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What Germans Said About American Troops Right After WWI

Wikimedia Commons
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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12 Pieces of 100-Year-Old Advice for Dealing With Your In-Laws
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Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The familial friction between in-laws has been a subject for family counselors, folklorists, comedians, and greeting card writers for generations—and getting along with in-laws isn't getting any easier. Here are some pieces of "old tyme" advice—some solid, some dubious, some just plain ridiculous—about making nice with your new family.

1. ALWAYS VOTE THE SAME WAY AS YOUR FATHER-IN-LAW (EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE).

It's never too soon to start sowing the seeds for harmony with potential in-laws. An 1896 issue of one Alabama newspaper offered some advice to men who were courting, and alongside tips like “Don’t tell her you’re wealthy. She may wonder why you are not more liberal,” it gave some advice for dealing with prospective in-laws: “Always vote the same ticket her father does,” the paper advised, and “Don’t give your prospective father-in-law any advice unless he asks for it.”

2. MAKE AN EFFORT TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

According to an 1886 issue of Switchmen’s Journal, “A greybeard once remarked that it would save half the family squabbles of a generation if young wives would bestow a modicum of the pains they once took to please their lovers in trying to be attractive to their mothers-in-law.”

3. KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF.

In 1901, a Wisconsin newspaper published an article criticizing the 19th century trend of criticizing mothers-in-law (a "trend" which continues through to today):

“There has been a foolish fashion in vogue in the century just closed which shuts out all sympathy for mothers-in-law. The world is never weary of listening to the praises of mothers ... Can it be that a person who is capable of so much heroic unselfishness will do nothing worthy of gratitude for those who are dearest and nearest to her own children?”

Still, the piece closed with some advice for the women it was defending: “The wise mother-in-law gives advice sparingly and tries to help without seeming to help. She leaves the daughter to settle her own problems. She is the ever-blessed grandmother of the German fairy tales, ready to knit in the corner and tell folk stories to the grandchildren.”

4. IF RECEIVING ADVICE, JUST LISTEN AND SMILE. EVEN IF IT PAINS YOU.

Have an in-law who can't stop advising you on what to do? According to an 1859 issue of The American Freemason, you'll just have to grin and bear it: “If the daughter-in-law has any right feeling, she will always listen patiently, and be grateful and yielding to the utmost of her power.”

Advice columnist Dorothy Dix seemed to believe that it would be wise to heed an in-law's advice at least some of the time. Near the end of World War II, Dix received a letter from a mother-in-law asking what to do with her daughter-in-law, who had constantly shunned her advice and now wanted to move in with her. Dix wrote back, “Many a daughter-in-law who has ignored her husband’s mother is sending out an SOS call for help in these servantless days,” and advised the mother-in-law against agreeing to the arrangement.

5. STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. AND CLOSETS. AND CUPBOARDS.

An 1881 article titled "Concerning the Interference of the Father-in-Law and Mother-in-Law in Domestic Affairs," which appeared in the Rural New Yorker, had a great deal of advice for the father-in-law:

“He will please to keep out of the kitchen just as much as he possibly can. He will not poke his nose into closets or cupboards, parley with the domestics, investigate the condition of the swill barrel, the ash barrel, the coal bin, worry himself about the kerosene or gas bills, or make purchases of provisions for the family under the pretence that he can buy more cheaply than the mistress of the house; let him do none of these things unless especially commissioned so to do by the mistress of the house.”

The article further advises that if a father-in-law "thinks that the daughter-in-law or son-in-law is wasteful, improvident or a bad manager, the best thing for him to do, decidedly, is to keep his thought to himself, for in all probability things are better managed and better taken care of by the second generation than they were by the first. And even if they are not, it is far better to pass the matter over in silence than to comment upon the same, and thereby engender bad feelings.”

6. NEVER COHABITATE.

While there is frequent discussion about how to achieve happiness with the in-laws in advice columns and magazines, rarely does this advice come from a judge. In 1914, after a young couple was married, they quickly ran into issues. “The wife said she was driven from the house by her mother-in-law,” a newspaper reported, “and the husband said he was afraid to live with his wife’s people because of the threatening attitude of her father on the day of the wedding.” It got so bad that the husband was brought up on charges of desertion. But Judge Strauss gave the couple some advice:

“[Your parents] must exercise no influence over you now except a peaceful influence. You must establish a home of your own. Even two rooms will be a start and lay up a store of happiness for you.”

According to the paper, they agreed to go off and rent a few rooms.

Dix agreed that living with in-laws was asking for trouble. In 1919, she wrote that, “In all good truth there is no other danger to a home greater than having a mother-in-law in it.”

7. COURT YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW.

The year 1914 wasn’t the first time a judge handed down advice regarding a mother-in-law from the bench. According to The New York Times, in 1899 Magistrate Olmsted suggested to a husband that “you should have courted your mother-in-law and then you would not have any trouble ... I courted my mother-in-law and my home life is very, very happy.”

8. THINK OF YOUR IN-LAWS AS YOUR "IN LOVES."

Don't think of your in-laws as in-laws; think of them as your family. In 1894, an article in The Ladies’ Home Journal proclaimed, “I will not call her your mother-in-law. I like to think that she is your mother in love. She is your husband’s mother, and therefore yours, for his people have become your people.”

Helen Marshall North, writing in The Home-Maker: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine four years earlier, agreed: “No man, young or old, who smartly and in public, jests about his mother-in-law, can lay the slightest claim to good breeding. In the first place, if he has proper affection for his wife, that affection includes, to some extent at least, the mother who gave her birth ... the man of fine thought and gentle breeding sees his own mother in the new mother, and treats her with the same deference, and, if necessary, with the same forbearance which he gladly yields his own.”

9. BE THANKFUL YOU HAVE A MOTHER-IN-LAW ... OR DON'T.

Historical advice columns had two very different views on this: A 1901 Raleigh newspaper proclaimed, “Adam’s [of Adam and Eve] troubles may have been due to the fact that he had no mother-in-law to give advice,” while an earlier Yuma paper declared, “Our own Washington had no mother-in-law, hence America is a free nation.”

10. DON'T BE PICKY WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING A WIFE; CHOOSE A MOTHER-IN-LAW INSTEAD.

By today's standards, the advice from an 1868 article in The Round Table is incredibly sexist and offensive. Claiming that "one wife is, after all, pretty much the same as another," and that "the majority of women are married at an age when their characters are still mobile and plastic, and can be shaped in the mould of their husband's will," the magazine advised, “Don’t waste any time in the selection of the particular victim who is to be shackled to you in your desolate march from the pleasant places of bachelorhood into the hopeless Siberia of matrimony ... In other words ... never mind about choosing a wife; the main thing is to choose a proper mother-in-law,” because "who ever dreamt of moulding a mother-in-law? That terrible, mysterious power behind the throne, the domestic Sphynx, the Gorgon of the household, the awful presence which every husband shudders when he names?"

11. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE.

As an 1894 Good Housekeeping article reminded readers:

“Young man! your wife’s mother, your redoubtable mother-in-law, is as good as your wife is and as good as your mother is; and who is your precious wife's mother-in-law? And you, venerable mother-in-law, may perhaps profitably bear in mind that the husband your daughter has chosen with your sanction is not a worse man naturally than your husband who used to dislike your mother as much as your daughter’s husband dislikes you, or as much as you once disliked your husband’s mother.”

12. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MARRY AN ORPHAN.

If all else fails, The Round Table noted that “there is one rule which will be found in all cases absolutely certain and satisfactory, and that is to marry an orphan; though even then a grandmother-in-law might turn up sufficiently vigorous to make a formidable substitute.”

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A Secret Room Full of Michelangelo's Sketches Will Soon Open in Florence
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Claudio Giovannini/AFP/Getty Images

Parents all over the world have chastised their children for drawing on the walls. But when you're Michelangelo, you've got some leeway. According to The Local, the Medici Chapels, part of the Bargello museum in Florence, Italy, has announced that it plans to open a largely unseen room full of the artist's sketches to the public by 2020.

Roughly 40 years ago, curators of the chapels at the Basilica di San Lorenzo had a very Dan Brown moment when they discovered a trap door in a wardrobe leading to an underground room that appeared to have works from Michelangelo covering its walls. The tiny retreat is thought to be a place where the artist hid out in 1530 after upsetting the Medicis—his patrons—by joining a revolt against their control of Florence. While in self-imposed exile for several months, he apparently spent his time drawing on whatever surfaces were available.

A drawing by Michelangelo under the Medici Chapels in Florence
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Museum officials previously believed the room and the charcoal drawings were too fragile to risk visitors, but have since had a change of heart, leading to their plan to renovate the building and create new attractions. While not all of the work is thought to be attributable to the famed artist, there's enough of it in the subterranean chamber—including drawings of Jesus and even recreations of portions of the Sistine Chapel—to make a trip worthwhile.

[h/t The Local]

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