Part 28: Chewing Gum Smile

The past months, weeks, and especially the last days before the U.S. Army captured the city were so nerve-wracking that it seemed as if the last days of the war had lasted years.

Only slowly did normal life awaken. People ventured out into the streets again. We children were the first to be curious about our occupiers. For the first time in my life, I saw Black people. Black people in the uniform of the U.S. Army. They casually squatted on their jeeps, laughed with dazzling white teethes, and gave us chewing gum and chocolate. There was no sign of enmity. The Americans were crazy about Nazi souvenirs like the red and white armbands with the black swastika, the iron belt locks with the words ‘Blood and Honor’ stamped on them, and the Hitler Youth driving knives. In exchange, they traded chocolate, chewing gum or Camel, Lucky Strike or Chesterfield cigarettes. And again, and again the question: ‘You sister?’

At that time, I did not understand a word of English, but the question and the request were not difficult to understand. I had a sister, but I suspected that she was still too small for the wishes of the smart Yank boys. Word got around that for a pair of nylon stockings or a carton of cigarettes, many a girl took a handsome Yank to bed with her. Besides, nature demanded its rights, and the German young men were dead or in captivity. The words ‘colored man’ or ‘Afro-American’ did not exist in German usage at that time.

For the Nazis, Black people belonged to the inferior races. This opinion was also held by large segments of white North Americans, who insulted people of color as ‘niggers.’ In the war, U.S. citizens of color fought and died side by side with their white comrades, but at home, signs hung on the toilets reading ‘White Only.’ But I didn’t understand that until years later.

The generally relaxed situation encouraged me to look for the Wehrmacht items hidden in the bomb craters before they were rendered useless by wind and weather. My disappointment was great: of the hidden bundles I found only two, but intact. Later, the women separated the insignia from the uniforms, turned the cloth and sewed clothes from it. I kept a pair of boots, called ‘Knobelbecher’ in soldier jargon, for myself, although they were still much too big for me. How well I did with them will be discussed later.

In the former Greater German Reich, nothing worked anymore. The cities were bombed to the ground, as was industry. On food ration cards, there were bread and margarine in gram rations: too little to live on, too much to die on. In addition, there were the first two icy winters after the war. In the ruins of the cities, people starved and froze to death. The illegal market flourished. There was nothing for money. The common currency was cigarettes, coffee beans and schnapps. In exchange, people traded bread, potatoes, or flour.

Bad luck for those who had none of these. In the fall, the townspeople stood in rows at the farmers’ potato fields and waited for the release to glean even after the potato field had been harrowed for the second time. Like locusts, the hungry people fell upon the harvested fields, hoping to find a few more tubers. When the first coal trains left the halfway repaired briquette factories, the children climbed onto the wagons and threw coals onto the railroad embankment during the journey, which were hastily bagged by their mothers and dragged home. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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