|Weilerbach: Emil Hansen's Wartime Childhood|
|Joachim Rozniak, German 212 Volksgrenadiers veteran,, and Emil Hansen, who grew up in Weilerbach during the war.|
|Several kms past Echternach is the village of Weilerbach, site of several interesting stories reported by Luxembourger Emil Hansen. Emil grew up on the family farm behind the OrangeHof hotel, on the edge of Weilerbach and experienced the war as a young teenager.
Young boys in the area were acutely sensitive to the German occupation and watched secret preparations for a German offensive. In October 1944, Emil and his friends watched as German soldiers cached ammunition and grenades in concealed spots on the Luxembourg side of the river. A “Gentleman’s Agreement” of sorts prevailed during these months, allowing movement with little risk of confrontation. Both American GIs and German Volksgrenadiers were frequent visitors to the Hansen farm during this time, the Germans during the day and the Americans at night by unspoken agreement. The Hansen family was friendly to both; “it was a matter of survival”, says Emil.
The Luxembourg kids clearly favored the Americans with their chocolate and chewing gum. The boys retrieved the cached German ammunition and threw it in the river in an attempt to help their generous GI buddies. The elder Hansens were horrified when they discovered the sabotage – the consequences would be severe if the Germans found out. After a stern warning, Emil and his friends decided instead to conceal the ammo in a secluded garden spot. No one was the wiser and the cache was forgotten.
In the 1960’s, the OrangeHof hotel was renovated and expanded into the old Hansen yard. An alert bulldozer operator noticed something dangling on the blade: a live grenade from Emil’s cache! An ordnance disposal team from the Luxembourg Army had to be summoned to dispose of Emil’s “buried treasure”.
Madame Hansen was hospitable to both her German and American visitors. The Germans called her "Mutti Hansen" and were thankful for the food she gave them, as "it was every man for himself" after the rout from Paris. Also enjoying the family's kindess were the GIs, who used the Hansen's big window to check German activity across the river and then settled down to visit or nap by the fire. When questioned as to her kindness to all, she would say "You must look past the uniform. They are just boys." And indeed, it was this kindness that saved her family. The Hansens had to leave their home on the front line when the attack started, and the Germans guided Mutti Hansen's family up the bluff through the danger. Then farther back the GIs recognized them and drove them to safety behind the lines (after mistakenly firing on them!).
Emil also recalls an incident that he suspects may have been a tragic decoy mission. Very late at night during the quiet fall of 1944, the Hansens heard the unusual sound of a US jeep on the road. Witnesses to the war years knew the difference in sound between German and American engines, and Emil was positive this was an American jeep . The jeep sped past his family home at high rate of speed, followed by the squeal of brakes and a few shots from a German roadblock a kilometer or so away. Many years later, Emil read that the Americans staged a suicidal decoy mission in the area, arranging for false maps and assassination plans to fall into German hands. Whether or not the driver knew his fate is unknown. Emil suspects this late night incident may have been the decoy mission he read about many years after the war.
Several American officers who crossed the Sauer at Weilerbach returned to visit the Hansens after the war. As they stood at the former site of the unstable swinging bridge, several began to cry. The officers had been ordered to get the maximum number of troops across the river into Germany under direct fire, regardless of casualties. They were not to attempt evacuation of the casualties, knowing the wounded would tumble into the river under the pounding feet of their comrades. “They had to give the order to leave them” , explained Emil with a sad nod. Six hundred Americans drowned at the Weilerbach crossing.
The spring after the Bulge when the swollen river went down, personal effects of these men hung on the bushes and trees along the river. Emil's father sadly brought them home, wristwatch after wristwatch, as "he couldn't stand to just leave them there." The riverbed still holds most of the helmets, rifles, ammo, and personal effects of these 600 men.
A monument to the US Forces is located in the parking area by the bridge to the bunker. The monument was placed through the efforts of Fred Karen, supporters of the Diekirch Museum, and the citizens of Weilerbach. Driving along this stretch with German veteran Joachim Rozniak one winter night, the old soldier shuddered and said “Here is where I ran for my life”.
The commanders of both the American and German forces met here at the bridge in a reconciliation ceremony in 1988. When asked how the former enemies reacted to each other, Fred Karen responded with a laugh, “Great! I did the translating and made sure they got along just fine”.