Deep inside the dying Third Reich, Pfc. Sigmund W. Shurskis managed to find time to write a lengthy letter to a friend in his hometown of Williamstown, Pennsylvania. On April 24, 1945, “Jim,” as friends and family called him, sent off his letter from Hersfeld, in American-occupied Germany. As he wrote, Allied forces closed in on the heartland of Hitler’s dwindling empire – within a week, the man who once controlled most of Europe would be dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The letter provides a soldier’s perspective of the horrors witnessed as Americans rolled into Germany in the spring of 1945. Shurskis muses over Nazi atrocities and lays out his anger at German civilians he viewed as complicit in the crimes. “You can have no pity for these people for those acts were committed by their own kinds,” he wrote.
The 25-year-old Army technician from Pennsylvania’s Coal Region also described the masses of refugees beginning their treks home after years of terror and war. “Yes, they are happy,” Shurskis mused, “they can laugh and sing now for they know that they no longer need to fear the Nazi…”
His letter made its way from Oscar Moffett to the editor of the Williamstown Times where it was published on May 18, 1945. The complete letter can be read below courtesy of the Williamstown Historical Society:
Letters from Men in the Service
The following interesting letter received by Mr. Oscar Moffett from Pfc. S.W. Shurskis, was passed on to the editor for publication.
hreishous, 24 April, 1945
Dear Oscar: –
Just a few lines to say hello. Hope you are fine, and to thank you for the copy of the “Times.” I received it several days ago, so it made fairly good time in reaching me considering the delays it must have gone through. Since I’m never in one place for a very long period of time the mail is slowed up considerably.
How is everything back in old “Billtown” now[?] Hope everything is rolling along smoothly at school for you. Before long now will be over for the year and you will be able to take a much needed rest. My regards to all of my old acquaintances back there.
Everything is fine with me. I’m in the best of health and in good spirits. As you can see from the newspapers back there this part of the war is rolling along quite rapidly. We are all hoping it ends soon. From all indications “Jerry” is rapidly being beaten (but good). Doesn’t seem possible that he can continue to put up an organized resistance much longer, but until the last shot is fired we must never forget that some American boy may still be dying, or suffering. I hope the people back there don’t start letting up now that things are progressing so favorably.
The Germans are ruthless, cunning, treacherous. After seeing some of the horrible atrocities they have committed against the poor, unfortunate people of other nations, acts which are impossible to conceive, or realize fully unless you see them yourself, the less I like the Germans, the less I pity them.
The stark truth, the undeniable evidence of these atrocities remain and seeing them you realize how fanatical, how heartless and inhumane the Nazi Regime is and you can have no pity for these people for those acts were committed by their own kinds, in many cases by their own flesh and blood. Even when at times it is necessary to move them from their homes to make billets for ourselves I can’t feel sorry knowing that it is their homes we are putting them out of. They did the same to the poor unfortunate peoples all over Europe when things were going all their way. Hitler was a great guy then and they were happy, greedy, and craving for power. It was so right then, they were the superior race, it was meant to be so; now Hitler is no good and they cry when they must leave their homes for a short time. I personally think we are being too lenient with them.
One has a mixed feeling over here at times. You see the Germans and their baleful stares, and know that they hate you and your being here. On the other hand, you see the liberated people, the misplaced persons of all nations steaming along the roads pushing their wheelbarrows, or truddling their makeshift carts, or carrying their scanty belongings on their back. They smile and wave at us and in their eyes you see how happy they are to see you. You see the sincere gratitude of their hearts written there. They trudge along day after day, the old and the young in an endless stream all heading for one place – home – no matter how far or how near it may be; no matter if they find it a bomb wrecked rubble or a still solid house – they are going HOME.
Yes, they are happy, they can laugh and sing now for they know that they no longer need to fear the Nazi, no longer fear a prison, a concentration camp, or a bullet if they smile and talk, they can live as God intended man to live, dominated by no human, guided by their own conscience, their knowledge of right and wrong, their belief in their Divine Creator.
Seeing those people makes our heart beats quicken, makes us feel ever so glad that we have been able to help them and aid place to live in once again; make in making this old world a decent place to live in once again; makes us proud of the fact we are Americans, and makes us forever indebted and eternally grateful to those who have died in making this so. We hope that it shall never be in vain that those boys died, and we pray and hope that the men who are entrusted with the enacting of a permanent peace shall be equal to their task. Now it’s back to work for me. Sorry, but “business before everything.” Write whenever you can, it’s always great hearing from you. For now it’s so long and the best of everything to you and yours,
Pfc. Shurskis returned home to Pennsylvania in March 1946.
Featured Photo: An American GI looking at sign and the burned hulk of a German panzer in Cologne, Germany in April 1945.
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