|Part 3: The Amis Arrive and the War is Over|
| The Amis Are Here!
The first American tanks rolled into Baumholder without resistance at 1500 on 18 March 1945. Not a shot was fired as the Americans approached from Birkenfeld through Heimbach, along the rail line. Frau Grimm said the German troops retreated with only what they could carry when the Amis were two kilometers out of town; in fact, the Americans entered the west end of town as the Germans pulled out the east. The city officials rang the town bell and instructed residents – almost exclusively women and children - to go into their cellars and hang white cloths out their windows. The handbell used for the alert is now in the Rathaus museum.
Frau Grimm said her aunt hung bedsheets from the windows, and they peeked out as the tanks clanked down the Kennedy Allee. An African-American soldier sat on the first tank, smiling and eating cherries from a jar. This soldier casually spitting out cherry pits was the first African-American man Frau Grimm had ever seen. The friendly men tried to talk to the locals with mixed results; Frau Grimm was one of the few in her group who understood and spoke a little English. The tankers established a HQ in the village school on the corner of Badegasse and Oberstrasse as their commander asked for help from the local clergy in maintaining order. The war in Baumholder was over.
The preceding six years had taken its toll, and restoring normalcy would not be easy. Germans filled in the tank ditches now located in the Aulenbach Bundeswehr training area. Ammunition was sunk into the “Stadtweihe” pond, where it stayed until 1957. All weapons, binoculars, cameras, typewriters, radios, and clocks were confiscated. The Nazi-era street signs were swapped from “Adolf-Hitler Strasse” and “Horst-Wessel Strasse” to “General Patton Street” and “General Bradley Street”. A few NSDP (Nazi Party) officials were arrested but most fled eastward ahead of the troops. Quarters were requisitioned and cellars scoured for the favorite spoils of the Americans: hard liquor and wine.
The Americans faced a delicate problem for which they had no training during their initial four month occupation: DPs, or displaced persons. Thousands of Russians and Poles had been released from farm labor and factories in the Saarland, and now they roamed the forests and occupied the empty towns of the former German training area. Military police had trouble controlling the gangs, and at times the nearly four thousands DPs threatened the Baumholder population in their search for food and survival. Herr Grimm reports the population ”drew a deep breath” when deportation of the foreigners began in June 1945. This same month, the French assumed occupation duties from the Americans that lasted until 1951-52.
In a scene no doubt repeated in Baumholder and all along the western border of Germany, Frau Heintz remembered the approach of the Amis into Schoenenberg/Kubelberg 19 March 1945. “It was so hot, it was like a summer day. The whole month was summerlike and we were wearing short sleeves that day. My father was afraid the Americans would be like the Russians, and he sent me to a “hiding cave” in the woods near my home. I was only twenty and we didn’t know what to expect. I carried a suitcase with some clothes and some emergency money. Then the Amis came into town on tanks, announcing in German over a loudspeaker that they wouldn’t harm us and to stay in the house”.
A New Reality: Settling into the Post-War Years
Americans reassumed control of Smith Caserne from the French in 1951. A turbulent period of adjustment began as housing was constructed, infrastructure repaired, and relationships established between two populations recently at war. Frau Grimm remembered marvelling at the hot running water and spaciousness of the US quarters during an open house for Baumholder residents. This display must have been difficult for locals living in houses which didn’t always have running water, let alone hot water.
Both Frau Grimm and Frau Heintz remember frequent “Hamsterfahrte”, or “hamster trips” to France for food and supplies during this time. In fact, both women obtained part of their bridal clothing on such black market trips. Frau Heintz’s fiance was still recovering from a serious abdominal wound suffered on the Russian front, but he bicycled over the border and returned with enough fabric for a white blouse. His bride wore the blouse for many for years until it fell apart. Their small wedding meal featured the only meat available in quantity at the time: domestic rabbit.
Fabric for Frau Grimm’s wedding train made it over the border wrapped around her father’s waist, and her veil was cut from a silk parachute donated by her groom’s comrade in Brandenburg. Their wedding with sixteen guests was small because “there was nothing to feed them,” explained Frau Grimm. Six weeks of work as a seamstress helped buy eggs and milk for the celebration.
Elderly Germans often comment that the immediate post-war years were the most difficult of all. As the infrastructure of an entire nation dissolved, the mostly female and elderly population left behind struggled to survive: obtaining food, housing, or clothing was difficult, and the fate of their men was often a mystery. The status of Frau Grimm’s father, a Wehrmacht motorcycle courier in Berlin, was unknown until he arrived unannounced in Saarbrucken in six months after the war.
The huge financial burden of restoring normalcy in this quiet rural village was soon dwarfed by Baumholder’s unexpected reputation as “Sin City”. American GIs with ample dollars fueled an epidemic of alcohol, drugs, and prostitution as the media eagerly reported this mixing of cultures and races. At one point, so many prostitutes operated out of tents in a forest that the area was dubbed the “Dollar Forest”. Such media attention led to Baumholder’s unwanted reputation in the 1950’s and 1960’s as the “Wild Westpfalz”. US and local German cooperation began in earnest in the late 1950’s and eventually a program of common activities of a more acceptable nature took hold.