CONQUEST IN REVERSE
L. S. B. SHAPIRO
Maclean’s European Correspondent
BERLIN (By Wireless)—“Let’s face it,” the American major said. “We were fed a lot of propaganda about Germans during the war. May be it was necessary to keep us hopped up for the fighting—I don’t know. But let’s face it, brother. That was strictly propaganda. I’ve been in Germany now going on eight months, and, let me tell you, Germans are pretty nice folks.”
We were sitting in the American Officers’ club in Berlin. The major, who had invited me to his table, was an acquaintance I hadn’t seen since the Battle of the Northern Rhineland, when his heroism in bloody fighting against the Wehrmacht provided me with a good news story. Now he was relaxed on a sofa, his arm draped around the shoulder of a bright-eyed blond Fraulein whose lips were spread in a quiet smile. Like most German girls in their early twenties, she had a scrubbed, immaculate appearance which was enhanced rather than spoiled by just the right amount of make-up. Her print dress hung loosely, but not sloppily, on her well-formed lightness.
A middle-aged waiter came to take our order, head inclined slightly in a gesture of amiable humility.
“When I think of those frogs,” the major continued, “letting us do the fighting and not even having enough gumption to work for themselves. And those Belgiques, rooking us right and left. Not a hot-water tub within 20 miles, either—and those frogs sure smelled like it. Brother, the Germans are plenty okay. They put up a hell of a fight—so what? It just proves they’re the best people in Europe. Let’s face it.”
As the major said—Let’s face it. This wasn’t an isolated conversation piece. Similar poison is spreading everywhere in American, British and Canadian occupation zones in Germany, and it explains many things.
It explains why Eisenhower has to crack down on his subordinates to force them to follow his directives. It explains why British troops are frequently involved in street fights against their Russian Allies along Berlin’s dark avenues. It helps to explain why the French, Belgians and Netherlanders are developing an active hate for North Americans, who behave like drunken cowboys in Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam
and add insult to injury by openly favoring the Germans. It explains why the same youths who fought so well to win the war are, in their juvenile thoughtlessness, effectively losing the peace.
Most importantly, it explains the urgent necessity of a program of indoctrination to make our troops realize the ugly facts of Europe and the true purpose of occupation duties.
There are two distinct facets to this single problem. First is the irresponsible behavior of our troops stationed, or on leave, in liberated countries of western Europe—behavior which is gradually forcing our Allies to the conclusion that North Americans are a lot of ill-bred gangsters. Second is the development of fraternization in Germany to a point where the world’s most notorious outlaw nation is making fraudulent but effective appeals upon the sympathy of the very men who helped bring it to justice.
One facet feeds upon the other, and the resulting evils are multiplied manyfold. While the mischievous antics of our troops are estranging vast sections of the population in France and the Low Countries, our practical relations with the Russians all along the demarcation line, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, are deteriorating — mainly through our cameraderie with the Germans, who lost; no opportunity to make anti-Soviet propaganda.
The danger inherent in this situation cannot be dismissed as a passing phenomenon or as an inevitable postwar reaction. At this writing there are four million American, British and Canadian troops in Europe, and their actions and opinions cannot be held lightly. What they do and think will affect political trends in Europe and will mold minds at home. They have a
high responsibility. The pity is they don’t know it. Somewhere along the line our Governments have failed in their full duty. In causing millions of normal young men to learn how to fight, they have neglected to teach these men why they are fighting.
It is not possible to provide statistics which would clearly point out the danger. No figures are kept on petty annoyances in France or on the extent of fraternization in Germany. Repercussions of street brawls seldom reach beyond the regimental level, nor is there any official check on the extent to which our occupation forces have fallen for astute German propaganda. Yet it is the impression of every itinerant observer in Europe that danger clearly exists.
“Liberators” in Action
TAKE, for instance, these incidents which have occurred during this correspondent’s haphazard travel around Europe during the last month. One night some Paris friends took me to a Place Pigalle night club, to see Champí, one of Montmartre’s favorite entertainers. ( ’hampi is an elderly man whose act consists solely of recounting jokes full of French idioms not found in the ordinary dictionary. He may be likened to Frank Fay or Lou Holtz on the American stage. After his first few jokes, which had the French audience howling, Champi’s act began to suffer from raucous interruptions. Three American soldiers, who liad wandered in apparently to see dancing girls, gave vent to their disappointment by shouting: “Talk in English” “You’re funny as a crutch” “Take it off” “We want women.”
For five minutes Champí struggled against these interruptions. Finally lie waved toward his tormentors, said in French! “These are our Allies. What can one do?” and walked off the floor.
Three hundred Parisians, who had paid a stiff price to hear Champí, murmured in disappointment and turned their heads toward the Americans. Whereupon the trio shouted an
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The Germans are turning our troops against our Allies ... "Our Governments have failed in their duty," says Shapiro
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arrived in playing condition and on time.
Having got there they looked to Sydney Wells, smallest and smartest among them, to cue their entry. Mr. Wells, whose sense of humor is droll and unflinching, decided to play it dead pan. So he and his six faithful associates,
! poker faced, took up their position,
: hand on bow, and spoke no wrord of I the weather.
The bass fiddle, or bass viol, is the biggest instrument carried from place to place by any musician on earth. The piano, the harp and the drums are heavier, but these are seldom, if ever, j moved about by the people who play j them.
Of the 398 unionized bull fiddlers in Canada more than 95% are self-taught and Wells is among these.
Born into a musical family in Sussex, Wells trained on the piano, switched to the bass at his dad’s request and at 17 went into the pit of a movie house at i Carlisle. He decided to stay a few j weeks for practice, but he was still there two years later, when a wandering opera company hit Carlisle. The bass player was sozzled.
The conductor refused to play unless the orchestra had a bull fiddler and 1 young Wells, who’d never read an j opera score in his life, was nervously pressed into the seat which was to change his career.
He’s long since forgotten the name of that conductor but will never forget his ferocious appearance. He was a huge man with a crimson face completely encircled in a halo of white hair.
At the beginning of the third act there is a sinister solo for the double bass and Wells really reached for his abysmal notes. Apparently he didn’t make it, because the conductor roared, “Boy . . . what are you doing . . . moving furniture?”
Soon afterward, intrigued w ith sym¡ phony w'ork, Wells quit the movie house
and studied at the Royal College of Music. Then, as now, musicians— especially bull fiddlers—could easily find a welcome spot on the ships at sea; and to meet the cost of his lessons—a pound each—Wells made many seagoing hops.
In all he did about 250,000 miles back and forth to Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Norwegian fiords. Once he sailed to China to soothe the passengers when their crippled liner limped home. At every port he entered young Wells anxiously visited instrument dealers, trying to find a fiddle with a pedigree.
On a wild and stormy day in Britain he heard, by the musicians’ grapevine, that a yeoman in a small Essex village had a good bass.
Wells was away like a shot on a journey so furious with wind and rain that he remembers it to this day. There was no bus, taxi or telephone but, as we’ve seen, bull fiddlers are a stouthearted lot, and Wells set off on foot.
It’s Been a Chicken Coop Too
Hours later Wells arrived at a stone cottage set in a moor and was set upon by a snarling collie. With the indignant pooch snapping at his heels Wells tramped through glacial mud toward a spectral light.
The light was followed by the farmer, who led Wells into a loft. There, with a bunch of baby chicks running aboutit, was the bass which Wells plays to this day as he sits in the exalted stool of first double bass of the Toronto Symphony.
The yeoman explained that he had bought this fiddle for his son, but the lad, in dismay, had chosen to run away to Canada rather, than undertake its mastery.
At sight of the bull Wells was prepared to go into hock for its purchase, but the farmer accepted the first offer of £15 for an instrument worth several hundred. Before leaving England for Canada Wells learned that it had belonged to Bernard Carrodeus, who
played it for 30 years at the Covent Garden Opera House.
Wells travelled to Toronto and got radio work the first day he unlimbered his big bass. A few weeks later he was invited to join the hockey broadcast at Maple Leaf Gardens, and stayed with it for the six seasons it remained a partly musical show. After the first broadcast he was invited into the Symphony. This double success called for a celebration, so Wells sailed for Britain to get married. He left the bull fiddle at home and felt so naked he determined not to let it happen again.
Prowling through Leicester Square Wells spotted a mature and lovely bass —a Restelli, made in 1836 at Genoa — about to go on the auction block. The local boy who had made good in Canada outbid all others and on the homegoing voyage he shared a cabin with a new bass and a new bride.
Syd Wells now has three bass fiddles and three children. Judith has decided to be a ballet dancer, David a pianist, and Victor, who is five years old, seems to have the proper stamina and determination to become a bull fiddler.
Wells estimates his travels with the bull fiddle at roughly a quarter million miles, which he does not claim as any sort of record. A fellow member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Geoffrey Barker, has carried his bass more than 650,000 miles into every country on the face of the globe . . . even Tierra del Fuego—possibly farther than any other Canadian musician, living or dead. He took every world cruise with the ill-fated Empress of Britain and periodically stopped off in the most remote corners to enjoy the view on the income from his bull fiddle.
Barker has certain tricks which he refuses to teach, and is equally at home with a slap-happy swing group or with the symphonic classics. His John Lott bass is probably the most coveted of all. Lott, a Londoner, made and played more than 500 bass fiddles during his lifetime. Some of them were made of exquisite pearwood.
During the late war Barker was chief musical arranger for the Royal Canadian Navy, and he can rattle off the names and pedigrees of great players and great instruments as though they were his brothers.
Toronto, with 88 unionized bull fiddlers, has about twice as many as any other spot in Canada, but only half are professionals. Some are truck drivers, mechanics or accountants by day; fiddlers by night. I met one who puddled iron in a foundry. Not one admitted that from the beginning he set out to master the bass. They just became addicts, as in poker or gin.
In the field of jazz or swing the names of Joe Niosi, Bozo Weiner and Howard Barnes are prominent. Niosi started on the big tuba, while Weiner swung upward from the guitar. Barnes, a printer, gets such a bang out of the bull fiddle that he plays it for excitement. As a kid he plucked away with guitar and banjo, but these musical tools were rendered hors de combat by the bull fiddle, so Barnes strung along with the changing times.
Niosi, who with his brother Bert and the Lombardo boys was London, Ont.’s, gift to music, started on Bert’s discarded saxophone. When that group of Italian-Canadian boys decided to create a band of their own there wasn’t a bass player in all London and the orchestra sounded insipid.
The boys rehearsed in a hall owned by a musical supply house, and one day, to the amazement of all hands, a shiny big tuba, or sousaphone, stood in the corner.
The supply house had bought it with a rather vague hope of sale, but Joe Niosi, the tailor’s son, didn’t figure in those plans.
Joe, who was a sort of Jack-of-alltrades in that band-to-be, let fly with a few terrifying blasts and the rest of the boys declared him in. From then on Joe was it; his was the rhythm section, and the deeper he went the more they loved him.
First, however, after tearful talk and persuasion, his mother had to shell out the payments—$450 worth -—for that horn so conveniently found in the corner.
That first Niosi band of a dozen young hopefuls toured the Canadian dance circuit, coast to coast, and young Niosi had more fights than Joe Louis. The fights started after the kibitzers tossed the fourth hot dog down the bell of the big horn. This went on for about 11 years, and Joe gained a long list of decisions.
Although the classy name bands gradually shed their big horns, their banjos and their guitars, the lads from London loyally stuck to the big winds. It wasn’t until the summer of ’45 that Guy Lombardo replaced his tuba with a bull fiddle, and Joe Niosi got an ultimatum from Don Romanelli.
Delivered in the middle of Lake Superior, the ultimatum said, “Joe, get yourself a bull fiddle—now!— because the horn is corn.”
Joe took the hint, collected $100 for his hardware and put the hundred on a bull fiddle, which he mastered within three months. He then toured the better seagoing dance halls and took tin* grand circuit of England, Scotland and Wales with the odd stop in Ireland. Joe, knowing the British Isles to be the home of the best bull fiddles, kept on the alert. After trying more than 20 he finally selected a bull made by an Englishman named Krasko, and today, if you can spare $2,500, you might buy it. Ten years ago the nonsymphonic bass player had no more to do than slap his fiddle and clown around. Today there are shippers with hillbilly bands, but the all-round man has to produce tonal vibrations with a definite rhythm, and he has to do it with such a sure touch that many an experienced campaigner— Niosi for one is seeking out the old masters for a new series of lessons.
The Bull Backbones the Band
Vulnerable as they look, bull fiddles seldom get smashed. Although transportation companies refuse to carry one unless accompanied by an adult, or strapped in its box, they can be insured for two per cent of their value if these precautions are taken.
All of Canada’s bull fiddle topnotehers agree that Koussevitsky of Boston is the greatest living virtuoso. As to the ace of all time, the chips fall variously, top honors going to Giovanni Bottesini and Domenico Dragonetti, both Italians.
Bottesini wrote all sorts of music, including operas, around the bass and gave recitals on the instrument throughout the world.
In Italy the famed old churches had orchestras, and in 1800, when Dragonetti was 18, he was chosen to play the bull fiddle at the chapel of St. Mark, in his home town of Venice. He went to London at 31 and made most of his reputation there.
One year before his death, at 83, Dragonetti carted his enormous bull fiddle to Bonn, on the Rhine, and there led the bass section in the Beethoven festival. A four-hour concert by a man of 82 who stood throughout!
Among the fiddles in that mighty outpouring of sound was t he biggest on
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unprintable epithet at the audience in general, smashed their glasses on the dance floor, and scrambled out, choking in gales of their own laughter.
A few days later I was driving through a small Belgian town where Canadians had been stationed. I stopped at a local garage to have the spark plugs changed in the motor, and in course of conversation with the proprietor asked if he didn’t find the town too quiet without the troops.
“Ah—h,” he replied fervently, “it was a happy day when we saw the last of them—almost as happy as the day they liberated us. I don’t know why they should be so méchant et mal élevé— wicked and badly brought up. They violated our hospitality to the very limits of our patience They insulted our wives constantly, and smashed our property through sheer mischievousness.
“You will pardon my frankness, monsieur, but you may ask anyone in town or in the entire district. You will hear the same story. It was not too heavy a price to pay for liberation, but it was most unnecessary. Yet what could one do? They were mere children away from home.”
I wish I could report that these are unusual incidents. Unhappily they are not. It is painfully obvious that to wear an American or Canadian —and, to a lesser extent, British uniform in Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam is as much a social handicap today as it was a social asset a year ago. The reasons for thLs state of affairs are equally obvious. Our troops are behaving atrociously. They are young, thoughtless, frolicsome. They don’t know how to drink and they drink too much. Their ideas on how to behave on leave stem from James Cagney and Victor McLaglen. And they resent it highly when their hosts don’t appreciate this brand of real life performance.
Our troops are not altogether blameworthy, considering the cumulative effect of lonesomeness, sudden freedom from rigorous Army discipline, the mental tension of their lives during the last two years, and their extreme youth.
Added to this (particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands and France) is an artificial exchange rate which gives them the impression that they’re being victimized financially, which is an incentive to take free fun by riotous behavior. The French, Belgians and Netherlander look upon the whole circus with the pained attitude of: “Oh, Lord, how long?”
Their nerves are not healthy after their five-year ordeal, and they’re struggling seriously to make order out of their shattered countries. Their slowly returning national pride is manifesting itself in open anger and infrequent physical resistance against the frolicking foreigners. Our troops contrast this antagonistic attitude with the liberation celebrations of a year ago and conclude that gratitude is a forgotten virtue. Thus a wall of resentment has risen between the liberators and their Allies, which in itself might not be serious and might easily respond to the medicament of time—if it were not for the entirely different attitude which our troops find in Germany. In this collusion of peculiar circumstances lies the danger. Coincident with the resurgent national pride of our Allies Ls the craft and humility with which the Germans have embraced our troops as friends and rescuers.
Individually and collectively Germans are seeking to ingratiate themselves with their conquerors. And they’re succeeding. Indeed, in a guileless sort of way, they’re conquering their conquerors.
One American unit with which I am familiar Ls a case in point. Its commanding general lives, in a village, with a handsome German mistress. She’s with him constantly—even in his office when he’s issuing orders affecting the lives and property of Germans within his jurisdiction. This example is not lost upon the men under him. It is not difficult to understand, therefore, why this unit applies only half-heartedly the stern occupation policy laid down by Eisenhower. They are beginning not only to like the German community in which they find themselves but also to accept the standard alibis by which all Germans seek to excuse themselves for their sins.
Having acquired an active sympathy
j for the Germans, it comes hard for j occupation forces to dispossess them from their homes in order to provide better accommodation for displaced Russians and mid-Europeans who through five years of Nazi slavery have become ugly, unkempt and unclean.
Jn Venders, Belgium, recently, a group of American junior officers brought their German girl friends across the border to a public dance. Residents of this section of Belgium, who had suffered severely during the Ardennes offensive, were so incensed by this action they very nearly lynched both the German girls and their officer escorts.
In the last month British ATS girls had to make violent protest against insistence of British troops on bringing German girls to regimental dances. In ; the Canadian zone the problem of blatant fraternization by officers is not serious because the smallness of the force provides for closer supervision. But other ranks are as keen on Fräulein* as their American cousins.
Net result of this uncontrolled fraternization is that our occupation troops are beginning to believe the j German viewpoint. I’m not proposing j that there’s an organized German j program for propagandizing our troops.
! No secret leader is issuing directives on I the type of talk and behavior necessary I to smash Allied solidarity. Yet GerI mans are doing this as though it were a j co-ordinated effort. They’ve been so ! long conditioned to the Goebbels; Rosenberg line of thought that it comes naturally into their conversation. 1 ! don’t think I’m exaggerating when I I say that troops who’ve been on I occupation duties three months or I longer have become markedly antiRussian in talk and sentiment and have I begun to assume something of the German hostility toward French and Belgians.
It was perhaps inevitable that this j should happen to uninstructed troops. After all, Germany has many attractive things to offer war-weary veterans. The Frauleins are mostly handsome,
! and after 12 years of the Nazi breeding program they’re sexually uninhibited. The people generally are clean, industrious and disciplined. They defer to bosses or conquerors in a manner which strokes the vanity of the average soldier. As Churchill once put it: “Germans are either at your throat or at your feet”— now they’re at our feet and they’re doing an expert job of it.
In Germany, because the military has taken over management of all j places of relaxation and amusement, the average soldier finds his spending money goes far, and he unconsciously credits Germans with being less commercial than French or Belgians. In addition the position of Germans as underdogs excites the natural sym; pathy of our conquering soldiers. From this attitude stems the curious circum| stance that he will behave more sedately in a German town than in a French or Belgian community.
French Act Like Conquerors
How do French occupation troops react to this German talent for currying favor with their conquerors? I spent ; two days investigating that point in ; the French zone. Here I found the : same German efforts to ingratiate j themselves with the conqueror and almost the same degree of social relationships between troops and civilians. But with one important qualification.
The French accept such favors as Germans offer them with the flair of a j medieval conqueror. They have a hereditary hate for Germans which I immunizes them to appeals for sym-
pathy-will accept them as anything but friends. French officials perceive no danger in fraternization. They know they can use Germans but can never be used by them.
For English-speaking troops, particularly Americans and Canadians, the problem is acute, and will grow in size and importance as the occupation drags on into years. It must be faced squarely by our respective Governments. Two courses of action are open to them— and two only.
First is to withdraw our troops from German occupation duties and let—as Morgenthau has suggested—French, Belgians, Russians and Poles assume responsibility for Germany’s punishment and education. Second is to inaugurate a course of indoctrination for our troops on a most ambitious and intensive scale. They must have their memories refreshed so that they will recall the heartbreak and struggle of battle of only a few short months ago. They must be taught the long-range plan and purpose of their presence in Germany. They must learn the difference between good plumbing and good citizenship in the community of nations. They must know' that cleanliness does not always go with godliness, and that a scrubbed face does not necessarily reflect a clean soul.
They must study the facts of recent history so they’ll understand why their European Allies are so embittered of soul and bedraggled of appearance. They must place the highest value on memories of this war so that there shall not be another.
If these subjects are vigorously pursued, perhaps our troops will apply compassion to their relations with their Allies—and will know only a stern correctness as they walk among the perpetrators of Nazism.