17, 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered his entire army
to General Gates at Saratoga, having lost the battle there.
During the surrender ceremony, the Colonials were unable to
watch. So distraught with compassion for their fallen foe were
they that they had to avert their tear-filled eyes. Imagine
this! Compassion for a fallen foe! How different these
proceedings would have been, had the outcome of that battle been
otherwise. With unmitigated joy the British would have taken the
last still standing American to the gallows. One of the British
soldiers saw this and wrote in his memoirs, writing for the
majority if not everyone: "we were wondering if we were not
looking at a new species of humans."
He was absolutely right. These were indeed a new species of
humans. For there is something so sublime, so euphoric about a
person, a people, exuding freedom that it staggers the
imagination. There is no rancor, no vituperation, no
vindictiveness, no viciousness, and no vengeance. There is only
gentility, only pure graciousness. It is so beyond description
that I almost hesitate to attempt it. But I must. For you see, I
saw it with my own eyes!
My hometown is Cologne. When, early in World War II, the British
were able to penetrate German air defenses and began to bomb
Cologne and other cities in northern Germany, we, my mother, my
three sisters all younger than I, and I (my father was fighting
the Russians) came to be evacuated to a little town on the Oder
River, just a little south of the city of Breslau, then in
eastern Germany but now a part of Poland. The reprieve was short
lived. Beginning in 1943, German arms began to lose their
potency and that predator nation began to go up in flames.
nine years and nine days old at war’s end, May 9th,
it was, however, the only world I knew. With the Russian hordes
coming ever closer, I became preoccupied with the notion that I
would become somebody’s slave. And worse, so would my mother!
And if so, would I be allowed to be a slave where she would have
to be a slave!
Then that flickering light at the end of that terribly dark
tunnel. "We will flee west to where the Americans are.
don’t do that. "I did not know how they who spoke these
comforting words could be certain that the "Americans didn’t
do that", but the hope was overpowering. And so we fled.
Somehow my father had found us and was now guiding us to what I
hoped was deliverance. Four weeks later, most of it on foot,
carrying our remaining belongings on our backs, we arrived at
the Elbe River, near the town of Tangermünde, where the
Americans were, albeit on the other side.
Published by permission of Dieter H.
Dahmen, July 2001, with thanks by America’s Voices.