From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

  WITH FIRST ARMY SPEARHEAD: APRIL 14, 1945 - The dusty roads of Germany today are clogged with the walking dead. They are the political prisoners of the Third Reich released from hell by the swift advance of First Army forces. You see these pitiful slave laborers on all the main routes, stumbling painfully along, gasping at each step, so grey and emaciated from starvation that each movement is a terrible effort. They look like the zombies portrayed in a Boris Karloff thriller - only this is the real McCoy, the sort of thing that makes American soldiers know exactly what they are fighting for.

Spearheads of the 3rd Armored Division over-ran more than 2,000 of these unfortunates today. Most of the men had been employed by the SS in salt mines at Dessau. They had been fed four ounces of bread a day, along with a liter of watery soup. They worked hard, a twelve hour shift - and there was no slacking. There was none of this because those who were suspected of slowing up production were promptly hanged, stripped of clothing and popped into an efficient little oven for cremation.

You had only to look at these men to feel a consuming rage against the system which could produce such an inhuman offense against God and mankind. They tottered along in the dust and, even though untended wounds festered on bare feet and flimsy, striped uniforms flapped about skeleton bodies, these men lifted their pain dulled eyes and managed to wave feebly to the tankers passing by.

The slaves are a league of nations. There are Poles and Italians, Russians and French, even a smattering of German communists. They speak in a babel of tongues, and yet each tells the same story, and each is grey with starvation and abuse. American officials, attempting to cope with the mass exodus, handed down a Solomon-like decision. The burgermeister of each German town along the way was charged with the duty of feeding the unfortunates - and no argument, or else.

Also liberated by the advancing armor, were approximately 1,000 prisoners of war: French, Belgian, Dutch, and a few British soldiers. Like the slave labor they had been put to work in German war industries, many at Aschers-Leben, where they manufactured Junkers airplane parts.

The PW's were, in many cases, suffering from malnutrition, but not starvation. Until a few months ago they had been receiving Red Cross packages which helped to round out a meagre diet.

Among the liberated were 105 Dutchmen who had been arrested as saboteurs in 1943. One of their number, Gery Huyer, of the Hague, a former resident of Clifton, New Jersey, said that living conditions were very poor since the Red Cross packages ceased to come. "We used to swap all our cigarettes for food," he chuckled. "We had to go without smokes, but it was necessary." The Dutchmen, along with Belgians, French, and a few Britons, were taken as their German guards attempted to march the prisoners deeper into Germany.

"We knew you were coming," said Rien Elzinga, a chemistry student from Delft, Holland, "and we walked very slowly - Oh, very slowly indeed!"

It was a satisfactory day for the "Spearhead" Division. Besides gaining important ground and releasing thousands of slave laborers and PW's, the tankers captured 1,069 German soldiers. Among the "supermen" was one officer who surrendered with the complaint: "They give me children for troops, and I'm damned if I will commit small boys to battle!"

Thus far, 3rd Armored Division troops had not been faced by little boys bearing arms. However, a detatchment of some 25 Hitler Jugend kids were discovered hiding in a wood along the route of advance. The children were unarmed, but uniformed. They'd been recruited from various cities in Germany and used principally to clear bomb rubble from the streets of the Reich.

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