Schevenhütte was a small iron mining and lumbering village of some 700 people in the summer of 1944. Soon it took on a unique role in the Allied drive from Normandy into the German heartland. On Sept. 16, 1944, only 102 days after D-Day, Schevenhütte was occupied by the 3nd Battalion of the 47th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division, US First Army. The most easterly penetration into Germany, Schevenhütte was like a sharp stick in Hitler’s eye. Despite determined attempts to dislodge it, including air attacks, furious counterattacks, and almost nightly artillery and mortar bombardment, the Ninth Division doggedly hung onto this ground for two months.
Something else made Schevenhütte unique. Although its streets had become a front line battlefield, many Germans refused to evacuate their homes. Thus the GIs ended up sharing the same shelter, water, and food as the residents. Constant attacks from a common enemy made strange bedfellows out of the GIs and the civilians. One story tells of a German woman who baked a fresh apple pie for the GIs. Some of the men refused to eat it, fearing that it had been poisoned.
I knew three American 9th Division veterans who had occupied Schevenhütte: historian, author, and my mentor, Lt. Col (ret’d) Henry Gerard “Red” Phillips of Grass Valley, CA; Pfc Thomas C. Strain of Hudson, Massachusetts; and Lt. Col (ret’d) Lawrence J. McLaughlin of Wakefield, Massachusetts and St. Petersburg, Florida. After visiting Schevenhütte in 2002, I put together a videotape, including some newsreel footage, largely for their benefit. It is presented here in two parts:
Citizen’s Book of WWII Memories
I became acquainted with the very helpful and cooperative historians of the village through emails and additional visits. They were Manfred Jansen, a teacher, Manfred Wolff, a government employee, and Reiner “Rene” Sauer, an executive of Deutsche Bank stationed in Singapore. Rene was also a genealogist and maintained the website www.schevenhuette.com.
Manfred Wolff generously gave me a copy of a small book of the memories of WWII written by ten of the village denizens. It was written in German, so quite laborious for me to read. I was very curious about what it felt like for the Germans to be trapped in a combat situation, and also about how well or badly the American soldiers behaved. I had some of the book translated into English for hire by a German student named Rüdiger Volk. Rene Sauer’s English is excellent, and he and I took it upon ourselves to finish translating the book by email between Boston and Singapore, which took several months. My role was simply to polish the English. As far as I know, the book has never been offered for sale, since Rene didn’t think it would be fair for anyone to profit from stories of hardship written by citizens. It is being offered for free on Rene’s website, so it will be all right to offer it on this website for your reading pleasure: The End of World War II in Schevenhütte (about 80 pages).
The little, blonde double amputee girl
One day in Schevenhütte, a cute little 7 or 8 year old blue-eyed, blonde German girl was playing in the street. She had been quite friendly with some of the GIs. Suddenly, an incoming shell landed right next to her and both her legs were torn to shreds. The sobbing, blood-soaked little girl was given first aid and shipped off to a medical aid station.
Larry McLaughlin was haunted for the rest of his life by the memory of this scenario, to which he had been an eyewitness. On page 23 of the book it is only reported that “Elfriede Büttgen from Gressenich lost both legs through artillery fire.” I put Red Phillips in touch with Rene Sauer, and here is his email of Jan. 25, 2003 asking Rene for help in identifying the girl:
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Larry McLaughlin of St. Petersburg, FL was in Schevenhütte with F Co., 47th Inf. His unit was tied in with the 3rd Bn. E. of the intersection at the N. end of Schevenhütte, where the road from Gressenich to west and from Langerwehe to east came together with the road from Schevenhütte to Hamich and beyond. There was a checkpoint here manned by 9th Div military police to keep the unknowing from driving through to enemy country. McLaughlin was F Co.’s second in command and frequently passed this checkpoint to check on their kitchen. Accordingly he took notice of a 7-8 year old blonde girl from a family living in a nearby cellar. She had made friends with the MPs.
One day the Americans were getting a large amount of artillery and mortar fire all over town but particularly in the vicinity of the checkpoint. Then he heard the loud piercing screams of the girl’s mother whose daughter had been severely wounded. The MPs had given first aid and called for the ambulance. It took the girls and her mother to the medical aid station (apparently in the Casinohof). The only thing they were able to learn was that the little girl was in serious condition and had been evacuated to the rear, probably Vicht.
There is no one listed among the civilian dead at Schevenhütte who fits the girl’s description, which suggests the family might have been among those refugees from other places that stopped off in Schevenhütte. Or she may have survived and is still among us Can you pass this on to your friends back there. I would like to put Larry’s mind at ease with this one.
All the best. Red Phillips
Rene wrote back to Red by the following email on Feb. 27, 2003:
I just received news from Schevenhütte. My friend Manfred contacted his cousin Käthi, and she remembered the following story, which she was told. Her story occurred in a different part of Schevenhütte, not a the bridge on the road to Langerwehe. But the similarities are so incredible, that it must be the same story, which Larry remembers.
Anyway, here it is. The event happened near the bridge at Lamersiefen on the Road to Vicht. The Büttgen familie from Gressenich (mother and two daughters) stayed at the house of Hans Stiel at the Joaswerk street. The girl (first name not known right now) lost both of her legs. She was about 7-8 years old. This occurred probably due to shelling. After the girl received first aid, she was brought to the hospital. And now the good news to America. She’s still alive today, is married, has adult children. Most people – unless they know about it – hardly notice her handicap. Käthi asked Manfred to contact Otto Stiel, because she is his cousin. Otto probably knows more about her and the story. According to Käthi’s recollection, she was the only young girl wounded during the war in Schevenhütte.
Please convey the story to Larry. I will keep you informed as soon as I get further details.
In late April, 2003, I received a letter in German from Manfred Jansen. He had found the name, address, and phone number of the woman, Mrs. Elfriede Josephs, living in Gressenich. Here is the slightly abbreviated letter translated into English:
Stolberg-Schevenhütte, 24th of April, 2003,
Dear Jim, Dear Rüdiger,
Thank you very much for your letter dated 15th April, 2003. Now the good news. (All according to the principle that “Impossible thing will be done immediately, miracles have to wait a while”.)
The story about the US-soldier, who after nearly 60 years finds his little German girl.
5 Minutes ago, I phoned the woman, who nearly got killed by a German shell. Now the details. The woman you are looking for is from Gressenich, a neighboring village about 2 km from Schevenhütte. Since her father was serving as a soldier, she moved to Schevenhütte and lived with relatives (by the way, they are also my relatives). The girl was 10 years old and her name is Elfriede Josephs, neé Büttgen. She has two children and is already a grandmother. She told the following story to me:
German soldiers shelled the valley all evening and during the night. They were located at the surrounding hills. During the day is was quite peaceful and people dared to come out of their basements and walked on the street. It must have been between 11:00 and noon, when a number of children were on the Joaswerk street when shelling started again. Elfriede was playing on the street with her cousin Otto Stiel (his father was my mother’s cousin) and wanted to run to the barn, where her grandfather and a neighbor were slaughtering a sheep which had been hit during the shelling. When she was about to enter the barn, she ran into gunfire and a shell hit her toes and exploded. Her grandfather administered first aid by trying to stop the bleeding from the severed legs.
A little bit later, American soldiers came and took Elfriede to a first aid station, probably a house at Nideggener street. There she received proper first aid. Later, she was brought to a hospital in Eupen, and later to a hospital in Brussels. Her cousin Otto Stiel took cover behind a wall of the house of his parents and was not hurt.
She was deeply moved about the fact that an American soldier still remembered her, and she is very interested to get in touch with the person or persons who saved her life.
Kind regards, Manfred
We put Elfriede Josephs and Larry McLaughlin in touch with each other and they exchanged a letter or two. Next I was going to meet Rene Sauer for the first time in person on a trip to Schevenhütte on May, 14, 2004. Then we would have a meeting with Elfriede at her home, and try to put in a phone call to Larry, with Rene translating.
With Manfred Jansen and Rene Sauer, I went to Elfriede’s house. She greeted me warmly with a very big hug. She walks so well with her artificial legs that she shows no impairment at all. Nor is she a person inclined to self-pity. Clearly she got on with her life and lived as normally as possible. When we called Larry in Massachusetts, we got only his answering machine. I heard later he was at a doctor’s appointment.
It was my fault because I was supposed to call Larry the preceding day, but I had caught a cold, was running a high fever, and went to bed early. We were all very disappointed. I was especially sorry to have let down Rene and Manfred who had gone to some lengths to arrange what might have been a historic meeting between the wounded German girl and the GI who felt so much concern for her.
As I hugged Elfriede goodbye, however, I felt as a kind of proxy for Larry that the point had been made.