Yes, Berg was the happy beginning of our 2017 return…
Happy, because even the memories were happy in this place. In 1945, we arrived in Berg around May 1st. We had been interrupted from our journey toward Vienna, by orders from above to stop where we were – just at the border of Austria. Yes, some of our 13th Armored Division units were even in western Austria, as stated in the Braunau story, but most of us were put in place in the eastern Bavarian border of Germany.
A Company found itself in the small hamlet of Berg. Here’s where the long road to reconciliation began. It’s still going on, sometimes forward sometimes backward, but overall still making headway. My first glimpse began a few days into May when I was convalescing from a serious bout of influenza. Our Squad was billeted in a small house next to another of similar proportions, our Second Squad occupied. The rest of our platoon was located in other houses nearby. The whole hamlet was adjacent to a fairly large estate with lots of horses and other elements of its owner’s claim to the good life. There were indications that he might even have been a high-ranking member of the now defunct Nazi regime.
Further, When I looked in the basement of the house we were billeted in, I found a motor bike with the letters NSDAP boldly lettered on its tank body. Those initials stand for the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – the longhand German name for Nazi. The owner of our billet was probably a Nazi. There were still a lot of them around, but they all went into hiding, as their influence no longer had any power. As a result of our defeating the Nazis, power was being restored to people in Germany who had more humanity in their makeup, and were thus capable of the kinds of actions that lead to peace.
Actions that take place at tables, not on battlefields. Where agreement can be attained with more understanding and less conflict.
The era of arrogance and distain for brotherhood was over in Germany. A new day was dawning. A day where people could get together and appreciate each other, not demean and denigrate. We young men, having had the benefit of growing up in that kind of atmosphere were comfortable in its ways. Actually, more comfortable than the atmosphere our higher ups were telling us to foster. Those were the same higher ups who stopped us from continuing to Vienna, The Germans (and Austrians) actually would have preferred that we go that far, so the Russians wouldn’t occupy what was left of their lands. They feared the Russians a lot more than us – and with good reason.
Further, they generally had a deep-down appreciation for our cultural attitude, as opposed to that of the Russians, and felt more comfortable in our occupation. But, we were stopped at the Austrian border by those same people who were ordering us to not “fraternize” with our former enemies.
Happily, as a general rule, we paid no attention…
That’s where the whole transformation of our relationships began to take place. Steve and I came back to this area to see for ourselves how peace had been restored to those former areas of conflict and destruction. Our first task was to find the actual house in which we were billeted. A major one indeed, because Berg was no longer a little hamlet, it was a large complicated multi-street community. It didn’t look at all like it did in 1945. There was no longer a large estate complex. There was a barn nearby, but not the accompanying buildings as in 1945. What remained was just an open field.
By some bit of miraculous maneuvering we came upon the house our squad had obtained a requisition for us to billet there. We would live there for almost two months. It was recognizable by two major factors. Its shape and its proximity to a similar house as it existed in 1945. I have reprinted a picture from 1945 showing a children’s funeral possession passing by both houses. Next to it is a picture of the two houses as Steve and I rediscovered in 2017. Their outsides have changed, but their basic shapes: not. Yes, we all change over time…
1st Squad – 1945