Aug 2006 Journal

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Stateless in Schlaraffenland

The war in Europe was over, and I had become an ACE - Allied Civilian Employee - working for the US Army in Germany. I had a cushy job in Pullach, Bormann's former headquarters where we were billeted, as assistant to the personnel officer, a captain, whereas the majority of my colleagues had to travel into Munich each day to censor letters or monitor telephone calls.

It hadn't been an easy decision to leave England. The prospect of facing Germans again gave me nightmares, but what finally decided me was the fact that my father and brother, who had survived the war on the Continent, were then living in Nice and that I would surely find an opportunity of meeting them. (In fact, I saw my father as early as July 1945 in Poissy, a small town north of Paris, where we spent a week in preparation for our work in Germany. He had undertaken the then gruelling journey from the south to spend a few days with me.)

My fears about the Germans proved to be unfounded. Exhausted by six years of a war that had left their cities reduced to rubble and ended in their humiliation, the master race had become dispirited, bedraggled and very humble. At times I was to find their servility, their eagerness to please, almost embarrassing.

The army's civilian staff consisted of WDEs (War Department Employees) and us ACEs, mainly recruited in Britain. The WDEs earned twice as much as we did; their accents were the same, if not worse, than ours, for they were mostly older than we were, and they did the same work as we did, but there was one important difference: they held American passports and we were stateless.

Nevertheless, I had two great assets: I was young and I was female. For an army of occupation, far away from home and forbidden to fraternise with German women, we young girl ACEs were a godsend. We were courted, propositioned and sometimes even proposed to. The army, anxious to keep its soldiers happy, organised and provided transport for outings and dances that would allow us to mix freely. There was always an abundance of food and drink, to the amazement of us ACEs who had come from austere, rationed Britain.

I had a third asset: I didn't smoke. Nobody at that time wanted German marks - everybody wanted cigarettes. My PX ration would buy me anything, from the services of exclusive dressmakers to expensive cameras. What Harold Macmillan once famously told an ungrateful nation was true of us young female non-smoking ACEs: we'd never had it so good.

The first holiday the army provided, over Christmas and New Year 1945-46, was to the South of France! I used - or possibly abused - my position and made sure I was on it. The journey took a now incredible 52 hours. I stayed at the Carlton in Cannes - Nice was for GIs and I had officer status - in almost obscene luxury. After a joyful reunion with my brother and sister-in-law, I managed to spend time with them and my father each day and at the same time explore the beautiful coast.

Just before I bade a reluctant farewell to the Good Life, in September 1947, I paid a brief visit to Vienna, nine years almost to the day since I had left it. The houses were shabby, the people surly and very sorry for themselves. But what struck me most was that the city had indeed become the Stadt ohne Juden, foreshadowed by Hugo Bettauer in his 1922 novel, and in the process had lost its soul. I left without regret.
Edith Argy

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