after-1945

2

YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS? it’s story time after way too long. A lot has happened hence I stopped making story time. 

So today’s story is about him here. Dietrich von Saucken(* 16. Mai 1892 in Fischhausen; † 27. September 1980 in Pullach) a Prussian German General with 35 years service and one of the 27 holders of the Eichenlaubs mit Schwertern und Brillanten zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ( Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds). 

In World War I, he was wounded seven times in battle, and decorated very highly for valour. He stayed in the German army, and at one point was posted to Russia, where he learned to speak the language. He served in numerous battles of World War II, being decorated many more times. He had a reputation for trying to save as many of his men as possible. In February 1945, after 35 years’ loyal and distinguished service, he was sacked for insisting it was pointless to continue the War. A month later he was reinstated – he was too good a general to do without. Hitler summoned von Saucken to his bunker, gave him his orders – to defend Prussia against Russia. Nervous glances were being exchanged by Hitler’s minions. Hitler didn’t appear to notice von Saucken had already openly displayed contempt for him. He had strolled in casually, wearing his cavalry sword (forbidden in Hitler’s presence), and had given him a slightly apathetic military salute, instead of the Nazi salute which had been compulsory for all officers in Hitler’s presence since the previous year. von Saucken was eyeing his boss with open loathing. Hitler casually threw in “and you will be reporting to Gauleiter Forster” – the local Nazi party leader. This was not going to work with von Saucken. A Prussian general taking orders from some party functionary? von Saucken gave Hitler a withering look. The facial equivalent of “get lost, corporal“. Hitler didn’t notice, he was staring at his maps on the table. Dietrich von Saucken leaned over the table and slammed his hand down on it. That got Hitler’s attention. von Saucken looked him in the eye and said “I have no intention, Herr Hitler, of taking orders from a gauleiter!” I imagine one must have been able to hear a pin drop. Fegelein was shot for less than that. von Saucken had openly rebelled – refusing a direct order from Hitler and belittling him by addressing him as Herr Hitler and not, as regulations demanded, mein Führer. There was silence for a while. Hitler said quietlyAlright Saucken, have command of it yourself“.He waved the general away. von Saucken made a faint pretence of a bow (and again no Nazi salute), turned his back on Hitler and left, never to see him again.What amazes me most about this story is that Hitler, the man who men feared to disobey or insult, simply caved in when confronted by a better man. And in front of his staff too. If more men had been like von Saucken then a whining talentless lazy brat like Hitler could have been stopped before he ruined his country. von Saucken commanded his men with distinction to the very last day of the War. He was told to leave Prussia by ship during the evacuation, but carried on fighting, sending back injured men instead.Just before the very end, a plane was sent for him to escape on so he could avoid Russian captivity. He refused to leave his men, and sent the plane back with injured soldiers on it instead.On the 8th of May, the official end of the War in Europe, he was given his final military decoration, and was the final German to be decorated in the War. Predictably, the Russians treated him vilely. He would have known that would happen when he refused to abandon his men. The physical tortures the Russians inflicted on him left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
After ten years’ captivity, Dietrich von Saucken was repatriated and retired to Bavaria, where he took up painting. He was a conservative, and probably somewhat nationalistic. He wasn’t a resistance fighter, he had no known involvement with the von Stauffenberg plotters, so he won’t be on any German stamps. But I believe he represents the very best of the traditional German cavalryman, and that if the rest of the German armed forces had been made of men like Dietrich von Saucken, there would have been no war crimes, no crimes against humanity, probably no Second World War at all. And if the German general staff of World War I had all been made of men like him, my country – the United Kingdom – might have been a German colony by 1918.

…Manila Would Do” by Keith Rocco

“The 37th Division landed at Lingayan Gulf, on the Philippine Island of Luzon, January 9, 1945, and after almost a month of fighting took part in the assault of Manila, entering the city on the 4th of February. The soldiers of the 37th Infantry Division secured the Old Bilbad Prison freeing 1330 civilian internees and military prisoners of war. They made an assault crossing of the Pasig River, cleared the Paco neighborhood, and reduced the Intramuros fortress. The Japanese fortified buildings with skill and the larger reinforced concrete buildings became major obstacles to the men of the 37th. Casualties mounted. The Japanese held not only the access to the buildings, but also fought from inside the buildings themselves, forcing the 37th to fight not only block by block or building by building, but floor by floor and room by room. This was the kind of fighting that placed a premium on good leadership at squad and platoon levels. Many junior officers and noncommissioned officers led by example. 

“A squad leader in the 148th Infantry was the object of a bayonet charge by six Japanese soldiers who charged from approximately 30 yards away. Sergeant Billy E. Vinson warded off the first Japanese soldier’s bayonet thrust, then dispatched the assault group with one long burst from his Browning Automatic Rifle. He held his forward position until all wounded soldiers in the vicinitiy could be evacuated. After weeks of hard fighting, Manila was secured on the 2nd of March, 1945.”

(National Guard)

Sala with Jewish-American GIs outside a community synagogue in Ansbach, Germany 1945.

After liberation, a tightly knit group of survivors settled in Ansbach, Germany. The local synagogue had survived the war and quickly began to offer services to Jewish survivors and soldiers alike — it was where Sala and Sidney first met and where many survivors were able to regain some sense of normalcy after the horrors of the Holocaust.  

Our hearts go out to Ansbach tonight.