I Was There! - Tail of a Fantasic Procession in Germany

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 210, Page 155, July 6, 1945.

There are no lifts for the Germans who have taken to the highways. They trudge, and keep on trudging. Or men and women take turns between the shafts of a cart when no horse is available; nothing on wheels has been written off as useless, says John Gilbert, correspondent of The Star.

You can drive along Germany's great highways hour after hour without seeing a car. Private motoring is now only a memory. All German cars, except, perhaps, those still hidden, have gone into the Allied pool, reserved mainly for essential civilian work in the towns. Doctors are provided for. Public officials who must travel may also draw on the pool.

There have been long spells during a 200-mile run when my jeep has had the road entirely to itself. A convoy of Army lorries lumbers past, and then again we are alone till we catch up with straggling horse or ox wagons taking land workers to the fields, transporting families to homes from which they have fled, or packed with Hitler's slaves, who again know the meaning of freedom.

The mass movement of German civilians who were swept forward by the retreating Nazis has ended. Today we are seeing the tail of a fantastic procession. Nothing on wheels has been written off a worthless. Where it has been impossible to find horse or oxen, men and women take turns between the shafts. For others it is a footlogging business all the way—men with pack on back and bundle in each hand, women pushing overloaded prams, with child or two trailing behind; whole families on the move, with mounds of luggage piled on the strangest collection of handcart I have ever seen.

Hitch-hiking would provide relief for those with blistered feet on the roads of England. There are no lifts for Germans who take to the highways. “It's tough on the kids.” my driver says, thinking of his own family in California, “but it was tougher on the kids in Russia, Poland, France, Belgium and other places, where the Germans plastered the road with bombs and cannon fire.”

He obviously does not find non-fraternization easy when he looks into the smiling, appealing eyes of children. With him, as with so many more, it is an eternal conflict between heart and reason. Men and women deported by German armies, and forced to toil on farms and factories, no longer swarm on the roads. They have been persuaded to remain in the camps set up for them, and await their turn to be sent home in comparative comfort. Trains leave concentration points daily, with German crews working under direction of Allied officers.

Sometimes the waiting brings romance. In one town through which I passed, German women interrupted their shopping to line the street as a bridal party passed along in two carriages, each drawn by a pair of prancing horses. The bride, a Pole, and her bridemaids were in white. The bridegroom, too, came from Poland. A military policeman, who halted me at the crossroads, grinned and said, “A swell little wedding! I guess I've got just such a date when I collect enough points to land me back in the States!”

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