Monday, March 29, 2021

A Postscript to the Chapter on Anzio

You can stay in the house that was the 509th CP during the Battle of Anzio.
(click on any image for a larger version.)

509th CP during Anzio
For the most part, I’m not a big fan of social media. But sometimes it’s a bit of a miracle. Still, years after “The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion During WWII” was released, I am contacted by veterans, families, and others. It's a thrill and an honor. I must admit that it is especially exciting to be contacted by someone living in a country other than the United States where the Geronimos fought.

Map courtesy of
Mike Reuter
The other day I received a message from Diego Cancelli, an architect who lives in Aprilia, Italy, just a few miles outside of Anzio. Diego owns and operates Il casale di Giulia, a working farm and B & B. The stone farmhouse just happens to have been the 509th Battalion command post during the battle. He has pictures to prove it. Moreover, I have the image of a map that was provided by 509th veteran Mike Reuter that shows unit positions in the Anzio beachhead as of January 30, 1944. Sure enough, you can match up the unit symbol on the map with Google Maps. The 509th headquarters symbol is located on the Via Carano between Crocetta and Carano. That’s exactly where you’ll find Il casale di Giulia on Google Maps. You can even get a feel for the terrain by checking out Google Street View.

Il casale di Giulia before
rennovation.
Diego has located the hill that B company occupied forward of the MLR before they were overrun. The help that Diego required was being able to prove that the house his wife’s family owns and restored was one of the houses that were the object of “Raid Nibble.” Readers of “The Boldest Plan” know the details of the raid. The objective houses were simply referred to as House #5 and House #6 in the battalion’s war diary. No grid coordinates are offered so one must assume there is a map overlay. The problem we have, often repeated, is the lack of records in the archives for this unit. The Geronimos were attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, and during the battle; they had at different times the 7th Infantry Regiment and the 30th Infantry Regiment to their right. Perhaps there is a map overlay in the archives of these units?

After rennovation
There just were not that many houses in the area during the battle, so the odds are excellent that the house in question (that is now occupied by the family’s grandmother) is House #6 referred to in the 509th war diary narrative concerning Raid Nibble. Especially considering the war relics that have been found on both properties. Diego has been practicing some applied history and has amassed quite a collection as the included pictures show. He has found dog tags and returned them to the families of American soldiers. He has found several helmets both American and German. One of the German helmets was found along with the skeleton of the soldier who wore it; found during the restoration of House #6.
Aerial view showing B/509th
position on forward hill.

Diego shared quite a few pictures with me, and I’ve included some of them for you to see as well. The next time I’m in the archives at NARA or AHEC I plan to look in the records of the 3rd ID for that missing overlay. In the meantime, I’m planning a trip after covid to visit Anzio, Il casale di Giulia, and other sites where the Geronimos fought. Ever thought about it?

 

"House #6" today

 

Collection of military vehicles

 

Shells from WWII found
on the properties.

 

509th uniform in the 
reception area of the B&B

 

Dog tags found and returned
to their owners and families.

 

Cabinet full of battlefield
relics found on the property.

 

War relics found on the properties.

 

War relics found on the properties.

 

War relics found on the properties.

 

War relics found on the properties.

 

War relics found on the properties.

 

German helmets found around "House #6"

Friday, March 12, 2021

Book R & R: The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz

This book Recommendation and Review is for “The Boy who Followed His Father into Auschwitz” by Jeremy Dronfield.

By the cover design and title, I mistakenly at first thought this book was a work of fiction. So did my wife who first saw it on the shelf in our local bookstore. She read it; she was enthralled by it. Then she insisted that I read it. She is not a big reader of nonfiction history and rarely pushes me to read nonfiction (that’s because my nonfiction reading stack is always piled so high). So, I moved this read to the top of the list. Really glad I did.

This is a true Holocaust story that reads like fiction. In fact, the author started out a fiction writer but switched to narrative nonfiction. If you read a lot of books about World War II, you might know Jeremy Dronfield from his previous nonfiction work, “Beyond the Call.” At the time I’m writing this, “The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz” has 4.8 stars on 1853 reviews on Amazon. With numbers like that, it is no wonder it is a bestseller and I'm probably wasting your time telling you that the book reads like a novel. A “page-turner” as my dad would say.

The book is about the Kleinmann family of Vienna, Austria. There is the father, Gustav, a combat veteran of the First World War, his wife Tini, and their four children, Edith, Fritz, Herta, and Kurt. They are a Jewish family, but not overly devout, living in a Jewish neighborhood. They are part of the community; they have non-Jewish friends and neighbors. The story begins with the impending vote in Austria on Anschluss, the joining of Germanic peoples together under the Third Reich. The family lives through the arrival of the Nazis, the growing prejudice of their non-Jewish neighbors, and Krystallnacht. All this beginning in March of 1938, a year and a half before the beginning of World War II in Europe and over three and a half years before America entered the conflict.

Soon after, the Nazis begin to arrest Jewish adult males, initially as political prisoners. Gustav and his eldest son, Fritz, are caught up in this and sent to Dachau. Fritz was only sixteen. I had the opportunity to visit Dachau, a concentration camp outside of Munich, when I was stationed in Germany back in the 1980s. This connection allowed me to visualize the Kleinmanns in this evil and depressing place. Gustav and Fritz are transferred to other camps during the course of their years as slave laborers. While they are in captivity, Tini attempts to get her other children sponsored to immigrate to Great Britain and the United States. She is only partially successful. After years of starvation and beatings with no word from the other members of his family, Gustav is informed that he and hundreds of other prisoners will be sent to Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Upon hearing this news, Fritz volunteers to go to Auschwitz with his father. Both believe this is a sentence of certain death, but they believe that it is better to be together than to die alone.

The book is based on a diary Gustav kept during his six years in concentration camps. Not only will you learn of the horrors of the concentration camp system, but also how difficult it was to flee Germany or an occupied country. Hint: countries like the United States and Great Britain limited the intake of refugees, and once the war was declared on and by these countries, even this avenue was cut off to the victims of the Nazi regime. This is an amazing story and through the experiences of this one family the reader gains a visceral understanding of the different ways that people suffered during the Holocaust.

I wish that every American would read this book. I spent three years in Germany, forty years after the war. I found the German people to be warm and friendly. I enjoyed my time there. Though I could never reconcile how the people I met there who were alive during that time could possibly allow the rise of fascism and the Holocaust to take place, much less enter a pathway to war that would eventually destroy their country. I worry that we have demonized the Nazis to such a level that we can’t learn anything from this period of history. I hope that is not the case. This is different than reading about fighting the war. This is about learning about the cause and effect of it. Please read two books. First, “The Nazi Seizure of Power” by William Sheridan Allen. In this book, you’ll learn how the Nazis took over Germany, not by Hitler from the top down, but on a grassroots level through local action by Nazi party members. The other is this book, “The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz” by Jeremy Dronfield. If you’ll make that investment of time, and it won’t be boring, then you’ll understand the what and the how. I doubt we’ll ever understand the why.


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