From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI's Experience

From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI's Experience

From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI's Experience

From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI's Experience


As an Official Army Photographer, "Mac" Fleming's assignment was to take motion pictures of significant wartime events for the US Army. In the pouch intended to carry his first-aid kit on his belt, he instead carried a small personal camera, which he used to take pictures of the people and places that interested him, capturing in his field notes details of the life he observed. From these records, Fleming has assembled this absorbing private chronicle of war and peace. Assigned to the European Theater in February 1945, he filmed the action from the battle for the Remagen Bridge across the Rhine, to the fighting in the Hartz Mountains, on to the linkup with the Russian forces at the Elbe River. After the armistice, Fleming helped document how the Allied Expeditionary Force established a military government in Germany to cope with masses of POWs, establish control of the country, deal with the atrocities committed by the German army, and help thousands of newly released slave laborers return home to Poland, France, and Russia. He also recorded how the army provided rest, recreation, and rehabilitation to the remaining US soldiers and sent them home by truck, train, and ship. Awaiting shipment home, Fleming explored postwar German town and country life and toured some famous castles and historic spots. The foreword by historian James H. Madison describes the important role of photography in war and the special contribution of Fleming's photographic diary.


James H. Madison

The US Army in World War ii had a reputation for SNAFUs—“situation normal, all fouled up” (many GIs, of course, used a different “f” word). in Malcolm Fleming’s case the army made a smart choice when it took this supply clerk who had worked with a camera as a kid and trained him to be a combat photographer. Off he went to Europe with his Eymo camera to make moving pictures and a small Vollenda for still images. the result is this magnificent photo diary composed of Mac Fleming’s selection of images he made and kept, along with his field notes.

Photography changed our view of war. Matthew Brady’s Civil War images introduced Americans to the battlefield. World War ii cameras sent thousands of war pictures to home-front Americans, though only after censors carefully selected the best to build morale and urge sacrifice. Even through the fog of propaganda, it was possible during World War ii to visualize combat in ways unimagined in earlier wars. Tens of thousands of still and motion picture images remain today as powerful shapers of our understanding of this war. in the flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, the D-Day view of the German-occupied Normandy beaches, and the sailor’s victory kiss in Times Square, twenty-first-century Americans “see” a war fading in living memory.

Combat cameramen like Mac Fleming necessarily worked in dangerous situations, often near the very front of the front line. Some became casualities as they risked their lives to record the realities of battle. Their job of finding a good angle for a shot sometimes required standing up rather than ducking down. in one telling detail Fleming notes that when moving for the night into an abandoned German house he and other cameramen “drew the top floor, affording the finest view but least security.”

Fleming begins his report in Germany in March 1945, at the Remagen Bridge. American forces captured the bridge before the retreating Germans could destroy it, and so enabled a first crossing of the Rhine River. Over the Rhine Fleming drives his jeep (“peep,” he calls it) far into Germany and eventually to the Elbe River, where he records the linkup with Soviet troops in late April 1945. It is a grand celebration, with many toasts between American and Red Army troops. At the Elbe meeting place a friend takes a photo of Fleming standing with a diminutive Russian soldier, a female sniper, one of many such soldiers noted for their expert marksmanship. Soon after, the Germans surrender and the understanding grows that the Soviet allies had fought a different war and intended a different occupation of the Nazi homeland.

Like many other GIs, Fleming remains in Germany to record life at the beginning of the occupation. He points his camera at the physical and human cost of war, notably the steady stream of displaced persons, the thousands and thousands of prisoners and slave laborers the Nazis have . . .

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