National Geographic : 1947 Jan
What I Saw Across the Rhine BY J. FRANK DOBIE FOR months I traveled through Germany as a civilian lecturer in the United States Army's Information and Education Di vision. What I write here is personal, nowise official. My point of view, to an extent, is that of many thousands of civilians attached to the Army. After they get into Germany and Austria, they cannot eat, sleep, ride in a train, smoke a cigarette, or buy a pair of socks except by provision of the army. It was December of the first winter of peace when I headed for Germany from Paris. The run to Frankfurt was at night, and the train was mostly loaded with American soldiers who had been in Paris on leave. Two of the five who shared my compart ment were sergeants in an engineering com pany which helped keep German trains run ning. One spent his spare time hunting wild boar and deer in a German forest. The third soldier was a Texas cavalryman who had not ridden a horse since he entered the Army. The fourth was a radio broad caster, and the fifth was a private in the Medical Corps who was much concerned over the way some GIs sympathize with Germans. Armed Guards Protect Baggage Every time the train stopped, armed guards would get off and patrol to see that no thief crawled into the baggage car. Dawn came as we were creeping across the Rhine on a tem porary bridge alongside the dynamited ruins of the great bridge at Mainz, of which the Germans were once so proud. From the station at Frankfurt (page 58) we drove in a jeep through the devastation caused by Allied bombs, then beside bleak fields to Hochst, a suburb. Here the monstrous I. G. Farben Company had built the heaviest, dreariest office buildings imaginable. They sprawl amid smokestacks and streets of dwelling houses untouched by war. In these Farben buildings are the In formation and Education offices, with Army newspaper, radio, photographic services, car loads of paraphernalia, and tons of pamphlets. A mile away a big area of dwellings com mandeered by the Army is enclosed by barbed wire, with the gates constantly guarded. This is known as "The Compound." Iwasas signed a room in one of its houses. Nearly all American officers and many en listed men in the occupied zone of Germany live in private houses requisitioned from the Germans. So do their families. Two middle-aged German women kept the two apartments, on two floors, in the house where I stayed. Since only four men occupied it, the women's duties were not heavy. One of them was, with her husband, the owner. Upon being evicted from their house, they had been quartered on another family outside the compound. This woman used to ask me how long the Americans were going to stay. When I told her I did not know, she would say, "If I do not have my home back in one year, I will hang myself." For laundering our clothes and shining our shoes we gave our landlady PX candy and cookies. Like other household labor, she was paid by the Germans on order from the Ameri can Army. Along with other workers in the compound, she arrived at 8:30 in the morning and left about 5 P. M. The only soap she had was what we bought at the PX and gave her. It was sufficient not only for the provider's clothes but for her family. Many a German woman working for Americans gets more soap and candy in a month than forty Frenchwomen get in a year. Some of these German women have a digni fied reserve; more of them fawn with spaniel like familiarity. They have proved themselves generally honest toward all personal property. My own landlady was so methodical that she always insisted on hanging my eyeshade on the hatrack. I could not get her to leave it on my writing table. The mess for officers and civilians at Hochst is in the Casino, another I. G. Farben struc ture, very big and very heavy. At the door an armed soldier stands constant guard to prevent unauthorized persons from taking ad vantage of the excellent dollar-a-day board. Prized Tip Is a Cigarette The waiters, as at other messes, are Polish or other DPs (displaced persons). A cigarette or two is considered a fair tip for any service anywhere in Germany. The collector of ash trays at a table where cigarette smokers have lingered is a highly favored individual. Near downtown Frankfurt, Army head quarters are located in another set of I. G. Farbenindustrie office buildings. Rumor had it that the buildings were spared by Allied bombers so that the victorious armies would have needed office space. The corridors in them are as long as the Rockefeller Center is high, and they have as many offsets as the Norway coast has inlets.