Keeping things in perspective

This is a mind-blowing report my dad sent back to his local newspaper during WWII. The date is 5/10/45, the Pierce County Leader (Nebraska):

V-E Day means many things--but one thing that cannot be wiped out by the signing of the peace pact is the crimes of the German prison camps.

Our soldiers who have viewed these atrocities will not be satisfied with an "easy" peace.

St. Sgt. Howard Mastalir is one of these soldiers, who has written a vivid description of what he saw in Gardelagen, which he wanted published in The Leader so that those at home could know why they are fighting.

His letter follows:

"Somewhere deep in Germany"
April 18, 1945

It has been a long time since I last wrote. But you know as well as I that there have been good reasons. I am happy to say that I have received a good deal of mail for which I am grateful.

Now, I have something rather gruesome to relate but it is on my mind and I feel I must write it to somebody. You will read about it in the papers and see pictures but mine will be a first-hand account. You can hand it to The Leader if you like.

I have just returned from Gardelagen, Germany: just a typical German village, but one that is in the news. Out of that village comes another story of Nazi brutality. This is an account of their latest infamous crime.

About six weeks ago the Nazis started moving a large group of prisoners from the area threatened by the Russian advance. One group, numbering about 1,800, was a mixture of political prisoners and Russian and Polish war prisoners. These doomed men were making the march on a ration of six potatoes a day. They were guarded by a few trusted prisoners, who were promised freedom for their work, several more Wehrmacht and SS troops.

These prisoners reached Gardelegen last Friday, the 13th, on their way to Hanover. By now there were ony 1,100 of them. At this time their escort discovered that Hanover was in American hands. Late in the afternoon they were herded a short way from the village to a large hay barn. The barn is a brick structure approximately 120 by 40 feet. This, supposedly, was to be their sleeping quarters for the night. But inside, the prisoners found the floor spread with straw and soaked with gasoline or kerosene. At about 6 o'clock that evening, with the prisoners inside and the doors bolted, the straw was ignited but the prisoners beat out the fire. So the Nazi maniacs threw in several concussion grenades, followed these with white phosphorous grenades, incendiaries and flares. That did the job.

The imprisoned men rushed for the smallest of openings, forced a brick out here and there, tried to squeeze under the doors or dig out under the foundation. Two or three men did free themselves and escaped. At one time about 50 men stormed the back entrance and broke out into the open. Here they were immediately mowed down by machine gun fire. The Nazis did the job well.

The next morning several hundred of the victims were removed and thrown into huge trenches around the buildings. Some were only partially covered.

The village of Gardelegen fell to the American troops Saturday evening but the scene of this atrocity was not discovered until Monday morning. This morning I visited that building--stepped into its entrances, walked around the mass graves, looked over the bloody open ground. I am still sick and furious from that sight.

Why did this horrible thing come about, what was accomplished by this mass murder? What sort of man is it who can do such things? The same men who expect mercy and gentle treatment when they throw up their arms and yell, "Kamrade." Let no one wonder why we fight.

It isn't a nice story nor a pleasant one to read, but it will remind you how important the job is we are doing. It will also explain why the job must be completely and thoroughly done.



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