BLUE DEVILS When D-Day comes for another push, And fighting strength is in need, They call upon in urgent need One outfit for the rush. The always toiling Infantry With Engineers and Artillery, With Medics, Tanks, and Air support They make their way through every Fort. Round for Round they won decision The soldiers of the Blue Division. From 316— To Berlin— That’s the way they will go And will show All the Nation Their famous reputation. Be prepared, You never heard A record Of this sort. Minturne With its inferno— Volterra was another goal, They drove the Germans from their hole— In Summer’s burning sun, They kept them on the run. Battaglia was soaked with blood— The men were fighting deep in mud— With all their strength and energy They won their greatest victory. The Germans hate The 88th And gave her a new name— By God it’s no shame And strictly on the level To be called “Blue Devil.” The final round has to be fought- For victory we pray to God.
By Rudolph Meyer
In December of 1943, my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, in Northern Africa with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” After spending a short time recovering from the trans-Atlantic trip they were off again by train to Oran and then trained in the Atlas Mountains to prepare for their arrival in Italy on the 21st of February. The 88th was there to secretly relieve the British 5th Infantry Division and by that March took control of the British sector. The American soldiers wore British helmets while the switch took place and it worked. The army was attempting to obtain control of a central Italian highway to Rome that would force a German retreat on both sides. By mid April the Germans and the Allies each had twenty-two divisions in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley. While the Germans put up a brutal fight, Mount Diamano was captured within an hour and the Gustav line had opened and Mount Rotondo had been captured as well as Santa Maria Infante. They were such a ferocious and fierce troop that the 88th became known as the Blue Devils by German prisoners who had supposedly stated, “the troops of the 88th fought like devils” and eventually the 88th division took on the nickname “Blue Devils” which was also a nod to their blue shoulder patches.
In May of 1944, the 88th had made it through heavy German fire and out of the mountains to head to the Eternal City. There was a brutal battle on the outskirts of the city by German resistance but by June 4th the Eternal City was taken by the Allies and they became the first division to enter Rome.Two days later they captured Rome. The Normandy invasion happened two days later and from there the 88th followed the Germans battling tanks and Nazi soldiers for one hundred straight days and by July they had captured the fortress town of Volterra where there was a large German garrison. By this point the Blue Devils had already lost over 6,000 men who had been killed, wounded or were missing. That April the offensive against the Nazis began. The Germans had spent months literally digging themselves into wrecked buildings, cliffs and into caves with machines guns and artillery hidden everywhere and the Germans were caught and the troops were the first Allied militia to enter Verona. Vicenza fell three days later and on May 2nd German forces surrendered and the war in Italy was over. On May 7th, the Germans surrendered and World War II was over. My grandfather and the thousands of other allies continued on through May and June guarding over three hundred thousand prisoners of war. My grandfather came home to meet his son for the first time when my dad was 16 months old.
When my grandfather and my father met for the first time at sixteen months my father cried and he was afraid of this complete stranger. My grandfather was so upset by this and could not understand how his son could completely reject him that he left for a couple of days before returning home again. My grandfather was soon working as an accountant at Columbia pictures while my grandmother taught second grade in the Bronx and my dad played stickball and with his dog Smokey. My grandparents had one child, my dad. I know my dad had always wanted siblings or cousins but the war made that difficult for those who were already of child bearing age when her spouse was fighting in a war for multiple years. My grandmother had written a short essay about feeling like a failure as a mother after attending an event at my dad’s school when we was maybe six or severn. She had been brought over to a bulletin board to see his family drawing of 6 stick figures labeled as made up siblings. Initially she was angry that my father had lied and then decided that she was the failure -obviously not true. My father went on to have four kids. I have other writing by her about the summer trips to Prince Edward Island and their time hiking. My grandparents had a great love for each other however like all of life it was complicated and how does one account for all the pain that came from my grandfather’s past. For those who survived there was tremendous guilt. How did I survive but not this one? One of my family members that had arrived after fleeing from Germany about a year after my grandfather eventually committed suicide. I’m going to share writing by my grandmother about that experience at the end if there’s time because I think it’s important to get back to the big question of how did this happen? How did Hitler manage to convince an entire country to murder six million Jews and five million gays, Romas and others?
How did Hitler create his master plan?
Adolph Hitler studied and modeled the final solution from United States racism and institutionalized policies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States had led the world in race based law making in order to “safeguard” a white country.The United States codified their laws with the intention of keeping non-whites from immigrating into the US. These types of codified laws is the definition of white nationalism. Congress had passed laws to guarantee the vast majority of immigrants would be white Christians from Northern Europe and there was Jim Crow segregation. Nazis lawyers recognized that the US featured a quota system that was designed to maintain the dominance of “Nordic” blood within the United States. Jews who had a grandparent who was Jewish were considered Jewish. This is so reminiscent of the American “one drop rule” that the American government had used with African Americans to relegate them to second class citizenship and take away their basic human rights and civil liberties. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described America as the “one state” making the kind of racial purity progress and race based order that he had wanted to achieve. The 1935 National Socialist Handbook on Law and Legislation was a guidebook for the Nazis as they moved toward their goal of total eradication of Jews from the planet. Hitler recognized the United States as achieving “fundamental recognition of the need for a race based state.” Germany also had the complicity and support of many of the financial and politically elite of the United States. American companies like Standard Oil offered to supply all of Germany’s oil needs and profited significantly off of the Holocaust while major manufacturing companies like Ford and IBM supplied Germany with the means to murder millions of people. Those iconic American companies helped to rearm Hitler’s Nazis while profiting. Ford who was a notorious anti-semite was given the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hitler himself. That award was the highest honor a foreigner could receive from the Nazi party. Senator Harry Truman stated that “If the Germans are winning we support the Russians, and if the Russians are winning we support the Germans” maintaining a neutrality that would lead to millions of deaths. When Franklin D.Roosevelt (FDR) got the United States involved in the war as he described it, to” have a hand in shaping the post-war world otherwise he will be forced to sit outside the door and try to shout through a crack under the door.” FDR wanted to end the repression after WWII yet after his death Truman let Britain and France re-establish colonialism post-WWII. FDR had promised to keep the United States out of any foreign wars however after Japan had attacked Hawaii in the infamous Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941 he was now free to declare war. Prior to that point the overall American population did not want any involvement in the war. In order for the Nazi Party to be successful they would need to convince the German people that Jews were subhuman and Hitler and the Nazi Party did just that through the implementation of The Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935. This was anti- Jewish legislation implemented by Nazi lawyers who had used American laws as the model for a legal framework for the systematic persecution and murder of Jews in Germany. The laws were announced and celebrated during a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg on September 15th, 1935. It was this legislation that led to the dehumanization and ultimately extermination, the murder of six million Jews and eleven million people in total who were murdered based on hate based race, sexuality laws and ideologies.. My grandfather would remain in Germany for two more years after the Nuremberg race laws had been implemented. These laws were the result of the racial theories and ideologies of the Nazi Party.
The Nuremberg Law defined “Jew” as anyone with three of four Jewish grandparents regardless of how that person self identified like the one drop rule of American racism. Jews were no longer allowed in public areas and signs read ‘Jews Unwelcome’ were erected in public spaces. My family and the families of every other German Jew were stripped of their Reich citizenship. Interfaith marriages and sexual relations between faiths were criminalized and so was homosexuality. Jews were banned from public places like swimming pools, playgrounds, parks, schools and hospitals. Jews had to register their property and businesses that were taken over by Aryans who would fire them. There was a sharp rise in suicide during this time as well as attempts to flee but the United States would only allow 200,000 Jews to enter the United States because there was a quota on Jews being allowed to enter. There were multiple ships that arrived in New York City that were forbidden from entering and forced to return to Europe. The thousands of Jews aboard those ships would be murdered like the nine hundred passengers on the MS St. Louis ship that carried Jewish refugees fleeing the night of broken glass and after being refused admittance first to Cuba and then to the United State and Canada ultimately being forced to sail back to Europe where several hundred were murdered with many of them being children. Those failed attempts to escape were known as the Voyages of the Damned. This was immediately prior to the mass killings and was really a propaganda tool to show the world that no-one wanted the Jews. All Jews including children were required to wear identity cards at all times and for those without “Jewish enough” names the government added a red “J” stamped onto them.
On November 9th, 1938 severe violence against Jews broke out across the Third Reich. German propaganda minister Joseph Goebells along with other Nazi government officials had carefully organized the burning and destruction of over 7,000 Jewish business schools, cemeteries, hospitals and homes along with dozens of murdered Jews while police, fire and government officials stood by and watched. The violent destruction continued over two days and became known as the “Night of Broken Glass” for all of the shattered glass that lay in the streets reflecting all of the hate and oppression of Jews. Two days prior a 17 year old Polish Jewish boy living in Paris had shot Ernst corn Rath a German diplomat in desperation after his parents had been deported to a no mans land between Germany and Poland. The Nazis used the incident as an excuse to claim the single shooting had been part of a larger Jewish conspiracy. Nazi propaganda was powerful and used to dehumanize jews who could then be seen as “other” or outsiders who did not belong and were sick and sub-human.
Before my grandfather’s death he was invited back to Bonn, Germany with my grandmother to find closure and for him to be welcomed and celebrated. He did not hold anger towards all Germans nor see each of them individually as guilty. He did believe that this could happen again in the United States and we had many glimpses of that as our current president has denied others basic human rights, seeks to take away other’s rights such as gay marriage and he refused to concede the election he lost and creating doubt and upheaval in the democratic process. While the war may have ended decades ago, it leaves us with pressing questions to consider now in the United States,
Where do we go from here?
What is the point of remembering?
What is happening in our world, our country at present?
Hitler was voted into his role through a democratic process which he then destroyed.
Looking to learn more about the Holocaust?
You can find middle school Holocaust reading suggestions here: https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/books/reading-lists/holocaust-books-for-middle-grade-readers