Monday, July 9, 2018

February 27, 1944: Waiting for Liberation

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Reverses In Italy Have Taught A Lesson To The Allied Public

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

There is much talk these days that the invasion of Europe has been postponed, maybe till 1945, because of the reverses which the Allies suffered in Italy: The remarkable success which our forces are now having in the Pacific theater of war seems to indicate that Japan may be the first one on the Allied list, which would mean a complete change in general strategy.

Even though many events of the last weeks definitely favor this theory, there are many reasons for having the invasion of Europe come off as scheduled, namely this spring or early summer. The people of the occupied countries have been expecting their liberation for quite a while.

Late in 1942, especially after the invasion of North Africa, many underground groups in France and Yugoslavia got set for the real thing: they were disappointed. Invasion, then, was promised to occur in 1943, even though no Allied leader ever committed himself. It did not come that year. This year, however, the big push has been predicted by both political and military leaders. 

Churchill, Roosevelt and Eisenhower are the major figures whose committances to 1944 invasion plans are regarded as a promise by the occupied population. The morale of these unfortunate people in Nazi-occupied Europe is  not likely to be tested for another year, it has passed its peak already.

No Handicap In Plans

The reverse in Italy do not necessarily constitute a handicap in invasion plans. It is true, the actions in this theater of war are far behind schedule; the experience gathered in invasion tactics and also in German defense tactics, however, will add tremendously in making the big invasion a success.

Another reason for the reverses in Italy is the fact that the Allies are sending only a very limited number of reserves into that country. The Fifth and British Eighth armies are the only ones fighting at present, while the whereabouts of the remaining Allied troops in the Mediterranean area still is a mystery. 

It is known that the United States has approximately 4,000,000 troops overseas, most of them in European area. Certainly, some of these would be rushed to Italy for badly needed reinforcements if there was not some big reason for keeping those troops at their present location.

The only reason the Allies can have to keep such a vast army out of action is that they plan a big action. The only big action which can be in progress now is the invasion of Europe.

Invasion Problems Solved

Nevertheless, the day of invasion still lies at least two months ahead. By now, the major problems of supply have probably been solved, and the necessary amount of ships, planes, and troops is probably ready for action. The final preparations may be in progress: final plans for the "psychological warfare" which is believed to play a very decisive part in the coming fight; and the softening up of German anti-invasion defenses, which, strangely enough, has hardly been started. The relative decrease of Allied air activity over Europe during the last few months may be due to the concentration and saving of air power for the air offensive, and softening up actions which can be expected to sort any time now.

The reverses in Italy, thus, are unlikely to postpone the invasion by any considerable length of time. They have taught the Allied public the lesson, though, which military leaders have been advocating for some time that German morale is not cracking yet, that the German army still has a tremendous defensive and offensive power, and that the days of invasion and victory are separated by a long stretch of time and a great amount of tough fighting and hard suffering.

In a way, this article is a bit of psychological warfare for the morale of the Allied forces. It looks like there is defeat in Italy (or at least a harder fought victory than expected), which makes everyone a bit more nervous about the timing and positive outcome of this hugely anticipated Big Invasion. If this invasion of Europe does not succeed, it would be a huge blow to the Allied war effort, and a psychological set back in the before assumed overall victory. 

The slow and painful victory in Italy has made the Allied public question everything they had formerly assumed. They thought Germans were tired and fading, and yet they were proven otherwise. They thought that the Allies could easily push through and march to their goals, on their way to inevitable victory. The battle was far more difficult and costly. If they are struggling in Italy, what does that mean for the big invasion of Europe that everyone has waited for? Does it mean the Allies need to wait to regroup? Is the war in the Pacific taking too much from the European effort?

Opa makes a strong case for the invasion to stay on schedule despite the slow-down of the Italian timeline. He talks about the signs of things still building up for the invasion: the lack of extra available resources going to Italy being his strongest point. 

I honed in on his argument that the "people of the occupied countries have been expecting their liberation for quite a while." It's not a particularly strong military argument, but for morale, the occupied are starving for an attempt at rescue. As Opa wrote this article, I wonder if he had any idea of the situation his family members were in. His mother was imprisoned in a concentration camp: Theresienstadt (now Terezin, Czech Republic). His sister was playing her part, as safely as she could, in the French resistance. His father was hiding his Jewish wife (Emma) and trying to stay under the radar as a previously black-listed German journalist. They all had been resisting for quite some time. Opa's friends Gisela and Anni were in Berlin, watching their parents (and often themselves) being questioned and harassed for their suspected help of Jews and other targeted minorities in Germany. (They were totally helping.) Their friends and loved ones were forced to fight as Nazi soldiers, forced to die for a cause they hated, as their choice was potential survival or absolute death. Friends were scattered across the globe, and into early graves. 

So, yes, the occupied were waiting for liberation. In so many ways they were holding on to the last bits of energy and hope. Opa rightfully suspected that they could only hold on for so much longer. It was time. He knew the history and feeling of being under the Nazi thumb, although for a shorter time. Opa could only imagine what it must have felt like to be still stuck without opportunity or freedom and in a war zone. Part of the psychological warfare of the big invasion was to show mainland Europe that the armies were actively planning on their liberation. The promise of invasion was a carrot for the resistance to keep going just a little bit longer.

No one could have known the extent to which the liberation was necessary. There were plenty of signs and news reports from sources within that gave an indication of the dire situation that awaited relief. Tales of death camps, labor camps, starvation and destruction were available. Much like any cataclysmic devastation, the truth seemed too terrible to be real. I doubt anyone believed that the worst was not only true, but that the truth was even worse. 

So now I am stuck a bit in time, in February of 1944, waiting with my family and friends from the past, for their much-awaited liberation. Everywhere weary people wondered "how long will we have to wait?" Opa hopes that it isn't much longer.

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