Deep in the holds of an American transport vessel, 22-year-old Henry Metelmann waited as the ship transporting him and other German prisoners of war docked in New York harbour on May 8, 1945. Once a committed National Socialist and former member of the Hitler Youth, Metelmann had joined a Panzer division in 1941 and he had gone "through hell" on the Eastern Front.
By April 25, the Soviet armies had surrounded Berlin and the first of the advancing Americans shook hands with Russians on the Elbe. Hitler had ordered that there must be no surrender, but with defeat only days away he married Eva Braun, wrote his political testament and appointed Grand Admiral Karl Donitz Commander-in-Chief, before committing suicide on April 30. Dr Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chosen successor as Chancellor, also killed himself and it was left to Donitz to negotiate a cease-fire on May 4 with General Montgomery at Lueneburg Heath.
Metelmann had escaped from the Russians and become a prisoner of the Allies. Now, he was surprised when an American said that the sirens were howling all over New York. Whistle blasts shrilled from the tugs and cargo boats on the Hudson and East River, and cabbies and other motorists hooting their delight took up the refrain. Hitler was dead in his bunker in Berlin and the war was over!
Metelmann wasn't sure whether he should feel sad or elated. Younger Germans could not imagine a Germany without Hitler and none of them had ever dared say anything hostile about their Fuehrer while he was alive. And, they had only the Ami's (German slang for an American) word that Hitler really was dead. As they waited at the quayside to board a troop train, the young Soldaten were shocked to find on the seats glossy brochures showing Nazi crimes in the extermination camps. At first they thought the photos were fakes, but they reminded Metelmann of so many events he had witnessed in Russia and the sheer enormity of the crime against humanity he had collectively taken part in: "Germany, my Germany, what depth had you fallen to?"
American war correspondent Martha Gellhorn of Collier's Weekly was in Dachau when the German armies surrendered: "It was a suitable place to be.
For surely this war was made to abolish Dachau and all the other places like Dachau and everything that Dachau stands for. To abolish it forever.
That these cemetery prisons existed is the crime and shame of the German people... We must know now that there can never be peace if there is cruelty like this in the world. And if ever again we tolerate such cruelty we have no right to peace."