FEBRUARY 15, 1946
FRANKFORT ON THE MAIN, Germany—When I left London, I was not looking forward to this journey to the continent since I feared that, for those of us who knew the Europe of the past, sadness was bound to fill our souls. But sorrow which leads to constructive work and a determination to keep from repeating our mistakes is good for us. It should strengthen us for the battle that must come in these next few years—the battle for peace. And we must pray for victory no less sincerely than we did in time of war.
On the plane flight to Germany, the pilot offered to go down and let me get a look at Aachen from the air. It was difficult, at first, to tell just how much damage had been done, but my eyes grew accustomed to houses without roofs and I realized that, comparatively speaking, there was little life in the city's streets.
In the villages, life seemed to be going on. And I was surprised to find how universally the fields were planted and how well cared for they looked. These people are thrifty—they use every available bit of land.
When we came to Cologne, we again circled the town. Again, there was very little life in the streets. I saw only one car, a few people on bicycles, and a few on foot. From the air, however, the full impact of the war is hard for unaccustomed eyes to grasp.
* * *
Soon after we reached Frankfort, I took a short drive through the city. It has been many years since I was here before, but I remember it very well as it was then. It was a spacious city, with beautiful buildings and a residential district in which many of the richest Germans lived. Now, I cannot adequately describe what the destruction is.
An area around the railroad station is flat. Certain buildings are occupied only on the lower floors. In street after street, there is not one habitable dwelling. The sights are appalling, leave you stunned, almost unable to grasp the misery of such devastation. Only when you drive out to the outskirts do you find a few streets where people still live.
The city's former population was about 550,000. They say that 378,000 people still live here, but where they live is certainly a mystery.
I remember some of the smaller cities along the line of battle in France after the first World War, where practically all the buildings were shells and where the people lived in the cellars. You would see them flitting, like ghosts, out into the sunlight and then back to their underground dwellings. That may be what they're doing here, but I've seen no evidence of it. As the villages have been very little harmed, probably many of the city's people are now living there.
* * *
On the whole, I think the children here look fairly well. Records show that the men have lost some weight, but the women have gained a little. Rations give each person 1500 calories a day. Fortunately, the winter so far has been miraculously mild.
Here and there, you see smoke emerging from factory chimneys, but these are usually isolated factories some distance from towns. From the air I saw many chimneys from which no smoke was rising.
As you look at this city, first you think of the great material loss—famous buildings destroyed with their probable contents of art treasures and fine furnishings—businesses which disappeared overnight—life savings wiped away. But what really makes you shudder is the amount of human suffering which must be represented in these piles of rubble and crumbling walls.
The Germans are a tough people and the unanimous impression seems to be that they have little sense of guilt. The older people realize they have been beaten—completely beaten—but only the older people will come forward to help the occupation forces. Some of them may think along lines acceptable to us, but the great mass of young people are still Nazis—still believe they can rebuild a strong Germany and German Army!
(WORLD COPYRIGHT, 1946, BY UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, INC.; REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR PART PROHIBITED.)
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 15, 1946
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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