Historical Sketch of German Area
Occupied by 89th Division.
Printed by Jacob Lintz, Trier.
Published with the approval of the Commanding General 89th Division.
Published by Second Section General Staff, with the approval of the Commanding General.
In a lengthy description of the territory occupied by the Eighty-Ninth Division during its stay in Germany, the word, which would probably be used most frequently, would be the adjective-Rich. Rich in legend, lore and fables; rich in authentic history; rich in art and remains of the earliest culture (not "Kultur"); rich in geological possessions, vineyards and mines; and rich, richest of all, in its scenery. Its true that this scenery was not greatly appreciated by the weary columns toiling up endless hills, only to find when they had reached the summits, that still higher ones were ahead. But such fatigue quickly vanished and was lastingly replaced by wondrous admiration of the grandeur and majesty with Mother Nature had clothed herself I these mountain steadfasts.
The portion of the conquered land that was allotted to the Division to occupy was a tract of approximately 1000 square miles just east of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourgh, the major part lying north of the Moselle River, the principal tributary of the Rhine, which rises back in the Vosges and winds a tortuous path touching many places vividly remembered by all American soldiers in France-Epinal, Toul, Pont-a Mouson and Metz-before it leaves the province of Lorraine and forms the natural boundary between Luxembourgh and Germany. However, the Division had a considerable number of troops below the River, especially along the valley of the Saar (or Sarre), a swiftly moving stream that is hemmed in on both sides by steep and rocky banks.
That portion of the Rhine Province which lies between the Rhine, the Moselle and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourgh is known throughout Germany and Europe as the Eifel, and is an extremely rocky and mountainous district, and although its aspects differ greatly, it is for the most part an immense forest that has been in the process of clearance since the early Middle Ages. The whole Eifel is divided into three sections – the Hohe Eifel, the Eastern part; the Schenn Eifel, the Northern and Western part, and the Vorder Eifel, the Southern sector and the region occupied by the Eight-Ninth. The Hohe and Schnee Eifel is a poor country with hills reaching a height of from, 2000 to 2400 feet and which are cut by exceedingly steep valleys. They are covered with snow for many months during the year and are naturally very sparsely settled, the density of the population varying from twenty to forty person per square kilometer. Only the most primitive of rural life obtains there. The only trading carried on is by peddlers wandering from one settlement to another and the volume of trade is not very heavy because most of the villages contain fewer than one hundred residents – the few which have three hundred and upwards being looked upon as metropolises.
On the other hand, the Vorder Eifel presents a complete contrast to this poor, bleak and barren waste. It possesses fine arable land that supports crops of cereals, wheat, barley, potatoes and forage and is also the grazing places of large herds of fine cattle, although there were few cattle visible at the time of the Division’s occupancy due to the fact that the herds had been confiscated by the retreating German Army. The scenery here is most picturesque and not only the wild and wooded mountains, the jagged cliffs and the deep abysses hold interest for the tourist exploring the region for the first time; he is also charmed and delighted with the many relics of the Roman occupancy which he constantly meets and with the many ruins and restored castles of the Medieval and more modern times.
These mountains are extremely accessible and before the war they were a Mecca of visitors from all nations, indeed very few of those who toured the Rhine with any amount of leisure ever neglected them. They are of volcanic origin and although Geologists are not certain at what age they were alive, numerous small craters and cones may be found and emission at several places of carbon dioxyde and heated mineral waters is a present-day proof of their former activity. The volcanic centers have a rich soil which is most favorable to fruit tree and vineyards on account of the potash which it contains and it is from this district that many of the fine Moselle wines come. There are several quarries in the extreme Eastern portion where basalt, pumice and trass are found and this industry, together with the attendant one of stone-cutting, gives employment to a large portion of the population. Further to the West there are large deposits of clay and the manufacture of high-class pottery is also a flourishing industry.
Although the City of Trier (Treves, in French) was not strictly part of the Division Area, having been set aside as advances General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces, it was hounded on all sides by the Division and was occupied by one of the Infantry Regiments. This city, being the Capital of the District bearing the same name, is closely related to all of the Eighty-Ninth’s territory and consequently its history is necessarily much of the history of the area. A legend of the Middle Ages says that it was founded 1300 years before Rome by Trebeta, an Assyrian Prince who fled from his homeland to escape an unwelcome love and who, after traveling with a few faithful vassals over many lands and into far countries, suddenly came upon the valley of the Mosell at this point and was so impressed by its beauty, that he ceased his wandering and established his abode. This is legendary however and although it has been passed on from generation to the succeeding one for many hundreds of years, history challenges it and states that the birth of the city was some time after Roma and achieved her greatness and that the Emperor Augustus was its founder. This is undoubtedly the truth as there are no proofs of any habitation previous to the Roman era, while many ruins of the earliest days of their occupancy still exist.
After the Romans became firmly established they pushed their armies to the Rhine and held much the same territory that the Allied Armies took over at the signing of the armistice. They occupied the entire west bank of the Rhine but this was the limit of their ability to conquer, because although they crossed the river at several places and established strongholds, (notably at Ehrenbreitstein, which was strongly fortified hundreds of years later by the Germans and was known as the "Gibralter of the Rhine") they were never able to retain this territory for long and ultimately contented themselves with the river as their boundary. All of these operations were directed from Treves, the location of which afforded the possibility of reaching any threatened point from Cologne to Mayence in the shortest possible time, and the city was therefore known as second Rome and, at the close of the Third Century, was the residence of a Co-Regent. At that time the city surpassed in splendor and importance any other on this side of the Alps and was enriched by the Emperors with many magnificent building, such as an imperia’ palace, a forum, and amphitheatre and large baths to erect these building, the costliest materials from all over the then known world were requisitioned. The finest marbles from Italy, Greece and Africa were used and they were adorned by the finest artisans of the time.
It is of especial interest to find that the people who resided in the area were among the earliest followers of Christianity, the religion being introduced in the country at beginning of the Fourth Century by the Emperor Constantine, himself a convert and who had made it the state religion of Rome. The people became exceedingly devout and even to the present day more than ninety percent of them are Catholics. A large Cathedral was built in Trier during Constantine’s time and that city was made the residence of a Bishop who, in the councils of the Church, was second only to the Bishop of Rome. Reconstructed remains of the Cathedral still exist as well as many scared relics. The most famous being the seamless coat of Jesus Christ and is alleged to have been found and presented to the Cathedral by the Empress Helena. This relic is exhibited very rarely, and exhibition being made the occasion of a pilgrimage of believers from all over the world and it is on record that in 1891 it was viewed by more than 2,000,000 pilgrims and that eleven of them received miraculous cures. The Cathedral is the oldest church in Northern Europe.
While the country benefited as the result of the Roman occupancy and the consequent culture, art and education which followed in its wake, the fact of its being a stronghold also caused suffering, disaster and destruction, because right down through the centuries it had been the battling ground for the various peoples that were struggling for the mastery and control of the country; and as early as the Fifth Century the Franks commenced invasions to oust the Romans and in a few years had complete dominion. By the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the territory was incorporated with Lorraine and became part of Germany, which has ruled it ever since, with the exception of three short periods, once when it was held by the Spaniards and twice by the French. The ground had been crossed by practically every potentate that has ever set out to conquer Europe and foreign soldiers have marched down its valleys and across its mountains at disconcertingly frequent intervals, the most historic invaders being Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon, while the mot recent and the most powerful was the Third United States Army. Needless to say, the last invaders differed from all others in that they were not seeking conquests or temporal power but were truly Knights of Chivalry in that they were fighting to rid the world of a demoralizing force of evil and to save from ruin the very county they were conquering.
Naturally a country which has served as a theatre where so much history has been made contains many reminders of the long-past operations. There remain roads and bridges which were built by the Romans, and in Trier are many of their monuments as well as some that were erected later on. Aside from the edifices previously mentioned, probably the most famous Roman relic is the Porta Nigra (Black Gate) which was the Northern Gate of the city and was constructed of huh blocks of sandstone, laid without mortar, and fastened together by iron clamps. This gate was cleverly erected so as to play an important part on the defenses of the city and its ingenious design formed a trap for any besiegers that were unfortunate enough to break through the outer works. The building consists of four towers, connected by galleries above the archway, and should an enemy succeed in forcing the portcullises which shut the gate-ways on the country-side, they only found themselves confronted by impassible iron gates on the other. While they were vainly striving to reduce these obstacles, they were deluged by a shower of arrows and stones by the defenders from the inner windows of the towers and galleries. The gate is supposed to have been built in the Third Century. After ceasing to get part of the city’s defenses, one of the towers was sued as a church and for several years was the residence of monks. It eventually fell to ruin but was ordered restored to its former state by Napoleon and the French commenced the task in 1804. They left the country before it was completed however, so the work was taken up by the Prussian Government, which placed it in its present condition. Frederick William IV dedicated the gate in 1817.
Another interesting sight is the so-called "Imperial Palace", but which was really the Baths. These were erected by an early Emperor and are said to have been excelled only by the Imperial Baths at Rome. The building is now only a majestic pile of ruins but from its masonry it is known to have been built at the end of the Third or the beginning of the Fourth Century. The interior was richly decorated and excavations show that it was a replica of those edifices which made Rome famous and whose comforts and luxuries made bathing such a pleasurable pastime.
Of course no Roman city would be complete without an amphitheatre and another proof of Trier’s early importance is the fact that its amphitheatre seated about fifty thousand persons, being even larger that the famous one at Pompei. This was the first important structure erected by the Romans in Northern Europe, archaeologist agreeing that it was probable built at the end of the first century. Here it was customary to throw thousands of prisoners to the wild beast and in the year 313 A.D. two Frank Kings were sacrifices by the Emperor Constantine. Later on the Vandals used it as a fortress and it was put to the same use in the Seventeenth Century by the French. The remains are not in as good condition as they might be due to the fact in 1781, the economical Aldermen of the city tore away many of the bricks to repair a local road. The Romans also erected a bridge across the Mosell at Trier, the piers of which still remain.
Architecture is not the only one of the arts which remains but there are numerous examples of paintings and some very fine Mosaic pavements, Roman glasses, and precious collections of stone urns and collections of Roman and Trevirian coins.
One of the show-places most frequently visited is the town library which was founded in the Middle Ages and which contains many priceless manuscripts and historical documents. The prize of the library is the "Codex Aureus", a manuscript of the Four Gospels, hand-printed by the monks in a nearby Abbey in the year 790. The leaves are of parchment and the printing is all in gold. These are many illustrations and pictures of the Evangelist and the colors are as fresh and as vivid as though they were mixed yesterday, instead of more than a thousand years ago. The book received its present binding in the fifteenth century and the cover is made of the most precious stones and is further adorned by onyx carvings of the Apostles and the Imperial Family of Augustus. Needless to say this book is almost priceless. Another interesting volume is the first book ever printed by Guttenberg after he had revolutionized the printing industry by inventing movable type. To collectors of incunabula, the Library is a veritable Mecca as it contains more than 2,000 famous works. There are also on exhibition, autographs of numerous notables including Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Blucher, Martin Luther, Goethe, Schiller and others.
Although the sight of vineyards located on the almost precipitous side of mountains is common throughout the entire Divisional Area, the wine growing industry is centered in the valley of the Saar and the Moselle, both being famed throughout Europe for the excellency of their vintages; although the Moselle brand is probable the better known. While there had never been any attempt to wrest the palm for red wines away from France, many connoisseurs claim that there is no country in the world that can complete with the Rhenish province in the variety and bouquet of the white wines they produce. At one time there was a general belief (alleged to have been fostered by wine growers from other countries) that the German white wines were injurious to the health on account of an injurious acidity, but this was fought out before scientists for many years and the contention was found to be ill founded, that is, if one may judge by the prevalence their drinking had attained. The local growers are naturally all strong advocates of their wares and to hear some of the most enthusiastic describe the wonderful health giving properties of the vintages is enough to convince one that they are panaceas for all human ills.
Unlike other districts, the industry in this part f the province is not under the control of any large growers, but is rather a co-operative business in which practically every small landowner has a part. The grapes are harvested and made into wine by each of the small growers and at a previously announced date are all brought into Trier where there is a mammoth auction sale. The wines are grouped into various classes, depending on the part of the country they come from, and there is spirited bidding among the various dealers and bottlers to procure the choicest brands. This day is a general holiday throughout the entire region and it is the occasion for most of the countryside to make a pilgrimage into Trier. There are various kinds of festivities and amusements and for many residents of the more outlying districts it is the one time during the year that they escape from the narrow confines of their own particular neighborhoods. Naturally is it also a gala day for the merchants and trades people and there are all kinds of wandering entertainers and traveling circuses present t assist in the entertainment. Although there was very little wine bottled during the four years of the war, the quantity made was well up to the average production due to the fact that in the small vineyards all of the work is dine by women, and it is believed that there are large stores hidden away in unsuspected places. Being held against the day when exportation to England – the largest buyer – can be resumed.
It is said that it was in a small village between Trier and Saarburg that the first Sparkling Moselle was produces and the year 1826. This wine attained great popularity in England and throughout Northern Europe and is considered by many as being superior and more preferable to Champagne. Although the manufacture of the two are somewhat alike, the German brands are distinguished from the French by the predominance of the grape and are a much lighter beverage. They are about twice as expensive as the still wines due to the additional processes of fermentation that are subjected to and to the fact that a syrup of cognac and sugar is usually added. They have a considerable "kick", however and are on the A.E.F. banned list. An interesting feature about the preparations of these wines, and also one of the reasons for their higher price, is that about twenty-five percent of the bottles always burst during the process of fermentation. In pre-war days there were also a number of small distilleries in the region where schnanps and kimmel were produced. Most of the beer drunk in the neighborhood came from Coblenz and Cologne where there are large brewing establishments.
In the vicinity of Saarburg lies one of the most important coalfields of Germany, there being nearly a hundred mines in operation that, before the war, gave employment to over fifty thousand men. The annual production was about 14,000,000 tones and the price at the mine varies from three to four dollars per ton. The field is quite large and extends across the border into Lorraine where there is also a big annual production. Te territory around Trier contains small deposits of zinc and lead but these have never been worked due to the existence of much larger and more accessible deposits in Belgium and the adjacent part of the Rhine province.
The Manufacture of iron was a large industry however, the region being on of the four largest centers in Germany. The large iron fields in Lorraine furnished abundant ore for many blast furnaces, but there were also large importations from Sweden, Newfoundland and Spain. At one time this industry was far more important and larger than it is at the present time. Its diminishment being due to the erection of so many furnaces in Lorraine and other places, which were nearer the ore deposits. The proximity of coal is an important economic advantage however, and will undoubtedly be sufficient to retain the industry for the vicinity.
Practically all of the inhabitants of the region were members of the Centrum of Catholic Party, although about the time the Division was leaving there was a considerable dissatisfaction due to the fact that the Centrum representatives had united with the Socialists at Berlin on some important legislation. The priests ere almost universal in condemning the union with the "Reds" and were afraid that they might be prohibited from giving religious instruction in the schools. The Democratic party, made up of conservatives and men of wealth, was so small in the area as to be almost negligible.
Since the forest of the area have been in the process of clearing since the Middle Ages it is only natural that the present trees in most places are the second or third growth. The forests are carefully looked after by experts and are incontrovertible proofs of the efficiency of the Germans in tree conservation. They are carefully gone through each year, the underbrush cleared out for kindling wood and a certain percentage of the trees marked for cutting. Most of the trees are beech, but there is a liberal sprinkling of pine and scrub oak.
Practically all of the forests are owned by the cities and villages, to which they are contiguous, and their exploitation forms one source of municipal revenues. They are well filled with wild boar, deer and rabbits and the various municipalities gain further revenues by leasing the hunting privileges to wealthy noblemen or hunting clubs in the larger cities. The privileges are leased for six, nine or twelve year periods, but do not prohibit the natives from organizing yearly hunts for wild boar it these animals become too numerous. The boar are very bold and do a great deal of damage to the planted crops it they are not pretty well killed off during the winters. During the last two year of the war there were not as many killed s usual and as a consequence it was no unusual sight to see them walking on the most frequented roads when the Division moved in. After the troop had been located a few weeks however they were not quite so noticeable, probably due to the fact that demobilized Hun soldiers killed them, because it was strictly against regulation for the Americans to do any hunting. To be absolutely candid however there were some faint and unofficial rumors of wild boar and antelope dinners that whetted the appetite of more than one sportsman, but if there were such, they were "sub-rosa", and the ones that know, don’t tell.
The road system throughout the district was fair. But was not up to the standard found in France or England. The highways were of two classes- Provincial and local. The former were the important main channels of communication, corresponding to the class known in the United States as state roads. There are macadamized roads narrower than those at home or in France and not so heavily metalled as in France. They are built, owned and maintained by the government and are under the immediate supervision of a supervisor of roads in Trier who has assistants in each kreiss. Early each spring these supervisors decide what repairs are necessary for the year. Men are employed as in the U.S. for work on these roads and are paid by the province. The local roads are built and maintained by the community. Although sometimes made of good quality they are usually of inferior material and are not as wide or as well cared for as the provincial highways.
As regards railroads. The territory was crossed by two important lines, the one from Coblenz to Metz and the other from Cologne to Strassburg, each line having several short spurs. These two lines were built primarily for the strategic movement of troop to France and on account of the great amount of bridging and tunneling that was necessary, the construction was extreamly costly. They are most important commercially however and are two of the main arteries of trade from Germany to Western Europe. In common with all German railroads,
they are owned by the government and, allowing for four years of warfare, are still operated. Their roadbeds are good and the service generally satisfactory. Branch lines connect the smallest towns with the main lines.
In addition to Trier, there were four places in the territory that may be mentioned a centers of the divisional life, and also as of interest for other reasons – Kyilburg, where Division Headquarters was located, Saarburg; Bitburg and Prum. Kyllburg was founded in 1229 by Archbishop Dietrich of Trier who erected a convent, and castle to protect it, high upon the cliffs above the Kyll River and made the place the seat of ecclestical government for a large part of the surrounding territory. At that time his power was being questioned by the Counts of Marlburg and of Luxemburg and when they commences leading attacking forces against his territory, he stationed a large force of soldiers at Kyllburg and made it one of his principal points of defense. The church was built in 1256 and received many valuable paintings and pieces of sculpture from the Archbishop and other church officers. And enjoyed the reputation of having one of the most beautiful Ways of the Cross of any church in Rhineland. Three stained glass windows, representing the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, were especially famed and were said to have been made in 1534 by Johan Von Eyeks, the famous glass manufacturer who designed and made windows of r many of the Germany’s famous cathedrals. One of the oil paintings which is especially prized is of the Virgin May in consultation with four Church Fathers. The present population of the city is about 1100, but in 1784 when the church was at the height of its temporal power, there were more than twice the number. The French made the place a local seat of government in 1803 and incurred the lasting enmity of the people, by confiscating most of the communal property and selling it far below its actual worth. Aside from being a well-known summer resort, the city is the center of the vicinity farming and hop growing industries and is also a trading market for horses and cattle.
Strassburg, which is in the portion of the occupied territory below the Moselle, is picturesquely situated in a basin of the Saar valley, and is overlooked by imposing ruins of a castle of the Electors of Treves. It is the junction point of the Leuk and Saaar Rivers, the former emptying into the latter and forming a waterfall of about sixty feet. Its population is about twenty-five hundred and the vicinity contains many Roman ruins, among which is the Contionacum, whence several imperial edicts were issued.
Bitburg is another old Roman city and was one of the stopping places on the Roman road from Trier to Cologue. It was a strongly fortified position and has an interesting collection of roman souvenirs, many of which were discovered some years ago when excavations were being made for the waterworks. In the Middle Ages it was a bone of contention between the Archbishop of Trier and hostile counts, which did not recognize the authority and was frequently the scene of armed conflicts. In the year 1689 it was completely burned by King Ludwig. Many of the Roman foundations still remain and it is clamed that the present rectory and the house of the Burgomaster are erected on stones laid by the Romans. It is a rich town and is a center of brewing and the distilling of kirch.
Prum, the other center, was first started as an Abbey in the year 720 by the Carlovinians and was made immensely wealthy in the middle of the Ninth Century by Luther I, King of the Franks, who presented it with all of his possessions. A good deal of the wealth vanished shortly after however, due to the fact that the Normans made a raid, killed most of the priest, stole everything they could find and burned the buildings. The abbey was rebuilt shortly after and the church remained in absolute control of the vicinity until the year 1794, when the French came in and treated all the church property in about the same manner as the Frank’s did mort than a thousand years previously. They ousted the priest and reorganized the abbey into a city. A sous-perfect was located in the city when they retired in 1814, all of the church property was given to the city. Some of the principal abbey buildings were remodeled into schools and the place soon won a reputation as being the educational center of the entire surrounding country. At the time of the American occupancy there were more than six hundred students enrolled in the various schools, although the entire population of the town was considerably less than three thousand.
Probably the one thing that surprised the Americans more than any thing else was the plentiful condition of the food in the area when they took it over. The men of the Division, having just come from a protected tour in the lines, followed by a long, arduous march through some of the worst devastated portions of France, were forcible struck by the peaceful aspect of the country. The signs of full and plenty that abounded everywhere and the entire absence of suffering due to the four years of war. They expected to see a land devoid of all prosperity – the found the opposite. They had heard of the food shortage in Germany, but as they passed through the villages they saw foodstuffs that were unheard of in most parts of France. There were eggs in abundance, fine creamy butter, meat and any quantity of potatoes and other vegetables. In the small shops along the roads they saw cigars and cigarettes in the show windows-wares that no French town could boast of. In short there was a general feeling of bewilderment until it became known that these conditions did not apply anywhere else in Germany. That they obtained only in Rhineland – "The richest jewel in the crown of Prussia".
As is universally known, the army had prescribed the strictest laws against fraternization, and as a results the soldiers had contact with the inhabitants only in case the transaction of official business necessitated intercourse; but it was most obvious that the natives wished to be friendly and they used every means to ingratiate themselves with the Americans. Whether this was a cleaver form of propaganda looking toward the early resumption if commercial activities between the two countries, or merely an exhibition of the philosophical manner in which they accepted the inevitable is a mooted question, but it remains true that the civil population scrupulously obeyed every regulation promulgated by us and that the local authorities cooperated with the military in all cases. There were many among the conquerors that expected trouble-perhaps local uprising or guerilla warfare, bur they found themselves mistaken. As afar as any danger of excitement was concerned, the Division might as well have been encamped in any state of the Union. During the five-month period of occupancy the men were thoroughly rested, cleaned up and fully uniformed. They were granted liberal leave periods, had ample facilities for athletics and the enjoyment of amusement projects and by a thorough, interesting and non-irksome drill-schedule, practically reached the zenith of efficiency in the military art. The Division won the highest commendations from all commanding offices and especially high praise from General Pershing in person. The war brought the organization many experiences - preliminary training in the United States, the trip overseas, intensive training in France and actually meeting and overcoming the Boche and invading his land. These various phases all recall pleasures and hardships, hard tasks performed and duty well done, but it is safe to say that the pleasantest memories that will recur in the forthcoming years will have to so with the time when the Eighty-Ninth Division was doing its best for Democracy by taking part in the never-to-be-forgotten "Watch on the Rhine".