Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War
by Lothrop Stoddard
Chapter 23: Out of the Shadow
Returning from wartime Europe to America is a journey from darkness into light. Not until the wartorn Old World has sunk well below the ocean’s horizon do you breathe freely once more.
I came out of Europe the way I went in via the Brenner Pass and Italy. It was essentially the reverse process to my entrance four months previous. The great difference was that, instead of midautumn, it was now the coldest winter in many years. I left Berlin on an evening of Arctic chill. The record cold wave was at its height. Frozen switches, iced signals, clogged steampipes, and a defective electric generator so disrupted the schedule of the usually smooth running Berlin Rome Express that the trip was marked by extreme discomfort and interminable delay.
Once over the Brenner, things went better. The great cold was left behind the mighty barrier of the Alps; so was the worst of that grim atmosphere of war whose depressing influence you do not fully realize until it no longer envelops you. When I finally stepped from my train at Genoa, my port of embarkation, I was greeted by a mild sea breeze. The salty tang of it was a foretaste of my ocean path towards home.
Genoa is the port of embarkation now for nearly all Americans returning homeward. Our neutrality law forbids American ships from touching at French or British ports, so Northern Italy is the nearest neutral exit from both Western and Central Europe. Accordingly, the United States Lines has instituted a regular service between Genoa and New York, and when I embarked on the Washington I found myself among compatriots who had been sojourning all the way from Britain to Russia and the Balkans.
This gave me a fine chance to compare notes with fellow Americans from many European lands, especially from England and France, about which countries I was most curious. The resident in wartime Germany is hermetically sealed from contacts across the battlelines. So rigid is the veil of censorship that, in Germany, one gets only a vague and obviously distorted idea of the “other side.” Now, for the first time, I could discover how Englishmen and Frenchmen were talking and feeling. And I learned this, not from foreign propagandists, but from my own people.
Aboard the Washington every aspect of material living was balm to my strictly rationed self, from the superabundant food to cherished trifles like finding miniature cakes of soap in my bathroom and being handed paper clips of matches with each purchase of cigarettes. There are so many genial aspects of American life which we thoughtlessly take for granted until we are suddenly deprived of them and are plunged into alien surroundings where we have to fuss and plan and almost fight to get the bare necessities of existence. Even more deeply satisfying is the sense that you are among your own kind who are not worried and harassed and ulcerated by nationalistic hatreds. Yes, it was great to be in the American atmosphere once more.