Return to Hidden Stories

Bad Kissingen - Amerika Haus

The Situation - 1950

The Army of Occupation and then the U. S. Constabulary force had little difficulty ensuring that order was maintained in the U. S. zone of divided Germany. The de-natzifacation programs went forward and the Marshall Plan pumped millions of dollars of aid into war ravaged Europe in the mid and late 1940s. The Army and a wide variety of governmental and private agencies had significant responsibilities in what can be called “nation-rebuilding“. In Washington, plans were developed to reorganize responsibilities. The goal was to more fully involve the U. S. State Department and place a civilian face in charge of all U. S. reform, aid, economic and education programs in Germany.

Warrick Elrod, Jr. in 1950. The Foreign Service takes over.

In the first week of June, 1949, Mr. John J. McCloy was appointed the United States High Commissioner for Germany. He was a long time senior advisor and cabinet undersecretary in Washington. Upon confirmation by the Senate, he became the most powerful American in Germany, with overall responsibility for all U.S. based programs. American military forces in Germany reported to him for the maintenance of law and civil order and to the Pentagon in all other military matters. Mr. McCloy would work within the diplomatic circles, there were French and British civilian counterparts already in place in their respective zones and a Russian counterpart existed whose cooperation was problematic. As Mr. McCloy arrived, he brought a team of the best young men and women the State Department could provide, hire or recruit from the nation's universities and graduate schools. The experts arrived.

One of these men, fresh from the Ivy League and eager for a Foreign Service assignment was Warrick Elrod Jr. He replaced another civilian whose short tour in Bad Kissingen had ended in 1950. Some fifty years later, Mr. Elrod wrote an unpublished memoir recalling his life and thirty seven year career in the State Department. The estate of Warrick Elrod Jr. has graciously allowed us to place on line, most of the chapter from this work that detailed his experiences in the Kurstadt from 1950 - 1952.

Mr. Elrod was in charge of the America Haus, a reading room - teaching center and window on American culture available to the local Germans. He worked in close conjunction with the local German mayor and other politicians as “ their “ contact for all things American to include trying to insure civility between the newly arrived 2nd Battalion of the 14th Armored Reconnaissance Regiment and the Kurstadt. Beyond public relations, Mr. Elrod recalled in a telephone conversation the he also monitored local German politics closely to insure that Communist and Nazi sympathizers did not interfere with the new democracy being fostered.

Late 1949, on the way to Germany on board the U.S. Ship “ Henry Gibbons “, from left: Norman, Nancy, Rick and Warrick.

The Americans were stepping away from simply demanding that the Germans comply on all things. If there was to be an evolution in German society leading to a return to full sovereignty and integration into the affairs of Western Europe, it would be crafted by diplomats and not soldiers. The point of a pencil had replaced the point of a bayonet. Mr. Elrod and his peers at work in similar positions throughout the American zone, the Club of 27 as they were called, did the heavy lifting of listening, arguing, selling the program and when done, stepping back. Of particular note, Mr. Elrod wrote of the start of the long relationship between the U.S. cavalry and the orphanages in the area. Interestingly, there is virtually no discussion of tensions along the border region.

Bad Kissingen - Amerika Haus

Warrick Elrod Jr.

No assignment could have been more welcome to me than to become Kreis ( regional ) Resident Officer in Bad Kissingen. My predecessor, a bachelor who had been transferred to Dachau, let me know that I was welcome to come from Kempten to get acquainted with the town and the officials with whom I would associate. He would be away but I was to feel free to stay in the residence which he had ready for me and my family. The residence was a handsome place with a large terrace off a long living room which had a bow at one end. With three bedrooms and a maid’s room there was ample space for the family. The residence was in an all German neighborhood. There were three other handsome residences. They stood on the other side of the Saala River on a small hill overlooking the town below and were occupied by the three senior officer of the military sub - post. It was an arrangement that placed the Resident Officer in greater contact with the German population. Three doors down from what would be our home for two years was a beautiful Russian orthodox church which had been erected to accommodate the Russian Grand Dukes who had come to Bad Kissingen before the First World War.

The Henry Gibbons

There was additionally more modest housing for the noncommissioned officers and their families which, along with the luxurious residences, had been requisitioned by the U.S. Army, all furnished and with maid and gardener service. There was a long list of Germans who wanted their houses back and that problem would take much of my time, especially as the American military forces increased and a tank battalion from Schweinfurt moved into the splendid barracks that had just been vacated by the International Refugee Relief Organization. The occasion for the military build - up was the outbreak of the Korean War shortly after our arrival in Germany. Fearing the Soviets might take advantage of the thinly deployed US troops in the west by invading the allied sectors from the east, the United States dramatically increased the military there. Some of our group, especially those who were located in military sub posts, facilitated the arrival of these new troops in their communities, locating quarters where GIs could be billeted and creating as welcoming an environment among the local residents as circumstances made possible. Fortunately there was no invasion but the problem of GIs occupying requisitioned German houses remained.

I stayed in Bad Kissingen for two days, just long enough to meet some of the German officials and especially to meet the German staff with whom I would work. I was most favorably impressed, especially by two of them whim I would call my “ two stalwart women.” Frau Groenke was the senior Secretary and Assistant, an attractive women perhaps 40 years of age, she was to prove invaluable. Fraulein Ahlgrim, a second secretary, would prove as valuable. Mr. Pingoud would be a capable implementer of Reorientation programs and a Fraulein Eyler was a capable woman handling Women’s Affairs. No, she was not promoting romantic attachments. She was seeking to help German women become more politically involved for the betterment of society. … there were also two other drivers who each day would load the Volkswagens with films to be shown in schools, at the America House, libraries and at other places. The films were about America and were very popular, especially among the school children.

*** Section omitted recalling a walking tour of the town and comments on the architecture and Kur industry. ***

I had entered upon my duties as Resident Officer in Bad Kissingen with high expectation and pleasure. I would not be disappointed in any respect. I would be a representative of the US High Commission, would work with schools, community organization, with the German political leaders, seeking cooperation between the Germans officials and the American military, and overseeing the various programs which were generally described as “ Reorientation”. My work would be facilitated by the character of the German and U.S. military officials who, with one exception, were unfailingly cooperative, always acting with good will and friendship. The one exception was the Burgermeister of Bad Kissingen who occasionally worked against me but with insufficient effect. ( this is the mayor who preceded Hans Weiss )

Four members of the Group of 27 ready for a hunt at Bad Kissingen.

The Landrat of the Kreis ( position similar to a state representative ), a Herr Hoffmann, was a delightful man who supported my efforts to smooth relations between German farmers and American troops especially at military maneuver time. A farmer himself, he had been staunchly anti - Nazi. He became a close friend over my two years in Bad Kissingen. The military had a splendid representative, a Lieutenant Colonel James Spurrier, a part American Indian, Commanding Officer of the tank battalion. There would be times when the farmers protested the presence of the tanks running over their fields, the military citing the need for maneuvers to be ready for any eventuality. Hoffman and Spurrier would meet with me, discuss the problems, make what concessions each could make and agree. Hoffman would quiet the farmer’s fears and cite the need for maneuvers as he had agreed to, while Spurrier would be satisfied as to the effectiveness of the exercise. Hoffman spoke almost no English, Spurrier even less German, but they were men of good will who trusted each other, rightly so, and could operate as gentlemen.

Whenever I was invited to a school I accepted. Usually it was an English class that I addressed. The instructor was interested in showing off his pupils’ ability to speak and understand the English language. Usually the class was about the eight grade level. They had learned to speak with a broad A sound. It sounded strange to an American ear. But it sounded even stranger when in a lower class one heard the little fellows saying “ claaaass “ and “ raaaather”. Since the instructors spoke in the same manner I saw no point in trying to Americanize their pronunciation.

One of the most active and successful programs was the town hall meetings in the evenings in the little towns and villages ( gemeinde - community ). Such evenings were modeled on the town hall meetings of New England. There would be one or two a month to which I would be invited. The meetings were well attended. Matters of some importance would be discussed, always with civility if there were differences of opinions. … What was really important was the success of such meetings. The Germans in most cases, farmers and their wives, seemed to enjoy these evening sessions and let me know that they appreciated my attendance. Just such meetings of the Resident Officer with German citizens made for greater geniality in the atmosphere of the relations ships of German and Americans.

Among the great pleasures of the office were the things one could do to help deserving Germans who had suffered deprivation in wartime. The High Commissioner, John J. McCloy, had solicited contributions from his wealth friends. The contributions were put into what came to be known as the McCloy Fund. I helped German youths get financing from the Fund for equipment for their sports club, a school got funding for needed maps and atlases. These were lesser grants. A major grant from the Fund financed a small new wing of a Lutheran hospital, for which a Lutheran Bishop thanked me at the dedication. The Lutherans had erected a plaque noting the American generosity. These were only examples of many such projects.

The Elrod home in Bad Kissingen in 1950.

The project that was most gratifying was not funded by a grant from the McCloy Fund but was a gift from the tank battalion that had moved into Bad Kissingen. Some months after the battalion had come the Lieutenant Colonel, James Spurrier, asked me was there something the military could do to help us achieve greater understanding among the Germans of our mission. I told him I could show him the neediest case where improvement was desperately needed. We arranged a day when we would both go to see what I called the neediest case.

One of my pleasures was to drive around the Kreis to know as much as I could about the area. On one such drive I had come upon an orphanage. The grounds were barren, toys were makeshift, clothes were ragged. I talked to the two nuns who were in charge. They were well intentioned women who did everything to make childhood less sorrowful for their wards. They would do more if they could but resources were badly strained and the church did what it could to support the orphanage which was little enough. This was what I called the neediest case. Spurrier and I made our joint visit. He told the nuns he could do something about the playground. Was we were leaving a scuffed soccer ball came rolling over toward Spurrier. He picked it up and showed it to me. It was stuffed with rags and was the only ball the orphanage possessed. After showing it to me, he shook his head and threw the ball, if it could be called that, back to the boys.

A few weeks alter, Spurrier called me and said the playground equipment was ready to be installed. We arranged a day and were to meet at the orphanage. I had expected to see plaything or two, maybe a swing or see - saw. I had arrived early and was taking to the nuns when Spurrier drove up in his car. He was followed by an army truck out of which jumped three husky enlisted men who began unloading all kinds of equipment which had been made by the metal working shop or by the wood working shop which were used to keep tanks in top repair. I was flabbergasted, as I know the nuns were. The husky young soldiers installed six swings, sliding boards, a carousel and at least two see - saws. It was overwhelming, but there was more to come. Spurrier opened a large box and started taking out soccer balls. He began throwing them to the children, about a dozen or more, all properly inflated, and gave one of the boys a pump that would keep the balls properly inflated. The boys joyfully started kicking the balls around. They were ecstatic. It may sound like a description out of a sentimental novel, but the nuns’ eyes were glistening with tears of joy. The nuns had taught the children manners. The boys formed a line and in turn thanked Spurrier and shook his hand. The girls followed and shook hands with Spurrier, two or three curtseying, a nice note on which to end a festive day with the nuns blessing Spurrier and three children. I asked Surrier where his battalion had found so many soccer balls. From three PXs, he said, paid for by the men at a noonday mess. They collected more than enough money with some to spare.

Modern day image of the same home on one of Bad Kissingen's most prestigious streets.

A few months after we arrived in Bad Kissingen, Nancy was elected president of the American Women’s Club. She and the military wives in the club somehow were able to locate enough new wearing apparel to provide at least one piece for each child in the orphanage. The children were happy to get something new.

Sections omitted

**** Mr. Elrod wrote briefly of various experiences with Germans in the city to include the growing resentment led by the mayor towards the presence of US tanks and troops in the town, and an attempt to “ shake down “ the Amerika Haus with a false injury claim. As US representative, he did his best to defuse the situation.

He also recalled the visit of Mrs. McCloy, wife of the High Commissioner, to Bad Kissingen as well as other VIPs and touring Americans associated with the many on going programs. In 1952, the High Commission for Germany was significantly scaled back and most of the outreach and aid programs either ended or were transferred to other departments of the U.S. government. ****

I finished my two year stay in Bad Kissingen on a positive note. In the late spring of 1952 the Allied Foreign Ministers of the Occupying Powers met. There was the expectation on the part of the Germans that their national sovereignty would be restored. The Bad Kissingen Municipal Council asked me if I would be willing to discuss at a meeting with them what had happened at the conference and why there were new delays in restoring sovereignty. With Frau Groenke’s advice, I accepted their invitation. The members of the Council had never been especially cordial to me but they had not been unpleasant. There had been very little communication between us as there was seldom any need.

The Kreis Resident Officer program was to terminate in ten days, the duties of the KRO being assumed by a Civil Affairs Officer of the Army, such as they were. Many duties were being greatly reduced and most programs ended. This was known to the Council and they had a rightful interest in the change. Much more important to it was the failure of the Foreign Ministers’ Conference to restore sovereignty to Germany, which the council hoped would bring an end to the troops in the town and completely restore the area as a spa. Frau Groenke accompanied me to the meeting as I wanted to be certain that I was precise in my German when her translation might be needed. We sat at a table facing the Council members, about ten if I remember correctly. The Council Room was filled with other Germans.

This poster was designed to insure that U. S. troops understood their mission with respect to post war West Germany. In the early 1950s, Warrick Elrod, Jr. a member of the Group of 27, went forward to deliver the same message with a civilian face and a gray flannel suit.

As I recall I discussed in detail the results of the Foreign Ministers’ Conference, informed them that I obviously had nothing to do with future developments, that even with sovereignty resorted, there would still be agreements on the stationing and billeting of troops and their dependents. I did not try to speculate when sovereignty would be restored or what the consequences might be. The audience seemed disappointed at the fact that nothing had transpired to change the situation in Bad Kissingen but the Council Chairman, a large man with a ready smile, thanked me with a genuine warmth for coming to the meeting and said that he respected my integrity in the honest way that I had answered question. He then said that although I had brought disappointing news, I was a strong speaker who had carried on a strong dialogue with strong listeners. He came over to the table where Frau Groenke and I were seated and shook our hands. …

A few days later, I turned the office over to an Army Civil Affairs Officer. He seemed intelligent and decent young man and I gave him what advice I could, consistent with the greatly reduced duties of the office. I would leave Bad Kissingen with mixed feelings, one with regrets for leaving an assignment I had enjoyed and secondly with a fresh desire to get on to a new assignment in my Foreign Service career.

*** In 1956, four years after the departure of Warrick Elrod, West Germany was granted full sovereignty, the right to re - arm and in doing so, join NATO to become a full participant in the collective defense of western Europe. ***


Return to Hidden Stories