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
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.