The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant
there.— Portia, In William Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice, Act 4 sect 1
Shortly before the liberation of Dachau Concentration camp in April 1945, my uncle Major Norman Eliasson, of 10th Armored Division and his men captured two German SS soldiers.
They were young boys –no older than 11 or 12 years old. My uncle spoke German fluently.
He asked them: “Yunge, Wie lange bist du schon in der Armee?” (Boy, how long have you been in the Army?)
“Wie lange seid ihr beide in der Armee?” (how long have your both been in the army?)
They answered, “nur zwei Wochen” (ONLY TWO WEEKS)
Nur zwei Wochen? ONLY TWO WEEKS?
They boys answered, “Jawohl, Bitte erschießt uns nicht” (Yes, please don’t shoot us).
Norman asked them to remove their tunics. They had no SS tattoos. They had no military ID.
Then boys told their story tearfully.
SS officers had come to their elementary school two weeks previously and had forcibly recruited all the 11-12 year old boys in the school. Some of them had been killed in the fighting. They said,trembling, “PLEASE DON’T SHOOT US.”
My uncle said, “Don’t worry kids. We won’t shoot you.” (Ärgern Sie sich nicht, dass wir Sie nicht erschießen warden)
My uncle and his men talked a little bit. They decided to take them prisoner would be wrong.
“We’re Americans,” my uncle said. “If we want to have peace we are going to have to treat these people right.”
Then my uncle asked they boys were they lived. They pointed the way.
It was not far.
Then they escorted them home. They let the boys take off their uniforms. The mother of one of the boys was absolutely ecstatic. Norman and his men gave them some food and were on their way. The German woman waved as they marched off and Norman and his men waved back.
Some months later my uncle and his friends –they were in the Army of occupation- were in a bar in Munich when a good looking German woman in her mid 30’s came up to Norman and kissed him.
She said, very emotionally:
“When I saw you I had to speak to you. Thank you for saving my son and his friend. I will never forget you and the other Americans for your kindness and humanity. Niemals. Never.
( “Ich werde dich und die anderen Amerikaner niemals für deine Freundlichkeit und Menschlichkeit vergessen. “)
When my uncle died in 1999 –he is buried in Arlington Cemetery- He had quite a sendoff. A full band and caisson with horses (I have photographs of the funeral).
Besides the American anthem and his favorite hymns, they played the German national anthem.
It surprised some.
Because after all, Norman had fought the Germans in France and at Bastogne. He was at the liberation of Dachau. He saw the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime. But it didn’t surprise me. My uncle was a Germanophile despite everything.
And in his 30 plus years in the Department of Defense, he had many close friends in NATO and the Germany military. He was highly respected.
Norman was proud to have been an Allied soldier but he was proudest of all of being not a conqueror but a liberator, not an overlord but a friend.
Men like him made Germany an ally during the Cold War. Quite an accomplishment, really.
That really was the greatest generation.
It was an honor to have known such men. NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget.