The Papa Letters, Part 2

In this installment, we find out that my Papa was quite the badass.

Last time, Papa had written about life as the head doctor at Camp Etzel, and to give you some numbers as to what the population was, let’s start with that:

I reached here Sunday, April 29th, about 10:30 AM. There are now 4,303 people here in this German military school, divided as follows: 395 children under 10, 2,228 males and 1,680 females. I have 70 pregnant mothers, 30 nursing mothers.

So he started scrounging whatever he could for his patients:

Today I went into Cologne to AMG (they are in the only building in the center of town still standing) to find out about our water supply here, which comes from that wrecked city. Also to look into the source and quality of the 450 litres of milk they furnish me daily. Also borrowed a flame thrower and a bull dozer to burn and bury sheds and refuse which threaten sanitation.

Oh, just picked up a flamethrower today. You know, no big deal. Also “borrowed” a bulldozer. Like ya do. I like to imagine Papa rode the bulldozer back to the camp while torching things with the flamethrower the whole time. If he didn’t, I bet he wanted to. But he kept on finding more supplies instead of playing with a flamethrower all day like his granddaughter would have.

I came here with practically no supplies, only six pairs of willing hands. I am trying to borrow or steal things. We are now making a 36 bed hospital. I got 72 sheets, 36 pillow slips, and 72 blankets for our use. But do not ask where I got them. Also got some talcum and some white soap for the babies. I have been trying to get a sterilizer and oh so much more! My difficulties are that I can’t get supplies through regular Army channels because Germany is eventually to pay for the entire bill of caring for these camps.

“But do not ask me where I got them” indeed. That’s my Papa, crafty and resourceful at all times. That’s what growing up in the Depression will do to a person. Let’s move on to the stuff I only saw on “MASH”.

Some of our DPs want to run off or loot at the first chance they get for more food. Last night our guards fired into a group of DPs who were killing a local German’s pig and beating his wife. When the DPs would not stop, the guards fired, first over their heads and then into them. When they did stop, they were brought to me at 1 AM, one with a bullet in his right mastoid, through his right chest, his right elbow and in his back. The other was just scratched. I worked from 1 to 2 fixing them up. Both are going to be OK.

The mastoid (I had to look that up) is behind your ear. I get that the soldiers had  to stop the DPs from stealing and beating people (although I don’t blame them) but I’m sure Papa didn’t appreciate having to dig bullets out of the people he was trying to help WITHOUT his own guys shooting them.

There’s this one too:

Managed to get into what used to be Cologne to see the patient I sent there the other night. He is living and doing well. Had another one yesterday. He was walking across a field, working as a farmer on a nearby German place when he stepped on a land mine! He sustained several intercranial wounds from projectiles, which caused a left facial paralysis, had 6 pieces in his left shoulder. Also sent him off to the hospital in Cologne after using the last of my precious tetanus.

Dudes, I had no idea my Papa was Hawkeye Pierce.

But THEN. The plot thickens. Out of nowhere, this letter begins with a change of events:

I am back with my Clearing Company in Bergheim, about half way between Cologne and Juelich. I was relieved of my job at Camp Etzel, the Polish DP Center. I do not know the exact reason for my relief, but I believe it was because I talked too much. I believe I walked on the toes of too many higher-ups and wrote too accurate reports of conditions at the camp.

One day a consolidated report about several of these DP camps fell into my hands and I realized that someone had falsified my report, so I went of of channels and away up the line to one of the highest headquarters and first showed them my weekly reports which I had filed, then this consolidated one. The latter made me feel good, what with its praise for me and my work, but it was far from accurate. I raised a stink about it, told them verbally about conditions at Etzel, told them that I had received no help or cooperation at all from any source except UNRRA (Herbert Lehman in charge), that no one in Army circles had been able to answer even the simplest of my questions.

I knew I was right, that they were wrong, and that they did not give a damn. Rank and grade no longer concern me. I’ll talk up to the highest officer here. I was fired that day with a certain spark of indignation. It was the climax for me of several lesser arguments I had had.

Three days later I was relieved of my post.

That’s right. He went to his higher-ups because someone had been TOO COMPLIMENTARY to him and then he took the opportunity to tell them the real conditions of the camp. The brutal truth and Papa’s strong will was too much for them and they moved him from the camp hospital that he helped build. I can just imagine how brutal that must have been for him. He, of course, was stoic:

could not help feeling terribly sorry for them. They have gone through a great deal of suffering and they were awfully nice to me. As I was loading up my truck with my bags and six men, we had about 50 Poles around us telling us how much they would miss us. The two Polish doctors actually wept as they shook my hand. It was all very touching.

Since leaving them I have thought of that place almost more than I have thought of home. Living there has had a strong emotional influence on me. I never had suspected before what starvation and beatings could do to a man or woman.

I have a few more excerpts, which I’ll put in another post, so Papa can have his own trilogy of blog entries. It’s the least I can do.


 Grandmother, Me, and Papa, College Graduation 1999


The Papa Letters, Part 2 — 8 Comments

  1. Wow, your Papa ROCKED! What an amazing story, and thank you for sharing it, and him. What year was this written?

    Also? I want to know about your Grandmother. I suspect there’s more to her than a kindly-looking woman.

    The Greatest Generation, indeed.

  2. Danielle,
    We have not met. But, I was your Mom’s college roommate and also from Albany. Your grandfather was my daughter’s pediatrician and your grandparents are very well-known to me and were good friends of my parents. I loved seeing their picture with you.

    I loved your write-up on Les Mis. I just saw it today and am overwhelmed. I have seen it at least 5 times in many different parts of the USA and in London. I think this movie took a fabulous show and made it even better…if that’s possible. Your write-up was on the money and very well done and fun to read.

    Keep up the great work. I wish you only the best
    Carol Rosenstock Tulgan

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