brim.

“A fine-looking man,” mused a captive.

Some in the crowd attempted to humor and flatter, grinning sheepishly, reminding him of old times in the territory and congratulating him on his brilliant success in capturing Lawrence. Unmoved, Quantrill received the tribute with “marked complacency,” simply adding that yes, it was by far his greatest exploit. Another ventured to ask why he hadn’t come during the full moon as he had threatened.

“You were expecting me then,” he smiled.

Then, after once more vouching for their safety, Quantrill asked if Governor Carney was in town. He was not, someone answered.

Again, he queried if anyone knew where Senator Lane lived? Arthur Spicer “volunteered.” After ordering the captives across the street and assigning several men to guard them, Quantrill detailed a squad to follow Spicer to Lane’s house: if he misled them, the saloonkeeper was to be shot on the spot; otherwise Spicer was to be returned alive as there was an old score yet to settle.

9764039820aee137b79a732761bcb370As they were being herded across the street, a number of bushwhackers cast crude remarks and curses at the captives. Already some raiders were glutted with liquor. One angry guerrilla, clamoring to murder the hostages, rode up, called a man a Red Leg, then aimed and fired. Although the shot missed, a guard threatened to kill the drunk should he fire again. This was seconded by Quantrill (right), who came out after hearing the disturbance. Quickly, he ordered the prisoners to the City Hotel near the river where they would remain safe. At this, the terror-stricken men and women sprang headlong for the refuge, Quantrill escorting a short distance behind.

Reaching the hotel, the rebel warmly greeted Nathan Stone and his beautiful daughter, Lydia, and shouted to the raiders nearby that the Stones were his friends and that neither they, the hostages, nor the building was to be touched. He then turned to leave. Before he left, however, Quantrill once more reminded the captives that Stone’s hotel was their haven: “Stay in it. . . . Don’t attempt to go into the streets.”

***

Although no Red Legs were there this morning, the rebels didn’t know it, and thus the three-story Johnson House was quickly surrounded by a large band. Unlike the Eldridge, however, the score of people inside refused to come out. Consequently, the bushwhackers began sniping at the windows, mixing the gunfire with calls to surrender.  “All we want is for the men to give themselves up,” they yelled, “and we will spare them and burn the house.”

Two doors down, in a home of screaming children, Getta Dix was doing everything in her power to get her husband to move. Earlier, while Ralph was still in bed, Getta had looked up the street and watched in disbelief while “half-wit” Jo was shot off the Eldridge fence; now with more shooting at the Johnson House the street was full of men. Again she pleaded—the raiders were too busy at the hotel—there was still a chance. But Ralph, his brother Steve, and several employees seemed frozen, uncertain, feebly reassuring one another that it was only a matter of time before help arrived.

Again the woman begged. But nothing. Putting her children in the arms of the men, she then ran down the flight of stairs to the side of the house and struggled a heavy ladder up to a window. As she was coming back, however, Getta looked over toward the Johnson House, and there to her horror she saw several men leaping from windows only to be shot upon landing. Running back into the home, the woman barred the doors and told her husband what she had seen, warning the rest to stay inside. This and the fear of fire jolted the men. Together, despite his wife’s pleas, Dix and the others decided that their only hope now rested behind the stone walls of the Johnson House. Thus after climbing out a window and crawling over the roof of the adjoining barber shop, every man did eventually reach the hotel.

After seeing Ralph safely on the other side, and after taking her children to a coal shed out back, Getta desperately searched for her black nurse. The woman was finally discovered locked in a closet, refusing to come out. Grabbing a meat cleaver from the kitchen, the frantic mother hacked open the door and ordered the frightened nurse toward the shed to mind the children while she herself went to the Johnson House.

No sooner had Getta left than she saw her brother-in-law tumble down the steps at the rear of the hotel. Running to his side, she settled his head into her lap and sought to comfort him. But Steve was dead, and when Getta tried to move, his brain fell into her hands.

Then, as the blood-smeared woman staggered to the front, she could see that the hotel had surrendered. And there, standing among the rest, Getta saw through a rush of pain and tears her husband.

“Oh my God, Ralph,” she screamed. “Why did you do it? I know they will kill you.”

Another prisoner nearby had just handed a pistol to his captor. As soon as the weapon was given up a gun exploded behind the man, blowing out his stomach. Horrified, Dix and the other seven captives screamed for mercy.

“I have killed seven Red Legs,” laughed the head of the gang, “and I’ll kill eight more.”

Wildly pleading that it was a mistake, that they weren’t Red Legs, the white-eyed, sobbing men knelt and crawled on the ground, reaching up to the guerrillas for life. Although she too was pleading for his life, Dix begged his wife to try even harder. At length, the prisoners were kicked and punched to their feet and driven by three guards across the street toward the Methodist Church. With Getta clinging to Ralph’s arm, she begged the men at every step not to harm him. Two of the rebels bent, then broke, making her a promise. But the leader was firm.

“No, I won’t let you take your husband away,” he said. “I’m going to kill every damn one of them.”

Hanging desperately to Ralph, striking at the raider’s horse as it tried to nudge her away, the woman walked sideways, never taking her eyes from the leader. Up from the church, in the alley, Getta stumbled over a pile of rocks, breaking her hold, and before she could rise again the guns went off. Somewhere in the swirling blue smoke she saw Ralph go down. As in a dream, she stood while all around her the others fell away.  Racing down the alley, another group of riders spotted the pile of bodies; without slowing they trampled and mashed them into the ground.

Getta wandered along Massachusetts Street for some time—to a store where looting guerrillas chased her away, to a figure that was still breathing. But nothing, it seemed, could hold her attention. She continued to drift aimlessly until at last she found herself again in the alley. Noticing a straw hat laying nearby, Getta picked it up, quietly placed it over her husband’s face, then calmly walked back to her burning home.

***

bloodybillAlthough a number of raiders roamed Massachusetts Street, exploring one store after the other, most broke into squads and covered the town. Many, like the guerrilla leaders, George Todd and Bill Anderson (left), rode over the bridges spanning the ravine and paid a visit to affluent West Lawrence. From out of shirt pockets came the lists with the long row of names, and the firing that opened the morning so terrifically now settled into short, methodical bursts from every corner of town. The Missourians had finally gotten among those they hated most, and no power on earth could stop them now.

***

Panic gripped Mayor George Collamore. Springing from window to window, he, his wife Julia, and their Irish servant saw on all sides only nightmarish guerrillas, angry and shouting. There was no way out. Suddenly the desperate man thought of his well and quickly ran for the rear. There, in a wing of the house the tiny mayor dove down the dark hole followed closely by his servant.

At the front door the gang entered, met by Julia and her frightened children. Cursing and yelling, they demanded her husband. Receiving no reply from the terror-stricken wife, the men crashed through the home, up and down, from one room to the next, madly hunting their prey. Failing in this, it was decided simply to smoke the victim out. Setting the house on fire, the raiders fell back into the street to watch and wait for the mayor’s appearance.

Refusing to leave, Julia slipped to the well, and as the flames spread throughout the home, she spoke down to her husband.

***

By the time George Bell reached the center of town, Lawrence was surrounded. There had been no resistance. Nowhere could Bell hear the distinct crack of a militia rifle, and as far as he could see he was the only citizen shouldering a weapon. His courage dissolved. Bell looked for a way to escape, returning to home and family his sole desire. At last he ducked into the ravine. There, to his surprise, he met many others, just as confused and frightened as he.

“Where shall we meet?” he whispered. Aghast at such a notion, those nearby warned that it was pointless to think about a stand any longer; fighting would only get them all killed. A friend urged Bell to throw down his musket and perhaps draw less malice should he be taken. The sounds of gunfire and pounding hooves were more than enough to convince Bell of the wisdom in this. Dropping the rifle and cartridge box, the county clerk inched his way up the ravine toward home.

***

When Levi Gates reached West Lawrence from his farm he realized that it was too late. Across the ravine he could plainly see rebels in the center of town and more to the south, and it was obvious there was little he could do. All of Gates’ friends and neighbors who had come on the run had turned back home in dismay. He was about to do the same. But Levi Gates took pride in the fact that he was an excellent shot, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to try his hand on a human target and bag a rebel proved irresistible.

Dismounting, the farmer steadied his hunting rifle on a fence, sighted his mark, then squeezed the trigger. Although it was a long shot, a guerrilla in the distance jumped in his saddle. Tempted further, Gates once more loaded and fired, then raced for the wooded ravine. He failed to notice the rider closing on his right, however, and after he was brought down and the rebel had finished with him, Levi Gates lay sprawled in the dust, his head flat and mashed “to a jelly.”

***

The first Jim Lane knew of anything was when a “flying Negro” passed his home and yelled that the bushwhackers were in town. Instantly the mansion became a bedlam, and while the wife and children flashed about in their night clothes trying to locate two guns stored somewhere, the senator peered out the window watching for the approach of the raiders. The guns could not be found. Grabbing a ceremonial sword as his only recourse, Lane quickly dropped it as the horsemen led by Arthur Spicer drew up at the front gate. Bolting through the house, the Jayhawker flew out the back window and ran for a small gully, bobbing and weaving, pausing just long enough to look for Rebel pickets. In a few moments Lane emerged from the gully and went streaking west through his cornfield, nightshirt flapping in the breeze.

Meeting them at the door, Mary Lane politely informed the guerrillas that the senator was not at home. Foiled at not coming face to face with the most famous Jayhawker in Kansas, the rebels settled for next best and proceeded to dismantle his home. Pianos, furniture, china—much of it ironically, stolen in Missouri—were broken up and strewn about, as were the senator’s private papers. The rings worn by Mary and her daughter were snatched from their fingers. Having finally located one of the shotguns, James, Ir., was warned to give it up. He refused. When a blast smashed into the wall nearby he at last did as he was told. The home was then set ablaze. But the mother and children hurried and put it out. Again a fire was lit in a different spot and again the family rushed and extinguished it. Finally the flames caught and spread in a third area and the frantic attempts to save the finest home in Lawrence at last ceased.

At that, the gang mounted and rode away. With them not only did they take Lane’s “magnificent banner” presented to his Indiana regiment for duty in the Mexican War, but the senator’s shining sword as well.

By now Lane himself was almost a mile away, crossing over the California Road, still running.

***

One block east of Lane’s, another group surrounded the stately home of Jerome Griswold. The swoop completely stunned the four families inside. With loud, ugly shouts the men were ordered to come out. Looking down from the second-floor bedrooms at the terrifying array below, Dr. Griswold, Jo Trask, Harlow Baker, Simeon Thorp, along with their wives turned and spoke excitedly about what they should do. Again the men were demanded; again there was no response. A moment or two passed and then, anxiously, someone in the house called out and asked why the men were wanted.

“The damned sons of bitches must come out of there,” yelled an impatient guerrilla. He was echoed by his companions. No one in the home moved at this awful demand.

Soon, another raider, wiser than the first, urged the Kansans to come out, that he would guarantee their safety once they did. No one would be harmed, he insisted, adding that they came only to rob Lawrence, and “if the citizens quietly surrender . . . it might save the town.” This last approach softened the four men in the home. And besides, there was nothing else they could do.

“If it will help to save the town,” Trask advised, “let us go.”

The men—balding State Senator Thorp, handsome newspaper­man Trask, and dark-bearded, husky Griswold—filed down the staircase and reluctantly walked out the door. While Baker was getting into his clothes, the bushwhackers quickly encircled the others. The captives were asked their names and occupations, then robbed, and when Baker at last came down, the raiders formed the four men into a line. As the wives watched, the husbands were ordered to march toward town, and with Baker in the lead and a guerrilla riding at the side of each, they walked off.

Just as they cleared the yard one of the rebels cursed the men for going too slowly. This caused the prisoners to quickly pick up the pace. Something exploded behind him, ripping through his neck, and before Baker hit the ground another shot shattered his wrist. The rest of the guns went off. Thorp fell down near Baker while Trask managed to run only a short distance before he too went down. Wounded several times, big Jerome Griswold stayed on his feet. He made it all the way back to the yard and was on the verge of escape, but just as he was scrambling over some cordwood a well-aimed ball tore the life from him once and for all.

As the women stood shrieking in horror the Missourians paused to scan their work. One man was dead outright, whereas the other three were still breathing. Screaming hysterically, the wives raced down the stairs and through the door toward the dying men. Before they could reach them, however, the raiders, cussing and shouting, drove them back again. Jo Trask, rolling and kicking in terrible pain, pleaded with a rebel to let his wife come to him. The guerrilla listened for a moment, thought the matter over, then agreed. Cocking his pistol, he aimed down and sent a chunk of lead whizzing through Trask’s heart.

“He’s dead,” shouted the killer to the wife. “You can come now.”

It was decided to leave the two yet alive to lay and suffer as they were, and while the gang moved down the street a mounted guard was stationed a little beyond. After the others had left, the women again tried to reach their husbands but were once more frightened back when the rebel rode down on them at a charge. There was nothing they could do. The mayor’s house was burning and others were starting to smoke, and there were the men lying all alone.

In great agony from a stomach wound, Senator Thorp writhed in the blood and dust. His friend Baker lay a few paces off, bleeding from the neck and hand. Harlow Baker had come close to drowning once in a swirling black river of his native Maine, so he understood death a little better than most. Although they were painful, the grocer knew that his wounds were not mortal. He remained still nonetheless. Beyond, no sound or movement came from Griswold or Trask.

***

Around the burning home of George Collamore all the guerrillas had gone. They left fully satisfied that Collamore had either escaped earlier or burned to death in the fire. But to them the most certain thing in the world was that the mayor of Lawrence could not be in the house and still alive. Even Julia, who had remained by the well talking down to her husband until the very last, was forced out by the murderous heat.

Standing back, she watched. The fire engulfed the house and spread to the wing, and then the orange flames crackled and licked over the mouth of the well.

***

Old Joseph Savage wasn’t in that great of a rush to leave town–at least not until he had hitched his buggy and safely loaded everything of value into the back, including his brand-new silver baritone, which he was eager to show off at the next band concert. But finally, he and his wife and a German friend did pull away from their home just south of Lawrence and drove up Cemetery Road. “Mine pipe, mine pipe,” cried the German, who wanted to go back and get it. But Savage wasn’t turning around just for a pipe, and the German and his smoke would simply have to wait.

After a short ride the group came to the home of Otis Longley; here they stopped. To their surprise they saw Otis suddenly bolt out his back door and run to the front, “making a frightened noise, unlike any other sound I ever heard,” thought Savage. Close behind came two men cursing him to halt. Otis kept going, however, and just as he was about to reach the fence along the road, a shot rang out. Otis went down. As the stunned people watched on, the moaning man struggled to climb the fence. But another explosion sounded behind him and another bullet blew open his jaw, knocking him back to the ground. When the two rebels walked up—one greedily chomping slices of cantaloupe—Otis was on his hands and knees, coughing streams of blood. Again he tried to rise. A loud blast at close range dropped him for good. The men then crossed the fence.

Joseph Savage, “some times crawling, and some times running and rolling,” had already made a break for cover. But trembling and pale, the German sat beside Mrs. Savage stiff with fear. The woman’s pleading and the sight of the horrified German was just too much, however, and the wagon was allowed to pass.

The two guerrillas strolled back to the house, the one still eating melon and the other merrily tooting his new silver horn.

***

“Now is your time to make your escape,” whispered one of the raiders behind Lemuel Fillmore. Earlier, Fillmore had taken his valuable horse to the ravine for safekeeping. Instead of staying there, however, he returned to his house for a pistol. That’s when they caught and disarmed him, and that’s why he was now being marched toward Massachusetts Street.

“Now is your time to run,” the captor whispered as they neared the ravine. At this, Fillmore decided to make his move. He got only a few paces, however, before he was shot in the back and killed.

In West Lawrence an old man stood by a fence, idly spectating. A rebel rode up. Water was demanded. The old man ambled off and soon returned. Taking the cup with his left hand, the bushwhacker shot the man dead with his right.

Like these victims, most common people were at first impervious to the peril around them. Many were still under the impression that as with Olathe, Shawnee, and the others, this raid was for plunder alone, where only “marked” men would suffer. Otis Longley had seen rebels on Mount Oread earlier, but he went right on with his chores. When finished, Otis drew buckets of water and sat patiently waiting, just in case his home was set on fire. The attorney, Sam Riggs, despite the warnings of his wife, Kate, continued to help neighbors along his street by removing furniture and dousing flames. Many others reacted similarly.

Looking down from his stone barn, however, Charles Robinson harbored no such illusions about this raid. Below, he watched the drama unfold. He saw the home of Mayor Collamore ablaze, as well as that of Ralph Dix. He saw Lane’s house burning. As the sun rose, Robinson also saw through the smoke the machine movements of the guerrillas, their door-to-door calls, the citizens breaking from their homes at a run, the pursuit by men on horseback. The governor also heard the muted pistol fire, the shrieks of wives, the shouts and laughter of killers.

Charles Robinson had founded Lawrence barely nine years before, and a kind fate had allowed him to be absent during the first sack in 1856. Now, to his utter misery and grief, he had a front-row seat to the second, but this, unlike the other, was a much more thorough, much more tragic affair.

***

Larkin Skaggs was accustomed to having things just his way. He had already laid claim to one of the finest horses taken in the Lawrence stables, a magnificent white, and few were the men to contest it. Skaggs was big and burly and strong, and his long hair and beard were grizzled because he was quite a bit older than the rest. But Larkin Skaggs was also exceedingly cruel. When drunk, the bushwhacker was even crueler than usual, and thus when Lydia Stone’s sparkling diamond ring caught his eye, it was wrenched from her finger in the same brutal way Skaggs took whatever else he wanted in life.

When Quantrill entered the hotel the attractive young woman made a tearful appeal. Still in the building, Skaggs was located terrorizing the Eldridge captives; after a few words from the leader, he was “obliged” to return the ring. On his way out, Skaggs paused just long enough to glare down at Lydia Stone.

“Miss,” he growled, “I’ll make you rue this.”

***

sallie2BeFunky_68_2_young_quantrill.jpgNot long after she arrived back in town, Sallie Young (left) was taken prisoner and robbed of her pony. But shortly afterward she was put back in the saddle and ordered to go with a squad of rebels to identify men and point out which homes were which. But Sallie wasn’t very helpful. Every other house it seemed was that of a brother, a cousin, or an uncle, and with tears rolling down her pretty cheeks she begged the raiders to spare the home and occupants. They did and they did and they did, but after this the girl was allowed to leave whenever she chose. Although she might have left at any time, Sallie tagged along instead and followed the squad wherever it went. Some of the people who caught a glimpse of her were confused: how odd she looked in her natty riding habit, they thought, alongside the rough and ugly men.

Arthur Spicer was also with a group of rebels. Unlike Sallie, however, the saloonkeeper was religiously pointing out men, homes, and businesses. And unlike the girl, Spicer couldn’t just pick up and leave anytime he wanted; and to have had so many relatives would have been his end. It was coming soon enough, he thought, when he was handed back to Quantrill.

***

The man with the salty little grin wasn’t grinning today; he was praying. As he lay on his back in the dark cellar, squeezed up between a dirt ledge and the kitchen floor, he knew it was only a matter of time before they came.

Like his old boss Jim Lane, Hugh Fisher entertained no rosy notions about tomorrow should he fall into rebel hands today. That morning at Sibley had proven how important he was to George Todd and the Missouri bushwhackers. Nor was he as ill as previously thought. At the initial shout, the Jayhawker jumped from his sickbed and “bounded” out the door. First, he turned his horses loose from the barn, and then with his two young sons, Willie and Charlie, he ran for Mount Oread. The illness had sapped the preacher, however, and the sight of rebel pickets on the crest made him think twice. Sending the boys on alone, Fisher fled back to his South Park home. Elizabeth, with a baby in her arms and a tot by her side, thought her husband was insane to return and said as much, but as he slipped into the tiny cellar the woman made up her mind to do everything she could to save her man.

His wait was not long and Fisher soon heard the sounds—horses to the gate, spurs on the porch, knocks at the door, boots on the kitchen floor.

“Is your husband about the house?”

He was not, lied Elizabeth.

“I know a damned sight better,” snapped the guerrilla. “He’s in the cellar; where is it?”

Startled, yet composed, taking the four men to the door, the woman pointed with a straight face: “The cellar is open; if you think he is there, go look for yourselves.”

Staring down into the black, a light was demanded. While the mother went upstairs to fetch a lamp, still keeping a grip on herself, the baby was placed in a bushwhacker’s arms. Waiting, the man made faces and cooed to keep the infant from crying.

Below, Fisher could hear everything. When he heard his wife returning with the lamp and the cocking of revolvers, his left foot began to tremble uncontrollably. He placed his right foot over it to keep it still. Then as the light entered the cellar and boots came slowly down the steps, Hugh Fisher’s heart and lungs slowed, then stopped, and his whole life flashed across his mind in an instant.

And Elizabeth, holding her baby tight to one ear and pressing her hand hard to the other, went quickly into the front room.

As the rebels reached the bottom, they were forced to stoop under the low ceiling. The man holding the lamp came to where the reverend was laying and stopped. In the glow of the lamp Fisher squinted upon the guerrilla’s face, less than two feet from his own. Because of the low ceiling the lamp too was held low; thus the preacher’s face remained in the shadow cast by the ledge he lay on. The men looked a bit longer but soon walked back up the stairs.

“The woman told the truth. The rascal has escaped.”

There was no time to listen to the echo in her ears. Elizabeth Fisher reached deep down, drew up every ounce of self-control she possessed, then let the words roll.

“You will believe me now, I hope. I told you my husband had gone.”

The rebels lingered awhile, robbed the house, torched it, then left one of their men behind to see that the fire spread. But it wasn’t in him to stop the woman as she raced from the well to the blaze and back again, and so the reluctant guard just left. When the last of the flames were doused, Elizabeth came to the cellar door and spoke softly to her husband.

“Pa,” she said, “Pray and trust in the Lord, and I’ll do all I can.”

***

After leaving their father, the two Fisher boys became separated somewhere in the hazel and sumac up the hill, and twelve-year-old Willie fell in with Robert Martin, a lad a little older and bigger than himself. Young Martin wore a blue shirt made from his father’s old uniform, and he also carried a musket with a cartridge box slung from his shoulder. So when a picket spotted them, he gave chase.

The two boys raced over the hill, side by side, as in a game where home base and blue sky are always just ahead and everything somehow ends as it should. But a blast sounded behind them, and as Robert tripped, Willie felt something wet and warm spray his face. Robert didn’t get up to finish the race because half his head was gone. And when Willie wiped his face he found his hand dripping blood, bone, and bits of brain.

Little Charlie Fisher also joined with another boy and together they hid in the cemetery. But a child’s superstition forced them to a nearby cotton patch instead.

***

As he crept along the ravine toward home, George Bell soon came to realize the futility of it all. He was cut off. Peering between the weeds and limbs, he could see no hope of reaching his family on the hill. In the streets, in the alleys, around burning homes and barns, only guerrillas were about. To climb the barren slopes of Mount Oread would be suicide. But his nerves cracked. Bell panicked.

Convinced it was just a matter of time before the raiders swarmed in and murdered them all, the county clerk and another man ran into the street. Once in the open and alone, the two abruptly returned to reality. But then, as fortune would have it, they spied a familiar sight—a partially completed brick home. The men dashed in, climbed to the second story, then crawled up among the joists. They could only keep quiet, count the seconds, and pray they hadn’t been seen.

But they had.

***

When a gang came to the home on South New Hampshire Street looking for Louis Carpenter, they didn’t have far to look. He was right there.

Absorbed with the more important things in life, the good judge had never given much thought to fear; and so, being unfamiliar with it, he could not fully express it. Thus when hate and the big black guns stood around him he didn’t react as most men might. He certainly didn’t run because running never entered his head. His hands didn’t tremble. His bodily functions didn’t betray him. His voice didn’t waver, and when lethal questions were posed the New Yorker replied straightly and honestly in a clear upstate accent. There was also a strange, kindly quality about him. Some rebels could not resist the temptation and stole a few items from the house, but no one was in a mood any longer to burn it. And certainly no one could bring himself to harm the judge. When the guerrillas left the yard, Carpenter was still standing there while behind him, his bride, Mary, and her sister, Abigail, began to breathe once more.

It was no act—the judge was always like that. A little later, another mob came and, seeing the pretty home, decided to burn it. But once again and as calm as ever, Carpenter met the raiders and sent them away disarmed. The pressure on the women, however, was almost unbearable.

***

It was a miracle! The bushwhacker had just started shooting at the men clinging to the beams when George Bell yelled out. The firing stopped, and everything became still.

It was true. The rebel was actually Bell’s old friend. In happier times the two had often broken bread together at the Kansan’s table, and each had greatly enjoyed one another’s company. Bell and his companion were told to come down, for from that moment on both men were home free. The old friend would talk to the Missourians and straighten things out. The county clerk jumped down followed by the other man, and together the three walked outside. That’s where the miracle ended. The crowd of guerrillas standing around them, wild and bitter, didn’t care a dime about old acquaintances.

“Shoot him! Shoot him!” was their cry, and not a word was uttered by the old friend. A religious man, Bell asked for a moment to pray. Granted. Finished, the clerk said amen, and in a burst of fire his companion fell down and George Bell dropped dead.

From there the gang scaled Mount Oread to complete the job. At home, Mrs. Bell met the raiders and recognized the former guest.

“We have killed your husband,” he blandly informed her, “and we have come to burn his house.”

***

When a group of bushwhackers broke into the home of Edward Fitch and shouted for him to come from hiding, he did. While Sarah and the three terrified children watched, the Massachusetts native walked down the stairs and into the circle of waiting men. As soon as Fitch hit the foot of the stairs he was dead. But just to make certain, the rebel who shot him grabbed another revolver and continued to pump slugs into the corpse until that gun too was emptied. The guerrillas then moved on to rob and torch the home.

As the smoke began to drift about, Sarah pleaded and tried three separate times to remove her husband’s body. But three separate times the murderer forbade it. She then ran to retrieve a small painting of Edward, but once more was denied. Finally the woman ceased all efforts and just wandered from room to room watching as her home was destroyed. At last, when the place was engulfed in flames, and with sparks and debris showering about her, a guerrilla forced her to leave.

Sarah walked with her screaming children across the road, sat on the grass, and watched while the home and everything she owned crackled and roared over the body of her husband. Above, on an adjoining shed, a small Union flag hung limp. The children, playing soldier a day or two before, had planted it high so that everyone in town could see they were loyal and proud to be Yankees.

***

Escape was the thing, escape by any means. Politicians, doctors, and merchants bellied toward safety side by side with local lay-abouts and town drunks, crawling in underclothes through flowerbeds and cabbage rows, along weedy lots and ditches until they finally reached what to them seemed a God-sent sanctuary—a cottonwood chicken coop or a tiny, stinking outhouse. Others simply hurled headlong into wells or shimmied beneath wooden walkways. An outdoor cellar in the center of town with a hidden entrance was a haven where many fled. But more found refuge in the ravine, along the tangled banks of the river, or in Jim Lane’s vast cornfield. Often chasing a victim right to the edge of these places, guerrillas always slammed to a halt and galloped away as if expecting a volley of shots to ring out. In the cornfield, scores of thirsty citizens were hidden. Several times the raiders rode along the perimeter, some were for going in. Uncertainty, however, always held them back. A woman living on the hem of the field who had carried water to the fugitives was asked by a group of rebels, who themselves had stopped for water, what was in the corn.

“Go in and see,” she replied, in a tone that left no doubts.

Had they gone in they wouldn’t have found Jim Lane; nor would they have found him anywhere near the field. Instead he was among the bluffs far to the southwest of Lawrence, “on his belly under some bushes.”

Escape was the thing; there were other ways. After somehow avoiding the slaughter, the lieutenant of the recruits eluded his pursuers and ran naked into an abandoned shanty. There he found clothes and quickly dressed. In a moment or two he left the hut and walked into the street unnoticed . . . wearing a dress and bonnet.

Another man burst into a home occupied by three women and begged for help. Soon a noisy gang stomped through the door. Searching the rooms without success, the guerrillas loudly entered the parlor. At this the indignant ladies scolded the rebels to please be quiet and more considerate, since “poor Aunt Betsie” was neither well nor accustomed to such excitement. Sitting in an invalid’s chair, “Aunt Betsie” was eyed suspiciously–an old woman’s cap, a shawl across her lap, medicine bottles and cups nearby, a “niece” fanning her. Finally, the raiders left and the grateful “Aunt Betsie” and three resourceful women breathed easily once again.

Some men without recourse simply put on the dirtiest, most ragged set of clothes they had and mixed with the Missourians. One dentist went even further. Besides finding money for the guerrillas and guiding them to the best stock of liquor in town, he also joined in and set several homes on fire.

When raiders knocked on their doors, women too employed almost any device in an attempt to save their homes—and very often the men hiding just above or just below.

Where in hell is Fred Read?

Gone east for goods.

Peter Ridenour?

Gone east to buy goods.

What are your politics?

Sound on the goose.

Has your old man ever stolen any niggers in Missouri?

Never been in Missouri.

But as often as not, no amount of pleading or lying would suffice, and a home was put to the torch anyhow. And as soon as the bushwhackers had done their work and moved on, behind them women and children rushed with quilts and slopping buckets of water in an attempt to smother the flames. But as was commonly the case, after gamely battling and subduing a blaze, the soot-smeared ladies looked up only to find another squad approaching with the same intent.

“Put that out if you can!” said an exasperated guerrilla to a woman who had just stopped one fire. When he had gone, she did just that.

***

Those at the home of John Thornton were more persistent. When the straw bed they ignited was put out, the rebels returned and started it again, but this time Nancy Thornton was forced to leave. In a short while, when the husband too appeared and raced out the back, the guerrillas were ready and waiting. A chunk of hot lead burned into Thornton’s hip. He didn’t go down, however, but turned and fled back into the house. Again the heat became unbearable, and when he reappeared another shot was fired, this time blowing his knee apart. Once more, and followed by his horrified wife, Thornton limped back into his blazing home.

Blinded by smoke, the wounded man soon came out again, leaning on Nancy for support. One of the raiders rode up, took aim, but just before he could jerk the trigger the Kansan lunged for his leg. Thornton was unable to reach the weapon, however, and a slug at point-blank smashed into his eye and exploded out the cheek. Another gun went off and a ball entered his back, ripped down the spine, and tore into a buttock. But still Thornton clung to his attacker. Frustrated and out of ammunition, the bushwhacker tried again.

“I can kill you,” he growled as he used the heavy revolver like a hammer to bash the head of the struggling man. At last John Thornton lost his grip and released the leg. But he wasn’t dead.

“Stand back and let me try,” yelled an impatient guerrilla nearby. “He is the hardest man to kill I ever saw.” With that, the enraged attacker let fly every ball in his weapon, striking the target one, two, three times. Thornton stumbled a few steps, then collapsed in a heap. Still doubtful, one of the rebels reared his horse back to stomp the body, then leveled his pistol to fire again.

“For God’s sake,” shrieked the hysterical wife as she grabbed the horse’s bridle, “let him alone, he’s killed now.”   Satisfied, though amazed at the time and energy needed to do it, the bushwhackers finally moved on.

To preserve it for burial, Nancy managed to drag the body away from the fire to an open space across the street. There, she saw that her dead husband had a wound for almost any given place and was literally soaked in blood from head to toe. Looking closer, however, the woman saw something else—John Thornton was still alive!

***

“Fred, one of them damned nigger-thieving abolitionists ain’t dead yet . . . go and kill him.” Neither Harlow Baker nor Simeon Thorp could be sure which of them had moved, but it was certain that one would soon find out.

Since being shot, the two had lain in the street feigning death as the guerrillas rode nearby. When it was clear, they had whispered back and forth to one another describing where they were hit. Baker still had the strength to get up, but dared not. Senator Thorp, hurt much the worse, could not.

The horse stopped beside them and they heard the rebel dismount. When he was kicked over onto his face, Baker knew he was the one. He heard the explosion, felt a sharp sting, and in a rush all the air left his right lung. He grew dizzy and almost fainted, but through the pain Baker was still around to hear “Fred” congratulate himself as he rode back to his pal.

***

GeorgeToddThis time George Todd (right) came in person. Only a twist of fate had kept him from meeting the preacher that morning near Sibley, and Todd today wanted no stone left unturned.

Despite this, Elizabeth Fisher, as unflappable as ever, insisted that her husband was not at home; that he had gone over the hill long ago and was by now probably well on his way to Topeka. And again the woman boldly invited the doubting rebels to search the house. To his great relief though, Hugh Fisher did not hear the cellar door open, nor did he hear the thud of boots down the steps. He did hear, however, the breaking of chairs and shutters for kindling and a guerrilla swearing to kill his wife if she tried to extinguish the fire.

Ignoring the threat, Elizabeth slammed the door in the raider’s face and raced to the well to fill buckets, pans, and tubs. This took time, however, and meanwhile more fires were being set. By the time she returned with the water, her two-story home was hopelessly ablaze. Running back to the front of the house, the desperate woman turned her energies toward saving the one-story kitchen and trying to keep her husband from being broiled alive. Climbing on the cook stove she doused the ceiling first. Then lugging two tables outside—setting one atop the other—Elizabeth scrambled up to the roof and threw more water on. But just as these flames were quenched much of the burning roof on the house crashed across the kitchen.

Dipping up more water the woman drenched her clothing, then once again waded into the flames. But it was hopeless. At length, as the rebels stood around the home watching her futile efforts, Elizabeth ran for more water and began flooding the kitchen floor under which her husband lay. A neighbor woman, as mystified as the bushwhackers, asked her why she was trying to save a piece of floor when her entire world was burning.

“A memento,” she yelled back above the roar.

But as the fire and debris fell into the kitchen even Elizabeth saw that it was only a matter of time. Slipping into the smoke-filled cellar, the frantic woman spoke to where her husband lay.

“You must come out of there or burn alive; I can’t keep the fire back any longer.”

“Almost roasted,” the preacher decided it was his last chance. As he crept out the cellar door Elizabeth quickly threw a dress over him. Then as she lifted a heavy carpet the husband ducked under and, crawling as low and as close to the woman as possible, the two went out of the burning home. While the guerrillas watched on, the carpet was slowly lugged across the yard until the weary wife at last dropped it down beside a small weeping willow. Running back to the house she grabbed chairs, bedding, and other items and stacked them over the rug. And finally, like candles on a cake, the mother sat her two children on top of the heap. After this, she could only wait and watch and pray the rebels didn’t suspect.

With guns in their grip, the bushwhackers glanced from the house to the pile and back again. They always looked from a distance, however, and much to the woman’s relief, none of them approached.

Sitting quietly by the baby, Elizabeth’s little boy was startled when he heard from far below a hoarse voice whisper for water.

“Pa is here somewhere; I heard him speak,” he said, looking up to his exhausted mother.

The child was quickly hushed and the father ordered from here on out to keep still.

***

Battle_of_LawrenceNot every raider had the stomach for it. Caught up in the pathetic efforts of a crying woman struggling to remove a divan, desk, or piano from her burning home, some could not hold back and soon found themselves wrestling over a piece of furniture just as frantically as the woman. And after setting a fire, not a few who imagined their hearts stone beyond hope caved in to tearful appeals and joined to save what they had intended to destroy.

After fleeing her home one woman returned to find it ablaze, yet curiously, neatly laid under a tree was a box containing her family photographs. Other Missourians stared like children at the beautiful parlors they entered, and many simply could not bring themselves to destroy the pretty cups, saucers, and heirlooms. Had it been left to them, some would have spared even “marked” homes. But harder sorts were always just around the corner.

“No, God damn the abolitionists,” shouted an angry guerrilla. “Why should this house be saved?”

And most were not cold killers. Rummaging through homes, searching for plunder, many obvious hiding places were avoided, and often a raider either winked or turned his back while a man escaped. But others were quick to remind that these same Kansans were the ones who had been in Missouri “killing our people.” Most were not cold killers—but enough were.

You have killed my husband; let me keep his ring. . . .

 No matter!

The Germans fared the worst. Their antislavery views were well known and, unlike other men, they couldn’t escape by lying; their tongues were judge and jury.

“Nicht versteh,” said one when the rebels popped him a question.

“God damn you, we will make you versteh!” they shouted as they shot him dead.

For some time the town’s German blacksmith had remained hidden with his little child amid a patch of corn in the Central Park. Later the baby grew restless in the heat and began to cry, prompting several passing guerrillas to venture in. When they left, the father was dead with the child still crying in his once-powerful arms.

At a German home, the people were ordered out while the Missourians sacked the contents and torched the place. Among the occupants, a man on his sickbed had to be carried from the house and placed upon a mattress in the yard. When the gang finished indoors they walked over to the invalid and pulled out their pistols. With guns staring down, the German strained on weakened arms to rise but was instantly blasted back upon his cot.

***

Again a squad came to the home of Judge Carpenter bent on burning and killing. But just as the others did before, the men left quieter than they came.

***

When they had finished with him, Arthur Spicer was brought back to Quantrill at the City Hotel. Despite his earlier threat, however, the guerrilla leader now seemed totally unconcerned at Spicer’s return, and after entering the building the saloonkeeper passed discreetly to the rear.

***

Activity picked up on Massachusetts Street as many of the raiders drifted back. Stores gone over lightly before were now cleaned out. Some merchants and clerks were compelled to wait on bushwhackers as if they were regular customers while liquor and food was served and boots, shirts, and hats were tried on. In the apartments above terrified families were forced out, but not until they had filed past the rebels and been robbed.

I’ll take that watch!

Give me those earrings!

Fork over them greenbacks!

Shell out, God damn it . . . and be quick about it!

As fewer rebels moved through the lesser streets some people came out and made their escape. With his wife, little daughter, and a friend, the Reverend Richard Cordley left his home and splendid library and quietly threaded his way through the streets. After some “exciting moments” the four entered the brush and walked to the riverbank. There, in a marvelous stroke of luck, an alert friend on the opposite shore recognized the Cordleys and, risking his own life, rowed a boat across and ferried the group to safety. One man and his wife stuffed a change of clothes into a pillow slip, sat their children in a play wagon, and simply walked away.

If one could muster the courage, getting through the streets and beyond the first line of pickets was to escape, for those patrolling further out—farmers and boys mostly—showed little inclination to stop or harm the refugees. Most citizens, though, remained fast in the same places they had throughout the morning–whether indoors or out.

One man holding an umbrella sat in the open undisturbed, shading his wife and child. Another, after being chased and shot at, fell and was immediately covered by his wife. Long after the assailants had left the woman continued to wail and shriek. Afraid she would draw even more attention his way, the husband at last whispered, “For God’s sake, wife, don’t take on so. I don’t know if I’m even hit.”

After helping the bushwhackers load pack horses, the two young clerks at R & B’s, still barefoot and half-clad, eased off to the bushes and raced to the river. The frightened New Yorker saw no point in stopping there, however, and after swimming the Kaw he sprinted up the Leavenworth Road.

At last, the Eldridge House, thus far spared though picked clean from “cellar to garret,” was put to the torch. As some raiders were busy spreading the fire on the ground floor, a woman ran up screaming that a black baby, left by its mother and forgotten in the excitement, still remained inside. After listening for a moment, the men went on with their work.

“Burn the God damn little brat,” was the grim reply.

The fires caught, then climbed rapidly to the fourth floor. In a very short time “the finest building in Kansas”—plush carpets, chandeliers, music, dancing, laughter, all—was enveloped in flames.

On the adjacent corner the courthouse went up. Across the street from that, Danver’s Ice Cream Saloon burned, and so on down the street until both sides were completely ablaze. And while the fires were set the rebels celebrated; walking or riding through the street in fancy new clothes and shiny black boots, wearing rings on their fingers and gold chains and crosses from their necks; gulping down canned lobster, oysters, and figs; smoking black cigars; guzzling beer, brandy, and French champagne; waving hats in the air as the huge liberty flag was dragged past them in the dust. From time to time there were small explosions as stocks of powder and sealed canisters heated, and the acrid smell of tar and oil mingled with the sweet scent of burning tea and molasses.

***

At the end of the business district, a large gang of drunks spotted Dan Palmer and a friend standing in the door of Palmer’s gun shop. Before they could duck back in both were shot and wounded.

While some of the bushwhackers set the building on fire, others stood the two men up and bound them together with rope. Then, when the flames caught and began to roar, the startled captives were pitched inside. Wild with fright, Palmer and his friend regained their footing and struggled out the door, pleading with the rebels for mercy. But amid hellish laughter and waving pistols the men were again hurled into the furnace. At last the rope broke, but there was nowhere to run. By this time only Palmer was able to rise. Standing in the flames, arms reaching for heaven, he screamed above the roar, “O God, save us!” This brought a new round of applause and laughter. Soon, the cries inside ceased and the drunken gang moved on.

***

Except for a number of pickets, by 9 AM most of the raiders had drifted back to the South Park and much of the residential area was left deserted. That’s when Mary, Abigail, and Louis Carpenter “began to breathe again.” But then there was another violent pound on the door. As they had done all morning, the family kept its composure, and while Mary went to the door the judge came down the stairs to deal with these rebels as he had the rest.

The door was opened. Stepping partway in, a stone-faced guerrilla stared at the judge, then asked him where he was from.

“New York,” came the even reply.

“It is you New York fellows that are doing the mischief in Missouri,” was the cold comment. The rebel raised his pistol and fired.

Breaking from the door, the wounded man bounded up the stairs and into a bedroom. Pushing Mary aside, the guerrilla gave chase. As his pursuer was searching the rooms above Carpenter slipped by and ran to the basement. But a rebel below saw this, and when his friend came down, the two found windows leading into the basement and opened fire. The judge was hit immediately. And because the room was unfinished there was nowhere to hide. Helplessly, Carpenter could only flatten himself against the walls and try to dodge the bullets. As the raiders paused to reload, the blood gathered in pools at the victim’s feet. Finally, with no other hope, Carpenter broke for the stairs leading outside. Once in the yard, however, he stumbled and fell and was unable to rise.

As the guerrillas approached, Mary ran screaming to her husband’s side and covered his head with her arms. Walking around them several paces, a bushwhacker at last bent down, jerked up one of Mary’s arms, jammed in his pistol, then fired. Within inches of her own, the judge’s head shuddered for an instant, then splashed apart.

***

A lone rebel walked to where Harlow Baker was lying and stopped. Partially turned on its side, he looked down at the dusty body for a moment, at the blood, black and caked on the hand, neck, and back.

“Poor devil,” he muttered.

Pulling out a sharp knife the bushwhacker knelt down and ripped open a pocket. Finding nothing he rolled the body over and slashed the other. Again nothing. Spotting Baker’s hat, the man mumbled that at least here was something, and a good one at that. Taking his prize, the man walked back into town.

***

At last the pickets rode in and the entire force of guerrillas converged on the South Park and began forming. Pack horses high with plunder were brought up, as was an ambulance. A large, fat ox was selected, killed, skinned, quartered, then quickly stored for travel. Amid the movement and general excitement, Quantrill found the young guide, and handing him a new suit of clothes and the reins to a fresh pony, the boy was pointed toward home. The rebel leader then said goodbye to his friend Nathan Stone, his wife and son and daughter Lydia, and hoped that someday, some place they might meet during happier times.

“The ladies of Lawrence were brave and plucky,” he confided to someone before he left, “but the men . . . were a pack of cowards.”

Quantrill then joined his command. And, at a little past nine, with the smoke from Massachusetts Street rolling up like the walls of some towering black canyon, the raiders moved south and the long, uncertain retreat to Missouri began.

Several minutes passed. Only the sounds of the inferno were heard in the deserted streets. Across the river, the squad of soldiers watched intently. Finally, with a few citizens they boarded the ferry and inched toward the town.

But one man was not quite finished. Although he had bragged about the streets that eleven Kansans had been sent to hell by his gun, for Larkin Skaggs this was still not enough. Skulking around until Quantrill left, Skaggs galloped back and pulled up beside the City Hotel.

“All you God damned sons of bitches come in front!” he shouted. “Come right out here!”

Foolishly, many did step out the door. But others, including Lydia Stone, either remained inside or, like her brother, dove out the back. As they filed down the steps, men and women were ordered into separate lines, and while waiting for the rest to appear, Skaggs, terribly drunk and teetering in his saddle, asked one of the captives where he was from.

“Central Ohio,” answered the man. He was instantly shot.

“That is worse than Kansas,” growled the bushwhacker.

Another round was fired into the hotel itself which brought an immediate plea from the owner, Nathan Stone. Without a word Skaggs turned and fired again, striking the innkeeper flush in the abdomen. While the screaming people fled the front of the hotel, more jumped out the back. Spying a boat, two men quickly pushed off from shore. In their haste, however, they failed to attach one oar properly and the two furiously paddled around and around in circles as the current carried them down the river.

Hearing the gunfire and seeing the renewed exodus, the men crossing on the ferry quickly returned to the north shore.

Growing impatient, Skaggs finally wheeled and rode back through town. After killing a man along the way and chasing another, the burly bushwhacker trotted leisurely from Lawrence down the California Road, confident that Quantrill had left the way he had come. He soon realized the mistake, however, when he saw farmers coming in his direction. Spurring cross-country toward Eudora, the drunken man weaved and wobbled in the saddle as the big white horse raced through fields leaping fences and ditches. But more men were riding from that way, and cornered, Skaggs was finally captured and taken toward Lawrence.

When the party reached the outskirts and learned what had taken place, the prisoner without further ado was slain on the spot.

***

Slowly, slowly the people began to come out—peering cautiously from the brushy ravine, parting carefully the stalks in the cornfield. The ferry started inching over again. Governor Robinson stepped out of his stone barn. The county sheriff crept up from under his floor. A man who had feigned death even though he lay near a building on fire rose with the clothes burned from his back. And Harlow Baker, too, on painfully weak legs pulled himself up and staggered to the house. Others emerged from the hidden cellar in the center of town, popped up from tomato patches, or, dripping wet, gazed over the mouth of a well. What they saw when they came out was overwhelming.

Everywhere one turned, the enormity of the raid attacked the senses. Those cut off, those who thought their experience an isolated case, were numbed to learn that similar acts had been going on all around the city. Like a twister it had come so swiftly, so tremendously, so utterly—yet like a twister it too had gone so quietly and completely that many were confused and still had no conception of time. And the bodies . . . no one had expected this.

“One saw the dead everywhere,” said the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the town, “on the sidewalks, in the streets, among the weeds in the gardens.”

And the day was actually darker than it had begun. Burning homes and barns sent spires of smoke upward until they converged to form a huge pall over the city, blotting out the sun and sky. Massachusetts Street was a raging wall of flame and churning black clouds. Crunching timber and toppling bricks fed the roar, and the heat was so intense that none dared enter the street. Even the sidewalks were burning. And everywhere was the suffocating dark fog. Women, some carrying babies in their arms, ran through the streets shielding their faces from the fire, crying and screaming for husbands and sons. Some, like Charles and Sara Robinson, found one another.

Then, down a side street, flaying the hide of a plow horse and shouting at the top of his lungs came Jim Lane trailed by several farmers. “Follow them boys,” cried the senator as he passed, “let us follow them.” Some did respond, and together they galloped south. But even had more felt the inclination, there simply were no horses left in town.

***

5BMBF00ZBy  noon a goodly number of citizens had straggled back to town as had curiosity-seekers from the countryside. And by this time even Hugh Fisher, sweltering all morning under the rug and furniture, felt safe enough to crawl from his torrid hiding place to get a drink of water.

Later, as the fires subsided, several men began the grisly task of trying to retrieve the dead and wounded. One of those thus engaged was George Deitzler. At first glance the victims nearest the fires were thought to be blacks. Coming closer, however, the old general was shocked to discover that the corpses were not Negroes, but white men “completely roasted. The bodies . . . crisped and nearly black.” Reluctantly, Deitzler bent down to pull a man up, but to his horror as he yanked he merely came away with two chunks of steaming dark flesh. Reeling backward, the general retched and had to leave. Most others, try as they may, could fare no better and turned away “crying like children.”

One corpse lay on a sidewalk near a fire. The body was normal in every respect except that the skin of the head had been burned away, leaving only a grinning skull. Another man was half body, half skeleton. Others had rendered down into a “shapeless mass.” And without a trace of wind the stench of cooked flesh weighed like a blanket in the hot fog. Relegated to stronger sorts, recovery did go on.

After the pews were moved out, many of the dead and wounded were taken to the Methodist Church. While two physicians probed an ugly hole in a man’s face, searching for a lodged ball, another, lacking both medicine and instruments, performed delicate surgery using only a sharp penknife. Lying in a corner, “half-wit” Jo Eldridge, also shot in the face, raved deliriously. Crying women, themselves on the verge of collapse, tried to help those waiting by bringing water, cleaning wounds, and fighting off the swarms of blowflies. The mangled bodies of Ralph and Steve Dix were brought in and laid out; Ben Johnson, some Germans, and others not recognizable were also carried up the steps. In his rush to get the wounded indoors, one minister keeled over from exhaustion. Elsewhere it was much the same as people waited for the few available doctors.

A young woman, just as confused and frightened as she had been all morning long, ran into the Griswold home for comfort. In the back parlor she first saw Mrs. Baker fanning her husband who lay on the bed, his clothes bathed in blood. Fleeing into the dining room, the girl suddenly froze at the sight of Doctor Griswold and Josiah Trask stiff, white, and stretched side by side on the dinner table. In the front parlor she glanced in to see Senator Thorp, twisted and rolling in terrible agony, his clothes black with blood and dust. He was struggling to speak to his wife but couldn’t. Bearing no more, the sickened young woman fled the house entirely.

Just up the street, surrounded by the smoldering ruins of her home, Julia Collamore could get no response from either her husband or the servant as she shouted into the well. When a close friend arrived, he volunteered to go down. Tying a cord around himself, and with the aid of two men to lower him, the friend entered the hole. About halfway down those above felt a sharp yank and frantically began to pull the man up. The strain was too great, however, and the cord snapped. But to the surprise of everyone above, there was no cry for help from below.

Despite everything, some paused a moment to behold the phenomenon. Flocks of killdeer, attracted for some reason, flew about carefree from yard to yard, calling their sprightly refrain.

***

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening the people continued to trickle back. Some returned wearing the same nightshirt they had awakened in, while not a few husbands came back in the dresses that had enabled their escape. Strong men, finding a dear friend whom they had presumed dead, fell into one another’s arms and wept. The devout knelt in circles and prayed.

Those who had fled Shantytown that morning also began appearing, coming across the river or out of the woods. One black, atop a white horse, rode bareback down Massachusetts Street singing with all his might “John Brown’s Body.”  Behind, with a rope around its neck, he dragged the naked corpse of Larkin Skaggs. With other former slaves, the rider hauled the body to the Central Park and tried to burn it.

As the fires cooled and gardens and weedy lots were combed, more dead were discovered. The floor of the Methodist Church filled until there was no room. Forty identification tags had already been provided, but for others only a number distinguished each from the next disfigured form. Robert Martin, killed by the side of young Willie Fisher, was found and carried down from Mount Oread in the arms of his crying father. Charlie and Willie Fisher also returned, and the grateful parents sped to heaven their thanks and bowed to pray. But both Elizabeth and Hugh couldn’t help noticing that there was something different about Willie; he was not the same Willie who had left that morning.

It wasn’t so easy for editor John Speer. Of his three sons, the youngest was alive and with his mother. Another son, Junior, was dead. Someone said he was murdered while running along a street, shot by a mounted rebel dragging the Union flag. But the other son, seventeen-year-old Robbie, was still missing. Speer refused to believe that Robbie too was gone. And so, covered with soot and ash, the father kept up his search, calling out as the night descended.

I want you to help me find my boy. They have killed one, and the other I cannot find.

***

“The fires were still glowing in the cellars,” noted the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the darkened streets. “The brick and stone walls were . . . standing bare and blackened. The cellars between looked like great caverns with furnaces glowing in the depths. . . . Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had perished.”

John Speer and others seeking a son, a brother, a husband were praying that the bones they saw down among the cinder and fire were not those of the loved ones they sought.

That night the dogs howled without ceasing, and for miles around a vast angry glow was seen throbbing in the skies over Lawrence.

***

Saturday, August 22, 1863. Hardly had glint of dawn reached Lawrence when the weary people, straining to gain a few minutes of sleep, were jolted by a long, piercing scream heard throughout the town. Followed to its source, a woman was discovered in a gutted building sitting among the rubble. Her husband, she feared, had been shot and burned there the day before, and after searching the wife had found his remains at last—a blackened skull that she hugged to her breast.

This chilling scene “added much to the . . . sadness and horror which filled every heart,” said a viewer, and stamped an accent on what was already becoming known as “Black Friday.”

There was no awakening from the nightmare. Massachusetts Street, normally a hive of activity on Saturday, was black and idle now, only a jagged gash through piles of ash and debris. Red coals still glowed in the basements. At the south end of the street, two stores remained standing, to the north, by the river, several more stood, including the armory with weapons intact. In between, all else was ruin. Vermont and New Hampshire streets were much the same—a barn, the ice house, the City Hotel, a home in which George Todd had taken breakfast and left his voucher of safety.

In the residential area the condition was somewhat better. Although close to one hundred homes were destroyed, many of these the beautiful structures of West Lawrence, anyone could see how much worse it might have been. Dozens of houses were torched and torched again only to be saved by the women. And for those not doused, the absence of wind prevented the flames from leaping to a neighboring home. Most brick and stone dwellings stood untouched, and because of the soldiers, all the houses along the river, including the Robinson mansion, went unscathed. Except for a Negro church, every other still stood. The county land records were somehow preserved. But all this in itself, as the citizens viewed things, was small cause for thanksgiving. The bushwhackers had been meticulous. The town was devastated.

“Lawrence,” wrote one, “is as much destroyed as though an earth quake had buried it in ruins.”

And even had there been anything left to buy, there simply was nothing left to buy it with, for very little money remained. Of the three banks in town, two were robbed of every cent and the third spared only because a stubborn vault could not be blown. Practically all the cash and merchandise in the stores and offices was stolen or burned, and among the citizenry as a whole, the gold, silver, jewels, notes, and watches that were not stolen outright were generally lost or destroyed in the confusion. Much of the furniture, clothing, shoes, and linen were also gone. Most people, young and old, wore the same grimy apparel in which they had come away twenty-four hours before. In addition, there was virtually no food in the town.

Although the suffering and privation were extreme, the material loss paled beside that of the human. At first glance even the most sanguinary estimate placed the toll of dead at no more than sixty, a staggering number considering that nearly all were unarmed civilians. But even this grim figure was soon surpassed as more victims were discovered hourly.

When workers finally entered the Collamore well they brought up three dripping bodies–the mayor, his servant, and the would-be rescuer, all dead. After filling the Griswold home with hideous screams and groans, Simeon Thorp, in terrible agony, at last succumbed. As for the photographer, William Laurie, his flight was ended. Kansas City . . . Shawnee . . . the war had overtaken him once and for all in faraway Lawrence. The charred bones of other victims were raked in from the embers or found sprawled among the weeds and gardens. The dead seemed to crowd the living as the toll grew to one hundred and  climbed.

The human loss was as unfathomable as the material loss was seemingly irreparable. There was little talk of rebuilding. Fear of a similar occurrence ran so high that it seemed foolish to do so, and some raiders had even warned that Lawrence must be entirely abandoned or they would return. The herculean task of trying to reconstruct their world also caused many to despair. But perhaps most disappointing and unbearable of all was the lack of anything tangible to strike at; the inability to reach out and smash the authors of so much misery and woe. For some, at least, this simple, savage act could not but help ease the pain and frustration.

Throughout the morning, travelers, emigrants, teamsters, and curiosity-seekers, jammed on the main roads for twenty-four hours, began to stream into town. One unsuspecting arrival quickly found himself surrounded by an angry mob. Identified as a proslavery man and active during the territorial struggle, he was led away to the barn by the river. There, despite pleas to the contrary, he was accused of being a spy for Quantrill, and being thus charged he was promptly convicted. A noose was thrown around his neck, and in a few moments the stunned man was drawn up and left kicking in the air. There was no hard evidence, as most admitted, but the victim was a Missourian, and that was close enough.

The body was then cut down and given to a black on horseback, who galloped through the streets followed by a snarling crowd. As the corpse was dragged along, the clothes tore away and the mob pelted it with rocks, sticks, and anything else available, each person dealing their share on the lonely trophy. Four other men blundered into town and were collared under the same pretext. Fortunately for them—and for consciences later on—they were only held, not hanged.

Sallie Young was next. Hooted and jeered viciously wherever she went, the young woman was arrested, accused of collaborating with the raiders, then confined to await transfer to Fort Leavenworth. The fury temporarily vented, Lawrence turned to more pressing matters.

As the morning wore on and the temperature rose, the stench from the corpses became insufferable. Already, many bodies had swollen so great that the clothing had burst, revealing grotesque wounds “full of flies & worms.” Frantically, the work began to identify the victims and get them under ground as rapidly as possible. There was little wood left and certainly no coffins. Many of the carpenters were either dead or wounded and nearly all the tools of the trade destroyed. Nevertheless, the citizens began. Oak and walnut logs were sawn and fashioned into rough boards. Most nails had melted in the kegs, but enough good ones were found and the planks were soon joined to form crude boxes. The dead were quickly deposited and the covers hammered down. For many, “it sounded rather harsh . . . to have the lid nailed over the bodies of their loved ones.” But there simply was no time for anything more elaborate, especially since the threat of epidemic increased with every hour.

When the Methodist Church was full, bodies were taken to other churches. Not all victims remained in town. After identification, three corpses, including that of the Irishman, Jim O’Neill, were loaded onto a wagon and returned to Lecompton for burial. Coming from the opposite direction, farmers brought fruit and vegetables and gave freely. And from Leavenworth the first real relief came when several wagons loaded with food, clothing, medical supplies, and caskets arrived.

Throughout the day and into the night the tempo increased and the sounds of the terrible work continued. At the cemetery atop Mount Oread, a ghostlike gathering moved in an arc of lamp­light, and some of the boxes were at last lowered down. Slowly the recovery began.

***

50235698_133263993699When he wasn’t helping out around town, Peter Ridenour (left) was at the bedside of his friend. “Well, Mr. Ridenour, I am gone up,” Harlow Baker had whispered when his partner rushed into the room on Friday. But though he wasn’t given much hope by others and could barely breathe, Baker surprised everyone, including himself, by continuing to hang on.

And so the old friend stayed by his side, waiting for the end­-fetching ice, tending the wounds, chatting.  Jokingly, Ridenour admitted that the only reason he was sitting around this moment was because of a few potato plants and a garden bed he’d hugged so dearly that a leaf might have covered him. His home was gone, he added, even though he had naively taken the precaution of locking the door. But the two young clerks had made it. After running so long and hard that his feet bled, the athletic New Yorker hadn’t stopped until he had reached Leavenworth. There, he went straight to a family friend, Governor Tom Carney, and borrowed money enough for clothes and a one-way ticket east. But after some rest and reflection he had hesitated. The boy had come back today on the Leavenworth stage. Although admittedly he had never been so scared in his life, not even at Gettysburg, the youth discovered that indeed he had survived the battlefield and now, although his feet were very tired and sore, he had survived Black Friday as well.

Ridenour didn’t mention to his partner that the business was wiped out. Five years of savings had vanished in a blink when the banks were looted. The store’s huge inventory was also gone and although their insurance covered most everything, including fire, a clause excluded “invading enemies.” There were also many out­standing debts and no way to meet them. Although he didn’t burden his friend with business matters, Peter Ridenour had already taken the first faint look down the long road back. He was yet young and strong and energetic and his name was respected by all. And if he lived long enough, every creditor would get his due. The store’s safe with the books and a modest sum of cash had somehow weathered the storm, and if one put stock in such things, there was a benign omen of sorts—the salt wagons from Leavenworth had arrived and were now parked outside the gutted store.

But while he sat and waited and watched his old friend suffer, the thought uppermost on Mr. Ridenour’s mind was not salt or creditors or even the store, but whether the partnership, the friendship would continue as always or if the “B” would yet be stricken from R & B.

***

Early Sunday morning at the usual time, work was set aside while a few citizens gathered to worship. They were women and children mostly at the Reverend Cordley’s church, dirty and disheveled and dressed in men’s work clothes. No one said much. For some, the press of the past two days had been a sore test of faith, and a moment’s respite to collect their thoughts and drift in meditation was a welcome balm. There were whispers and silent prayers and then a passage from Psalms, verse 79:

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of earth. Their blood have shed they like water round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them.

After a moment more of silence, work was resumed.

Again, as the heat of the day approached, workers were made aware of their dilemma. The coffin building was not keeping pace with the decay of the bodies. The caskets that came from Leavenworth helped, but there simply weren’t enough coffins there, nor in all Kansas to meet the needs. And more victims were being found. At last, in desperation, it was decided to dispense with formalities altogether and inter the more advanced cases with as much haste as possible. Into a long, deep trench gouged from the cemetery ground, forty-seven black and bloating bodies were finally lowered down. Similar burials, like that of Judge Carpenter and Edward Fitch, took place in backyards. With this, some of the terrible trauma and urgency began mercifully to wear off.

More help came from the countryside and another large wagon train of food, clothing, and supplies arrived from Leavenworth. Visitors continued to enter the city, some to aid and some simply to gawk and assess the destruction. Early estimates placed the damage in the millions of dollars, with over $250,000 stolen in currency alone. Almost every businessman and merchant was totally cleaned out. Still, there were increasing murmurs of rebuilding and renewed investments.  Flagging spirits began to revive somewhat as a few took heart.

Included among the strangers in town were a number of correspondents and illustrators from large Eastern newspapers who began sketching scenes and taking down eyewitness accounts. A few unabashed individuals came forward with their stories. One black related that when the raiders had entered Lawrence on Friday morning, he had dashed over the meadows south of town and hid in a tree above the Wakarusa, out-legging his imagined pursuers and establishing some kind of record for the three-mile course. When asked about the feat, his simple reply: “The prairie just came to me.” Another man, a dentist, described his escape and return to Lawrence and his utter amazement to find that, though everything else was gone, the rebels had entirely overlooked his inventory of  gold and silver plate.

Others had similar tales to tell, though not always so jocose. They told of a morning replete with hairbreadth escapes and terror, of miracles, irony, and death. But as the journalists scribbled away, always from each new tale there surfaced the same consistent theme—the steely defiance and grit of the women. Almost all their acts, although carried out under fantastic duress, were marked by an uncanny degree of calmness and courage. Instances of their heroism, their “sand,” ran on. There was Lydia Stone: When the Eldridge prisoners became frightened of retaliation, the young woman, risking her own life, raced down the riverbank in the teeth of the soldiers’ bullets waving a hanky for them to stop. There was Kate Riggs: By grabbing the horse’s bridle and hanging on until she had been dragged around the house and over a woodpile, the tenacious woman succeeded in saving her husband Sam from the monster Skaggs. There were Elizabeth Fisher, Eliza Turner, and a score of other equally doughty heroines.

And never had female ingenuity been better displayed, from the “nieces” of “Aunt Betsie” to the woman who saved not only a feather bed to sleep on but a neighbor man as well whom she rolled up inside and carried to safety. Another woman fooled the rebels by burning oily rags in kettles, thereby making it appear that her home was engulfed in flames.

And even after their bravery and resourcefulness saved many a man and home, the women’s work had but begun. When the initial shock had passed, many, like the “ministering angel” Lydia Stone, carried on, moving with quiet grace among the crowds of victims, “attending to their wants and speaking words of comfort and cheer.”

As Sunday wore on, the women, arms scorched, hair singed, continued their labors with an air of increasing confidence. Some optimistically saw in their great trial a hidden treasure. Although they left little else in Lawrence, the guerrillas overlooked something very precious nonetheless, something that could not be burned with a torch or strapped on a pack horse: Courage . . . the only thing in life that really mattered. When all else was taken, this at least remained and gleamed more brilliantly than ever before. Then others took note and drew inspiration from a familiar sight at the river’s edge. Amid the ruin and devastation the old liberty pole stood straight and tall, defiantly holding its ground. Even the tortuous hot spell was at an end. Late in the day a refreshing north wind kicked up, clearing and cooling the air. If the truth be known, for many of these women, as well as the surviving men, there was within them the dawning of that warm and golden glow that shines only in the hearts of those who have faced off with the worst in life and come away victorious. For Lawrence, the worst had come. The trial had passed. There was nothing more from life to fear.

***

As the work progressed into the evening, a lookout on Mount Oread, watching the activity below, happened to glance south toward the Wakarusa. There to his horror he saw rising from the valley floor an all-too-familiar sight—smoke and flame. Without a second thought the rider flew down the hill and galloped into town, screaming with all the power in his lungs, “They are coming again, they are coming again! Run for your lives, run for your lives!”

With these startling words reserves cracked, then crumbled, and suddenly there was nothing left. In a moment, as if from one mind, panic seized all, and like a cannon shot the race from Lawrence instantly became a mad stampede. Someone rang the armory bell but no one was fool enough to rally. Men who had naively held to their homes at the onset of the first raid and who thus experienced the most terrifying hours of their lives didn’t wait around for the second, but broke from town at a run, hair streaming in the wind. Women, whose courage hadn’t wavered during the Friday attack and whose poise had been a comfort to all, now caved in completely and became “utterly unstrung.” Men, women, children—all raced blindly, filling the streets with a bedlam of sobs, shrieks, and shouts, expecting the slaughter to overtake them with every bound.

Run for your life . . . Quantrill is coming back and will kill all of us! 

Run to the country, Quantrill is coming!

Take your children and run . . . Quantrill is coming!

After a few short minutes the dust finally settled. The town was deserted. Except for a few wounded, not a soul, black or white, resident or visitor, was left in Lawrence. As time passed, men on the opposite shore anxiously watched for the attack to begin. But mysteriously, there was only silence. Shortly, one hundred citizens recovered sufficiently to cross back and pass out weapons from the armory. Their plans for a stand were for naught, however, for they soon learned the cause of the lookout’s alarm—imprudently, a farmer had chosen this moment to burn off a field of straw.

Knowledge of the error came too late to reach the majority of people, however. Some were far away and still running while others were even further along and had no intention of ever stopping, like the clerk at R & B’s, who this time would not pull up until he reached New York and absolute safety. But for the rest, many carrying footsore children, there was no run left, and they simply alit in fields and thickets fringing the town.

That night proved to be one of the coldest, cruelest summer nights in border memory. The temperature plunged, the rain and hail came in sheets, the lightning cracked, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with all the fury of a cyclone. But still—soaked, frozen, and huddled as they were—few ventured back, for the wind and cold and rain were far preferable to Lawrence, where it was firmly believed Quantrill was adding the final touches to the bloody work begun on Friday.

One of these miserable refugees, seeking an answer to it all, later questioned his aged father. “Why have we been so terribly punished? Why so infinitely worse than any other place in all the history of this war? Why beyond comparison and precedent?” After brief reflection on the territorial days of the fifties, the war on the border and the sagging fortunes of the South in the sixties, of the bloody days of rampage when Lane, Jennison, and their Jayhawkers had turned western Missouri inside out, the son found the answer to his own question.

“lt has come,” he finally admitted, “and they have had their revenge.”

But another, angrier than the first, and speaking for a great many more than the first, considered the scales once more uneven.

“Oh! God!” he implored heaven, “Who shall avenge?”

Guns

imagesrg67 (1)Many are we who own guns. Some of we even tote ’em. Why? Because, unlike those who do not own, much less carry, guns, me, myself and millions more have gained a glimpse of what is “out there.” 

At some point in my spin on this mortal coil I have seen the face of evil . . . raw, soulless evil . . . and it is a frightening face to behold, indeed. In my life alone I have looked into the dead, empty eyes of those who would kill you as quick as they would eat a potato chip. Remorseless, regretless, soulless . . . there is no conscience behind those eyes. The fact that these eyes belong to people who have committed no crime yet–or, at least, have not been caught yet–and who are running loose right now among us matters not; they are the eyes of cold-blooded murderers nonetheless. They have not committed the crime yet because the opportunity has not availed itself; but the capacity to do so is certainly there. These are the eyes that would break into your home some dark night–or sunny day, for that matter–truss you up like a pork roast, raid the fridge, hunt the house for your valuables as they chomp on a chicken leg, then, when finished, fire one or more hot bullets into your brain as their own way of saying “goodbye, and thanks for the memories.” I do not ever plan, awake or asleep, to allow the owners of these eyes to get the drop on me even once.

I am not one to react to anything. I proact. I don’t close a barn door after the horse has escaped. The door is always closed on my ranch, so to speak. Forewarned + forearmed = forbidding; that’s been my motto for decades now. I am a Kansan. I am a product of my environment. No Kansan with my carbon dating can ever forget November, 1959. That was the night two murderers-in-waiting passed from theory to practice. Hickok and Smith . . . Hickok and Smith . . . Hickok and Smith . . . those two names still have the power to raise the goose bumps right down every Kansan’s back, as do the words, I-n C-o-l-d B-l-o-o-d. It is a crime we Kansans can never forget. We have a state bird, state mammal, state song, etc., and if we Kansans had a state book, a state movie, or both, In Cold Blood would be ours. For me, the most horrible part of the incident was when the killers-to-be simply slipped through an unlocked door that night and entered Herbert Clutter’s bedroom. When they shined that flashlight into the rancher’s sleeping eyes, that was the end of any potential resistance. The wife and children in bed above were now totally at the mercy of these cold-blooded beasts. This is what I mean about being proactive: I made it my mission in life to never experience that flashlight in the eyes as Mr. Clutter experienced in those, his final moments before his throat was cut.

What brings on such morose words as the above? It comes with the territory. As mentioned yesterday, I once wrote a true crime book. To prep for that story I visited some scenes of the crime–the home where the young mother was kidnapped one bright day while giving her toddler his first haircut, the perpetrator’s home where he took his victim and raped her repeatedly on a Winnie the Pooh blanket, the palmetto jungle where the victim was murdered and buried in a sandy hole. Just like every other book I have written, after a short spell I begin to live the story; begin to know and identify with the characters; begin to care about them and experience something of what they experienced. Of course, it is too late to help the victim of my true crime book. But if I told the story well enough, in all its grim and graphic horror, then maybe a few things have happened as a result: Maybe there was a dramatic rise in the sale of small caliber pistols here in South Florida, the kind of handguns that fit nicely into a purse, fanny pack or a woman’s hand; maybe there was a rise in the number of “conceal/carry” permits issued; maybe there was a rise in the number of valuable lives saved. Equally, I dearly hope that the book was so terrifyingly personal that it resulted in the on-the-spot termination of many useless pieces of garbage who are bent on abduction, rape and murder, just as the monster in my book should have been terminated.

(below, Richard Hickok on death row)

hickock_212

The “Greatest Generation”

Dachau, Germany, American soldiers posing in front of bodies of dead German сс

Every month, it seems, yet another movie is released based upon some real or some fanciful event of World War Two. Invariably, like some stylized Greek drama in which the actors all wear the same masks and all chant the same lines, the cast in these propagandistic morality plays are as predictable as the message. On one side are arrayed the Allies, the good guys; generally, these are the happy-go-lucky gum-chewing Americans who are heroically “fighting for freedom” and are striving to save the world and the folks back in Ohio from slavery; on the other side are the arrogant Germans, the evil Nazis; this is the dark force the world is being saved from, those over-bearing monsters who live only to murder, rape, torture, kill, and make lampshades and bars of soap out of poor, defenseless, harmless Jews.

It has now been over 70 years since the conclusion of the so-called “Good War.”  Thousands of books, articles and movies have been devoted to this pivotal period and the supposedly heroic sacrifice of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Despite the sheer tonnage of material dedicated to the victor’s version of WWII, there has yet to be an honest, accurate and straight-forward retelling of that cataclysmic event and what it really looked like, not merely from the victors’ perspective, but through the eyes of the vanquished, as well.

The following is from my book Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947. To date, this book remains the only in-depth account of what the end of the war and the beginning of the so-called “peace” looked like from the German perspective.  To this day, what happened to Germany and her people, especially after the war, remains the darkest and best-kept secret in world history. And to this day, what happened to Germany and her people also remains, by far, the greatest and most sadistic crime ever committed in the history of mankind.

(above: Members of the “Greatest Generation” enjoying the “Good War” by defecating on the bodies of recently murdered German prisoners.)

***

Following its devastating defeat during the Ardennes offensive of December 1944, the Wehrmacht withdrew and regrouped behind the “West Wall,” a mostly imaginary line that roughly traced the Reich’s western border. There, as elsewhere, the German Army was a dim shadow of its former self, vastly outnumbered in men and materiel, but above all, totally overwhelmed in the air. While the end of Nazi Germany loomed in the east, the end also steadily advanced from the west. Unlike the howling savagery to the east, fraught with nightmarish ferocity, defeat in the west came methodically, inexorably and, judged by the standards of the east, almost silently.

“We felt powerless before the immeasurable material superiority of the Americans, without which the Russians and British would have capitulated long since… ,” revealed one German officer.

Nevertheless, the hard-pressed Landser was still more than a match for the American “GI” and the British “Tommy.” Whenever the two sides met on anything approaching equal numbers, the results were always the same. Defending its homeland reinvigorated the German Army, of course, but during the fighting in Italy and North Africa, the outcome was similar. Asked his opinion of American troops during the fighting in North Africa—a campaign where Germany’s ally, the Italian Army, had scattered and surrendered like sheep—one captive Landser told his US interrogators bluntly: “The Americans are to us what the Italians are to you.”

Though American commanders were understandably outraged by such sentiment, the panic created among Allied ranks during the Ardennes offensive only reinforced this assessment within the German Army. One reason for the Landser’s low opinion of his American adversary could simply be attributed to lack of experience. Sights and sounds that many German soldiers had long since become accustomed to were terrifying novelties to most GIs. Remembered a British sergeant:

The Americans will bunch, whereas we go up two sides of a road. . . . They were shouting at each other and firing at nothing…. It appeared that the American infantrymen were not trained in “battle noises.” They seemed to drop to the ground and fire, whenever shots were heard close by. When passing a burning farmhouse, there was a sound of what appeared to be a machine-gun; no one could have been in the house, because of the flames, and it was obviously ammunition burning; but it took some time to get the Americans up and on again. As we [proceeded] I saw a figure in a long German greatcoat rise to his feet from the center of a field, and walk towards us with his hands up. The man was Volkssturm [militia], about 50 or 60 years of age, a long, thin chap. Before we could do anything about it, three Americans let fly with their carbines and the figure fell. God, we were angry.

While small arms fire was frightening, green US troops found artillery barrages utterly horrifying.

“[S]hells would not only tear and rip the body,” said one frantic American, “they tortured one’s mind almost beyond the brink of sanity.”

“[T]he pure physical terror that savages you when loud and violent death is screaming down from the sky and pounding the earth around you, smashing and pulping everything in search for you” was, a comrade added, “emasculating.”  Recalled another American novice:

I asked [the sergeant] if he was hit and he sort of smiled and said no, he had just pissed his pants. He always pissed them, he said, when things started and then he was okay. He wasn’t making any apologies either, and then I realized something wasn’t quite right with me. … There was something warm down there and it seemed to be running down my leg….I told the sarge. I said, “Sarge, I’ve pissed too,” or something like that and he grinned and said, “Welcome to the war.”

Accustomed to the bloodless “clean” kills of Hollywood, sudden, hideous sights also worked to unman the average American newcomer. After taking direct hits, some saw their buddies vaporize in a spray of “red spots.” Others viewed comrades lying along roads, nothing more than “half a body, just naked buttocks and the legs.” With the war obviously nearing its end, and with sights like the above vivid in their minds, few GIs “went looking for a Purple Heart.” Also, and as was the case in 1917, many American soldiers suffered what some observers called “spiritual emptiness;” a seeming uncertainty as to what exactly they were fighting for … or fighting against.

Despite years of anti-Nazi propaganda and attempts to demonize the German soldier, front-line troops, as always, were first to discard hate. From released or escaped prisoners, it soon became apparent that Allied POWs were treated well and accorded all the rights of the Geneva Convention. Additionally, details that were seemingly trivial matters to politicians, propagandists and rear-echelon troops were all-important concerns to the actual fighters.

“One thing I’ll say for the Germans,” a British Tommy admitted, “they were better than we were with enemy dead; buried them properly and neatly with their equipment … over the crosses.”

Not surprisingly, “understandings” among the adversaries were quickly reached to make the war more tolerable to both parties. “We maintained very friendly communications with the Germans. . . ,” confessed an American major. “Before they shelled Homberg they would let us know in advance the exact time. Before we shelled Leverkusen we would let the Germans know in advance. So everybody took cover ahead and nobody got hurt.” On countless other occasions front-line troops met, mixed, traded trinkets, even socialized.

On more than one occasion, drunken American, British and German soldiers found themselves rioting together in the same bars and brothels and even standing in the same lines to use the same restrooms.

Such incidents as the above had a way of putting an all-too human face on the “evil Hun.” The same factors which worked on Allied attitudes of the German worked on German attitudes of the Allies. Unlike the East Front, German soldiers were well aware that their foe in the west was a signatory of the Geneva Convention. Under this agreement, Landsers were guaranteed by law the status of POW upon capture or surrender. And like their Allied counterparts, with the end of war in sight, many “Jerries” along the West Wall were unwilling to play hero. “I am neither looking for an Iron Cross,” a German soldier declared, “nor a wooden one.” Also, it was no secret that Landsers, high and low, considered the Western Allies the lesser of two evils. With the Red Army roaring across Germany from the east, many Germans were secretly hoping the Americans might occupy what remained of the Reich before the communists did.

Nevertheless, and although the war in the west was not characterized by the same “do or die” determination as it was in the east, thousands of patriotic German officers and men were committed to defend their homeland to the “last ditch.” As the Americans and British pressed the Wehrmacht back from the West Wall, then over the Rhine, a glimpse at the task faced is given by an English officer from the town of Rees:

They had been chased out of France, Belgium and Holland, into Germany, back over the Rhine, and now street by street across Rees into a corner. Yet they were still fighting it out…. The situation now was that the enemy were confined to the last hundred yards, at the very tip of the east end, but they were in a strong position with deep trenches and concrete and any attempts to get at it were met by heavy fire. I was going to make a last effort with C Company, when in came four or five prisoners, including a captain, who said he was in command. . . . He was marched in front of me as I sat at my table poring over the map, and he gave me a spectacular Hitler salute which I ignored…. He was a nasty piece of work, cocksure and good-looking in a flashy sort of way, but I had to admire the brave resistance which he had put up. The strain of battle was apparent in the dark black chasms under his eyes.

In spite of such fierce resistance, the massive weight of the Allied advance slowly ground all opposition into the mud. “[I]t must be stated that the morale of our men [in the west] is slowly sinking… ,” admitted propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. “[T]hey have now been fighting uninterruptedly for weeks and months. Somewhere the physical strength to resist runs out.”

***

If morale among troops was “slowly sinking,” that of many civilians in the west had long since sunk. After enduring years of air attacks and now invasion, some Germans were more than willing to accept defeat. Unlike the terrified trekkers to the east, relatively few Germans in the west abandoned their homes. Despite the best efforts of Nazi propaganda, the racial and cultural ties with the Western Allies, particularly the Americans, was simply too strong to arouse the same depth of fear as did the Soviets. Hardly was there a German family that did not have at least one close relative in America and most felt that there was an essential goodness in any people who could give to the world a Mickey Mouse, Shirley Temple or Laurel and Hardy. Far from fleeing the advancing Allies, many civilians actually ran to greet them. Remembered a young German:

[O]ne very sunny morning we saw across the fields a convoy of vehicles coming, and as they came closer we saw they were Americans, with little white stars on the side. There was a jeep up front and then tanks and troops carriers, and the bloke in the jeep had both his hands up, and in one hand he had a loaf of bread and in the other a lump of cheese. They came on very slowly . . . and as they came the Home Guard threw down their weapons and rushed toward the Americans, and my mother leapt up and started racing over the fields, with me about two hundred yards behind her, straight toward the American column. The man in the jeep turned out to be a very fat American sergeant, and my mother threw her arms around his neck and kissed him and hugged him in absolute joy and relief. It was all over.

“Wherever we drove through the Rhineland those first weeks in April the feelings of the German people were unmistakable,” reported war correspondent, Leonard Mosley.

The war was not yet over but they knew it was lost, and they were engaged in an instinctive effort to save something from the wreck. The mass of the people were casting off National Socialism like an old coat, almost without grief or regret, determined to forget it and to work to recreate, in cooperation with their conquerors, the things that had now been destroyed. . . . The men and women we stopped on the streets to ask the way were polite and helpful; they gathered round in bunches when they heard us speaking German, and bombarded us with questions: “How far had we advanced? When would the war be over? Where were the Russians?”

When reports from recaptured towns and villages stated that the Americans (or, “Amis”) had treated civilians well and had not even engaged in looting, the desire among other Germans to surrender became overwhelming. Home Guard units were disbanded, white flags sprouted from doors and windows and many communities refused to aid the German Army in any way.

“Twice,” recalled a British POW, “I watched an SS corporal go to a house and ask for water and each time the housewife, having seen his uniform, slammed the door in his face. He meekly retreated.”

In a desperate bid to shore up crumbling resistance, Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda office warned citizens that “these Americans were combat troops whose only function was to fight; but after them come the rearguard service troops and especially the Jews, who have in all other cases acted ruthlessly against the population.” Unfortunately, the truth in these words became apparent once the front-line troops pushed on.

***

Unlike the wild and almost unmanageable Red Army, US military commanders might have prevented much of the excesses committed by their men against helpless civilians had they so willed it. In most cases, however, they did not. On the contrary, the words of some high-ranking officers seemed designed to encourage atrocities.

“We are engaged in a total war, and every individual member of the German people has turned it into such,” US general Omar Bradley announced. “If it had not been Hitler leading the Germans, then it would have been someone else with the same ideas. The German people enjoy war and are determined to wage war until they rule the world and impose their way of life on us.”

“[T]he German is a beast,” echoed Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight David Eisenhower, a man whose hatred of all things German was well known. In much the same vein as Soviet premier Josef Stalin and American president Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower advocated the outright massacre of German army officers, Nazi Party members and others. In all, according to the American general, at least 100,000 Germans should be “exterminated.”

“In heart, body, and spirit . . . every German is Hitler!” faithfully trumpeted the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. “Hitler is the single man who stands for the beliefs of Germans. Don’t make friends with Hitler. Don’t fraternize. If in a German town you bow to a pretty girl or pat a blond child … you bow to Hitler and his reign of blood.”

Not surprisingly, such sentiment from above quickly worked its way down. Soon after combat soldiers moved out of a community and rear echelon troops moved in, the reality of occupation became clear. Wrote one shocked reporter, William Stoneman of the Chicago Daily News:

Frontline troops are rough and ready about enemy property. They naturally take what they find if it looks interesting, and, because they are in the front lines, nobody says anything. . . . But what front-line troops take is nothing compared to the damage caused by wanton vandalism of some of the following troops. They seem to ruin everything, including the simplest personal belongings of the people in whose homes they are billeted. Today, we have had two more examples of this business, which would bring tears to the eyes of anybody who has appreciation of material values.

“We were crazy with happiness when the Americans came,” one woman said, “but what [they] did here was quite a disappointment that hit our family pretty hard.”

They broke everything and threw it all outside. Later, we found only piles of rubbish. . . . Those who came in the first few days were fighting troops and they had seen something of the war. But those who came later … hadn’t seen anything at all. And many of these very young soldiers wanted to experience something, like repeat a little of the war. . . . We had original watercolors and so forth on the walls, which weren’t framed, and they wrote all over them. In the cellar we had bottles of apple juice. When we wanted to get some later, after the Americans had left, they’d drunk it all up and filled the bottles with urine. Or, in our cooking pots was toilet paper, used toilet paper.

In many towns, the invaders unlocked jails, prisons and concentration camps and invited the inmates to join the revelry.  “They just opened up the camps and let them go,” noted Amy Schrott, a young German raised in New Jersey. “The Russians and Poles were looting the houses and killing the shopkeepers. Then they began raping the girls.”

When a prison camp at Salzwedel was thrown open, a mob of various nationalities literally tore the town to pieces. Locating the mayor, a gang of Russians dragged the man, his wife and daughter to the cemetery. After lashing the mayor to a tombstone, a line of laughing men began taking turns with his naked wife as she screamed on her hands and knees. When a Mongolian started to rape his daughter, the father, in a final fit of rage, tore the tombstone from the ground, then fell over dead.

A glimpse at the anarchy unleashed is given by Christabel Bielenberg (below) of Furtwangen as she pedaled a bicycle near the town:

chritabelIt was like a drunken circus along the road. There were hordes of liberated Russian forced laborers, all dressed in clothes they had looted from all the ransacked shops, roaring with laughter and falling all over the road. And there were soldiers in huge army trucks tearing past all over the road in a crazy kind of way—it was a fantastic scene….

When we got to Furtwangen it was in pandemonium. All the radios had been requisitioned from their German owners and put in the windows facing out-ward toward the street—and each radio was playing a different program at full blast. All the freed Russians and Poles were waltzing down the street—it was just like a carnival going through the town. The Germans were walking round in a daze wearing white armbands as a sign of surrender. As for the French . . . [t]he troops were not French but Moroccan…. These were the men who occupied our area.

That was when the raping started. [They] raped up and down our valley in the first few days. Two people were shot trying to protect their wives. Then they moved out and another lot of French colonial troops moved in—Goums from the Sahara, tall, black, strange people in uniforms like gray dressing-gowns. They were terrifying. First they came into Rohrbach and stole all the chickens and my children’s rabbits. A few days later they came at night and surrounded every house in the village and raped every female between 12 and 80…. What was so frightening about them was the silent way in which they moved…. [T]hey came up to the door and one of them asked: “Where’s your husband?” I said that he was away and as I was talking to them I suddenly realized that one of them was standing right behind me—he had climbed in through a window and crept right up to me through that creaking wooden . . . house without making the slightest sound.

While Moroccan and other French colonial troops had an especially bad reputation and raped on a massive scale in Germany and Italy, American and British soldiers were not above reproach. “Our own Army and the British Army . . . have done their share of looting and raping… ,” a US sergeant admitted. “[W]e too are considered an army of rapists.”

“Many a sane American family would recoil in horror if they knew how ‘Our Boys’ conduct themselves . . . over here,” added another GI.

“We expected Russian lawlessness… ,” said one German, “but we once believed the Americans were different.”

***

In part because of propaganda and the attitudes publicly espoused by western political and military leaders that “the only good German is a dead one,” in part because of unfounded rumors of massacres and rapes committed at captured US field hospitals, in part because of genuine German atrocities, such as at Malmedy, wherein scores of American POWs were mowed down by SS troops during the Ardennes campaign—because of these and other factors, large numbers of captured or surrendering Germans were simply slaughtered on the spot.

Among many American units, “take no prisoners” was the motto. For those members of the SS, Wehrmacht and Volkssturm lucky enough to survive capture, death often awaited behind the lines. In the transit from front to rear, hundreds of prisoners were allowed to suffocate, starve or freeze to death in railroad cars. Upon reaching the prison camps, thousands more perished. Wrote an eyewitness from Rheinberg in April:

One inmate at Rheinberg was over 80 years old, another was aged nine. . . . Nagging hunger and agonizing thirst were their companions, and they died of dysentery. A cruel heaven pelted them week after week with streams of rain…. [A]mputees slithered like amphibians through the mud, soaking and freezing. Naked to the skies day after day and night after night, they lay desperate in the sand … or slept exhaustedly into eternity in their collapsing holes.

With General Eisenhower turning a blind eye to the Geneva Convention, only the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs still held in Germany prevented a massacre of prodigious proportions.

***

While the British were mopping up huge areas to the north, Americans were doing the same further south. For the most part, US forces were also greeted with white flags, cheers and tears of relief from a war-weary populace. When the Americans did meet determined defenders, it was often small pockets of old men and little boys. Reflected a GI: “I could not understand it, this resistance, this pointless resistance to our advance. The war was all over—our columns were spreading across the whole of Germany and Austria. We were irresistible. We could conquer the world; that was our glowing conviction. And the enemy had nothing. Yet he resisted and in some places with an implacable fanaticism.”

Those defenders who survived to surrender were often mowed down where they stood. Gustav Schutz remembered stumbling upon one massacre site where a Labor Service unit had knocked out several American tanks.

“[M]ore than a hundred dead Labor Service men were lying in long rows—all with bloated stomachs and bluish faces,” said Schutz. “We had to throw up. Even though we hadn’t eaten for days, we vomited.”

Already murderous after years of anti-German propaganda in the Jewish media and Hollywood, when US forces entered the various concentration camps and discovered huge piles of naked and emaciated corpses, their rage became uncontrollable. As Gen. Eisenhower, along with his lieutenants, Patton and Bradley, toured the prison camp at Ohrdruf Nord, they were sickened by what they saw. In shallow graves or lying haphazardly in the streets were thousands of skeleton-like remains of German and Jewish prisoners, as well as gypsies, communists, and convicts.

“I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place,” ordered Eisenhower. “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”

“In one camp we paraded the townspeople through, to let them have a look,” a staff officer with Patton said. “The mayor and his wife went home and slashed their wrists.”

“Well, that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard,” growled Eisenhower, who immediately wired Washington and London, urging government and media representatives to come quickly and witness the horror for themselves.

Given the circumstances, the fate of those Germans living near this and other concentration camps was as tragic as it was perhaps predictable. After compelling the people to view the bodies, American and British officers forced men, women and children to dig up with their hands the rotting remains and haul them to burial pits. Wrote a witness at one camp:

[A]ll day long, always running, men and women alike, from the death pile to the death pit, with the stringy remains of their victims over their shoulders. When one of them dropped to the ground with exhaustion, he was beaten with a rifle butt. When another stopped for a break, she was kicked until she ran again, or prodded with a bayonet, to the accompaniment of lewd shouts and laughs. When one tried to escape or disobeyed an order, he was shot.

For those forced to handle the rotting corpses, death by disease often followed soon after.

Few victors, from Eisenhower down, seemed to notice, and fewer seemed to care, that conditions similar to the camps existed throughout much of Germany. Because of the almost total paralysis of the Reich’s roads and rails caused by around-the-clock air attacks, supplies of food, fuel, clothes, and medicine had thinned to a trickle in German towns and cities and dried up almost entirely at the concentration camps.  As a consequence, thousands of camp inmates swiftly succumbed in the final weeks of the war to typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis, starvation, and neglect. When pressed by a friend if there had indeed been a deliberate policy of starvation, one of the few guards lucky enough to escape another camp protested:

“It wasn’t like that, believe me; it wasn’t like that! I’m maybe the only survivor who can witness to how it really was, but who would believe me!”

“Is it all a lie?”

Yes and no,” he said. “I can only say what I know about our camp. The final weeks were horrible. No more rations came, no more medical supplies. The people got ill, they lost weight, and it kept getting more and more difficult to keep order. Even our own people lost their nerve in this extreme situation. But do you think we would have held out until the end to hand the camp over in an orderly fashion if we had been these murderers?”

As American forces swept through Bavaria toward Munich in late April, most German guards at the concentration camp near Dachau fled. To maintain order and arrange an orderly transfer of the 32,000 prisoners to the Allies, and despite signs at the gate warning, NO ENTRANCE—TYPHUS EPIDEMIC, several hundred German soldiers were ordered to the prison.

When American units under Lt. Col. Felix Sparks liberated Dachau the following day, the GIs were horrified by what they saw. Outside the prison were rail cars brim full with diseased and starved corpses. Inside the camp, Sparks found “a room piled high with naked and emaciated corpses. As I turned to look over the prison yard with unbelieving eyes, I saw a large number of dead inmates lying where they had fallen in the last few hours or days before our arrival. Since all the many bodies were in various stages of decomposition, the stench of death was overpowering.”

Unhinged by the nightmare surrounding him, Sparks turned his equally enraged troops loose on the hapless German soldiers. While one group of over three hundred were led away to an enclosure, other disarmed soldiers were murdered in the guard towers, the barracks, or chased through the streets. US Army chaplain, Captain Leland Loy:

[A] German guard came running toward us. We grabbed him and were standing there talking to him when . . . [a GI] came up with a tommy-gun. He grabbed the prisoner, whirled him around and said, “There you are you son-of-a-bitch!!” The man was only about three feet from us, but the soldier cut him down with his sub-machine gun. I shouted at him, “what did you do that for, he was a prisoner?” He looked at me and screamed “Gotta kill em, gotta kill em.” When I saw the look in his eyes and the machine gun waving in the air, I said to my men, “Let him go.”

“[T]he men were deliberately wounding guards,” recalled one US soldier. “A lot of guards were shot in the legs so they couldn’t move. They were then turned over to the inmates. One was beheaded with a bayonet. Others were ripped apart limb by limb.”

While the tortures were in progress, Lt. Jack Bushyhead forced nearly 350 prisoners up against a wall, planted two machine-guns, then ordered his men to open fire. Those still alive when the fusillade ended were forced to stand amid the carnage while the machine-gunners reloaded. A short time later, army surgeon Howard Buechner happened on the scene:

Lt. Bushyhead was standing on the flat roof of a low building…. Beside him one or more soldiers manned a .30 caliber machine gun. Opposite this building was a long, high cement and brick wall. At the base of the wall lay row on row of German soldiers, some dead, some dying, some possibly feigning death. Three or four inmates of the camp, dressed in striped clothing, each with a .45 caliber pistol in hand, were walking along the line. . . . As they passed down the line, they systematically fired a round into the head of each one.

“At the far end of the line of dead or dying soldiers,” Buechner continued, “a small miracle was taking place.”

The inmates who were delivering the coup de grace had not yet reached this point and a few guards who were still alive were being placed on litters by German medics. Under the direction of a German doctor, the litter bearers were carrying these few soldiers into a nearby hospital for treatment.

   I approached this officer and attempted to offer my help. Perhaps he did not realize that I was a doctor since I did not wear red cross insignia. He obviously could not understand my words and probably thought that I wanted him to give up his patients for execution. In any event, he waved me away with his hand and said “Nein,” “Nein,” “Nein.”

Despite his heroics and the placing of his own life in mortal danger, the doctor’s efforts were for naught. The wounded men were soon seized and murdered, as was every other German in the camp.

“We shot everything that moved,” one GI bragged.

“We got all the bastards,” gloated another.

In all, over five hundred helpless German soldiers were slaughtered in cold blood. As a final touch, Lt. Col. Sparks forced the citizens of Dachau to bury the thousands of corpses in the camp, thereby assuring the death of many from disease.

The Dachau Massacre (Public Domain)

The Dachau Massacre

Though perhaps the worst, the incident at Dachau was merely one of many massacres committed by US troops. Unaware of the deep hatred the Allies harbored for them, when proud SS units surrendered they naively assumed that they would be respected as the unsurpassed fighters that they undoubtedly were. Lt. Hans Woltersdorf was recovering in a German military hospital when US forces arrived.

Those who were able stood at the window, and told those of us who were lying down what was going on. A motorcycle with sidecar, carrying an officer and two men from the Waffen-SS, had arrived. They surrendered their weapons and the vehicle. The two men were allowed to continue on foot, but the officer was led away by the Americans. They accompanied him part of the way, just fifty meters on. Then a salvo from submachine guns was heard. The three Americans returned, alone.

“Did you see that? They shot the lieutenant! Did you see that? They’re shooting all the Waffen-SS officers!” That had to be a mistake! Why? Why?

Our comrades from the Wehrmacht didn’t stand around thinking for long. They went down to the hospital’s administrative quarters, destroyed all files that showed that we belonged to the Waffen-SS, started new medical sheets for us with Wehrmacht ranks, got us Wehrmacht uniforms, and assigned us to new Wehrmacht units.

Such stratagems seldom succeeded, however, since SS soldiers had their blood-type tattooed under the left arm.

“Again and again,” continues Woltersdorf, “Americans invaded the place and gathered up groups of people who had to strip to the waist and raise their left arm. Then we saw some of them being shoved on to trucks with rifle butts.”

When French forces under Jacques-Philippe Leclerc captured a dozen French SS near Karlstein, the general sarcastically asked one of the prisoners why he was wearing a German uniform.

“You look very smart in your American uniform, General,” replied the boy.

In a rage, Leclerc ordered the twelve captives shot.

“All refused to have their eyes bandaged,” a priest on the scene noted, “and all bravely fell crying “Vive la France!”

Although SS troops were routinely slaughtered upon surrender, anyone wearing a German uniform was considered lucky if they were merely slapped, kicked, then marched to the rear. “Before they could be properly put in jail,” wrote a witness when a group of little boys were marched past, “American GIs . . . fell on them and beat them bloody, just because they had German uniforms.”

After relatively benign treatment by the British, Guy Sajer and other Landsers were transferred to the Americans. They were, said Sajer, “tall men with plump, rosy cheeks, who behaved like hooligans.”

Their bearing was casual…. Their uniforms were made of soft cloth, like golfing clothes, and they moved their jaws continuously, like ruminating animals. They seemed neither happy nor unhappy, but indifferent to their victory, like men who are performing their duties in a state of partial consent, without any real enthusiasm for them. From our filthy, mangy ranks, we watched them with curiosity…. They seemed rich in everything but joy….

The Americans also humiliated us as much as they could…. They put us in a camp with only a few large tents, which could shelter barely a tenth of us…. In the center of the camp, the Americans ripped open several large cases filled with canned food. They spread the cans onto the ground with a few kicks, and walked away. . . . The food was so delicious that we forgot about the driving rain, which had turned the ground into a sponge….

From their shelters, the Americans watched us and talked about us. They probably despised us for flinging ourselves so readily into such elementary concerns, and thought us cowards for accepting the circumstances of captivity. . . . We were not in the least like the German troops in the documentaries our charming captors had probably been shown before leaving their homeland. We provided them with no reasons for anger; we were not the arrogant, irascible Boches, but simply underfed men standing in the rain, ready to eat unseasoned canned food; living dead, with anxiety stamped on our faces, leaning against any support, half asleep on our feet; sick and wounded, who didn’t ask for treatment, but seemed content simply to sleep for long hours, undisturbed. It was clearly depressing for these crusading missionaries to find so much humility among the vanquished.

***

While the occupation of Germany was in progress during the spring of 1945, a horror unimaginable was transpiring in Czechoslovakia. On May 5, when rumors swept through Prague that US forces were only seven miles away, the citizens of the Czech capital rose up against the Nazi occupation. Before the day was out most of the German garrison had been isolated and surrounded.

Meanwhile, the roundup of prisoners, including many refugees, began. Years of pent hatred for the German minority in their midst now had a free hand among the population. Wrote Juergen Thorwald:

Crowds of Czechs awaited the transports of German prisoners in the streets to pelt them with stones, spit into their faces, and beat them with any object that came to hand. German women, children, and men ran the gauntlet, with arms over their heads, to reach the prison gates under a hail of blows and kicks. Women of every age were dragged from the groups, their heads were shaved, their faces smeared with paint, and swastikas were drawn on their bared backs and breasts. Many were violated, others forced to open their mouth to the spittle of their torturers.

On May 9, with the fighting ended, the mob turned its attention to the thousands of Germans locked in prisons.   “Several trucks loaded with German wounded and medical personnel drove into the [prison] court,” Thorwald continues. “The wounded, the nurses, the doctors had just climbed from their vehicles when suddenly a band of insurgents appeared from the street and pounced upon them. They tore away their crutches, canes, and bandages, knocked them to the ground, and with clubs, poles, and hammers hit them until the Germans lay still.”

“So began a day as evil as any known to history,” muttered Thorwald.

In the street, crowds were waiting for those who were marched out of their prisons…. [T]hey had come equipped with everything their aroused passions might desire, from hot pitch to garden shears…. They … grabbed Germans—and not only SS men—drenched them with gasoline, strung them up with their feet upper-most, set them on fire, and watched their agony, prolonged by the fact that in their position the rising heat and smoke did not suffocate them. They … tied German men and women together with barbed wire, shot into the bundles, and rolled them down into the Moldau River…. They beat every German until he lay still on the ground, forced naked women to remove the barricades, cut the tendons of their heels, and laughed at their writhing. Others they kicked to death. 

“At the corner opening onto Wasser Street,” said Czech, Ludek Pachmann, “hung three naked corpses, mutilated beyond recognition, their teeth entirely knocked out, their mouths nothing but bloody holes. Others had to drag their dead fellow-Germans into Stefans Street…. ‘Those are your brothers, kiss them!’ And so the still-living Germans, lips pressed tightly together, had to kiss their dead.”

As he tried to escape the city, Gert Rainer, a German soldier disguised as a priest, saw sights that seemed straight from hell:

[A] sobbing young woman was kneeling, showering kisses on a child in her arms. . . . The child’s eyes had been gouged out, and a knife still protruded from his abdomen. The woman’s torn clothing and disheveled hair indicated that she had fought like a fury. Lost in her sorrow, she had not noticed the approaching stranger. He bent down to her and put her in mind that she had better not stay here. She was in danger of being shot herself.

“But that’s what I want!” she suddenly cried. “I don’t want to go on living without my little Peter!”

 In their sadistic ecstasy, people turned public mass murder into a folk festival. … Five young women had been tied to an advertising pillar, the rope wrapped about them several times. Their seven children had been packed into a gutter of sorts at their feet…. [A] Czech woman, perhaps 50 years of age, was pouring gasoline over the tied-up mothers. Others were spitting in their faces, slapping them and tearing whole fistfuls of hair. Then the oldest of them, laughing frenetically, lit a newspaper and ran around the pillar holding the burning paper to the gasoline-soaked victims. Like a flash, the pillar and the five others disappeared in flames several meters high…. The spectators had not noticed that one of the burning Germans had torn through the charring rope and thrown herself into the flames that licked up through the grating. With strength borne of a courage beyond death, she lifted out the grating and, lying on her stomach, tried to reach down into the tangle of blazing children. Lifeless, she lay in the flames.

In the meantime, the other four women, on fire from their feet to their hair, had slumped down as the common support of the rope was gone. That was the cue for their murderers to begin dancing around the pillar, cheering and rejoicing. The howling of the butchers grew even louder.

On Wenzels Square there was not one lamp-post without a German soldier strung up from it. The majority of them had been war-injured. . . . A crowd literally jumping for joy surrounded an arena-like clearing, in the center of which two men held a stark-naked young German woman. Each of her breasts had been pierced with a large safety-pin, from which Iron Crosses were hung. A rod bearing a swastika flag at one end had been stabbed through her navel…. A naked German lay motionless beside her trampled child. She had been beaten to death. A gaping head wound revealed her brain, oozing out.

Several men had been dragged down from a Wehrmacht truck. Their hands were tied, the other end of the rope fastened to the hitch beneath the back end of the truck…. A young Czech climbed into the driver’s seat. When the truck started, the spectators fell into a frenzy of hatred…. The five captives were pulled along by ropes some 60 feet long. As yet they could keep up with the truck. But the more the driver picked up speed, the more it became impossible for them to keep on their feet. One after the other fell, jerked forward, and was dragged along at ever-increasing speed. After but a few rounds, the Germans were mangled beyond recognition. One single lump of blood, flesh and dirt comprised the pitiful haul of this chariot of bestiality.

At the huge sports stadium, thousands of Germans were herded onto the field to provide amusement for a laughing, howling audience. “Before our very eyes . . . [they] were tortured to death in every conceivable way,” remembered Josefine Waimann. “Most deeply branded on my memory is the pregnant woman whose belly . . . uniformed Czechs slashed open, ripped out the fetus and then, howling with glee, stuffed a dachshund into the torn womb of the woman, who was screaming dreadfully…. The slaughter happening in the arena before our very eyes was like that in ancient Rome.”

The horror born at Prague soon spread to the rest of Czechoslovakia, particularly the Sudentland, where Germans had lived for over seven centuries.

“Take everything from the Germans,” demanded Czech president, Edvard Benes, “leave them only a handkerchief to sob into!”

“You may kill Germans, it’s no sin,” cried a priest to a village mob. At Bilna, wrote a chronicler . . .

men and women were rounded up in the market square, had to strip naked and were made to walk single-file while being beaten by the population with whips and canes. Then . . . the men had to crawl on all fours, like dogs, one behind the other, during which they were beaten until they lost control of their bowels; each had to lick the excrement off the one in front of him. This torture continued until many of them had been beaten to death. . . . What was done to the women there simply cannot be described, the sadistic monstrousness of it is simply too great for words.

“When I passed through Czechoslovakia after the collapse,” one German soldier recalled, “I saw severed human heads lining window sills, and in one butcher’s shop naked corpses were hanging from the meat hooks.”

When the fury had finally spent itself in Czechoslovakia, over 200,000 people had been butchered. Similar purges of German minorities occurred in Rumania, Hungary and Yugoslavia where men, women and children, by the hundreds of thousands, were massacred in cold blood. The slaughter throughout Europe was not confined to ethnic Germans alone. Following the Allied occupation of France, over 100,000 French citizens were murdered by their countrymen because of collaboration with the Germans or anti-communist activities. Similar, though smaller, and less bestial, reckonings took place in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Norway.

***

“It just wasn’t human,” an American GI said simply of the forced repatriation to the Soviet Union of millions of anti-Communist Russians and Ukrainians after the war.

Well aware that some grim details from “Operation Keelhaul” were bound to surface, Allied leaders were quick to squash rumors and reassure the public. “[T]he United States Government has taken a firm stand against any forced repatriation and will continue to maintain this position… ,” solemnly assuaged a spokesman for the War Department long after most of the Russian returnees had been slaughtered or enslaved in Stalin’s USSR. “There is no intention that any refugee be returned home against his will.”

To do otherwise, General Eisenhower later chimed, “would … violate the fundamental humanitarian principles we espoused.”

Even as he was soothing public concern over Russian repatriation, Eisenhower’s “humanitarian principles” were hard at work in the numerous American death camps.

***

“God, I hate the Germans,” the Supreme Allied Commander had written his wife in 1944. As Mrs. Eisenhower and anyone else close to the general knew, Dwight David Eisenhower’s loathing of all things German was nothing short of pathological.

DwightD.Eisenhower(LibraryofCongress)BESTGOODWith the final capitulation on May 8, the allied chief found himself in control of over five million ragged, weary, but living, enemy soldiers. “It is a pity we could not have killed more,” muttered the general, dissatisfied with the body-count of the greatest blood-bath in human history. And so, Eisenhower (right) settled for next best: If he could not kill armed Germans in war, he would kill disarmed Germans in peace. Because the Geneva Convention guaranteed POWs of signer nations the same food, shelter and medical attention as their captors, and because these laws were to be enforced by the International Red Cross, the American leader simply circumvented the treaty by creating his own category for prisoners. Under the general’s reclassification, German soldiers were no longer considered POWs, but DEFs— Disarmed Enemy Forces. With this sleight-of-hand, and in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, Eisenhower could now deal in secret with those in his power, free from the prying eyes of the outside world.

Even before war’s end, thousands of German POWs had died in American captivity from starvation, neglect or, in many cases, out-right murder. Wrote a survivor from one camp in April 1945:

Each group of ten was given the outdoor space of a medium-sized living room. We had to live like this for three months, no roof over our heads. Even the badly wounded only got a bundle of straw. And it rained on the Rhine for days. And we were always in the open. People died like flies. Then we got our first rations…. [W]e got one slice of bread for ten men. Each man got a tiny strip of that one slice. . . . And this went on for three long months. I only weighed 90 pounds. The dead were carried out every day. Then a voice would come over the loudspeaker: “German soldiers, eat slowly. You haven’t had anything to eat in a long time. When you get your rations today from the best fed army in the world, you’ll die if you don’t eat slowly.”

When two members of the US Army Medical Corp stumbled upon one of Eisenhower’s death camps, they were horrified by what they saw:

Huddled close together for warmth, behind the barbed wire was a most awesome sight—nearly 100,000 haggard, apathetic, dirty, gaunt, blank-staring men clad in dirty field gray uniforms, and standing ankle-deep in mud. . . . The German Division Commander reported that the men had not eaten for at least two days, and the provision of water was a major problem—yet only 200 yards away was the River Rhine running bank full.

With German surrender and the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs entirely erased, deaths in the American camps accelerated dramatically. While tens of thousands died of starvation and thirst, hundreds of thousands more perished from overcrowding and disease. Said sixteen-year-old Hugo Stehkamper:

I only had a sweater to protect me from the pouring rain and the cold. There just wasn’t any shelter to be had. You stood there, wet through and through, in fields that couldn’t be called fields anymore—they were ruined. You had to make an effort when you walked to even pull your shoes out of the mud. . . .

[I]ts incomprehensible to me how we could stand for many, many days without sitting, without lying down, just standing there, totally soaked. During the day we marched around, huddled together to try to warm each other a bit. At night we stood because we couldn’t walk and tried to keep awake by singing or humming songs. Again and again someone got so tired his knees got weak and he collapsed.

Added a starving comrade from a camp near Remagen:

The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole…. Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain….

We had to walk along between the holes of the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men….I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”

Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camps were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.

“The Americans were really shitty to us,” a survivor at another camp recalled. “All we had to eat was grass.”

camps_1_en_0

 American Death Camp

At Hans Woltersdorf ’s prison, the inmates survived on a daily soup made of birdseed. NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, read the words on the sacks. At another camp, a weeping seventeen-year-old stood day-in, day-out beside the barbed wire fence. In the distance, the youth could just view his own village. One morning, inmates awoke to find the boy dead, his body strung up by guards and left dangling on the wires. When outraged prisoners cried “Murderers! Murderers!” the camp commander withheld their meager rations for three days. “For us who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness . . . it meant death,” said one of the men.

“Civilians from nearby villages and towns were prevented at gun-point from passing food through the fence to prisoners,” revealed another German from his camp near Ludwigshafen.

There was no lack of food or shelter among the victorious Allies. Indeed, American supply depots were bursting at the seams. “More stocks than we can ever use,” one general announced. “[They] stretch as far as [the] eye can see.” Instead of allowing even a trickle of this bounty to reach the compounds, the starvation diet was further reduced.

“Outside the camp the Americans were burning food which they could not eat themselves,” said a starving Werner Laska from his prison.

Horrified by the silent, secret massacre, the international Red Cross—which had over 100,000 tons of food stored in Switzerland—tried to intercede. When two trains loaded with supplies reached the camps, however, they were turned back by American officers.

“These Nazis are getting a dose of their own medicine,” a prison commandant reported proudly to one of Eisenhower’s “political” advisors.

“German soldiers were not common law convicts,” protested a Red Cross official, “they were drafted to fight in a national army on patriotic grounds and could not refuse military service any more than the Americans could.”

Like this individual, many others found no justification whatsoever in the massacre of helpless prisoners, especially since the German government had lived up to the Geneva Convention, as one American put it, “to a tee.”

“I have come up against few instances where Germans have not treated prisoners according to the rules, and respected the Red Cross,” wrote war correspondent Allan Wood of the London Express.

“The Germans even in their greatest moments of despair obeyed the Convention in most respects,” a US officer added. “True it is that there were front line atrocities—passions run high up there—but they were incidents, not practices; and maladministration of their American prison camps was very uncommon.”

Nevertheless, despite the Red Cross report that ninety-nine percent of American prisoners of war in Germany had survived and were on their way home, Eisenhower’s murderous program continued apace. One officer who refused to have a hand in the crime and who began releasing large numbers of prisoners soon after they were disarmed was George Patton. Explained the general:

I emphasized [to the troops] the necessity for the proper treatment of prisoners of war, both as to their lives and property. My usual statement was . . . “Kill all the Germans you can but do not put them up against a wall and kill them. Do your killing while they are still fighting. After a man has surrendered, he should be treated exactly in accordance with the Rules of Land Warfare, and just as you would hope to be treated if you were foolish enough to surrender. Americans do not kick people in the teeth after they are down.”

Although other upright generals such as Omar Bradley and J. C. H. Lee issued orders to release POWs, Eisenhower quickly overruled them. Mercifully, for the two million Germans under British control, Bernard Montgomery refused to participate in the massacre. Indeed, soon after war’s end, the field marshal released and sent home most of his prisoners.

After being shuttled from one enclosure to the next, Corporal Helmut Liebich had seen for himself all the horrors the American death camps had to give. At one compound, amused guards formed lines and beat starving prisoners with clubs and sticks as they ran the gauntlet for their paltry rations. At another camp of 5,200 men, Liebich watched as ten to thirty bodies were hauled away every day. At yet another prison, there were “35 days of starvation and 15 days of no food at all,” and what little the wretched inmates did receive was rotten. Finally, in June 1945, Liebich’s camp at Rheinberg passed to British control. Immediately, survivors were given food and shelter and for those like Liebich—who now weighed 97 pounds and was dying of dysentery—swift medical attention was provided.

“It was wonderful to be under a roof in a real bed,” the corporal reminisced. “We were treated like human beings again. The Tommies treated us like comrades.”

Before the British could take complete control of the camp, however, Liebich noted that American bulldozers leveled one section of the compound where skeletal—but breathing—men still lay in their holes.

If possible, Germans in French hands suffered even more than those held by Americans. When France requested slaves as part of its war booty, Eisenhower transferred over 600,000 Germans east.

“Gee! I hope we don’t ever lose a war,” muttered one GI as he stared at the broken, starving wrecks being selected for slavery.

“When we marched through Namur in a column seven abreast, there was also a Catholic procession going through the street,” remembered one slave as he moved through Belgium. “When the people saw the POWs, the procession dissolved, and they threw rocks and horse shit at us. From Namur, we went by train in open railroad cars. At one point we went under a bridge, and railroad ties were thrown from it into the cars filled with POWs, causing several deaths. Later we went under another overpass, and women lifted their skirts and relieved themselves on us.”

Once in France, the assaults intensified. “[W]e were cursed, spat upon and even physically attacked by the French population, especially the women,” Hans von der Heide wrote. “I bitterly recalled scenes from the spring of 1943, when we marched American POWs through the streets of Paris. They were threatened and insulted no differently by the French mob.”

Like the Americans, the French starved their prisoners. Unlike the Americans, the French drained the last ounce of labor from their victims before they dropped dead. “I have seen them beaten with rifle butts and kicked with feet in the streets of the town because they broke down of overwork,” remarked a witness from Langres. “Two or three of them die of exhaustion every week.”

“In another camp,” a horrified viewer added, “prisoners receive only one meal a day but are expected to continue working. Elsewhere so many have died recently that the cemetery space was exhausted and another had to be built.”

Revealed the French journal, Figaro: “In certain camps for German prisoners of war … living skeletons may be seen . . . and deaths from undernourishment are numerous. We learn that prisoners have been savagely and systematically beaten and that some have been employed in removing mines without protection equipment so that they have been condemned to die sooner or later.”

“Twenty-five percent of the men in [our] camp died in one month,” echoed a slave from Buglose.

The enslavement of German soldiers was not limited to France. Although fed and treated infinitely better, several hundred thousand POWs in Great Britain were transformed into virtual slaves. Wrote historian Ralph Franklin Keeling at the time:

The British Government nets over $250,000,000 annually from its slaves. The Government, which frankly calls itself the “owner” of the prisoners, hires the men out to any employer needing men, charging the going rates of pay for such work—usually $15 to $20 per week. It pays the slaves from 10 cents to 20 cents a day … plus such “amenities” as slaves customarily received in the former days of slavery in the form of clothing, food, and shelter.

When prisoners were put to work raising projects for Britain’s grand “Victory in Europe” celebration, one English foreman felt compelled to quip: “I guess the Jerries are preparing to celebrate their own down-fall. It does seem as though that is laying it on a bit thick.”

In vain did the International Red Cross protest:

The United States, Britain, and France … are violating International Red Cross agreements they solemnly signed in 1929. Investigation at Geneva headquarters today disclosed that the transfer of German war prisoners captured by the American army to French and British authorities for forced labor is nowhere permitted in the statues of the International Red Cross, which is the highest authority on the subject in the world.

***

Meanwhile, those Germans not consigned to bondage continued to perish in American prisons. Landsers who did not succumb to hunger or disease often died of thirst, even though streams sometimes ran just a few feet from the camps. “[T]he lack of water was the worst thing of all,” remembered George Weiss of his enclosure where the Rhine flowed just beyond the barbed wire. “For three and a half days we had no water at all. We would drink our own urine. It tasted terrible, but what could we do? Some men got down on the ground and licked the ground to get some moisture. I was so weak I was already on my knees.”

“[O]thers,” observed American guard, Martin Brech, “tried to escape in a demented or suicidal fashion, running through open fields in broad daylight towards the Rhine to quench their thirst. They were mowed down.”

As if their plight were not already hideous enough, prisoners occasionally became the targets of drunken and sadistic guards who sprayed the camps with machine-gun fire for sport. “I think . . ,” Private Brech continued, “[that] soldiers not exposed to combat were trying to prove how tough they were by taking it out on the prisoners and civilians.”

I encountered a captain on a hill above the Rhine shooting down at a group of German civilian women with his .45 caliber pistol. When I asked, “Why?” he mumbled, “Target practice,” and fired until his pistol was empty…. This is when I realized I was dealing with cold-blooded killers filled with moralistic hatred.

While continuing to deny the Red Cross and other relief agencies access to the camps, Eisenhower stressed among his lieutenants the need for secrecy. “Ike made the sensational statement that … now that hostilities were over, the important thing was to stay in with world public opinion—apparently whether it was right or wrong . . . ,” recorded George Patton. “After lunch [he] talked to us very confidentially on the necessity for solidarity in the event that any of us are called before a Congressional Committee.”

To prevent the gruesome details from reaching the outside world— and sidetrack those that did—counter-rumors were circulated stating that, far from mistreating and murdering prisoners, US camp commanders were actually turning back released Germans who tried to slip back in for food and shelter.

Ultimately, at least 800,000 German prisoners died in the American and French death camps. “Quite probably,” one expert later wrote, the figure of one million is closer to the mark. And thus, in “peace,” did ten times the number of Landsers die than were killed on the whole Western Front during the whole of the war.

***

Unlike their democratic counterparts, the Soviet Union made little effort to hide from the world the fate of German prisoners in its hands. Toiling by the hundreds of thousands in the forests and mines of Siberia, the captives were slaves pure and simple and no attempt was made to disguise the fact. For the enslaved Germans, male and female, the odds of surviving the Soviet gulags were even worse than escaping the American or French death camps and a trip to Siberia was tantamount to a death sentence. What little food the slaves received was intended merely to maintain their strength so that the last drop of energy could be drained from them.

And so, with the once mighty Wehrmacht now disarmed and enslaved, and with their leaders either dead or awaiting trial for so-called “war crimes,” the old men, women and children who remained in the dismembered Reich found themselves utterly at the mercy of the victors. Unfortunately for these survivors, never in the history of the world was mercy in shorter supply.

***

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe, the purge of Nazi Party members from government, business, industry, science, education, and all other walks of German life commenced. While a surprising number of Nazis were allowed—even compelled—to man their posts temporarily to enable a smooth transition, all party members, high and low, were sooner or later excised from German daily life. In theory, “de-Nazification” was a simple transplanting of Nazi officials with those of democratic, socialist or communist underpinnings. In practice, the purge became little more than a cloak for an orgy of rape, torture and death.

BeFunky_waffen-SS-soldiers-brutalised-american-allied-soldiers-ww2-001.jpg 

De-Nazification

Because their knowledge of the language and culture was superb, most of the intelligence officers accompanying US and British forces into the Reich were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in the late 1930s. Although their American and English “aides” were hardly better, the fact that many of these “39ers” became interrogators, examiners and screeners, with old scores to settle, insured that Nazis— or any German, for that matter—would be shown no mercy.

One man opposed to the vengeance-minded program was George Patton. “Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and [Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working … ,” wrote the general in private. “I am frankly opposed to this war-criminal stuff. It is not cricket and it is Semitic….I can’t see how Americans can sink so low.”

Soon after occupation, all adult Germans were compelled to register at the nearest Allied headquarters and complete a lengthy questionnaire on their past activities. While many nervous citizens were detained then and there, most returned home, convinced that at long last the terrible ordeal was over. For millions, however, the trial had but begun.

“Then it started,” remembered Anna Fest, a woman who had registered with the Americans six weeks earlier.

Such a feeling of helplessness, when three or four heavily armed military police stand in front of you. You just panic. I cried terribly. My mother was completely beside herself and said, “You can’t do this. She registered just as she was supposed to.” Then she said, “If only you’d gone somewhere else and had hidden.” But I consider that senseless, because I did not feel guilty. . . . That was the way it went with everyone, with no reason given.

Few German adults, Nazi or not, escaped the dreaded knock on the door. Far from being dangerous fascists, Freddy and Lali Horstmann were actually well-known anti-Nazis. Records Lali from the Russian Zone:

I am sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I am simply carrying out my orders. Until when did you work for the Foreign Office?”

Till 1933,” my husband answered.

Then you need fear nothing,” Androff said…. “We accuse you of nothing, but we want you to accompany us to the headquarters of the NKVD, the secret police, so that we can take down what you said in a protocol, and ask you a few questions about the working of the Foreign Office… .”

We were stunned for a moment; then I started forward, asking if I could come along with them. “Impossible,” the interpreter smiled. My heart raced. Would Freddy answer satisfactorily? Could he stand the excitement? What sort of accommodation would they give him?

“Dont worry, your husband has nothing to fear,” Androff continued. “He will have a heated room. Give him a blanket for the night, but quickly, we must leave. .. .”

There was a feeling of sharp tension, putting the soldier on his guard, as though he were expecting an attack from one of us. I took first the soldier, then the interpreter, by their hands and begged them to be kind to Freddy, repeating myself in the bustle and scraping of feet that drowned my words. There was a banging of doors. A cold wind blew in. I felt Freddy kiss me. I never saw him again.

“[W]e were wakened by the sound of tires screeching, engines stopping abruptly, orders yelled, general din, and a hammering on the window shutters. Then the intruders broke through the door, and we saw Americans with rifles who stood in front of our bed and shone lights at us. None of them spoke German, but their gestures said: ‘Get dressed, come with us immediately.’ This was my fourth arrest.”

a_riefenstahlSo wrote Leni Riefenstahl (left), a talented young woman who was perhaps the world’s greatest film-maker. Because her epic documentaries— Triumph of the Will and Olympia—seemed paeans to not only Germany, but National Socialism, and because of her close relationship with an admiring Adolf Hitler, Leni was of more than passing interest to the Allies. Though false, rumors also hinted that the attractive, sometimes-actress was also a “mistress of the devil”—that she and Hitler were lovers.

“Neither my husband nor my mother nor any of my three assistants had ever joined the Nazi Party, nor had any of us been politically active,” said the confused young woman. “No charges had ever been filed against us, yet we were at the mercy of the [Allies] and had no legal protection of any kind.”

Soon after Leni’s fourth arrest, came a fifth.

The jeep raced along the autobahns until, a few hours later …I was brought to the Salzburg Prison; there an elderly prison matron rudely pushed me into the cell, kicking me so hard that I fell to the ground; then the door was locked. There were two other women in the dark, barren room, and one of them, on her knees, slid about the floor, jabbering confusedly; then she began to scream, her limbs writhing hysterically. She seemed to have lost her mind. The other woman crouched on her bunk, weeping to herself.

As Leni and others quickly discovered, the “softening up” process began soon after arrival at an Allied prison. When Ernst von Salomon, his Jewish girl friend and fellow prisoners reached an American holding pen near Munich, the men were promptly led into a room and brutally beaten by military police. With his teeth knocked out and blood spurting from his mouth, von Salomon moaned to a gum-chewing officer, “You are no gentlemen.” The remark brought only a roar of laughter from the attackers. “No, no, no!” the GIs grinned. “We are Mississippi boys!” In another room, military policemen raped the women at will while leering soldiers watched from windows.

After such savage treatment, the feelings of despair only intensified once the captives were crammed into cells.

“The people had been standing there for three days, waiting to be interrogated,” remembered a German physician ordered to treat prisoners in the Soviet Zone. “At the sight of us a pandemonium broke out which left me helpless…. As far as I could gather, the usual senseless questions were being reiterated: Why were they there, and for how long? They had no water and hardly anything to eat. They wanted to be let out more often than once a day…. A great many of them have dysentery so badly that they can no longer get up.”

“Young Poles made fun of us,” said a woman from her cell in the same zone. “[They] threw bricks through the windows, paperbags with sand, and skins of hares filled with excrement. We did not dare to move or offer resistance, but huddled together in the farthest corner, in order not to be hit, which could not always be avoided. . . . [W]e were never free from torments.”

“For hours on end I rolled about on my bed, trying to forget my surroundings,” recalled Leni Riefenstahl, “but it was impossible.”

The mentally disturbed woman kept screaming—all through the night; but even worse were the yells and shrieks of men from the courtyard, men who were being beaten, screaming like animals. I subsequently found out that a company of SS men was being interrogated.

They came for me the next morning, and I was taken to a padded cell where I had to strip naked, and a woman examined every square inch of my body. Then I had to get dressed and go down to the courtyard, where many men were standing, apparently prisoners, and I was the only woman. We had to line up before an American guard who spoke German. The prisoners stood to attention, so I tried to do the same, and then an American came who spoke fluent German. He pushed a few people together, then halted at the first in our line.

Were you in the Party?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, then said: Yes.”     He was slugged in the face and spat blood.

The American went on to the next in line. 

Were you in the Party?”

The man hesitated.

“Yes or no?”

Yes.”

And he too got punched so hard in the face that the blood ran out of his mouth. However, like the first man, he didn’t dare resist. They didn’t even instinctively raise their hands to protect themselves. They did nothing. They put up with the blows like dogs.

The next man was asked: “Were you in the Party?”

Silence.

Well?”

No, he yelled, so no punch. From then on nobody admitted that he had been in the Party and I was not even asked.

As the above case illustrated, there often was no rhyme or reason to the examinations; all seemed designed to force from the victim what the inquisitor wanted to hear, whether true or false. Additionally, most such “interrogations” were structured to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. Explained one prisoner:

The purpose of these interrogations is not to worm out of the people what they knew—which would be uninteresting anyway—but to extort from them special statements. The methods resorted to are extremely primitive; people are beaten up until they confess to having been members of the Nazi Party…. The authorities simply assume that, basically, everybody has belonged to the Party. Many people die during and after these interrogations, while others, who admit at once their party membership, are treated more leniently.

“A young commissar, who was a great hater of the Germans, cross-examined me… ,” said Gertrude Schulz. “When he put the question: ‘Frauenwerk [Women’s Labor Service]?’ I answered in the negative. Thereupon he became so enraged, that he beat me with a stick, until I was black and blue. I received about 15 blows … on my left upper arm, on my back and on my thigh. I collapsed and, as in the case of the first cross-examination, I had to sign the questionnaire.”

AmericanTorturePen(PublicDomain)BEST

American Torture Pen

“Both officers who took our testimony were former German Jews,” reminisced a member of the women’s SS, Anna Fest. While vicious dogs snarled nearby, one of the officers screamed questions and accusations at Anna. If the answers were not those desired, “he kicked me in the back and the other hit me.”

They kept saying we must have been armed, have had pistols or so. But we had no weapons, none of us….I had no pistol. I couldn’t say, just so they’d leave me in peace, yes, we had pistols. The same thing would happen to the next person to testify…. [T]he terrible thing was, the German men had to watch. That was a horrible, horrible experience…. That must have been terrible for them. When I went outside, several of them stood there with tears running down their cheeks. What could they have done? They could do nothing.

Not surprisingly, with beatings, rape, torture, and death facing them, few victims failed to “confess” and most gladly inked their name to any scrap of paper shown them. Some, like Anna, tried to resist. Such recalcitrance was almost always of short duration, however. Generally, after enduring blackened eyes, broken bones, electric shock to breasts—or, in the case of men, smashed testicles—only those who died during torture failed to sign confessions.

Alone, surrounded by sadistic hate, utterly bereft of law, many victims understandably escaped by taking their own lives. Like tiny islands in a vast sea of evil, however, miracles did occur. As he limped painfully back to his prison cell, one Wehrmacht officer reflected on the insults, beatings, and tortures he had endured and contemplated suicide.

I could not see properly in the semi-darkness and missed my open cell door. A kick in the back and I was sprawling on the floor. As I raised myself I said to myself I could not, should not accept this humiliation. I sat on my bunk. I had hidden a razor blade that would serve to open my veins. Then I looked at the New Testament and found these words in the Gospel of St. John: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Yes. You can mangle this poor body—I looked down at the running sores on my legs—but myself, my honor, God’s image that is in me, you cannot touch. This body is only a shell, not my real self. Without Him, without the Lord, my Lord, ye can do nothing. New strength seemed to rise in me.

I was pondering over what seemed to me a miracle when the heavy lock turned in the cell door. A very young American soldier came in, put his finger to his lips to warn me not to speak. “I saw it,” he said. “Here are baked potatoes.” He pulled the potatoes out of his pocket and gave them to me, and then went out, locking the door behind him.

***

Horrific as de-Nazification was in the British, French and, especially the American Zone, it was nothing compared to what took place in Poland, behind Soviet lines. In hundreds of concentration camps sponsored by an apparatus called the “Office of State Security,” thousands of Germans—male and female, old and young, high and low, Nazi and non–Nazi, SS, Wehrmacht, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, all—were rounded up and imprisoned. Staffed and run by Jews, with help from Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other concentration camp survivors, the prisons were little better than torture chambers where dying was a thing to be prolonged, not hastened. While those with blond hair, blue eyes and handsome features were first to go, anyone who spoke German would do.

Moments after arrival, prisoners were made horrifyingly aware of their fate. John Sack, himself a Jew, reports on one camp run by twenty-six-year-old Shlomo Morel:

ShomoMorel(PublicDomain)BEST“I was at Auschwitz,” Shlomo (left) proclaimed, lying to the Germans but, even more, to himself, psyching himself like a fighter the night of the championship, filling himself with hate for the Germans around him. “I was at Auschwitz for six long years, and I swore that if I got out, I’d pay all you Nazis back.” His eyes sent spears, but the “Nazis” sent him a look of simple bewilderment…. “Now sing the Horst Wessel Song!” No one did, and Shlomo, who carried a hard rubber club, hit it against a bed like some judge’s gavel. “Sing it, I say!”

The flags held high …,” some Germans began.     

“Everyone!” Shlomo said.

The ranks closed tight….”

“I said everyone!”

“Blond!

Shlomo cried to the blondest, bluest-eyed person there. “I said sing!” He swung his rubber club at the man’s golden head and hit it. The man staggered back.

Our comrades, killed by the Reds and Reactionaries….”

Sonofabitch!” Shlomo cried, enraged that the man was defying him by not singing but staggering back. He hit him again, saying, “Sing!”

Are marching in spirit with us….”    

“Louder!”

Clear the street for the Brown Battalions….”

Still louder!” cried Shlomo, hitting another shouting man.

“Millions of hopeful people….”    

“Nazi pigs!”

 “Are looking to the swastika… .”

Schweine!Shlomo cried. He threw down his rubber club, grabbed a wooden stool, and, a leg in his fist, started beating a German’s head. Without thinking, the man raised his arms, and Shlomo, enraged that the man would try to evade his just punishment, cried, “Sonofawhore!” and slammed the stool against the man’s chest. The man dropped his arms, and Shlomo started hitting his now undefended head when snap! the leg of the stool split off, and, cursing the German birchwood, he grabbed another stool and hit the German with that. No one was singing now, but Shlomo, shouting, didn’t notice. The other guards called out, “Blond!” “Black!” “Short!” “Tall!” and as each of these terrified people came up, they wielded their clubs upon him. The brawl went on till eleven o’clock, when the sweat-drenched invaders cried, “Pigs! We will fix you up!” and left the Germans alone.

Some were quite fixed…. Shlomo and his subordinates had killed them.

The next night it was more of the same . . . and the next night and the next and the next. Those who survived the “welcoming committees” at this and other camps were flung back into their pens.

“I was put with 30 women into a cell, which was intended to accommodate one person,” Gerlinde Winkler recalled. “The narrow space, into which we were rammed, was unbearable and our legs were all entangled together. . . . The women, ill with dysentery, were only allowed to go out once a day, in order to relieve themselves. A bucket without a cover was pushed into the cell with the remark: ‘Here you have one, you German sows.’  The stink was insupportable, and we were not allowed to open the little window.”

“The air in the cells became dense, the smell of the excrement filled it, the heat was like in Calcutta, and the flies made the ceiling black,” wrote John Sack. “I’m choking, the Germans thought, and one even took the community razor blade and, in despair, cut his throat open with it.”

When the wretched inmates were at last pried from their hellish tombs, it was only for interrogation. Sack continues:

As many as eight interrogators, almost all Jews, stood around any one German saying, “Were you in the Nazi Party?” Sometimes a German said, “Yes,” and the boys shouted, “Du schwein! You pig!” and beat him and broke his arm, perhaps, before sending him to his cell. . . . But usually a German said, “No,” and the boys … told him, “You’re lying. You were a Nazi.”

“No, I never was.”

Youre lying! We know about you!”

“No, I really wasn’t—”

“Du lugst! You’re lying!” they cried, hitting the obstinate man. “You better admit it! Or you’ll get a longer sentence! Now! Were you in the Nazi Party?”

No! the German often said, and the boys had to beat him and beat him until he was really crying, “I was a Nazi! Yes!”

But sometimes a German wouldn’t confess. One such hard case was a fifty-year-old….

Were you in the Party?”

“No, I wasn’t in it.”

“How many people work for you?”

“In the high season, thirty-five.”

“You must have been in the Party,” the boy deduced.

He asked for the German’s wallet, where he found a fishing license with the stamp of the German Anglers Association. Studying it, he told the German, “It’s stamped by the Party.”

Its not,” said the German.

Hed lost his left arm in World War I and was using his right arm to gesture with, and, to the boy, he may have seemed to be Heiling Hitler. The boy became violent. He grabbed the man’s collar, hit the man’s head against the wall, hit it against it ten times more, threw the man’s body onto the floor, and, in his boots, jumped on the man’s cringing chest as though jumping rope. A half dozen other interrogators, almost all Jews, pushed the man onto a couch, pulled off his trousers, and hit him with hard rubber clubs and hard rubber hoses full of stones. The sweat started running down the Jews’ arms, and the blood down the man’s naked legs.

Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!”

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!” the German screamed—screamed, till the boys had to go to Shlomo’s kitchen for a wooden spoon and to use it to cram some rags in the German’s mouth. Then they resumed beating him. . . . The more the man contradicted them, the more they hated him for it.

After undergoing similar sessions on a regular basis, the victim was brought back for the eighth time.

By now, the man was half unconscious due to his many concussions, and he wasn’t thinking clearly. The boys worked on him with rubber and oak-wood clubs and said, “Do you still say you weren’t in the Party?”

“No! I didn’t say I wasn’t in the Party!”

You didnt?”

“No!” said the punch drunk man. “I never said it!”

You were in the Party?”

Yes!”

The boys stopped beating him. They practically sighed, as if their ordeal were over now. They lit up cigarettes….

Scram,one said to the German. The man stood up, and he had his hand on the doorknob when one of the boys impulsively hit the back of his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.  

Aufstehen, du Deutsches schwein. Stand up, you German pig,” the boys said, kicking him till he stood up and collapsed again. Two boys carried him to his cell and dropped him in a corner….

Of course, the boys would beat up the Germans for “Yes”es as well as “No”s. In Glatz, the Jewish commandant asked a German policeman, “Were you in the Party?”

Of course! I was obliged to be!”

“Lie down, the commandant said, and six weeks later the boys were still whipping the German’s feet.

Some torture sessions lacked even the pretense of an examination. Remembered Eva Reimann:

My cell door opened. The guard, who, because of the foul smell, held a handkerchief to his nose, cried, “Reimann Eva! Come!” I was led to a first-floor room.

He shouted at me, “Take off your shoes!” I took them off.  “Lie down!” I lay down. He took a thick bamboo stick, and he beat the soles of my feet. I screamed, since the pain was very great. . . . The stick whistled down on me. A blow on my mouth tore my lower lip, and my teeth started bleeding violently. He beat my feet again. The pain was unbearable….

The door opened suddenly, and, smiling obligingly, a cigarette in his mouth, in came the chief of the Office, named Sternnagel. In faultless German he asked me, “What’s wrong here? Why do you let yourself be beaten? You just have to sign this document. Or should we jam your fingers in the door, until the bones are broad. . . ?

A man picked me up by the ankles, raised me eight inches above the floor, and let me fall. My hands were tied, and my head hit hard. . . . I lay in a bloody puddle. Someone cried, “Stand up!” I tried to, and, with unspeakable pain, I succeeded. A man with a pistol came, held it to my left temple, and said, “Will you now confess?” I told him, “Please shoot me.” Yes, I hoped to be freed from all his tortures. I begged him, “Please pull the trigger.”

After barely surviving his “interrogation,” one fourteen-year-old was taken to the camp infirmary. “My body was green, but my legs were fire red,” the boy said. “My wounds were bound with toilet paper, and I had to change the toilet paper every day. I was in the perfect place to watch what went on…. All the patients were beaten people, and they died everywhere: at their beds, in the washroom, on the toilet. At night, I had to step over the dead as if that were normal to do.”

When the supply of victims ran low, it was a simple matter to find more. John Sack:

One day, a German in pitch-black pants, the SS’s color, showed up in Lola’s prison. He’d been spotted near the city square by a Pole who’d said, “Fascist! You’re wearing black!” At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola’s prison. Some guards, all girls, then seized the incriminating evidence: the man’s black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of the tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, “Shut up!” and they didn’t recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The “man” was fourteen years old.

The girls decided to torture him [with]. . . . fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire.

At the larger prison camps, Germans died by the hundreds daily.

You pigs!” the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days, a Jewish guard cried, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!” and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. “Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!” the guard cried, and, when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. “Now cry!” the guard said. “And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!” and all the Germans moaned,

All the dogs are barking,

All the dogs are barking,

Just the little hot-dogs,

Arent barking at all.

The guard then cried, “Get undressed!” and, when the Germans were naked, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German’s throat, the German soon dying.

Utterly unhinged by years of persecution, by the loss of homes and loved ones, for the camp operators, no torture, no sadism, no bestiality, seemed too monstrous to inflict on those now in their power. Some Germans were forced to crawl on all fours and eat their own excrement as well as that of others. Many were drowned in open latrines. Hundreds were herded into buildings and burned to death or sealed in caskets and buried alive.

Near Lamsdorf, German women were forced to disinter bodies from a Polish burial site. According to John Sack:

The women did, and they started to suffer nausea as the bodies, black as the stuff in a gutter, appeared. The faces were rotten, the flesh was glue, but the guards—who had often seemed psychopathic, making a German woman drink urine, drink blood, and eat a man’s excrement, inserting an oily five-mark bill in a woman’s vagina, putting a match to it—shouted at the women . . . “Lie down with them!” The women did, and the guards shouted, “Hug them!” “Kiss them!” “Make love with them!” and, with their rifles, pushed on the backs of the women’s heads until their eyes, noses and mouths were deep in the Polish faces’ slime. The women who clamped their lips couldn’t scream, and the women who screamed had to taste something vile. Spitting, retching, the women at last stood up, the wet tendrils still on their chins, fingers, clothes, the wet seeping into the fibers, the stink like a mist around them as they marched back to Lamsdorf. There were no showers there, and the corpses had all had typhus, apparently, and sixty-four women . . . died.

Not surprisingly, the mortality rate at the concentration camps was staggering and relatively few survived. At one prison of eight thousand, a mere 1,500 lived to reach home. And of those “lucky” individuals who did leave with their lives, few could any longer be called human.

When a smattering of accounts began to leak from Poland of the unspeakable crimes being committed, many in the West were stunned. “One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again,” muttered one US senator, who then reported on beatings, torture and “brains splashed on the ceiling.”

“Is this what our soldiers died for?” echoed a Briton in the House of Commons.

Added Winston Churchill: “Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain.”

While Churchill and others in the West were expressing shock and surprise over the sadistic slaughter taking place in the Soviet Zone, precious little was said about the “tragedy on a prodigious scale” that was transpiring in their own backyard.

***

Among the millions imprisoned by the Allies were thousands of Germans accused of having a direct or indirect hand in war crimes. Because the victorious powers demanded swift and severe punishment, Allied prosecutors were urged to get the most damning indictments in as little time as possible. Unfortunately for the accused, their captors seemed determined to inflict as much pain as possible in the process.

“[W]e were thrown into small cells stark naked,” Hans Schmidt later wrote. “The cells in which three or four persons were incarcerated were six and a half by ten feet in size and had no windows or ventilation.”

When we went to the lavatory we had to run through a lane of Americans who struck us with straps, brooms, cudgels, buckets, belts, and pistol holders to make us fall down. Our head, eyes, body, belly, and genitals were violently injured. A man stood inside the lavatory to beat us and spit on us. We returned to our cells through the same ordeal. The temperature in the cells was 140 Fahrenheit or more. During the first three days we were given only one cup of water and a small slice of bread. During the first days we perspired all the time, then perspiration stopped. We were kept standing chained back to back for hours. We suffered terribly from thirst, blood stagnation and mortification of the hands. From time to time water was poured on the almost red-hot radiators, filling the cells with steam, so that we could hardly breathe. During all this time the cells were in darkness, except when the American soldiers entered and switched on electric bulbs … which forced us to close our eyes.

Our thirst became more and more cruel, so that our lips cracked, our tongues were stiff, and we eventually became apathetic, or raved, or collapsed.

After enduring this torture for several days, we were given a small blanket to cover our nakedness, and driven to the courtyard outside. The uneven soil was covered with pebbles and slag and we were again beaten and finally driven back on our smashed and bleeding feet. While out of breath, burning cigarettes were pushed into our mouths, and each of us was forced to eat three or four of them. Meanwhile the American soldiers continued to hit us on eyes, head, and ears. Back in our cells we were pushed against burning radiators, so that our skin was blistered.

For thirteen days and nights we received the same treatment, tortured by heat and thirst. When we begged for water, our guards mocked us. When we fainted we were revived by being drenched with cold water. There was dirt everywhere and we were never allowed to wash, our inflamed eyes gave us terrible pain, we fainted continuously.

Every twenty minutes or so our cell doors were opened and the soldiers insulted and hit us. Whenever the doors were opened we had to stand still with our backs to the door. Two plates of food, spiced with salt, pepper, and mustard to make us thirstier, were given us daily. We ate in the dark on the floor. The thirst was the most terrible of all our tortures and we could not sleep.

In this condition I was brought to trial.

During the Nazi war crimes trials and hearings, almost any method that would obtain a “confession” was employed. Eager to implicate high-ranking German officers in the Malmedy Massacre, American investigator Harry Thon ordered Wehrmacht sergeant Willi Schafer to write out an incriminating affidavit:

Next morning Mr. Thon appeared in my cell, read my report, tore it up, swore at me and hit me. After threatening to have me killed unless I wrote what he wanted, he left. A few minutes later the door of my cell opened, a black hood encrusted with blood, was put over my head and face and I was led to another room. In view of Mr. Thon’s threat the black cap had a crushing effect on my spirits…. Four men of my company … accused me, although later they admitted to having borne false testimony. Nevertheless I still refused to incriminate myself. Thereupon Mr. Thon said that if I continued to refuse this would be taken as proof of my Nazi imagestyopinions, and . . . my death was certain. He said I would have no chance against four witnesses, and advised me for my own good to make a statement after which I would be set free. . . . I still refused. I told Mr. Thon that although my memory was good, I was unable to recall any of the occurrences he wished me to write about and which to the best of my knowledge had never occurred.

Mr. Thon left but returned in a little while with Lieutenant [William] Perl (above) who abused me, and told Mr. Thon that, should I not write what was required within half an hour, I should be left to my fate. Lieutenant Perl made it clear to me that I had the alternative of writing and going free or not writing and dying. I decided for life.

Another Landser unable to resist the pressure was Joachim Hoffman:

[W]hen taken for a hearing a black hood was placed over my head. The guards who took me to my hearing often struck or kicked me. I was twice thrown down the stairs and was hurt so much that blood ran out of my mouth and nose. At the hearing, when I told the officers about the ill treatment I had suffered, they only laughed. I was beaten and the black cap pulled over my face whenever I could not answer the questions put to me, or gave answers not pleasing to the officers….I was beaten and several times kicked in the genitals.

Understandably, after several such sessions, even the strongest submitted and signed papers incriminating themselves and others.

“If you confess you will go free,” nineteen-year-old Siegfried Jaenckel was told. “[Y]ou need only to say you had an order from your superiors. But if you won’t speak you will be hung.”

Despite the mental and physical abuse, young Jaenckel held out as long as he could: “I was beaten and I heard the cries of the men being tortured in adjoining cells, and whenever I was taken for a hearing I trembled with fear…. Subjected to such duress I eventually gave in, and signed the long statement dictated to me.”

Far from being isolated or extreme cases, such methods of extorting confessions were the rule rather than the exception. Wrote author Freda Utley, who learned of the horror after speaking with American jurist Edward van Roden:

Beatings and brutal kickings; knocking-out of teeth and breaking of jaws; mock trials; solitary confinement; torture with burning splinters; the use of investigators pretending to be priests; starvation; and promises of acquittal. . . . Judge van Roden said: “All but two of the Germans in the 139 cases we investigated had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was standard operating procedure with our American investigators.” He told of one German who had had lighted matchsticks forced under his fingernails by the American investigators to extort a confession, and had appeared at his trial with his fingers still bandaged from the atrocity.

In addition to testimony given under torture, those who might have spoken in defense of the accused were prevented. Moreover, hired “witnesses” were paid by the Americans to parrot the prosecution’s charges.

When criticism such as Utley’s and van Roden’s surfaced, and even as victims were being hung by the hundreds, those responsible defended their methods.

“We couldn’t have made those birds talk otherwise…,” laughed one Jewish “interrogator,” Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld. “It was a trick, and it worked like a charm.”

Berlin: Our Finest Hour

 Volkssturm

(The following is from my book, Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947)

On the afternoon  of  April 24, 1945, Helmuth Weidling, along with an aide, Major Siegfried Knappe, entered Berlin, his automobile escorted by a pair of roaring motorcycles. Due to the chaotic conditions caused by the Russian advance, Weidling’s corp had lost touch with other units and the general hoped to regain contact via the communications center below the Reich Chancellery. What the two officers saw on their short drive through the capital was sobering. Wrote Maj. Knappe:

The city was under fire from heavy artillery, which was probably mounted on a railroad car somewhere thirty or more kilometers away, and there was also some bombing by Russian aircraft. Fortunately, the artillery was not con- centrated; it was scattered all over the city, with a heavy artillery shell landing somewhere in the city every few minutes.

Smoke and dust covered the city. Streetcars were standing disabled in the streets, their electric wires dangling. In the eastern suburbs, many buildings were burning and the civilian population was queuing up in bread lines and in line to get water from any source that was still working. Civilians were everywhere, scurrying from cover to cover because of the artillery shells and bombs. To avoid creating a possible panic, Goebbels had refused to issue orders for civilians to leave the city, even women and children, and now thousands more were fleeing into Berlin from the east. Defending Berlin was obviously going to be a very ugly business, and many civilians were going to die in the fighting.

Arriving at the Reich Chancellery at about 6:00 p.m., we left our car and driver to proceed on foot, taking the motorcycle runners with us. The area around the Reich Chancellery was pitted with deep craters. Fallen trees were scattered about like matchsticks, and the sidewalks were blocked by piles of rubble. The Reich Chancellery was badly damaged, with only shells of walls remaining in some places. The entrance hall ... had been completely destroyed. The only part of the Reich Chancellery that was still usable was the underground  bunker system. In the underground garage, we saw several Mercedes-Benzes we had seen Hitler use in parades and political rallies. There was an entrance to the passage to Fuhrer Headquarters in the underground bunker from the garage. SS guards at the entrance saluted Weidling, with his Knight’s Cross and Swords. These first guards were SS unteroffiziers, but the deeper we went toward the bunker, the higher the rank of the guards became. . . .

Fuhrer Headquarters was about three levels down from the garage. We were stopped at many guard posts, even though Weidling was a general with many impressive military decorations, and we were searched by the guards before being admitted to the actual Fuhrer bunker. The SS guards were respectful, but here we were carefully investigated as to who we were, where we came from, and what our business was. We had to show proper identification and surrender our pistols.

Then we finally entered the antechamber to the offices of … General [Hans] Krebs, and … General [Wilhelm] Burgdorf. We were announced, and Burgdorf ’s adjutant . . . came to welcome us. He led us to the next room, where both Krebs and Burgdorf awaited us. . . . They had talked to us only briefly when Krebs said he would announce Weidling’s presence to Hitler and see if Hitler wanted to talk to him. That was surprising, since Weidling had not come to see Hitler and knew of no reason Hitler would want to talk to him.

When Krebs and Burgdorf were out of the room, Weidling said quietly, “Something is wrong. They are behaving strangely. After about ten minutes, Burgdorf returned and told Weidling that Hitler wanted to see him. I stayed behind, of course.

After about twenty more minutes, Weidling returned and told me that Hitler had ordered us to come into Berlin and take over the eastern and southern fronts of the city.

This news, startling in itself, was soon transcended by what Weidling saw and heard in the bunker. Gone were the days of cool efficiency, the days when the German High Command was a well-oiled machine hitting on all cylinders. As Weidling discovered, shouting, arguments, and finger-pointing was now the order of the day.

What a difference between the haphazard way things were being done now and the professional way things had been done in 1940 and 1941!” reflected Maj. Knappe.

Weidling, Knappe and other visitors from “above” were also struck by the ghastly atmosphere of the bunker. Sunless, cheerless, cool, and damp, the compound’s pale and lethargic inhabitants haunted the hallways like beings from another world, or, as one inmate admitted, “like zombies.

Since 16 January, when Hitler had installed himself in his concrete shelter, we had to spend our time inside the bunker,” revealed one of the chancellor’s personal secretaries, Traudl Junge. “[I]t was our ninety-sixth day spent fifty feet underground, beneath sixteen-feet thick slabs of cement resting on walls some six feet wide at their base.

More recently, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, had moved in along with Joseph Goebbels and his large family. Adding to the cramped conditions, the Fuhrer’s top adviser, Martin Bormann, was also ensconced below.

Perhaps most shocking of all to Weidling and other newcomers to the bunker was the appearance of Adolf Hitler himself. As one officer recalled:

[T]hose of us who had known him in the earlier years before the war, when he was a human dynamo often bursting with restless energy, now noted, from about nineteen forty-two on, that he seemed to be aging at least five full years for every calendar year. Near the very end, on the day he celebrated his last birthday, he seemed closer to seventy than to fifty-six. He looked what I would call physically senile.

During that birthday gathering on April 20, scores of officials and Party members from across Germany had arrived “to greet the Fuhrer, to shake his hand and swear their loyalty. According to Traudl Junge, many of the visitors urged their leader to leave Berlin:

Mein Fuhrer, the city will soon be surrounded and you will be cut off from the south. There is still time to withdraw to Berchtesgaden from where you can command the southern armies.

Hitler shook his head, bluntly turning down their suggestions.

No, I can’t,” he answered. “If I did, I would feel like a lama turning an empty prayer wheel. I must bring about the resolution here in Berlin—or else go under.

Emboldened by their leader’s decision to go down fighting, others swore allegiance. “We shall never leave him in the lurch, whatever the danger ... ,” Dr. Goebbels vowed. “If history tells of this country that its people never abandoned their leader and that their leader never abandoned his people, that will be victory.

And now, with his elevation to commander of the capital defenses, Gen. Weidling was being called upon to do the impossible—to keep not only Adolf Hitler and Berlin from “going under,” but to prevent Germany from going down as well. With roughly 15,000 mostly ragged and battle-drained troops to work with, and with perhaps twice that number of poorly armed, poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, Weidling was being asked to not only hold off half a million Soviet soldiers, and an equal number of reserves, but defeat and destroy them. Although Hitler had ordered the armies of Generals Walter Wenck and Theodor Busse to break the ring and relieve Berlin, Weidling well knew that this was a phantasm. Far from rescuing the capital, these units would be hard-pressed to prevent their own encirclement and destruction.

As the general and Major Knappe drove through the capital that night to their new headquarters at Templehof Airport, both understood well the hopeless nature of their task. While the inevitable defeat might be postponed for a few days, or weeks at most, nothing could save Berlin from becoming “one huge urban killing ground.

[I]t was on this night that the apocalyptic battle for the city of Berlin began in earnest, Maj. Knappe wrote. “The next day, Russian assault troops fought their way into the suburbs of the city.

Berliners!” cried Joseph Goebbels over the radio, “I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and parents. The battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle.

Stirred by the summons of Joesph Goebbels, aware that Hitler himself was sharing their fate, thousands of men, women and children responded to the clarion, some riding street cars to the front lines in the suburbs. The speed of the Soviet onslaught and the haphazard nature of the defense created a logistical nightmare. Explained one Volkssturm commander:

I had four hundred men in my battalion, and we were ordered to go into the line in our civilian clothes. I told the local Party leader that I could not accept the responsibility of leading men into battle without uniforms. Just before commit- ment we were given 180 Danish rifles, but no ammunition. We also had four machine-guns and a hundred Panzerfausts. None of the men had received any training in firing a machine-gun, and they were all afraid of handling the anti-tank weapons. Although my men were quite ready to help their country, they refused to go into battle without uniforms and without training. What can a Volkssturm man do with a rifle without ammunition? The men went home; that was the only thing we could do.

Although many defenders were lost for similar reasons, others were determined to help in any way they could. Some women and children built barricades in the streets or dug anti-tank ditches. Old men and boys acted as couriers. Clerks, school teachers, government employees, even artists and musicians, hovered near the front in hopes of picking up weapons and uniforms from the battlefield. While Soviet forces converged upon the city, some of the first hammer-blows were delivered in the southern suburbs along the Teltow Canal. Remembered Russian general, Ivan Konev:

I reached Teltow when the artillery preparation was almost over. Our troops had taken up assault positions and were poised to enter the city; there were tanks, motorized infantry and the artillery that was finishing its work…. The advance detachments began to cross the canal before the end of the artillery preparation. Everything was shaking. The entire locality was wrapped in smoke. Heavy artillery was demolishing the houses on the other side of the canal. Stones, slabs of concrete, fragments of wood and dust were flying into the air. We had over 600 guns per kilometer on a narrow frontage, and they were all pounding the northern bank. . . . The bombers—one flight after another—were also delivering their blows….

I remember how vast the city appeared to me. I noted the massive old buildings, in which the district that lay before us abounded, and the density of these buildings; I took note of everything that might complicate our task of capturing Berlin. I also noticed the canals, rivers and streams that crossed Berlin in differ- ent directions. Such a multiplicity of water obstacles promised additional difficulties. Before us lay a front-line city, besieged and prepared for defense. . . . As I gazed upon Berlin I reflected that its end would spell the end of the war and that the sooner we took the city the sooner the war would be over.

Once in the suburbs, it was not long before Konev and other Russians realized that the war was far from over. Near Oranienburg, a member of the Hitler Youth wrote:

Our leader and the police fetched us from our homes and we had to assemble in the SS barracks. Then [we] were divided up by our companies and attached to the SS and Volkssturm. We first saw action to the northeast of the town. Most of us were killed by infantry fire, because we had to attack across open fields. Then the fighting in the town; two days of it. In two days and two nights Oranienburg changed hands four times. That finished another part of us. Then the Russians started bombarding the town with Stalin-Organs [i.e., multi-tubed rocket launchers], and when we wanted to finish and go home, we were stopped and made to join the escape across the canal. My platoon leader, who refused, was strung up on the nearest tree ... but then he was already fifteen years old.

Although resistance on the approaches to Berlin was generally light, the further the Soviets advanced, the stiffer the defense became. Increasingly, the Russians resorted to formula tactics. Said one German defender:

[A]ircraft flew over the buildings where resistance was suspected and where they had spotted snipers posted on the roofs, dropping small-caliber bombs, or possibly clusters of hand grenades. Simultaneously the tanks advanced, slowly opening a passage with their fire. Behind the tanks came the infantry, usually about thirty to forty men armed with submachine-guns. Behind the assault troops came other shock troops, who searched the houses to left and right. As soon as a cellar or building had been visited, the assault troops passed on, leaving one or two sentries. The Russians did their mopping up very cautiously and burnt with petrol all the houses from which they had been fired upon.

As the Soviets pressed forward, they captured several prison camps.

While POWs of other nationalities were set free, Russian inmates were merely handed a rifle and pointed to the front.

On a street in the suburbs, Werner Adamczyk and other nervous artillerymen waited while spotters located targets. As the young German gunner recalled:

I could see a long line of women in front of a grocery store, waiting to be served out of the meager supply of food. Suddenly, we got a firing command. We were to fire three salvos directed less than a kilometer ahead. As our guns went off, the women in line ducked down to the floor…. After the salvos went off, we loaded the last shell and waited….

Then the moment of final destiny arrived. A Russian tank swerved around the corner of one of the streets ahead of us. Its turret was swinging from one side to the other, firing its shells at random. My breathing stopped when I saw one of its shells detonating in the middle of the row of women waiting in line at the grocery store. Several of them fell to the ground; screams of horrible panic and pain filled the air. . . . Some unknown men, maybe from the rest of our infantry, emerged in front of us and fired a “Panzerschreck” at that tank. It was a direct hit. The tank blew up in an inferno of fire. But fragments of it killed some more of the nearby women.

Moments later, our gun barrels down for direct shooting, another tank appeared. Every gun fired its last round. At least two of our shells hit the tank and blew it to pieces.

Young Siegfried Losch found himself sniping from windows with a group of paratroopers convalescing from the Italian front. After escaping the Oder, the seventeen-year-old had briefly considered shed- ding his uniform and blending with civilians. Loyalty to the Fatherland caused him to pause, however, and the ubiquitous Field Police gave him even more reasons to reconsider. Soon, Losch and his comrades found cover near the Olympic Stadium.

There was no real organization. Every little group fought as good as it could. Confusion existed. For instance, there were members of the Volkssturm dressed in brown overcoats and Czechoslovakian helmets. I almost shot one man. He was rather old. I told him to change his uniform, if he wanted to survive. Then there were members of the Adolf Hitler school, a Nazi elite high school. These boys were armed like cowboys. Each one had several pistols. They picked the weapons up from dead soldiers. They were highly motivated. I remember, there was a T-34 tank about 60 yards from our position, firing ever so often along the houses. Suddenly I heard a big bang from the T-34. One of those students had knocked out the tank. He had crawled on the balcony across from us and hiding behind some petunias he shot a bazooka [i.e., Panzerfaust] at the tank....He was maybe 14.

As the incidents above illustrate, and as the Soviets soon discovered, Berlin was a graveyard for tanks. The Panzerfaust, and its more lethal cousin, the Panzershreck, was a simple, yet extremely effective tank-killing device that could be fired with little or no training. Wagons, carts and wheel-barrows loaded with the weapons were constantly resupplying the fronts and doled out like loaves of bread. Additionally, the narrow streets of Berlin, lined with multi-storied stone and brick ruins made perfect canyons for ambush.

General Wilhelm Mohnke describes a tank attack upon one of his positions:

They came on at dawn with tanks and infantry. Their tanks were highly unmaneuverable, blocked by rubble, and were sitting ducks in this classic street-fighting situation. Even young boys and old men, or women, for that matter, armed with bazookas and heroic despair, could get at them from point-blank range, usually under fifty yards, often from a cellar. . . . The Russians had brilliant tank commanders who had learned their business against us out on the steppes and in the open country. Even in city fighting, for example, in Stalingrad or Warsaw, they had never come up against hostile, armed civilians. They realized their mistake only belatedly, after they had lost hundreds of tanks.

After that first frontal assault, they got smarter. They simply pulled back and plastered us with artillery, of which they had a plenitude. They never tried to storm our positions again.

In other sectors as well, Soviet commanders screened their tanks with sheets of iron or bags of cement and held them back until strong points had been obliterated by artillery. A French POW watched a typical operation outside the Schultheiss Brewery:

The roadblock’s defenders were bombarded by heavy mortars set up in some ruined houses nearby. Then the Russians set up a 75 or 105mm gun several hundred metres from the barricade. The Russian gunners were completely exposed and, at the cost of several casualties, succeeded in getting some shots on the target, destroying the barricade and killing a number of Germans.

Then the Soviet infantry, about a hundred strong, charged in screaming, quickly swamped the remaining defenders, opened the barrier and regrouped on the street corner opposite the brewery. German losses were increased by the bitterness of the Soviet soldiers, who seemed to be drugged, and rarely took prisoners. We found numerous German corpses, civilians and soldiers, when we were able to get out of the brewery.

With Berlin surrounded, the Soviets sought to sever the city’s last link with the world by overrunning Templehof Airport. One of those defending the far approaches to the airfield scribbled in his diary:

Russian artillery is firing without let-up. We need infantry reinforcements, and we get motley emergency units. Behind the lines, civilians are still trying to get away right under the Russian artillery fire, dragging along some miser- able bundle holding all they have left in the world. On and off, some of the wounded try to move to the rear. Most of them stay, though, because they are afraid of being picked up and hanged by flying courts-martial. The Russians burn their way into the houses with flame throwers. The screams of the women and children are terrible.

Afternoon. Our artillery retreats to new positions. They have very little ammunition. The howling and explosions of the Stalin organs, the screaming of the wounded, the roaring of motors, and the rattle of machine guns. Clouds of smoke, and the stench of chlorine and fire. Dead women in the street, killed while trying to get water. But also, here and there, women with bazookas, Silesian girls thirsting for revenge.

8 p.m.: Russian tanks carrying infantry are driving on the airport. Heavy fighting.

April 25: 5:30 a.m. New, massive tank attacks. We are forced to retreat. Russian drive on the airport becomes irresistible. Heavy street fighting—many civilian casualties. Dying animals. Women are fleeing from cellar to cellar. We are pushed northwest. [H]eavy Russian air attacks. Inscriptions on the house walls: “The hour before sunrise is the darkest,” and “We retreat but we are winning.” Deserters, hanged or shot. What we see on this march is unforgettable.

As the ferocious fighting approached the airport’s perimeter, General Weidling realized he could not hold the vital link long. Major Knappe:

During the evening, I entered a room where Weidling was meeting with [two generals]. They were discussing whether to defend Berlin dutifully or whether it would be appropriate to stay here and let the Russians pass by on both sides of us and then break through the Grunewald (woods to the west of the city), escape to the west, and surrender to the Western Allies. If we stayed to defend Berlin it would be necessary to move our headquarters to the center of the city, because within two days at the latest the Russians would be occupying this building. Weidling then made his decision to stay and defend Berlin. [We] ... decided to move corps headquarters to a big antiaircraft bunker near the Berlin zoo. The zoo bunker,a heavily fortified place with heavy antiair- craft guns on the roof, would be safe against bombing and artillery. When we left our headquarters, we had to be careful, because the railroad embankment behind our building was under fire and we had to cross it to get to our kubelwagen [i.e. Jeep] and motorcycle. We crossed it by dashing from cover to cover, finally arriving safely at our vehicles. As we drove through the city, the earth trembled with each exploding artillery shell, and a huge geyser of earth and debris erupted from the ground with each explosion. The noise was deafening, and the heaving of the earth was unsettling. A sliver of shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell finally punctured one of the tires on my kubelwagen.While my driver was changing the tire, a woman watching from a house nearby offered me a cup of tea. She was about forty-five years old and matronly, with worn clothes, bedraggled hair, and a kind face…. Her apartment was in shambles from the artillery blasts. Small knickknacks, little pieces of her life, lay shattered on the floor about her.

When will the Russians arrive, Herr Major?” she asked.

In a matter of hours,” I told her honestly. A day at most. You will be safest if you stay in your basement.

Like this helpless woman, females could do little else but sit in their cellars and wait. Unlike bombing raids, which had a certain rhyme and rhythm, death from artillery could come at any moment. Hence, life was now passed almost entirely underground talking . . . and thinking.

The word ‘Russians’ is no longer mentioned. The lips won’t pronounce it,” confided one thirty-year-old female. While rape was on everyone’s mind, she added, “not a single woman talked about ‘it’.”  

A nervous gaiety breaks out. All kinds of stories are making the rounds. Frau W. screeches: “Rather a Russki on the belly than an Ami on the head!” (i.e., American bombers)—a joke not quite fitting her mourning crepe. Fraulein Behn shouts through the cellar:

Now let’s be frank—I’ll bet there’s not a virgin among us!” No one answers. I find myself wondering…. Probably the janitor’s younger daughter, who is only sixteen and who, ever since her sister’s faux-pas, has been strictly watched. And certainly, if I know anything about the faces of young girls, the eighteen-year-old ... who is sleeping peacefully in the corner.

When those in hiding were finally forced by hunger and thirst to surface, the sights they saw were staggering. Continues the woman above:

Walking south one is aware of approaching the front. The city railroad tun- nel is already blocked. People standing in front of it said that at the other end a soldier in underpants is hanging, a sign saying “Traitor” dangling from his neck. They said he is hanging so low that one can twist his legs. This was reported by someone who saw it himself and had chased away some boys who were amusing themselves twisting the dead man’s legs.

The Berliner Strasse looks fantastic, half torn up and blocked by barricades. Queues in front of the shops, flak roaring overhead. Trucks moving citywards. Filthy mud-covered figures with vacant faces covered in blood-smeared band- ages trudging along between them. In the rear hay carts driven by gray-heads. The barricades guarded by Volksturm men in patched uniforms. Soft-faced children under huge steel helmets, horrifying to hear their high voices. So tiny and thin in their far-too-loose uniforms, they can’t be more than fifteen.

There are no more streets. Just torn-up ditches filled with rubble between rows of ruins…,” said another hungry scavenger, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. We climb across mountains of ruins, rummage through rubble and broken glass, crawl through unknown cellars, tear out other people’s boxes and bags. Shellfire above us. We don’t pay attention. We hardly bother to take cover. A fever has gotten hold of us.

Rita Kuhn was also searching for food. As the little girl approached her neighborhood bakery, she soon became lost.

I thought I was in another city. Everything looked very, very unfamiliar. The trees had lost all their leaves. And buildings on both sides were . . . little holes, big holes, and just the whole area is devastated. . . . I walked on, and I looked at the trees, and I saw pieces of clothing on the trees. Pretty soon, as I got closer to the bakery there were pieces of human flesh. They were all over, everywhere. On the trees, on the balconies, pieces of clothing, pieces of human flesh….I almost fell over a woman, lying there in the street, dead, with her legs blown off….I came to where I thought the bakery was, and there was just a big hole. Sure enough, that’s where it had hit, and people hadn’t had time to take cover.

Like this unfortunate group, once a source of food or water had been found, little or nothing could drive the desperate people away.

Whole families take turns standing in line, each member doing a shift of several hours…,” wrote a witness. “With a few beefsteaks and loins of pork in sight, even the shakiest old grandma will hold her ground. There they stand like walls, those who not so long ago dashed into bunkers the moment three fighter planes were announced over Central Germany.

Just as we were about to drive past such a line, noted Major Knappe, “an artillery shell exploded beside the line of women. As the smoke began to clear, I could see that many of the women had been hit. Those women who were unhurt carried the dead, the dying, and the wounded into the entrances of nearby buildings and cared for them—and then again formed their queues so they would not lose their places in line!”

When another direct hit on a food line killed and wounded over a dozen, one viewer was stunned to see victims merely wipe the blood from their ration cards and reform the line. As the sounds of street fighting neared, however, few any longer risked the food and water sorties. Confined to their dark cellars, alone with their thoughts, it was now that dreadful anticipation came crushing down.

We sheltered in the air raid cellar of our house when the fighting came very close…. [W]e heard a series of thundering crashes which came nearer and nearer. One young boy in our cellar was brave enough to look out. He told us that two Russian tanks and a lot of soldiers on foot were coming and that the tanks were firing into the houses as they moved up the street. One tank was firing at the houses on the left. The boy suddenly jumped down from the slit through which he had been looking and almost immediately our house was struck by a shell.

The noise moved past us. The sound of the firing grew less and less loud. We all sat quite still…. Each of us had our own thoughts. Mine were of my husband who was a sailor somewhere. We all sat silent waiting, wondering and fearful. Very soon the Red Army would be here. Suddenly the door was pushed open and in the doorway was the silhouette of a man. Then another and another. Two pocket torches were switched on and their beam passed from one face to another in the cellar. “Alles Kaput,” shouted one of the silhouettes, “Komm,” and we made our painful way up the shelter stairs and into daylight. There they stood, the soldiers who had come into our cellar, laughing and shouting. “Alles Kaput. They looked about sixteen years old. The Ivans had arrived.

As their frightened countrymen to the east had earlier discovered, Berliners also soon found that tough and hard as Russian shock troops might be, they were a far cry from the blood-thirsty monsters propaganda and imaginations had sketched them as. “The first troops were friendly and gave us food,” said a teenager. “They had officers with them who spoke German very well and told us to be calm, that everything would be all right. But also like their eastern brethren, Berliners soon learned that there was a world of difference between the first wave of Soviet soldiers and the second.

These are good, disciplined and decent soldiers,” one Russian officer explained to a Mother Superior at a maternity hospital. “But I must tell you—the ones coming up behind are pigs.

With such warnings, some terrified women tried to follow the front, dodging from cellar to cellar, dying from bombs and bullets as they did, but staying just ahead of the horror behind. For most, however, it was too late.

I step out into the dark corridor. Then they got me. Both men had been standing there waiting. I scream, scream. . . . One man seizes me by the wrists and drags me along the corridor. Now the other one also pulls, at the same time gripping my throat with one hand so that I can no longer scream…. I’m already on the ground, my head lying on the lowest cellar stair. I can feel the coldness of the tiles against my back. Something falls from my coat with a tinkling sound. Must be my house keys….One man stands guard at the door upstairs while the other claws at my under- wear, tears my garter belt to shreds and violently, ruthlessly has his way.

When it’s all over and, reeling, I try to get up, the other man hurls himself upon me and with fists and knees forces me back on the floor. Now the first man is standing guard, whispering: “Hurry, hurry... .

Suddenly I hear loud Russian voices. Someone has opened the door at the top of the staircase, letting in light. Three Russians come in, the third one a woman in uniform. They look at me and laugh. My second attacker, interrupted, has leaped to his feet. They both go off with the others, leaving me lying on the floor. I pull myself up by the banister, gather my things together, and stagger along the wall toward the door of the cellar. . . . My stockings are hanging over my shoes, my hair has fallen wildly over my face, in my hand are the remains of the garter belt.

What followed was worse than anything we had ever imagined,” recalled nineteen-year-old Juliane Hartman.

One Russian went into the garage and the other headed for the house. Not having the slightest idea of what would happen, I followed the man into the house. First, he locked all of the doors behind him and put the keys in his pocket. I began to feel a bit funny when we got to one of the bedrooms. I wanted to go out on the balcony, but he pointed his gun at me and said, Frau komm!” We had already heard about a few of the horrible things going on, so I knew one thing for certain and that was “Don’t try to defend yourself.” An upper-middle-class child, I had never been told about the facts of life.

A short time later, Juliane learned much more about the “facts of life” when “an entire horde of Mongolians” stood facing her.

Recounts Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, a German communist:

In the middle of the night I wake up. A flashlight is shining into my face. “Come, woman,” I hear a voice. The smell of cheap liquor assails me. A hand covers my mouth.

Good woman ... come,” the voice repeats. A heavy body falls upon me. “No, no,” I gargle, half choked, trying to slip deeper into the pillows. The smell of cheap liquor. Close to my ear panting breath. “O God! ... Dear God!”

Following her own ordeal, Andreas-Friedrich tried to console a young Marxist friend:

She sits huddled on her couch. “One ought to kill oneself,” she moans. “This is no way to live.” She covers her face with her hands and starts to cry. It is terrible to see her swollen eyes, terrible to look at her disfigured features.

Was it really that bad?” I ask.

She looks at me pitifully. “Seven,” she says. “Seven in a row. Like animals....” She is eighteen years old and didn’t know anything about love. Now she knows everything.  Over and over again, sixty times.  How can you defend yourself?” she says impassively, almost indifferently. “When they pound at the door and fire their guns senselessly. Each night new ones, each night others. The first time when they took me and forced my father to watch, I thought I would die.

I shudder. For four years Goebbels told us that the Russians would rape us. That they would rape and plunder, murder and pillage.

Atrocity propaganda!” we said as we waited for the Allied liberators.

A German attorney and his Jewish wife were two more Berliners who had eagerly anticipated the arrival of Soviet troops. According to a witness:

For months the couple had been looking forward to the liberation of Berlin, had spent nights by the radio, listening to foreign broadcasts. Then, when the first Russians forced their way into the cellar and yelled for women, there had been a free-for-all and shooting. A bullet had ricocheted off the wall and hit the lawyer in the hip. His wife had thrown herself on the Russians, imploring their help in German. Whereupon they had dragged her into the passage. There three men had fallen upon her while she kept yelling: “Listen! I’m a Jewess! I’m a Jewess!” By the time the Russians had finished with her, the husband had bled to death.

Because of the close-quarter street fighting, German troops were often unwilling spectators to the horror taking place just beyond. “The nights, when the women in the occupied side streets were raped by Russian soldiers, were awful, a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth reminisced. “[T]he screams were horrible. There were terrible scenes. Added another Landser: “[I]t is just not a pretty sight to see a terrified, naked woman running along a roof top, pursued by a half-dozen soldiers brandishing bayonets, then leaping five or six stories to certain death.

After witnessing such scenes as the above, resistance—already fierce— soon turned fanatical. Ferocious as the fight became, little or nothing could stave off the inevitable. Nowhere was this fact more painfully clear than in the bunker far below the Reich Chancellery. Traudl Junge:

[A]n acute sense of anxiety had spread throughout the bunker. Outside, it was like the depths of hell. During the daytime the rumble of gunfire never stopped, and explosions that rocked the ground continued all night long…. Imprisoned in the bunker, we tried to get hold of some news about the outcome of the battle. It should have been at its height. Was that the noise of our guns and tanks? Nobody knew.

Hitler went out to the officers who were waiting in the corridor. “Gentlemen,” he said, “the end is approaching. I shall stay in Berlin and I shall kill myself when the moment comes. Any of you who wish to leave may do so. You are all free to go.

When those present begged him to fly south to the Alps, while there was still time, Hitler merely waved the words aside: “In this city I have had the right to give orders; now I must obey the orders of Fate. Even if I could save myself, I would not do it. The captain goes down with his ship. How can I call on the troops to undertake the decisive battle for Berlin if at the same moment I myself withdraw to safety?”

While some in the bunker still held hope, pinning their last prayer on General Wenck breaking the Russian ring and relieving the capital, Wenck himself suffered no such delusion.

The idea of fighting through to Berlin . . . was completely absurd,” the general later wrote. “The Army would have taken weeks to recover and gain battle strength. From hour to hour our own position was growing weaker. The Russians now attacked in overwhelming numbers. Continues Traudl Junge:

By 26 April, we were cut off from the outside world apart from a radio link.... It began to be obvious that we no longer had an army capable of saving us.... The sound of guns was coming closer and closer, but the atmosphere in the bunker remained the same. Hitler was haggard and absent-minded….[H]e was hollow-eyed and paler than ever. He seemed completely to have given up his role as leader. There were no briefing sessions, no more fixed schedules, no maps spread out on the table. Doors stood wide open. Nobody bothered with anything any more. Our single obsession was that the moment of Hitler’s suicide was approaching.

Goebbels ... arrived to discuss with Hitler their plans for a final radio broadcast. The population were to be told that the Fuhrer was staying in the besieged capital and that he would personally take part in the city’s defense. It was a futile hope that this message would give the German people the courage and energy to achieve the impossible: the sad truth was that there were few able-bodied men left, and a large number of youngsters would sacrifice their lives in vain at a time when their Fuhrer had already given up.

Despite the fast-approaching end, details of state continued. After destroying a Soviet tank single-handedly, a stunned and sleepless child was led down to the bunker and introduced to the Fuhrer.

boy-iron-cross-germany-1945
With a great show of emotion,” noted a bystander, “Hitler pinned an Iron Cross on the puny chest of this little chap, on a mud-spattered coat several sizes too big for him. Then he ran his hand slowly over the boy’s head and sent him back out into the hopeless battle in the streets of Berlin.

As the circle closed on central Berlin, the combat became increasingly savage. “One of the worst things . . . was that the Russians always had fresh reserves to put into the fighting, so they could rest their troops...,wrote Maj. Knappe. “[O]ur people had to just keep fighting, hour after hour and day after day, until they were killed or seriously wounded.

Gradually we lost all human appearance, a German soldier recounted. “Our eyes burned and our faces were lined and stained with the dust that surrounded us.

The dust from the rubble hung in the air like a thick fog ..., added General Weidling as he ducked and dodged from door to door to inspect his defenses. “Shells burst all round us. We were covered with bits of broken stones.

Another weary Landser took time to faithfully record the daily agony:

Continuous attacks throughout the night. The Russians are trying to break through…. Increasing signs of disintegration and despair. . . . Hardly any communications among the combat groups, in as much as none of the active battalions have radio communications any more. Telephone cables are shot through in no time at all. Physical conditions are indescribable. No relief or respite, no regular food and hardly any bread. Nervous breakdowns from the continuous artillery fire. Water has to be obtained from the tunnels and the Spree [River] and then filtered. The not too seriously wounded are hardly taken in anywhere, the civilians being afraid to accept wounded soldiers and officers into their cellars when so many are being hanged as real or presumed deserters and the occupants of the cellars concerned being ruthlessly turfed out as accomplices by the members of the flying courts martial.

Potsdamer Platz is a ruined waste. Masses of wrecked vehicles and shot-up ambulances with the wounded still inside them. Dead everywhere, many of them frightfully mangled by tanks and trucks.

Violent shelling of the city center at dusk with simultaneous attacks on our positions. Russians heading for Potsdamer Platz pass us in the parallel tunnel.

As this diarist made note, while one battle raged above, another raged below. Not only was Berlin one of the largest cities in the world, it was also one of the most modern and beneath its surface stretched a maze of subway tunnels, pedestrian passageways and huge drainage pipes. With maps in hand, German commanders were quick to seize the initiative ... with devastating results. Admitted a Russian general:

Our troops would capture some center of resistance and think they had finished with it, but the enemy, making use of underground passages, would send reconnaissance groups, as well as individual saboteurs and snipers into our rear. Such groups of submachine-gunners, snipers, grenade throwers and men armed with panzerfausts emerging from the underground communications fired on motor vehicles, tanks and gun crews moving along already captured streets, severed our lines of communication and created tense situations behind our firing lines.

Though terrified by the black labyrinth, Soviet soldiers were compelled to enter them. Alexander Zhamkov and a squad of scouts crept through one subway until they spotted a distant light.

We decided to crawl the rest of the way. There was a niche in the wall ... and a small electric bulb burning. Close by we heard Germans talking, and there was a smell of tobacco smoke and heat-up tinned meat. One of them flashed a torch and pointed it towards us, while the Germans remained in the shadows. We pressed ourselves to the ground and peered ahead. In front, the tunnel was sealed with a brick wall with steel shields set in the middle. We crawled for- ward another few metres. All of a sudden, bullets began to sing. We hid in the niches. After a while, we attacked, throwing hand grenades and firing Panzerfausts, and broke through. Another 200 metres and another wall.

[T]hat is the worst possible sort of combat,” said an underground fighter. You see only flashes of fire coming at you: flame throwers and tracer ammunition.

Nightmarish in its own right, frightened civilians crowding the subway platforms added immeasurably to the horror, as one soldier reveals:

Platforms and waiting rooms resemble an army camp…. Exploding shells shake the tunnel roofs. Chunks of concrete collapse. Smell of powder and clouds of smoke in the tunnels. Hospital trains of the underground municipal railway roll along slowly. Suddenly a surprise. Water pours into our combat headquarters. Screams, weeping, cursing, people fight for the ladders which lead to the surface through the ventilation shafts. The masses pour over the railway sleepers leaving children and wounded behind…. The water rises over a meter before it slowly recedes. The terrible fear and panic lasts for more than an hour. Many drowned. The cause: on somebody’s orders engineers had demolished the sides of the Landwehr Canal … in order to flood the tunnels to block underground enemy advances….

Late afternoon, we move to Potsdam Platz [station]. Shells penetrate the roof. Heavy losses above, civilians and wounded. Smoke pours through the shell holes…. After one heavy shell explosion … by the station entrance next to the Pschorr brewery, there is a horrible sight: men, women and children are literally plastered to the walls. 

And, the soldier continues, as if the horror were not already great enough, “Flying courts-martial appear among us.”

Most are very young SS. Hardly any decorations. They are blind and fanatical. Hopes of relief and the simultaneous fear of the courts-martial revitalize the men again. General [Hans] Mummert bans the reappearance of any flying courts-martial in this defense sector. A division with the most bearers of the Knight’s Cross and the oak leaf cluster does not deserve to be persecuted by such young fellows. Mummert is determined personally to shoot one such court-martial that interfered in his sector.

As noted above, the “chain dogs” were omnipresent, insuring that few would “snap” and run to the rear. “[A]nywhere you went, you saw military police, a Hitler Youth member stated. “Even when the Russians were already in sight, you could see police a hundred yards farther on, still trying to check people. Whoever didn’t have the right papers or the correct pass was strung up as a deserter.

Of the one hundred and forty men originally in Lothar Ruhl’s company, only a dozen or so were left. Nevertheless, said the brave seventeen-year-old, “An SS patrol stopped me and asked me what I was doing. Was I a deserter?”

They told me to go along with them and said that all cowards and traitors would be shot. On the way, I saw an officer, stripped of his insignia, hanging from a streetcar underpass. A large sign hung around his neck read, “I am hanging here because I was too much of a coward to face the enemy.” The SS man said, “Do you see that? There’s a deserter hanging already.” I told him that I was no deserter; I was a messenger. He said, “That’s what they all say.” I wound up at an SS assembly point. One of our platoon leaders sat there. He saw me and yelled, “Hey, what are you doing with one of our men?” The answer was, “We picked him up.” The platoon leader asked, “What do you mean ‘picked him up?’ This man is our messenger and I know him very well. Let him go so he can get back to his duties.” They finally let me go.

After one of many small counterattacks, German troops briefly reoccupied a battered neighborhood. Wrote a witness:

People who lived there had put out white flags of surrender. There was this one apartment house with white bed sheets waving from the windows. And the SS came—I’ll  never forget this—went into the house, and dragged all of the men out. I don’t know whether these were soldiers dressed in civilian clothing, old men, or what. Anyway, they took them into the middle of the street and shot them.

Two groups largely untroubled by flying courts-martial were the Hitler Youth and Volkssturm. Often living only blocks from where they fought, no military police were necessary to remind these men of the fate awaiting their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters should they fail. Explained a Russian general:

[T]he mood prevailing in the Volkssturm during the decisive fighting for Berlin may be described as one of hysterical self-sacrifice. Those defenders of the Third Reich, including mere boys, believed themselves to be the personification of the last hope of a miracle…. It is noteworthy that those men armed with panzerfausts usually fought to the end and during that last stage displayed much more fortitude than the German soldiers who had been through the mill and were demoralized by defeat and many years of strain.

Far from passively defending a sector, the old men and boys launched furious, though forlorn, counterattacks. As a consequence, they died by the thousands. When one Hitler Youth unit joined the battle, it was five thousand strong. Five days later only five hundred were left.

As the struggle for Berlin intensified and the carnage increased, doctors and nurses were taxed beyond their limits. Remembered one physician:

[A]mputations were carried out on an old wooden table covered with a mattress. The surgeons operated without gloves, practically without antiseptics, and with instruments hardly boiled. Everything was defective or exhausted. It was impossible to change one’s overalls and even washing one’s hands became a problem. The oil lamps were dead and the last candles consumed. Fortunately we had found two bicycles equipped with electric lights, and the pedals turned by hand provided sufficient illumination for the operating tables.

Moving in dark, smoky rooms, wading over floors awash in blood and body parts, exhausted medical personnel also endured a nonstop barrage of curses, screamed at them in German, Russian, French, Spanish, and Dutch.

All of us were now living a waking nightmare. We had lost any sense of clock or calendar time ..., said Ernst-Guenther Schenck, an intern compelled to perform surgery though his field was nutrition.

Minor casualties, the walking wounded, soldiers shot in the hand or the foot, were not even allowed to leave their assigned combat posts. Those dragged to us, or trundled in on stretchers, were usually unconscious. Many a wounded soldier died, in horrible anguish, on the blood-smeared table as I operated. These were bewildered young men dragooned from half of Europe. I was up to my elbows in entrails, arteries, [and] gore.

Assisting Dr. Schenck was a Catholic nun, who stuffed arms, legs, bones, and intestines into trash cans.

Surprisingly, amid the smoking, flaming hell that was Berlin, another world existed, a world of strange and surreal contrasts. While men and women fought and died on one street, drunken revelers, bent on a final fling, yelled and laughed on an adjacent street. During brief lulls in the almost constant din of battle, shocked Landsers heard jazz and polka music blaring behind them in the German zone, and the screams of rape victims to their front in the Russian zone. Len Carpenter, an English POW who had simply walked away from his prison, found himself wandering through this bizarre landscape, as if in a “coma.

I remember going out and queuing up for some salt pork in the middle of the fighting and the queue being strafed by a Russian plane, and I remember joining in when the Germans started looting the shops and getting a big tin of jam and a typewriter, of all useless things. I remember the Hitler Youth boys singing as they marched past after driving the Russians out of Herrenstrasse railway station, and I remember the first Russians to arrive—they were Russians who had been fighting on the German side and when they took shelter in the cellar with us I thought, “Just my luck to be caught by the Red Army with this lot in tow.

When the Red Army did in fact arrive, Carpenter’s “coma,” if anything, worsened.

[W]hen all the guns and shouting had died down I emerged into the streets. From quite a distance away I could hear the shrieks of young girls. A local cobbler who was a Communist went forward to meet the Russians and show them his Party card but all they did was pinch the leather jacket off his back….I had a chit printed in four languages which said I was a British subject, but they weren’t interested, they couldn’t read, they just dropped it on the ground. I went with them on a plundering foray. We broke into a shoe shop with a lovely stock of shoes in it, and we broke into the wine and spirit shops, all sorts of places.

By the last days of April 1945, all of Berlin save the city center was under Russian control. Consequently, almost everything that the capital had to give had fallen to the victors.

I sense a strange, intangible something in the air, evil and menacing. Some of these fellows look past me in a strange way, exchanging glances with each other. One of them, short and yellow and smelling of alcohol, involves me in a conversation, tries to lure me sideways into a courtyard, points at two watches strapped to his hairy wrist, promising to give me one if I….

I retreat into the cellar corridor, sneak across the inner courtyard, think I’ve given him the slip when suddenly there he is, standing beside me, and following me into the cellar.

[H]e suddenly throws me onto the bed. Shut your eyes, clench your teeth, don’t utter a sound. Only when the underwear is ripped apart with a tearing sound, the teeth grind involuntarily. The last underwear.

I feel fingers at my mouth, smell the reek of horses and tobacco. I open my eyes. Adroitly the fingers force my jaws apart. Eye looks into eye. Then the man above me slowly lets his spittle dribble into my mouth….Paralysis. Not disgust, just utter coldness. The spine seems to be frozen, icy dizziness encircles the back of the head. I find myself gliding and sinking deep down through the pillows, through the floor.

Once more eye looks into eye. The lips above me open. I see yellow teeth, one front tooth half-broken. Slowly the corners of the mouth rise, tiny wrinkles form round the slit eyes. The man is smiling.

When I got up I felt dizzy and wanted to vomit. My ruined underclothes fell round my feet. I staggered along the passage ... to the bathroom. There I vomited. In the mirror I saw my green face, in the basin what I had vomited. I didn’t dare rinse it as I kept on retching and we had so little water left in the bucket. 

After the horror stories from the east, most women in Berlin expected to be raped once or twice ... but not dozens of times.

I felt wretched and sore and crept around like a lame duck. The widow, realizing immediately the reason why, got down her medicine chest from the loft where she had been hiding it. Without a word she handed me a jar containing vaseline, but her eyes were brimming. I too felt weak and was aware of something rising in my throat.

It occurred to me how fortunate I have been until now, how in the past love-making for me has never been a burden, but always a pleasure. I have never been forced, never had to force myself. Whatever it was like, it was good. What makes me so wretched at this moment is not the too-much, it’s the abused body taken against its will, which reacts with pain. Frigid is what I have remained during all these copulations. It cannot, it must not be different, for I wish to remain dead and unfeeling so long as I have to be prey. As a result I’m glad I feel so sore and sick. And yet there I stood blubbering, with the jar of vaseline in my hand, in front of the equally blubbering widow.

Throughout ravaged Berlin, the victors ruthlessly laid claim to the spoils of war.

They queued up,” whispers his wife, while Elvira just sits there speechless. “They waited for one another to finish. She thinks there were at least twenty, but of this she isn’t quite sure. She had to take almost all of it herself. The other one was unwell, they let her alone after four times.

I stare at Elvira. Her swollen mouth hangs from her deathly pale face like a blue plum. “Just let them see,” says the distiller’s wife. And without a word Elvira unbuttons her blouse, opens her chemise, and reveals her breasts covered with bruises and the marks of teeth…. She herself started talking. We could hardly understand a word, her lips are so swollen. “I prayed all the time,” she muttered. “I prayed: Dear God, I thank You for making me drunk….” For even before queuing up, as well as after, the Ivans had forced liquor down the woman’s throat.

Nothing, it seemed, was a defense against the assaults. “Most of us tried to make ourselves look a lot older than we really were, said Hedwig Sass, who was in her early forties. “But then the Russians always said, ‘You not old. You young.’ They laughed at us because of the old clothes and eye-glasses we were wearing. Added another woman: “The younger one, so the mother whispered to me, knowing that the Ivans didn’t like menstruating women, had stuffed herself with cotton. But it didn’t do her any good. Amidst howls and laughter the two rowdies had thrown the cotton all over the kitchen and laid the sixteen-year-old girl on the chaise lounge in the kitchen.

The same woman continues:

We sit around the kitchen table, everyone hollow-eyed, greenish-white from lack of sleep. We all whisper and breathe uneasily. In turn we all stare at the bolted, barricaded back door, praying it will hold out. All of a sudden the sound of steps on the back stairs, and the alien voices which seem so coarse and bestial to our ears. Silence and paralysis settle over the table. We stop chewing and hold our breath. Hands tremble, eyes open wide in horror. Then it’s quiet again beyond the door; the sound of steps has died away. Someone whispers: “If it’s going on like this.

No one answers. Suddenly the refugee girl from Konigsberg throws herself screaming across the table: “I can’t stand it any longer, I’m going to end it all. . . .” She had to submit to it several times last night, under the roof where she had fled, followed by a gang of pursuers. Her hair hangs over her face; she refuses to eat or drink.

We sit, wait, listen. We can hear firing from a distance. Shots whip down our street.

Like the frantic girl above, many females did indeed choose the ultimate escape. “There is no other talk in the city. No other thought either,” revealed Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. “Suicide is in the air. . . . They are killing themselves by the hundreds.

german-women-walk-past-dead-german-soldier-berlin-april-1945

Those women who did not commit suicide sought out officers, commissars and other powerful men, offering their bodies in hopes of ending the brutal, random assaults.

Compelled by hunger and thirst to leave their holes, Germans were stunned by what they saw in the streets. To many, it was if Berlin had returned to the Dark Ages. Primitive, Asiatic carts, piled high with plunder, stood side by side with American-made tanks and jeeps. Over open fires Kulaks and Tartars roasted whole hogs and oxen on spits. Horses, cattle and sheep, many trailed by their young, filled the streets with a bedlam of sounds.

The smell of cow-pat and horse dung was everywhere,” one German recalled.

Not all foul odors were so rustic. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

We hurry upstairs. An unbearable stench assails us.... Something slimy makes me slip. “They can’t have been sober.” Repulsed, I hold my nose. Andrik stands at the bathroom door. Aghast, he stares at the cause of the stench.

Buffaloes must have done this,” he stammers, totally overwhelmed, and tries to flush the toilet. There is no water. Nor is there gas, electricity or tele phone. Only chaos. Total and impenetrable chaos.

Dagmar comes back from the cellar. “It’s even worse down there,” she reports and distractedly runs her hands through her hair. “It’s a deluge, I tell you, a real deluge!”

Shoveling shitsoon became a new preoccupation for many a once-tidy hausfrau. Gagging and retching, the women tried mightily to remove piles of excrement left in living rooms, hallways and kitchens. They certainly haven’t much restraint, these conquerors,” one disgusted woman wrote. “[T]hey relieve themselves against the walls; puddles of urine lie on the landings and trickle down the staircase. I’m told they behave just the same in the empty apartments placed at their disposal. In a corner of the back staircase one of them is lying in a puddle of his own making.

In their dazed, feral condition, many Germans themselves were in no frame of mind to maintain the veneer of civilization. “While looking for a rear entrance,” said a witness, “we run into a woman who, with raised skirt, is quite unashamedly relieving nature in a corner of the yard. Another sight I’ve not seen before in Berlin.

Like snarling, ravenous wolfpacks, many Berliners swiftly reverted to the law of the jungle. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

In front of us a white ox comes trotting around the corner. With gentle eyes and heavy horns. Frank and Jo look at each other. In a moment we have surrounded the animal.

Five minutes later it is done. Five minutes later we all act as if we have gone mad. Brandishing kitchen knives, their sleeves rolled up, Frank and Jo are crouching around the dead animal. Blood drips from their hands, blood runs down their arms and trickles in thin lines across the trodden lawn. And suddenly, as if the underworld had spit them out, a noisy crowd gathers around the dead ox. They come creeping out of a hundred cellar holes. Women, men, children. Was it the smell of blood that attracted them? They come running with buckets. With tubs and vats. Screaming and gesticulating they tear pieces of meat from each other’s hands.

The liver belongs to me,” someone growls.

The tongue is mine . . . the tongue . . . the tongue!” Five blood-covered fists angrily pull the tongue out of the ox’s throat.

Ah,” a woman screams, and rushing away from the crowd, she spins around twice and then hastens away. Above her head she waves the ox’s tail.

Records another viewer:

[S]omeone had come rushing into the cellar with the glad tidings that a horse had collapsed outside. In no time the whole cellar tribe was in the street. The animal was still twitching and rolling its eyes when the first bread knives plunged into it—all this of course under fire. Everyone slashed and ripped just where he happened to be. When the philologist’s wife reached out toward some yellowish fat, someone had rapped her over the fingers with the handle of a knife. “You there—you stay where you are!” She had managed nevertheless to cut out a piece of meat weighing six pounds. [W]e no longer have any sense of shame.

Meanwhile, in the rapidly shrinking pocket that was German Berlin, the death struggle continued. For fear of hitting comrades closing from all sides, Soviet artillerymen now lowered their guns to point-blank range. Nowhere was the fight more intense than in the streets surrounding the heavily fortified flak towers. Recounts a civilian near the Zoo tower:

The barricades . . . were defended by the remnants of Volkssturm units and some youngsters. The Russians had mounted some light guns outside our building to fire at these obstacles. The Russians pushed any men and women that appeared capable of work out of the cellars at gun-point and made them clear the streets of the rubble, scrap metal and steel plates used as anti-tank obstacles, and that without any tools. Many were killed by the fire of German soldiers still holding out.

[T]he smell of death now permeated everything,” Major Knappe wrote from inside the Zoo bunker. “In addition to human corpses, many of the animals from the zoo had escaped and been killed. The acrid smell of smoke mingled with the stench of decomposing corpses. Dust from pulverized bricks and plaster rose over the city like a heavy fog. The streets, littered with rubble and pockmarked with huge craters, were deserted.

Atop the tower itself, anti-aircraft guns were lowered and fired non-stop into the surrounding streets. Even so, admitted a soldier inside the bunker, “Russian pressure . . . cannot be contained much longer. We will have to withdraw again.

We experienced the violent shaking when all eight 125mm anti-aircraft guns fired a salvo at the Russians ..., remembered one Landser inside the Humboldthain  flak-tower. “Their artillery fire was particularly fierce against the walls of the bunker since their infantry could not get in. The brave gunners were being killed mercilessly at their posts, and they were nearly all young Flak Auxiliaries, fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds. These brave youngsters continued to serve their guns fearlessly, and several were felled before our eyes.

Among the thousands of civilians huddled behind the massive walls, one described the atmosphere:

Of the actual fighting I saw nothing but we all heard a lot because the walls were not so thick that they kept out the sounds of shells and bombs bursting against the Flak tower walls. The tower soon became an emergency hospital and we were all expected to help. . . . More and more wounded were brought in and a lot died. Burial parties took the bodies outside and because there were not enough men to dig proper graves the bodies were just put into shell holes and covered with a sprinkling of earth….

There were suicides in the tower, as well. It was a ghastly time and when the shelling began to come really close it was clear that the Russians would soon be at the doors. We all knew what that meant and some of the girls decided not to wait until the Ivans came but to end their lives there and then.

To keep Hitler abreast of the battle, General Weidling and Major Knappe were compelled to spend much of their time moving between headquarters and the Chancellery. Reveals Knappe:

The whole area was in ruins…. Artillery shells exploded continuously, with thundering detonations. When I went outside now, the smoke from the burning city sliced through my nostrils and lungs like a jagged blade edge. The streets were full of both debris and bodies, although the bodies were hardly recognizable as such. The corpses of both soldiers and civilians who had been killed in the shelling and bombing were under debris, and everything was covered with a gray-and-red powder from the destruction of the buildings. The stink of death was suffocating…. [I]nfantry fighting was now everywhere….

When I made the trip to Fuhrer Headquarters now (approximately one kilometer), I had to dart from cover to cover, watching not only for incoming artillery rounds but for rifle and machine-gun fire as well. . . . Some of the SS troops defending the Chancellery were dug in before the building. [These] one thousand SS troops defending Fuhrer Headquarters—were red-eyed and sleepless, living in a world of fire, smoke, death, and horror.

In the bunker beneath the building itself, Ernst-Guenther Schenck was now in his seventh straight day at the operating table. “Casualties were now tumbling in from the fierce street fighting just three blocks away . . . and from the larger battle now raging for the Reichstag . . . ,” said Dr. Schenck. “From time to time, soldiers who were still conscious and could talk, told me of their hopeless battle. The younger ones, many under sixteen, were terrified, bawling.

Returning to Major Knappe:

To the people at Fuhrer Headquarters, we represented the outside world. Nobody there had left the bunker for several days. They were safe in the bunker, with its many feet of concrete under many feet of earth, but they did not know what was going on outside—that the fighting was only a kilometer away or that the “rescuing” armies had been halted. Hitler and the high command were juggling divisions that no longer existed or were just skeletons of themselves.

Every time I came into the bunker, Martin Bormann especially was eager to know what was happening. He was always there, in the big antechamber in front of Hitler’s office and living quarters. Every time I came in he would insist that I sit down on one of the green leather chairs and have some of his goodies and tell him about the situation on the outside.

The “situation” was always grim, of course, but Bormann, Goebbels, Hitler, and the other bunker dwellers needed accurate information on Russian proximity so that each might prepare for the end in his own fashion. Joining Major Knappe on what proved to be his final trip to the bunker was Gen. Weidling. Knappe continues:

The bunker smelled damp, and the sound of the small engine that ran the exhaust system provided a constant background noise….I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he’d had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one eye was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years.

Weidling presented me to Hitler: “Major Knappe, my operations officer.” Hitler shook my hand and said, “Weidling has told me what you are going through.  You have been having a bad time of it. Being accustomed to saying “Jawohl, Herr General,” I automatically said “Jawohl, Herr . . .” and then, realizing that this was wrong, I quickly corrected to “Jawohl, mein Fuhrer.” Hitler smiled faintly, and Goebbels smiled broadly—but Weidling frowned because his subordinate had made a social error.

Hitler said goodbye, shook my hand again, and disappeared in the general direction of Goebbels’s quarters. Although his behavior had not been lethargic, his appearance had been pitiful. Hitler was now hardly more than a physical caricature of what he had been. I wondered how it was possible that in only six years, this idol of my whole generation of young people could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany—but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.

One reason Weidling had come in person was to inform Hitler that his men could no longer hold out; permission for a breakout of the garrison was requested. The other reason the general had come was to urge his leader to escape while there was still time. To the first request, permission was granted; to the second, Hitler was firm. Others, including the Fuhrer’s private pilot, Hans Baur, begged Hitler to leave.

I had at my disposal a prototype six-engine Junkers with a range of over 6000 miles, Baur reminisced. We could have gone to any Middle Eastern country well disposed towards the Fuhrer.

To all the entreaties, however, Hitler’s response was the same: “One must have the courage to face the consequences. Fate wanted it this way.

Continues the chancellor’s secretary, Traudl Junge:

The bunker shook with the thundering of the Russian artillery bombardment and the air attack. Grenades and bombs exploded without interruption, and that alone was enough to warn us that the enemy would be at the door in a matter of hours. But inside the bunker there was no unusual activity. Most of the country’s leaders were assembled, doing nothing but waiting for the Fuhrer’s ultimate decision. Even Bormann, always energetic in the extreme, and the methodical Goebbels were sitting about without the smallest task to occupy them. Hopes of victory had been upheld throughout recent days, but nobody held such illusions any longer. It seemed amazing to me that, despite everything, we still ate and drank, slept and found the energy to speak.

Despite the gloom and despair, many underground—and  many above—did much more than eat and sleep. Some, said a witness, “went up the palm tree.” Remembers Dr. Schenck:

[M]any took to drink. Drink in turn relaxed inhibitions, releasing primitive animal instincts. From time to time I had to leave a patient on the table while I took a five-minute break in the fresh air—to calm my nerves and to steady my scalpel hand. Many of the same wild, red-eyed women who had fled their Berlin apartments in terror of rape by Red Army soldiers, now threw themselves into the arms, and bed rolls, of the nearest German soldiers they could find. And the soldiers were not unwilling. Still it came as a bit of a shock to me to see a German general chasing some half-naked Blitzmaedel [signalwoman] between and over the cots. The more discreet retired to Dr. Kunz’s dentist chair upstairs in the Chancellery. That chair seemed to have had a special erotic attraction. The wilder women enjoyed being strapped in and made love to in a variety of novel positions. Another diversion was group sex, but that was usually off in the dark corners.

Returning to Traudl Junge:

As the hours went by, we became completely indifferent to everything. We weren’t even waiting for anything to happen any more. We sat about, exchanging an occasional word and smoking. There was a great sense of fatigue, and I felt a huge emptiness inside me. I found a camp bed in a corner somewhere, lay down on it and slept for an hour. It must have been the middle of the night when I woke up. In the corridors and in the Fuhrer’s apartments there was a great deal of coming and going by busy-looking valets and orderlies. I washed my face in cold water, thinking that it must be the moment for the Fuhrer’s nighttime tea. When I went into his office, he held out his hand to me and asked: “Have you had some rest, my dear?”

Slightly surprised by the question, I replied, Yes, mein Fuhrer.”

“Good. It won’t be long before I have some dictation for you.

Later, as Traudl wrote, Hitler spoke:

It is not true that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war back in 1939. It was desired and provoked solely by those international politicians who either come from Jewish stock or are agents of Jewish interests. After all my many offers of disarmament, posterity simply cannot pin any blame for this war on me. After a struggle of six long years, which in spite of many setbacks will one day be recorded in our history books as the most glorious and valiant manifestation of the nation’s will to live, I cannot abandon this city which is the German capital. Since we no longer have sufficient military forces to withstand enemy attacks on this city . . . it is my desire to share the same fate that millions of other Germans have accepted….The people and the Armed Forces have given their all in this long and hard struggle. The sacrifice has been enormous. But my trust has been misused by many people. . . . It was therefore not granted to me to lead the people to victory. The efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war have been so great that I cannot believe that they have been in vain.

At approximately 3:15 p.m., April 30, Adolf Hitler retired to his room, placed a pistol to his head, then squeezed the trigger. Beside him, his newly-wed wife, Eva, also lay dead.

After administering poison to their children, Joseph and Magda Goebbels bid farewell to those remaining in the compound. Wrote one witness who watched as the couple prepared to leave the bunker for their final act in the courtyard above:

Going over to the coatrack in the small room that had served as his study, he donned his hat, his scarf, his long uniform overcoat. Slowly, he drew on his kid gloves, making each finger snug. Then, like a cavalier, he offered his right arm to his wife. They were wordless now. So were we three spectators. Slowly but steadily, leaning a bit toward each other, they headed up the stairs to the courtyard.

Learning of Hitler’s death, many in Berlin now resolved to escape the noose.

I’ll never forget sitting in a bunker and hearing of Hitler’s end. It was like a whole world collapsing,” explained a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth. Adolf Hitler’s death left me with a feeling of emptiness.

Nonetheless, I remember thinking that my oath was no longer valid, because it had been made to Hitler. . . . So the oath was null and void. Now the trick was to get out of Berlin and avoid falling into the hands of the Russians. . . . Berlin burned: oceans of flames, horrible clouds of smoke. An entire pilgrimage of people began marching out of Berlin. I spotted an SS Tiger tank unit with room in one of the tanks, so they took me along.

Even to a hardened soldier, [Berlin] was most unreal, phantasmagoric,” said another of those fleeing. “Most of the great city was pitch dark; the moon was hiding; but flares, shell bursts, the burning downtown buildings, all these reflected on a low-lying, blackish-yellow cloud of sulphurlike smoke. . . . We made most excellent moving targets, like dummies in a shooting gallery.

Young Siegfried Losch, whose war had begun seemingly a lifetime ago on the Oder, also joined the breakout:

The bridge we had to cross was under fire….I noted that a German tank was crossing the bridge and I took advantage of it by running on the opposite side from where the fire was coming. On the other side of the bridge we all gathered and found that no one was lost. As we walked along ... more soldiers joined our group. . . . from all ranks and organizations, i.e. army, SS, air force and uniformed civilians. There was even a two star panzer general among us.

Increasingly, as the Soviets realized what was taking place, the break-out became a massacre.

Underfoot are the bodies of those who had not made it as far as the bridge. Sad their luck; let’s hope ours is better for in a minute or two it will be our turn to race across. Every man on our lorry is firing his weapon; machine-gun, machine pistol or rifle. We roll onto the bridge roadway. The lorry picks up speed and races across the open space. It is not a straight drive but a sort of obstacle race, swerving to avoid the trucks, tanks and cars which are lying wrecked and burning on the bridge roadway. There is a sickening feeling as we bump over bodies lying stretched out, hundreds of them all along the length.

Although most such groups quickly came to grief, a surprising number, by bluff, courage and sheer determination, did succeed in breaking through the ring. Once clear of the flaming capital, the ragged, bleeding columns struck west, hoping to reach the British and Americans.

Meanwhile, despite the death of their leaders and the collapse of organized resistance, the hopeless fight for Berlin continued, especially among the elite SS. “Bolshevism meant the end of life ..., one young German said simply. “[T]hat’s the reason for the terribly bitter fight in Berlin, which wasn’t only street to street, but house to house, room to room, and floor to floor. [E]very single brick was bitterly fought over.

Rather than surrender and be murdered, most SS were determined to die fighting. Of the three hundred members in one French battalion who began the Battle of Berlin, only thirty were still standing. As much might be said for the Balts, Letts, Danes, Dutch, Spanish, Swiss, and other SS units.

[They are] still fighting like tigers,” reported a Russian general to his commander, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who was hoping to present the German capital as a May Day prize to Stalin.

We all wanted to finish it off by the May 1 holiday to give our people something extra to celebrate,” explained an exasperated Zhukov, “but the enemy, in his agony, continued to cling to every building, every cellar, floor and roof. The Soviet forces inched forward, block by block, building by building.

Finally, on the afternoon of May 2, General Weidling formally surrendered the city. While most obeyed their commander and laid down their arms, many refused to submit. Remembered Lothar Ruhl:

Now and again, we heard shots . . . so I asked who was doing the shooting. I was told, “Come around to the back, the SS are shooting themselves.” I said, “I don’t want to see it.” But I was told, “You have to watch.” People were actually standing around shooting themselves. Mostly, they were not German SS men; they were foreigners, some West Europeans and some East Europeans. The group included a number of French and Walloons.

When the Russians [finally] rounded us up,” Ruhl continues, “we were divided into different march columns. . . . The Russians didn’t select anyone in particular; they just said, ‘You go here, you go there, and these men go sit in the square. No one was allowed to stand up. If anyone tried, the Russians immediately fired live ammunition at head level.

We prisoners,” said another weary Landser, “waiting as soldiers always have to wait, sat in the exhausted daze that the end of a battle brings. There was such a depression that we hardly talked, but dozed off into light sleep or smoked, waiting to know what was our fate.

That “fate,” as rumors had already hinted, was in fact contained in one chilling word—Siberia. Even so, many surviving soldiers quietly counted their blessings. Johannes Hentschel:

I had begun to console myself. I was alive. Now, as we were herded out of the Reich Chancellery … where a truck was waiting to haul us away, destination unknown but suspected, we looked up and saw a very grim sight. Dangling bodies of some six or seven German soldiers were suspended from lamp-posts. They had been hanged. Each had a crude German placard pinned or tied to his limp body—traitor, deserter, coward, enemy of his  people.

They were all so young. The oldest may have been twenty, the others in their mid-teens. Half of them wore Volkssturm armbands or Hitler-jungend uniforms. As we were shoved aboard our truck, prodded in the buttocks by bayonets, I saw that I could almost reach out and touch one of those lifeless boys. He looked sixteen perhaps. His wild, bulging, porcelain blue eyeballs stared down at me blankly, blinkless. I shuddered, looked away.

Another soldier leaving Berlin for slavery was Wilhelm Mohnke. As the general and thousands of other dispirited captives marched east on the roads, they were stunned by what they saw.

There was very little traffic moving in the same direction we were. But coming toward us now, column after column, endlessly, the Red Army support units. I say columns, but they resembled more a horde, a cavalcade scene from a Russian film. Asia on this day was moving into the middle of Europe, a strange and exotic panorama. There were now countless panya wagons, drawn by horse or pony, with singing soldiery perched high on bales of straw. Many of them had clothed themselves in all kinds of unusual civilian dress, including costumes that must have come from ransacked theater and opera wardrobes. . . . Those who noticed that we were Germans shook their brown fists and fired angry volleys into the air. Then came whole units of women soldiers, much better disciplined, marching on foot. . . . Finally came the Tross, or quartermaster elements. These resembled units right out of the Thirty Years’ War.

Behind the east-bound German prisoners, roughly 20,000 dead comrades lay buried beneath the rubble of a place that no longer resembled anything of this world. “The capital of the Third Reich is a heap of gaunt, burned-out, flame-seared buildings, reported one of the first American correspondents to reach Berlin. “It is a desert of a hundred thousand dunes made up of brick and powdered masonry. Over this hangs the pungent stench of death. It is impossible to exaggerate in describing the destruction. Downtown Berlin looks like nothing man could have contrived. Riding down the famous Frankfurter Allee, I did not see a single building where you could have set up a business of even selling apples.

Added a German visitor later:

The first impression in Berlin, which overpowers you and makes your heart beat faster, is that anything human among these indescribable ruins must exist in an unknown form. There remains nothing human about it. The water is polluted, it smells of corpses, you see the most extraordinary shapes of ruins and more ruins and still more ruins; houses, streets, districts in ruins. All people in civilian clothes among these mountains of ruins appear merely to deepen the nightmare. Seeing them you almost hope that they are not human.

But, and almost miraculously, there were humans yet living in Berlin. When the guns finally fell silent, these dazed survivors spilled from their cracks and caves, trying to flee a nightmare, they knew not where. “Crowds of people were laboriously trying to make their way through the rubble,Traudl Junge noted. “Old and young, women and children, and a few men carrying small packs, pushing rusty carts or prams full of assorted belongings. The Russian soldiers did not seem to be paying much attention to these desperate human beings.

Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

We clamber over bomb craters. We squeeze through tangled barbed wire and hastily constructed barricades of furniture. It was with sofas that our army tried to block the Russian advance! With oil cloth sofas, wing chairs and broken armoires. One could laugh if it didn’t rather make one feel like crying.

Tanks riddled with holes block the way. A pitiful sight, pointing their muzzles toward the sky. A fatality comes from them. Sweet, heavy, oppressive. . . . Burned-out buildings left and right. God be with us, if it goes on this way. Silently we keep walking. The weight of our luggage is crushing us. . . .

Behind a projection in a wall sits an old man. A pipe in his right hand, a lighter in his left. He is sitting in the sun, completely motionless. Why is he sitting so still? Why doesn’t he move at all? A fly is crawling across his face. Green, fat, shiny. Now it crawls into his eyes. The eyes . . . Oh God have mercy! Something slimy is dripping onto his cheeks.

At last the water tower looms up in the distance. We are at the cemetery. The gate to the mortuary is wide open. Again that sweet, oppressive smell. Bodies, nothing but bodies. Laid out on the floor. Row after row, body after body. Children are among them, adults and some very old people. Brought here from who knows where. That draws the final line under five years of war. Children filling mortuaries and old men decomposing behind walls.

While stunned survivors drifted among the ruins like ghosts in a graveyard—or stood for hours in the interminable water lines—the conquerors celebrated in an orgy of drink, rape, music, and song.

A rosy-cheeked Russian is walking up and down our line, playing an accordion, said one broken woman who had been raped dozens of times. “‘Gitler kaputt, Goebbels kaputt, Stalin goot!’ he shouts at us. Then he laughs, yells a curse, bangs a comrade on the shoulder and, pointing at him, shouts in Russian . . . ‘Look at this one! This is a Russian soldier, who has marched all the way from Moscow to Berlin!’ They are bursting out of their pants with the pride of conquerors. It is evidently a surprise to themselves that they have gotten this far.

Although he had failed to present the German capital to Stalin as a May Day gift, and although the cost of taking Berlin had been enormous—well over 300,000 casualties—Marshal Zhukov was exuberant as well. 

What a stream of thoughts raced through my mind at that joyous moment! I relived the crucial Battle for Moscow, where our troops had stood fast unto death, envisioned Stalingrad in ruins but unconquered, the glorious city of Leningrad holding out through its long blockade of hunger, the thousands of devastated villages and towns, the sacrifices of millions of Soviet people who had survived all those years, the celebration of the victory of the Kursk salient—and now, finally, the goal for which our nation had endured its great sufferings: the complete crushing of Nazi Germany, the smashing of Fascism, the triumph of our just cause.

No one was more quietly elated or deeply relieved, however, than Josef Stalin. And none more clearly perceived the great political and post-war prize that had been gained than the communist dictator.

Stalin said,” remembered Gen. Nikita Khrushchev, “that if it hadn’t been for [U.S. Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower, we wouldn’t have succeeded in capturing Berlin.

Good War . . . Great Peace

#5 The Good War (Public Domain) Sarah

To help celebrate the end of the “Good War” in 1945 and the beginning of the “Good Peace,” allow me to offer the following from my books, Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947 and Rape Hate–Sex and Violence in War and Peace.

***

And so, with the once mighty German Army now disarmed and enslaved in May, 1945, and with their leaders either dead or awaiting trial for so-called “war crimes,” the old men, women and children who remained in the dismembered Reich found themselves utterly at the mercy of the victors. Unfortunately for these survivors, never in the history of the world was mercy in shorter supply.

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe, the purge of Nazi Party members from government, business, industry, science, education, and all other walks of German life commenced. While a surprising number of Nazis were allowed—even compelled—to man their posts temporarily to enable a smooth transition, all party members, high and low, were sooner or later excised from German daily life. In theory, “de-Nazification” was a simple transplanting of Nazi officials with those of democratic, socialist or communist underpinnings. In practice, the purge became little more than a cloak for an orgy of rape, torture and death.

denazification

De-Nazification

Because their knowledge of the language and culture was superb, most of the intelligence officers accompanying US and British forces into the Reich were Jewish refugees who had fled Germany in the late 1930s. Although their American and English “aides” were hardly better, the fact that many of these “39ers” became interrogators, examiners and screeners, with old scores to settle, insured that Nazis— or any German, for that matter—would be shown no mercy.

One man opposed to the vengeance-minded program was George Patton. “Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and [Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working … ,” wrote the general in private. “I am frankly opposed to this war-criminal stuff. It is not cricket and it is Semitic….I can’t see how Americans can sink so low.”

Soon after occupation, all adult Germans were compelled to register at the nearest Allied headquarters and complete a lengthy questionnaire on their past activities. While many nervous citizens were detained then and there, most returned home, convinced that at long last the terrible ordeal was over. For millions, however, the trial had but begun.

“Then it started,” remembered Anna Fest, a woman who had registered with the Americans six weeks earlier.

Such a feeling of helplessness, when three or four heavily armed military police stand in front of you. You just panic. I cried terribly. My mother was completely beside herself and said, “You can’t do this. She registered just as she was supposed to.” Then she said, “If only you’d gone somewhere else and had hidden.” But I consider that senseless, because I did not feel guilty. . . That was the way it went with everyone, with no reason given.

Few German adults, Nazi or not, escaped the dreaded knock on the door. Far from being dangerous fascists, Freddy and Lali Horstmann were actually well-known anti-Nazis. Records Lali from the Russian Zone:

“I am sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I am simply carrying out my orders. Until when did you work for the Foreign Office?”

“Till 1933,” my husband answered.

“Then you need fear nothing,” Androff said…. “We accuse you of nothing, but we want you to accompany us to the headquarters of the NKVD, the secret police, so that we can take down what you said in a protocol, and ask you a few questions about the working of the Foreign Office… .”

We were stunned for a moment; then I started forward, asking if I could come along with them. “Impossible,” the interpreter smiled. My heart raced. Would Freddy answer satisfactorily? Could he stand the excitement? What sort of accommodation would they give him?

“Don’t worry, your husband has nothing to fear,” Androff continued. “He will have a heated room. Give him a blanket for the night, but quickly, we must leave. .. .”

There was a feeling of sharp tension, putting the soldier on his guard, as though he were expecting an attack from one of us. I took first the soldier, then the interpreter, by their hands and begged them to be kind to Freddy, repeating myself in the bustle and scraping of feet that drowned my words. There was a banging of doors. A cold wind blew in. I felt Freddy kiss me. I never saw him again.

“[W]e were wakened by the sound of tires screeching, engines stopping abruptly, orders yelled, general din, and a hammering on the window shutters. Then the intruders broke through the door, and we saw Americans with rifles who stood in front of our bed and shone lights at us. None of them spoke German, but their gestures said: ‘Get dressed, come with us immediately.’ This was my fourth arrest.”

So wrote Leni Riefenstahl, a talented young woman who was perhaps the world’s greatest film-maker. Because her epic documentaries— Triumph of the Will and Olympia—seemed paeans to not only Germany, but National Socialism, and because of her close relationship with an admiring Adolf Hitler, Leni was of more than passing interest to the Allies. Though false, rumors also hinted that the attractive, sometimes-actress was also a “mistress of the devil”—that she and Hitler were lovers.

“Neither my husband nor my mother nor any of my three assistants had ever joined the Nazi Party, nor had any of us been politically active,” said the confused young woman. “No charges had ever been filed against us, yet we were at the mercy of the [Allies] and had no legal protection of any kind.”

leni

Leni Riefenstahl

Soon after Leni’s fourth arrest, came a fifth.

The jeep raced along the autobahns until, a few hours later …I was brought to the Salzburg Prison; there an elderly prison matron rudely pushed me into the cell, kicking me so hard that I fell to the ground; then the door was locked. There were two other women in the dark, barren room, and one of them, on her knees, slid about the floor, jabbering confusedly; then she began to scream, her limbs writhing hysterically. She seemed to have lost her mind. The other woman crouched on her bunk, weeping to herself.

As Leni and others quickly discovered, the “softening up” process began soon after arrival at an Allied prison. When Ernst von Salomon, his Jewish girl friend and fellow prisoners reached an American holding pen near Munich, the men were promptly led into a room and brutally beaten by military police. With his teeth knocked out and blood spurting from his mouth, von Salomon moaned to a gum-chewing officer, “You are no gentlemen.” The remark brought only a roar of laughter from the attackers. “No, no, no!” the GIs grinned. “We are Mississippi boys!” In another room, military policemen raped the women at will while leering soldiers watched from windows.

After such savage treatment, the feelings of despair only intensified once the captives were crammed into cells.

“The people had been standing there for three days, waiting to be interrogated,” remembered a German physician ordered to treat prisoners in the Soviet Zone. “At the sight of us a pandemonium broke out which left me helpless…. As far as I could gather, the usual senseless questions were being reiterated: Why were they there, and for how long? They had no water and hardly anything to eat. They wanted to be let out more often than once a day…. A great many of them have dysentery so badly that they can no longer get up.”

“Young Poles made fun of us,” said a woman from her cell in the same zone. “[They] threw bricks through the windows, paperbags with sand, and skins of hares filled with excrement. We did not dare to move or offer resistance, but huddled together in the farthest corner, in order not to be hit, which could not always be avoided. . . . [W]e were never free from torments.”

“For hours on end I rolled about on my bed, trying to forget my surroundings,” recalled Leni Riefenstahl, “but it was impossible.”

The mentally disturbed woman kept screaming—all through the night; but even worse were the yells and shrieks of men from the courtyard, men who were being beaten, screaming like animals. I subsequently found out that a company of SS men was being interrogated.

They came for me the next morning, and I was taken to a padded cell where I had to strip naked, and a woman examined every square inch of my body. Then I had to get dressed and go down to the courtyard, where many men were standing, apparently prisoners, and I was the only woman. We had to line up before an American guard who spoke German. The prisoners stood to attention, so I tried to do the same, and then an American came who spoke fluent German. He pushed a few people together, then halted at the first in our line.

“Were you in the Party?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, then said: Yes.” He was slugged in the face and spat blood.

The American went on to the next in line.

“Were you in the Party?”

The man hesitated.

“Yes or no?”

“Yes.”

And he too got punched so hard in the face that the blood ran out of his mouth. However, like the first man, he didn’t dare resist.

They didn’t even instinctively raise their hands to protect themselves. They did nothing. They put up with the blows like dogs.

The next man was asked: “Were you in the Party?”

Silence.

“Well?”

“No,” he yelled, so no punch. From then on nobody admitted that he had been in the Party and I was not even asked.

As the above case illustrated, there often was no rhyme or reason to the examinations; all seemed designed to force from the victim what the inquisitor wanted to hear, whether true or false. Additionally, most such “interrogations” were structured to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. Explained one prisoner:

The purpose of these interrogations is not to worm out of the people what they knew—which would be uninteresting anyway—but to extort from them special statements. The methods resorted to are extremely primitive; people are beaten up until they confess to having been members of the Nazi Party…. The authorities simply assume that, basically, everybody has belonged to the Party. Many people die during and after these interrogations, while others, who admit at once their party membership, are treated more leniently.

“A young commissar, who was a great hater of the Germans, cross-examined me… ,” said Gertrude Schulz. “When he put the question: ‘Frauenwerk [Women’s Labor Service]?’ I answered in the negative. Thereupon he became so enraged, that he beat me with a stick, until I was black and blue. I received about 15 blows … on my left upper arm, on my back and on my thigh. I collapsed and, as in the case of the first cross-examination, I had to sign the questionnaire.”

American torture pen

American torture pen

“Both officers who took our testimony were former German Jews,” reminisced a member of the women’s SS, Anna Fest. While vicious dogs snarled nearby, one of the officers screamed questions and accusations at Anna. If the answers were not those desired, “he kicked me in the back and the other hit me.”

They kept saying we must have been armed, have had pistols or so. But we had no weapons, none of us….I had no pistol. I couldn’t say, just so they’d leave me in peace, yes, we had pistols. The same thing would happen to the next person to testify…. [T]he terrible thing was, the German men had to watch. That was a horrible, horrible experience…. That must have been terrible for them. When I went outside, several of them stood there with tears running down their cheeks. What could they have done? They could do nothing.

Not surprisingly, with beatings, rape, torture, and death facing them, few victims failed to “confess” and most gladly inked their name to any scrap of paper shown them. Some, like Anna, tried to resist. Such recalcitrance was almost always of short duration, however. Generally, after enduring blackened eyes, broken bones, electric shock to breasts—or, in the case of men, smashed testicles—only those who died during torture failed to sign confessions.

Alone, surrounded by sadistic hate, utterly bereft of law, many victims understandably escaped by taking their own lives. Like tiny islands in a vast sea of evil, however, miracles did occur. As he limped painfully back to his prison cell, one Wehrmacht officer reflected on the insults, beatings, and tortures he had endured and contemplated suicide.

I could not see properly in the semi-darkness and missed my open cell door. A kick in the back and I was sprawling on the floor. As I raised myself I said to myself I could not, should not accept this humiliation. I sat on my bunk. I had hidden a razor blade that would serve to open my veins. Then I looked at the New Testament and found these words in the Gospel of St. John: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Yes. You can mangle this poor body—I looked down at the running sores on my legs—but myself, my honor, God’s image that is in me, you cannot touch. This body is only a shell, not my real self. Without Him, without the Lord, my Lord, ye can do nothing. New strength seemed to rise in me.

I was pondering over what seemed to me a miracle when the heavy lock turned in the cell door. A very young American soldier came in, put his finger to his lips to warn me not to speak. “I saw it,” he said. “Here are baked potatoes.” He pulled the potatoes out of his pocket and gave them to me, and then went out, locking the door behind him.

***

Horrific as de-Nazification was in the British, French and, especially the American Zone, it was nothing compared to what took place in Poland, behind Soviet lines. In hundreds of concentration camps sponsored by an apparatus called the “Office of State Security,” thousands of Germans—male and female, old and young, high and low, Nazi and non–Nazi, SS, Wehrmacht, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, all—were rounded up and imprisoned. Staffed and run by Jews, with help from Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other concentration camp survivors, the prisons were little better than torture chambers where dying was a thing to be prolonged, not hastened. While those with blond hair, blue eyes and handsome features were first to go, anyone who spoke German would do.

Moments after arrival, prisoners were made horrifyingly aware of their fate. John Sack, himself a Jew, reports on one camp run by twenty-six-year-old Shlomo Morel:

“I was at Auschwitz,” Shlomo proclaimed, lying to the Germans but, even more, to himself, psyching himself like a fighter the night of the championship, filling himself with hate for the Germans around him. “I was at Auschwitz for six long years, and I swore that if I got out, I’d pay all you Nazis back.” His eyes sent spears, but the “Nazis” sent him a look of simple bewilderment. . .

“Now sing the Horst Wessel Song!” No one did, and Shlomo, who carried a hard rubber club, hit it against a bed like some judge’s gavel. “Sing it, I say!”

“The flags held high . . . ,” some Germans began.

“Everyone!” Shlomo said.

“The ranks closed tight. . . .”

“I said everyone!”

“Blond!”

Shlomo cried to the blondest, bluest-eyed person there. “I said sing!” He swung his rubber club at the man’s golden head and hit it. The man staggered back.

“Our comrades, killed by the Reds and Reactionaries… .”

“Sonofabitch!” Shlomo cried, enraged that the man was defying him by not singing but staggering back. He hit him again, saying,

“Sing!”

“Are marching in spirit with us…”

“Louder!”

“Clear the street for the Brown Battalions… .”

“Still louder!” cried Shlomo, hitting another shouting man…. “Millions of hopeful people…”

“Nazi pigs!”

“Are looking to the swastika… .”

“Schweine!” Shlomo cried. He threw down his rubber club, grabbed a wooden stool, and, a leg in his fist, started beating a German’s head. Without thinking, the man raised his arms, and Shlomo, enraged that the man would try to evade his just punishment, cried, “Sonofawhore!” and slammed the stool against the man’s chest. The man dropped his arms, and Shlomo started hitting his now undefended head when snap! the leg of the stool split off, and, cursing the German birchwood, he grabbed another stool and hit the German with that. No one was singing now, but Shlomo, shouting, didn’t notice. The other guards called out, “Blond!” “Black!” “Short!” “Tall!” and as each of these terrified people came up, they wielded their clubs upon him. The brawl went on till eleven o’clock, when the sweat-drenched invaders cried, “Pigs! We will fix you up!” and left the Germans alone.

Some were quite fixed…. Shlomo and his subordinates had killed them.

The next night it was more of the same . . . and the next night and the next and the next. Those who survived the “welcoming committees” at this and other camps were flung back into their pens.

“I was put with 30 women into a cell, which was intended to accommodate one person,” Gerlinde Winkler recalled. “The narrow space, into which we were rammed, was unbearable and our legs were all entangled together. . . . The women, ill with dysentery, were only allowed to go out once a day, in order to relieve themselves. A bucket without a cover was pushed into the cell with the remark: ‘Here you have one, you German sows.’ The stink was insupportable, and we were not allowed to open the little window.”

“The air in the cells became dense, the smell of the excrement filled it, the heat was like in Calcutta, and the flies made the ceiling black,” wrote John Sack. “I’m choking, the Germans thought, and one even took the community razor blade and, in despair, cut his throat open with it.”

When the wretched inmates were at last pried from their hellish tombs, it was only for interrogation. Sack continues:

As many as eight interrogators, almost all Jews, stood around any one German saying, “Were you in the Nazi Party?” Sometimes a German said, “Yes,” and the boys shouted, “Du schwein! You pig!” and beat him and broke his arm, perhaps, before sending him to his cell. . . . But usually a German said, “No,” and the boys … told him, “You’re lying. You were a Nazi.”

“No, I never was.”

“You’re lying! We know about you!”

“No, I really wasn’t—”

“Du lugst! You’re lying!” they cried, hitting the obstinate man. “You better admit it! Or you’ll get a longer sentence! Now! Were you in the Nazi Party?”

“No!” the German often said, and the boys had to beat him and beat him until he was really crying, “I was a Nazi! Yes!”
But sometimes a German wouldn’t confess. One such hard case was a fifty-year-old….

“Were you in the Party?”

“No, I wasn’t in it.”

“How many people work for you?”

“In the high season, thirty-five.”

“You must have been in the Party,” the boy deduced.

He asked for the German’s wallet, where he found a fishing license with the stamp of the German Anglers Association. Studying it, he told the German, “It’s stamped by the Party.”

“It’s not,” said the German.

He’d lost his left arm in World War I and was using his right arm to gesture with, and, to the boy, he may have seemed to be Heiling Hitler. The boy became violent. He grabbed the man’s collar, hit the man’s head against the wall, hit it against it ten times more, threw the man’s body onto the floor, and, in his boots, jumped on the man’s cringing chest as though jumping rope. A half dozen other interrogators, almost all Jews, pushed the man onto a couch, pulled off his trousers, and hit him with hard rubber clubs and hard rubber hoses full of stones. The sweat started running down the Jews’ arms, and the blood down the man’s naked legs.

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!”

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!” the German screamed—screamed, till the boys had to go to Shlomo’s kitchen for a wooden spoon and to use it to cram some rags in the German’s mouth. Then they resumed beating him. . . . The more the man contradicted them, the more they hated him for it.

shlomo merel

Shlomo Morel

After undergoing similar sessions on a regular basis, the victim was brought back for the eighth time.

By now, the man was half unconscious due to his many concussions, and he wasn’t thinking clearly. The boys worked on him with rubber and oak-wood clubs and said, “Do you still say you weren’t in the Party?”

“No! I didn’t say I wasn’t in the Party!”

“You didn’t?”

“No!” said the punch drunk man. “I never said it!”

“You were in the Party?”

“Yes!”

The boys stopped beating him. They practically sighed, as if their ordeal were over now. They lit up cigarettes….

“Scram,” one said to the German. The man stood up, and he had his hand on the doorknob when one of the boys impulsively hit the back of his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

“Aufstehen, du Deutsches schwein. Stand up, you German pig,” the boys said, kicking him till he stood up and collapsed again. Two boys carried him to his cell and dropped him in a corner….

Of course, the boys would beat up the Germans for “Yes”es as well as “No”s. In Glatz, the Jewish commandant asked a German policeman, “Were you in the Party?”

“Of course! I was obliged to be!”

“Lie down,” the commandant said, and six weeks later the boys were still whipping the German’s feet.

Some torture sessions lacked even the pretense of an examination. Remembered Eva Reimann:

My cell door opened. The guard, who, because of the foul smell, held a handkerchief to his nose, cried, “Reimann Eva! Come!” I was led to a first-floor room.

He shouted at me, “Take off your shoes!” I took them off. “Lie down!” I lay down. He took a thick bamboo stick, and he beat the soles of my feet. I screamed, since the pain was very great. . . . The stick whistled down on me. A blow on my mouth tore my lower lip, and my teeth started bleeding violently. He beat my feet again. The pain was unbearable….

The door opened suddenly, and, smiling obligingly, a cigarette in his mouth, in came the chief of the Office, named Sternnagel. In faultless German he asked me, “What’s wrong here? Why do you let yourself be beaten? You just have to sign this document. Or should we jam your fingers in the door, until the bones are broad. . . ?

A man picked me up by the ankles, raised me eight inches above the floor, and let me fall. My hands were tied, and my head hit hard. . . . I lay in a bloody puddle. Someone cried, “Stand up!” I tried to, and, with unspeakable pain, I succeeded. A man with a pistol came, held it to my left temple, and said, “Will you now confess?” I told him, “Please shoot me.” Yes, I hoped to be freed from all his tortures. I begged him, “Please pull the trigger.”

After barely surviving his “interrogation,” one fourteen-year-old was taken to the camp infirmary. “My body was green, but my legs were fire red,” the boy said. “My wounds were bound with toilet paper, and I had to change the toilet paper every day. I was in the perfect place to watch what went on…. All the patients were beaten people, and they died everywhere: at their beds, in the washroom, on the toilet. At night, I had to step over the dead as if that were normal to do.”

When the supply of victims ran low, it was a simple matter to find more. John Sack:

One day, a German in pitch-black pants, the SS’s color, showed up in Lola’s prison. He’d been spotted near the city square by a Pole who’d said, “Fascist! You’re wearing black!” At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola’s prison. Some guards, all girls, then seized the incriminating evidence: the man’s black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of the tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, “Shut up!” and they didn’t recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The “man” was fourteen years old.

The girls decided to torture him [with]. . . . fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire.

At the larger prison camps, Germans died by the hundreds daily.

“You pigs!” the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days, a Jewish guard cried, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!” and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. “Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!” the guard cried, and, when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. “Now cry!” the guard said. “And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!” and all the Germans moaned,

All the dogs are barking,
All the dogs are barking,
Just the little hot-dogs,
Aren’t barking at all.

The guard then cried, “Get undressed!” and, when the Germans were naked, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German’s throat, the German soon dying.

Utterly unhinged by years of persecution, by the loss of homes and loved ones, for the camp operators, no torture, no sadism, no bestiality, seemed too monstrous to inflict on those now in their power. Some Germans were forced to crawl on all fours and eat their own excrement as well as that of others. Many were drowned in open latrines. Hundreds were herded into buildings and burned to death or sealed in caskets and buried alive.

Near Lamsdorf, German women were forced to disinter bodies from a Polish burial site. According to John Sack:

The women did, and they started to suffer nausea as the bodies, black as the stuff in a gutter, appeared. The faces were rotten, the flesh was glue, but the guards—who had often seemed psychopathic, making a German woman drink urine, drink blood, and eat a man’s excrement, inserting an oily five-mark bill in a woman’s vagina, putting a match to it—shouted at the women . . . “Lie down with them!” The women did, and the guards shouted, “Hug them!” “Kiss them!” “Make love with them!” and, with their rifles, pushed on the backs of the women’s heads until their eyes, noses and mouths were deep in the Polish faces’ slime. The women who clamped their lips couldn’t scream, and the women who screamed had to taste something vile. Spitting, retching, the women at last stood up, the wet tendrils still on their chins, fingers, clothes, the wet seeping into the fibers, the stink like a mist around them as they marched back to Lamsdorf. There were no showers there, and the corpses had all had typhus, apparently, and sixty-four women . . . died.

Not surprisingly, the mortality rate at the concentration camps was staggering and relatively few survived. At one prison of eight thousand, a mere 1,500 lived to reach home. And of those “lucky” individuals who did leave with their lives, few could any longer be called human.

When a smattering of accounts began to leak from Poland of the unspeakable crimes being committed, many in the West were stunned. “One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again,” muttered one US senator, who then reported on beatings, torture and “brains splashed on the ceiling.”

“Is this what our soldiers died for?” echoed a Briton in the House of Commons.

Added Winston Churchill: “Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain.”

While Churchill and others in the West were expressing shock and surprise over the sadistic slaughter taking place in the Soviet Zone, precious little was said about the “tragedy on a prodigious scale” that was transpiring in their own backyard.

***

Among the millions imprisoned by the Allies were thousands of Germans accused of having a direct or indirect hand in war crimes. Because the victorious powers demanded swift and severe punishment, Allied prosecutors were urged to get the most damning indictments in as little time as possible. Unfortunately for the accused, their captors seemed determined to inflict as much pain as possible in the process.
“[W]e were thrown into small cells stark naked,” Hans Schmidt later wrote. “The cells in which three or four persons were incarcerated were six and a half by ten feet in size and had no windows or ventilation.”

When we went to the lavatory we had to run through a lane of Americans who struck us with straps, brooms, cudgels, buckets, belts, and pistol holders to make us fall down. Our head, eyes, body, belly, and genitals were violently injured. A man stood inside the lavatory to beat us and spit on us. We returned to our cells through the same ordeal. The temperature in the cells was 140 Fahrenheit or more. During the first three days we were given only one cup of water and a small slice of bread. During the first days we perspired all the time, then perspiration stopped. We were kept standing chained back to back for hours. We suffered terribly from thirst, blood stagnation and mortification of the hands. From time to time water was poured on the almost red-hot radiators, filling the cells with steam, so that we could hardly breathe. During all this time the cells were in darkness, except when the American soldiers entered and switched on electric bulbs … which forced us to close our eyes.

Our thirst became more and more cruel, so that our lips cracked, our tongues were stiff, and we eventually became apathetic, or raved, or collapsed.

After enduring this torture for several days, we were given a small blanket to cover our nakedness, and driven to the courtyard outside. The uneven soil was covered with pebbles and slag and we were again beaten and finally driven back on our smashed and bleeding feet. While out of breath, burning cigarettes were pushed into our mouths, and each of us was forced to eat three or four of them. Meanwhile the American soldiers continued to hit us on eyes, head, and ears. Back in our cells we were pushed against burning radiators, so that our skin was blistered.

For thirteen days and nights we received the same treatment, tortured by heat and thirst. When we begged for water, our guards mocked us. When we fainted we were revived by being drenched with cold water. There was dirt everywhere and we were never allowed to wash, our inflamed eyes gave us terrible pain, we fainted continuously.

Every twenty minutes or so our cell doors were opened and the soldiers insulted and hit us. Whenever the doors were opened we had to stand still with our backs to the door. Two plates of food, spiced with salt, pepper, and mustard to make us thirstier, were given us daily. We ate in the dark on the floor. The thirst was the most terrible of all our tortures and we could not sleep.

In this condition I was brought to trial.

During the Nazi war crimes trials and hearings, almost any method that would obtain a “confession” was employed. Eager to implicate high-ranking German officers in the Malmedy Massacre, American investigator Harry Thon ordered Wehrmacht sergeant Willi Schafer to write out an incriminating affidavit:

Next morning Mr. Thon appeared in my cell, read my report, tore it up, swore at me and hit me. After threatening to have me killed unless I wrote what he wanted, he left. A few minutes later the door of my cell opened, a black hood encrusted with blood, was put over my head and face and I was led to another room. In view of Mr. Thon’s threat the black cap had a crushing effect on my spirits…. Four men of my company … accused me, although later they admitted to having borne false testimony. Nevertheless I still refused to incriminate myself. Thereupon Mr. Thon said that if I continued to refuse this would be taken as proof of my Nazi opinions, and . . . my death was certain. He said I would have no chance against four witnesses, and advised me for my own good to make a statement after which I would be set free. . . . I still refused. I told Mr. Thon that although my memory was good, I was unable to recall any of the occurrences he wished me to write about and which to the best of my knowledge had never occurred.

Mr. Thon left but returned in a little while with Lieutenant [William] Perl who abused me, and told Mr. Thon that, should I not write what was required within half an hour, I should be left to my fate. Lieutenant Perl made it clear to me that I had the alternative of writing and going free or not writing and dying. I decided for life.

Another Landser unable to resist the pressure was Joachim Hoffman:

[W]hen taken for a hearing a black hood was placed over my head. The guards who took me to my hearing often struck or kicked me. I was twice thrown down the stairs and was hurt so much that blood ran out of my mouth and nose. At the hearing, when I told the officers about the ill treatment I had suffered, they only laughed. I was beaten and the black cap pulled over my face whenever I could not answer the questions put to me, or gave answers not pleasing to the officers….I was beaten and several times kicked in the genitals.

Understandably, after several such sessions, even the strongest submitted and signed papers incriminating themselves and others.

“If you confess you will go free,” nineteen-year-old Siegfried Jaenckel was told. “[Y]ou need only to say you had an order from your superiors. But if you won’t speak you will be hung.”

Despite the mental and physical abuse, young Jaenckel held out as long as he could: “I was beaten and I heard the cries of the men being tortured in adjoining cells, and whenever I was taken for a hearing I trembled with fear…. Subjected to such duress I eventually gave in, and signed the long statement dictated to me.”

Far from being isolated or extreme cases, such methods of extorting confessions were the rule rather than the exception. Wrote author Freda Utley, who learned of the horror after speaking with American jurist Edward van Roden:

Beatings and brutal kickings; knocking-out of teeth and breaking of jaws; mock trials; solitary confinement; torture with burning splinters; the use of investigators pretending to be priests; starvation; and promises of acquittal. . . . Judge van Roden said: “All but two of the Germans in the 139 cases we investigated had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was standard operating procedure with our American investigators.” He told of one German who had had lighted matchsticks forced under his fingernails by the American investigators to extort a confession, and had appeared at his trial with his fingers still bandaged from the atrocity.

In addition to testimony given under torture, those who might have spoken in defense of the accused were prevented. Moreover, hired “witnesses” were paid by the Americans to parrot the prosecution’s charges.

When criticism such as Utley’s and van Roden’s surfaced, and even as victims were being hung by the hundreds, those responsible defended their methods.

“We couldn’t have made those birds talk otherwise… ,” laughed one Jewish “interrogator,” Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld. “It was a trick, and it worked like a charm.”

Hellstorm – Now in German!

#1 Hamburg (Public Domain) Sarah

Millions murdered . . . Millions raped . . . Millions tortured . . . Millions enslaved . . . Millions of men, women and children cast to the winds. . . . No matter what you have read about the Second World War, no matter what you have been told about it, no matter what you believe happened during the so-called “Good War” . . . forget it! 

Now, for the first time in over 70 years, learn what the war and “peace” looked like from the loser’s perspective. Learn what was done to Germany and her people in the name of “freedom, democracy and liberation.”  In their own words, in graphic detail, this is their story. . . .

Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947

!!! NOW IN GERMAN !!!

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All of us, without exception, suffered the same. . . . And to make matters worse, these atrocities were not committed secretly or in hidden corners but in public, in churches, on the streets, and on the squares. . . . Mothers were raped in the presence of their children, girls were raped in front of their brothers. . . . and as a rule not once but several times.        —– A German Woman

Kill them all, men, old men, children and the women, after you have amused yourself with them! Kill. Nothing in Germany is guiltless, neither the living nor the yet unborn. . . . Break the racial pride of the German women. Take her as your legitimate booty. Kill, you brave soldiers of the victorious Soviet Army.          —– Jewish Propagandist, Ilya Ehrenburg

The Face of War

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Little Big Horn . . . Rosebud . . . Sand Creek . . . Washita . . . Summit Springs . . . Slim Buttes . . . Beecher’s Island. . . .

Many of us are familiar with the big battles of the Indian Wars. They have been written about, they have been portrayed in film, their lessons have been studied by young and old about to go to modern wars. From fights such as the above, we unavoidably come away with a somewhat romantic notion of the IW’s. We see brilliant war bonnets in the sun, we hear bugles sounding the charge, and there, of course, is Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill or California Joe riding headlong into the fray. But let us not forget that first and foremost the IW’s were WAR. And not just any war either, but a messy guerrilla war. While colorful battles make for compelling reading, the essence of the IW’s were very much like any other irregular war—the one-on-one, face-to-face encounter. For every Washita and Rosebud, there were a hundred incidents such as the following. . . .

On September 27, 1868, a column of cavalry was just concluding a day’s march on the high and dry plains of far western Kansas. Ahead was the sandy, shallow South Fork of the Republican River. Sigmund Shlesinger, a Jewish army scout, and his friend, Ben Clark, were riding a little in advance of the rest.

“Before Clark and I descended to the bottom, we looked around and saw four Indians running toward three horses,” Shlesinger later wrote. “Three of them jumped on their horses and in great agitation galloped away through the water to the other side of the river and kept on to the south as fast as their ponies could carry them, leaving their companion behind. He ran after them, but of course could not overhaul them. . . . [W]e noticed two or three of our company . . . hasten down to the bottom toward the Indians.”

One of those bearing down on the lone warrior was Jack Peate.

Just before he came to the river he dropped a woman’s white skirt and soon after a calico dress; then, as the race grew warmer (we were on the rolling ground south of the river now), he dropped his blanket. The sport, to us, was now becoming exciting. The boys shooting at the Indian whenever they could. The Indian was running very, very fast, but we were gaining on him slowly. He would not run in a straight line; he would jump several times to the right, then back to the left, still rushing ahead. . . . [The] bullets were striking the ground all around him. It looked as if the Indian would get to the deep canon still a half mile away, where his comrades had passed out of sight, when a shot from a . . . rifle . . . broke the Indian’s right leg above the knee. . . . After hopping a few feet he sits down and faces the foe. The few hundred feet that still separate us is soon passed over. As soon as the Indian faces us he commences to fire, being armed with a Colt’s navy revolver. . . . Then something seems to be the matter with his revolver; he looks into it and throws it on the ground. Not a shot was fired by our party while advancing after the Indian discarded his revolver. . . . [H]e was a young man, perhaps twenty-five years of age. . . . He was chanting a weird song and did not offer any resistance. He knew what his fate would be and showed no fear.

The next morning, Peate returned to the spot. “The wolves had held a banquet there,” he noted, “and a few bones was all that remained of the warrior of yesterday.”

Also in the area were the graves of several Indians, including one inside a white tepee.

Again, Jack Peate:

We went into the lodge and found that it was the tomb of a medicine man. . . . The Indian was placed on a scaffold that was eight feet high. Fastened to the scaffold was his war bonnet and a large drum. He was wrapped in blankets and a buffalo robe and tied on the scaffold. The posts on one side of the scaffold were torn away by the boys so we could have a better look at the good Indian. The body was then rolled to the edge of the canon and it rolled from there to the bottom.

Sigmund Shlesinger also was there:

All the bodies were pulled down from their lofty perches. This may seem a wanton sacrilege, but not to those who have suffered bodily torture and mental anguish from those very cruel savages. I had no scruples in rolling one out of his blankets, that still were soaking in the blood from the wounds that evidently caused his death, and appropriating the top one that was least wet. This Indian had on a headdress composed of buckskin beautifully beaded and ornamented, with a polished buffalo horn on the frontal part and eagle feathers down the back. When I took this off, maggots were in the headpiece. I also pulled off his earrings and finger rings, which were of tin. He was so far decomposed that when I took hold of the rings the fingers came along, and these I shook out.

(from my Scalp Dance–Indian Warfare on the High Plains, 1865-1879)

Jim Jones

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The other night I watched the new documentary on Jim Jones and the Guyana Massacre. This piqued my interest to learn more. Must say that when the event actually occurred back in 1978, I was living in Boston and having a good time and thus paid little attention to it. My impression back then was pretty much my impression now; rather, was my impression until I started digging deeper.

I have never been one to accept the standard version of anything. I have learned in my overly long life that when a major event occurs, many forces (our Marxist federal government, the sinister Jewish media, etc.) are brought to bear to shape something to their liking. In a word, I had formerly thought of Jim Jones (above) as just another cultish-type leader whose megalomania and power over his followers drove nearly a thousand of them to commit suicide. Bad as that already is, it is only a tithe of the story.

I have listened to some of the tapes and read the transcripts of the People’s Temple gatherings while in Jonestown, Guyana. And I am horrified. There is a bloodthirsty paranoia that colors everything. On one tape, we hear the congregation come forward one at a time and describe in graphic detail what they would like to do to their parents and former friends back in the “vomit” called America; the objects of their hatred are the people who either fled Jonestown and the cult or who were trying to get their loved ones out. With Jim Jones sitting on his throne (a lawn chair) and encouraging the throng, even little children come forward and talk about hanging relatives “by their balls” and roasting them alive. They speak not just of vengeance and death to those who oppose them, but sadistic torture. The Reverend Jones just giggles. And such vile language. I won’t repeat what is on the tapes here, but there was no thought or word too graphic. In “fairness” to this zoo, Jonestown had long since ceased being even a nominal religious organization. With the sinister Reverend Jones ruling with an iron fist, vicious, paranoid Marxism was the guiding faith of all.

Despite the rhetoric about universal brotherhood and the equality of man, hatred for whites among the black members and Jones himself is shockingly clear in the “Death Tape” (below).  This race hate seemingly exploded only an hour before the mass suicide when Jones himself noted to the assemblage that of the twenty or so cultists who chose that day to leave jonestown and return to the US with Congressman Leo Ryan, all were white.

The sad fact is: Left to their own, I think virtually everyone would have fled Jonestown. But such was his power, magnetism and paralyzing menace, that Jones turned this jungle clearing into his private Communist concentration camp.  Mind manipulation . . . Brainwashing . . . Slavery . . . Hatred . . .  Evil . . .  Jonestown had it all, and plenty more. Fascinating subject.

Jonestown website:  http://jonu/estown.sdsu.ed

Death Tape: http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=29084

Dresden, 1945

 

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(The following is from my book, Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947.  It describes one of the greatest crimes of World War Two and perhaps the largest one-day massacre ever recorded. )

***

Fashing is an annual German event similar to the Latin celebration of Mardi Gras. On this particular evening of “Shrove Tuesday,” normally staid, reserved Teutons don outlandish costumes, join friends or complete strangers, swarm into bars, restaurants and theaters, then partake for several hours in pointless, yet harmless, merry-making. Because of the exigencies of war, however, the celebration, like most else in the devastated Reich, had been all but abandoned. In only one city did the Fashing tradition continue much in the manner it always had, and on the night of February 13, women and children, along with the few remaining men, flooded its streets to celebrate.

Dresden was truly one of the world’s great cultural treasures. Known as the “Florence on the Elbe,” the ancient showcase in the heart of Saxony was a virtual time-capsule of Gothic architecture and medieval culture. At every turn on every narrow, cobbled street of the old town was an ornate palace, a museum, an art gallery, or a towering, centuries-old cathedral. Like Paris, Rome and Venice, Dresden was both beautiful, romantic and enduring. For decades, the city had been one of the “must stops” for continental travelers, especially those from Britain and America.

Welcome as it was, the fact that a city the size of Dresden had survived when all else was destroyed, mystified some residents and troubled others. Since only two tiny daylight raids had occurred during five years of war, many assumed Dresden’s salvation was due to its reputation as an “art city”; that as a priceless, irreplaceable gem of Western culture even “terror-bombers” lacked hatred sufficient to efface such beauty. Others surmised that since Dresden had almost no heavy industry—and what little it did have had no bearing on the war—the enemy simply did not deem the city a viable target. When skeptics pointed out that many other beautiful German towns with little or no industry had been systematically obliterated, rumors invented new reasons for Dresden’s miraculous survival.

One belief embraced by many stated that an aunt of Churchill’s lived in Dresden. Another hinted that the town was spared because of huge American investments. The fact that Dresden had become a “hospital city” with numerous medical facilities seemed a rational explanation to others. To some, the twenty-six thousand Allied POWs interred in the town appeared a more logical answer. Among many Dresdeners, however, perhaps the greatest explanation as to why their city lived when all else died was that undoubtedly a spark of mercy yet burned in the hearts of British and American flyers. Of all the many names it was known by, nothing better described Dresden in February, 1945, than “refugee city.”

Since the Soviet invasion in January, millions of terrified trekkers, desperate to put as much space between themselves and the Red Army as possible, had fled through Dresden in trains, cars, wagons, or afoot. Hundreds of thousands more, though—injured, wounded, starving, or simply separated from their families—washed up in Dresden like castaways on an island. At the main train station, a city within a city had sprang up wherein thousands of people, many of them lost or orphaned children, lived a semi-permanent existence. A seventeen-year-old Red Cross worker, Eva Beyer, offers a glimpse at the heart-rending agony:

Children were searching for their parents, parents were searching for their children, there was constant calling and asking. A boy of about nine years of age, holding his little four-year-old sister by the hand, asked me for food. When I asked him where his parents were, the boy said to me: “Grandma and grandpa are lying dead in the carriage and Mummy is lost.” The children had no tears any more. . . . In one compartment we found a woman. She had twenty-three children with her, and not one of them was her own. She had buried her own child three weeks ago. Her child had died of cold and tonsillitis. I asked her where all those other children came from, and she told me that all these were children whose parents were lost or dead. “After all, somebody has got to take care of them,” she said. . . . [T]hose children’s faces were not the faces of children any more. They were the faces of people who have gone through hell. Starving, wounded, lice-ridden, in rags. And the most treasured thing they had, security and the love of their parents, they had lost.

As truly appalling as the situation at the railroad station was, conditions were little better in the surrounding city. From a normal population of 600,000, Dresden had swollen by the night of February 13 to perhaps double that figure. Every which way residents turned they found frightened, ragged refugees.

“[E]ach restaurant, cafe, pub, and bar . . . was crammed full of people with suitcases, rucksacks and bundles,” a woman wrote. “You literally fell over these people and their possessions. It was so bad that you did not like to watch it, and it spoiled all the usual happy atmosphere of the Fashing.”

Nevertheless, in spite of the crowds and the fact that the Russians were a mere seventy miles away, thousands of Dresdeners were determined to take to the streets and celebrate what was certain to be the last Fashing of the war.

***

Just before ten p.m. the Dresden sirens sounded. There was no panic. Most residents simply ignored the sounds. Even had there been any public air raid shelters few would have fled to them for there seemed little doubt on this cold, yet cheery night, that like the 171 false alarms that preceded it, this warning too would end in nothing. Instead of the “All Clear” siren, however, seconds later Dresden heard another sound.

“Suddenly,” said one startled woman, “a thundering and roaring which made the whole earth tremble. An earthquake?”

Almost before this lady and others could guess the answer, the black sky above Dresden turned brilliant. Many spectators were dazzled by the colored lights and stared in awe. “It’s getting light, it’s getting light, it’s bright as day outside!” shouted an incredulous friend to young Gotz Bergander who was indoors listening to his radio.

Weary Red Cross worker, Eva Beyer, had just awakened moments earlier and paid a visit to the restroom:

I saw a green light shine through the window. What was this? When I opened the door, I could see what it was. The “Christmas Trees” were in the sky. . . . I went to warn the other people in the building. . . . I ran through the whole house, calling out: “Alarm! Alarm!” and waking everyone up. . . .  Another five families lived in this building and together we totaled eleven women, six children, and one man—Kurt, the wounded ex-soldier. Then I went back to the flat and fetched the children from their beds. . . .  [T]hey started to scream because they didn’t know what was happening and there was no time to explain anything to them. We all went down into the cellar and I put just a blanket round each child, because there was no time for anything else. I myself was only in my nightgown, but I didn’t even feel the cold.

At the railroad station, Gisela-Alexandra Moeltgen was standing at the window of an idle train talking to her husband on the platform when the chilling lights showered down.

Many optimists stayed in order to secure a good seat, but I broke the window—it was only made of cardboard—grabbed the handbag in which I carried my jewelry, grabbed my fur, too, and got through the window. The others followed suit. We ran along the completely blacked-out platform in the dark and found that all the barriers were closed. Over the barriers, then! The police wanted us to go into the already overcrowded air raid shelter at the station, but we had only one urge—out, and away from the station!

We ran across the road to the Technical High School where, it was claimed, there was a good cellar. And above us—very low—the planes. Masses of people were already in the cellar when we arrived, and I collapsed then. It was my heart.

I was still very weak and all the running had exhausted me completely. Somebody asked us to move on, further into the crush in the cellar, and we did so.

“Air raid warning!” grumbled an indignant SS officer, Claus von Fehrentheil, as he lay in a military hospital with half his hip shot away. “After all, we understood we were in an open city, world-famous for its art, undefended, declared a ‘hospital town.’ ”

Only after very intensive efforts urging us to shelter, did we concede to go into the cellar. . . . For one thing, we regarded the whole affair as probably a mistake at this time. Then also, a soldier who had been on the Front felt too restricted in a cellar, a place where he could not dodge any threatening dangers. . . . So we stood in the passages and on the staircases outside the air raid shelter.

“Get dressed, get dressed! Quickly, get down to the cellar,” cried nuns in the hospital where twenty-year-old Annemarie Waehmann was a patient. “Bedridden patients were put into push-chairs, and there was nothing but hurrying and rushing about. We had hardly been in the cellar for five minutes when [the bombs fell]. . . . This is the end, we thought. . . . Many screamed in fear, and prayed, and we crept trembling under the beds.”

“All hell broke loose over us so suddenly that no one really had a chance to perceive what was actually going to happen,” recalled Erika Simon, whose parents had only seconds before whisked the little girl and her brother and sister to the cellar. “I remember I had my head in my mother’s lap under a blanket and was putting both hands over my ears in an attempt to blot out the horrific noise.”

As wave after wave of RAF bombers appeared overhead, ton upon ton of bombs tumbled down. “It was as if a huge noisy conveyor belt was rolling over us,” Gotz Bergander thought when he heard the strange, terrifying noise, “a noise punctuated with detonations and tremors.”

Added to the normal payload of high explosives, hundreds of two- and four-ton “Block-busters” slammed into Dresden, effacing entire neighborhoods. Centuries-old cathedrals, palaces, museums, and homes were reduced to rubble in seconds. At the railroad station, those hundreds of individuals on the trains who had refused to leave their coveted seats were blown to bits. At the huge indoor circus, spectators, performers and animals were slaughtered by blast and hissing shrapnel. In the streets, on the sidewalks, atop the bridges over the Elbe, costumed revelers with nowhere to run were slain by the thousands. Without let-up, the massacre continued.

Because Dresden lacked any sort of anti-aircraft weapons, enemy planes were able to fly so low that victims could be seen running through the streets. Despite this, and the fact that night was “as bright as day,” the numerous hospitals were not spared.

“We patients,” Claus von Fehrentheil recalled, “had been reassured that even the smallest hospital had the distinctive red cross on a white background painted on its roof. It seemed to us as the night went on that these served as excellent markers for the bombs of the English.”

Said Annemarie Waehmann from her own hospital: “There was crashing and thundering, whistling and howling. The walls trembled, swayed by the impact of the bombs. This is the end, we thought. . . . Then some of the doctors screamed: ‘Everyone out of the cellar, the whole building is going to collapse!’ I too ran for my life into the next building. . . . Everyone was in such a panic that all we wanted was to save our naked lives.”

Elsewhere, as the bombing rose in fury, horror-struck Dresdeners huddled against the onslaught. “Time and again I gazed at the ceiling, expecting everything to collapse on us,” confessed Margret Freyer from a cellar containing forty-three women. “Somehow I had switched off and was expecting the final catastrophe; it must have been for this reason that I did not join in the weeping and praying of the totally terrified women, but tried to calm them down as best I could.”

“The attack continued and the mood among us reached panic pitch,” remembered Gisela-Alexandra Moeltgen from the crowded high school basement. “Then a shout—‘At once, everyone leave, there is danger of collapse!’ Out through the narrow cellar windows we went, flames whipping down the staircase, the whole building alight. . . . Flames, flames wherever one looked.”

“I can see my father leaning against this wall,” reminisced Erika Simon, “and I felt that the walls were coming towards us and that my father was trying to stop them from falling down on us.”

“And then,” said the surprised little girl, “suddenly, the noise ceased.”

“There was absolute quiet,” another listener added.

Several minutes later, the welcome silence was broken by the even more welcome sound of the “All Clear” signal. Those who had clocks or watches and thought to look were stunned—what had seemed an all night trial by fire had actually occurred in just under half an hour. In those thirty minutes, however, one of the world’s most beautiful treasures had all but vanished. As the people stumbled from their holes they were stunned at the strange sight that greeted them.

“[C]oming out of the cellar was unforgettable,” wrote teenager Gotz Bergander. “[T]he night sky was illuminated with pink and red. The houses were black silhouettes, and a red cloud of smoke hovered over everything…. People ran toward us totally distraught, smeared with ash, and with wet blankets wrapped around their heads. All we heard was, ‘Everything’s gone, everything’s on fire.’ ”

“I saw only burning houses and screaming people . . . ,” added Margret Freyer when she entered the street. “It was frightening—I found myself completely alone, and all I could hear was the roaring of the fires. I could hardly see, due to the flying sparks, the flames and the smoke.”

Those who managed to reach the streets found their way almost entirely blocked by fallen trees, poles, wires, and collapsed buildings.

As the dazed survivors scrambled for safety, fire brigades arrived from outlying communities to battle the blaze. Red Cross workers also appeared and began pulling victims from the rubble.

Meanwhile, at the great city park in the center of town, another type of rescue was in progress. Like everything else in Dresden, the magnificent zoo had been heavily damaged. Remembered Otto Sailer-Jackson, the sixty-year-old zoo inspector:

The elephants gave spine-chilling screams. Their house was still standing but an explosive bomb of terrific force had landed behind it, lifted the dome of the house, turned it around, and put it back again. The heavy iron doors had been completely bent and the huge iron sliding doors which shut off the house from the terraces had been lifted off their hinges. When I and some of the other men . . . managed to break in to the elephant house, we found the stable empty. For a moment we stood helpless, but then the elephants told us where they were by their heart-breaking trumpeting. We rushed out on to the terrace again. The baby cow elephant was lying in the narrow barrier-moat on her back, her legs up to the sky. She had suffered severe stomach injuries and could not move. A cow elephant had been flung clear across the barrier moat and the fence by some terrific blast wave, and just stood there trembling. We had no choice but to leave those animals to their fate for the moment.

In other areas of the zoo, cages had been blown open and frantic animals had escaped to the park. When Sailer-Jackson approached a monkey, the terrified little animal reached to him for help. To the old man’s horror, he saw that the monkey had only bloody stumps for arms. Drawing his pistol, Sailor-Jackson sadly put the poor creature out of its misery.

As rescue work continued into the early morning of February 14, those in Dresden whose homes had escaped the flames began to mechanically sweep the glass and plaster from their beds and floors or fasten cardboard over windows to keep out the returning cold. “My God, the work was pointless!” admitted one woman, “but it calmed their nerves and their conscience.”

***

As shattering as the destruction of their beautiful city had been, no one in the stricken town was emotionally prepared for what came next. At 1:30 a.m., the earth began to shake again.

“[S]omeone yelled, ‘They’re coming back, they’re coming back,’ ” young Gotz Bergander recalled:

Sure enough, through the general confusion we heard the alarm sirens go off again. The alarm system in the city had ceased to function, but we could hear the sirens from the neighboring villages warning of a second attack. That’s when I was overcome with panic, and I’m also speaking for the rest of my family and those who lived in our house. It was sheer panic! We thought this couldn’t be possible, that they wouldn’t do such a .thing. They wouldn’t drop more bombs on a city that was already an inferno. . . . We rushed into the cellar

Margret Freyer was equally stunned: “[M]y friend and I looked at each other, terrified—surely it wasn’t possible? Are they coming a second time? I just caught the radio announcer’s message: ‘Several bomber units are approaching Dresden.’ The voice of the announcer was anything but steady. I felt sick—so they were coming a second time. Knees shaking, we went down into the cellar.”

Once more, the pathetic patients at Claus von Fehrentheil’s military hospital hobbled, crawled or were carried to shelter below. “From the sound of the engines,” noted the SS officer, “we could hear that this time a very large number of aircraft were taking part, definitely more than in the first wave.”

Yet again, as more than a thousand bombers roared overhead, a veritable rain of death showered down on Dresden. In addition to the usual payload of explosives, the second wave brought thousands of incendiary bombs. “[A] non-stop hail of bombs . . . ,” thought a terrified Margret Freyer. “The walls shook, the ground shook, the light went out and our heavy iron door was forced open by [a] blast. In the cellar now, there were the same scenes as had occurred before . . . a crowd of crying, screaming, or praying women, throwing themselves on top of each other.”

“This was hell, hell itself … ,” said Gisela-Alexandra Moeltgen. “I thought: ‘Surely this will have to stop some time.’ ”

I had the feeling that each individual plane tried to hit our house, because it was not on fire yet but brilliantly lit up by the burning house next to it. The planes flew just across the roofs, or at least, that is what it sounded like. I kept shouting: “Open your mouths!” The sound of the bombs—“bschi-bum, bschi-bum”—came wave after wave. There was no end to it. . . . The house seemed to come crashing down and shook continuously. When the direct hit came, no one noticed it, for the whistling noise of the bombs drowned all other noises. In any case, it was the others who confirmed that the house was on fire. From that moment on I felt a little calmer. My feeling was: “Thank God they have hit it at last and yet we are still alive.”

Unbeknownst to Gisela-Alexandra and thousands more, many of the bombs they heard hitting their homes were phosphorous. While Eva Beyer and the other women and children in her cellar huddled in terror, the wounded ex-soldier, Kurt, disappeared briefly.

Suddenly Kurt was beside me as I crouched. He whispered very quietly into my ear: “We have fire bombs in the coal cellar, come quick and help me throw the things out!” I gathered all my courage and went with him. Three incendiaries lay there, and we managed to throw out two. The third one we could only throw sand over because it had already started to smoke, and then there was supposed to be only thirty seconds before the thing would explode like a firework.

In a matter of minutes, the thousands of fire bombs ignited the debris in Dresden and a racing furnace of flame erupted. Unfamiliar with bombing raids and fire storms, most Dresdeners reacted slowly. Erika Simon and the nuns at a military hospital stood frozen in terror.

So there we were, paralyzed by horror and fear, clinging to the Sister in a corridor amongst the dead, the wounded, and soldiers who had just had their legs amputated and were now lying on stretchers, helpless amongst the chaos. Gruesome . . . [were] the Catholic Sisters constantly saying their prayers, murmur ing over their rosaries. I am sure nobody bothered to save the screaming soldiers.

One patient who had no intention of being broiled alive was the severely wounded officer, Claus von Fehrentheil.

Now I was in the open, no longer surrounded by walls, but by flames instead. . . . No path was recognizable between the buildings, no obvious path of escape, because walls were collapsing and adding to the heaps of rubble. The suction of the flames was . . . strong. . . . Even the pieces of clothing which I had hurriedly picked up and thrown over myself began to smolder. Because of the flying sparks my eyes became useless. I was blind. Small holes must have been burnt into the cornea, which were incredibly painful. They made it impossible for me to open my eyes even briefly, just to see where I was.

Another person determined to escape was Margret Freyer:

Out of here—nothing but out! Three women went up the stairs in front of us, only to come rushing down again, wringing their hands. “We can’t get out of here! Everything outside is burning!” they cried. . . . Then we tried the “Break-through” which had been installed in each cellar, so people could exit from one cellar to the other. But here we met only thick smoke which made it impossible to breathe. So we went upstairs. The back door, which opened on to the back yard and was made partly of glass, was completely on fire. It would have been madness to touch it. And at the front entrance, flames a metre and a half high came licking at short intervals into the hall.

In spite of this, it was clear that we could not stay in the building unless we wanted to suffocate. So we went downstairs again and picked up our suitcases. I put two handfuls of handkerchiefs into a water tub and stuffed them soaking wet into my coat pocket. . . . I made a last attempt to convince everyone in the cellar to leave, because they would suffocate if they did not; but they didn’t want to. And so I left alone. . . .

I stood by the entrance and waited until no flames came licking in, then I quickly slipped through and out into the street.

“[S]omebody screamed: ‘Everyone out of here, the place is on fire!’ ” Maria Rosenberger recalled. “When we arrived upstairs we saw that the street was on fire. . . . Burning curtain material was flying towards us and glowing pieces of wood came flying down on us from above. . . . Now everyone started to make a run for the outskirts in order to reach some open space.”

As with Maria and her companions, once in the streets victims did everything they could to escape the ancient inner city where the fire storm seemed centered. Here, in the heart of old Dresden, temperatures reached upwards of 3,000 degrees. Metal roofs, copper cupolas, glass, even sandstone, liquefied in the furious heat and poured down like lava. A hurricane of smoke, flame and dust roared toward the vortex from all directions as the cold air beyond Dresden was drawn in by the fire ball. Many disoriented victims, especially the thousands of refugees, took wrong turns on strange streets and were swept like feathers into the furnace.

“The whole of Dresden was an inferno,” said one teenage boy. “In the street below people were wandering about helplessly. I saw my aunt there. She had wrapped herself in a damp blanket and, seeing me, called out. . . . The sound of the rising fire-storm strangled her last words. A house wall collapsed with a roar, burying several people in the debris. A thick cloud of dust arose and mingling with the smoke made it impossible for me to see.”

“[I]t was like ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ ” remembered Eva Beyer. “People came crawling on their hands and knees, so as to be near the ground and be able to breathe better, but not knowing, as they crawled, whether they were really getting away from the fire-storm or merely heading into other burning areas of the city.”

As he groped blindly through the holocaust, Claus von Fehrentheil well knew he was only seconds from death:

One could forecast what must happen next: the oxygen in the air becomes completely burnt away, so one becomes unconscious and hardly notices that one is burning to death. Blind, I accepted that this must happen. Suddenly, someone touched my shoulder and asked me to come along. He had found a way through the rubble to the outside. And so, holding on to the arm of a comrade, I was led through burning Dresden.

Like von Fehrentheil and his timely guide, others were desperately trying to reach the huge city park or the open spaces along the Elbe River. The trials of twenty-four-year-old Margret Freyer were the trials of many:

Because of flying sparks and the fire-storm I couldn’t see anything at first. . . . no street, only rubble nearly a metre high, glass, girders, stones, craters. I tried to get rid of the sparks by constantly patting them off my coat. It was useless. . . . I took off the coat and dropped it. Next to me a woman was screaming continually: “My den’s burning down, my den’s burning down,” and dancing in the street. As I go on I can still hear her screaming but I don’t see her again. I run, I stumble, anywhere. I don’t even know where I am any more. I’ve lost all sense of direction because all I can see is three steps ahead.

Suddenly I fall into a big hole—a bomb crater, about six metres wide and two metres deep, and I end up down there lying on top of three women. I shake them by their clothes and start to scream at them, telling them that they must get out of here—but they don’t move any more. . . . Quickly, I climbed across the women, pulled my suitcase after me, and crawled on all fours out of the crater. To my left I suddenly see a woman. . . . She carries a bundle in her arms. It is a baby. She runs, she falls, and the child flies in an arc into the fire. It’s only my eyes which take this in; I myself feel nothing. The woman remains lying on the ground, completely still. . . .

[T]here are calls for help and screams from somewhere but all around is one single inferno. I hold another wet handkerchief in front of my mouth, my hands and my face are burning; it feels as if the skin is hanging down in strips. On my right I see a big, burnt-out  shop where lots of people are standing. I join them, but think: “No, I can’t stay here either, this place is completely surrounded by fire.” I leave all these people behind, and stumble on. . . . In front of me is something that might be a street, filled with a hellish rain of sparks which look like enormous rings of fire when they hit the ground. I have no choice. I must go through. I press another wet handkerchief to my mouth and almost get through, but I fall and am convinced that I cannot go on. It’s hot. Hot! My hands are burning like fire. . . .I am past caring, and too weak. . . .

Suddenly, I saw people again, right in front of me. They scream and gesticulate with their hands, and then—to my utter horror and amazement—I see how one after the other they simply seem to let themselves drop to the ground.

I fall then, stumbling over a fallen woman and as I lie right next to her I see how her clothes are burning away. Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: “I don’t want to burn to death— no, no burning—I don’t want to burn!” Once more I fall down and feel that I am not going to be able to get up again, but the fear of being burnt pulls me to my feet. Crawling, stumbling, my last handkerchief pressed to my mouth . . . I do not know how many people I fell over. I knew only one feeling: that I must not burn. . . .

I try once more to get up on my feet, but I can only manage to crawl forward on all fours. I can still feel my body, I know I’m still alive. Suddenly, I’m standing up, but there’s something wrong, everything seems so far away and I can’t hear or see properly any more. . . . I was suffering from lack of oxygen. I must have stumbled forwards roughly ten paces when I all at once inhaled fresh air. There’s a breeze! I take another breath, inhale deeply, and my senses clear.

Through sheer will, some, like Margret, did succeed in reaching safety—but most did not. Standing alone on the far hills outside Dresden, one viewer stared in silent awe at the fiery massacre.

I did not understand what my eyes were seeing. I stood in the darkness, paralyzed, numbed, with my eardrums aching from the hellish uproar. . . . It was simply beyond comprehension, beyond the wildest imagination. It seemed actually unreal….I saw the rising of a flaming sea which . . . inundated the entire city in one huge glowing wave. . . . [T]he entire area was in flames. Huge red and yellow tongues of fire were roaring toward the sky. Streaming, trembling, madly onrushing clouds . . . intermingled with brilliant white, red, and yellow explosions out of which the big bombers seemed to rise like flocks of giant birds.

Without ever having been through a big air raid before, I knew at once that here something quite different was happening.

The view from above was even more compelling. “Dresden was a city with every street etched in fire,” said one RAF navigator.

“At 20,000 feet,” a comrade added, “we could see details in the unearthly blaze that had never been visible before.”

For those planes which ventured down, the view quickly became more personal. “I saw people in the streets,” admitted one crewman. “I saw a dog run across a road—and felt sorry for it.”

“Oh God,” one airman muttered over and over again, “those poor people.”

After half an hour or so, the bombers broke off the attack and banked for home. Equipped with a movie camera, a single aircraft remained to record the drama:

There was a sea of fire covering in my estimation some 40 square miles. The heat striking up from the furnace below could be felt in my cockpit. The sky was vivid in hues of scarlet and white, and the light inside the aircraft was that of an eerie autumn sunset. We were so aghast at the awesome blaze that although alone over the city we flew around in a stand-off position for many minutes before turning for home, quite subdued by our imagination of the horror that must be below. We could still see the glare of the holocaust thirty minutes after leaving.

It was on that dark return flight home, when crewmen had a chance to ponder, that some first came to realize that the war had gone “a step too far.”

“[F]or the first time in many operations,” a Jewish pilot confessed, “I felt sorry for the population below.”

“I was sickened,” echoed a comrade simply.

***

With the merciful departure of the planes, rescue teams soon began inching toward the center of town. “Because of the fire-storm, at first it was possible to give help only at the periphery of the fires,” explained one worker. “I had to look on, helpless, as people who were clinging to iron railings were seized mercilessly by the suction and plucked off into the flames. And not human beings only, but all sorts of things, even prams, were seized by this force and sucked into the sea of fire.”

When the inferno finally abated later that morning, rescuers and relatives entered the still flaming city to search for survivors.

What we saw . . . was indescribable, horrible. Thick smoke everywhere. As we climbed with great effort over large pieces of walls and roofs which had collapsed and fallen into the street, we could hear behind us, beside us, and in front of us, burnt ruins collapsing with dull crashes. The nearer we came to the town center, the worse it became. It looked like a crater landscape, and then we saw the dead.

“Dead, dead, dead everywhere,” gasped Margret Freyer as she stumbled through the ruins.

Some completely black like charcoal. Others completely untouched. . . . Women in aprons, women with children sitting in the trams as if they had just nodded off. Many women, many young girls, many small children, soldiers who were only identifiable as such by the metal buckles on their belts, almost all of them naked. Some clinging to each other in groups as if they were clawing at each other. From some of the debris poked arms, heads, legs, shattered skulls. . . . Most people looked as if they had been inflated, with large yellow and brown stains on their bodies…. [T]here were also so many little babies, terribly mutilated.

“Never would I have thought that death could come to so many people in so many different ways,” noted a stunned rescue worker.

[S]ometimes the victims looked like ordinary people apparently peacefully sleeping; the faces of others were racked with pain, the bodies stripped almost naked by the tornado; there were wretched refugees from the East clad only in rags, and people from the Opera in all their finery; here the victim was a shapeless slab, there a layer of ashes. . . . Across the city, along the streets wafted the unmistakable stench of decaying flesh.

Indeed, of all the hideous scents wafting through Dresden—sulfur, gas, sewage—the heavy, sweet stench of cooked flesh blanketed all. “There is nothing like it; nothing smells so,” one nauseous woman wrote.82 What were at first mistaken to be thousands of burnt, blackened logs scattered about the streets were soon found to be charred corpses, each reduced to roughly three feet. “All the way across the city,” said a horrified rescuer, “we could see [these] victims lying face down, literally glued to the tarmac, which had softened and melted in the enormous heat.”

“The thin and elderly victims took longer to catch fire than the fat or young ones,” observed another witness.

Horribly, many frantic relatives were compelled to examine countless such bodies in hopes of identifying loved ones. “I can still see my mother,” remembered eleven-year-old Erika Simon, “bending down and turning over dead children, or bits of dead children, for she was still desperately searching for my little brother.”

“One shape I will never forget,” a rescue worker recalled, “was the remains of what had apparently been a mother and child. They had shriveled and charred into one piece, and had been stuck rigidly to the asphalt. They had just been prised up. The child must have been underneath the mother, because you could still clearly see its shape, with its mother’s arms clasped around it.”

At every turn, a new nightmare awaited. When she kicked from her path what seemed a burnt piece of wood and discovered it was not, young Eva Beyer ran screaming round a corner. Once there, she froze in horror: Hanging with claw-like hands from a metal fence, like so many blackened rats, were those—men, women and children—who had vainly tried to scale the barrier to safety. The sight was too much; Eva vomited on the spot.

Wrote another witness:

In the middle of the square lay an old man, with two dead horses. Hundreds of corpses, completely naked, were scattered round him. . . . Next to the tram-shelter was a public lavatory of corrugated iron. At the entrance to this was a woman, about thirty years old, completely nude, lying face-down on a fur-coat. . . . A few yards further on lay two young boys aged about eight and ten clinging tightly to each other; their faces were buried in the ground. They too were stark naked. Their legs were stiff and twisted into the air.

Curiously, while most victims had been burned to cinders in the streets, others, according to one viewer, “sat stiff in the streetcars, bags in hand, open eyes, dead, with but a slight trickle of blood having run down their noses or coming from their closed lips.”

“One woman was still sitting in a destroyed tramcar as if she had merely forgotten to get out,” recorded Maria Rosenberger. Another victim, she continued, was a completely shriveled corpse of a man, naked, his skin like brown leather, but with his beard and hair in tact.

Adding even more horror to the scene, terribly burned and mutilated zoo animals screamed in pain amid the rubble.

At the main railroad station, where thousands upon thousands were sheltered prior to the attack, few escaped. In the vast basement under the station, no one survived. Unlike those above, victims below died from smoke and carbon monoxide poisoning. “What I saw,” said one who entered the tomb, “was a nightmare, lit as it was only by the dim light of the railwayman’s lantern. The whole of the basement was covered with several layers of people, all very dead.” Added another who witnessed the scene: “What we noticed . . . were not so much dead bodies as people who had apparently fallen asleep, slumped against the station walls.”

Aware that those in the old city would flee the flames to the open spaces, the RAF had hurled tons of high explosive bombs into the huge central park. Here, the slaughter was ghastly. “I could see torn-off arms and legs, mutilated torsos, and heads which had been wrenched off their bodies and rolled away,” commented a Swiss visitor who attempted to cross the park. “In places the corpses were still lying so densely that I had to clear a path through them in order not to tread on arms and legs.”

At the numerous hospitals in Dresden, the survival rate was naturally much lower and many wretched victims could only lay helpless as they slowly burned to death. When Eva Beyer passed a women’s clinic she made the mistake of glancing over as clean-up crews brought out victims.

“I went down on my knees, trembled and cried . . . ,” the young Red Cross worker recounted. “Several women lay there with their bellies burst open . . . and one could see the babies for they were hanging half outside. Many of the babies were mutilated. . . . Scenes like that one saw everywhere and very slowly one became numbed. One acted like a zombie.”

Later that morning, recalled Erika Simon,

the news spread in a most mysterious way, that all those people who were walking about lost and helpless should assemble in the [city park]. Thus a gray mass of people began to move along in a line. One had ceased to be an individual and was only part of a suffering mass. The gray line of people climbed over debris and over the dead. One’s feet stepped on burnt corpses and one didn’t even think about it.

As the stunned survivors assembled at the park and along the grassy banks of the Elbe, some found missing loved ones. Most, however, did not. Absorbed as they were with the hell all about, few were aware of their own condition. When Margret Freyer asked for a mirror, she was staggered by what she saw: “I . . . did not recognize myself any more. My face was a mass of blisters and so were my hands. My eyes were narrow slits and puffed up, my whole body was covered in little black, pitted marks.” Others suddenly realized that they themselves were seriously injured, or that their hair and much of their clothing had been burned away.

***

By noon, February 14, a strange silence settled over what once was Dresden. “The city was absolutely quiet,” Gotz Bergander remembered. “The sound of the fires had died out. The rising smoke created a dirty, gray pall which hung over the entire city. The wind had calmed, but a slight breeze was blowing westward, away from us.”

And then, shattering the calm, came the sounds. “I suddenly thought I could hear sirens again,” continues Bergander. “And sure enough, there they were. I shouted, and by then we could already hear the distant whine of engines. . . . The roar of the engines grew louder and louder.”

As US bombers began blasting the rubble to dust, American fighter planes zeroed in on the thousands of refugees at the park, along the river and in other open spaces. Recalled Annemarie Waehmann:

We looked up and saw how they flew lower and lower. “They’re coming here. . . ,” we screamed. A few men took over and gave commands: “Split up! Scatter! Run into the fields! Down on your faces!” While we were lying in the dirt, our hands clawing at the earth as if we wanted to crawl inside it, they came after us, wave after wave, circling, flying low, shooting with their machine-guns into the defenseless people. Popping noises right and left, clods of earth flying up, screams. Like everyone else, I expect, I prayed: Dear God, please protect me. A few seconds’ pause, as the planes circled in order to come back at us again. The men screamed: “Up, up! Run on! Run towards the trees!”  But again that popping noise as they fired without mercy into the people, and screams and clods of earth flying around. . . . I took Hilde by the hand and without turning round once, without even looking to see how many people did not get up again, we ran.

“[P]anic broke out,” said fifteen-year-old Gerhard Kuhnemund. “Women and children were massacred with cannon and bombs. It was mass murder. . . . While we literally clawed ourselves into the grass, I personally saw at least five American fighter-bombers, which from an altitude of approximately 120–150 metres opened fire with their cannon on the masses of civilians. My companion . . . was killed beside me in this attack. There was a hole in his back the size of a palm.”

Near the park, zoo-keeper Otto Sailer-Jackson watched in stunned disbelief as one American pilot mowed down people running in the street. “He attacked several times, flying very low, firing from cannon and machine-guns into the refugees. Then he flew low over the Zoo and made several firing runs at anything he could see that was still alive. In this way our last giraffe met her death. Many stags and other animals which we had managed to save, became the victims of this hero.”

Although the raid lasted only ten minutes, the Americans returned the next day, and the next, and the next, seemingly determined that not a single living thing should survive in Dresden. “There seemed to be no end to the horror,” said Eva Beyer.

Desperate to prevent epidemics, the survivors of Dresden scurried between raids to dispose of the corpses. With thousands of bodies littering the streets and parks, the task initially seemed simple. “They had to pitchfork shriveled bodies onto trucks and wagons and cart them to shallow graves on the outskirts of the city,” a British POW engaged in the cleanup observed. As the ghastly work continued, however, it soon became clear that in no way could such a slow process handle the enormous amount of bodies. Hence, huge grills were fashioned from girders in various parts of town and corpses were stacked on them like logs. When the piles reached roughly ten feet high and thirty feet wide, flame throwers were used to ignite the mass. Elsewhere, workers simply built great mounds. Eva Beyer watched in horror as men poured gasoline over a large pile composed entirely of heads, legs and other body parts. While that mound was ablaze trucks arrived and dumped more such loads.

As the recovery continued and workers entered the ruins, even greater horrors were in store. Acting like vast ovens, super-heated cellars had rendered their victims into liquid fat.

“[R]escuers were walking about up to their ankles in sludge,” recounted Margret Freyer.

With his father, ten-year-old Thomas Weyersberg entered the basement of his family’s business to salvage from the ruins. In spite of the horror already experienced, neither father or son was prepared for what they found. “We literally waded into the pit of hell,” the boy said, “carrying out fat-soaked documents, company books, stationery[,] even some typewriters. . . . The walls . . . were still warm when we progressed . . . wading ankle-deep in the fried human drippings.”

Despite Dresden’s frenzied efforts to recover the dead, ten days after the raids, “mountains of bodies” still awaited disposal and for weeks workers with carts and trucks hauled thousands of corpses through the streets. Clearly, the dead in Dresden outnumbered the living.

***

One month after the massacre, the Dresden Chief of Police reported that over 200,000 bodies had been recovered from the ruins. The official added that the toll might possibly reach 250,000. Later, the International Red Cross estimated that 275,000 had died in the raids. Because of the incredible density of Dresden’s population on the night of February 13–14, because thousands of victims were refugees with no records, because many bodies either lay buried forever in the ruins or had simply melted like wax, other estimates that place the death toll at 300,000 to 400,000 may well be closer to the mark.

***

As news from Dresden spread slowly throughout the rest of the Reich, there was shock and horror, but mostly their was anguish. “Dresden was a glorious city. . . ,” wrote Ruth Andreas-Friedrich in her diary. “It’s a little hard getting used to the idea that Dresden, too, no longer exists. I almost feel like crying.” And Rudolf Semmler, aide to the propaganda minister, also took note that public facades of strength and courage could easily crumble in private: “For the first time I saw Goebbels lose control of himself when two days ago, he was given the stark reports of the disaster in Dresden. The tears came into his eyes with grief and rage and shock. Twenty minutes later I saw him again. He was still crying and looked a broken man.”

When word of the Dresden bombing first reached Great Britain there was initial joy. That the seventh largest city in Germany should be scorched from the map was “wondrous news,” trumpeted the British press; that hundreds of thousands of women and children should be burnt to cinders in the process was also “an unexpected and fortunate bonus.” Cabinet minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair, heartily agreed with this attitude and lyrically termed the firestorm a “crescendo of destruction.”

As more facts and information from neutral Swiss and Swedish sources began to arrive, however, many throughout the world were horrified. For the first time in the war, those in England, America and elsewhere learned what Germans had known for three years—the Allies were engaged in “deliberate terror-bombing.”  Angered and shamed by such a course when the war was clearly on its last leg, Richard Stokes lashed out in the House of Commons: “What happened on the evening of 13th February? There were a million people in Dresden, including 600,000 bombed-out evacuees and refugees from the East. . . . When I heard the Minister speak of the ‘crescendo of destruction,’ I thought: What a magnificent expression for a Cabinet Minister of Great Britain at this stage of the war.”

Most outrage, high and low, was directed at Arthur Harris, Chief of Bomber Command.

“[W]e were told at the briefing that there were many thousands of Panzer troops in the streets [of Dresden], either going to or coming back from the Russian Front,” one angry RAF crewman later explained. “My personal feeling is, that if we’d been told the truth at the briefing, some of us wouldn’t have gone.”

“To just fly over it without opposition felt like murder,” added a comrade. “I felt it was a cowardly war.”

Once known affectionately by many of his men as “Bomber” Harris, after Dresden the air marshal earned a new nickname—“Butcher.”

“Butcher Harris didn’t give a damn how many men he lost as long as he was pounding the shit out of German civilians,” growled one British airman.

Meanwhile, the man directly responsible for the Dresden massacre began to publicly distance himself from both Harris and terror bombing. Winston Churchill:

It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretextsshould be reviewed. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. . . . I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives . . . rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction.

Public pronouncements to the contrary, the air terror continued unabated. Lost almost entirely in the furor over Dresden was the February 23 leveling of Pforzheim in western Germany. Although much smaller than Dresden, in nineteen  minutes  the city was utterly destroyed with nearly 20,000 dead. A short time later, the “hospital city” of Wurzburg was likewise incinerated. Additionally, in what appeared an attempt to broaden the war, American planes struck neutral Switzerland, raiding Schaffhausen in late February and striking Basel and Zurich on March 4.

 

Viet-Then, Viet-Now, Viet-Nam

Vietnam-War

I’ve known Bob Dalton for quite some time. He is a soft-spoken, handsome man with an honest face and, if there was more of it, he has the kind of silver hair that younger men would die for. Bob is also a gentleman, top to toe. Originally from Independence, Kansas—a school mate of famed TV journalist, Bill Kurtis—Bob now calls the capital of Kansas his home. I met with Bob one hot, humid evening at the Blind Tiger brew pub in Topeka.

Tom: When did you first arrive in Vietnam?

Bob: I left the states on Halloween of ’69. I went from language school at Fort Bliss, Texas, straight over to Vietnam. Arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon a few days later.

Tom: So, you speak Vietnamese?

Bob: Not now [laughter]. But yes, back then I could get along with the villagers.

Tom: It already sounds like you were a cut above the average troop who hit the tarmac there. What was your function?

bobdalton1Bob (right): Combat support. We’d be in the field and call in support . . . Cobra gunships, Huey gunships, artillery, they would go through us . . . medevacs for the wounded, that sort of stuff. We were a four-man advisory team assigned to a Vietnamese battalion of infantry . . . usually a major, a lieutenant, sergeant, and an RTO. Our job was to turn the fight back over to the Vietnamese.

Tom: So, this is after Tet, and the US is now into “Vietnamization.” Right?

Bob: Yeah [pause]. Well, the issue with Tet . . . it was our greatest victory, but it was turned into a political defeat that got us out of there. We had blown the VC back into the stone age and . . . and that was also the turning point that brought about the final outcome.

You bathe when you can; you don’t get naked, you just take your bar of soap and scrub your clothes and everything, that’s how you wash your clothes, too. I found a shell crater where the tidal water was spilling in and making a pool and I slid in and started washing when, just like a submarine, these eyes and the end of a snout rose above the water. Nobody told me there were crocodiles! He was only 5 or 6 feet long but for a minute we both splashed nearly all the water from the crater trying to get out. . . . I think he was as startled as I was [laughter].

Tom: How long were you there before you met Charlie?

Bob: Three days. They dropped me down, I shook hands with the major and he said, “Come on, we’ve got some action.” It was a small firefight. They caught some VC in a cemetery who were dug in.

Tom: Fort Apache. Welcome to the Wild West.

Bob: Yeah . . . I don’t want to sound too trite here but a lot of it was cowboy and Indian stuff. It was small units against small units, and at night. We got most of our kills at night . . . setting up ambushes on the riverways. If anybody was moving at night that wasn’t you, it was them.

Tom: What were your thoughts during that first fight?

Bob: Well, you don’t really realize that you are in a war until you see your first . . . I mean, until you see the guy on the ground dying; then you realize, “yep, this is war.” You don’t recognize it from a distance or even 50 feet away. But at your feet, it’s real. I didn’t fire a round in that first fight.

We didn’t have MREs. We lived on the “economy of the land,” as they say. In other words, we lost a lot of weight. We ate fish heads, chicken heads, duck heads. . . . See, I’ve eaten some strange things. I’ve eaten dogs, cats, rats . . . . Dog is better than cat. We were out in the Mekong Delta, about fifty of us. There was water and swamp everywhere. When we finally pulled up I found this mud foundation of an old hooch, then crawled in and went to sleep. There was a moon out. When I woke up, this Vietnamese guard yelled out, “Rang Ho, Rang Ho,” and he came down and really busted me hard on the shoulder with his rifle. But he eventually got what he was after. The “Rang Ho” was a five or six foot long cobra. He had just snuggled up against me. It can get cold in the jungle at night. Had I rolled over, or had that guy not seen it, that would have been really bad. I’ve seen a man die from a cobra bite, and it’s not good. It took about 30 minutes and his eyes were rolling around. He was asphyxiated. Well anyway, that cobra the guard killed? We ate him for breakfast.


Tom: How did you deal with combat, or, rather, how did you cope with death?

Bob: [pause] I had this . . . let’s call it the “switch.”

Tom: The “switch?”

Bob: Yeah, you know, when I realized, “Hey, this is your third day out and you’re already in it” . . . the switch . . . just the switch. . . that they were things [pause] . . . and, let me tell you, you can get pretty cold about . . . them. . . . You needed a switch.

Tom: When were you most concerned? When was it that you thought, “Hey Toto, we may not make it back to Kansas this trip?”

Bob: Well, I’ll tell you . . . if you don’t care, you’re better off [silence].

Tom: So you didn’t care?

Bob: Yeah . . . it’s just bizarre. One night I had a nightmare—we were going out on air mobile ops the next day and, you know, in my dream I just saw this big flash . . . just this big flash, and I figured, “I’m dead.” So early next morning I put all my stuff neatly away, cleaned up my wall locker . . . and for some reason I thought I was going out there to die. And so we were all lined up on the pad, waiting for the slicks to pick us up, and I was on the radio talking to the pilot and he says,”We’ve been diverted . . . we’re picking up a unit over here about ten klicks away.” We monitored that flight and . . . the helicopter I should have been on tripped a wire at the LZ and was blown to bits. So, ah, that was just weird. . . . Had to be a coincidence. I don’t believe in telepathy. That was the one time I thought I was going to die. . . .

Tom: Just the one time?

Bob: Only once.

Tom: Were you wounded?

Bob: Well, I don’t have a purple heart, but I do have this [holds out his hand]. The only scar I brought from Vietnam is this tooth mark right there where this sergeant on our team went nuts, went bananas, and they took him away in a straight-jacket. He was a three-year man; he wouldn’t go home, and he just went nuts.

The bridges are very small in the boonies, very narrow, and sometimes they are very, very old. I was six foot something, wore a size 13 boot, 195 pounds, plus another 35 pounds with radio equipment. And so I sometimes broke these bridges while leading my men across. Those people were small; a man might only weigh 90 pounds. And so I kept breaking these bridges and actually broke two in one day. Finally, this friend of mine, a Vietnamese lieutenant, recommended that I be the last to cross when we came to a bridge. My men were very happy when I agreed to go last or just wade across when I could. The Vietnamese were awed by the size of my boots. One night, they were stolen. It must have been for the novelty because no one could have worn them.

Tom: So, you did one tour?

Bob: Yes.

Tom: You arrived stateside, October, ’70?

Bob: Yes. In 1973 I joined the Kansas National Guard. I became a member of the full-time staff in ’78. . . . You know, some people say the Kansas National Guard wasn’t used. Well, that’s wrong. We had 41 dead in Vietnam.

Tom: Yes, I know. I had some friends in the 69th and I can guarantee you that they were “used.”

Bob: Right. They were at Fort Carson, Colorado, before they shipped.

Tom: Yeah.

Bob: Not many people remember this.

Tom: I know what I was thinking when I saw those tanks crash through the gates of the presidential palace. What were your thoughts when you saw the fall of Saigon on TV?

Bob: That really hurt. . . . That hurt so deeply. That was the toughest part. I got close to the Vietnamese. I had great respect for them. I could just assume until 1975 that they were alright. Then, when the country fell that year, it hit me that my [Vietnamese] division . . . that they were the last to go. After Saigon, they were still fighting in the Delta. Yeah, so you see, I lost. . . . [pause].

Tom: You probably have faces right now in your head.

Bob: Sure. I even have pictures of some of them. . . . You know, it was a common saying, even before the country fell, every GI you talked to would say, “We were winning while I was there.” No matter what: “We were winning when I was there.” We never lost a battle. Never lost a battle. But we lost the war.

Tom: If you had to describe your tour in five words or less, what would you say?

Bob: A lifetime in a year.

Tom: What are you up to now?

Bob: I retired in January of ’99 as a colonel, chief of staff, in the KNG. Now, I’m secretary/treasurer of the 35th Division Association of World War II.

__________________________________

(Bob Dalton is a published author who is currently working on a novel about the post-Civil War period in the American West. He enjoys biking and shooting black powder weapons. He and his wife, Jennie, have remained together for thirty years. They have two daughters. Bob is also a distant relative of the Daltons–as in “The Dalton Gang.”)

Unspeakable

untitledccceh9GOOD

Every month, it seems, yet another movie is released based upon some real or some fanciful event of World War Two. Invariably, like some stylized Greek drama in which the actors all wear the same masks and all chant the same lines, the cast in these propagandistic morality plays are as predictable as the message. On one side are arrayed the Allies, the good guys; generally, these are the happy-go-lucky gum-chewing Americans who are heroically “fighting for freedom” and are striving to save the world and the folks back in Ohio from slavery; on the other side are the arrogant Germans, the evil Nazis; this is the dark force the world is being saved from, those over-bearing monsters who live only to murder, rape, torture, kill, and make lampshades and bars of soap out of poor, defenseless, harmless Jews.

It has now been over 70 years since the conclusion of the so-called “Good War.”  Thousands of books, articles and movies have been devoted to this pivotal period and the supposedly heroic sacrifice of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Despite the sheer tonnage of material dedicated to the victor’s version of WWII, there has yet to be an honest, accurate and straight-forward retelling of that cataclysmic event and what it really looked like, not merely from the victors’ perspective, but through the eyes of the vanquished, as well.

The following is from my book Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947. To date, this book remains the only in-depth account of what the end of the war and the beginning of the so-called “peace” looked like from the German perspective.  To this day, what happened to Germany and her people, especially after the war, remains the darkest and best-kept secret in world history. And to this day, what happened to Germany and her people also remains, by far, the greatest and most sadistic crime ever committed in the history of mankind.

***

Since the German invasion of the Soviet Union in September 1941, the fight on the Eastern Front had been little better than a savage war of annihilation. A contest between “European Nationalism” on the one hand, and “International Communism” on the other, would have been a most desperate struggle under any conditions. But then, fighting for his life, Josef Stalin deliberately exacerbated the situation.

Dubious over the loyalty of his armed forces, aware of the massive Russian surrenders during the First World War, the Red premier steadfastly refused to sign the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war or the Hague Treaty regarding land warfare. It was Stalin’s belief that if a soldier had no guarantee of survival in captivity, then he must of necessity fight to the death in battle. Despite such ruthless measures, Soviet troops surrendered by the hundreds of thousands in the first weeks and months of the war. Swamped by the flood of prisoners, strained to adequately clothe, feed and house such numbers, and understandably hesitant to even do so unless the Russians reciprocated, the Germans time and again tried to reach an accord with Stalin. The efforts were flung back with contempt.

“Soviet soldiers do not surrender,” communist officials airily announced. “[A] prisoner captured alive by the enemy [is] ipso facto a traitor…. If they had fulfilled their duty as soldiers to fight to the last they would not have been taken prisoner.”

“Everyone who was taken prisoner, even if they’d been wounded . . . was considered to have ‘surrendered voluntarily to the enemy,’ ” wrote Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, whose own brother was captured and promptly disowned by her father.  “The government thereby washed its hands of millions of its own officers and men . . . and refused to have anything to do with them.”

Hence, growled a disgruntled captain of Russian artillery, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “[Moscow] did not recognize its own soldiers of the day before.”

Not surprisingly, many Red Army men, including General Andrei Vlasov, swiftly turned on their government after capture and became “traitors” not only in name, but in fact, by joining the Germans in their anti-communist crusade.

That the Soviets would treat their own troops in such a deplorable manner bode ill for that German soldier, or Landser, unlucky enough to fall into enemy hands. Although responses varied greatly among Soviet units and some captured Germans were treated as POWs, most were not. During the first glorious days of German victory in 1941, the Red Army’s headlong retreat precluded the likelihood that large numbers of Landsers would be captured. Nevertheless, thousands of unwitting Germans did fall into communist hands and were dispatched on the spot.

On July 1, 1941, near Broniki in the Ukraine, the Soviets captured over 160 Germans, many of them wounded. In the words of Corporal Karl Jager:

After being taken prisoner . . . other comrades and I were forced to undress. . . . We had to surrender all valuable objects including everything we had in our pockets. I saw other comrades stabbed with a bayonet because they were not fast enough. Corporal Kurz had a wounded hand and . . .  could not remove his belt as quickly as desired. He was stabbed from behind at the neck so that the bayonet came out through the throat. A soldier who was severely wounded gave slight signs of life with his hands; he was kicked about and his head was battered with rifle butts. . . . Together with a group of 12 to 15 men I was taken to a spot north of the road. Several of them completely naked. We were about the third group coming from the road. Behind us the Russians commenced the executions . . . panic broke out after the first shots, and I was able to flee.

“My hands were tied up at my back . . . and we were forced to lie down. . . ,” said another victim in the same group. “[A] Russian soldier stabbed me in the chest with his bayonet. Thereupon I turned over. I was then stabbed seven times in the back and I did not move any more. . . . I heard my comrades cry out in pain. Then I passed out.”

In all, 153 bodies were recovered by advancing Germans the following morning. Despite the summary slaughter of their own men at Broniki and elsewhere, Wehrmacht field marshals strictly forbid large-scale reprisals. One group which could expect no mercy from the Germans was the communist commissars who traveled with Red Army units. Composed “almost exclusively” of Jews, it was these fanatical political officers, many Germans felt, who were responsible for the massacres and mutilations of captured comrades. Explained one witness, Lieutenant Hans Woltersdorf of the elite SS:

One of our antitank gun crews had defended itself down to the last cartridge, really down to the last cartridge. Over thirty dead Russians lay before their positions. They then had to surrender. While still alive they had their genitals cut off, their eyes poked out, and their bellies slit open. Russian prisoners to whom we showed this declared that such mutilations took place by order of the commissars. This was the first I had heard of such commissars.

With the threat of torture and execution facing them, many idealistic German soldiers had an added impetus to fight to the death. In the minds of most Landsers, the war in the east was not a contest against the Russian or Slavic race in particular, but a crusade against communism. In the years following World War I, Marxist revolutionaries had nearly toppled the German government. Because most of the leaders were Jews, and because Lenin, Trotsky, and many other Russian revolutionaries were Jewish, the threat to Nazi Germany and Europe seemed clear. Hence, from Adolf Hitler down to the lowliest Landser, the fight in the east became a holy war against “Jewish Bolshevism.”

“The poor, unhappy Russian people,” said one shocked German soldier as he moved further into the Soviet Union. “Its distress is unspeakable and its misery heart-rending.”

“When you see what the Jew has brought about here in Russia, only then can you begin to understand why the Fuhrer began this struggle against Judaism,” another stunned Landser wrote, expressing a sentiment shared by many comrades. “What sort of misfortunes would have been visited upon our Fatherland, if this bestial people had gotten the upper hand?”

Following the devastating German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, the “upper hand” did indeed pass to the enemy. Supplied by the US with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of goods, from tanks and planes to boots and butter, the resurgent Red Army assumed the offensive.

As the heretofore invincible Wehrmacht began its long, slow withdrawal west, a drama as vast and savage as the steppe itself unfolded, the likes of which the modern world had never witnessed. In dozens of major battles, in thousands of forgotten skirmishes, a primeval contest was waged wherein victory meant life and defeat meant death.

***

Overwhelmingly outnumbered in men and materiel, especially the dreaded tank, for young German recruits sent to fill depleted ranks there was no subtle transition from peace to war on the Eastern Front—they simply stepped straight from the train or truck into the inferno. Likewise, the step from boy to man could, and often did, come within a matter of moments once the recruit reached the lines. Guy Sajer’s youth ended abruptly one day when his convoy was ambushed.

Anybody hit?” one of the noncoms called out. “Let’s get going then. . . .” Nervously, I pulled open the door [of the truck]. Inside, I saw a man I shall never forget, a man sitting normally on the seat, whose lower face had been reduced to a bloody pulp.

“Ernst?” I asked in a choking voice. “Ernst!” I threw myself at him. . . . I looked frantically for some features on that horrible face. His coat was covered with blood. . . . His teeth were mixed with fragments of bone, and through the gore I could see the muscles of his face contracting. In a state of near shock, I tried to put the dressing somewhere on that cavernous wound. . . . Crying like a small boy, I pushed my friend to the other end of the seat, holding him in my arms. . . . Two eyes opened, brilliant with anguish, and looked at me from his ruined face.

In the cab of a . . . truck, somewhere in the vastness of the Russian hinterland, a man and an adolescent were caught in a desperate struggle. The man struggled with death, and the adolescent struggled with despair. . . . I felt that something had hardened in my spirit forever.

“The first group of T34’s crashed through the undergrowth,” another terrified replacement recalled when Russian tanks suddenly shattered his once peaceful world.

I heard my officer shout to me to take the right hand machine. . . . All that I had learned in the training school suddenly came flooding back and gave me confidence. . . . It had been planned that we should allow the first group of T-34’s to roll over us. . . . The grenade had a safety cap which had to be unscrewed to reach the rip-cord. My fingers were trembling as I unscrewed the cap . . . [and] climbed out of the trench. . . . Crouching low I started towards the monster, pulled the detonating cord, and prepared to fix the charge. I had now nine seconds before the grenade exploded and then I noticed, to my horror, that the outside of the tank was covered in concrete. . . . My bomb could not stick on such a surface. . . . The tank suddenly spun on its right track, turned so that it pointed straight at me and moved forward as if to run over me.

I flung myself backwards and fell straight into a partly dug slit trench and so shallow that I was only just below the surface of the ground. Luckily I had fallen face upwards and was still holding tight in my hand the sizzling hand grenade. As the tank rolled over me there was a sudden and total blackness. . . . The shallow earth walls of the trench began to collapse. As the belly of the monster passed over me I reached up instinctively as if to push it away and . . . stuck the charge on the smooth, unpasted metal. . . . Barely had the tank passed over me than there was a loud explosion. . . . I was alive and the Russians were dead. I was trembling in every limb.

Another Landser who found truth facing Russian tanks was eighteen-year-old Guy Sajer. Armed with single-shot “Panzerfausts,” a shoulder-held anti-armor weapon, Sajer and five comrades cowered in a shallow hole. “Our fear reached grandiose proportions, and urine poured down our legs,” admitted the young soldier. “Our fear was so great that we lost all thought of controlling ourselves.”

Three tanks were moving toward us. If they rolled over the mound which protected us, the war would end for us in less than a minute. I [raised] my first Panzerfaust, and my hand, stiff with fear, [was] on the firing button.

As they rolled toward us, the earth against which my body was pressed transmitted their vibrations, while my nerves, tightened to the breaking point, seemed to shrill with an ear-splitting whistle. . . . I could see the reflected yellow lights on the front of the tank, and then everything disappeared in the flash of light which I had released, and which burned my face. . . . To the side, other flashes of light battered at my eyes, which jerked open convulsively wide, although there was nothing to see. Everything was simultaneously luminous and blurred. Then a second tank in the middle distance was outlined by a glow of flame. . . .

We could hear the noise of a third tank. . . . It had accelerated, and was no more than thirty yards from us, when I grabbed my last Panzerfaust. One of my comrades had already fired, and I was temporarily blinded. I stiffened my powers of vision and regained my sight to see a multitude of rollers caked with mud churning past . . . five or six yards from us. An inhuman cry of terror rose from our helpless throats.

The tank withdrew into the noise of battle, and finally disappeared in a volcanic eruption which lifted it from the ground in a thick cloud of smoke. Our wildly staring eyes tried to fix on something solid, but could find nothing except smoke and flame. As there were no more tanks, our madness thrust us from our refuge, toward the fire whose brilliance tortured our eyes. The noise of the tanks was growing fainter. The Russians were backing away.

After pulling wounded from the burning tanks, Sajer collapsed in a heap. As the young Landser and his exhausted comrades well knew, however, the respite would be brief: “They would undoubtedly reappear in greater numbers, with the support of planes or artillery, and our despairing frenzy would count for nothing.”

Sajer was correct. In yet another contest between man and machine, the soldier and his companions could only watch in helpless horror as the steel monsters overran a gun emplacement.

Our cries of distress were mingled with the screams of the two machine gunners and then the shouts of revenge from the Russian tank crew as it drove over the hole, grinding the remains of the two gunners into that hateful soil. . . . The treads worked over the hole for a long time, and the Russian crew kept shouting, “Kaputt, Soldat Germanski! Kaputt!”

Many scenes from the East Front, like the above, seemed scripted in hell. After a hastily organized force of mechanics, bakers and cooks had beat back one enemy assault, a group of Landsers, including Hans Woltersdorf, crept up to a damaged Russian tank. “The men looked into the tank,” the lieutenant remembered, “and they were near vomiting, so they didn’t look further but instead went away, embarrassed. A headless torso, bloody flesh, and intestines were sticking to the walls.”

Several soldiers did succeed in pulling an injured driver from the wreck. “He lay there, wearing a distinguished award for bravery,” noted Woltersdorf.

The back of his head was gaping open and bloody brains were pouring out. He was foaming at the mouth and his breath was still rattling, the typical rattle after an injury to the back of the head. You’re dead but your lungs are still puffing….I took his military papers and the award. Later, when it was all over, I would send them to his family and write to them that he had fought bravely to the last for his country . . . he had given his best … they could be proud of him … what does one write at such times?

Terrible in their own right, sights and sounds such as the above were made doubly horrifying by the haunting suspicion that the viewer was gazing down on his own fate. “One always sees oneself sticking to the walls in thousands of pieces like that,” confessed Woltersdorf, “without a head, or being dragged from the tank with a death rattle in one’s throat.”

***

LandsersNationalArchive78Facing cold, robot-like tanks was terrifying enough. When humans became such, the results were devastating. Perhaps the most frightening moment in any Landser’s life came when he first faced the human wave. In a nation so vast that it compassed two continents, men were a resource the Soviets could afford to waste . . . and did. Following a Russian artillery barrage upon his position, Max Simon redeployed surviving soldiers along a ridge.

“Then,” the SS general wrote, “quite a long distance from our positions there were lines of brown uniformed men tramping forward. The first of these crossed a small river and was followed at about 200 meters distance by a second line. Then there rose out of the grass—literally from out of the ground—a third wave, then a fourth and a fifth.”

“To see them, the Ivans, rise up from the ground and just stand there, thousands of them, was really frightening,” said another who faced the human wave. “They would stand there, within range . . . silent, withdrawn and not heeding those who fell around them. Then they would move off, the first three lines marching towards us.”

Returning to General Simon:

The lines of men stretched to the right and left of our regimental front over-lapping it completely and the whole mass of Russian troops came tramping solidly and relentlessly forward. It was an unbelievable sight, a machine gunner’s dream. … At 600 metres we opened fire and whole sections of the first wave just vanished leaving here and there an odd survivor still walking stolidly forward. It was uncanny, unbelievable, inhuman. No soldier of ours would have continued to advance alone. The second wave had also taken losses but closed up towards the center, round and across the bodies of their comrades who had fallen with the first wave. Then, as if on a signal, the lines of men began running forward. As they advanced there was a low rumbling “Hoooooraaay.”

“The sound of that bellowing challenge was enough to freeze the blood,” admitted one trembling Landser. “Just the sound alone terrified the new recruits.”

Again, Max Simon:

The first three waves had been destroyed by our fire, but not all of the men in them had been killed. Some who dropped were snipers who worked their way forward through the grass to open fire upon our officers and machine gun posts. The rush of the fourth wave came on more slowly for the men had to pick their way through a great carpet of bodies and as the Soviets moved towards us some of our men, forgetful of the danger, stood on the parapets of their slit trenches to fire at the oncoming Russians. The machine guns became hot from continual firing and there were frequent stoppages to change barrels….

 The great mass of the Soviet troops was now storming up the slope towards us but our fire was too great and they broke. About an hour later a further five lines of men came on in a second assault. The numbers of the enemy seemed endless and the new waves of men advanced across their own dead without hesitation…. The Ivans kept up their attacks for three days and sometimes even during the night. Suddenly they stopped and withdrew.

While the slaughter of thousands in such suicidal assaults seemed senseless, the results were not altogether one-sided. The psychological wounds inflicted on the Germans were, as Gen. Simon acknowledged, perhaps an even greater blow than the physical havoc wrought on the Russians. “The number, duration and fury of those attacks had exhausted us… ,” confessed Simon. “If the Soviets could waste men on our small move, and there was no doubt that these men had been sacrificed, how often, we asked ourselves, would they attack and in what numbers if the objective was really a supremely important one?”

The carnage following battles such as the above was truly horrific. Although most recruits soon became hardened after two or three similar encounters, no soldier ever became complacent about war. The battlefield had many grim faces and no two were alike. Surprisingly, some of the most shattering moments in a Landser’s life concerned the dreadful impact war had on horses, thousands of which served both armies. Harald Henry remembered vividly one animal in particular, lying by the wayside:

It reared, someone gave it a mercy shot, it sprang up again, another fired…. [T]he horse still fought for its life, many shots. But the rifle shots did not quickly finish off the dying eyes of the horse…. Everywhere horses. Ripped apart by shells, their eyes bulging out from empty red sockets…. That is just almost worse than the torn-away faces of the men, of the burnt, half-charred corpses.

After just experiencing what he imagined was all the horror one battle had to give, Lieutenant Friedrich Haag noticed a “beautiful white horse grazing by a ditch.”

An artillery shell … had torn away his right foreleg. He grazed peacefully but at the same time slowly and in unspeakable grief swayed his bloody stump of a leg to and fro….I don’t know if I can accurately describe the horror of this sight. . . . I said then . . . to one of my men: “Finish that horse off!” Then the soldier, who just ten minutes before had been in a hard fight, replied: “I haven’t got the heart for it, Herr Lieutenant.” Such experiences are more distressing than all the “turmoil of battle” and the personal danger.

Although massed human assaults and tank battles were dramatic, earth-shaking events, surviving German soldiers could normally expect a welcome, if brief, respite between contests. Not so with the ever-lurking partisan war. For that Landser behind the front who dropped his guard, the result could mean instant death … or worse. “When German soldiers were captured by guerrillas, they were often abominably treated,” one Wehrmacht general recounted. “[I]t was not unusual for the Soviets to torture their prisoners and then hang them up, sometimes with their genitals stuffed in their mouths.” Other Landsers were released, then sent staggering down roads toward their comrades, naked, bloody, eyes gouged from sockets, castrated.

Unable to deal decisively with the civilian-clad irregulars, German reprisals against the surrounding communities were swift, grim and arbitrary.

“A partisan group blew up our vehicles,” recorded one private, “[and]. . . shot the agricultural administrator and a corporal assigned to him in their quarters…. Early yesterday morning 40 men were shot on the edge of the city. . . . Naturally there were a number of innocent people who had to give up their lives…. One didn’t waste a lot of time on this and just shot the ones who happened to be around.”

As with commissars, “no quarter” was the standard fate of guerrillas who fell into German hands. Wrote a witness:

Businesslike, the men of the field police emerge and tie with oft-practiced skill seven nooses on the balcony railing and then disappear behind the door of the dark room…. The first human package, tied up, is carried outside. The limbs are tightly bound …a cloth covers his face. The hemp neckband is placed around his neck, hands are tied tight, he is put on the balustrade and the blindfold is removed from his eyes. For an instant you see glaring eyeballs, like those of an escaped horse, then wearily he closes his eyelids, almost relaxed, never to open them again. He now slides slowly downward, his weight pulls the noose tight, his muscles begin their hopeless battle. The body works mightily, twitches, and within the fetters a bit of life struggles to its end. It’s quick; one after the other are brought out, put on the railing…. Each one bears a placard on his chest proclaiming his crime…. Sometimes one of them sticks out his tongue as if in unconscious mockery and immoderate amounts of spittle drip down on the street.

***

As the Wehrmacht was pressed inexorably west, the daily attrition was staggering. Repeated Russian attacks opened gaps in German ranks simply too great to be filled. Outnumbered sometimes ten to one, each Landser was thus expected to fight as ten if they were to survive. Many did. After beating back waves of Soviets with only a handful of men, Leopold von Thadden-Trieglaff refused to abandon his tiny section of line. Holding on throughout the night, the surrounded squad again fought furiously the following dawn.

“[A] hail of fire rained on us, from right, from left,” recorded the young soldier in his journal. “In a few minutes our bunker was full of wounded and I struggled to quiet the poor fellows. . . . Screams and groans, and singing. I had to strain every nerve in order to remain as calm as before.”

Finally, a German counterattack broke through and rescued the survivors, ending “the most terrible night and the hardest battle of my life. . . ,” wrote Thadden-Trieglaff. “As I returned to my command post in the village I gaped at the dead comrades. I was so shaken that I almost cried. . . . When might this hideous defensive struggle come to an end?”

For the heroic twenty-year-old, that end came the following day when he was killed.

As the crushing attrition ground the German Army into the Russian mud, the turnover rate from death and wounds was tremendous. Green recruits often found themselves within months, even weeks, the oldest veterans in their unit.

“I noticed that it was particularly in the first few days that newcomers were most likely to get killed,” observed Jan Montyn (below).

Jan Montyn (Courtesy of Jan Montyn)Gert was one of those newcomers. He was sixteen….I saw in his eyes, behind his round spectacles, the same bewilderment that I had felt myself when I was finding my way around that first day—almost a month ago now. His legs were trembling, he kept blinking. He had never held a real gun in his hands before. And I felt that he would not be with us for long. “You have to think carefully about everything you do,” I told him. “You must not allow anything to become a habit. On the other side there are snipers on the look-out day and night. If you as much as strike a match, you are finished. They notice every regularity in your behavior. When you have to scoop out a trench, don’t throw the earth over the side in the same place twice. . . . Gert nodded. He would remember. But less than two hours later I heard a cry. He had climbed out of the trench. He had been hit with his trousers down. In ten paces I was with him, and pulled him back into the trench by his legs. Oh, you idiot! Did I have to say that …? There was a big hole in his groin. I pulled a roll of substitute bandage out of my breast pocket. But the poor quality paper was drenched within a few seconds. I tried to close the wound by pressing on it with my thumbs, begging and praying that someone might come along. I dared not call; that might provoke mortar fire. Gert lay panting, his mouth half open. He did not seem to feel any pain. For God’s sake let someone come. No one came. The blood that gushed through my fingers mingled with the mud. And Gert no longer moved.

Added to the trauma of watching comrades die one by one, was concern for the safety of loved ones at home. Unlike Allied soldiers, whose words from home brought comfort and cheer, for the German Landser a letter from a loved one was merely one more burden to bear. Penned Martin Poppel in his diary:

My wife wrote to me: “Today we are worn out after this terrible hail of bombs. To be hearing the howling of these things all the time, waiting for death at any moment, in a dark cellar, unable to see. . . . Everything gone. . . .” No, here at the front we musn’t think about it…. We understood the feelings of the people at home, suffered with them and feared for our loved ones who had to bear terror bombing.

“A few days ago,” scribbled a tormented sergeant, “I found out that just at the same time as we dreamed of home, the rubble was smoking in my home city of Mannheim. What a bitter irony.”

“These pigs . . . think they can soften us up in that way. But that is a mistake, a mistake,” growled another sergeant. “Ah, if only the Fuhrer would send a pair of … divisions to England. They would deal a death dance that would give the devil himself the creeps. Oh, I have a rage, a wild hatred.”

Despite official orders against killing prisoners, the unofficial reality was often quite different. Living without hope, dealing with death on a daily basis, aware of the fate their loved ones at home were facing, as well as their own should they be captured, many crazed, brutalized individuals could not be restrained.

“A prolonged and penetrating cry rose from the hole on my left… ,” Guy Sajer noted after one desperate fight. “Then there was a cry for help.”

We arrived at the edge of a foxhole, where a Russian, who had just thrown down his revolver, was holding his hands in the air. At the bottom of the hole, two men were fighting. One of them, a Russian, was waving a large cutlass, holding a man from our group pinned beneath him. Two of us covered the Russian who had raised his hands, while a young [corporal] jumped into the hole and struck the other Russian a blow on the back of his neck with a trenching tool. . . . The German who had been under him . . . ran up to ground level. He was covered with blood, brandishing the Russian knife with one hand … while with the other he tried to stop the flow of blood pouring from his wound.

Where is he?” he shouted in a fury. “Where’s the other one?” In a few bounding steps he reached the … prisoner.

Before anyone could do anything, he had run his knife into the belly of the petrified Russian.

Following three days of frenzied fighting, Sajer and his sleepless comrades finally snapped.

Sometimes one or two prisoners might emerge from their hideout with their hands in the air, and each time the same tragedy repeated itself. Kraus killed four of them on the lieutenant’s orders; the Sudeten two; Group 17, nine. Young Lindberg, who had been in a state of panic ever since the beginning of the offensive, and who had been either weeping in terror or laughing in hope, took Kraus’s machine gun and shoved two Bolsheviks into a shell hole. The two wretched victims … kept imploring his mercy…. But Lindberg, in a paroxysm of uncontrollable rage, kept firing until they were quiet.

We were mad with harassment and exhaustion. . . . We were forbidden to take prisoners…. We knew that the Russians didn’t take any … [that] it was either them or us, which is why my friend Hals and I threw grenades . . . at some Russians who were trying to wave a white flag.

Nevertheless, amid the insane upheaval of combat, the same soldier who might one moment murder helpless prisoners could the next risk his own life to pull men from burning enemy tanks. Hans Woltersdorf stood for one eternal instant, his machine-gun trained on several Russians he had surprised, the last flicker of humanity struggling mightily against all the dark forces of his past.

“Do I shoot or not? ” the lieutenant asked himself, as the terrified prisoners begged for mercy. “They got up. . . , stumbled backwards a few steps more to the fir thicket, turned round, put their hands down and ran like the devil…. Did I try to shoot? Did my machine gun really fail to function, as I claimed later?”

Very often, death was the highest act of kindness one could show an enemy. “On Tuesday I knocked out two T-34’s… ,” one Landser wrote. “Afterward I drove past the smoking remains. From the hatch there hung a body, head down, his feet caught, and his legs burning up to his knees. The body was alive, the mouth moaning. He must have suffered terrible pain. And there was no possibility of freeing him…. I shot him, and as I did it, the tears ran down my cheeks. Now I have been crying for three nights about a dead Russian tank driver.”

“From time to time one of us would emerge from torpor and scream,” admitted Guy Sajer. “These screams were entirely involuntary: we couldn’t stop them. They were produced by our exhaustion. . . . Some laughed as they howled; others prayed. Men who could pray could hope.” Sajer continues:

We felt like lost souls who had forgotten that men are made for something else . . . that love can sometimes occur, that the earth can be productive and used for something other than burying the dead. We were madmen, gesturing and moving without thought or hope…. Lindberg … had collapsed into a kind of stupor…. The Sudeten … had begun to tremble . . . and to vomit uncontrollably. Madness had invaded our group, and was gaining ground rapidly….I saw … Hals leap to his machine gun and fire at the sky….I also saw the [sergeant] … beat the ground with his clenched fist…. [I] shout[ed] curses and obscenities at the sky…. After hours and then days of danger … one collapses into unbearable madness, and a crisis of nerves is only the beginning. Finally, one vomits and collapses, entirely brutalized and inert, as if death had already won.

 “[We were] the dead or the dead to be,” stated one Landser simply.

***

As the East Front moved steadily west, the struggle became even more desperate. By the winter of 1944, the Red Army had finally driven the invaders from Russian soil and was pressing them through Poland. Although enormous losses had melted away much German manpower, and although the odds remained overwhelmingly in the Soviets’ favor, the Red Army suffered grievously as well. For every German casualty on the field of battle, there were four Russians. Many Soviet units had been reduced to a mere 50% of their original strength. Consequently, Red ranks were increasingly filled by troops from far eastern provinces. “This is not the Red Army,” spit one Russian officer. “The Red Army perished on the battlefields in 1941 and 1942. These are the hordes of Asia.”

In addition to Asians, Soviet officials called up a motley reserve— boys as young as thirteen, women, cripples, even convicts. “We opened up our penitentiaries and stuck everybody into the army,” Stalin admitted. If possible, these raw levies were thrown away with more criminal disregard than ever. Wrote a German soldier:

It does not matter that these conscripts are untrained, that many are without boots of any kind and that most of them have no arms. Prisoners whom we took told us that those without weapons are expected to take up those from the fallen. …I saw … attacks which were preceded by solid blocks of people marching shoulder to shoulder across the minefields which we had laid. Civilians and Army punishment battalions alike advanced like automata, their ranks broken only when a mine exploded killing and wounding those around it. The people seemed never to flinch nor to quail and we noticed that some who fell were then shot by a smaller wave of commissars or officers who followed very closely behind.

“This was not war anymore,” a Landser who witnessed the massacres confided. “It was murder.”

Of all the horrors the East Front could inflict—human waves, Red crewmen bolted inside burning tanks, murder of prisoners, partisan atrocities—the facet most frightening to the average Landser was undoubtedly “Ivan” himself.

“The Russian infantryman . . . always defended himself to the last gasp. . . ,” remembered Gen. Max Simon. “[E]ven crews in burning tanks kept up fire for as long as there was breath in their bodies. Wounded or unconscious men reached for their weapons as soon as they regained consciousness.”

Added another German soldier, Erich Dwinger:

Among the prisoners waiting to be ferried back across the river were wounded, many of whom had been badly burnt by flame-throwers. . . . Their faces had no longer any recognizable human features but were simply swollen lumps of meat. One of them also had had his lower jaw torn away by a bullet and this wound he had bandaged roughly. Through the rags his windpipe, laid bare, was visible and the effort it made as his breath snorted through it. Another soldier had been hit by five bullets and his right shoulder and his whole arm was a ragged mass of flesh. He had no bandages and the blood oozed from his wounds as if from a row of tubes….

Not one of them was moaning as they sat there in the grass. . . . Why did they not moan? But this was not the most tragic picture of that day. . . . [S]ome of our soldiers brought out barrels of margarine and loaves of Russian bread. They began their distribution more than thirty metres distant from the place where the badly wounded were lying and these rose up, yes, even the dying rose up quickly and in an inexpressible stream of suffering hurried toward the distribution point. The man without a jaw swayed as he stood up, the man with the five bullet wounds raised himself by his good arm . . . and those with burned faces ran … but this was not all; a half dozen men who had been lying on the ground also went forward pressing back into their bodies with their left hands the intestines which had burst through the gaping wounds in their stomach wall. Their right hands were extended in gestures of supplication. . . . [A]s they moved down each left behind a broad smear of blood upon the grass . . . and not one of them cried … none moaned.

As Dwinger makes implicit, such scenes left a profound impression on thousands of Landsers. The almost unearthly stoicism of the Russian, his fatalism, his willingness to suffer and die in silence, was bewildering to German soldiers. To some, it was as if the harsh climate and crushing conditions of communism had molded a man in which normal human emotions were no longer important.

“It’s not people we’re fighting against here,” one Landser burst out, “but simply animals.”

Perhaps. And yet, as deep as their differences undoubtedly were, there were also similarities, some as elemental and ancient as the earth itself. On December 24, 1944, a strange, seemingly impossible understanding was reached by the deadly foes in which each side promised to stop hating the other “from four o’clock in the afternoon until six o’clock the following morning.”

“An unreal silence fell,” recalled Jan Montyn.

Hesitantly, we crawled out into the open. We on our side. They on theirs. Step by step we approached one another, almost timidly. And the enemy, of whom we had seen nothing until then but the vague movement of a helmet or the barrel of a gun, suddenly turned out to be boys like ourselves. They too were dressed in rags, they too were starving, ill, filthy.

We met in the middle of no-man’s land. We shook hands, exchanged names and cigarettes. They tried out their few words of German, we our Russian. We laughed at one another’s accents. Merry Christmas. We made big bonfires, shared out our Christmas rations….

When we withdrew, after midnight, each to his own side, the fires in no-man’s land were still glowing. For several hours the silence lasted. Then firing broke out. Was it heavier than the day before? Not at all. But there were more casualties than ever. The break, however brief, had broken the resistance of many of us.

Obviously, by the winter of 1944, German soldiers on the East Front were well aware that all their sacrifices during three years of war had been for naught; defeat was inevitable. Close as victory had once been, by invading the Soviet Union tiny Germany had unleashed a force of almost unlimited resources; a colossus spanning much of the globe. To continue the struggle against such a giant was hopeless. And yet, many German soldiers, especially those of the elite SS, were determined to fight to the death, or, as one private wrote, “to sell our skins as dearly as possible.” Explained an observer:

Even the last soldier was aware that the war was lost. He was aiming to survive, and the only sense he could see was to protect the front in the East to save as many refugees as possible. . . . [H]e was hoping for a political solution for ending the war…. but … the demand for unconditional surrender left in the light of self-respect no alternative but to continue the hopeless fighting.

As was the case during the Christmas truce, when “Fritz” looked into the face of “Ivan” the White Russian, or “Popov” the Ukrainian, he generally saw himself reflected. Not so the inscrutable Mongolians and other Asiatic “slit eyes” that usually followed just behind the front. In their faces the German saw something ferocious and frightening and something not seen in Europe since the days of Ghengis Khan. Lurking in the back of every Landser’s mind, especially after the horror at Nemmersdorf, was the nightmare should this new “yellow peril” reach the Reich to run loose among the cities, towns and farms of Germany, among wives, sweethearts, sisters, and mothers.

***

Following its devastating defeat during the Ardennes offensive of December 1944, the Wehrmacht withdrew and regrouped behind the “West Wall,” a mostly imaginary line that roughly traced the Reich’s western border. There, as elsewhere, the German Army was a dim shadow of its former self, vastly outnumbered in men and materiel, but above all, totally overwhelmed in the air.While the end of Nazi Germany loomed in the east, the end also steadily advanced from the west. Unlike the howling savagery to the east, fraught with nightmarish ferocity, defeat in the west came methodically, inexorably and, judged by the standards of the east, almost silently.

“We felt powerless before the immeasurable material superiority of the Americans, without which the Russians and British would have capitulated long since… ,” revealed one German officer.

Nevertheless, the hard-pressed Landser was still more than a match for the American “GI” and the British “Tommy.” Whenever the two sides met on anything approaching equal numbers, the results were always the same. Defending its homeland reinvigorated the German Army, of course, but during the fighting in Italy and North Africa, the outcome was similar. Asked his opinion of American troops during the fighting in North Africa—a campaign where Germany’s ally, the Italian Army, had scattered and surrendered like sheep—one captive Landser told his US interrogators bluntly: “The Americans are to us what the Italians are to you.”

Though American commanders were understandably outraged by such sentiment, the panic created among Allied ranks during the Ardennes offensive only reinforced this assessment within the German Army. One reason for the Landser’s low opinion of his American adversary could simply be attributed to lack of experience. Sights and sounds that many German soldiers had long since become accustomed to were terrifying novelties to most GIs. Remembered a British sergeant:

The Americans will bunch, whereas we go up two sides of a road. . . . They were shouting at each other and firing at nothing…. It appeared that the American infantrymen were not trained in “battle noises.” They seemed to drop to the ground and fire, whenever shots were heard close by. When passing a burning farmhouse, there was a sound of what appeared to be a machine-gun; no one could have been in the house, because of the flames, and it was obviously ammunition burning; but it took some time to get the Americans up and on again. As we [proceeded] I saw a figure in a long German greatcoat rise to his feet from the center of a field, and walk towards us with his hands up. The man was Volkssturm [militia], about 50 or 60 years of age, a long, thin chap. Before we could do anything about it, three Americans let fly with their carbines and the figure fell. God, we were angry.

While small arms fire was frightening, green US troops found artillery barrages utterly horrifying.

“[S]hells would not only tear and rip the body,” said one frantic American, “they tortured one’s mind almost beyond the brink of sanity.”

“[T]he pure physical terror that savages you when loud and violent death is screaming down from the sky and pounding the earth around you, smashing and pulping everything in search for you” was, a comrade added, “emasculating.”  Recalled another American novice:

I asked [the sergeant] if he was hit and he sort of smiled and said no, he had just pissed his pants. He always pissed them, he said, when things started and then he was okay. He wasn’t making any apologies either, and then I realized something wasn’t quite right with me. … There was something warm down there and it seemed to be running down my leg….I told the sarge. I said, “Sarge, I’ve pissed too,” or something like that and he grinned and said, “Welcome to the war.”

Accustomed to the bloodless “clean” kills of Hollywood, sudden, hideous sights also worked to unman the average American newcomer. After taking direct hits, some saw their buddies vaporize in a spray of “red spots.” Others viewed comrades lying along roads, nothing more than “half a body, just naked buttocks and the legs.” With the war obviously nearing its end, and with sights like the above vivid in their minds, few GIs “went looking for a Purple Heart.” Also, and as was the case in 1917, many American soldiers suffered what some observers called “spiritual emptiness;” a seeming uncertainty as to what exactly they were fighting for … or fighting against.

Despite years of anti-Nazi propaganda and attempts to demonize the German soldier, front-line troops, as always, were first to discard hate. From released or escaped prisoners, it soon became apparent that Allied POWs were treated well and accorded all the rights of the Geneva Convention. Additionally, details that were seemingly trivial matters to politicians, propagandists and rear-echelon troops were all-important concerns to the actual fighters.

“One thing I’ll say for the Germans,” a British Tommy admitted, “they were better than we were with enemy dead; buried them properly and neatly with their equipment … over the crosses.”

Not surprisingly, “understandings” among the adversaries were quickly reached to make the war more tolerable to both parties. “We maintained very friendly communications with the Germans. . . ,” confessed an American major. “Before they shelled Homberg they would let us know in advance the exact time. Before we shelled Leverkusen we would let the Germans know in advance. So everybody took cover ahead and nobody got hurt.” On countless other occasions front-line troops met, mixed, traded trinkets, even socialized.

On more than one occasion, drunken American, British and German soldiers found themselves rioting together in the same bars and brothels and even standing in the same lines to use the same restrooms.

Such incidents as the above had a way of putting an all-too human face on the “evil Hun.” The same factors which worked on Allied attitudes of the German worked on German attitudes of the Allies. Unlike the East Front, German soldiers were well aware that their foe in the west was a signatory of the Geneva Convention. Under this agreement, Landsers were guaranteed by law the status of POW upon capture or surrender. And like their Allied counterparts, with the end of war in sight, many “Jerries” along the West Wall were unwilling to play hero. “I am neither looking for an Iron Cross,” a German soldier declared, “nor a wooden one.” Also, it was no secret that Landsers, high and low, considered the Western Allies the lesser of two evils. With the Red Army roaring across Germany from the east, many Germans were secretly hoping the Americans might occupy what remained of the Reich before the communists did.

Nevertheless, and although the war in the west was not characterized by the same “do or die” determination as it was in the east, thousands of patriotic German officers and men were committed to defend their homeland to the “last ditch.” As the Americans and British pressed the Wehrmacht back from the West Wall, then over the Rhine, a glimpse at the task faced is given by an English officer from the town of Rees:

They had been chased out of France, Belgium and Holland, into Germany, back over the Rhine, and now street by street across Rees into a corner. Yet they were still fighting it out…. The situation now was that the enemy were confined to the last hundred yards, at the very tip of the east end, but they were in a strong position with deep trenches and concrete and any attempts to get at it were met by heavy fire. I was going to make a last effort with C Company, when in came four or five prisoners, including a captain, who said he was in command. . . . He was marched in front of me as I sat at my table poring over the map, and he gave me a spectacular Hitler salute which I ignored…. He was a nasty piece of work, cocksure and good-looking in a flashy sort of way, but I had to admire the brave resistance which he had put up. The strain of battle was apparent in the dark black chasms under his eyes.

In spite of such fierce resistance, the massive weight of the Allied advance slowly ground all opposition into the mud. “[I]t must be stated that the morale of our men [in the west] is slowly sinking… ,” admitted propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. “[T]hey have now been fighting uninterruptedly for weeks and months. Somewhere the physical strength to resist runs out.”

***

If morale among troops was “slowly sinking,” that of many civilians in the west had long since sunk. After enduring years of air attacks and now invasion, some Germans were more than willing to accept defeat. Unlike the terrified trekkers to the east, relatively few Germans in the west abandoned their homes. Despite the best efforts of Nazi propaganda, the racial and cultural ties with the Western Allies, particularly the Americans, was simply too strong to arouse the same depth of fear as did the Soviets. Hardly was there a German family that did not have at least one close relative in America and most felt that there was an essential goodness in any people who could give to the world a Mickey Mouse, Shirley Temple or Laurel and Hardy. Far from fleeing the advancing Allies, many civilians actually ran to greet them. Remembered a young German:

[O]ne very sunny morning we saw across the fields a convoy of vehicles coming, and as they came closer we saw they were Americans, with little white stars on the side. There was a jeep up front and then tanks and troops carriers, and the bloke in the jeep had both his hands up, and in one hand he had a loaf of bread and in the other a lump of cheese. They came on very slowly . . . and as they came the Home Guard threw down their weapons and rushed toward the Americans, and my mother leapt up and started racing over the fields, with me about two hundred yards behind her, straight toward the American column. The man in the jeep turned out to be a very fat American sergeant, and my mother threw her arms around his neck and kissed him and hugged him in absolute joy and relief. It was all over.

“Wherever we drove through the Rhineland those first weeks in April the feelings of the German people were unmistakable,” reported war correspondent, Leonard Mosley.

The war was not yet over but they knew it was lost, and they were engaged in an instinctive effort to save something from the wreck. The mass of the people were casting off National Socialism like an old coat, almost without grief or regret, determined to forget it and to work to recreate, in cooperation with their conquerors, the things that had now been destroyed. . . . The men and women we stopped on the streets to ask the way were polite and helpful; they gathered round in bunches when they heard us speaking German, and bombarded us with questions: “How far had we advanced? When would the war be over? Where were the Russians?”

When reports from recaptured towns and villages stated that the Americans (or, “Amis”) had treated civilians well and had not even engaged in looting, the desire among other Germans to surrender became overwhelming. Home Guard units were disbanded, white flags sprouted from doors and windows and many communities refused to aid the German Army in any way.

“Twice,” recalled a British POW, “I watched an SS corporal go to a house and ask for water and each time the housewife, having seen his uniform, slammed the door in his face. He meekly retreated.”

In a desperate bid to shore up crumbling resistance, Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda office warned citizens that “these Americans were combat troops whose only function was to fight; but after them come the rearguard service troops and especially the Jews, who have in all other cases acted ruthlessly against the population.” Unfortunately, the truth in these words became apparent once the front-line troops pushed on.

***

Unlike the wild and almost unmanageable Red Army, US military commanders might have prevented much of the excesses committed by their men against helpless civilians had they so willed it. In most cases, however, they did not. On the contrary, the words of some high-ranking officers seemed designed to encourage atrocities.

“We are engaged in a total war, and every individual member of the German people has turned it into such,” US general Omar Bradley announced. “If it had not been Hitler leading the Germans, then it would have been someone else with the same ideas. The German people enjoy war and are determined to wage war until they rule the world and impose their way of life on us.”

“[T]he German is a beast,” echoed Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight David Eisenhower, a man whose hatred of all things German was well known. In much the same vein as Soviet premier Josef Stalin and American president Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower advocated the outright massacre of German army officers, Nazi Party members and others. In all, according to the American general, at least 100,000 Germans should be “exterminated.”

“In heart, body, and spirit . . . every German is Hitler!” faithfully trumpeted the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. “Hitler is the single man who stands for the beliefs of Germans. Don’t make friends with Hitler. Don’t fraternize. If in a German town you bow to a pretty girl or pat a blond child … you bow to Hitler and his reign of blood.”

Not surprisingly, such sentiment from above quickly worked its way down. Soon after combat soldiers moved out of a community and rear echelon troops moved in, the reality of occupation became clear. Wrote one shocked reporter, William Stoneman of the Chicago Daily News:

Frontline troops are rough and ready about enemy property. They naturally take what they find if it looks interesting, and, because they are in the front lines, nobody says anything. . . . But what front-line troops take is nothing compared to the damage caused by wanton vandalism of some of the following troops. They seem to ruin everything, including the simplest personal belongings of the people in whose homes they are billeted. Today, we have had two more examples of this business, which would bring tears to the eyes of anybody who has appreciation of material values.

“We were crazy with happiness when the Americans came,” one woman said, “but what [they] did here was quite a disappointment that hit our family pretty hard.”

They broke everything and threw it all outside. Later, we found only piles of rubbish. . . . Those who came in the first few days were fighting troops and they had seen something of the war. But those who came later … hadn’t seen anything at all. And many of these very young soldiers wanted to experience something, like repeat a little of the war. . . . We had original watercolors and so forth on the walls, which weren’t framed, and they wrote all over them. In the cellar we had bottles of apple juice. When we wanted to get some later, after the Americans had left, they’d drunk it all up and filled the bottles with urine. Or, in our cooking pots was toilet paper, used toilet paper.

In many towns, the invaders unlocked jails, prisons and concentration camps and invited the inmates to join the revelry.  “They just opened up the camps and let them go,” noted Amy Schrott, a young German raised in New Jersey. “The Russians and Poles were looting the houses and killing the shopkeepers. Then they began raping the girls.”

When a prison camp at Salzwedel was thrown open, a mob of various nationalities literally tore the town to pieces. Locating the mayor, a gang of Russians dragged the man, his wife and daughter to the cemetery. After lashing the mayor to a tombstone, a line of laughing men began taking turns with his naked wife as she screamed on her hands and knees. When a Mongolian started to rape his daughter, the father, in a final fit of rage, tore the tombstone from the ground, then fell over dead.

A glimpse at the anarchy unleashed is given by Christabel Bielenberg (below) of Furtwangen as she pedaled a bicycle near the town:

chritabelIt was like a drunken circus along the road. There were hordes of liberated Russian forced laborers, all dressed in clothes they had looted from all the ransacked shops, roaring with laughter and falling all over the road. And there were soldiers in huge army trucks tearing past all over the road in a crazy kind of way—it was a fantastic scene….

When we got to Furtwangen it was in pandemonium. All the radios had been requisitioned from their German owners and put in the windows facing out-ward toward the street—and each radio was playing a different program at full blast. All the freed Russians and Poles were waltzing down the street—it was just like a carnival going through the town. The Germans were walking round in a daze wearing white armbands as a sign of surrender. As for the French . . . [t]he troops were not French but Moroccan…. These were the men who occupied our area.

That was when the raping started. [They] raped up and down our valley in the first few days. Two people were shot trying to protect their wives. Then they moved out and another lot of French colonial troops moved in—Goums from the Sahara, tall, black, strange people in uniforms like gray dressing-gowns. They were terrifying. First they came into Rohrbach and stole all the chickens and my children’s rabbits. A few days later they came at night and surrounded every house in the village and raped every female between 12 and 80…. What was so frightening about them was the silent way in which they moved…. [T]hey came up to the door and one of them asked: “Where’s your husband?” I said that he was away and as I was talking to them I suddenly realized that one of them was standing right behind me—he had climbed in through a window and crept right up to me through that creaking wooden . . . house without making the slightest sound.

While Moroccan and other French colonial troops had an especially bad reputation and raped on a massive scale in Germany and Italy, American and British soldiers were not above reproach. “Our own Army and the British Army . . . have done their share of looting and raping… ,” a US sergeant admitted. “[W]e too are considered an army of rapists.”

“Many a sane American family would recoil in horror if they knew how ‘Our Boys’ conduct themselves . . . over here,” added another GI.

“We expected Russian lawlessness… ,” said one German, “but we once believed the Americans were different.”

***

In part because of propaganda and the attitudes publicly espoused by western political and military leaders that “the only good German is a dead one,” in part because of unfounded rumors of massacres and rapes committed at captured US field hospitals, in part because of genuine German atrocities, such as at Malmedy, wherein scores of American POWs were mowed down by SS troops during the Ardennes campaign—because of these and other factors, large numbers of captured or surrendering Germans were simply slaughtered on the spot.

Among many American units, “take no prisoners” was the motto. For those members of the SS, Wehrmacht and Volkssturm lucky enough to survive capture, death often awaited behind the lines. In the transit from front to rear, hundreds of prisoners were allowed to suffocate, starve or freeze to death in railroad cars. Upon reaching the prison camps, thousands more perished. Wrote an eyewitness from Rheinberg in April:

One inmate at Rheinberg was over 80 years old, another was aged nine. . . . Nagging hunger and agonizing thirst were their companions, and they died of dysentery. A cruel heaven pelted them week after week with streams of rain…. [A]mputees slithered like amphibians through the mud, soaking and freezing. Naked to the skies day after day and night after night, they lay desperate in the sand … or slept exhaustedly into eternity in their collapsing holes.

With General Eisenhower turning a blind eye to the Geneva Convention, only the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs still held in Germany prevented a massacre of prodigious proportions.

***

While the British were mopping up huge areas to the north, Americans were doing the same further south. For the most part, US forces were also greeted with white flags, cheers and tears of relief from a war-weary populace. When the Americans did meet determined defenders, it was often small pockets of old men and little boys. Reflected a GI: “I could not understand it, this resistance, this pointless resistance to our advance. The war was all over—our columns were spreading across the whole of Germany and Austria. We were irresistible. We could conquer the world; that was our glowing conviction. And the enemy had nothing. Yet he resisted and in some places with an implacable fanaticism.”

Those defenders who survived to surrender were often mowed down where they stood. Gustav Schutz remembered stumbling upon one massacre site where a Labor Service unit had knocked out several American tanks.

“[M]ore than a hundred dead Labor Service men were lying in long rows—all with bloated stomachs and bluish faces,” said Schutz. “We had to throw up. Even though we hadn’t eaten for days, we vomited.”

Already murderous after years of anti-German propaganda in the Jewish media and Hollywood, when US forces entered the various concentration camps and discovered huge piles of naked and emaciated corpses, their rage became uncontrollable. As Gen. Eisenhower, along with his lieutenants, Patton and Bradley, toured the prison camp at Ohrdruf Nord, they were sickened by what they saw. In shallow graves or lying haphazardly in the streets were thousands of skeleton-like remains of German and Jewish prisoners, as well as gypsies, communists, and convicts.

“I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place,” ordered Eisenhower. “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”

“In one camp we paraded the townspeople through, to let them have a look,” a staff officer with Patton said. “The mayor and his wife went home and slashed their wrists.”

“Well, that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard,” growled Eisenhower, who immediately wired Washington and London, urging government and media representatives to come quickly and witness the horror for themselves.

Given the circumstances, the fate of those Germans living near this and other concentration camps was as tragic as it was perhaps predictable. After compelling the people to view the bodies, American and British officers forced men, women and children to dig up with their hands the rotting remains and haul them to burial pits. Wrote a witness at one camp:

[A]ll day long, always running, men and women alike, from the death pile to the death pit, with the stringy remains of their victims over their shoulders. When one of them dropped to the ground with exhaustion, he was beaten with a rifle butt. When another stopped for a break, she was kicked until she ran again, or prodded with a bayonet, to the accompaniment of lewd shouts and laughs. When one tried to escape or disobeyed an order, he was shot.

For those forced to handle the rotting corpses, death by disease often followed soon after.

Few victors, from Eisenhower down, seemed to notice, and fewer seemed to care, that conditions similar to the camps existed throughout much of Germany. Because of the almost total paralysis of the Reich’s roads and rails caused by around-the-clock air attacks, supplies of food, fuel, clothes, and medicine had thinned to a trickle in German towns and cities and dried up almost entirely at the concentration camps.  As a consequence, thousands of camp inmates swiftly succumbed in the final weeks of the war to typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis, starvation, and neglect. When pressed by a friend if there had indeed been a deliberate policy of starvation, one of the few guards lucky enough to escape another camp protested:

“It wasn’t like that, believe me; it wasn’t like that! I’m maybe the only survivor who can witness to how it really was, but who would believe me!”

“Is it all a lie?”

Yes and no,” he said. “I can only say what I know about our camp. The final weeks were horrible. No more rations came, no more medical supplies. The people got ill, they lost weight, and it kept getting more and more difficult to keep order. Even our own people lost their nerve in this extreme situation. But do you think we would have held out until the end to hand the camp over in an orderly fashion if we had been these murderers?”

As American forces swept through Bavaria toward Munich in late April, most German guards at the concentration camp near Dachau fled. To maintain order and arrange an orderly transfer of the 32,000 prisoners to the Allies, and despite signs at the gate warning, NO ENTRANCE—TYPHUS EPIDEMIC, several hundred German soldiers were ordered to the prison.

When American units under Lt. Col. Felix Sparks liberated Dachau the following day, the GIs were horrified by what they saw. Outside the prison were rail cars brim full with diseased and starved corpses. Inside the camp, Sparks found “a room piled high with naked and emaciated corpses. As I turned to look over the prison yard with unbelieving eyes, I saw a large number of dead inmates lying where they had fallen in the last few hours or days before our arrival. Since all the many bodies were in various stages of decomposition, the stench of death was overpowering.”

Unhinged by the nightmare surrounding him, Sparks turned his equally enraged troops loose on the hapless German soldiers. While one group of over three hundred were led away to an enclosure, other disarmed soldiers were murdered in the guard towers, the barracks, or chased through the streets. US Army chaplain, Captain Leland Loy:

[A] German guard came running toward us. We grabbed him and were standing there talking to him when . . . [a GI] came up with a tommy-gun. He grabbed the prisoner, whirled him around and said, “There you are you son-of-a-bitch!!” The man was only about three feet from us, but the soldier cut him down with his sub-machine gun. I shouted at him, “what did you do that for, he was a prisoner?” He looked at me and screamed “Gotta kill em, gotta kill em.” When I saw the look in his eyes and the machine gun waving in the air, I said to my men, “Let him go.”

“[T]he men were deliberately wounding guards,” recalled one US soldier. “A lot of guards were shot in the legs so they couldn’t move. They were then turned over to the inmates. One was beheaded with a bayonet. Others were ripped apart limb by limb.”

While the tortures were in progress, Lt. Jack Bushyhead forced nearly 350 prisoners up against a wall, planted two machine-guns, then ordered his men to open fire. Those still alive when the fusillade ended were forced to stand amid the carnage while the machine-gunners reloaded. A short time later, army surgeon Howard Buechner happened on the scene:

Lt. Bushyhead was standing on the flat roof of a low building…. Beside him one or more soldiers manned a .30 caliber machine gun. Opposite this building was a long, high cement and brick wall. At the base of the wall lay row on row of German soldiers, some dead, some dying, some possibly feigning death. Three or four inmates of the camp, dressed in striped clothing, each with a .45 caliber pistol in hand, were walking along the line. . . . As they passed down the line, they systematically fired a round into the head of each one.

“At the far end of the line of dead or dying soldiers,” Buechner continued, “a small miracle was taking place.”

The inmates who were delivering the coup de grace had not yet reached this point and a few guards who were still alive were being placed on litters by German medics. Under the direction of a German doctor, the litter bearers were carrying these few soldiers into a nearby hospital for treatment.

   I approached this officer and attempted to offer my help. Perhaps he did not realize that I was a doctor since I did not wear red cross insignia. He obviously could not understand my words and probably thought that I wanted him to give up his patients for execution. In any event, he waved me away with his hand and said “Nein,” “Nein,” “Nein.”

Despite his heroics and the placing of his own life in mortal danger, the doctor’s efforts were for naught. The wounded men were soon seized and murdered, as was every other German in the camp.

“We shot everything that moved,” one GI bragged.

“We got all the bastards,” gloated another.

In all, over five hundred helpless German soldiers were slaughtered in cold blood. As a final touch, Lt. Col. Sparks forced the citizens of Dachau to bury the thousands of corpses in the camp, thereby assuring the death of many from disease.

The Dachau Massacre (Public Domain)

The Dachau Massacre

Though perhaps the worst, the incident at Dachau was merely one of many massacres committed by US troops. Unaware of the deep hatred the Allies harbored for them, when proud SS units surrendered they naively assumed that they would be respected as the unsurpassed fighters that they undoubtedly were. Lt. Hans Woltersdorf was recovering in a German military hospital when US forces arrived.

Those who were able stood at the window, and told those of us who were lying down what was going on. A motorcycle with sidecar, carrying an officer and two men from the Waffen-SS, had arrived. They surrendered their weapons and the vehicle. The two men were allowed to continue on foot, but the officer was led away by the Americans. They accompanied him part of the way, just fifty meters on. Then a salvo from submachine guns was heard. The three Americans returned, alone.

“Did you see that? They shot the lieutenant! Did you see that? They’re shooting all the Waffen-SS officers!” That had to be a mistake! Why? Why?

Our comrades from the Wehrmacht didn’t stand around thinking for long. They went down to the hospital’s administrative quarters, destroyed all files that showed that we belonged to the Waffen-SS, started new medical sheets for us with Wehrmacht ranks, got us Wehrmacht uniforms, and assigned us to new Wehrmacht units.

Such stratagems seldom succeeded, however, since SS soldiers had their blood-type tattooed under the left arm.

“Again and again,” continues Woltersdorf, “Americans invaded the place and gathered up groups of people who had to strip to the waist and raise their left arm. Then we saw some of them being shoved on to trucks with rifle butts.”

When French forces under Jacques-Philippe Leclerc captured a dozen French SS near Karlstein, the general sarcastically asked one of the prisoners why he was wearing a German uniform.

“You look very smart in your American uniform, General,” replied the boy.

In a rage, Leclerc ordered the twelve captives shot.

“All refused to have their eyes bandaged,” a priest on the scene noted, “and all bravely fell crying “Vive la France!”

Although SS troops were routinely slaughtered upon surrender, anyone wearing a German uniform was considered lucky if they were merely slapped, kicked, then marched to the rear. “Before they could be properly put in jail,” wrote a witness when a group of little boys were marched past, “American GIs . . . fell on them and beat them bloody, just because they had German uniforms.”

After relatively benign treatment by the British, Guy Sajer and other Landsers were transferred to the Americans. They were, said Sajer, “tall men with plump, rosy cheeks, who behaved like hooligans.”

Their bearing was casual…. Their uniforms were made of soft cloth, like golfing clothes, and they moved their jaws continuously, like ruminating animals. They seemed neither happy nor unhappy, but indifferent to their victory, like men who are performing their duties in a state of partial consent, without any real enthusiasm for them. From our filthy, mangy ranks, we watched them with curiosity…. They seemed rich in everything but joy….

The Americans also humiliated us as much as they could…. They put us in a camp with only a few large tents, which could shelter barely a tenth of us…. In the center of the camp, the Americans ripped open several large cases filled with canned food. They spread the cans onto the ground with a few kicks, and walked away. . . . The food was so delicious that we forgot about the driving rain, which had turned the ground into a sponge….

From their shelters, the Americans watched us and talked about us. They probably despised us for flinging ourselves so readily into such elementary concerns, and thought us cowards for accepting the circumstances of captivity. . . . We were not in the least like the German troops in the documentaries our charming captors had probably been shown before leaving their homeland. We provided them with no reasons for anger; we were not the arrogant, irascible Boches, but simply underfed men standing in the rain, ready to eat unseasoned canned food; living dead, with anxiety stamped on our faces, leaning against any support, half asleep on our feet; sick and wounded, who didn’t ask for treatment, but seemed content simply to sleep for long hours, undisturbed. It was clearly depressing for these crusading missionaries to find so much humility among the vanquished.

***

While the occupation of Germany was in progress during the spring of 1945, a horror unimaginable was transpiring in Czechoslovakia. On May 5, when rumors swept through Prague that US forces were only seven miles away, the citizens of the Czech capital rose up against the Nazi occupation. Before the day was out most of the German garrison had been isolated and surrounded.

Meanwhile, the roundup of prisoners, including many refugees, began. Years of pent hatred for the German minority in their midst now had a free hand among the population. Wrote Juergen Thorwald:

Crowds of Czechs awaited the transports of German prisoners in the streets to pelt them with stones, spit into their faces, and beat them with any object that came to hand. German women, children, and men ran the gauntlet, with arms over their heads, to reach the prison gates under a hail of blows and kicks. Women of every age were dragged from the groups, their heads were shaved, their faces smeared with paint, and swastikas were drawn on their bared backs and breasts. Many were violated, others forced to open their mouth to the spittle of their torturers.

On May 9, with the fighting ended, the mob turned its attention to the thousands of Germans locked in prisons.   “Several trucks loaded with German wounded and medical personnel drove into the [prison] court,” Thorwald continues. “The wounded, the nurses, the doctors had just climbed from their vehicles when suddenly a band of insurgents appeared from the street and pounced upon them. They tore away their crutches, canes, and bandages, knocked them to the ground, and with clubs, poles, and hammers hit them until the Germans lay still.”

“So began a day as evil as any known to history,” muttered Thorwald.

In the street, crowds were waiting for those who were marched out of their prisons…. [T]hey had come equipped with everything their aroused passions might desire, from hot pitch to garden shears…. They … grabbed Germans—and not only SS men—drenched them with gasoline, strung them up with their feet upper-most, set them on fire, and watched their agony, prolonged by the fact that in their position the rising heat and smoke did not suffocate them. They … tied German men and women together with barbed wire, shot into the bundles, and rolled them down into the Moldau River…. They beat every German until he lay still on the ground, forced naked women to remove the barricades, cut the tendons of their heels, and laughed at their writhing. Others they kicked to death. 

“At the corner opening onto Wasser Street,” said Czech, Ludek Pachmann, “hung three naked corpses, mutilated beyond recognition, their teeth entirely knocked out, their mouths nothing but bloody holes. Others had to drag their dead fellow-Germans into Stefans Street…. ‘Those are your brothers, kiss them!’ And so the still-living Germans, lips pressed tightly together, had to kiss their dead.”

As he tried to escape the city, Gert Rainer, a German soldier disguised as a priest, saw sights that seemed straight from hell:

[A] sobbing young woman was kneeling, showering kisses on a child in her arms. . . . The child’s eyes had been gouged out, and a knife still protruded from his abdomen. The woman’s torn clothing and disheveled hair indicated that she had fought like a fury. Lost in her sorrow, she had not noticed the approaching stranger. He bent down to her and put her in mind that she had better not stay here. She was in danger of being shot herself.

“But that’s what I want!” she suddenly cried. “I don’t want to go on living without my little Peter!”

 In their sadistic ecstasy, people turned public mass murder into a folk festival. … Five young women had been tied to an advertising pillar, the rope wrapped about them several times. Their seven children had been packed into a gutter of sorts at their feet…. [A] Czech woman, perhaps 50 years of age, was pouring gasoline over the tied-up mothers. Others were spitting in their faces, slapping them and tearing whole fistfuls of hair. Then the oldest of them, laughing frenetically, lit a newspaper and ran around the pillar holding the burning paper to the gasoline-soaked victims. Like a flash, the pillar and the five others disappeared in flames several meters high…. The spectators had not noticed that one of the burning Germans had torn through the charring rope and thrown herself into the flames that licked up through the grating. With strength borne of a courage beyond death, she lifted out the grating and, lying on her stomach, tried to reach down into the tangle of blazing children. Lifeless, she lay in the flames.

In the meantime, the other four women, on fire from their feet to their hair, had slumped down as the common support of the rope was gone. That was the cue for their murderers to begin dancing around the pillar, cheering and rejoicing. The howling of the butchers grew even louder.

On Wenzels Square there was not one lamp-post without a German soldier strung up from it. The majority of them had been war-injured. . . . A crowd literally jumping for joy surrounded an arena-like clearing, in the center of which two men held a stark-naked young German woman. Each of her breasts had been pierced with a large safety-pin, from which Iron Crosses were hung. A rod bearing a swastika flag at one end had been stabbed through her navel…. A naked German lay motionless beside her trampled child. She had been beaten to death. A gaping head wound revealed her brain, oozing out.

Several men had been dragged down from a Wehrmacht truck. Their hands were tied, the other end of the rope fastened to the hitch beneath the back end of the truck…. A young Czech climbed into the driver’s seat. When the truck started, the spectators fell into a frenzy of hatred…. The five captives were pulled along by ropes some 60 feet long. As yet they could keep up with the truck. But the more the driver picked up speed, the more it became impossible for them to keep on their feet. One after the other fell, jerked forward, and was dragged along at ever-increasing speed. After but a few rounds, the Germans were mangled beyond recognition. One single lump of blood, flesh and dirt comprised the pitiful haul of this chariot of bestiality.

At the huge sports stadium, thousands of Germans were herded onto the field to provide amusement for a laughing, howling audience. “Before our very eyes . . . [they] were tortured to death in every conceivable way,” remembered Josefine Waimann. “Most deeply branded on my memory is the pregnant woman whose belly . . . uniformed Czechs slashed open, ripped out the fetus and then, howling with glee, stuffed a dachshund into the torn womb of the woman, who was screaming dreadfully…. The slaughter happening in the arena before our very eyes was like that in ancient Rome.”

The horror born at Prague soon spread to the rest of Czechoslovakia, particularly the Sudentland, where Germans had lived for over seven centuries.

“Take everything from the Germans,” demanded Czech president, Edvard Benes, “leave them only a handkerchief to sob into!”

“You may kill Germans, it’s no sin,” cried a priest to a village mob. At Bilna, wrote a chronicler . . .

men and women were rounded up in the market square, had to strip naked and were made to walk single-file while being beaten by the population with whips and canes. Then . . . the men had to crawl on all fours, like dogs, one behind the other, during which they were beaten until they lost control of their bowels; each had to lick the excrement off the one in front of him. This torture continued until many of them had been beaten to death. . . . What was done to the women there simply cannot be described, the sadistic monstrousness of it is simply too great for words.

“When I passed through Czechoslovakia after the collapse,” one German soldier recalled, “I saw severed human heads lining window sills, and in one butcher’s shop naked corpses were hanging from the meat hooks.”

When the fury had finally spent itself in Czechoslovakia, over 200,000 people had been butchered. Similar purges of German minorities occurred in Rumania, Hungary and Yugoslavia where men, women and children, by the hundreds of thousands, were massacred in cold blood. The slaughter throughout Europe was not confined to ethnic Germans alone. Following the Allied occupation of France, over 100,000 French citizens were murdered by their countrymen because of collaboration with the Germans or anti-communist activities. Similar, though smaller, and less bestial, reckonings took place in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Norway.

***

“It just wasn’t human,” an American GI said simply of the forced repatriation to the Soviet Union of millions of anti-Communist Russians and Ukrainians after the war.

Well aware that some grim details from “Operation Keelhaul” were bound to surface, Allied leaders were quick to squash rumors and reassure the public. “[T]he United States Government has taken a firm stand against any forced repatriation and will continue to maintain this position… ,” solemnly assuaged a spokesman for the War Department long after most of the Russian returnees had been slaughtered or enslaved in Stalin’s USSR. “There is no intention that any refugee be returned home against his will.”

To do otherwise, General Eisenhower later chimed, “would … violate the fundamental humanitarian principles we espoused.”

Even as he was soothing public concern over Russian repatriation, Eisenhower’s “humanitarian principles” were hard at work in the numerous American death camps.

***

“God, I hate the Germans,” the Supreme Allied Commander had written his wife in 1944. As Mrs. Eisenhower and anyone else close to the general knew, Dwight David Eisenhower’s loathing of all things German was nothing short of pathological.

DwightD.Eisenhower(LibraryofCongress)BESTGOODWith the final capitulation on May 8, the allied chief found himself in control of over five million ragged, weary, but living, enemy soldiers. “It is a pity we could not have killed more,” muttered the general, dissatisfied with the body-count of the greatest blood-bath in human history. And so, Eisenhower (right) settled for next best: If he could not kill armed Germans in war, he would kill disarmed Germans in peace. Because the Geneva Convention guaranteed POWs of signer nations the same food, shelter and medical attention as their captors, and because these laws were to be enforced by the International Red Cross, the American leader simply circumvented the treaty by creating his own category for prisoners. Under the general’s reclassification, German soldiers were no longer considered POWs, but DEFs— Disarmed Enemy Forces. With this sleight-of-hand, and in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, Eisenhower could now deal in secret with those in his power, free from the prying eyes of the outside world.

Even before war’s end, thousands of German POWs had died in American captivity from starvation, neglect or, in many cases, out-right murder. Wrote a survivor from one camp in April 1945:

Each group of ten was given the outdoor space of a medium-sized living room. We had to live like this for three months, no roof over our heads. Even the badly wounded only got a bundle of straw. And it rained on the Rhine for days. And we were always in the open. People died like flies. Then we got our first rations…. [W]e got one slice of bread for ten men. Each man got a tiny strip of that one slice. . . . And this went on for three long months. I only weighed 90 pounds. The dead were carried out every day. Then a voice would come over the loudspeaker: “German soldiers, eat slowly. You haven’t had anything to eat in a long time. When you get your rations today from the best fed army in the world, you’ll die if you don’t eat slowly.”

When two members of the US Army Medical Corp stumbled upon one of Eisenhower’s death camps, they were horrified by what they saw:

Huddled close together for warmth, behind the barbed wire was a most awesome sight—nearly 100,000 haggard, apathetic, dirty, gaunt, blank-staring men clad in dirty field gray uniforms, and standing ankle-deep in mud. . . . The German Division Commander reported that the men had not eaten for at least two days, and the provision of water was a major problem—yet only 200 yards away was the River Rhine running bank full.

With German surrender and the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs entirely erased, deaths in the American camps accelerated dramatically. While tens of thousands died of starvation and thirst, hundreds of thousands more perished from overcrowding and disease. Said sixteen-year-old Hugo Stehkamper:

I only had a sweater to protect me from the pouring rain and the cold. There just wasn’t any shelter to be had. You stood there, wet through and through, in fields that couldn’t be called fields anymore—they were ruined. You had to make an effort when you walked to even pull your shoes out of the mud. . . .

[I]ts incomprehensible to me how we could stand for many, many days without sitting, without lying down, just standing there, totally soaked. During the day we marched around, huddled together to try to warm each other a bit. At night we stood because we couldn’t walk and tried to keep awake by singing or humming songs. Again and again someone got so tired his knees got weak and he collapsed.

Added a starving comrade from a camp near Remagen:

The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole…. Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain….

We had to walk along between the holes of the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men….I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”

Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camps were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.

“The Americans were really shitty to us,” a survivor at another camp recalled. “All we had to eat was grass.”

camps_1_en_0

 American Death Camp

At Hans Woltersdorf ’s prison, the inmates survived on a daily soup made of birdseed. NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, read the words on the sacks. At another camp, a weeping seventeen-year-old stood day-in, day-out beside the barbed wire fence. In the distance, the youth could just view his own village. One morning, inmates awoke to find the boy dead, his body strung up by guards and left dangling on the wires. When outraged prisoners cried “Murderers! Murderers!” the camp commander withheld their meager rations for three days. “For us who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness . . . it meant death,” said one of the men.

“Civilians from nearby villages and towns were prevented at gun-point from passing food through the fence to prisoners,” revealed another German from his camp near Ludwigshafen.

There was no lack of food or shelter among the victorious Allies. Indeed, American supply depots were bursting at the seams. “More stocks than we can ever use,” one general announced. “[They] stretch as far as [the] eye can see.” Instead of allowing even a trickle of this bounty to reach the compounds, the starvation diet was further reduced.

“Outside the camp the Americans were burning food which they could not eat themselves,” said a starving Werner Laska from his prison.

Horrified by the silent, secret massacre, the international Red Cross—which had over 100,000 tons of food stored in Switzerland—tried to intercede. When two trains loaded with supplies reached the camps, however, they were turned back by American officers.

“These Nazis are getting a dose of their own medicine,” a prison commandant reported proudly to one of Eisenhower’s “political” advisors.

“German soldiers were not common law convicts,” protested a Red Cross official, “they were drafted to fight in a national army on patriotic grounds and could not refuse military service any more than the Americans could.”

Like this individual, many others found no justification whatsoever in the massacre of helpless prisoners, especially since the German government had lived up to the Geneva Convention, as one American put it, “to a tee.”

“I have come up against few instances where Germans have not treated prisoners according to the rules, and respected the Red Cross,” wrote war correspondent Allan Wood of the London Express.

“The Germans even in their greatest moments of despair obeyed the Convention in most respects,” a US officer added. “True it is that there were front line atrocities—passions run high up there—but they were incidents, not practices; and maladministration of their American prison camps was very uncommon.”

Nevertheless, despite the Red Cross report that ninety-nine percent of American prisoners of war in Germany had survived and were on their way home, Eisenhower’s murderous program continued apace. One officer who refused to have a hand in the crime and who began releasing large numbers of prisoners soon after they were disarmed was George Patton. Explained the general:

I emphasized [to the troops] the necessity for the proper treatment of prisoners of war, both as to their lives and property. My usual statement was . . . “Kill all the Germans you can but do not put them up against a wall and kill them. Do your killing while they are still fighting. After a man has surrendered, he should be treated exactly in accordance with the Rules of Land Warfare, and just as you would hope to be treated if you were foolish enough to surrender. Americans do not kick people in the teeth after they are down.”

Although other upright generals such as Omar Bradley and J. C. H. Lee issued orders to release POWs, Eisenhower quickly overruled them. Mercifully, for the two million Germans under British control, Bernard Montgomery refused to participate in the massacre. Indeed, soon after war’s end, the field marshal released and sent home most of his prisoners.

After being shuttled from one enclosure to the next, Corporal Helmut Liebich had seen for himself all the horrors the American death camps had to give. At one compound, amused guards formed lines and beat starving prisoners with clubs and sticks as they ran the gauntlet for their paltry rations. At another camp of 5,200 men, Liebich watched as ten to thirty bodies were hauled away every day. At yet another prison, there were “35 days of starvation and 15 days of no food at all,” and what little the wretched inmates did receive was rotten. Finally, in June 1945, Liebich’s camp at Rheinberg passed to British control. Immediately, survivors were given food and shelter and for those like Liebich—who now weighed 97 pounds and was dying of dysentery—swift medical attention was provided.

“It was wonderful to be under a roof in a real bed,” the corporal reminisced. “We were treated like human beings again. The Tommies treated us like comrades.”

Before the British could take complete control of the camp, however, Liebich noted that American bulldozers leveled one section of the compound where skeletal—but breathing—men still lay in their holes.

If possible, Germans in French hands suffered even more than those held by Americans. When France requested slaves as part of its war booty, Eisenhower transferred over 600,000 Germans east.

“Gee! I hope we don’t ever lose a war,” muttered one GI as he stared at the broken, starving wrecks being selected for slavery.

“When we marched through Namur in a column seven abreast, there was also a Catholic procession going through the street,” remembered one slave as he moved through Belgium. “When the people saw the POWs, the procession dissolved, and they threw rocks and horse shit at us. From Namur, we went by train in open railroad cars. At one point we went under a bridge, and railroad ties were thrown from it into the cars filled with POWs, causing several deaths. Later we went under another overpass, and women lifted their skirts and relieved themselves on us.”

Once in France, the assaults intensified. “[W]e were cursed, spat upon and even physically attacked by the French population, especially the women,” Hans von der Heide wrote. “I bitterly recalled scenes from the spring of 1943, when we marched American POWs through the streets of Paris. They were threatened and insulted no differently by the French mob.”

Like the Americans, the French starved their prisoners. Unlike the Americans, the French drained the last ounce of labor from their victims before they dropped dead. “I have seen them beaten with rifle butts and kicked with feet in the streets of the town because they broke down of overwork,” remarked a witness from Langres. “Two or three of them die of exhaustion every week.”

“In another camp,” a horrified viewer added, “prisoners receive only one meal a day but are expected to continue working. Elsewhere so many have died recently that the cemetery space was exhausted and another had to be built.”

Revealed the French journal, Figaro: “In certain camps for German prisoners of war … living skeletons may be seen . . . and deaths from undernourishment are numerous. We learn that prisoners have been savagely and systematically beaten and that some have been employed in removing mines without protection equipment so that they have been condemned to die sooner or later.”

“Twenty-five percent of the men in [our] camp died in one month,” echoed a slave from Buglose.

The enslavement of German soldiers was not limited to France. Although fed and treated infinitely better, several hundred thousand POWs in Great Britain were transformed into virtual slaves. Wrote historian Ralph Franklin Keeling at the time:

The British Government nets over $250,000,000 annually from its slaves. The Government, which frankly calls itself the “owner” of the prisoners, hires the men out to any employer needing men, charging the going rates of pay for such work—usually $15 to $20 per week. It pays the slaves from 10 cents to 20 cents a day … plus such “amenities” as slaves customarily received in the former days of slavery in the form of clothing, food, and shelter.

When prisoners were put to work raising projects for Britain’s grand “Victory in Europe” celebration, one English foreman felt compelled to quip: “I guess the Jerries are preparing to celebrate their own down-fall. It does seem as though that is laying it on a bit thick.”

In vain did the International Red Cross protest:

The United States, Britain, and France … are violating International Red Cross agreements they solemnly signed in 1929. Investigation at Geneva headquarters today disclosed that the transfer of German war prisoners captured by the American army to French and British authorities for forced labor is nowhere permitted in the statues of the International Red Cross, which is the highest authority on the subject in the world.

***

Meanwhile, those Germans not consigned to bondage continued to perish in American prisons. Landsers who did not succumb to hunger or disease often died of thirst, even though streams sometimes ran just a few feet from the camps. “[T]he lack of water was the worst thing of all,” remembered George Weiss of his enclosure where the Rhine flowed just beyond the barbed wire. “For three and a half days we had no water at all. We would drink our own urine. It tasted terrible, but what could we do? Some men got down on the ground and licked the ground to get some moisture. I was so weak I was already on my knees.”

“[O]thers,” observed American guard, Martin Brech, “tried to escape in a demented or suicidal fashion, running through open fields in broad daylight towards the Rhine to quench their thirst. They were mowed down.”

As if their plight were not already hideous enough, prisoners occasionally became the targets of drunken and sadistic guards who sprayed the camps with machine-gun fire for sport. “I think . . ,” Private Brech continued, “[that] soldiers not exposed to combat were trying to prove how tough they were by taking it out on the prisoners and civilians.”

I encountered a captain on a hill above the Rhine shooting down at a group of German civilian women with his .45 caliber pistol. When I asked, “Why?” he mumbled, “Target practice,” and fired until his pistol was empty…. This is when I realized I was dealing with cold-blooded killers filled with moralistic hatred.

While continuing to deny the Red Cross and other relief agencies access to the camps, Eisenhower stressed among his lieutenants the need for secrecy. “Ike made the sensational statement that … now that hostilities were over, the important thing was to stay in with world public opinion—apparently whether it was right or wrong . . . ,” recorded George Patton. “After lunch [he] talked to us very confidentially on the necessity for solidarity in the event that any of us are called before a Congressional Committee.”

To prevent the gruesome details from reaching the outside world— and sidetrack those that did—counter-rumors were circulated stating that, far from mistreating and murdering prisoners, US camp commanders were actually turning back released Germans who tried to slip back in for food and shelter.

Ultimately, at least 800,000 German prisoners died in the American and French death camps. “Quite probably,” one expert later wrote, the figure of one million is closer to the mark. And thus, in “peace,” did ten times the number of Landsers die than were killed on the whole Western Front during the whole of the war.

***

Unlike their democratic counterparts, the Soviet Union made little effort to hide from the world the fate of German prisoners in its hands. Toiling by the hundreds of thousands in the forests and mines of Siberia, the captives were slaves pure and simple and no attempt was made to disguise the fact. For the enslaved Germans, male and female, the odds of surviving the Soviet gulags were even worse than escaping the American or French death camps and a trip to Siberia was tantamount to a death sentence. What little food the slaves received was intended merely to maintain their strength so that the last drop of energy could be drained from them.

And so, with the once mighty Wehrmacht now disarmed and enslaved, and with their leaders either dead or awaiting trial for so-called “war crimes,” the old men, women and children who remained in the dismembered Reich found themselves utterly at the mercy of the victors. Unfortunately for these survivors, never in the history of the world was mercy in shorter supply.

***

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe, the purge of Nazi Party members from government, business, industry, science, education, and all other walks of German life commenced. While a surprising number of Nazis were allowed—even compelled—to man their posts temporarily to enable a smooth transition, all party members, high and low, were sooner or later excised from German daily life. In theory, “de-Nazification” was a simple transplanting of Nazi officials with those of democratic, socialist or communist underpinnings. In practice, the purge became little more than a cloak for an orgy of rape, torture and death.

BeFunky_waffen-SS-soldiers-brutalised-american-allied-soldiers-ww2-001.jpg 

De-Nazification

Because their knowledge of the language and culture was superb, most of the intelligence officers accompanying US and British forces into the Reich were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in the late 1930s. Although their American and English “aides” were hardly better, the fact that many of these “39ers” became interrogators, examiners and screeners, with old scores to settle, insured that Nazis— or any German, for that matter—would be shown no mercy.

One man opposed to the vengeance-minded program was George Patton. “Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and [Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working … ,” wrote the general in private. “I am frankly opposed to this war-criminal stuff. It is not cricket and it is Semitic….I can’t see how Americans can sink so low.”

Soon after occupation, all adult Germans were compelled to register at the nearest Allied headquarters and complete a lengthy questionnaire on their past activities. While many nervous citizens were detained then and there, most returned home, convinced that at long last the terrible ordeal was over. For millions, however, the trial had but begun.

“Then it started,” remembered Anna Fest, a woman who had registered with the Americans six weeks earlier.

Such a feeling of helplessness, when three or four heavily armed military police stand in front of you. You just panic. I cried terribly. My mother was completely beside herself and said, “You can’t do this. She registered just as she was supposed to.” Then she said, “If only you’d gone somewhere else and had hidden.” But I consider that senseless, because I did not feel guilty. . . . That was the way it went with everyone, with no reason given.

Few German adults, Nazi or not, escaped the dreaded knock on the door. Far from being dangerous fascists, Freddy and Lali Horstmann were actually well-known anti-Nazis. Records Lali from the Russian Zone:

I am sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I am simply carrying out my orders. Until when did you work for the Foreign Office?”

Till 1933,” my husband answered.

Then you need fear nothing,” Androff said…. “We accuse you of nothing, but we want you to accompany us to the headquarters of the NKVD, the secret police, so that we can take down what you said in a protocol, and ask you a few questions about the working of the Foreign Office… .”

We were stunned for a moment; then I started forward, asking if I could come along with them. “Impossible,” the interpreter smiled. My heart raced. Would Freddy answer satisfactorily? Could he stand the excitement? What sort of accommodation would they give him?

“Dont worry, your husband has nothing to fear,” Androff continued. “He will have a heated room. Give him a blanket for the night, but quickly, we must leave. .. .”

There was a feeling of sharp tension, putting the soldier on his guard, as though he were expecting an attack from one of us. I took first the soldier, then the interpreter, by their hands and begged them to be kind to Freddy, repeating myself in the bustle and scraping of feet that drowned my words. There was a banging of doors. A cold wind blew in. I felt Freddy kiss me. I never saw him again.

“[W]e were wakened by the sound of tires screeching, engines stopping abruptly, orders yelled, general din, and a hammering on the window shutters. Then the intruders broke through the door, and we saw Americans with rifles who stood in front of our bed and shone lights at us. None of them spoke German, but their gestures said: ‘Get dressed, come with us immediately.’ This was my fourth arrest.”

a_riefenstahlSo wrote Leni Riefenstahl (left), a talented young woman who was perhaps the world’s greatest film-maker. Because her epic documentaries— Triumph of the Will and Olympia—seemed paeans to not only Germany, but National Socialism, and because of her close relationship with an admiring Adolf Hitler, Leni was of more than passing interest to the Allies. Though false, rumors also hinted that the attractive, sometimes-actress was also a “mistress of the devil”—that she and Hitler were lovers.

“Neither my husband nor my mother nor any of my three assistants had ever joined the Nazi Party, nor had any of us been politically active,” said the confused young woman. “No charges had ever been filed against us, yet we were at the mercy of the [Allies] and had no legal protection of any kind.”

Soon after Leni’s fourth arrest, came a fifth.

The jeep raced along the autobahns until, a few hours later …I was brought to the Salzburg Prison; there an elderly prison matron rudely pushed me into the cell, kicking me so hard that I fell to the ground; then the door was locked. There were two other women in the dark, barren room, and one of them, on her knees, slid about the floor, jabbering confusedly; then she began to scream, her limbs writhing hysterically. She seemed to have lost her mind. The other woman crouched on her bunk, weeping to herself.

As Leni and others quickly discovered, the “softening up” process began soon after arrival at an Allied prison. When Ernst von Salomon, his Jewish girl friend and fellow prisoners reached an American holding pen near Munich, the men were promptly led into a room and brutally beaten by military police. With his teeth knocked out and blood spurting from his mouth, von Salomon moaned to a gum-chewing officer, “You are no gentlemen.” The remark brought only a roar of laughter from the attackers. “No, no, no!” the GIs grinned. “We are Mississippi boys!” In another room, military policemen raped the women at will while leering soldiers watched from windows.

After such savage treatment, the feelings of despair only intensified once the captives were crammed into cells.

“The people had been standing there for three days, waiting to be interrogated,” remembered a German physician ordered to treat prisoners in the Soviet Zone. “At the sight of us a pandemonium broke out which left me helpless…. As far as I could gather, the usual senseless questions were being reiterated: Why were they there, and for how long? They had no water and hardly anything to eat. They wanted to be let out more often than once a day…. A great many of them have dysentery so badly that they can no longer get up.”

“Young Poles made fun of us,” said a woman from her cell in the same zone. “[They] threw bricks through the windows, paperbags with sand, and skins of hares filled with excrement. We did not dare to move or offer resistance, but huddled together in the farthest corner, in order not to be hit, which could not always be avoided. . . . [W]e were never free from torments.”

“For hours on end I rolled about on my bed, trying to forget my surroundings,” recalled Leni Riefenstahl, “but it was impossible.”

The mentally disturbed woman kept screaming—all through the night; but even worse were the yells and shrieks of men from the courtyard, men who were being beaten, screaming like animals. I subsequently found out that a company of SS men was being interrogated.

They came for me the next morning, and I was taken to a padded cell where I had to strip naked, and a woman examined every square inch of my body. Then I had to get dressed and go down to the courtyard, where many men were standing, apparently prisoners, and I was the only woman. We had to line up before an American guard who spoke German. The prisoners stood to attention, so I tried to do the same, and then an American came who spoke fluent German. He pushed a few people together, then halted at the first in our line.

Were you in the Party?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, then said: Yes.”     He was slugged in the face and spat blood.

The American went on to the next in line. 

Were you in the Party?”

The man hesitated.

“Yes or no?”

Yes.”

And he too got punched so hard in the face that the blood ran out of his mouth. However, like the first man, he didn’t dare resist. They didn’t even instinctively raise their hands to protect themselves. They did nothing. They put up with the blows like dogs.

The next man was asked: “Were you in the Party?”

Silence.

Well?”

No, he yelled, so no punch. From then on nobody admitted that he had been in the Party and I was not even asked.

As the above case illustrated, there often was no rhyme or reason to the examinations; all seemed designed to force from the victim what the inquisitor wanted to hear, whether true or false. Additionally, most such “interrogations” were structured to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. Explained one prisoner:

The purpose of these interrogations is not to worm out of the people what they knew—which would be uninteresting anyway—but to extort from them special statements. The methods resorted to are extremely primitive; people are beaten up until they confess to having been members of the Nazi Party…. The authorities simply assume that, basically, everybody has belonged to the Party. Many people die during and after these interrogations, while others, who admit at once their party membership, are treated more leniently.

“A young commissar, who was a great hater of the Germans, cross-examined me… ,” said Gertrude Schulz. “When he put the question: ‘Frauenwerk [Women’s Labor Service]?’ I answered in the negative. Thereupon he became so enraged, that he beat me with a stick, until I was black and blue. I received about 15 blows … on my left upper arm, on my back and on my thigh. I collapsed and, as in the case of the first cross-examination, I had to sign the questionnaire.”

AmericanTorturePen(PublicDomain)BEST

American Torture Pen

“Both officers who took our testimony were former German Jews,” reminisced a member of the women’s SS, Anna Fest. While vicious dogs snarled nearby, one of the officers screamed questions and accusations at Anna. If the answers were not those desired, “he kicked me in the back and the other hit me.”

They kept saying we must have been armed, have had pistols or so. But we had no weapons, none of us….I had no pistol. I couldn’t say, just so they’d leave me in peace, yes, we had pistols. The same thing would happen to the next person to testify…. [T]he terrible thing was, the German men had to watch. That was a horrible, horrible experience…. That must have been terrible for them. When I went outside, several of them stood there with tears running down their cheeks. What could they have done? They could do nothing.

Not surprisingly, with beatings, rape, torture, and death facing them, few victims failed to “confess” and most gladly inked their name to any scrap of paper shown them. Some, like Anna, tried to resist. Such recalcitrance was almost always of short duration, however. Generally, after enduring blackened eyes, broken bones, electric shock to breasts—or, in the case of men, smashed testicles—only those who died during torture failed to sign confessions.

Alone, surrounded by sadistic hate, utterly bereft of law, many victims understandably escaped by taking their own lives. Like tiny islands in a vast sea of evil, however, miracles did occur. As he limped painfully back to his prison cell, one Wehrmacht officer reflected on the insults, beatings, and tortures he had endured and contemplated suicide.

I could not see properly in the semi-darkness and missed my open cell door. A kick in the back and I was sprawling on the floor. As I raised myself I said to myself I could not, should not accept this humiliation. I sat on my bunk. I had hidden a razor blade that would serve to open my veins. Then I looked at the New Testament and found these words in the Gospel of St. John: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Yes. You can mangle this poor body—I looked down at the running sores on my legs—but myself, my honor, God’s image that is in me, you cannot touch. This body is only a shell, not my real self. Without Him, without the Lord, my Lord, ye can do nothing. New strength seemed to rise in me.

I was pondering over what seemed to me a miracle when the heavy lock turned in the cell door. A very young American soldier came in, put his finger to his lips to warn me not to speak. “I saw it,” he said. “Here are baked potatoes.” He pulled the potatoes out of his pocket and gave them to me, and then went out, locking the door behind him.

***

Horrific as de-Nazification was in the British, French and, especially the American Zone, it was nothing compared to what took place in Poland, behind Soviet lines. In hundreds of concentration camps sponsored by an apparatus called the “Office of State Security,” thousands of Germans—male and female, old and young, high and low, Nazi and non–Nazi, SS, Wehrmacht, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, all—were rounded up and imprisoned. Staffed and run by Jews, with help from Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other concentration camp survivors, the prisons were little better than torture chambers where dying was a thing to be prolonged, not hastened. While those with blond hair, blue eyes and handsome features were first to go, anyone who spoke German would do.

Moments after arrival, prisoners were made horrifyingly aware of their fate. John Sack, himself a Jew, reports on one camp run by twenty-six-year-old Shlomo Morel:

ShomoMorel(PublicDomain)BEST“I was at Auschwitz,” Shlomo (left) proclaimed, lying to the Germans but, even more, to himself, psyching himself like a fighter the night of the championship, filling himself with hate for the Germans around him. “I was at Auschwitz for six long years, and I swore that if I got out, I’d pay all you Nazis back.” His eyes sent spears, but the “Nazis” sent him a look of simple bewilderment…. “Now sing the Horst Wessel Song!” No one did, and Shlomo, who carried a hard rubber club, hit it against a bed like some judge’s gavel. “Sing it, I say!”

The flags held high …,” some Germans began.     

“Everyone!” Shlomo said.

The ranks closed tight….”

“I said everyone!”

“Blond!

Shlomo cried to the blondest, bluest-eyed person there. “I said sing!” He swung his rubber club at the man’s golden head and hit it. The man staggered back.

Our comrades, killed by the Reds and Reactionaries….”

Sonofabitch!” Shlomo cried, enraged that the man was defying him by not singing but staggering back. He hit him again, saying, “Sing!”

Are marching in spirit with us….”    

“Louder!”

Clear the street for the Brown Battalions….”

Still louder!” cried Shlomo, hitting another shouting man.

“Millions of hopeful people….”    

“Nazi pigs!”

 “Are looking to the swastika… .”

Schweine!Shlomo cried. He threw down his rubber club, grabbed a wooden stool, and, a leg in his fist, started beating a German’s head. Without thinking, the man raised his arms, and Shlomo, enraged that the man would try to evade his just punishment, cried, “Sonofawhore!” and slammed the stool against the man’s chest. The man dropped his arms, and Shlomo started hitting his now undefended head when snap! the leg of the stool split off, and, cursing the German birchwood, he grabbed another stool and hit the German with that. No one was singing now, but Shlomo, shouting, didn’t notice. The other guards called out, “Blond!” “Black!” “Short!” “Tall!” and as each of these terrified people came up, they wielded their clubs upon him. The brawl went on till eleven o’clock, when the sweat-drenched invaders cried, “Pigs! We will fix you up!” and left the Germans alone.

Some were quite fixed…. Shlomo and his subordinates had killed them.

The next night it was more of the same . . . and the next night and the next and the next. Those who survived the “welcoming committees” at this and other camps were flung back into their pens.

“I was put with 30 women into a cell, which was intended to accommodate one person,” Gerlinde Winkler recalled. “The narrow space, into which we were rammed, was unbearable and our legs were all entangled together. . . . The women, ill with dysentery, were only allowed to go out once a day, in order to relieve themselves. A bucket without a cover was pushed into the cell with the remark: ‘Here you have one, you German sows.’  The stink was insupportable, and we were not allowed to open the little window.”

“The air in the cells became dense, the smell of the excrement filled it, the heat was like in Calcutta, and the flies made the ceiling black,” wrote John Sack. “I’m choking, the Germans thought, and one even took the community razor blade and, in despair, cut his throat open with it.”

When the wretched inmates were at last pried from their hellish tombs, it was only for interrogation. Sack continues:

As many as eight interrogators, almost all Jews, stood around any one German saying, “Were you in the Nazi Party?” Sometimes a German said, “Yes,” and the boys shouted, “Du schwein! You pig!” and beat him and broke his arm, perhaps, before sending him to his cell. . . . But usually a German said, “No,” and the boys … told him, “You’re lying. You were a Nazi.”

“No, I never was.”

Youre lying! We know about you!”

“No, I really wasn’t—”

“Du lugst! You’re lying!” they cried, hitting the obstinate man. “You better admit it! Or you’ll get a longer sentence! Now! Were you in the Nazi Party?”

No! the German often said, and the boys had to beat him and beat him until he was really crying, “I was a Nazi! Yes!”

But sometimes a German wouldn’t confess. One such hard case was a fifty-year-old….

Were you in the Party?”

“No, I wasn’t in it.”

“How many people work for you?”

“In the high season, thirty-five.”

“You must have been in the Party,” the boy deduced.

He asked for the German’s wallet, where he found a fishing license with the stamp of the German Anglers Association. Studying it, he told the German, “It’s stamped by the Party.”

Its not,” said the German.

Hed lost his left arm in World War I and was using his right arm to gesture with, and, to the boy, he may have seemed to be Heiling Hitler. The boy became violent. He grabbed the man’s collar, hit the man’s head against the wall, hit it against it ten times more, threw the man’s body onto the floor, and, in his boots, jumped on the man’s cringing chest as though jumping rope. A half dozen other interrogators, almost all Jews, pushed the man onto a couch, pulled off his trousers, and hit him with hard rubber clubs and hard rubber hoses full of stones. The sweat started running down the Jews’ arms, and the blood down the man’s naked legs.

Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!”

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!” the German screamed—screamed, till the boys had to go to Shlomo’s kitchen for a wooden spoon and to use it to cram some rags in the German’s mouth. Then they resumed beating him. . . . The more the man contradicted them, the more they hated him for it.

After undergoing similar sessions on a regular basis, the victim was brought back for the eighth time.

By now, the man was half unconscious due to his many concussions, and he wasn’t thinking clearly. The boys worked on him with rubber and oak-wood clubs and said, “Do you still say you weren’t in the Party?”

“No! I didn’t say I wasn’t in the Party!”

You didnt?”

“No!” said the punch drunk man. “I never said it!”

You were in the Party?”

Yes!”

The boys stopped beating him. They practically sighed, as if their ordeal were over now. They lit up cigarettes….

Scram,one said to the German. The man stood up, and he had his hand on the doorknob when one of the boys impulsively hit the back of his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.  

Aufstehen, du Deutsches schwein. Stand up, you German pig,” the boys said, kicking him till he stood up and collapsed again. Two boys carried him to his cell and dropped him in a corner….

Of course, the boys would beat up the Germans for “Yes”es as well as “No”s. In Glatz, the Jewish commandant asked a German policeman, “Were you in the Party?”

Of course! I was obliged to be!”

“Lie down, the commandant said, and six weeks later the boys were still whipping the German’s feet.

Some torture sessions lacked even the pretense of an examination. Remembered Eva Reimann:

My cell door opened. The guard, who, because of the foul smell, held a handkerchief to his nose, cried, “Reimann Eva! Come!” I was led to a first-floor room.

He shouted at me, “Take off your shoes!” I took them off.  “Lie down!” I lay down. He took a thick bamboo stick, and he beat the soles of my feet. I screamed, since the pain was very great. . . . The stick whistled down on me. A blow on my mouth tore my lower lip, and my teeth started bleeding violently. He beat my feet again. The pain was unbearable….

The door opened suddenly, and, smiling obligingly, a cigarette in his mouth, in came the chief of the Office, named Sternnagel. In faultless German he asked me, “What’s wrong here? Why do you let yourself be beaten? You just have to sign this document. Or should we jam your fingers in the door, until the bones are broad. . . ?

A man picked me up by the ankles, raised me eight inches above the floor, and let me fall. My hands were tied, and my head hit hard. . . . I lay in a bloody puddle. Someone cried, “Stand up!” I tried to, and, with unspeakable pain, I succeeded. A man with a pistol came, held it to my left temple, and said, “Will you now confess?” I told him, “Please shoot me.” Yes, I hoped to be freed from all his tortures. I begged him, “Please pull the trigger.”

After barely surviving his “interrogation,” one fourteen-year-old was taken to the camp infirmary. “My body was green, but my legs were fire red,” the boy said. “My wounds were bound with toilet paper, and I had to change the toilet paper every day. I was in the perfect place to watch what went on…. All the patients were beaten people, and they died everywhere: at their beds, in the washroom, on the toilet. At night, I had to step over the dead as if that were normal to do.”

When the supply of victims ran low, it was a simple matter to find more. John Sack:

One day, a German in pitch-black pants, the SS’s color, showed up in Lola’s prison. He’d been spotted near the city square by a Pole who’d said, “Fascist! You’re wearing black!” At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola’s prison. Some guards, all girls, then seized the incriminating evidence: the man’s black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of the tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, “Shut up!” and they didn’t recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The “man” was fourteen years old.

The girls decided to torture him [with]. . . . fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire.

At the larger prison camps, Germans died by the hundreds daily.

You pigs!” the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days, a Jewish guard cried, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!” and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. “Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!” the guard cried, and, when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. “Now cry!” the guard said. “And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!” and all the Germans moaned,

All the dogs are barking,

All the dogs are barking,

Just the little hot-dogs,

Arent barking at all.

The guard then cried, “Get undressed!” and, when the Germans were naked, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German’s throat, the German soon dying.

Utterly unhinged by years of persecution, by the loss of homes and loved ones, for the camp operators, no torture, no sadism, no bestiality, seemed too monstrous to inflict on those now in their power. Some Germans were forced to crawl on all fours and eat their own excrement as well as that of others. Many were drowned in open latrines. Hundreds were herded into buildings and burned to death or sealed in caskets and buried alive.

Near Lamsdorf, German women were forced to disinter bodies from a Polish burial site. According to John Sack:

The women did, and they started to suffer nausea as the bodies, black as the stuff in a gutter, appeared. The faces were rotten, the flesh was glue, but the guards—who had often seemed psychopathic, making a German woman drink urine, drink blood, and eat a man’s excrement, inserting an oily five-mark bill in a woman’s vagina, putting a match to it—shouted at the women . . . “Lie down with them!” The women did, and the guards shouted, “Hug them!” “Kiss them!” “Make love with them!” and, with their rifles, pushed on the backs of the women’s heads until their eyes, noses and mouths were deep in the Polish faces’ slime. The women who clamped their lips couldn’t scream, and the women who screamed had to taste something vile. Spitting, retching, the women at last stood up, the wet tendrils still on their chins, fingers, clothes, the wet seeping into the fibers, the stink like a mist around them as they marched back to Lamsdorf. There were no showers there, and the corpses had all had typhus, apparently, and sixty-four women . . . died.

Not surprisingly, the mortality rate at the concentration camps was staggering and relatively few survived. At one prison of eight thousand, a mere 1,500 lived to reach home. And of those “lucky” individuals who did leave with their lives, few could any longer be called human.

When a smattering of accounts began to leak from Poland of the unspeakable crimes being committed, many in the West were stunned. “One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again,” muttered one US senator, who then reported on beatings, torture and “brains splashed on the ceiling.”

“Is this what our soldiers died for?” echoed a Briton in the House of Commons.

Added Winston Churchill: “Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain.”

While Churchill and others in the West were expressing shock and surprise over the sadistic slaughter taking place in the Soviet Zone, precious little was said about the “tragedy on a prodigious scale” that was transpiring in their own backyard.

***

Among the millions imprisoned by the Allies were thousands of Germans accused of having a direct or indirect hand in war crimes. Because the victorious powers demanded swift and severe punishment, Allied prosecutors were urged to get the most damning indictments in as little time as possible. Unfortunately for the accused, their captors seemed determined to inflict as much pain as possible in the process.

“[W]e were thrown into small cells stark naked,” Hans Schmidt later wrote. “The cells in which three or four persons were incarcerated were six and a half by ten feet in size and had no windows or ventilation.”

When we went to the lavatory we had to run through a lane of Americans who struck us with straps, brooms, cudgels, buckets, belts, and pistol holders to make us fall down. Our head, eyes, body, belly, and genitals were violently injured. A man stood inside the lavatory to beat us and spit on us. We returned to our cells through the same ordeal. The temperature in the cells was 140 Fahrenheit or more. During the first three days we were given only one cup of water and a small slice of bread. During the first days we perspired all the time, then perspiration stopped. We were kept standing chained back to back for hours. We suffered terribly from thirst, blood stagnation and mortification of the hands. From time to time water was poured on the almost red-hot radiators, filling the cells with steam, so that we could hardly breathe. During all this time the cells were in darkness, except when the American soldiers entered and switched on electric bulbs … which forced us to close our eyes.

Our thirst became more and more cruel, so that our lips cracked, our tongues were stiff, and we eventually became apathetic, or raved, or collapsed.

After enduring this torture for several days, we were given a small blanket to cover our nakedness, and driven to the courtyard outside. The uneven soil was covered with pebbles and slag and we were again beaten and finally driven back on our smashed and bleeding feet. While out of breath, burning cigarettes were pushed into our mouths, and each of us was forced to eat three or four of them. Meanwhile the American soldiers continued to hit us on eyes, head, and ears. Back in our cells we were pushed against burning radiators, so that our skin was blistered.

For thirteen days and nights we received the same treatment, tortured by heat and thirst. When we begged for water, our guards mocked us. When we fainted we were revived by being drenched with cold water. There was dirt everywhere and we were never allowed to wash, our inflamed eyes gave us terrible pain, we fainted continuously.

Every twenty minutes or so our cell doors were opened and the soldiers insulted and hit us. Whenever the doors were opened we had to stand still with our backs to the door. Two plates of food, spiced with salt, pepper, and mustard to make us thirstier, were given us daily. We ate in the dark on the floor. The thirst was the most terrible of all our tortures and we could not sleep.

In this condition I was brought to trial.

During the Nazi war crimes trials and hearings, almost any method that would obtain a “confession” was employed. Eager to implicate high-ranking German officers in the Malmedy Massacre, American investigator Harry Thon ordered Wehrmacht sergeant Willi Schafer to write out an incriminating affidavit:

Next morning Mr. Thon appeared in my cell, read my report, tore it up, swore at me and hit me. After threatening to have me killed unless I wrote what he wanted, he left. A few minutes later the door of my cell opened, a black hood encrusted with blood, was put over my head and face and I was led to another room. In view of Mr. Thon’s threat the black cap had a crushing effect on my spirits…. Four men of my company … accused me, although later they admitted to having borne false testimony. Nevertheless I still refused to incriminate myself. Thereupon Mr. Thon said that if I continued to refuse this would be taken as proof of my Nazi imagestyopinions, and . . . my death was certain. He said I would have no chance against four witnesses, and advised me for my own good to make a statement after which I would be set free. . . . I still refused. I told Mr. Thon that although my memory was good, I was unable to recall any of the occurrences he wished me to write about and which to the best of my knowledge had never occurred.

Mr. Thon left but returned in a little while with Lieutenant [William] Perl (above) who abused me, and told Mr. Thon that, should I not write what was required within half an hour, I should be left to my fate. Lieutenant Perl made it clear to me that I had the alternative of writing and going free or not writing and dying. I decided for life.

Another Landser unable to resist the pressure was Joachim Hoffman:

[W]hen taken for a hearing a black hood was placed over my head. The guards who took me to my hearing often struck or kicked me. I was twice thrown down the stairs and was hurt so much that blood ran out of my mouth and nose. At the hearing, when I told the officers about the ill treatment I had suffered, they only laughed. I was beaten and the black cap pulled over my face whenever I could not answer the questions put to me, or gave answers not pleasing to the officers….I was beaten and several times kicked in the genitals.

Understandably, after several such sessions, even the strongest submitted and signed papers incriminating themselves and others.

“If you confess you will go free,” nineteen-year-old Siegfried Jaenckel was told. “[Y]ou need only to say you had an order from your superiors. But if you won’t speak you will be hung.”

Despite the mental and physical abuse, young Jaenckel held out as long as he could: “I was beaten and I heard the cries of the men being tortured in adjoining cells, and whenever I was taken for a hearing I trembled with fear…. Subjected to such duress I eventually gave in, and signed the long statement dictated to me.”

Far from being isolated or extreme cases, such methods of extorting confessions were the rule rather than the exception. Wrote author Freda Utley, who learned of the horror after speaking with American jurist Edward van Roden:

Beatings and brutal kickings; knocking-out of teeth and breaking of jaws; mock trials; solitary confinement; torture with burning splinters; the use of investigators pretending to be priests; starvation; and promises of acquittal. . . . Judge van Roden said: “All but two of the Germans in the 139 cases we investigated had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was standard operating procedure with our American investigators.” He told of one German who had had lighted matchsticks forced under his fingernails by the American investigators to extort a confession, and had appeared at his trial with his fingers still bandaged from the atrocity.

In addition to testimony given under torture, those who might have spoken in defense of the accused were prevented. Moreover, hired “witnesses” were paid by the Americans to parrot the prosecution’s charges.

When criticism such as Utley’s and van Roden’s surfaced, and even as victims were being hung by the hundreds, those responsible defended their methods.

“We couldn’t have made those birds talk otherwise…,” laughed one Jewish “interrogator,” Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld. “It was a trick, and it worked like a charm.”

Dirty Japs

5767884_origAs a child, I vividly recall a scene from an old war movie. . . .

The US Marines are storming some Pacific island and driving the terrified “Jap” defenders before them, much as safari beaters drive prey. The wild chase increases in momentum until the enemy is finally flushed from the trees and onto the beach. Halting their tanks, situating their machine guns for maximum effect, the marines open fire. Scores of Japanese are mowed down mercilessly. With no hope, with no escape, the survivors leap into the surf and try to swim for it. In a matter of minutes, there is not a living “Nip” among them.

Another scene I vividly recall seeing—and this only once—was a war documentary. A Japanese sailor is struggling in the water amid a flotsam of oil and debris, desperately trying to save himself. Clearly, he is a survivor from a recently sunk ship. The sailor is so close to the American naval vessel that I can see the fear and confusion in his face. Suddenly, from a point beyond camera range, bullets spray the water around the man. In a panic, the sailor begins swimming around and around in circles. Finally, a well-aimed bullet blows the young man’s head apart and he sinks silently beneath the surface.

In those old documentary films that cover World War Two in the Pacific, there is a very good reason why one seldom sees a live Jap in any of them, much less a prison camp filled with live Japs. Just as they were doing in Europe, Americans in the Pacific were taking no prisoners.  The awful truth never mentioned in these films, or in any book, for that matter, is that the war with Japan from start to finish was a black flag no-quarter contest in which the rules of engagement were shockingly simple: If the Japanese won, they lived . . . if they lost, they died.

***

Millions raped, millions tortured, millions enslaved, millions murdered—truly the defeat of Nazi Germany was utter in its hate and hellish in its evil.  It was, by all standards, the most savage and sadistic such defeat in human history.

Savage and sadistic as the war and ensuing Jewish “peace” in Germany was, nowhere was the terrible price of propaganda more evident than in the war with Japan. Unlike the Germans who not only looked and acted much like the Americans, British, French, and Russians, and shared a similar religion and culture, the Japanese were outwardly, at least, very different from their opponents in World War Two. Most graphic, of course, was race and the fact that the Japanese were Asians.

Although racially and culturally the enemy nations differed, prior to hostilities each side had no difficulty at all interacting amicably with one another. Indeed, a great degree of mutual respect, even admiration, existed among the two peoples.

All that changed in a blink, of course, on December 7, 1941.  With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor the American propaganda mill had no problem at all transforming those who had been universally acknowledged as a kind, courteous, and dignified people into a race of “dirty rats,” “yellow monkeys” and “sneaky Japs.” Thus, unlike the vilification campaign waged against Germans which took a great amount of time, effort and imagination, the job of demonizing the Japanese was simple. Once the US Government and the entertainment industry were up and rolling, the natural outrage and racial instincts of white Americans took over.

In the anti-Japanese furor that swept America following Pearl Harbor, in the hyper-heated madness to exact revenge for the attack, rare was that American who paused to consider that perhaps the impetus behind Pearl Harbor was the months of deliberate and humiliating aggression directed at Japan by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, including the embargo of vital raw materials without which Japan was doomed to collapse as an industrialized nation. Well before December 7, 1941, such sanctions were correctly viewed by the proud Japanese leadership, as well as the world, as a de facto declaration of war by the United States. Also, though few were aware at the time, it has long since been known that Roosevelt and others in the US government were well aware of the coming attack in the central Pacific.

Nevertheless, because of Japan’s military pact with Nazi Germany, Roosevelt and his Jewish “advisers” desperately hoped that backing the Japanese into a corner would provoke just such a response resulting in the United States entering the European war via the “back door.” In that case, the U.S. would then join with Britain and the Soviet Union to crush Hitler and Germany.

Thus, and almost on cue, the “sneak” attack at Pearl Harbor and the “date which will live in infamy” was used by the propagandists as a rallying cry to whip the American people—who had been decidedly against war—into a frenzy of anger, hatred and revenge.

If possible, the degree of American rage actually increased four months later when lurid details of the “Bataan Death March” reached the public. Bad enough in its own right, the chaotic 60-mile forced march of over 70,000 American and Filipino troops captured after the siege of Bataan was made infinitely worse by the fact that many of the prisoners were already near death from lack of food and medicine resulting from the long siege itself. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of prisoners, unable to provide transportation, the Japanese could do little else but watch as hundreds of prisoners dropped dead along the road during the long march.

De-Humanizing the EnemyDescribing them as “yellow vermin,” angry American artists created posters depicting the Japanese as everything and anything, save human—sneaking cockroaches, rampaging monkeys, large-fanged snakes, flapping vampire bats—an official U.S. Navy film described enemy soldiers as “living, snarling rats.”

Reinforcing this dehumanization process were US political and military leaders. While General Eisenhower was busily murdering as many as a 1.5 million disarmed German prisoners in his secret death camps, Admiral William Halsey, US commander of operations in the South Pacific, seemed determined that not a single Japanese in his sphere of operations would survive to even reach a death camp.

“Kill Japs! Kill Japs! Kill more Japs!” Halsey exhorted his men time and time again. “Remember Pearl Harbor—keep ‘em dying!”

Thus, in what was perhaps the worst-kept secret throughout all branches of the US military, it was this unofficial, yet understood, injunction to all American service men, high and low, that there was to be absolutely no mercy shown the enemy in combat.

“You will take no prisoners, you will kill every yellow son-of-a-bitch, and that’s it,” yelled a marine colonel to his men as their landing craft was about to touch shore on one Japanese-held island.

And thus it was, from the outset, from the initial island invasions of 1942, all the way down to 1945 and the nuclear holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “no quarter” to Japan and the Japanese was the tacit understanding.

***

Despite the generally held belief that persists to this day, a belief which argues that all Japanese soldiers willingly, even eagerly, died for the emperor, relatively few young men embraced such an end if there was any hope of living. Like the American, British and Australian soldiers they were facing, most Japanese soldiers dreamed only of a day when the war was over; when they could return home in peace to family and friends; to marry a sweetheart; to raise a family; to tend a small garden; to enjoy life. Nevertheless, almost from the first, it soon became apparent to these young men that there would be, that there could be, no surrender. Wrote one American early in the war:

Japanese were known to come out of the jungle unarmed with their hands raised crying ‘”mercy, mercy,” only to be mowed down by machine-gun fire.

Time and again, on every contested island and every spit of sand, Japanese soldiers and sailors were slaughtered the instant they raised their hands and walked forward to surrender. After scores of such encounters in which breathless comrades in hiding watched, waited, then witnessed the massacre of their unarmed friends, fewer and fewer Japanese soldiers entertained even the slightest notion of giving up.

Ironically, though murdering a helpless enemy may have brought some sadistic satisfaction to Allied soldiers, the failure to take prisoners insured that thousands of comrades would also be killed by an enemy now forced to dig in and fight to the death. It is also a fact that as the war wore on and defeat became certain, more and more Japanese soldiers would have gladly surrendered if only they could.

“If men had been allowed to surrender honorably,” admitted one Japanese veteran late in the war, “everybody would have been doing it.”

OneoftheFew--ALiveCaptiveBEST

One of the Few: A Live Enemy

In addition to the murder of prisoners, numerous other atrocities occurred. When one marine battalion captured a Japanese field hospital containing over 400 unarmed men, including patients and medics, all were slaughtered on the spot. Other massacres occurred when hundreds, even thousands, of Japanese were driven onto beaches or small peninsulas where there was no hope of escape. Such wholesale “kill offs” reminded one Midwestern marine of nothing so much as the merciless massacre of jack rabbits driven into fenced enclosures back home.

“Nothing can describe the hate we feel for the Nips,” wrote an American lieutenant to his mother. “The destruction, the torture, burning & death of countless civilians, the savage fight without purpose—to us they are dogs and rats—we love to kill them—to me and all of us killing Nips is the greatest sport known—it causes no sensation of killing a human being but we really get a kick out of hearing the bastards scream.”

Remembered another witness:

When a Japanese soldier was “flushed” from his hiding place . . . the unit . . . was resting and joking. But they seized their rifles and began using him as a live target while he dashed frantically around the clearing in search   of safety. The soldiers found his movements uproariously funny. Finally . . . they succeeded in killing him. . . .  None of the American soldiers apparently ever considered that he may have had human feelings of fear and the wish to be spared.

Flame throwers were a particularly sadistic way to “roast rats.” Reported one observer:

I have asked fighting men, for instance, why they—or actually, why we—regulated flame-throwers in such a way that enemy soldiers were set afire, to die slowly and painfully, rather than killed outright with a full blast of burning oil. Was it because they hated the enemy so thoroughly? The answer was invariably, “No, we don’t hate those poor bastards particularly; we just hate the whole goddam mess and have to take it out on somebody.”

“We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them,” bragged William Halsey. As the admiral was well aware, his men were doing much more than just burning and drowning the enemy. . . .

With discipline lax or non-existent, those who wanted to torture, kill and mutilate, did. Desecration of bodies first began with the first islands invaded. Along a wide stream dividing the two armies on Guadalcanal, fresh arriving troops noticed decapitated Japanese heads stuck on poles facing across the river. There on the “Canal” and elsewhere, U.S. Marines tossed the dead and dying into open latrines while others laughingly urinated into the open mouths of the wounded.

The collection of ears, noses, fingers, and other body parts was a pastime many marines proudly participated in. Some strung the trophies and wore them like necklaces.

“Our boys cut them off to show their friends in fun, or to dry and take back to the States when they go,” said one man matter-of-factly.

Cured Japnese SkullJapanese skulls were another popular trophy. Some were sent home to friends, family, even sweethearts. Most heads, however, after being “cured” by ravenous ants or boiled in kettles to remove flesh, were then sold to eager naval personnel.

Bones were also collected. Some were carved to form letter openers for folks back home. Even the White House received one such present.

“This is the sort of gift I like to get,” laughed President Roosevelt. “There’ll be plenty more such gifts.”

Understandably, when news reached Japan that the bodies of their sons and husbands were being wantonly abused and that the US president himself countenanced such atrocities, there was outrage. The Americans were portrayed in the Japanese press as “deranged, primitive, racist, and inhuman.” Explained one American, himself equally outraged:

The thought of a Japanese soldier’s skull becoming an American ashtray was as horrifying in Tokyo as the thought of an American prisoner used for bayonet practice was in New York.

Of all the trophies, however, none were more sought out than gold-capped teeth. After any battle or massacre, the mouths of the fallen were often the first stop for many Americans. Like South Sea prospectors, fights broke out when “claim-jumpers” attempted to steal the bodies claimed by others. One excited marine felt he had struck it rich after spotting a dead enemy. “But,” according to a witness . . .

. . . the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his knife on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, “Put the man out of his misery.” All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Understandably, Japanese soldiers had no more desire to surrender and be tortured than did US soldiers fighting the Indians on the Plains of America a century earlier. Each fought to the finish, but each also saved the “last bullet” for them self. If a Japanese soldier found himself surrounded with no way to escape or kill himself, he committed “suicide” by walking calmly back and forth along the enemy lines until a bullet found its mark. Sometimes ten, even twenty, Japanese would thus kill themselves simultaneously.

Once the Americans reached Saipan, Okinawa and other Japanese islands with civilian populations, mass rape was added to the menu of war crimes. Small wonder that a Japanese soldier, or civilian, for that matter, would do whatever it took to keep from falling into Allied hands. As one American revealed:

The northern tip of Saipan is a cliff with a sheer drop into the sea. At high tide the sharp coral rocks are almost covered with swirling surf. The Japanese civilians and the surviving soldiers were all crowded into this area. Now one of the worst horrors of the war occurred. In spite of loud-speaker messages asking them to surrender, and assurances that they would be well-treated, they began killing themselves. Soldiers clutched hand grenades to their bellies and pulled the pins. Through our spotting scopes from our observation post I witnessed this sickening spectacle. One of the worst experiences of my life.

Not only were there virtually no survivors among the 30,000 men of the Japanese garrison on Saipan, but two out of every three civilians—some 22,000 in all—were either murdered or committed suicide.

“We just blew it all up,” admitted one marine. “We don’t know if there were women and children or whatever, we just blew them up.”

“Japanese are still being shot all over the place,” reported an Australian late in the war. “The necessity for capturing them has ceased to worry anyone. Nippo soldiers are just so much machine-gun practice.”

A handful of prisoners did manage to get captured, of course, by accident if nothing else. All were spared solely for the information they might provide. When the interrogation was through, the subjects were of no further use. Wrote one witness:

When they flew Japanese prisoners back for questioning on a C-47, they kept the freight door at the side of the plane open, and when the questioning of each man was concluded, he’d be kicked overboard before they reached their destination.

Of course, it was not just island-hopping marines who committed countless atrocities; virtually all American service men partook. A Japanese sailor whose ship or submarine was sunk stood no better chance of survival than his comrade on shore. US naval vessels routinely shelled all life boats and machine-gunned any survivors still in the water. Overhead, Japanese pilots who escaped from burning planes were themselves murdered by Allied airmen as they struggled in their parachute harnesses.

As late as October, 1944, it was announced that a mere 604 Japanese were being held in Allied POW camps.

***

Just as the Allied air forces were targeting cities and civilians in Germany, so too was the US air force incinerating the women and children of Japan.  As was the case with his peers in Europe, cigar-chewing, Jap-hating Gen. Curtis Lemay had no qualms whatsoever of targeting non-combatants. Once his air armada moved with striking distance of the Japanese home islands, the American air commander sent his B-29 bombers to attack Japan with high explosives and phosphorous bombs. Virtually all Japanese urban centers suffered utter destruction but it was the larger cities that were forced to endure the hell of “fire bombing.”

In one raid on Tokyo alone, in one night, an estimated 75,000 to 200,000 people, mostly women and children, were burned to death. Only the incineration of Dresden, Germany, with an estimated death toll of between 200,000-400,000, was greater.

In January, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur forwarded to President Roosevelt a Japanese offer to surrender that he had just received. Roosevelt spurned the request. Seven months later, the new American president, Harry Truman, received virtually the same offer from the Japanese. This time, the Americans accepted. Had the Japanese surrender been accepted when first offered, well over one million people, American and Japanese, would not have died needlessly. Had peace been made in January, 1945, there would have been no battle blood-bathes as occurred at Iwo Jima, Saipan and Okinawa. There would have been no firebombing murder of hundreds of thousands of women and children in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and every other major Japanese city. And, perhaps most important of all, had the Japanese peace offer been accepted earlier there would have been no horrific use of atomic weapons against the women and children of Japan and no stigma or shame attached to we Americans forever for the use of such hideous and hellish weapons.

The fiery deaths of civilians in Tokyo and other cities and the vaporization of 200,000 mostly women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains an evil black smear on the human soul for all time to come; they provide a clear and terrible testament to man’s inhumanity to man. The unbridled assaults against the helpless civilians of Japan were also a graphic comment on the powerful price of propaganda. From beginning to end, American political and military leaders hoped to punish the Japanese like no other people in history had been punished. Hence, the refusal to accept Japan’s surrender in January, 1945, and the refusal to accept the surrender several times later on. The argument made by President Truman and his apologists that the atomic bombs were used to “end the war sooner” and thereby save both American and Japanese lives, was a lie; it was a lie then and it is a lie to this very day. In fact, Truman deliberately prolonged the war until the bombs were tested, assembled, delivered, and ready for use against Japan.  When the first device exploded as planned at Hiroshima and vaporized an estimated 80,000-100,000 civilians, Truman was eager to use another such bomb against another civilian target, Nagasaki. Had Truman a hundred nuclear weapons in his arsenal—rather than the mere two that he used—it seems clear he would have happily dropped them all on the women and children of Japan.

“The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them,” argued the American president. “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless necessary.”

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

Another argument for the use of the atomic bombs when Japan was willing, even eager, to surrender, was an attempt to impress the Soviet Union with American might. If such a line of reasoning was indeed true, as many later pointed out, then the weapons could have just as easily been used against isolated military targets, and not urban areas filled with women and children.

Certainly, one strong reason for using the weapon, though never mentioned then, and seldom mentioned even now, was hate. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were merely a more dramatic and devastating continuation of the no-quarter policy that had been in effect since December 7, 1941. The bombs were used against a much-hated enemy simply because the Americans wanted to use them. Weapons that would kill tens of thousands in a flash, then kill tens of thousands more in the most hideous and painful ways imaginable, made perfectly good sense at the time; it certainly made sense to Truman and millions of Americans then, and sadly, it still makes perfectly good sense to millions of Americans even now, seventy years later.

“The Dirty Japs began the war,” as the reasoning ran then, and still runs now, “the Dirty Japs fought the war in the most inhumane and barbarous way possible, and so it is thus fitting that these dirty yellow rats should suffer like no other people ever suffered;” or, as one American historian phrased it more delicately: “[T]he widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.”

Nevertheless, with the war clearly won, and with pangs of conscience beginning to reassert themselves among some, a few voices felt that the dropping of the terrible new weapon was a display of sadistic savagery, pure and simple.

“The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul,” former US president, Herbert Hoover, wrote shortly after the news reached him.

Added the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy:

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were almost defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.

And even Dwight David Eisenhower—a man who himself knew more than a little about the mass murder of a helpless enemy—suddenly found a mote of pity when he registered his complaint against the use of the hideous new weapon. “The Japanese were ready to surrender. . . ,” the general wrote. “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Mercifully, for everyone concerned, the Allied powers soon accepted the Japanese surrender seven months after it was originally offered and World War Two, the most savage and evil conflict in history, was over.

***

And while this was in progress, the “world’s worst peace” was claiming its European victims in their millions. None suffered more in war, none suffered more in “peace,” than German females.  Of all the numerous war crimes committed by the Allies during World War Two, the massive rapes committed against the helpless women and children were perhaps the most monstrous.  Of course, an untold number of German women and children did not survive the violent, nonstop assaults.  One million?  Two million?  Ten million?  Since no one in power cared, no one in power was counting.

And as this monstrous crime was enveloping the women of Europe, a similar spiritual slaughter was transpiring in Asia.

Because the great bulk of fighting in the war against Japan was fought on the water, in the air or across islands either uninhabited or sparsely populated, rape is a word seldom mentioned in American war diaries or official reports during the years 1941-1944.  When US forces invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa, however, this changed.  Almost immediately, and in spite of the bloody fighting, US soldiers began the sexual assault on the females of the island.  In one prefecture alone, during a ten-day period, over one thousand women reported being raped.  Since most victims would never come forward and voluntarily suffer such shame in a society where modesty and chastity were prized above all else, the number of rapes was undoubtedly much greater than reported.

Incidents like the following became common:

Marching south, men of the 4th Marines passed a group of some 10 American soldiers bunched together in a tight circle next to the road. They were “quite animated,” noted a corporal who assumed they were playing a game of craps. “Then as we passed them,” said the shocked marine, “I could see they were taking turns raping an oriental woman. I was furious, but our outfit kept marching by as though nothing unusual was going on.”

So pervasive was the crime, and so frightened were the people, that hundreds of Okinawa women committed suicide by swallowing poison or by leaping from the steep cliffs of the island.

With their nation’s surrender in August, 1945, Japanese officials were so concerned about the mass rape of their wives and daughters by the victors that they rounded up tens of thousands of girls from poorer families throughout the nation and all but forced them into prostitution at various brothels, or “comfort stations.”  Although such stop-gap measures did prevent wholesale rape on a German scale, this was small consolation to the women and children who had to endure the sanctioned sex attacks.  Earning anywhere from eight cents to a dollar a day, a girl working in the “rape stations,” as they more commonly were called, might be brutally raped and sodomized from 15 to 60 times a days.

“They took my clothes off,” remembered one little girl. “I was so small, they were so big, they raped me easily. I was bleeding, I was only 14. I can smell the men. I hate men.”

Despite hundreds of thousands of American and Australian occupation soldiers using the rape stations, thousands more preferred taking their sex violently.  In the days, weeks and months after the surrender, numerous atrocities were committed as the victors laid claim to the “spoils of war.”

In the Spring of 1946, American GI’s cut the phone lines in Nagoya and raped every women they could get their hands on, including children as young as ten.  At another city, US soldiers broke into a hospital and spent their time raping over 70 women, including one who had just given birth.  The mother’s infant was flung to the floor and killed.

Had Allied occupation commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, spent even half the time on stemming rape as he spent censoring news from Japan or running down real or imagined Japanese war criminals, the attacks would have been curtailed.  But, like his opposite in Europe, Gen. Eisenhower, he did not.

As American historian, John W. Dower, acknowledged:

Once you recognize that soldiers rape–including “our” guys, our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, sons, husbands, boyfriends, grandsons–then you understand the tremendous resistance [by authorities] to recognizing mass rapes during wartime as the atrocity it has always been and still is.

***

When it comes to propaganda, we suspected our enemies of it, but we never figured we were using propaganda. We felt like our country was too honest to use propaganda on us, and we honestly were not conscious that they were.

So wrote Katharine Phillips, an American Red Cross worker during World War Two.  Hardly concealed in Katherine’s words written long after the war, is the fear, the dread fear, that perhaps the inhuman evil that her generation was told to hate a thousand times over during four years of war may not have been so evil or so inhuman after all.  Just as with every other war known to man, World War Two had also been a war of words, a war of poisonous words; a war of deceit, treachery, hate, and lies in which trusting, unsuspecting people were lashed once again into a frenzy of murderous madness by outrageously vicious and vile propaganda. True, some angry words are perhaps needed in times of war to awaken and impassion the laggards among us to work and slave like ants to win such a contest; but equally true, some of that same propaganda, in the hands of evil men behind desks far removed from danger, contribute to outright murder of the most heartless and cold-blooded kind, encourage rape on a massive, historical scale, add to the agonizing death by fire of uncounted millions of women and children, and engender enough hate, misery and pain to make a planet groan.

For many, like Katherine, it took years before they came to realize that the very people they had been programmed to despise, dehumanize and ultimately exterminate like vermin were but after all, very frail, very frightened, very human, and finally . . . were very much like themselves. For a fortunate few, however, even in the midst of the terrible inferno itself, reality sometimes shattered the hate-filled propaganda unexpectedly.

The sudden re-humanization of the Japanese came as a shock to some. While sifting through a blackened, blown-out cave on Iwo Jima, one marine was “horrified” when he discovered some childish and brightly-colored paintings strewn among the wreckage. After poring over the art work, the soldier was stunned.

“The Japanese soldiers had children . . . who loved them and sent their art work to them,” the incredulous marine suddenly realized, just as American children would send pretty pictures to their equally proud fathers.

Rummaging through pockets of the fallen enemy, other Americans were startled when they found newspaper clippings of baseball teams back home in Japan, just as any normal American soldier would carry; or they discovered inside enemy helmets photos of beautiful Japanese movie stars just as many US marines folded pin-ups of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth in theirs; or they unwrapped delicate letters from home with pictures of girl friends inside, or they stumbled upon a torn photo amid the debris of battle of a now-dead soldier laughing and rolling on the ground with puppies in his back yard back home. For some Americans, the abrupt realization that there were more similarities between them and their enemy than not was life-altering.

Occasionally, in even more startling ways, the realization of shared humanity came when a dead soldier’s diary was discovered:

Sept. 30 1942 (still on Guadalcanal) We took a short rest in the grove, when we found a figure of a man in a bush. Had he escaped from a crashing plane or infiltrated from the sea? Two or three soldiers chased and caught him after five min or so. He was a young American soldier.

He got a bayonet cut on his forehead and was bleeding. He sat down on the ground leaning on coconut trunks and had his hands tied behind his back. He looked thin, unshaven and wore a waterproofing overcoat.

He pleaded with me to help him, ‘General, Help me! ‘General, Help me!’ He thought I was senior and an officer of higher rank. In the rain, I stood hesitant about what to do with this American soldier. It was impossible for me to set him free. We couldn’t take him with my party. . . . We had not roughed him up after capturing him, but the moment I had deported him, the men of the HQ treated him violently. I thought later I should have released him.

I regretted what I had done to him. He didn’t make me feel any hatred as an enemy. It was a strange feeling for me. He looked quite young and mild-mannered, and didn’t look strong or ferocious at all. He was gentle but fully composed and never disgraced himself. I can’t say what befell this young soldier. I am sure he was not a soldier who would easily leak out a military secret. And I am afraid he never returned to his camp.

With the dawn of peace, men and women of good will finally found the strength and courage to revisit the awful crucible they had recently escaped from. Some, in shame, cast off the old prejudice and hate that they once had so eagerly embraced, and seek a reckoning, an new and honest understanding of the past that they had played a part in.

Such was the case of Edgar Jones. A veteran himself, first in Europe, then in the Pacific, Jones struggled mightily to make sense of the many senseless things he had seen, heard and perhaps even done. When he was through, when he truly understood what had occurred, the veteran exploded in anger . . . and honesty.

We Americans have the dangerous tendency in our international thinking to take a holier-than-thou attitude toward other nations. We consider ourselves to be more noble and decent than other peoples, and consequently in a better position to decide what is right and wrong in the world. What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers. .  .  . [W]e mutilated the bodies of enemy dead, cutting off their ears and kicking out their gold teeth for souvenirs, and buried them with their testicles in their mouths. . . . We topped off our saturation bombing and burning of enemy civilians by dropping atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless cities, thereby setting an all-time record for instantaneous mass slaughter.

As victors we are privileged to try our defeated opponents for their crimes against humanity; but we should be realistic enough to appreciate that if we were on trial for breaking international laws, we should be found guilty on a dozen counts. We fought a dishonorable war, because morality had a low priority in battle. The tougher the fighting, the less room for decency, and in Pacific contests we saw mankind reach the blackest depths of bestiality.

Fortunately, the passionate, heartfelt words of Edgar Jones now speak for millions more around the globe. Alas, if only such words as his could be emblazoned across the sky in fiery letters before each and every rush to war and before each and every “holy crusade” to slaughter an “inhuman” enemy, then certainly the world would be a better place because of it.

Purge

9-lincoln-assassination-granger78

Washington, D.C., 10:30 PM, April 14, 1865

Melville Stone stepped into the crowded hotel lobby. The night was cool and misty and the nation’s capital seemed strangely silent. On this particular evening, that was understandable. After a week of wild celebration following the capture of Richmond and Robert E. Lee’s surrender, all the pent emotions of the past four years seemed finally expended. A reporter for the Associated Press, Stone must have felt relief. Like others in the hotel, in the city, and throughout the North, the week-long revel of parades, fireworks, speeches, toasts, and songs to conclude four years of bloody civil war left little energy in the journalist for much more than to rest, relax and contemplate the dawn of peace.

But then Stone and others in the hotel heard a commotion in the streets. There were shouts and the sound of people running. In a moment, the hotel door burst open.

“Lincoln’s been murdered . . . shot at Ford‘s Theater!” a breathless man blurted out. “It’s true . . . it’s true! The president‘s been killed!”

Before those in the hotel could utter a word, the man was gone. Everyone stood stunned and silent. Disbelieving eyes searched other disbelieving eyes. Surely it was a joke? Surely the man was crazy? Surely he was drunk?

Suddenly, the silence was shattered.

“Good!” laughed a man loudly as he clapped his hands. “The old son of a bitch should have been killed four years ago!”

The sounds jolted a nearby federal officer. Without a word the soldier pulled his pistol, pointed it at the man’s head, then blew his brains all over the wall.

***

Tolling bells…echoing minute guns…a nation of tearful mourners…these are the images we carry from the day Lincoln died; a day so dark and dreary, a day so rainy and sad that many at the time felt “the very heavens were weeping.”  For the most part, these images are correct. But, as the incident witnessed by Melville Stone illustrates, there was another side to this most singular of American events; a side far, far darker than anyone ever imagined and a side that, until now, has remained lost in the mythology surrounding our slain sixteenth president.

To this day, Abraham Lincoln is considered our most beloved American president. Polls consistently rate him as our top chief executive. However, few today realize that before his death, Lincoln was also our most hated American president. For a variety of reasons—his bloody war, his annulment of the Constitution, his jailing of political opponents, his Emancipation Proclamation, his “rustic” behavior, his ribald jests—fully one-half of the re-United States despised Lincoln, mocking him as “Old Ape.” Thus, after four years of mounting anger, many—like the unfortunate loudmouth in Stone’s hotel—could not contain their glee on learning of his demise. Whether or not the anti-Lincoln ventings were justified, such public utterances—and there were thousands of them—became a virtual death sentence in the midst of deeply wounded mourners.

The bloody purge which swept America following Abraham Lincoln’s death has remained a dark secret until now. It lasted for weeks, it was felt by all…and you won’t find it in school books.

The following is from my book, The Darkest Dawn—Lincoln, Booth and the Great American Tragedy

 ***

Although word of the horrible deed spread from Ford’s Theater moments after it occurred, it was only when soldiers forced the frenzied, wild-eyed audience from the building that Washington, DC felt the full, chilling impact of the Lincoln assassination.

“Every man and woman in the theater rushed forth to tell it,” wrote a chronicler. “Some ran wildly down the streets, exclaiming to those they met, ‘The President is killed! The President is killed!’ One rushed into a ball-room, and told it to the dancers; another bursting into a room where a party of eminent public men were playing cards, cried, ‘Lincoln is shot!’”

As one vast crowd surged up Pennsylvania Avenue shouting “The President is shot!” they were met by another sweeping down the street yelling “Secretary [William] Seward has been assassinated in bed.”

At Grover’s Theater, while the stage crew was behind the scenes preparing for the fourth and final act of Aladdin, a special interlude of the new patriotic song “When Sherman Marched Down to the Sea” had just ended. The applause was so great that the young songstress was about to offer an encore. In addition to Abraham and Mary Lincolns’ little boy, Tad, young James Tanner, a soldier who had lost both legs in the war, was also in the audience. Despite boarding just across the street from Ford’s Theater, Tanner had made what was for him a long and difficult trip to Grover’s on Pennsylvania Avenue. Just as the singer was about to begin, from the rear of the theater the door burst open with a crash.

“[A] man rushed in from the lobby and cried out, ‘President Lincoln has been shot in Ford’s Theater,’” Tanner recalled. “There was great confusion at once, most of the audience rising to their feet. Some one cried out, ‘It is a ruse of the pickpockets; look out.’ Almost everybody resumed his seat.” The lone exception was Tad Lincoln. When the boy heard the horrible words, he became hysterical. Tearing from his seat and his tutor “like a wounded deer,” the child ran screaming out the door.

Staring in startled silence like everyone else, Helen Moss, sister-in-law to Grover’s manager, watched as her brother stepped to the front of the lighted stage:

[He] said he had a very grave announcement to make. ‘President Lincoln has been shot in his private box at Ford’s Theater. The audience will be dismissed at once, and the house closed, but every one must move out quietly and orderly without excitement.” The house was as still as death. One could have heard a pin drop. The dazed look upon the faces! All were simply stunned for a moment. Then they rose as one body, and passed out toward the door, as if in the presence of death. The doors were thrown open. Sentries were stationed there with crossed bayonets to prevent a rush, but there was no rush. We stood in awe and watched the people file out one by one. 

As a friend helped him along, James Tanner turned up the avenue on his artificial legs, determined to learn more.

With the speed of sound, the horrible word from Ford’s raced over the city. In every street and alley, terrified people ran through the night screaming the awful news:

My God! The President is killed at Ford’s Theater!

Lincoln has been murdered!

The President has been shot!

Edwin Stanton had already locked his door for the night. Following a full day and a victory speech just delivered to a torchlight crowd, the secretary of war was weary and preparing for bed.  When he was nearly undressed, Stanton heard his wife Ellen go downstairs to answer the door. A moment later, she yelled out in a terror-filled voice, “Mr. Seward is murdered.”

Startled by the words, the secretary soon collected himself.

“Humbug!” he shouted back. “I left him only an hour ago.”

Stomping down the stairs half-dressed—determined to deal with the prankster in person—Stanton found his hallway filling with people. “What’s this story you’re telling?” glared the grim secretary. Seeing in the messenger’s terrified eyes that it was no hoax, Stanton quickly threw on some clothes and started for the door.

“You must’nt go out,” begged a friend. “They have killed Lincoln and they will kill you if you go out. As I came up to the house I saw a man behind the tree-box, but he ran away. . . .”

Brushing the advice aside, Stanton rushed straightaway toward the Seward home on Lafayette Park.

***

Gideon Welles, the white-bearded secretary of the navy, had just slipped off into sleep when his wife, Mary Jane, woke him. Someone was at the door, she said. Raising a window to see who it was below, Welles soon heard the horrifying news.

“Damn the Rebels, this is their work!” the naval secretary cursed, something he never did in Mary’s presence.  Pulling on his shirt and trousers, Welles also started in haste for Seward’s home.

Charles Sumner, the abolitionist courtier and confidant of Mary Lincoln, was enjoying conversation and wine with two other senators when a black servant, “his hair almost on end,” burst through the door.

“Mr. Lincoln is assassinated in the theater. Mr. Seward is murdered in his bed. There’s murder in the streets,” the frightened employee blurted out.

“Young man,” said the startled senator, “be moderate in your statements. Tell us what has happened,”

“I have told you what has happened,” insisted the servant.

Grabbing his coat, Sumner hurried toward the White House to learn for himself if there was any truth in the horrible words.

***

As a policeman in the District of Columbia, Tom Pendel was one of several men selected for duty at the White House. With the Lincolns absent this night, the home was quiet and there was little for Pendel to do. Even the two young men, Robert Lincoln and John Hay, had tired of their Spanish repartee and “gossiping” and had retreated to their respective rooms for the night.  Tom Pendel:

I was sitting in one of the big chairs in the alcove window facing the lower part of the city, waiting to open the door for President and Mrs. Lincoln when they should arrive from the theater, when I saw a confused mass of hurrying lights approaching the White House from the direction of the theater. They came straggling up the avenue to the White House and then there came a sharp ring at the bell. I bounded out of my chair . . . and quickly opened the door. To my surprise the caller was Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, whom I knew well enough by sight, and he looked pale and worried as he asked me in a rather sharp tone of voice whether the President had yet returned, and when I said that he had not, whether I had heard that anything had happened to him. He looked mighty relieved and pleased when I told him that I had heard nothing, and he said he had heard some vague rumor that something had befallen Mr. Lincoln.

I closed the door, and went back to my seat by the window more anxious and nervous than ever. There seemed to be a feeling of some impending calamity hanging over me, and when I heard quick footsteps approaching up the walk and then a violent ring at the bell I ran to the door, feeling sure that something had happened. The late caller was Isaac Newton, Commissioner of Agriculture. He was deathly pale, and his eyes glittered as though he had fever. His voice had a sort of strained and hoarse sound in it as he blurted out: “O, my God, they’ve shot the President!” For a few moments I could say and do nothing. I was so absolutely horror- stricken at the news that I was unable to think or realize the situation, or even to make a move.  Mr. Newton stood against the door with his hand over his eyes, and he was shaking and quivering with excitement and grief. It must have been nearly a minute before either of us said anything. Then, all at once, it occurred to me that the other occupants of the house should be made acquainted with the terrible news.

I left Mr. Newton standing at the door, and sprang up the front stairs, skipping two or three of them at a time in my excitement.  Hastening along the corridor, I came to Capt. Robert Lincoln’s room. . . . He had not gone to bed, and I remember that he had a medicine bottle in one hand and a spoon in the other, as though he were measuring out some medicine. . . . I shall never forget . . . the expression that overspread his face as I shrieked out my fearful news. He had looked up in surprise as I burst into his room, and as I told my errand he unconsciously let the bottle drop from one hand and then the spoon from the other. I could say nothing more, but gazed in a sort of fascination as the medicine slowly gurgled out over the carpet. I could only think how thick and black it was—my mind refused to take cognizance of anything else. But the words kept ringing through my mind in a low, monotonous song: “The President is shot—the President is shot!”

Recovering his senses, Robert ordered Pendel to inform John Hay, whose room was just down the hall. Locating the president’s secretary, the guard yelled out the news.

“I looked at him curiously as he listened,” said the policeman, “and I remember that his brilliant color—which I had often admired, it was so curiously like a beautiful woman’s—faded out so quickly that it seemed as though some one had then and there painted his cheek a deathly white.”

Racing down the stairs, Lincoln and Hay discovered a crowd at the door, including Charles Sumner. Following the shaken senator, the two young men climbed into a waiting carriage and lashed the horses toward Ford’s.

***

When Gideon Welles finally reached Secretary of State William Seward’s home, he found the street outside packed with people. Pushing his way through the crowd, the navy secretary entered the home and encountered Frances Seward at the top of the stairs. The woman, noted Welles, “was scarcely able to speak.” Indeed, a New York reporter on the scene recalled that such was the terror and confusion that scarcely an intelligible word could be gathered from anyone.

As Welles went up the stairs, what he saw was staggering. The home, according to one account, looked “like a field hospital.”

“It was a terrible sight—there was so much blood every where,” young Fanny Seward remembered. “The stairs was sprinkled with it all the way down to the floor below.” Wherever one looked, one saw a “scene of horrors,” said Frances Seward. On a lounge lay her frail son Fred with blood streaming over his face.

“His eyes were open,” Gideon Welles observed, “but he did not move them, nor a limb, nor did he speak.”

Elsewhere, three other men stood covered in blood, including another Seward son, Augustus, whose head had been slashed to the bone in several places. It was, of course, in Secretary Seward’s room where the carnival of horrors was worst. The bed, floor, walls, doors—all were awash in gore.

“Where we found my father,” wrote Fanny, “there was such a great pool of blood that my feet slipped in it. Some of us had our dresses drabbled in it several inches deep.”

When the naval secretary, now joined by Edwin Stanton, finally entered the room, he was horrified. “The bed was saturated with blood,” Welles wrote. “The Secretary was lying on his back, the upper part of his head covered by a cloth, which extended down over his eyes. His mouth was open, the lower jaw dropping down.”  Welles could also see that Seward’s throat was slashed on both sides, and his right cheek had been nearly severed from his head.  Because he was so hacked and mangled, noted a doctor, the secretary’s face was the only one in the room not stamped with terror. When the horrified Edwin Stanton began chattering nervously to those around him, the physician sternly ordered him to be quiet.

***

In suite 68 at the Kirkwood House on Pennsylvania Avenue, a troubled Andrew Johnson was awakened by a sharp knock on the door. Outside, Leonard Farwell, former governor of Wisconsin, was frantic to awaken the vice president. “I rapped,” remembered Farwell, “but receiving no answer, I rapped again and said in a loud voice, ‘Governor Johnson, if you are in the room, I must see you!’ ”

“Farwell? Is that you?” asked Johnson groggily.

 “Yes, let me in,” came the reply.

Even if the still-addled vice president could not clearly see his friend’s face, there was no confusing the terror in his voice.

***

Like a mighty river fed by raging tributaries, gaining force as it swept along, a flood of stunned humanity poured from the alleys and streets of Washington and emptied into the avenues that led to Ford’s Theater.  Around the building itself, an enormous crowd had already gathered.

54

Ford’s Theater

For a brief time, the crush of people was so great that many were able to edge their way into the Petersen home, directly across the street from Ford’s where the dying president was carried. After removing these trespassers, guards eventually forced the crowd back from the house.  Even at that distance, however, the shrieks of Mary Lincoln were clearly heard.

“Where is my dear husband? Where is he?” cried the woman when she finally burst through the door of the Petersen home. After becoming separated from her mate by the mob outside, Mary was frantic to find him again. Spurning the arms that reached to aid her, the frenzied first lady rushed through the house until she reached a small room to the rear. Throwing herself across her husband’s body, she hugged and kissed his unresponsive face. Horrified by what she saw in the light, Mary let out a startled, high-pitched scream. “Why didn’t he kill me? Why didn’t he kill me?” she sobbed.

As best they could, physicians went to work. Charles Leale:

While holding his face upward and keeping his head from rolling to either side, I looked at his elevated knees caused by his great height. This uncomfortable position grieved me and I ordered the foot of the bed to be removed. . . . [A]s I found this could not satisfactorily be done, I had the President  placed diagonally on the bed and called for extra pillows, and with them formed a gentle inclined plane on which to rest his head and shoulders. His position was then one of repose. . . . I called the officer and asked him to open a window and . . . as I wished to see if he had been wounded in any other part of the body I requested all except the surgeons to leave the room. The Captain reported that my order had been carried out with the exception of Mrs. Lincoln, to whom he said he did not like to speak. I addressed Mrs. Lincoln, explaining my desire, and she immediately left the room.

After the president was stripped of his remaining clothes, a search was made for other wounds. Finding none, Charles Taft turned his attention to the hole behind Lincoln’s left ear.

The wound was there examined, the finger being used as a probe, and the ball found to have passed beyond the reach of the finger into the brain. I put a teaspoonful of diluted brandy between his lips, which was swallowed with much difficulty; a half-teaspoonful administered ten minutes afterward, was retained in the throat, without any effort being made to swallow it. The respiration now became labored; pulse 44, feeble, eyes entirely closed, the left pupil much contracted, the right widely dilated; total insensibility to light in both.

Meanwhile, as attention was focused on the president, and while the shrill screams of his wife sent shattered nerves to the breaking point, Henry Rathbone was swiftly bleeding to death, almost unnoticed. After ensuring that Mary Lincoln reached the Petersen home safely, the major stopped in the hallway, clutching his arm. “The wound which I had received [from the assassin] had been bleeding very profusely,” Rathbone later said.

Hardly had the young man seated himself when he fainted and fell to the floor, “pale as a corpse.” Fortunately, Rathbone’s fiancée, Clara Harris, was nearby.  Although bathed in blood and numbed by the nightmare all about her, the woman nevertheless had the presence of mind to quickly tie a handkerchief over the terrible wound and thus stop the bleeding.  As Rathbone was carried down the hall toward a waiting carriage, Mary Lincoln filled the building with unearthly shrieks and groans.

“She was not weeping,” wrote a witness, “but appeared hysterical, and exclaimed in rapid succession, over and over again: ‘Oh! why didn’t he kill me? why didn’t he kill me?’”

The screams piercing the walls of the house to the street beyond only added to the horror of the anxious crowd outside. Standing in the cold mist with thousands of others, Julia Shepard vividly conveys the uncertainty, shock, and terror of the moment:

We are in the street now. They have taken the President into the house opposite. He is alive, but mortally wounded. What are those people saying. “Secretary Seward and his son have had their throats cut in their own house.” Is it so? Yes, and the murderer of our President has escaped through a back alley where a swift horse stood awaiting him. Cavalry come dashing up the street and stand with drawn swords before yon house. Too late! too late! What mockery armed men are now. Weary with the weight of woe the moments drag along and . . . delicate women stand clinging to the arms of their protectors, and strong men throw their arms around each other’s necks and cry like children, and passing up and down enquire in low agonized voices, “Can he live? Is there no hope?”

Another person standing outside the Petersen home was Adolphe de Chambrun. In contrast to the sad, stunned mood that had characterized the crowd earlier, the French traveler soon noted that with each spine-chilling scream and each terrible report, the people began to rouse from their stupor.

“[S]uddenly,” said de Chambrun, “there was a change. . . . The city came alive; the spirit of vengeance awoke and spread like a flame.  Cries, shouts, [and] passionate exhortations rent the air.”

Although the Frenchman did not realize it at the time, he was witnessing the initial spark to a bloody rampage that would indeed spread over the land like a devouring flame.  In many ways, the American terror was remarkably similar to that which had shamed de Chambrun’s own country a half-century earlier.

***

A stroke from Heaven laying the whole of the city in instant ruins could not have startled us as did the word that broke from Ford’s Theater a half hour ago.

Thus wrote a dazed New York  reporter, trying to describe the devastation the human mind suffered when it was forced to shift from happiness and hope to darkness and despair in only a heartbeat. With thousands of candles, lamps, and gas jets still glowing fiercely from the earlier end-of-war celebration, the murky conditions threw a surreal and sinister shroud over the whole of Washington.

“It was so light that one could see for blocks,” recalled Helen Moss as her escort hurried her home to escape the rising horror.  Many of those the couple met moved slowly through the mist like sleepwalkers. Others sped silently along as though they were ghosts. Some were seen to stagger, as if intoxicated.  Words were inadequate to describe one’s emotions.

“It was one of stifling, as though someone had gripped my throat,” Albert Boggs admitted when the full weight of the news finally sank in.

By midnight, it seemed to many as if the entire population of Washington was in the streets, boiling and surging about aimlessly.  Indeed, noted a newspaper correspondent on the scene, the city was “over-whelmed” with terror. Fueling the panic, of course, was the want of reliable information. “Ten thousand rumors are afloat,” stated a writer for the New York Tribune.

Not only were Lincoln, Seward, and their entire families reportedly butchered, but as the rumors gained momentum, all of the president’s cabinet had been slaughtered as well. “It was then reported that Gen. [Ulysses] Grant had been killed in Philadelphia, and in a short time, they had everybody of any consequence in the city assassinated, until I almost began to doubt the fact of my own existence,” added another confused man.

And so, from mouth to mouth the panic grew. When a rumor raced through the city that the telegraph lines leading to Washington had been cut, men and women ran through the streets screaming that the capital was about to be attacked. John Mosby’s Confederate guerrillas were infiltrating the town . . . Robert E. Lee had torn up the surrender terms of Appomattox and was marching north with his army . . . Washington would be bombarded . . . thousands would be killed . . . the war would continue!

The actions of the federal garrison seemed to confirm the reports. Files of infantry double-quicked through the streets, often passing other noisy columns marching in the opposite direction. Squadrons of cavalry, sabers clattering, dashed about the city at breakneck speed. Policemen raced across streets. Bells rang, drums rolled, carriages and ambulances tore helter-skelter through the night.

Every terrifying scene seemed not only to confirm one’s worst fears but to magnify them. Now at home, Helen Moss graphically conveyed her feeling of horror:

In our eagerness to catch every sound, we huddled about the windows, not daring to have a light, lest we be made targets of by “the Rebels.” A horseman would go dashing past, and down our heads would duck until we thought the danger past. Then we leaned far out to catch the first sound of news from the passers-by. Some man of the household would come dashing in to add to our terror with “The Rebels are upon us.”  “They have surrounded the city.” “They have begun their raid.” “We are in danger of being shot or made prisoners.”  “The President shot, and all of his cabinet.” . . . [W]e were simply wild with fright.

And still the rumors flew.

“A plot, a plot!” screamed a horseman as he galloped through the city. “Secretary Seward’s throat is cut from ear to ear; Secretary Stanton is killed in his residence; General Grant is shot at Baltimore, and Vice President Johnson is killed at the Kirkwood House.”

Understandably, many individuals were paralyzed with fear.

“We saw a colored man,” said a reporter, “blanched with terror and trembling in every limb, his teeth chattering like one with the ague.”  The frightened black was not alone, as the journalist admitted: “The hair on my head stood up.” Others became perfectly unhinged. Overcome with excitement and fear, an army captain went “raving mad” and was placed under arrest by a lieutenant.

“Rumors are so thick, the excitement of this hour is so intense,” recorded a tension-filled Washington editor in the early morning hours of April 15. “Evidently conspirators are among us. To what extent does the conspiracy exist? This is a terrible question. When a spirit so horrible as this is abroad, what man is safe?”

Given the fear, anger, and uncertainty, passions quickly became uncontrollable. On the streets and in hotels, huge mobs brandishing knives and pistols vowed to kill on the spot every rebel that fell into their hands.  According to one soldier, patrols darting about the city were not only encouraged but ordered to shoot down any who now displayed even a trace of disloyalty.  At such a turbulent time, many soldiers were quick to obey.   One  federal trooper overheard a man exult over the shooting of Lincoln by exclaiming, “it was good enough for the black rascal.” Without a word, the soldier immediately turned around, looked the man straight in the eye, drew a pistol, then blew his brains out.

Frank Myers and his comrades were marching through the streets at the double-quick when a bystander was heard celebrating. Grabbing a musket from a private, an angry sergeant promptly ran over to the man and speared him with the bayonet. Not content with his bloody work, the enraged soldier again plunged the long blade into his victim as he lay writhing on the ground.

Around the stricken city, as the mob spirit grew, others were treated similarly.  When someone shouted that hundreds of rebel soldiers were being held at the Old Capitol Prison, a cry of vengeance erupted. Another in the mob yelled that the prisoners were breaking out of jail at that very moment. With a roar of anger, the snarling crowd set off at a run.  As the enraged mob raced forward, hundreds along the way joined. When the screaming crowd of two thousand finally reached the prison, shouts were immediately raised to burn the “Trojan wooden horse” in their midst.

“‘Hang ’em,’ ‘shoot ’em, ‘burn ’em,’ became the cry, and to carry this threat into execution preparations were made,” recalled one of the frightened prisoners inside, Captain C. T. Allen. “Ropes were procured, knots were made, every thing ready for a general massacre of the helpless Confederate prisoners who knew nothing on earth of the occurrences of the night.”

Horrified by what was about to happen, Green Clay Smith, a congressman from Kentucky, and several friends rushed to place themselves between the mob and the prison. When Smith had halted the excited crowd with pleas, he left his companions and dashed off for help.

Continues Captain Allen:

His friends—God bless them, whoever they were . . . responded promptly, mounted a box on the streets, and addressed the mob. When one had said all he could say, another followed him, and so on, occupying half an hour. . . . [Congressman Smith] soon found a battalion of troops on the streets, took charge of them, rushed them to the old capitol, arriving just in time . . . to save from a terrible death some three or four hundred helpless Confederate prisoners.

A few others in the city—risking life and limb—kept their wits and resisted the almost irresistible tide of raging emotions.  Because many felt that Ford’s Theater and thespians in general had played some role in the disaster, a howling mob soon surrounded the building. When a nearby storekeeper attempted to reason with the rioters, he quickly found a rope around his neck. Only the swift action of authorities saved the man’s life.

The famous poet, Walt Whitman, describes another incident:

The infuriated crowd, through some chance, got started against one man, either for words he utter’d, or perhaps without any cause at all, and were proceeding at once to actually hang him on a neighboring lamp post, when he was rescued by a few heroic policemen, who placed him in their midst and fought their way slowly and amid great peril toward the Station House. . . . [T]he attack’d man, not yet freed from the jaws of death, looking like a corpse—the silent resolute half-dozen policemen, with no weapons but their little clubs, yet stern and steady through all those eddying swarms—made indeed a fitting side-scene to the grand tragedy.

While shouting mobs combed the streets searching for more victims, and while federal soldiers murdered in cold blood whomsoever they desired, many citizens looked from their windows, quaking in terror.

“Are we living in the days of the French Revolution? Will peace never come again to our dear land?” one man asked his wife that night. “[A]re we to rush on to wild ruin? It seems all a dream, a wild dream. I cannot realize it though I know I saw it only an hour ago.”

***

As James Tanner neared the street his boarding house sat on, he found his steps increasingly slowed. Several hundred yards from the building itself, the twenty-one-year-old former soldier found his path blocked entirely. In contrast to the riotous mobs elsewhere, a ghostly silence pervaded the dense crowd that stood outside the Petersen house. Dismayed, yet determined to reach his room, Tanner edged and slid his way forward on his shaky artificial legs. At length, he reached the military cordon encircling the Petersen home. After some intense explanation, Tanner eventually convinced the officers in charge that his quarters were indeed in the adjoining boarding house, and he was permitted to enter the building. Upon reaching his room, however, the exhausted young man was in for another surprise.

“There was a balcony in front,” he said, “and I found my rooms and the balcony thronged by other occupants of the house.”

From this high vantage, Tanner and the others had a front row seat to the drama unfolding next door. Like everyone else around him, the young man was absorbed by the coming and going at the Petersen house. As the stunned spectators watched, Edwin Stanton, Charles Sumner, and Robert Lincoln hastened up the steps, as did numerous political and military men. None, though, was more instantly recognizable than Gideon Welles, the dour, white-bearded man with the ill-fitting wig. After Welles entered the home, he hurried down the hall to the room where his beloved chief lay. Wrote the navy secretary in his diary:

The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the Cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. . . . The excitement and bad atmosphere from the crowded rooms oppressed me physically.

Indeed, the modest rooms were soon packed with scores of people, with no fewer than sixteen doctors alone.  Around the fallen leader’s bed were arrayed his shaken Cabinet members, most of whom were crying uncontrollably.  The normally stern and unbending Edwin Stanton, his body now convulsed with sorrow, sat stooped beside the bed, the tears trickling through his fingers to the floor. Senator Charles Sumner was particularly affected. “He was sobbing like a woman,” noted a reporter, “with his head bowed down almost in the pillow of the bed.”

When Gideon Welles, his body shaking with emotion, finally asked a physician about Lincoln’s condition, the words were heartbreaking:

He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer. . . . He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms . . . were of a size which we would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking.

Indeed, the president’s great strength and stamina were astonishing to those who witnessed the struggle. Among the physicians present, all agreed that a normal man would have succumbed soon after receiving such a grievous injury.  All the same, and except for some ineffectual probing of the wound, there was little that surgeons could do but keep the president’s body warm while they waited for inevitable death.

“His face looked ghastly,” recalled fifteen-year-old Fred Petersen, son of the homeowner. “He lay with his head on [the] pillow, and his eyes, all bloodshot [were] almost protruding from their sockets. . . . [H]is jaw had fallen down upon his breast, showing his teeth.” Other visitors to the house were soon made aware that with each rise and fall of the president’s chest there issued “one of the most dismal, mournful, moaning noises ever heard.” Secretary of the Interior John Usher was startled by the sound the moment he entered the home. “[H]is breathing was deep[,] almost a snore . . . almost a moan,” said Usher.

Heartrending as the sounds were to those who loved him, no one felt the impact more than his wife. Drawn from the front parlor by her husband’s suffering, her hair disheveled, her gown crumpled and bloody, Mary entered the tiny room on the verge of total collapse.

Wrote John Usher:

She implored him to speak to her[.] She did not want to go to the theater that night but that he thought he must go because people would expect him. . . . She called for little Tad[.] Said she knew he would speak to him because he loved him so well, and after indulging in dreadful incoherences for some time was finally persuaded to leave the room.

But again, the crazed woman returned. “At one time, while sitting by his bedside,” recounted a viewer, “she kept saying, ‘Kill me! kill me! kill me, too! shoot me, too!’ At another time I heard her exclaim in the most piteous tones, ‘Do live! do speak to me! Do live and speak to me, won’t you?’ ”

Among the few women present in the home was Elizabeth Dixon, daughter of a U.S. senator. Although Elizabeth sought to comfort Mary Lincoln repeatedly, the first lady was far beyond comforting. Himself on the verge of emotional breakdown, Robert Lincoln also tried mightily to aid his afflicted mother. Gently, though firmly, the son soothed Mary and begged her to place her faith in God. At other times, Robert’s reserves gave out. “Occasionally,” a witness remembered, “being entirely overcome, he would retire into the hall and give vent to the most heartrending lamentations.”  But then, continued the narrator, “he would recover himself and return to his mother, and with remarkable self-possession try to cheer her broken spirits and lighten her load of sorrow.  His conduct was a most remarkable exhibition of calmness in the most trying hour that I have ever seen.”

Despite the efforts of Robert and others, as well as sedatives, nothing seemed to ease the woman’s grief and pain.  Almost involuntarily, Mary limped again and again to her husband’s bedside, screaming and moaning.

When Edwin Stanton finally fled the room, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that it was to escape the ear-piercing shrieks of Mary Lincoln, a woman whom he thoroughly despised. Establishing a make-shift office in a nearby room, Stanton and Attorney General James Speed began orchestrating search efforts for the assassins and taking testimony from a number of witnesses. Quickly realizing that normal transcriptions could never handle the great weight of messages and testimony, Stanton ordered Major General Christopher Auger to find someone who took shorthand. Stepping onto the stoop, the officer shouted for anyone in the huge crowd who might help to come forward. Like everyone else, James Tanner and the others on his balcony were curious about the strange summons. Whether Tanner might have volunteered on his own or not would remain unknown. Before he had a chance, an acquaintance on the balcony yelled back, then pointed at Tanner. Easing slowly down the stairs on his wood and steel legs, the handsome young man at last reached the Petersen home. He continues:

Entering the house, I accompanied General Augur down the hallway to the rear parlor. As we passed the door of the front parlor, the moans and sobs of Mrs. Lincoln struck painfully upon our ears. . . . I took my seat on one side of a small library table opposite Mr. Stanton. . . . Various witnesses were brought in who had either been in Ford’s Theater or up in the vicinity of Mr. Seward’s residence. Among them were  Harry Hawk. . . . As I took down the statements they made, we were distracted by the distress of Mrs. Lincoln, for though the folding doors between the two parlors were closed, her frantic sorrow was distressingly audible to us. . . .

Through all the testimony given by those who had been in Ford’s Theater that night there was an undertone of horror which held the witnesses back from positively identifying the assassin. Said actor, Harry Hawk, “I believe to the best of my knowledge that it was John Wilkes Booth. Still I am not positive that it was him.”

If Hawk and others had reservations, many more had no doubts whatsoever. “In fifteen minutes,” said Tanner, “I had testimony enough to hang Wilkes Booth, the assassin, higher than ever Haman hung.”

The young man continues:

Our task was interrupted very many times during the night, some times by reports or dispatches for Secretary Stanton but more often by him for the purpose of issuing orders to enmesh Booth in his flight. ‘Guard the Potomac from the city down!’ was his repeated direction. ‘He will try to get south.’ . . . Several times Mr. Stanton left us a few moments and passed back to the room . . . where the President lay. The doors were open and sometimes there would be a few seconds of absolute silence when we could hear plainly the stertorous breathing of the dying man. I think it was on his return from his third trip of this kind when, as he again took his seat opposite me, I looked earnestly at him, desiring, yet hesitating to ask if there was any chance of life. He understood and I saw a choke in his throat as he slowly forced the answer to my unspoken question, “There is no hope.” He had impressed me through those awful hours as being a man of steel, but I knew then that he was dangerously near a convulsive break- down.

While Tanner began to transcribe his shorthand, Charles Dana, the assistant secretary of war, continued writing dispatches. Like everyone else who saw Stanton that night, Dana was impressed by the secretary’s strength, especially when contrasted to others in the house.

They seemed to be almost as paralyzed as the unconscious sufferer within the little chamber. Mr. Stanton alone was in full activity. . . . It seemed as if Stanton thought of everything. . . . The safety of Washington must be looked after. Commanders all over the country had to be ordered to take extra precautions. The people must be notified of the tragedy. The assassins must be captured. The coolness and clearheadedness of Mr. Stanton under the circumstances were most remarkable.

“He was then the Master, and in reality Acting President of the United States,” Dr. Leale accurately observed.

***

In large part because of Stanton’s efforts, much of the country quickly learned of the horrible events in Washington. During the early morning hours of April 15, Ulysses and Julia Grant stepped down from their car when it reached the banks of the Delaware. After an exhausting, though uneventful, train trip up from the capital, the Grants paused in Philadelphia for a quick meal before ferrying across the river to New Jersey. As always, and despite the late hour, a curious crowd awaited Grant’s appearance at the restaurant.  After the usual handshakes and comments, the famished couple at last were seated.

“The General ordered some oysters, as he had had nothing to eat since nine o’clock in the morning,” remembered Julia. “Before they were ready for him, a telegram was handed him, and almost before he could open this, another was handed him, and then a third.”

Grant scanned the first telegram:

April 15, 12:30 A.M.

On night Train to Burlington

The President was assassinated at Fords Theater at 10 30 tonight & cannot live. The wound is a Pistol shot through the head. Secretary Seward & his son Frederick, were also assassinated at their residence & are in a dangerous condition. The Secretary of War desires that you return to Washington immediately. Please answer on receipt of this.

Maj. Thomas T. Eckert

Stunned  by the words, the general opened a second message, this from Charles Dana:

Permit me to suggest to you to Keep a close watch on all persons who come near you in the cars or otherwise, also that an Engine be sent in front of the train to guard against anything being on the track.

Julia goes on:

The General looked very pale. “Is there anything the matter?” I inquired: “You look startled.” “Yes,” he answered, “something very serious has happened. Do not exclaim. Be quiet and I will tell you. The President has been assassinated at the theater, and I must go back at once. I will take you to Burlington (an hour away), see the children, order a special train, and return as soon as it is ready.”

On the brief trip up through New Jersey, Grant was silent and lost in thought.  “This is the darkest day of my life,” the general at last muttered. “I do not know what it means. Here was the Rebellion put down in the field, and it is reasserting itself in the gutter. We had fought it as war, we have now to fight it as murder.”

Others were hardly less startled than Grant.  Leonard Grover was on a business trip to New York City when a sharp rap on his hotel door rudely awakened him. Leaving his partner in Washington to manage affairs at the famous theater that bore his name, Grover did not anticipate trouble of any sort now that the war was over.

[S]ome one called, “Mr. Grover, here’s a telegram for you.” Thinking it was the usual message from one of the theaters (for I was then managing a Philadelphia theater as well) which would simply convey the amount of the receipts of the house, I called back: “Stick it under the door.” But the rapping continued with vigor, and there were calls, “Mr. Grover, Mr. Grover, please come to the door!”

I arose, hastily opened the door, when the light disclosed the long hall compactly crowded with people. Naturally, I was astonished. A message was handed to me with the request: “Please open that telegram and tell us if it’s true.” I opened it and read: “President Lincoln shot to-night at Ford’s Theater. Thank God it wasn’t ours. C. D. Hess.

***

I have just visited the dying couch of Abraham Lincoln. He is now in the agonies of death, and his physicians say he cannot live more than an hour. He is surrounded by the members of his Cabinet, all of whom are bathed in tears. Senator Sumner is seated on the right of the couch on which he is lying, the tears streaming down his cheeks, and sobbing like a child. All around him are his physicians. . . . The President is unconscious, and the only sign of life he exhibits is by the movements of his right hand, which he raises feebly.

Thus wrote a correspondent to the Chicago Tribune at 1:30 a.m. on April 15. So labored was Lincoln’s breathing and so ghastly was the blackening of the face and the bulging of the eyes, that all, like the reporter, felt the end was nigh. Indeed, twice during the night those present knelt on the floor while the president’s pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley, prayed. And yet, the life force in the tall, strong Illinoisan refused to surrender.

An early end would have been merciful for Mary Lincoln. Prior to every visit she made to the death chamber, someone hurriedly replaced the bloody pillows with clean ones. Nevertheless, each time Mary entered the little room and beheld her husband’s hideous condition, the woman screamed and cried. On two occasions she collapsed.  When the woman was revived and helped toward the front parlor, her ear-splitting shrieks and sobs again rattled the house.  Nearby, with his nerves ready to shatter, Edwin Stanton somehow managed to keep the wheels of government rolling.

“[I] dictated orders one after another, which I wrote out and sent swiftly to the telegraph,” said Charles Dana. “All those orders were designed to keep the business of the government in full motion till the crisis should be over. It was perhaps two o’clock in the morning before he said, ‘That’s enough. Now you can go home.’ ”

Also in the early morning hours, Andrew Johnson arrived at the home. Wisely refraining from venturing out earlier for fear of assassination, the vice president now made his belated appearance. Johnson had been in the building only a few minutes when Charles Sumner, knowing full well how much Mary Lincoln loathed the Tennessean, urged him to leave.  Fearing his presence would indeed ignite even uglier scenes, the man destined to be president at any moment meekly left as suggested.

In a house already rocked to its foundation by screams and terror, another disturbance occurred when William Petersen returned to his home. Outraged that his locked doors had been smashed to pieces to accommodate Mary Lincoln and others, furious that his carpets had been destroyed by mud and blood, Petersen was also angered that dozens of pillows, towels, and sheets had been totally ruined. Additionally, souvenir-seekers who had managed to slip into the home were dismantling the building one piece at a time. With no hope of compensation in sight, the furious homeowner grabbed one of the many bloody pillows lying about and angrily flung it into the yard.

As the interminable nightmare continued, Gideon Welles decided to briefly flee the stuffy building to find a quiet place where his ears would no longer be assailed by Mary’s shrieks or her husband’s deep groans. And so, at 6 a.m., the secretary walked outdoors into the dark and misty morning. As the large, white-bearded cabinet member reached the military cordon, he was instantly recognized by the waiting crowds. Wrote Welles in his diary:

Large groups of people were gathered every few rods, all anxious and solicitous. Some one or more from each group stepped forward as I passed, to inquire into the condition of the President, and to ask if there was no hope. Intense grief was on every countenance when I replied that the President could survive but a short time. The colored people especially—and there were at this time more of these persons than of whites—were overwhelmed with grief.

The navy secretary returned after only a fifteen-minute walk.  Rain began to fall on him as he passed back through the military cordon.

One of the troopers on guard that morning was twenty-two-year-old Smith Stimmel. Awakened from a deep sleep earlier that night by the horrible news, then ordered to saddle up for duty, the young Ohio cavalryman, like everyone else, remained in a state of shock. In Stimmel’s words:

All night I rode slowly up and down the street in front of that house. Sometimes it seemed to me like an awful nightmare, and that I must be dreaming; sometimes I would . . . wonder if I was really awake and on duty, so hard was it for me to realize the fact that President Lincoln was lying in that house in a dying condition.

As the gray pall from the east spread slowly over rainy Washington, and as the city bells tolled seven, Abraham Lincoln began to lose his struggle with death.

“The face of the dying had changed to a more ashy paleness,” recorded a witness. “The dark patch around his right eye had spread. His breathing had become shorter and less labored. That dreadful sound had given place to a kind of wild gurgling. Occasionally for a few seconds it would entirely cease, and I would think that all was over. Then it would resume; and thus these intervals would continue.”

Lincoln, a correspondent of the Chicago Tribune added more graphically, was “breathing with great difficulty. . . . His eyes were protruding from their sockets, and suffused with blood.”

The president’s respiration, noted Dr. Taft, would sometimes stop altogether for as long as a minute. Then, a sudden jolt from Lincoln’s chest would restart the lungs, startling everyone who imagined him dead. And thus the pattern would continue. Wrote Taft:

At these times the death-like stillness and suspense were thrilling. The Cabinet ministers, and others surrounding the death-bed, watching, with suspended breath, the last feeble inspiration, and as the unbroken quiet would seem to prove that life had fled, turn their eyes to their watches; then as the struggling life within would force another fluttering respiration, heave deep sighs of relief, and fix their eyes once more upon the face of their dying chief.

Shortly after 7 a.m., Mary Lincoln, assisted by Elizabeth Dixon, walked down the hallway to visit her suffering husband. “At that hour,” Elizabeth recalled, “just as the day was struggling with the dim candles in the room, we went in again. Mrs. Lincoln must have noticed a change, for the moment she looked at him she fainted and fell upon the floor. I caught her in my arms and held her to the window which was open, the rain falling heavily.”

After stimulants were administered, the woman was again helped to the bedside. “Love,” she begged, “live but one moment to speak to me once—to speak to our children.”

While Mary sat kissing and touching her husband’s face, trying with tears to will the words from him, surgeons around the woman noted that Lincoln’s breathing was growing less and less.  One of those watching was Dr. Charles Leale:

As Mrs. Lincoln sat on a chair by the side of the bed with her face to her husband’s his breathing became very stertorous and the loud, unnatural noise frightened her in her exhausted, agonized condition. She sprang up suddenly with a piercing cry and fell fainting to the floor. Secretary Stanton hearing her cry came in from the adjoining room and with raised arms called out loudly: “Take that woman out and do not let her in again.” Mrs. Lincoln was helped up kindly and assisted in a fainting condition from the room.

When his notes were finally finished, young James Tanner stepped next door to gaze upon the president:

It was very evident that he could not last long. There was quite a crowd in the room . . . but I approached quite near the bed on which so much greatness lay, fast loosing its hold on this world. . . . At the head [of the bed] stood Captain Robert Lincoln, weeping on the shoulder of Senator Sumner. . . . Stanton was there, trying every way to be calm and yet he was very much moved. The utmost silence pervaded, broken only by the sounds of strong men’s tears. It was a solemn time, I assure you.

As was obvious to Tanner and everyone else in the room, the last moments of Abraham Lincoln were at hand. “His face, which had been quite pale,” wrote a journalist, “began to assume a waxen transparency, the jaw slowly fell, and the teeth became exposed.”

The president’s respirations grew farther and farther apart. Several times, when the interval between breaths was longer than usual, doctors searched for a pulse.

“Such was the solemn stillness for the space of five minutes that the ticking of watches could be heard in the room,” one man noted.

Returning to James Tanner:

The Surgeon General [Joseph Barnes] was near the head of the bed, sometimes sitting on the edge thereof, his finger on the pulse of the dying man. Occasionally he put his ear down to catch the lessening beats of his heart. . . . [I] had full view of Mr. Stanton across the President’s body. . . . [His] gaze was fixed intently on the countenance of his dying chief. He had, as I said, been a man of steel throughout the night, but as I looked at his face across the corner of the bed and saw the twitching of the muscles I knew that it was only by a powerful effort that he restrained himself.

Finally, it was over. The long agony ended.  After his heart “fluttered” for ten seconds or so, Abraham Lincoln was no more.

“The first indication that the dreaded end had come,” Tanner revealed, “was at 22 minutes past 7, when the Surgeon General gently crossed the pulseless hands of Lincoln across the motionless breast and rose to his feet.”

“He is gone,” said Barnes simply.

No one spoke.  No one stirred.  No one cried.

“Then I solemnly believe that for four or five minutes there was not the slightest noise or movement in that awful presence,” the Reverend Dr. Gurley recalled.

We all stood transfixed in our positions, speechless, breathless, around the dead body of that great and good man. At length the Secretary of War, who was standing at my left, broke the silence and said, “Doctor, will you say anything?” I replied, “I will speak to God.” Said he, “Do it just now.” And there, by the side of our fallen chief, God put into my heart to utter this petition, that from that hour we and the whole nation might become more than ever united in our devotion to the cause of our beloved, imperiled country. When I ceased, there arose from the lips of the entire company a fervid and spontanious [sic] “Amen.”

“Mr. Stanton raised his head, the tears streaming down his face,” noted James Tanner. “A more agonized expression I never saw on a human countenance as he sobbed out the words:  ‘He belongs to the angels now.’ ”

Following the prayer, Reverend Gurley went to console Mary Lincoln.

“Oh why did you not tell me he was dying,” the woman burst out.

Maunsell Field was standing in the hallway while Gurley sought to comfort those in the parlor:

The prayer was continually interrupted by Mrs. Lincoln’s sobs. Soon after its conclusion, I went into the parlor, and found her in a chair, supported by her son Robert. Presently her carriage came up and she was removed to it. She was in a state of tolerable composure at that time, until she reached the door, when, glancing at the theater opposite, she repeated three or four times: “That dreadful house!—that dreadful house!

Returning to the bedroom, Field continues:

The President’s eyes after death were not, particularly the right one, entirely closed. I closed them myself with my fingers, and one [of] the surgeons brought pennies and placed them on the eyes, and subsequently substituted for them silver half-dollars. In a very short time the jaw commenced slightly falling, although the body was still warm. . . . The expression immediately after death was purely negative, but in fifteen minutes there came over the mouth, the nostrils, and the chin, a smile that seemed almost an effort of life. . . . The body grew cold very gradually, and I left the room before it had entirely stiffened.

As Lincoln’s body was being placed in a coffin, one by one, those who had maintained the horrible vigil while he yet lived now made their sorrowful way home with his death. “I felt as though I had been engaged all night in a terrible battle and had just strength enough left to drag myself off the field,” said a weary Reverend Gurley.  James Tanner, also thoroughly drained by the ordeal, nevertheless hobbled to his apartment next door and set to work writing another copy of the testimony taken earlier.

I had been thus engaged but a brief time, when hearing some commotion on the street, I stepped to the window and saw a coffin containing the body of the dead President being placed in a hearse . . . escorted by a lieutenant and 10 privates. As they passed with measured tread and arms reversed, my hand involuntarily went to my head in salute as they started on their long, long journey back to the prairies and the hearts he knew and loved so well.

When the hearse and its escort reached the crowds beyond the military cordon, large numbers of citizens joined the procession on its rainy trip to the White House.

His duty now done, a weary and dejected Dr. Charles Leale closed the door on the suddenly quiet, empty Petersen home.

I left the house in deep meditation. In my lonely walk I was aroused from my reveries by the cold drizzling rain dropping on my bare head, my hat I had left in my seat at the theater. My clothing was stained with blood, I had not once been seated since I first sprang to the President’s aid; I was cold, weary and sad. The dawn of peace was again clouded, the most cruel war in history had not completely ended.

***

Ironically, the one man in America whose job it was to have known of the tragic developments in the capital was one of the last to learn. While events swirled madly about him, newsman Noah Brooks lay in his room, oblivious to all, bedridden by a violent bout of flu. During the night, he and his roommate were aroused by the clatter of cavalry in the streets. Other than a dry joke about rebel raids and the capture of his friend Abraham Lincoln, Brooks paid no mind to the commotion and quickly dozed off again.

I was awakened in the early dawn by a loud and hurried knocking on my chamber door, and the voice of Mr. Gardner, the landlord, crying “Wake, wake, Mr. Brooks! I have dreadful news.” I slipped out, turned the key of the door, and Mr. Gardner came in, pale, trembling . . . and told his awful story. . . . I sank back into my bed, cold and shivering with horror, and for a time it seemed as though the end of all things had come. I was aroused by the loud weeping of my comrade, who had not left his bed in another part of the room.

When we had sufficiently collected ourselves to dress and go out of doors in the bleak and cheerless April morning, we found in the streets an extraordinary spectacle. They were suddenly crowded with people—men, women, and children thronging the pavements and darkening the thoroughfares. It seemed as if everybody was in tears.  Pale faces, streaming eyes . . . were on every side. Men and women who were strangers accosted one another with distressed looks and tearful inquiries.

For Noah Brooks—indeed, for millions more—the shock was too great, the transition too brief, the human mind too weak and simple to calculate the sudden change. With the speed of a burning bullet, the people of the North had been hurled down from the mountain top of hope and happiness to the abyss of sorrow and despair. Around Washington, colorful flags and banners hung soaked and motionless. Slowly, sadly, these tokens of victory were taken down, and the black of mourning was hung in their place.

“From lip to lip the tale of horror flew,” Noah Brooks continued:

[M]en and women went weeping about the streets; no loud voice was anywhere heard; even children’s prattle was hushed; gloom, sadness, mourning sat on every countenance.  . . . All shops, Government departments, and private offices were closed, and everywhere, on the most pretentious residences and on the humblest hovels, were the black badges of grief. Nature seemed to sympathize in the general lamentation, and tears of rain fell from the moist and somber sky. The wind sighed mournfully through the streets crowded with sad-faced people, and broad folds of funeral drapery flapped heavily in the wind over the decorations of the day before.

As was the case in Washington, when the shattering news reached the rest of the country via the telegraph there initially was only shock and silence.

Ran the Saint Louis Dispatch of April 15:

Many of our readers awoke this morning with a shudder, for the hoarse cry of the newsboy, as it was borne to them on the damp, chilly air, announced  the “assassination of President Lincoln” . . . Even the voices of the vivacious, devil-may-care newsboys seemed hushed as they announced  the sorrowful tidings.

“Men hold their breath, and turn pale at the appalling words,” noted a Boston clergyman:

Citizens meet, and shake hands, and part in silence. Words express nothing when uttered. All attempt to express the nation’s grief is utterly commonplace and insignificant. . . . [A] smile seems irrelevant and sacrilegious. Even the fresh, green grass, just coming forth to meet the return of spring and the singing of birds, seems to wear the shadows of twilight at noonday. The sun is less bright than before, and the very atmosphere seems . . . a strange ethereal element of gloom.

In Hartford, Connecticut, Toledo, Ohio, Davenport, Iowa, and countless American cities, sidewalks were packed with people milling about, mostly silent and staring, each looking desperately from face to face for an explanation.  In New York City, men and women passed uncertainly through the streets like sleepwalkers, stunned, speechless, silent. When reality began to sink in, even total strangers stopped on Broadway, then “sobbed like children” with one another. “My heart is so broken . . . that I can hardly think or write or speak,” admitted Ohio congressman and future U.S. president James A. Garfield, who was in the city on business. None in the metropolis felt the shock and pain more deeply than Walt Whitman.

“Mother prepared breakfast—and other meals afterwards—as usual, but not a mouthful was eaten all day by either of us,” the poet reminisced. “We each drank half a cup of coffee; that was all.  Little was said. We got every newspaper morning and evening, and the frequent extras . . . and pass’d them silently to each other.”

Later, when rain poured from leaden skies, Whitman put pen to paper to vent his own dark and dismal emotions: “Black clouds driving overhead. Lincoln’s death—black, black, black—as you look toward the sky—long broad black like great serpents.”

Across the continent, when the news reached California at 10 a.m. on April 15, the residents were no less startled than their eastern counterparts. Elkan Cohn was just about to deliver his sermon to Saturday morning worshipers at his San Francisco church when a note was handed to him at the pulpit. As the congregation watched in suspense, the Reverend Cohn soon burst into tears, then collapsed. After recovering somewhat, Cohn announced the grim news to the gathering. His words were received “like a thunderbolt,” and with sobs and groans the entire crowd was overcome with sadness.

“At first,” admitted an editor in the same city, “few could believe it.”

When the truth was accepted, however, the impact on Westerners was fully as devastating as that on Easterners.  “Hard, stern-featured men weeping like women,” wrote one witness as he walked the streets of San Francisco. “Every voice hushed to a whisper.”

At her home in Iowa, Marjorie Rogers first heard the incredible news when an elderly friend dropped by. “I was dumb with fear and astonishment,” the Des Moines woman admitted, “we could not talk about it. . . . [E]verything looked like an eclipse of the sun, our light and hope was gone. . . . Our old friend weeping like a child rose and left me alone. I wandered listlessly about, could not realize the awfulness of the situation.”

When Governor Oliver Morton tried to console a large crowd gathered at the statehouse in Indianapolis, he found he could not even console himself. “[H]is grief choked his utterance so that he was obliged to sit down,” said a sad witness.

“And only yesterday,” sighed Maggie Lindsley from the same state, “everything was so bright and beautiful—Nature too was rejoicing in the happiness and glory of this great Nation. . . . Richmond taken! Lee surrendered! A Mighty Nation saved, purged and purified! . . . Only yesterday! And today? Alas! The terrible stroke in the midst of the Nation’s triumph! O God! Our God! What does it mean? Why are we thus stricken in the midst of our paeans of praise? . . . Tears are in all eyes—sobs in every voice—old men and children—rich and poor, white and black—all feel it a personal loss. . . . God in Heaven! How hard it is to realize.”

Nowhere was the news from Ford’s Theater more devastating than in Lincoln’s hometown. To one Springfield reporter, it seemed as if the entire city was prostrated to the ground upon hearing the word—”as if,” he said, “the Death Angel had taken a member from every family.”

“The news of his going struck me dumb,” confessed Lincoln’s former law partner, William Herndon, “the deed being so infernally wicked . . . so huge in consequences, that it was too large to enter my brain.”

Indeed, for some the awful words were simply too enormous, too terrifying to be understood and dealt with sanely. In New York City, when an unstable German heard the news and saw the horrified reaction of those around him, he drew a razor and attempted to cut his own throat.  In the same city, a young boy had more success. Already subject to fits, the agitated child announced to his parents that he would join Lincoln in death. Before the screaming mother could react, her son slit his throat.  At New Haven, Connecticut, another man dropped dead when he heard the news, and in the same state a young woman reportedly became a raving maniac. After hearing of the assassination, a man in Michigan collapsed and rolled back and forth on the street in a fit.  Another individual, utterly unhinged by the news, roamed the sidewalks of Detroit with a large stone in his grip. When asked his purpose, the man replied that he was going to kill two people he knew.

As was the case in the nation’s capital, horror and shock soon gave way to anger and violence. “Such passion, such sorrow, such indignation, I never saw before,” a federal judge wrote in his journal after observing an Indiana crowd. “Every man seemed full of fury.”

Viewing from his office window a boiling, angry crowd, an enraged editor in Bangor, Maine, gave vent to his own explosive emotions. “Let the vengeance of an outraged people have full sway,” urged the journalist. “Smite from off the earth all instigators, perpetrators—all their sympathizers. Let them die a dog’s death.”

With prompting like the above, it is not surprising that the more excitable and unstable among the population quickly translated violent words into violent deeds. When a man on the Brooklyn ferry was overheard muttering “disloyal” sentiments, he was seized by fellow passengers and flung headfirst over the railing. The struggling victim was soon swept under the craft and smashed to death by the paddles.

“Served him right!” shouted those watching from the boat.

At a butcher shop in Ohio, another man clapped in elation when he heard the welcome news from Washington. According to a Cleveland newspaper:

The shop man had raised his cleaver to strike asunder a bone in the meat as the words of levity and insane joy fell on his ears. He turned on his heels and made a pass at the man with a downward stroke of the cleaver. He sprang aside, but the corner of the blade made a gash in his face. As he was jumping out of the door he received another blow in his shoulder, the axe inflicting a savage wound.

When two strangers fishing on the same stream in Connecticut first learned of Ford’s Theater, one yelled that he was “damned glad he’s dead.” Furious, the other angler dropped his pole, beat the man senseless, then tied him to a tree far from help.

For similar comments, several were reportedly slain in Boston and Chicago.  In the politically divided city of St. Louis, according to one account, many men were “shot down like dogs” for making similar remarks.  Outside a saloon in the same city, several were wounded and the Jewish owner killed when federal soldiers opened fire.  In Indiana and Illinois, even in the president’s hometown, those who celebrated the news from Washington were shot down on the spot. One man was literally cut to ribbons by fifteen balls.

Other victims in Iowa, California, and Colorado Territory “escaped up trees” after shouting mobs threw ropes around their necks.  In New York City, one cursing celebrant exclaimed, “Old Abe, that son of a bitch, is dead, and he ought to have been killed long ago.”  His joy was short-lived. A nearby policeman knocked the man cold with his club, then hauled the culprit to court, where he was promptly sentenced to six months in jail.  At South Camden in nearby New Jersey, police narrowly saved a black man from lynching at the hands of other blacks after a similar comment.

Numerous “suicides” also were reported. Some victims were found floating in creeks, rivers, and bays. More than one victim was found mangled on railroad tracks.  Others were discovered with multiple stab wounds to the heart or several bullet holes to the head.  All these victims supposedly died by their own hands.

When one or two boisterous individuals rashly exhibited elation at Lincoln’s death, they were easily and unmercifully dealt with by snarling neighbors. When entire communities celebrated, it was another matter.  At Marietta, Indiana, the unexpected news from Ford’s Theater propelled everyone from their homes, “crazy with joy.” Reported a shocked journalist:

In the absence of a cannon, they loaded and fired an anvil repeatedly, shouted, danced, sang, and in every possible manner gave expression to their demoniac joy, after which they constructed an effigy of President Lincoln, with a rude representation of the bullet-hole in his head, which they carried about the streets, a big ruffian following, and ringing a bell. The effigy was afterward burnt.

Though numbers and distance might insulate some anti-Lincoln communities, those areas with federal troops nearby who celebrated the president’s death did so at their peril. In Green Valley, California, a full-scale battle broke out when angry soldiers moved in to suppress disloyal demonstrations following the assassination. When the smoke had cleared, several lay wounded and nearly a dozen were arrested.

Elsewhere in California, scores of suspicious men either committed “suicide” or were hurled into Fort Alcatraz on San Francisco Bay.

Like their civilian counterparts, federal soldiers who foolishly made public their true sentiments on Lincoln could expect short shrift from grieving comrades. One soldier at a camp near Indianapolis declared that he would “have a hoe-down” on Lincoln’s grave and thereupon began dancing deliriously.  Outraged onlookers seized the man and quickly strung him up. Only when the victim’s face turned black did his comrades cut him down.  Five other soldiers at Indianapolis were treated similarly.

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“Assassin Sympathizers”

“Such Monsters shall not remain in my com[man]d.,” swore one general, who thereupon had the heads of two soldiers shaved, then ordered the culprits marched in front of the brigade. When large numbers of men in an Indiana regiment began a spontaneous celebration of Lincoln’s death, the colonel ordered mass arrests.  Some of the men were hung up by their fingers and thumbs while others were bucked and gagged.  At the very least, federal soldiers who displayed joy at the assassination could expect weeks, months, even years of prison time at hard labor.

When the supply of vocal victims ran low, ever-ready rabble-rousers used the excitement to deal with political foes or anyone with a history of opposition to the war and the Republican Party.  In the horror and confusion following Lincoln’s death, and with rumors spreading like wildfire, hundreds of pro-Confederate Northerners, or “Copperheads,” as well as Democrats, neutrals, and even moderate Republicans, were seized by their frenzied neighbors to be beaten, clubbed, and sometimes killed.

In Philadelphia, Boston, Battle Creek, Michigan, and other cities, victims were mobbed, then forced to perform humiliating stunts, such as singing patriotic tunes and swearing loyalty while groveling in the dirt.  George Stone of Swampscott, Massachusetts, was seized by an angry crowd, tarred and feathered, then dragged through the streets in a rowboat while being forced to wave an American flag.

Hemp and Hell for Traitors!” urged one journal, a religious periodical that claimed to be a “high Methodist and Christian authority.”

On the stormy night following Lincoln’s death, a shouting crowd of several hundred men and boys combed the streets of Concord, New Hampshire, searching for disloyalty and treason. After barging into a number of shops and residences, “literally driving old ladies from their houses,” the mob surrounded the stately home of Franklin Pierce. “Where is your flag?” a cynical voice demanded when the former U.S. president appeared at the door. Although opposed to many of Lincoln’s policies, Pierce was no traitor.  After a courageous and dignified address by the Democrat,  the satisfied mob left to search for sedition elsewhere.

At Buffalo, when it was noticed that there were no signs of mourning on the house, an angry mob reportedly slung mud and splashed black ink on the residence of another ex-president, Millard Fillmore. Inside the home, the same man who had so cordially hosted the Lincolns on their trip to Washington in 1861 was now bedridden with a serious illness.  In New York City, a gang of club-wielding teenagers burst into the Staten Island home of Julia Tyler, widow of the tenth American president.  Although no one was injured, before the “patriotic young men” left, they snatched from the room what was believed to be a rebel banner.

“The flag so rudely taken away,” wrote Julia a short time later, “was a fancy tri-color, made some ten years ago. . . . It hung as an ornament above a picture. There was no other flag in the house but a large United States one.”

As these incidents illustrate, in the fury of the moment the mob’s madness respected neither station, age, nor gender.  Indeed, those who felt that female Copperheads had been protected from punishment over the past four years because of their sex now eagerly encouraged violence against them. “There are women among us who wept for sorrow when Richmond was taken—who lamented when Lee surrendered—who rejoiced when Lincoln was assassinated,” railed the editor of an Indianapolis newspaper. “There are women in the North who, today say those things for which men have been imprisoned, shot and hung.”

At Terre Haute, Indiana, a female who reportedly shouted for Jefferson Davis was grabbed by a mob, marched through the streets waving a U.S. flag, and forced to shout for the Union.  In Detroit, two women were driven from their homes, with one being pounded unmercifully with a broomstick. Another woman in Iowa, long suspected of disloyal sentiments, was also  rumored to have cheered over the assassination.  According to a Des Moines newspaper:

Without giving the subject the least investigation . . . a number of women, among them the wife of the presiding elder of the Methodist church, visited the house of Mrs. Peterson, and compelled her, an invalid, to leave her house and carry an emblem of mourning, which . . . was a flag, and march around the town. She protested that she had not uttered a word of exultation at the death of the President and implored them to confront her with [the] witness; but her protestations were answered by the insulting reply that she was lying.  She assured them that she was unable to walk the distance required, and if forced to perform the humiliating service they must carry her. Her protestations of innocence, her demand for the proof, her widowhood, and even the precarious condition of her health, had no power to move their pity.  Go she must and they forced her out of the house and dragged her around the streets to be scoffed and jeered at, tearing her dress nearly off.

Not content with inflicting this gross indignity upon the sick woman, they attempted to compel her little daughter, thirteen years of age, to perform the same service, and because she had spirit enough to resist the outrage, she was beaten and bruised until blood streamed from her nose and her arms were black and blue.

Horrifying incidents such as the above finally forced the more stable in society to speak out. After self-appointed vigilantes gutted homes and stores in Fall River, Roxbury, and other Massachusetts towns, then forced citizens to perform public humiliations, the editor of the Springfield Republican in the same state erupted when mobs took over his town.

“[T]he police, instead of doing anything to stop it, seem rather to go round with the crowd, and enjoy the fun,” snapped the indignant newsman. “These proceedings are too shameful to be tolerated. . . . [T]hey are outrages and ought to be stopped.  If a man blatantly thrusts disloyal sentiments into the faces of the community, and is rash enough to insult the loyal heart of the people in this hour of its great sorrow, we are perfectly willing, nay anxious, that he should be summarily shut up and punished according to his deserts. . . . But as long as such men keep still, let them severely alone.”

Though well-intentioned, such cries for sanity were largely lost in the shouts for revenge.

Because the city’s grand victory celebration—the greatest drunken display in its history—had ended only hours earlier, when the awful news from Ford’s reached Cincinnati the reaction was especially violent. Moments after hearing the word, two jubilant men stepped onto the street and announced they were “glad” Lincoln was dead.  According to one who was there, “The words had hardly escaped their lips when a man drew a pistol and shot one dead on the spot. The other was literally cut to pieces.” Many others in the city fared little better.

With bloodthirsty mobs controlling the streets of Cincinnati, homes and businesses of suspected Copperheads were looted and destroyed.  Fearing for his life, a physician who had earlier failed to display a U.S. flag during the victory celebration quickly hung one from his window. Unimpressed by the gesture, a howling mob now demanded that the flag be taken down. The doctor nervously refused. As bullets and rocks battered the home, police arrived and escorted the trembling inmates to safety.

Unlike Cincinnati officials, who at least tried to maintain law and order, the mayor of Philadelphia announced that any who did not display symbols of mourning need expect no aid from city police.

Already inhabited by some of the roughest elements in America, the West Coast was especially explosive. After the initial shock had passed, a storm of anger and violence swept through San Francisco.  In short order, and with employees fleeing for their lives, frenzied mobs entered the offices of several “obnoxious” Democratic newspapers and went to work. When the rioters had finished, the businesses were totally destroyed. To the south, the same news “fell like an avalanche” on Los Angeles, where homes were burned and many, including a black, a Jew, and a Mexican, were arrested.

At Westminster, Maryland, an angry mob stormed the office of a local Democratic newspaper and smashed it to splinters. The editor, Joseph Shaw, was warned that if he returned to town he would be killed on sight.  As added justification, members of the crowd insisted that the journalist was a depraved debaucher who had “led to ruin a simple-minded girl.”

Near Berlin, Illinois, soldiers arrested five individuals and accused them of being Missouri guerrillas. When the men were later lynched, a Springfield editor admitted that at most the victims might have been guilty of being Copperheads.  In far-off Washington Territory, fifteen men—”horse thieves and highwaymen”—were hung in Walla Walla, and a vigilance committee had a list of 150 more to be driven out or killed.  And in numerous other instances, the line separating the personal from the political became blurred as opportunists seized the moment to punish their foes.

During the height of the Cincinnati riot, one unscrupulous individual spotted an old and much-hated enemy who happened to also be a loyal Union man. Pointing at his foe, and beckoning to the mob, the man yelled: “You are not sorry, eh? You shout for Jeff. Davis, do you?” As intended, the innocent victim was swiftly set upon by the crowd.

At San Francisco, a drunk who suffered from insane fits of jealousy grabbed a pistol, then chased his screaming wife into the yard and tried to kill her. Although the ball fortunately missed its mark, the man justified his murderous action by insisting that the woman was a “damned secesh bitch.”

Throughout the frenzied North, the madness continued as a deeply wounded nation turned savagely on itself. In the hours following Lincoln’s assassination, hundreds died, thousands were beaten or jailed, and countless others were forced to flee for their lives. Indeed, for those well versed in the history of the French Revolution and the Terror that came with it, the horrors of the American terror must have seemed chillingly similar. As the nation teetered on the brink of anarchy, there was a very real fear among many sane individuals that one small ball weighing less than an ounce might accomplish that which tons and tons of rebel lead had failed to do.

***

Returning to the army hospital soon after his nightmarish duty at the Petersen home, Charles Leale was concerned about the terrible impact the assassination would have on his wounded men:With little or no  respite, t he rain that came with Lincoln’s death continued throughout the day in Washington on Saturday, April 15. Despite the downpour, the streets of the capital were crowded with citizens. Little was said.  Faces full of sadness said all.  It was if the people were compelled by some mysterious force to join with others and mourn over a loss so profound that words were meaningless. Many moved about the city as if in a stupor. Few felt the loss more sharply than soldiers. Those who had fought for years and had grown fond of “Father Abraham” now reacted as if they had indeed lost a parent. “It probably means more to me than it does to you,” a cavalryman sobbed to a comrade. “He signed an order that saved me from being shot.”

One of my patients was profoundly depressed. He said to me: “Doctor, all we have fought for is gone. Our country is destroyed, and I want to die.” This officer the day before was safely recovering from an amputation. I called my lady nurse, “Please closely watch Lieutenant              ; cheer him as much as possible, and give him two ounces of wine every two hours. . . .” This brave soldier received the greatest kindness and skillful care, but he would not rally from the shock and died in a short time.

Of all groups, however, blacks were perhaps the most tragically stricken. Many were prostrate with grief.  From “Crow Hill,” “Fighting Alley,” “Buzzard Town,” and other communities around Washington, frightened blacks, like their white counterparts, journeyed into the rain to mourn as one and contemplate their future. “[T]hey seemed not to know what was to be their fate since their great benefactor was dead,” observed Gideon Welles.

“We have lost our Moses,” sobbed one colored woman to a white man who tried to console her.

“God will send you another,” assured the well-meaning man.

“I know that,” replied the woman, “but we had him already.”

Amid the dreadful gloom and despondency, the only sign of normalcy was the newsboys. Feeding the public’s ravenous need for news, the youngsters sold black-bordered newspapers and extras almost as fast as they were printed.   Many were sharp businessmen. “The newsboys raised the price to ten cents a copy (the regular price was five cents) and sold them like hot cakes,” one man remembered. “I heard of one newsboy who made $56.00 selling newspapers on that Saturday.”

While thousands struggled inwardly with their emotions, the outward manifestations of mourning were everywhere. Within hours of Lincoln’s death, down the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue, on side streets and main thoroughfares, from the meanest hovel to the most stately mansion, hung the black symbols of grief.

“Washington wears a mournful aspect from center to circumference,” wrote Charles Sanford to a friend. “Miles and miles of material—from fine & expensive crape to black calico, are devoted to draping the city in mourning.”

Swiftly, even at drastically hiked prices, the supplies of material in the stores and shops were exhausted, and the people were reduced to hanging black aprons, scarves, ribbons, and bits of rags from doorknobs and windowsills. U.S. flags, all now lowered to half-staff, were edged in black. Those who owned portraits of the late president hung them on the outside of their homes, adding such slogans as “Our Father,” “Our Savior,” and “We mourn our loss.”  At the distant forts surrounding Washington came the slow, steady salute of cannons thundering the terrible news. And in the city itself, from dozens of steeples, deep-voiced bells added to the gloom. And yet, impressive as the formality was, the outward display could in no way give a true expression of the heart.

“This frowning sky, this sobbing day, these low and agonizing words, these closed stores, offices and departments, these stern sentries, pacing to and fro in strange places, these miles of crape,” wrote one reporter, “are but signs of a grief that no outward manifestations can wholly express.”

With each faint cannon boom and each deep bell toll, the sadness of the city was driven into each heart again and again.  In rainy New York, these same sounds were an added affliction to one poor woman. The bond between her and her son was “very close, very strong,” said one who knew the two well. “No matter how far apart they were, she seemed to know, in some mysterious way, when anything was wrong with him. If he were ill, or unfit to play, he would often receive a letter of sympathy, counsel, and warning, written when she could not possibly have received any news from him.”  That morning, as the bells tolled in New York, Mary Ann Booth felt that something truly terrible had occurred to “the fondest of all my boys.” A friend happened to be with the mother that morning:

Outside the newsboys, with strident voice, were calling, “The President’s death, and the arrest of John Wilkes Booth.” While in answer to these words the mother moaned: “O God, if this be true, let him shoot himself, let him not live to be hung! Spare him, spare us, spare the name that dreadful disgrace!” Then came the sound of the postman’s whistle, and with the ring of the door bell a letter was handed to Mrs. Booth. It was from John Wilkes Booth, written in the afternoon before the tragedy. . . . It was an affectionate letter, such as any mother would like to receive from her son, containing nothing of particular moment, but ghastly to read now, with the thought of what the feelings of the man must have been who held the pen in writing it, knowing what overwhelming sorrow the next few hours would bring.

That “overwhelming sorrow” was perhaps felt no more deeply than in the heart of another of the mother’s sons:

A fearful calamity is upon us. The President of the United States has fallen by the hand of an assassin, and I am shocked to say suspicion points to one nearly related to you as the perpetrator of this horrid deed. God grant it may not prove so!

Thus, from a note written by the hand of a friend, did Edwin Booth first learn of the events of the night before. Already steady fare in one of America’s most cultured cities—one hundred consecutive full houses for his role as Hamlet alone—Booth was an all but adopted son in Boston. “All the women are crazy about him,” one star-struck lady sighed. “[S]o silent and dark and Gawain-looking and so delightfully indifferent and so distressed. . . . [E]very one would like to do something to console him.” And yet, all the adulation and popularity vanished from Edwin’s mind in a flash when he received the devastating news. Even as he was performing on the Boston stage and receiving waves of applause as he always had, even then the horrid act was being committed.

“Oh!” wrote the shattered actor, “How little did I dream . . . when on Friday night I was as Sir Edward Mortimer exclaiming ‘Where is my honor now? Mountains of shame are piled upon me!’ that I was not acting but uttering the fearful truth.”

“The news of the morning has made me wretched indeed,” continued Booth to a friend, “not only because I have received the unhappy tidings of the suspicion of a brother’s crime, but because a good man, and a most justly honored and patriotic ruler, has fallen, in an hour of national joy, by the hand of an assassin.”

As Edwin explained to another consoling friend:

Lincoln was my President for in pure admiration of his noble career & Christian principles I did what I never did before—I voted & FOR HIM! I was two days ago one of the happiest men alive. . . . Now what am I? . . . [T]he beautiful plans I had for the future—all blasted now.

Although at the moment it was small consolation to the distraught, sensitive actor, few in Boston were bent on harming him because of his brother’s deed.  No such charity was extended to another brother by the citizens of Cincinnati. Overhearing the hideous news while at rehearsal Saturday morning, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., collapsed on stage.  When he was revived and tried to stand, again he fainted.  During the ensuing riot that swept the city, the actor with the now infamous name was one of the first men called for by the mob. After ripping down his playbills throughout the city, several hundred rioters surrounded the hotel where he was staying.  Only the quick wits of a clerk—who nervously announced that Booth had left earlier—prevented a lynching then and there.

Upon hearing the horrific news, other acquaintances wisely worked to put as much distance between themselves and the assassin as possible. “I tried to persuade myself that I did not know Booth,” admitted a Philadelphia theater manager. “When questioned in regard to the subject my memory was a blank.”

And for those who knew and loved the dashing idol, their grief was bottomless. Clara Morris was in Columbus, Ohio, when word first reached her of Lincoln’s murder. Although startled by the terrible news, the actress knew nothing of the details, or who the assassin was.

My room-mate and I had, from our small earnings, bought some black cotton at a tripled price, as all the black material in the city was not sufficient to meet the demand; and as we tacked it about our one window, a man passing told us the assassin had been discovered, and that he was the actor Booth. Hattie laughed so she nearly swallowed the tacks that, girl-like, she held between her lips, and I, after a laugh, told him it was a poor subject for a jest, and we went in.

A short time later, a friend named Ellsler dropped by to deliver some playbooks as requested.

We heard his knock. I was busy pressing a bit of stage finery. Hattie opened the door, and then I heard her exclaiming: “Why—why— what!” I turned quickly. Mr. Ellsler was coming slowly into the room. He is a very dark man, but he was perfectly livid then—his lips even were blanched to the whiteness of his cheeks. His eyes were dreadful, they were so glassy and seemed so unseeing. He was devoted to his children, and all I could think of . . . was disaster to one of them, and I cried, as I drew a chair to him: “What is it? Oh, what has happened to them?”

He sank down—he wiped his brow—he looked almost stupidly at me; then, very faintly, he said: “You—haven’t—heard—any thing?”

Like a flash Hattie’s eyes and mine met. We thought of the supposed ill-timed jest of the stranger. My lips moved wordlessly. Hattie stammered: “A man—he—lied though—said that Wilkes Booth—but he did lie—didn’t he?” and in the same faint voice Mr. Ellsler answered slowly: “No—no! He did not lie—it’s true!”

Down fell our heads, and the waves of shame and sorrow seemed fairly to overwhelm us; and while our sobs filled the little room, Mr. Ellsler rose and laid two playbooks on the table. Then, while standing there, staring into space, I heard his far, faint voice saying: “So great—so good a man destroyed, and by the hand of that unhappy boy! my God! my God!” He wiped his brow again and slowly left the house, apparently unconscious of our presence.

“My heart feels as if it was cramped in a vise,” confided another actress, Charlotte Cushman, upon hearing the news.

The shock, of course, was even more devastating for those women romantically involved with Booth. Lucy Hale, the actor’s fiancée, was all but destroyed emotionally by the news. And Booth’s mistress, Ella Turner, a “rather pretty, light-haired, little woman,” closed the door in her Washington room, stared at her lover’s photo one last time, then tried to kill herself with chloroform. When she was discovered a short time later, doctors were quickly called in and managed to save her. As the unhappy young woman came to, however, she was far from grateful for what the physicians had done.

Another woman in Washington desperately prayed for the deliverance of death, but, as with Ella, her fondest hope was not to be.

***

“Not there! Oh, not there!” insisted Mary Lincoln as doctors and friends searched for a suitable room in the White House where she might lie. Every chamber, it seemed, had a painful, haunting memory of her dead husband. Finally, a little-used room was located, and the former first lady was at last eased onto a bed.   For the tormented woman, there would be no rest.  She groaned loudly one moment and shrieked hysterically the next, and there was little anyone could do to console her. Although Mary Jane Welles, wife of the navy secretary, and Elizabeth Dixon were some comfort throughout the tortuous night, the widow repeatedly asked for her mulatto seamstress, Lizzie Keckley. When the woman was finally located later in the morning, she was swiftly driven to the White House.

I was quickly shown to Mrs. Lincoln’s room, and on entering, saw Mrs. L. tossing uneasily about upon a bed. The room was darkened, and the only person in it besides the widow of the President was Mrs. Secretary Welles.

“Why did you not come to me last night, Elizabeth—I sent for you?” Mrs. Lincoln asked in a low whisper.

I did try to come to you, but I could not find you,” I answered, as I laid my hand upon her hot brow.

Shortly after entering the room on Saturday morning, Mrs. Welles excused herself, as she said she must go to her own family, and I was left alone with Mrs. Lincoln. She was nearly exhausted with grief, and when she became a little quiet, I asked and received permission to go into the Guest’s Room [across the hall] where the body of the President lay in state. . . . When I entered the room, the members of the Cabinet and many distinguished officers of the army were grouped around the body of their fallen chief. They made room for me, and, approaching the body, I lifted the white cloth from the white face of the man that I had worshipped as an idol. . . . I gazed long at the face, and turned away with tears in my eyes and a choking sensation in my throat.

Soon after Lizzie left the room, an autopsy began on the dead president. Dr. Edward Curtis:

Seated around the room were several general officers and some civilians, silent or conversing in whispers, and to one side, stretched upon a rough frame work of boards and covered only with sheets and towels, lay—cold and immovable—what but a few hours before was the soul of a great nation. The Surgeon General was walking up and down the room when I arrived and detailed me the history of the case. He said that the President showed most wonderful tenacity of life, and, had not his wound been necessarily mortal, might have survived an injury to which most men would succumb.

“His eyes were both very much protruded—the right one most—and very black and puffy underneath,” observed friend Orville Browning.

During the examination, a messenger from Mary Lincoln entered the room requesting a lock of hair. When the strand had been snipped, the servant left and the procedure continued. Edward Curtis:

Dr. [J. J.] Woodward and I proceeded to open the head and remove the brain down to the track of the ball. The latter entered a little to the left of the median line at the back of the head, had passed almost directly forwards through the center of the brain and lodged. Not finding it readily, we proceeded to remove the entire brain, when, as I was lifting the latter from the cavity of the skull, suddenly the bullet dropped out through my fingers and fell, breaking the solemn silence of the room with its clatter, into an empty basin that was standing beneath.

“There it lay upon the white china,” thought Dr. Curtis as he stared at the bullet, “a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger— dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world’s history.”

One of those mighty changes spoken of was taking place in a quiet ceremony at the Kirkwood House.  At  11 a.m., Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office to Andrew Johnson. Sharing the room were several cabinet members and senators.  As he looked into the face of the soon-to-be president, a face “full of sorrow & anxiety,” Chase was struck by the sudden change of fortunes.

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