By Dr. Kenneth Aaron Falber (PFC, USA)
The European winter of 1944 was the most vicious in history. In the face of tremendous odds and adversities, we had fought our way through France, foot by foot, and we now approached the Saar River on the border of Germany. As we overran enemy entrenchments that were dug deep into the slopes of the steep wooden hills, I thought about how hand-to-hand combat took its toll on the enemy and on us too—in numbers and emotions. The smell of death and fresh blood was like that of a slaughterhouse.
As we reached the west bank of the Saar River, the doorstop to German proper, we received intense artillery shelling from Siegfried Line emplacements on the eastern shore. It was December 6, 1944 and heavy, cold rains fell on us without mercy.
The entire area was saturated with concrete pillboxes that had to be taken out one at a time with a great cost to life on both sides. Despite the fact that my regiment was greatly outnumbered and fighting without the support of armor, we succeeded in capturing a large number of German prisoners of war. Some were very young teenagers who cried easily and some were past middle age—a sign of desperation that reflected on their huge losses. Most of them wore ill-fitted uniforms and appeared gaunt, frightened, and resigned to their fate, but they were still dangerous in the field when armed.
It was now December 15, 1944 and with cover supplied by smoke pots, we established a foothold on the east bank of the Saars River thanks to a footbridge over the river erected by our engineers. We entered the city of Dillingen, or what was left of it. The city was in ruins—one big pile of rubble.
Sitting on a block of concrete I spotted a woman dressed in shabby black clothes. She was in a slouched position and looking down at the ground. I approached her and in my high school German asked if she was injured. She did not answer. I asked her if she was hungry. Again there was no response. As I turned to walk away, she called out to me in German, “American soldier, come here. I have something for you.” Now that I could see her face I was unable to judge her age. Her face was greatly lined, distorted, and caked with dirt.
She held out an arm toward me and in her hand was a small blue box, approximately 3” x 5”. I took the box and opened it. Inside was a round, bronze medal that bore the profile of Hitler and an inscription that read in translation “The German Mother—1939.” A blue ribbon for hanging the medal around the neck was attached.
She said her husband was missing and presumed dead fighting on the Eastern front. This medal had been awarded to her by the mayor of Dillingen as the “ideal German mother” because she had brought five children into the world. “Now,” she said, “they are all dead and you filled them so this medal is yours.”
I was stunned and speechless. She stared at me for several minutes, too tired and beaten to show hatred. Her head sagged and she no longer spoke. There was no explanation as to how her children died. I put the box with the medal in my pocket. I felt no guilt as I walked away from this woman but all I could think about for the next few minutes was ponder the idea of collective blame. This woman had joined the ranks of countless millions all over the world who had loved ones wrenched from their families and friends to an untimely, horrible death—all due to the savage minds of the German and Japanese leaders during WWII.
It didn’t end there—but will it ever?…
Pvt Kenneth Falber served in the European Theatre of Operations with the 3rd Army, 357th Regiment. He received three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, Conspicuous Service Cross, Good Conduct Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge. He served December 1942 to January 1946.
Originally published in the Three Weeks 5782 Jewish-American Warrior