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What Germans Said About American Troops Right After WWI

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Wikimedia Commons

In 1919, the United States compiled a report on German attitudes towards American troops and their behavior during the war and subsequent occupation. The document, titled “Candid Comment on The American Soldier of 1917-1918 and Kindred Topics by The Germans,” included interrogation and interview transcripts and intercepted letters from citizens that contained insight on post-war attitudes of the defeated nation. Below are some highlights and excerpts from that report, which you can read in its entirety here.

On the Character and Ability of American Soldiers in Battle

1. “I fought in campaigns against the Russian Army, the Serbian Army, the Roumanian Army, the British Army, the French Army, and the American Army. All told in this war I have participated in more than 80 battles. I have found your American Army the most honorable of all our enemies. You have also been the bravest of our enemies and in fact the only ones who have attacked us seriously in this year’s battles. I therefore honor you, and, now that the war is over, I stand ready, for my part, to accept you as a friend.”

—Chief of Staff for General v. Einem, commander of the Third German Army

2. “Americans are good fighters with nerve and recklessness.”

—Arunlf Oster, Lieut. of Reserve

3. “The prevailing opinion in Germany before our entry into war, was, that American was a money hunting nation, too engrossed in the hunt of the dollar to produce a strong military force. But since our troops have been in action the opinion has changed, and he says that though Germany is at present a defeated nation, he believes that they would be victors in a war with any nation in the world with the exemption of the United States.”

—Karl Finkl of Bolingen

4. “There were only a handful of Americans there but they fought like wildmen."

—Antone Fuhrmann of Mayschoss

5. “[I] had been told by other soldiers that the American infantryman was reckless to the point of foolishness."

—Peter Bertram, shopkeeper of Dernau

6. “The accuracy of American artillery fire…could have been considerably improved upon.”

—Karl Diehl of Selters

On Americans as Prisoners of War

7. “The Americans were what might be called bad prisoners. A group of 14 were brought in one day and when asked about their units refused to talk. They refused to work and talked back to the officers, much to the annoyance of the officers and the concealed delight of the men.”

—Paul Heinman

8. “The Americans were the chief complainers when the food was bad which was always.”

—Pietro D’Paris

On Being a Prisoner of War Under the Americans

9. “Prisoners of war under American jurisdiction continue to send home glowing reports of good treatment. It is clearly deducible that they are more satisfied with their present condition, than they would be at home”

—Postal Censorship, April 12, 1919

On the Sartorial Charms of American Troops

10. "[American] officers are not well dressed….All officers in the German army even when in active field service have one or more trunks and from time to time are allowed to leave for the purpose of obtaining uniforms.”

—Michael Hoffman of Rech

11. “The American army seems to me as fine a collection of individual physical specimens as I have ever seen. But from the standpoint of military discipline it is a mob, pure and simple. The men appear slouchy, the officers to not stand out from the men in appearance and they do in any European army.”

—Dr. Otto Schranzkmuller, former Prussian Municipal Official

On the Relationship Between American Officers and their Subordinates

12. “[American] troops lack the snap and precision of the German soldiers but…the cordial relations between the officers and men more than make up for the lack of iron discipline.”

—Anton Liersch, Postal Agent in Dernau

13. “The attitude of the American officer towards enlisted men is very different than in our army in which officers have always treated their men as cattle.”

—M. Walter of Minderlittgen

On Americans Being Good Occupiers

14. “We were informed that your men were inclined to be rough, and the impression was left with us that we had a very serious time before us…but today, after living 24 hours with them, we have no longer andy apprehension. They are wonderfully mild mannered men and a great contrast to the domineering attitude of our own soldiers. Your troops, not even one, have spoken a single disagreeable word to anyone, and when we offered them wood for cooking and heating purposes they accepted with what seemed to be a certain shyness.”

—Statement of the Mayor of Kaschenbacm

15. “Children have constantly talked of the Americans’ arrival, and pictured them as a band of wild Indians, however, when they troops arrived, we were astonished at their behavior and pleasant attitude toward our people.”

--Michael Simon of Neuerburg

16. “Bolshevism is slowly spreading all over the world. I spoke to a Frenchman a few days ago, who stated that the working men in France demand 25 francs per day. I am glad and thankful we are having American troops occupying our town, otherwise we would have the same trouble as many of the larger cities.”

—Translation of a letter from Coblenz

17. "The American troops show much more consideration for the private rights of the inhabitants of the village than did the German troops."

—Karl Schramem, Landstrumer of Zermullen

18. "The Americans can very well serve as an example for our own troops whose behavior as they passed through here was none too good."

—M. Erasmi of Kylburg

19. “The people here hate the French more than they do the British. They much prefer the Americans as troops of occupation. Since the Americans have arrived the German people have learned to like them.”

—Karl Felder of Bieder Breisig

On Americans Being Bad Occupiers

20. “The citizens of Eich who were fined for having a dirty yard and premises claim that their trial was unfair, and that the fines were too heavy. One of them says that American soldiers were partly responsible for the condition of his yard.”

—U.S. Army report, April 17, 1919, in Trier

21. “The young girls complain of the requisitioning of all public buildings by the Americans thereby making any sort of recreation impossible for them. They begrudge our monopoly of the dance."

—Weekly Resume from the 3rd U.S. Army, Feb. 3 1919

22. “Complaints, coming especially from the smaller towns, accuse the Americans of immorality and drunkedness.”

—Weekly Resume from the 3rd U.S. Army, Feb. 3 1919

23. “All male persons from 12-60 years old must give up their beds to the troops of occupation. Children under 12 years certainly never had any claim to a bed. We are supposed to sleep on the floor.”

—Letter from Ehrenbreitstein

24. “Our Americans are very good. But the officers and General are boasting scoundrels…in our house 10 men and 2 officers are quartered. They slam the doors so hard that the whole building shakes.”

—Letter from Mia Clausen

25. “Since day before yesterday there has been crisis here too, among our workers; they all want to strike. But that is only because of the terribly high food prices, for the Americans eat up our little bit and pay outrageous prices…The roads are all rundown from the army autos, and people are being killed every day by crazy chauffeurs. Electricity plants are over burdened and the inhabitants get a feeble current so that the Herr Americans may burn 3 lamps in every latrine.”

—From a letter from Hans Rohrl, Neuwied

Americans as Voracious and Rash Consumers

26. “[I run] a store in Brohl, where among other things candy and cookies are sold to American soldiers…[I can] make a profit because the American soldiers will pay the price that I must ask, while the civil population would not.”

—Herr Stenzel

27. “They have lots of money and buy foolishly. Articles that just before our occupation were sold to the people and the German soldiers for 25 to 30 marks are now bought by the Americans for from 80 to 100 marks…a great many articles are being made expressly for the American souvenir hunters and in almost all cases these are made of cheap imitation material.”

—Fritz Ulman of Cologne

28. “The American Discipline is excellent, but the thirst for souvenirs appears to be growing.”

—A daily letter from Treves, Germany

29. “[I] cannot understand the general desire if the American soldier for the “Gott mit uns” belt buckles and the German Iron Crosses…[I] alone have sold more Iron Crosses to American soldiers than the Kaiser ever awarded to his subjects.”

—Fianale Fappen, novelty shop owner in Neuenahr

American Troops' Relationship With German Women

30. “Great activity here at present. We have a large aviation field. Seven out of ten of the population are Americans. Many of the girls have fallen deeply in love with them. A new song has already been composed, as follows:

Wo steht denn das geschriben.
Du sollst nur Deutsche lieben?
Man liebt doch auch America.

Translation:—“Where does one find it written, that one most love the Germans only? One can love America also.”

—Letter from H. Moeren Sinzig

31. “Many German girls go around with the Americans, I simply can’t understand it. If any American talks to me I am prepared to give him an answer.”

—Letter from Lani Schuster, Coblenz-Leutzel

32. “The girls are to blame, but one must not forget that the gentlemanly enemy are a decidedly forward people. Fresh beyond bounds.”

—Letter from Gertrude Bisseldt

33. “Many of our young girls have gone wrong since the A----- are [unclear] is almost hard to believe of some of them. Martha Strodter is engaged to an A-----. Isn’t she crazy?”

—Letter from P. Stanier of Grenzhausen

34. “They are like children and find their joy only in playing and eating which they do the whole livelong day…of course there are exceptions as in anything else, but some of these men are so far beneath, that their origin from the ape can be plainly seen upon their faces. How the censors will rave when they read this letter, but I am only writing the truth. They are the wildest when they are after the girls. But thank God that they can at once recognize the difference between a 'decent' and a 'common girl.'"

—Translation of a letter from Hote Koetter, Neuwied. In the report, this is under the headline: “BAITING THE CENSOR”

35. “Katchen Schroder was thrown into jail from Monday to Tuesday because she told a soldier to ---------. Another girl was unceremoniously spanked in broad daylight, and she is 23 years old too. And what can one do? However, it serves them right. Why don’t they leave the soldiers alone?”

—Letter from Frau Lemka of Wollstein

On American Motivation For Entering the War

36. “[I] like the American soldier individually but do not like the nation as a whole…America entered the war for what money she could get out of it.”

—Frau Frieda Fischer of Lohndorf

37. “A German officer said that the Americans came over here only to see the world and for the sake of adventure.”

—Mrs. Anton Bursch, shopkeeper in Echternach

38. “You Americans are not real the heart and soul in the war, are you? The French hate us because we took Alsace and Lerraine, but you only entered the war to make sure that England and France would be able to pay you the money you had lent them. For that reason we are glad that the country is being occupied by Americans instead of French or English. Row-boats were often used to deceive German U-boats, and when the letter came to render assistance concealed guns opened fire on the U-boats.”

—A German 12-year-old schoolboy

On American Politicians

39. “Schoreder has also written to me, did he not send you a clipping of Hoover’s speech in the Chicago Tribune? If not I will send you a copy. Hoover does not speak well of us.”

—Letter from Berlin to Trier

40. “[I will never] like the Americans because President Wilson had said that he would furnish food for Germany and has not done so.”

—Young teacher in Neuwied

On American Character and the Possibility of Moving to America

41. “I would like to go to America for a half year or so because it is certain that these people possess a secret method which raises the most common fellows into an individual who stands up boldly and moves about freely and unconcerned.”

—Letter from Frau Lisbette Schafer of Vallender to William Straube

42. “What are your Americans doing? Do you get as much chocolate as I do! I am tired of the stuff and also of the entire pack, although I have had many very pleasant hours with them. The Americans cannot grasp that we have so much work to do. Those lazy people. Things are better for them in America than for us here. I may yet go with them. Then you would indeed make eyes.”

—Translation of letter from Niederbreisig to Gondorf

All images courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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Food
The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.

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The Hospital in the Rock
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History
Budapest’s Former Top-Secret Hospital Inside a Cave
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The Hospital in the Rock

At the top of a hill in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River, sits Buda Castle, a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site visited by thousands of tourists every year. Directly underneath the castle, however, lies a less-frequented tourist attraction: a series of ancient, naturally formed caves with a colorful and sometimes disturbing history.

The entire cave system is over six miles long, and most of that has been left unchanged since it was used as cold storage (and a rumored dungeon) in the Middle Ages. Between 1939 and 2008, however, a half-mile stretch of those caves was built up and repurposed many times over. Known as Sziklakorhaz or The Hospital in the Rock, its many uses are a testament to the area’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War.

At the start of World War II, the location served as a single-room air raid center, but operating theaters, corridors, and wards were quickly added to create a much-needed hospital. By early 1944, the hospital had officially opened inside the cave, tending to wounded Hungarian and Nazi soldiers. After less than a year of operation, the facility found itself facing its largest challenge—the Siege of Budapest, which lasted seven weeks and was eventually won by Allied forces on their way to Berlin.

As one of the few area hospitals still operational, the Hospital in the Rock was well over capacity during the siege. Originally built to treat around 70 patients, close to 700 ended up crammed into the claustrophobic caves. The wounded lay three to a bed—if they were lucky enough to get a bed at all. Unsurprisingly, heat from all those bodies raised the ambient temperature to around 95°F, and smoking cigarettes was the number one way to pass the time. Add that to the putrid mix of death, decay, and infection and you’ve got an incredibly unpleasant wartime cocktail.

A recreation inside the museum. Image credit: The Hospital in the Rock 

After the siege, the Soviets took control of the caves (and Budapest itself) and gutted the hospital of most of its supplies. Between 1945 and 1948, the hospital produced a vaccination for typhus. As the icy grasp of the Cold War began to tighten, new wards were built, new equipment was installed, and the hospital was designated top-secret by the Soviets, referred to only by its official codename LOSK 0101/1.

Eleven years after facing the horrors of the Siege of Budapest, in 1956, the hospital hosted the casualties of another battle: The Hungarian Uprising. Thousands of Hungarians revolted against the Soviet policies of the Hungarian People’s Republic in a fierce, prolonged battle. Civilians and soldiers alike lay side-by-side in wards as surgeons attempted to save them. During the uprising, seven babies were also born in the hospital.

Surgeons lived on-site and rarely surfaced from the caves. The hospital’s chief surgeon at the time, Dr. András Máthé, famously had a strict "no amputation" rule, which seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but in the end reportedly saved many patients' lives. (Máthé also reportedly wore a bullet that he’d removed from a patient’s head on a chain around his neck.)

The Hospital in the Rock ceased normal operations in December 1956, after the Soviets squashed the uprising, as the Soviets had new plans for the caves. With the Cold War now in full swing, the still-secret site was converted into a bunker that could serve as a hospital in case of nuclear attack. Diesel engines and an air conditioning system were added in the early '60s, so that even during a blackout, the hospital could still function for a couple of days.

The Hospital in the Rock

The official plan for the bunker was as follows: In the event of a nuclear attack, a selection of doctors and nurses would retreat to the bunker, where they would remain for 72 hours. Afterward, they were to go out and search for survivors. Special quarantined rooms, showering facilities, and even a barbershop were on site for survivors brought back to the site. (The only haircut available to them, however, was a shaved head; radioactive material is notoriously difficult to remove from hair.)

Thankfully, none of these nuclear procedures were ever put into practice. But the hospital was never formally decommissioned, and it wasn’t relieved of its top-secret status until the mid-2000s. For a while, it was still being used as a storage facility by Hungary’s Civil Defense Force. The bunker was maintained by a nearby family, who were sworn to secrecy. In 2004, it was decided that responsibility for the site fell solely on St. John’s Hospital in Budapest, who were seen as the de facto owners in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By 2008 the bunker was renovated, refurbished, and ready to be opened to the public. Today it operates as a museum, with exhibits detailing life in the hospital from various periods of its history, as well as the history of combat medicine as a whole. The sobering hour-long walk around the hospital concludes with a cautionary gaze into the atrocities of nuclear attacks, with the final walk to the exit featuring a gallery of art created by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Another part of the caves beneath Buda Castle. Image credit:Sahil Jatana via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The caves beneath Buda Castle have certainly had a bumpy history, and walking through them now is chilling (and not just because they keep the temperature at around 60°F). A tour through the narrow, oppressive hallways is a glimpse at our narrowly avoided nuclear future—definitely a sobering way to spend an afternoon.

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