April 30, 1945, dawned as a bright, spring day in Germany, where the country was in the last agonizing throes of World War II. Some time ago, Hitler had declared that every German city was to be defended to the last man or woman. Surrender was punishable with death. The Allied air raids already had taken their toll on Munich, where, as a young girl, I lived with my parents. About 92 percent of the inner city and 42 percent of its suburbs had been destroyed. Food was severely rationed, and supply trains too often went up in a fiery blaze during an air raid, rendering our ration coupons useless.
The American Army was rapidly approaching Munich from the west, and the city, on April 29, was given an ultimatum: Surrender within 24 hours — or be leveled to the ground. Several hundred bombers stood ready.
We knew as long as Munich’s mayor, Karl Fiehler, a staunch member of the Nazi Party, and Paul Giesler, the much-feared Nazi leader of the Bavarian district, were in command, there was no hope Munich would surrender. Tomorrow, our fate would be decided. For now, it was a waiting game.
April 30, 1945. At my parents’ house on the outskirts of Munich, my father, despite Hitler’s order, had a white sheet ready. He minced no words telling Mama and me that no one but he was to hang out the white sheet of surrender.
I hope he makes the right decision, I thought. If he hangs it out too soon, they’ll hang him from the nearest tree. Not soon enough, and the American troops will most certainly shell us.
We were up much earlier than usual April 30. The unspoken question was, are they getting ready to bomb Munich to the ground?
We no longer heard the big guns. There were none of the usual morning activities. The streets were deserted. There were no cars, no one out shopping for milk or warm hard rolls for breakfast, no kids out playing or walking to school, no one rushing to work or walking their dog. An eerie silence. It seemed even the birds forgot to sing.
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Finally, the silence was broken by a new sound. It was not the all too familiar deep drone of heavy bombers. What was this new threat? Soon a Sherman tank became visible, with another following it. We stared at its massive bulk. Papa rushed to hang out the white sheet from the attic window, where it was clearly visible to the American troops. We knew, with their tanks here, the Americans would not bomb us.
Later, we found out that during the night Munich’s Nazi government had fled the city. In the end, it was a lowly scribe whose final duty was to sign the document of surrender and turn over Munich to the Allied forces.
My parents and I had survived.
Now we are in another world war, and our streets are all but deserted. We cannot see or hear our enemy — but we know it is there in great numbers.
Our soldiers cannot fight this enemy with the usual weapons of war. The soldiers fighting this new war up close are wearing masks, protective gowns and shields. Our enemy is the coronavirus. In order to defeat it, we all must distance ourselves from our loved ones, friends and neighbors.
Our soldiers on the front lines are the laboratory technicians providing data to the scientists researching the virus, the doctors, nurses, maintenance and cleaning personnel, the caregivers, the workers in the factories, the clerks in the grocery stores and the farmers producing our food, our policemen, firefighters and postal employees — the list is endless.
We again must make weighty decisions affecting our distancing, our economy, our schools, our very life. Thinking back 75 years, I know that we will get through this. This, too shall pass.
Anneliese Heider Tisdale is a retired Cedar Rapids public school teacher and author of her memoir, “Resilience — Coming of Age in WWII Germany.” She became an American citizen in 1950.