1945 by Mimi Korach Lesser
In 1944 New York City was full of soldiers, sailors, marines and merchant seamen looking for entertainment before shipping out. I had arrived in New York after leaving art school and working for two years in war plants. I got a job in a commercial art studio and several evenings a week I volunteered to work in a Merchant Seamen's Club sketching portraits of lonely servicemen. I was good at this, portraiture having been my best subject in art school. I also had a tendency to flatter, which made me very popular with the boys.
One evening, a U.S.O. official suggested that I join a group of artists--older men and a few women--who went one night a week to veterans hospitals in the area to bring the sketching program to wounded servicemen. This was a different story. These men had been returned from the front with very serious injuries--many would never leave the wards. Many were double amputees. But the support they gave each other was remarkable and the atmosphere was upbeat.
It was a real challenge to sit by the bedside of a suffering soldier or sailor and try to coax a smile so that when the portrait was sent home, his mother or wife or girlfriend would be reassured. And we got a lot of advice from ambulatory buddies who became art critics.
They usually thought I was making my subject too handsome, or so they teased the bedridden G.I. The program was a real morale booster and a big success.
Sometime during this winter of 1944 I got a call from Pat Tiffany, the U.S.O. official who was directing the sketching program. She told me that she'd been watching me at the Merchant Marine Club and liked the way I handled the boys and my attitude toward the whole program. She thought I was "mature" enough in my attitude and asked if I would like to tackle a big problem. The big problem was a tour in Europe for six months to bring this sketching program to the boys in evacuation hospitals. I was overwhelmed. Twenty-two years old, single, healthy, and eager for adventure. When I called my mother to tell her the news, I said, "Sit down, Mom" and ended by saying "--and I'm going." There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Then she said, "That's wonderful, darling. Don't get shot."
I never forgot her support. In fact this reminiscence is written because I found my letters that Mom had kept in a scrapbook.
Well, before Pat Tiffany got final approval, she wanted me to try this program at a couple of stateside hospitals for a week at a time, to see if I could handle it.
My boss at Contempo Studio was very pleased and cooperative and gave me time off.
My first job was at Rhodes General Hospital in Utica, N.Y. The officer in charge was a Captain Poole, a nice, enthusiastic person who paved the way for a very successful week. I worked diligently, had a good rapport with the men and ended up having sketched over fifty portraits. His letter to Pat Tiffany cinched my approval to the big event.
The next hospital, Framingham, outside Boston, had a psychiatric ward"Section 8" it was called in the army. Like most artists, I used a pen knife to sharpen pencils and chalks and then a sandpaper pad to point them so as not to break soft leads. This I had to do in an anteroom and leave the tools outside. I was then led through several series of locked doors to get in. But there were no problems. If anything, these disturbed men were more interested and solicitous and appreciative than any others.
At another time--it may have been after my return-many months later, I went to a hospital that specialized in plastic surgery rehabilitation of facial and body wounds. I was very nervous as I entered my first ward. The veterans were disbelieving that an artist would want to draw them. So it took great daring for a G.I., with half his face disfigured, to approach me with bravado and ask what I was going to do about him.
Posing him with his good side facing me I was able to sketch what his face would look like after rehabilitation was complete. Talk about success--this opened up a stream of eager brave, sad men. This was probably the best work I ever did. Now they could have pictures sent to their loved ones that were positive. They could let relatives see that they would eventually be whole again.
Now that I had passed muster, there were a few hurdles left before embarkation. One of the army regulations stated that a female had to weigh over 100 lbs. As we were under army jurisdiction, I had to comply. Hard to believe, as I write these reminiscences, but I only weighed about 95 lbs. I had about three weeks before leaving to gain 5 lbs. Nice work, it seems, but with all the banana splits, whipped cream and who can recall the junk food, it was tough. But I did it, got outfitted and was sent to Fort Totten to fly over with the Air Transport Command. I had been told that another woman artist and a man would be flying over on the same plane for the same mission. Pat Tiffany had suggested that I team up with the woman, but we had never met. So at Fort Totten, sitting on a cot, waiting for orders to leave, I met Ann.
My first instinct was that I wasn't going to like her, but I squelched that feeling as I had been told that we should work together. In fact Pat Tiffany had suggested that I was the more stable one and that Ann might need a steadying influence, although she was about fifteen years older than I and a lot more sophisticated. One of the first things she said to me was, "I hope you don't think I'm a virgin." I must say that I was nonplussed. I had thought a lot about my own virginity and had managed to keep it intact through art school, but my curiosity stopped there.
Ann had taught fashion illustration at the Art Students League in New York and had a terrific design flair. I learned a lot from her when we later went out sketching between rounds of work. She was a tall blonde, full of enthusiasm and humor. We later were billed as "Blondie and Blackie" as a title for our U.S.O. show.
We left the following day aboard an air transport plane. It was my first flight. We stopped for fuel at Gander airport in Newfoundland and took off for the transatlantic flight. En route I was kibitzing a poker game among some soldiers when I noticed that the flight engineer was running back and forth. "What's up?" I asked. He told me to look out the window and I would see that one of the engines had stopped, it's propeller fluttering in the wind.
"What happens now?" I asked.
"Oh we can fly on three engines." he replied.
"Suppose we lose another engine?" I fearfully asked.
"Well, we could fly on two engines but first we'd have to lighten the load."
"How would you do that?" I asked.
"Well, first we'd throw out the passenger's luggage, then we'd throw the crew's luggage--then out go the passengers."
His humor was not appreciated but, after about ten minutes, he got the engine running again and it did so for the rest of the trip, to Shannon Airport and on to Paris. It was a memorable first flight.
U.S.O. headquarters was in a beautiful chateau in a suburb called Chatou, a short train ride from Paris. We spent every spare minute before leaving for Germany, in Paris, exploring the side streets and the Left Bank, looking for art materials that weren't there. We had not been permitted to bring fixative aboard the plane, as it was a flammable substance. The shelves in Paris were bare but it was wonderful to wander and to make a few watercolors. Our drawings survived unfixed.
I met two people from home during those first few days. One was my cousin, Dave Levy, whom I rarely saw in the states, but here he was in Paris, located with relative ease by the Army. We spent a few enjoyable hours together while he showed me the tourist attractions. We took a lot of pictures at the Eiffel Tower, which I thought was extremely ugly, but was a favorite with the soldiers.
The other person was Sylvan Baruch, a family friend who was a Major in the Adjutant General's office. He criticized me for being too casual about my uniform. We had been issued a rather nice, dark khaki uniform with skirt, sensible shoes, pants, jacket, hat, etc. I thought I looked great, but I wasn't wearing my hat and was not totally buttoned. Luckily no one ever mentioned uniform again. Somewhere, in our later travels, we acquired large, loose canvas pilot's jackets--the kind with fitted knit cuffs and collars. Ann got the idea of appliqueing the insignia that our subjects so proudly gave us. By the end of our stay her jacket was covered, back, front, sleeves, with colorful designs. Everyone loved it, especially the soldiers who looked for buddies' outfits. Major Baruch would have been aghast.
After several days of indoctrination, getting our gear, bedrolls, etc. together, listening to lectures about not fraternizing, censorship, and Army regulations, we were ready to leave.
We left Paris in a small convoy. Riding in two-and-a-half ton trucks became our primary source of transportation, bumpy but efficient. The first night out we attended a movie at a small post and, as we walked in, the men stood up and cheered. They were so happy to see American girls and so appreciative of our being there. We found this to be our typical reception everywhere we went. We were never hassled. Instead the men wanted news of home, especially their home states. They took an unreal pride in their home towns and "Where are you from?" was the greeting of choice.
Although we had the unofficial rank of Captain, we had decided to work and live with enlisted men only, and they cheered us for this. This was why we rode in the back of trucks instead of in jeeps.
As we approached Germany signs of war became more apparent, but it was not until we crossed the border that the true effect of allied bombing was seen. Towns were destroyed, leveled to the ground in many instances. There was only silence with not a human or animal to be seen. But there were signs, lots of signs, hurriedly erected by our advancing troops and pointing East to the Rhine and to all kinds of troop emplacements.
Our destination, a hospital in Aachen, had not escaped totally but enough was left to serve as our evacuation hospital in the area. There we shared a tiny room with two dizzy U.S.O. girls who did a Song and Dance act. I couldn't miss seeing a douche bag in one of their suitcases. What a smart girl to have come so well prepared. I often wondered, later on, if she had much use for it, although, at the time, I was startled.
The Special Services officer at the hospital had taught art in N.Y. and knew what would interest us as artists. He was able to take us off the hospital grounds to make some drawings of the destruction. His jeep had a tall post in the center. To cut razor wire that the Germans had strung across the streets, he explained. One day he took us to a place that few Americans had ever heard of. It was called a camp for misplaced persons-German slave laborers who had been freed by the Allies but were homeless. I wrote that it was a "fantastic babel with people of all nationalities, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Dutch, Belgians, Slavs, and more, living in horribly crowded barracks." It was part of the United Nations relief and rehabilitation program. This was before the death camps had been liberated. Several months later a soldier gave me photographs that he had taken of mass graves filled with skeletons. I found this impossible to believe and I couldn't write home about it. But he insisted that I keep the photographs and show them to people. He'd been there and knew it was true.
As our tour progressed, our reactions to things German took different directions. Ann was of German extraction and I was Jewish. We avoided discussing German character traits, unlike the G.I.'s who were forever extolling the German cleanliness and work ethic. It was fortunate for our friendship that the true dimensions of the German character didn't become known until we were back in the States.
An interesting event happened one evening in a mess hall somewhere in Germany. The unit had hired several displaced people to work in the kitchen, given them lodging and clothed them in olive drab. They looked a lot like American soldiers and were very proud. During a lull in the mealtime chatter, one of these D.P.'s made an anti-Semitic remark, heard loud and clear by all. I froze. A tall Texan stood up and lifted the fellow off the ground by the scruff of his neck. "You want to come to the States?" he asked. "Well we don't talk that way in the States and you'd better not forget it." That was that. I never forgot that soldier.
After several weeks in Aachen we went to Liege, Belgium, where we lived and worked in a tent hospital. I was so intrigued by these surroundings that I even took my sketch book into the latrine. It went everywhere with me.
We were there on May 8th when the war in Europe ended. We went out to make some sketches, expecting parades and joyful celebrations. I returned with a drawing of some G.I.'s sitting in an outdoor cafe in front of a huge sign that read, "Don't led V.D. be among your souvenirs." There were no parades in Liege. It was strange. Everyone was happy and relieved but the Belgians were tired and our soldiers just wanted to go home. The aftermath of the war in Europe became a hard, tedious time for these soldiers who didn't know if they had enough points to be sent home or if they would be sent to the Pacific.
Our next hospitals were in Frankfort and Bad Kreuznach, both desolate, destroyed cities. The most skeletal of all was Duren, where nothing at all was left standing and the stench was unbearable. But these ruins were something that both Ann and I wanted to record. We tied kerchiefs around our faces and made our drawings while seated on piles of rubble, trying not to breathe.
At the end of June we had a week for rest and recuperation, so we returned to Paris and our luxurious billet in Chatou. We really needed these breaks as we were working hard and didn't want all the soldiers to start looking alike.
By now we found that almost all the seriously injured men had been sent home for long-term care in the states. We found that our reason for being in the E.T.O., to sketch the wounded in hospitals, had ended. This was brought home to me one day when the following incident happened: I was sketching a young soldier whose leg was in a cast and I asked him what happened.
"Well," he said, "it was like this. I was upstairs in this house when I heard the M.P.'s coming in the front door. So I jumped out the window and broke my leg."
We decided that these soldiers had found their own entertainment and didn't need us as much as the men in small, isolated units who never got a big U.S.O. show. We suggested to Special Services that they schedule us in this manner and they agreed.
So we started a hectic tour of small towns, staying two or three days in a place, usually preceded by a poster tacked up somewhere announcing, "Blondie and Blackie are coming to sketch you." The men didn't know what to expect. We sometimes urged them to come to the rec. room, if there was one, or the mess hall after meals, by telling them that Ann would do a fan dance and I a bubble dance. When they found us set up to draw their pictures there was a moment's disappointment, but vanity won out and they lined up to see what an artist thought they looked like.
Ann had a habit of tacking her finished drawings up in our quarters to look them over at the end of the day. I usually left mine in a pile on my cot. One evening the CO. of the unit came in to visit and see what we had done. He saw my drawings and said, "Why don't you hang these up?" These are really good." This was becoming a bit of a problem as the soldiers would line up behind me in preference to Ann. But Ann had enough confidence to overcome this and, if mine were better in one way, hers were more sophisticated.
The towns started to blur. WAIBLINGEN, GOPPINGEN, LORCH, SALACH, STUTTGART, ULM, HEIDELBERG, BURSTADT, NECKARGEMUND, STRAUBING, REGENSTAUF, REGENSBURG, GRAFENWOHR, to name a few.
Most of our assignments were like the one before, arranged well in advance by the Special Service division. We met the commanding officer, got billeted, greeted the soldiers at mess, parried their questions and drew their pictures. But one unit was more memorable than the others. Early in July we went to an ordnance company in Goppingen. When we arrived, we were greeted by the First Sergeant and the Master Sergeant. They told us that their Captain was unable to meet us but perhaps would say hello the next day. Several days went by before the Sergeants told us that the Captain was in his quarters with a young Private and was not to be disturbed. It seems that he had seduced several soldiers previously with the threat of immediate transfer to the Pacific. The men were totally demoralized. The sergeants were hesitant to report him; it was something one didn't do in the Army. It was a nasty situation. The captain didn't appear during our entire stay.
Well, the Sergeants wanted to get away from this gloom and we had a day or two to spare so the four of us decided to take a little holiday.
Ann and I both thought that the First Sergeant, named Jim, was special and, although he confided to me that he really liked short, dark girls, she decided that he was hers and so he was.
The Master Sergeant, also Jim, became my "date" and I decided that this was a good time to shed my virgin status which had become onerous to me. I was tired of parrying questions from soldiers who obviously didn't believe my answers and it was even hard for me to believe. How could I remain so aloof in this sea of destruction and heavy human emotions. So I thought that Jim and I would make love and we'd both be happy. But this Jim was engaged to a girl back home and couldn't bring himself to be unfaithful, so it was not to be.
By this time we had become used to G.I. speech patterns, and the G.I.'s had stopped being in awe of us. When we stayed with a unit for four or five days, we became part of the scenery and the men forgot to watch their language. G.I. speech was as colorful then as now, and we learned all the words. One evening, after an especially raucous time, I joined Ann in our room. "These God damned mother-fucking-sons of bitches are getting me down," I said. She howled and came up with a few new expletives of her own. We rolled on the floor, spouting words we didn't know we knew.
Another time we stayed with a group for about a week. This was an infantry unit, tough, bored, and restlessly awaiting transfer. We got to know the men fairly well, especially one guy, called "Moose" because of his size and big nose. I liked Moose and one night I came into the rec room and saw him asleep on the couch. I playfully came up behind him and covered his eyes with my hand to play "guess who?" In one swoop he threw me over the couch. I wasn't hurt but I never tried that again with a soldier recently returned from combat. He later told me I was lucky he didn't have a knife in his pocket.
From August 9th through August 22nd we worked in a beautiful town called Gmund where, instead of our usual rough accommodations, we were billeted in a German house. On the morning of August 15th I was in the breakfast room enjoying some fresh eggs and good coffee when the housewife came running in yelling "Yapan Fertig, Yapan Fertig!" It took me a few minutes to realize that the war in the Pacific was over, Japan was really finished.
There wasn't much work done that day. The relief of all the men was catching and we all gave in to partying all day and most of the night.
I drew over fifty portraits during our stay in Gmund with the 65th Signal Battalion. For some reason all these soldiers looked handsome. Of course the happy smiles after August 15th were understandable, but victory must have been in the air the week before, judging by these soldiers faces.
By September 6th we were scheduled for another week's rest in Paris. Almost everyone at U.S.O. headquarters realized that we worked harder and were more appreciated than most entertainers. We had received some good publicity in a magazine called "Overseas Woman", which reproduced some of our portraits, and in the Seventh Army paper which did an article on "Blondie and Blackie in the E.T.O." So they said we could take an extra week if we took it without pay. That was fine with us. Our pay was in the form of expense money, the same as was given to all the U.S.O. entertainers, superstars and the unknowns. As we had almost no expenses, this ten dollars per day later became the means for me to try my hand at free-lancing in New York. It became my "nest egg. "
Paris, in that September, was more beautiful than I remembered. The air seemed more fragrant, the sky bluer, the women more elegant. I was amazed that they could look so well dressed in their old clothes. But that was a French talent. I looked in the shops for gifts to bring home but the shelves were quite bare and I was only able to find some old silk scarves and inexpensive earrings. But what scarves they were--light as air and hand painted with angels and clouds. They had been hiding in bottom drawers for years.
I sat on street corners and in the parks to try to capture the exhilarating scene. I quickly learned that to sit on a chair in a Paris park cost money. A little old lady would approach from nowhere and demand a few sous. I never found out if that was a private or public enterprise.
I was used to people looking over my shoulder but one soldier was more curious and wouldn't leave one day, when I packed up to go home. That's how I met Art.
I'd met a lot of soldiers but this one was special: bright, curious, funny and persistent. We started to explore Paris together and he became my model in many of my Paris sketches. We went to a show of Picasso paintings that he had done during the war and we went to the Louvre, which had partly reopened. We ate in little cafes on the left bank where the food tasted ambrosial after Army meals. We sat in the sun in outdoor cafes and watched Paris coming back to life. We spent hours in tiny nightclubs where chanteuses, sounding like Edith Piaf, sang sad songs we couldn't understand. We spoke fractured French to the Parisians who befriended us and never laughed.
One rainy evening Art and I were strolling in Pigalle, near the Sacre Coeur, when we heard singing. We walked toward the sound and found ourselves in the plaza in front of the church, where all of Paris was spread out below in a breathtaking panorama. There, in the rain, were four elderly people looking over the parapet and singing a love song to their city. It was memorable.
One moonlit night, under a huge and spreading Chestnut tree on the lawn at Chatou, we made love. That was memorable, too.
We only had a few days of furlough left but Art found a little hotel, recommended by a buddy with an odd sense of humor. Our room contained a tiny sink, a huge bed, a view of the Seine, and cherubs painted on the ceiling. There was a toilet at the end of the hall. We wondered a bit about the clientele but we didn't ask. We didn't care. After all, this was Paris, this was romance, and Chatou was not far away.
I never saw Art again. But I never forgot him or this furlough.
We had left most of our luggage in Mannheim, expecting to return to the Seventh Army for our last five weeks but Special Services switched us to Third Army and asked us to stay an extra ten weeks. We would finish our tour in mid-November but we would see new territory, Bavaria and Czechoslovakia. We were delighted.
En route to Mannheim we stopped in Frankfort to await a connecting flight. This city was of interest to me because my maternal grandfather had been born there and lived there for his first three years. I wrote, "How different Frankfurt is from when I was here in May at the 180th General Hospital. Then it was a rarity to see a soul on the streets, debris was everywhere--no lights, no voices, just a smell. Now it's teeming with people. God knows where they live. The buildings are still skeletons but the streets are cleaned, lights are on, trolleys are running, there is all the activity of any smooth running city and, since U.S. F.E.T. has moved here, thousands of soldiers from all the allied countries." So Germany was starting to rebuild.
The weather was changing and we knew it would be cold in the mountains, so we had bought warm clothes at the P.X. in Paris. We thought we wouldn't be able to sit on curbs to make our sketches as easily as before. But the sun shone often enough to record some fairy-tale towns. These towns were untouched by the war, as they had no strategic value. They were wonderful to draw. They were like illustrations for children's books, with medieval towers, cobbled streets, and heavy gates to the inner cities. I made sketches in Regensburg and Straubing in Germany, and Pilsen, Klatovy, Prachatice and Krumlov in Czechoslovakia, to name a few. Ann got into a lot of my drawings as did the children in their native costumes. One way to keep the children from pestering me was to ask them to pose. They loved that.
We were in Munich briefly and went through the beer hall where the Nazi party was started. I wrote that "It was wonderful to see it bombed to hell and odd that they were resurrecting it as a Red Cross Club. Speaking of clubs, I went to a dance last night held in a non-com's club. A German band was playing and there were hundreds of baggy looking German Frauleins. I was almost smothered by a bunch of inebriated guys. But, honestly, tears come to their eyes when they tell you they haven't danced or talked to an American girl in years. So, although it's hard on the feet and disposition, I continue to frequent these places." Not exactly punishment, as I look back.
In one of the small towns where we were working, the Army had taken over a stable with its many handsome horses. The Sergeant in charge asked me if I'd like to take a ride. Since I had ridden occasionally as a child, I said "sure." So he saddled up an enormous stallion and I climbed on. "Follow me, " he said, and off we went through a beautiful forest. We ambled along peacefully for a while until suddenly we came into a clearing. There we surprised a group of German teenagers who were having some sort of meeting.
"We are going to ride through these little bastards," he said, giving his horse a kick. His horse took off at a gallop and mine followed. They opened up a path for us and we plowed through. I was so intent on staying on that I never noticed if they were armed. They were some sort of Hitler Youth group, looking for trouble. I do remember the hate on their faces. We got back to the stable, and I was glad to be safe on the ground. I haven't been on a horse since.
On October 29th I wrote, "Nazdar! In other words-hello--from Czechoslovakia! It's wonderful to be in a free nation again where the people look happy and well clothed and smile at you instead of the oppression and atmosphere of doom in Germany. Yesterday was the Czech 4th of July (from their independence after the last war). Ann and I stood with the crowd and shouted "Nazdar" along with the happy people as we watched the gay uniforms and fantastically beautiful peasant costumes go by in a parade. In fact every other day is a parade here. You continually see the old and the new on the streets of Pilzen."
One afternoon I was sitting on a curb making a sketch of still another parade. As usual, this drew a crowd of curious onlookers. One was a Czech artist who reversed procedures and drew a picture of me. Naturally, this led to a dialogue of sorts and he invited us to visit his studio. This turned out to be pretty grim, as was he. But he later came to our quarters to see our sketches and we all got happy with a bottle of cognac that I'd been hoarding. Ann had picked up a charming Czech soldier who was our interpreter of sorts. I spoke French to the artist and the soldier spoke Czech to everyone.
The next day, while again seated on a curb, a young woman approached me and asked if I would mail a letter for her to an aunt in America. I told her to bring it to my hotel that evening at six and I would be happy to do it. She arrived that evening with her husband, a tall, dark man who spoke no English. This is what I later wrote to my mother: "We started to talk--it's quite unbelievable, really. She asked me about my name, saying that she was from a city called "Kosice" where there were many Korachs." (My father was born and raised in this city when it was part of Hungary.) "In fact she knew them all very well and said they were a most respected family! She had been in a concentration camp and lived to see her whole family, except her mother, murdered. I had no idea she was Jewish until she said she had been deported. Her stories were pretty terrible. Her husband (who certainly looked the part) had been a guerilla through the war. He was the only living member of his family. She said that of a population of 14,000 Jews in Kosice only 800 had survived. She said, "I will write to find out for you if there are any Korachs left, but I feel certain they were all killed."
God, it gives me the shivers. Dad never talked about his family and I never regretted it more than now. Only for the grace of God I'm not that girl. I look at her and wonder how she can look so well and pretty after all she's been through."
I stayed in touch with this remarkable woman and later, when she and her husband came to the states, we visited again. He was an engineer by profession, as was my husband. We stayed friendly for some years until we finally drifted apart.
I was very anxious to visit Prague which was reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and where my mother's grandparents had lived, but Prague was in Russian territory and off limits to Americans. We had heard that the Russians were permitting some supervised American troops to visit and that a group was leaving early the next morning. We decided to take a chance and join the soldiers. So at five-thirty in the morning we climbed aboard, no one questioned us, and in a few hours we arrived. Prague was really magical in the early morning light, with its beautiful medieval buildings and wonderful bridges lined with great Baroque sculptures. We had brought cigarettes to trade with the Russian soldiers but none came near us. Perhaps they had been told not to fraternize with Americans, but, to our regret, we never got to say "Nazdrovia." I had time to make two black and white drawings on the Charles bridge before the brief visit was over.
So our stay in Czechoslovakia was fascinating, if short. We moved very fast, drawing in a different town every night. Marienbad was our last stop and disappointing because of bad weather, but driving over the mountains through three feet of snow was an adventure.
When we got back to Third Army headquarters in Munich, I found I'd left my coat in the jeep, which had immediately headed back. It was the beginning of the weekend and we had no further assignments so I asked the Lieutenant in charge if we could wait for it to be returned. While waiting the two or three days, he suggested we go to Garmish Partenkirchen, the Third Army rest center in the Alps.
We had taken a trip to Garmish and Oberamergau in July with our friends, the Jims from the baker's unit. They were such beautiful towns then, in full bloom, that we were anxious to see this area in the winter. Garmish had been the home of the Olympic winter games and was world famous. The Lieutenant warned us to be back by Sunday night at the latest. So we each took one small bag and hitched a ride on a 2 1/2 ton truck, loaded with ski shoes for the ski school that was operated by the army for the soldiers. About thirty-five miles outside of damp, cold, depressing Munich we hit beautiful snow-covered hills and clearing weather and we started to feel exhilarated.
The Third Army hotel was the "Rieserzee" on the Rieser Lake, a wonderful place for bored G.I.'s to ski and skate, ride horses and go to town to dance. It was off-limits to officers, who had their own hotel. I wrote, with awe, that it was the kind of place that cost twenty-five dollars a day before the war. Tablecloths, waitresses, music--in fact a little bit of heaven for the soldiers.
We had brought sketch pads, thinking we might draw a few portraits but gave ourselves up to enjoying this wonderful weekend, instead. We were pretty burned out by now.
Early Saturday morning we took the truck to town where we caught the train to the "Zugspitz," the highest mountain in Germany. The station was filled with long lines of German skiers, but there were several cars reserved for "Americanische Militarishe." It cost us twenty marks, about two dollars. For a while we rode on the level but then we started climbing on cog wheels. For an hour we did this while the valley grew smaller and the mountains closed in. Finally we entered a tunnel, and forty-five minutes later we emerged in the basement of the Zugspitz hotel. When we went up through the lobby and out the door we were spellbound--dazzled by the breathtaking sight; the brilliant sky, the sun on the snow, and as far as the eye could see, the mountains of Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, the valleys hidden by clouds.
The ski school was located in this paradise for the lucky few who had a week's furlough and wanted to learn. We rented ski equipment and started out with several boys from our lodge. I had skied a few times but Ann had not.
Still she was a good sport and the snow was soft and deep. Up there, on top of the world, we were not German or American, just skiers, and I was happy to see so many healthy Germans after seeing so many legless and miserable and homeless. The boys discussed form, smoked American cigarettes, joked and shared lunch. It was hard to believe they were killing each other not long ago.
On Sunday Ann thought she would stay in Garmish to make some sketches while I returned to the top. But later in the day a German skier came swooshing up shouting, "Mimi, Ann is here," just as though we'd known each other all our lives. Sure enough, it had been so cold and miserable down below that she had taken a later train and was getting a sun tan in the snow. What a way to end our tour.
By now it was mid-November and we were overdue in Paris. After a slow, foggy ride back to Munich we picked up our luggage and straggled down to the station. Weather had grounded all planes so we had no alternative although we'd heard many uncomplimentary tales of continental trains. This trip turned out to be as miserable as the weekend had been glorious. It started out okay, as all women rode in the commander's car, the best of all, with soft, padded seats. But it ended badly when the train commander, a First Lieutenant, drunk and escorting his WAC girlfriend, decided that he wanted a coach with compartments, "for the women." So we stopped at 4:30 a.m. to pick up this coach for "the women." Everyone moved her luggage into this car but it turned out to have only one free compartment which the lieutenant claimed for himself and his friend. The rest of us were to sit up for the night after all. I was so mad that I really told him what I thought of him and we almost came to blows.
Later on the trip, we stopped in Karlsruhe for lunch. When we got back to the train, I discovered that I'd left my pocketbook in the transient mess hall--the second time in a week that I'd forgotten something and a sign of imminent collapse. My friend, the train commander, promised to hold the train for me if I rushed back, a good fifteen minutes round trip. As I breathlessly climbed the stairs on my return, I almost knew what I would see. No train. But way down the track, in the midst of all our luggage, in that bombed out station, sat Ann.
We were able to get a room somewhere and the next day took another train for an uneventful trip to Paris. So that was the Army--good and bad. We were both weary and relieved that this wonderful tour was over. We wound up our official business in Paris and were sent to Le Havre for the trip home aboard the Victory Ship, S. S. Madawaska. I made a lot of drawings on that long, rough trip. One way to avoid seasickness was to remain on deck and keep drawing. I was awed and terrified by the power of those December seas. Never again have I felt so insignificant.
Home again. We were met by an army band playing the latest hits. Flags were flying and relatives were screaming. It was a great reception. I found a cab driver who told me he couldn't help me with my bags as he had a bad back. "Ah," I thought, "I'm home." New York looked wonderful though, and all I needed now was a place to live.
Pat Tiffany was very happy about the results of our tour. I had drawn over one thousand portraits and Ann, probably, almost as many. She had lost a couple of weeks with infected fingers. Every portrait, with an extra small photostat, had been received in good condition. Letters of thanks and appreciation had been pouring in. The program was a great success.
Ann went to England to meet her true love who had been in the South Pacific for years. They got married there. Ann came home and gave birth to twins. She continued to teach at the Art Students League.
I designed some windows for the French National Tourist Office on Fifth Avenue. The manager had worked for Special Services at Chatou and said that, although the French government had no money to pay me, the exposure might be helpful. Indeed it was. An artist's agent saw them and arranged an assignment for the Standard Oil Company. They sent me back to France to make a series of paintings about the shortage of oil, for their magazine, "The Lamp."
Some other exciting jobs came my way, and publicity in Art magazines. But I never saw Ann again. She couldn't cope with the direction our lives were taking and was honest enough to say it. She quoted an old saying; "Them's that can does and them's that can't teaches." She was wrong, of course, but there was no changing her mind. It was my loss.
Mimi Korach Lesser