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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A SMALL GIRL IN ALSACE: from Recollections of WW II, winter of 1944

I have decided to include on my blog a few samples from my World War II memoirs, which was shared with family but not published in book form. The Small Girl In Alsace and Bartending stories were two of the most commented-on stories from my WW II writing.

After staying in the bombed out factory in Bischwiller we moved to a school house about 5 miles away in a town identified by published WW II writer John Barton as Herrlisheim. The windows were intact and he remembers it had a stove. I don’t remember a stove but I remember it for not having water for the WC. There was an outhouse in the school yard without doors. I suppose they had been stolen for firewood. One could sit and watch everyone passing on the street. The fighting had moved across the Rhine River about 4 miles to the east and even though artillery shells occasionally fell into town and one could hear gunfire at all times, the civilians were coming out of their cellars to look for supplies and to relieve “cellar fever.” Children pulling toddlers in wagons or sleds or helping adults move about, adults carrying bags to gather firewood or barter for food.

One morning while sitting in the outhouse I noticed a small girl come to the gate, look around and then come into the school yard and start to swing. I don’t remember there being anything else on which to play. After finishing I walked over to the swing set and said good day (there is no German expression for hello). She smiled and answered good day. I asked her name and she gave me her name but I don’t remember what she said. I asked where she lived and she pointed down the street 4 or 5 houses. I asked if she attended the school and she said she had until the shooting started. I asked what class she was in and she said first. I said there is no water in the school and she said I know. During all this time she was slowly swinging back and forth and I noticed that several children had gathered at the gate but did not come in. I asked if I could come to her house for hot water to wash and shave and she ran out of the yard, down the street to her house. In a few minutes she came back and said her mother said it would take ten minutes to heat the water. I asked her to wait and I went inside and asked if anyone else wanted to go along. Someone suggested that it might be a trap but four or five guys went with me.

As we approached her house she ran ahead and opened the door for us. Her mother was surprised to see all of us as it was a one room apartment. She had a brass boiler on the small stove and had laid out a towel and wash cloth and a small piece of soap. I told her we had our own towels and washcloths and soap. We had also taken some coffee and sugar and canned milk and immediately she started water for coffee. Besides the stove the room had a bed, a table and two chairs, a kitchen sink with a small cabinet above and below, and in a closet a WC. Sitting on the window ledge was a Christmas tree about 18 inches high with a few decorations. I think they keep their trees up 12 days. We put hot water into our helmets and rolled up our sleeves and started washing and shaving. The mother asked to see my soap and she called her girl over to smell the soap. I asked why none of the other children played with her daughter. Her face turned red and turning her head so that no one else could see it, she lifted her head scarf and showed that her head was shaved. She said the Free French had shaved her head because a German officer had lived with her and did not let their children play with her daughter. I asked about the girl’s father and she shrugged her shoulders and said they had not heard from him, he was dead or in Russian prison. By this time all of the guys had fallen in love with the girl and asked me what she was saying and the girl asked me what they were saying. She showed her Christmas present, which was a homemade doll. When the coffee was ready the mother served it in china cups, also bringing out a small piece of Christmas cake to go with the coffee. We left our coffee, sugar and milk and soap. Some of the guys gave her some cigarettes which she could barter and everyone emptied their pockets of gum and candy. It was time to go and both the mother and daughter said tearful goodbyes.

Early the next morning we left and I never came back to the town again. I wonder what happened to the family but soon forgot about the girl and did not remember until I started writing about WW2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your WWII stories, I enjoy them immensely. J.K.

Ben the Cook

Ben the Cook
Action shot from the 1970s



I recently made Tuna Helper, following the instructions on the box and adding margine, milk, etc. Priscilla and I had generous portions for lunch. When she asked about my recipe, I pointed to the kitchen table where the box was sitting...and only then noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting next to the empty box.

Well, we enjoyed our macaroni & cheese lunch and already have the tuna on hand to make another box of Helper.


I watched the TV news show "The Eyes of Texas" for years. When in the mid 1980s they announced the publication of a Texas cookbook I wrote down my grandmother's honey cookie recipe. I asked Priscilla to type it, and she mailed it along with several of her personal favorites.

When the book was published Priscilla's recipes were not included but mine was, with a special mention in the cookbook's introduction. I was invited to the signing in Houston, where I got all three of the main Eyes of Texas contributors to sign the front and while standing in line got a number of contributing cooks to sign their recipe pages.

Some might consider the description "somewhat chewy" an understatement. For those who are dentally impaired, I recommend soaking a cookie in milk or hot coffee before trying to chew it. The good news is, these cookies will keep indefinitely.

Eyes of Texas Cookbook introduction:
My great-grandparents August and Caroline Weiss operated the first cotton gin operated by steam, near Salem in Washington County, Texas. They were among the first German settlers in that area. Money was scarce; however, they always had bees and native pecans...consequently, this recipe was a favorite.

1 1/2 pints honey, warmed
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough flour for a very stiff dough

Mix all ingredients well. Roll dough out on a floured board and cut with a cookie cutter, or drop the dough in a greased pan and flatten with a floured glass. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, with edges slightly darker. These cookies will be somewhat chewy.

Ben's Bio

I was born in Rose Hill, Texas in 1925 and at age 18 drafted into the Army. After my discharge I settled in Tomball, which although a small town had more opportunities than Rose Hill. I ran my own appliance installation and repair business for many years and in 1977 accepted a position as Plant Engineer and Director of Maintenance at Tomball Regional Hospital, where I worked until retirement in the late 1980s. In the 1970s I served two years on Tomball’s City Council, was elected mayor and served for six years during which major streets were paved and guttered, utility lines were extended, and a new jail and city hall were built. After retirement from the hospital I spent time on a genealogy project that included two trips to Germany to visit relatives and look up archival records. I have also gotten into writing, chronicling my WW II experiences and authoring Growing Up in Rose Hill, published by private press and sold as a fund-raiser for the Tomball Community Museum Center, where I have served as a volunteer, trustee and Chairman. I am still involved with the Tomball hospital as a weekly volunteer and serve as General Manager of Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (TEAM), a church-sponsored operation that provides food and other assistance to area families. I continue to be involved in writing about my childhood and personal interests, and I still enjoy woodworking and other handyman projects. My wife and I still live in Tomball and are not far from most of our 8 surviving children and 14 grandchildren.