There is no doubt that the civilians were a major impediment to the fighting units and Jebsheim
uninhabited would have been taken much faster and perhaps with no more material destruction
However, no extortion, no act of foul play or cruelty has been pointed out, not by the German
soldiers nor by the Allied soldiers, concerning the civilian population. All of the soldiers behaved
properly towards the women and children.
Of course, soldiers aren't choirboys! "War is War!"--especially not shock troops who always
charge in the first wave! The man-to-man fighting that was witnessed by certain civilians who
happened to be looking on, has to be understood in the perspective of the fighting man. " It's
you or me!"
On the other hand, there are many examples of soldiers on both sides aiding the civilians;
evacuation of the wounded by the Germans to Neuf-Brisach,; evacuation of the wounded and
sick to Guemar and Ribeauville by the Allies. The troops would also discretely withdraw, either
on their own initiative or by request, from places occupied by civilians wherever possible, in
order to prevent carnage, etc.
As for goods and precious objects, good heavens, everything can be acquired again, except
human life, as the Americans were fond of saying. It was their habit to throw everything out the
windows because they insisted on occupying empty bedrooms; bedding, the contents of
wardrobes, drawers, everything (Security requires it!) "That will be good for business after the
war" they would say.
And we must not forget the war rations distributed by Allied solders to the civilian population
that, for weeks, had lived and eaten in confinement, having only whatever supplies and foods
they could pick up on the spot.
It was often difficult for civilians to identify the nationality of soldiers fighting or quartered with
them. Not only was the white cloth of camouflage the same for both sides; the allied uniforms
were the same for all (that is to say American), but the allied manner of conducting the fighting
led to some mistakes. To have the legionnaires attack in Riedwihr Street, the Americans in
Osthem Street and the paratroopers in the middle and south of the village, that would be too
simple. The assault troops, after several hours of heavy fighting, were relieved by fresh
combatants sent from the rear and who were not necessarily from the same unit as the men they
were relieving. Moreover, certain combat groups, after enormous losses, were aided by
neighboring units. This explains the confusion that sometimes resulted and shows how it might
have been difficult to tell friend from foe.
It is not surprising if some accounts talk about the arrival of Americans, then French
(legionnaires, paratroopers, Moroccans) the Americans again, or the reverse.
Among the German soldiers, there were, of course the infantry, the artillery and tanks already in
place before January 24, but also the troops that had come from the far north (Norway and
Finland) and also, before January those Asiatics with slanted eyes that are known here as the
What language did the soldiers speak who suddenly turned up one group after the other in a
civilian's house?. French and German, of course, but also Austrian, with its characteristic
sing-song accent; some Americans spoke a little German, others rudimentary French, others
spoke only American. The Americans were able to converse in their language with two school
girls who had learned English and, for what they didn't know, made themselves understood by
gestures. Some paratroopers surprised the inhabitants by calling to them in Alsatian: " I ben fo
Hawenaou" (I am from Haguenau). A legionnaire who asked in perfect German were the
Germans had gone, was asked by the amazed civilians: "But you're French, aren't you?" and had
to repeat the question in French to the civilians who were suspicious; it was only then that they
gave him the requested information.
There are certainly many psychological remarks that might be made concerning civilians, who,
for weeks were in close contact with soldiers from both sides and had to answer questions, give,
allow, submit, all in the hope of getting out alive, with them and their families and, if possible,
with their goods.
Forced to remain in the good graces of the occupier in order to prevent all sorts of reprisals, the
people of Jebsheim let the Germans, who were confident of their victory, speak without
contradiction. They listened with compassion to the Bavarian father as he spoke nostalgically
about his family, and the young "Edelweiss" Austrian, who was only 18, weep over the picture
of this mother. These scenes reminded them of their own sons who had been inducted by force
into the Wehrmacht or their nephews fighting under the banner of the Cross of Lorraine.
They lowered their heads when the occupier, feeling victory elude him, became suspicious and
arrogant. They shouted, "Non" when a French soldier, machine gun in hand, screamed out: "Are
there any German soldiers here?". They shouted "Nein" when German soldiers, in the midst of a
counteroffensive, cried out: "Are there any French soldiers here?" They accompanied
confidently the American officers, looking for possible enemy troops who might still be hiding in
houses or farm buildings, because the civilians felt more protected by the revolvers that the
Americans held on their backs than if they had been taken hostage by the Germans.
But each time the civilians were able--and there are many testimonies to this fact-to offer their
fellowmen a glass of wine or schnapps and invited them to drink, to show the soldiers that,
above all, they recognized their common humanity.
And, oh irony of fate, what would the legionnaire have thought or said who drank with such
delight the schnapps that a citizen of Jebsheim gave him, if he had known that the same glass
have been served a few hours earlier to calm the nerves of a German corporal who thought he
was seeing spies everywhere?
1. The American soldier- calm, fairly cold, a very experienced fighter, prudent, advancing as
much as possible during the night to reach his goal by morning; his job done--careful to save
lives; his long term objective to win the war, however long it took. Helpful to civilians,
somewhat distant, almost distrustful, preferring in general to follow the civilian with gun in hand
throughout the dwelling rather than preceding him; not disdainful of a glass of wine or schnapps,
but never drinking until his civilian host had emptied his own glass.
Once quartered in a house, his first action: throw everything that can be moved out of the
windows; small furniture, personal effects, dishes, linen, etc...He must have empty rooms, empty
beds (even for sleeping) because "Security requires it!"
2. The French soldier- Enthusiastic, human, seeking contact with the population, but in a hurry,
impatient. Knowing what the immediate objective is (Neu-Brisach, in order to close the Pocket
of Colmar), he is quickly disappointed when things don't advance. Impetuous and impulsive, he
throws himself immediately (often imprudently) towards the place where, according to the
civilians, the Germans have withdrawn.
Irritated and nervous, he threw himself desperately in the final rush to the upper village where
the fighting was slowly becoming a general slaughter and a settling of accounts in hand to hand
fighting. Almost all of them were volunteers for the duration of the war and had come to liberate
their country, their province. Their attitude was in stark contrast to that of the Americans for
whom the fighting in Alsace was but an episode in their larger mission to win the war.
3. The German soldier- One can classify them into four categories:
The Simple Soldier--The "troufion" or "ladser", man of the people; had little enthusiasm
(especially the Austrians), and had known for a long time the ultimate outcome of the war, but
was forced to see it to the end. He liked to confide in civilians, talk to them about his family and
the coming end to the war.
The NCOs--A good soldier, experienced, had come out alive from all the battlefields of
Europe where he had gained his experience and "know-how". He knew how to take advantage
of his knowledge of the terrain. He also knew how to profit from the tactical mistakes of the
Allied troops and the carelessness of the French, who, because of their enthusiasm and
eagerness to advance , often forgot certain basic rules of security. He believed in the superiority
of his military science and his material and underestimated the courage, will to win, and
self-sacrifice of the liberating soldiers.
The Fanatics (Soldiers or NCOs)--These men were indoctrinated visionaries who believed
in nothing but their "Furher" and victory and were ready to give their lives for the cause, fighting
to the last without worrying about what destruction might result from it--They had nothing else to
Those who willing gave up: There were also the German soldiers who took refuge at the last
moment with the civilians in order to become prisoners. Some "no longer believed in the war",
others, harassed, with frayed nerves "couldn't take it any more." Few of them considered the
action they were taking to be desertion, but the only way to avoid death--and often they were
not lacking in courage. The Alsations who had been forced to join the Wehrmacht and who
later deserted on the eastern front to see refuge among the Russians can tell you what courage