A German looks back on WWII, D-Day and the U.S. Army’s support
When the alarm sounded in the middle of the night, a young woman and her two kids knew exactly what to do: Grab everything they could carry and run to the basement. A few hours later, after the bombs had shattered their city once more, they came back upstairs to see what was left of their home. The 1-year-old in her arms started to cry because of the noise and the smell of the fire, while her 3-year-old just stared at the flames in silence – the building behind them was gone.
Seventy-seven years later, Joachim (“John”) Zinram does not remember that night in Koblenz during World War II when he was 1 year old and his family had lost their home and had to escape to the countryside. He does not remember the smell and the noise of destruction, but when asked what he does remember, he describes his experience with the American Soldiers stationed near his hometown after the end of the war.
“It was a very sad time. We had nothing to eat,” he explained. “Every day, I took an empty lunchbox with me to school. During lunch, it was filled with either grits, rice pudding or just chocolate milk, which the school received from the CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) packages from the Americans,” Zinram recounted. “It meant the world to us – it helped us survive.” The small town he grew up in was close to Bad Kreuznach, where the U.S. Army 8th Infantry Division was stationed. The American Soldiers provided lunch for the schools in the area and made sure that the German children would not starve.
“When we were not in school, sometimes all we had was a slice of bread for a whole day,” Zinram said. “When we were lucky, we found some mustard and put it on the bread – just to have something different.” Many German children grew up in total poverty. The country was destroyed, many families disrupted – but the German population did not give up. They started building up their cities brick by brick and by the 1950s life became better: Stores were stocked with essential items again, even chocolate and cookies. Some prisoners of war returned, and families were reunited.
“It seemed to us that the Americans did not see us as their enemies anymore. The U.S. government helped us rebuild our country,” Zinram explained. “The best memory I have of the Americans back then was when they drove their tanks and Jeeps through the streets of our town. I always heard them long before they got there, and then I stood patiently on the side of the road, waving to them. Many Soldiers stopped their vehicles and gave candy, chocolate and bubble gum to us children. We were in awe — these were like treasures to us.”
The 8th Inf. Div. was part of the Allied Forces at Utah Beach at Normandy. When asked about D-Day, Zinram said that to many Germans it meant the beginning of the end of the war — the end of suffering.
Although the Germans don’t have a special way to commemorate this day, the meaning behind it and the sacrifice that the Soldiers made remains in people’s heads, “and should stay in the heads of the generations to come,” he added. “Those who were children back then finally had a chance to grow up living normal lives again.”
Today, Zinram said he looks back on a multitude of different memories. However, the Americans have always played a special role in his life. Even today, he said he enjoys American food and is proud of his daughter who works for the U.S. Army in Wiesbaden. However, “the candy tasted better back then,” he concluded, laughing.
This story was written by Nadine Bower, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs, who interviewed her father, Joachim Zinram, about his experiences during World War II.