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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, August 03, 1947, Image 122

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1947-08-03/ed-1/seq-122/

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A GI and a German girl — what happiness could
the future hold for them? A haunting love story
which mirrors the fears — and hopes — of Europe
A Short Story
At the last minute the SS leader rejected
l the demand of the American general to
surrender the town without fighting. Against
the wishes of the impotent population, he
gave the order to resist, though nothing could
possibly be gained by it.
So Wurzburg on the Main, the city of
wine and fish, of churches Gothic and Baroque,
where almost every other building had been
an irreplaceable work of art, was—after thir
teen hundred years—destroyed in twenty
five minutes.
Next morning the Main, in which the coun
try’s loveliest town had been mirrored for
so long, flowed slowly and serenely on,
through rubble and ashes, into time.
Johanna walked along the river. The
charred ruins of the town had grown cold,
me counuess aeaa were buried. Behind her
there was nothing but hopelessness and de
spair; before her the young green willows,
lustrous and full of sap, stood in the sunlight
as if nothing had happened.
She had been cleaning a dilapidated goat
shed — ten feet square, which had stood un
used for many years among the willows on
the river bank — and had furnished it scant
ily with the remains of her possessions.
Johanna was twenty-one, and alone. Her
mother had been dead for a long time. Her
father, a drawing master at the municipal
high school — and a Nazi — had hanged
himself just before the steadily advancing
American Army arrived. He had left a letter
in which he called down curses for the last
time on the head of his unpatriotic daughter.
Johanna had brown hair, brown eyes set
with little shining stars, and a delicate face,
white as wax even in the scorching sunshine
of July. She looked as though Nature had
destined her to pass on to future generations
a physical loveliness finally attained through
thousands of years.
Since the occupation of the country, she
had been busy all day long, every day, trying
to get enough food to keep alive. She had no
money, and there was no work for a secretary
— no typewriters in a town that was no more.
Also, the American military authorities had
refused to employ anyone whose father had
been a Nazi. Things might have been emir
if she had shown them the letter in which her
father cursed her. But she could not bring
herself to do that.
On this late afternoon in July, she had been
bathing in the river, and now she sat down
on the bank to rest. She was wearing an im
provised bathing suit consisting of white
woolen panties and a blue silk scarf, her most
treasured possession.
Already the voices of the animals could be
heard in the quiet of the evening. A slate-gray
heron hovered over the river, motionless,
ready to swoop at any fish which might rise
to the surface.
Johanna, who had no present and no future.
was lost in her past. Scenes from her child
hood intimately entwined with the streets of
her home town, came back as vividly as if
they had just happened. She heard the
familiar six o’clock chime of Wurzburg's
thirty church bells, and for several seconds
did not realize that she was hearing the bells
of churches that no longer existed.
She took a deep breath, rose — and stepped
reluctantly out of her childhood into reality.
Looking behind her to where Wurzburg had
been, she saw only a gray field of ruins. How
can one free oneself from the town in which
one grew up? she thought. It is in us. We are
part of it. Now we alone are Wurzburg. We
Once more she sat down in the grass^P
motionless, her head cupped in her handsSL
her elbows on her knees, seeing no thing,^B
thinking of nothing. So sit the homeless, who 1
have nothing to lean on and nowhere to go.
Suddenly there was a stirring in the wil
lows. Johanna got up and listened intently.
A few seconds later an American soldier
came out of the bushes. He said, astonished:
“Oh, I beg your pardon."
Johanna, seeing that though he was em
barrassed, he could not help staring at her
instinctively, bent forward in an impulse to
cover up her half nakedness.
She was not afraid of him. She had lived
through destruction and thousandfold death,
when the earth itself had seemed to explode
and swallow the crumbling houses, and chil
dren, trying to escape, had been irretrieva
ably stuck in the hot asphalt. She was not
afraid of a pair of blue eyes from America.
He said: “Nice evening, isn’t it?” As
Johanna did not answer, he asked, smiling
shyly: “Would you rather I went away?”
His embarrassment moved her — she did
not know why. "Wait a minute,” she said,
' and hurried into the shed, which stood among
the taller willows. Hastily she put on her only
dress, over her panties. While she wound
the blue scarf around her neck, she asked
herself, “Why didn’t I say, ‘Yes, please go
away?’ ” She had no answer to her thought.
TUa maUIa. aaA -*- A_1
seemed to look out from his bright blue eyes,
deep set in finely molded sockets.
From childhood Steve had known a few
dozen German words, and during the war he
had enlarged his vocabulary enough, through
his association with German prisoners, to
speak German without much difficulty.
He heard Johanna’s step and turned
around. Her bare legs moved lightly over the
gnarled roots of the willows as she came
toward him. The thin black dress showed off
the contours of her body. Steve stood up.
He was only two years older than Johanna,
and still as inexperienced as she. He said:
"I’m sorry. You would probably have liked
to lie in the sun some more.”
“No,” she said, "it was getting too cool
He felt a sudden warmth all through him.
Many of his comrades had met German girls
and boasted about their conquests. For a
long time Steve had wanted to do so, too.
But now he did not think about it. Johanna
wvivmv# wv vavnii ouu
looked across the river. He
was seeing himself home
from the wars, back again
on the farm in Pennsylvania.
Michael, the Welsh terrier,
was tearing along, as though
trying to jump out of him
self, barking, wiggling his
tail, licking his master’s
hand. The soldier’s father
was saying: “Well, so here
vnii am Qfntm M UU
born in Wurzburg, has
always fought German
warmakers. Simon and
Schuster will publish
“Mathilde,” his new
novel, next January
naa stirred in nun a deeper
feeling, such as he had never
known before. Not knowing
what to say, he offered her
a cigarette.
"No thank you. I don't
A helpful half minute was
gained while Steve tried to
light one for himself, which
a mild wind prevented him
from doing. Johanna stood
was standing in the doorway, unable to move
for joy.
At this point in Steve’s reverie, a little
wagtail hopped in front of him coquettishly
from stone to stone, so near the river’s edge
that its tail-tip touched the water. Now
Steve was again in Europe, sitting on the
bank of the Main, wondering if Johanna
would really come back.
The American, long and thin, was one of
those fellows whose coat sleeves, no matter
how carefully he chose his suits, were always
too short. His blond head, so far, only sug
gested the strong, masculine outlines it would
later assume. The'thin nose, to which a little
hump above the bridge lent character, was
in keeping with his thin-lipped mouth. His
ancestors, Swedes and Germans who had
gone to America two hundred years ago,
luuiunK at uie evening iana
scape as though she were a stranger, and had
never before seen these quiet shores and the
peacefully running river.
Finally Steve managed to light his ciga
rette, and something had to be said, for these
two were not yet intimate enough to sit side
by side in the grass without a word.
Startled innocence has its own peculiar
sweetness; so did Johanna’s smile, parting
her lips a little. But she said, as if she had
already gone too far: “Those are good shoes
you have on, I can see that. Cowhide.”
"Sure, you can’t wear them out. At first
they pinched; I’ve worn them for almost
three years, changing off with another pair.”
“And you own two pairs of shoes!” cried
Johanna with a sudden, inexplicable exuber
Continued on next page
* ' -If
She thought: “I’m
watching America in
uniform building a
stove for Europe”

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