In Chicago, A Fish Out of Water
June 26, 1954, was one of those “I remember where I was” moments for me. It was the day the German submarine U-505 arrived in Chicago on the way to its berth at the Museum of Science and Industry (“Time Travel,” May 2009).
A typical third grader, I had started the summer with high expectations. Unfortunately I soon managed to stumble into a patch of poison ivy, and on June 26 I was a very sad and itchy eight-year-old. It was one of the worst cases I ever had: eyes swollen shut, I was unable to leave the house, let alone meet any of my expectations for summer vacation. And so that afternoon I found myself ensconced in the back seat of my parents’ 1950 Oldsmobile, feeling miserable as we cruised down Lake Shore Drive toward the office of a doctor who specialized in such pitiable things. As we passed the boathouse at North Avenue Beach my dad said, “Look at that. Is that a submarine?” Even with my eyes fused shut it was too much to resist. Teeth clenched, I forced my eyes open…and there it was, the U-505. And it was awesome.
I immediately knew it was a German sub and not one of ours. I could spot an enemy plane, tank, or boat the way other kids knew pitchers and designated hitters. For me, the U-505 was the very essence of the evil empire that had killed so many members of our family in Poland. The fact that it had an American flag flying from its mast was proof that good could overcome evil, no matter how powerful.
Forgotten was any thought of my misery. “Wait!” I shouted. “It’s a German sub. We have to stop and get a better look.” Well, my father slowed a bit, but he would not stop. As I look back on it I think he had decided that he would not allow Germany to impose on our lives any longer, much less keep us from a doctor’s appointment.
I had to wait until late September for the exhibit to open, but open it did, and soon after we took the tour. Ever since, whenever I get into an old elevator, I can recall the oily smell of that old boat that used to sit next to the museum.
SANTA CRUZ, CALIF.
Fifty-five years ago, as a 13-year-old boy, I remember riding my bike downtown from Chicago’s North Side to see the U-505 as they towed her up the Chicago River and docked her just east of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The boat was kept there on display for several days; then it was towed back down the river to Lake Michigan and south to 57th Street, just offshore of the Museum of Science and Industry.
A cradle was fabricated, and rails were laid from the water to the east side of the museum. The submarine was moved during the wee hours of the morning, as it had to cross South Lake Shore Drive, a major vehicular artery.
FRED J. WITTENBERG
Your recent article about the German sub on display in Chicago prompts a footnote: another German sub, the UC-97, was on display there after World War I. Its showtime life was short. Disarmament treaties limited the number of iron bot toms the navy could have, and the sub counted as one, like it or not. Naturally it was expendable.
The boat was taken out into Lake Michigan and sunk by the USS Wilmette in 1921 during naval reserve gunnery drills. In 1992 it was discovered 300 feet down by Taras Lyssenko, the salvager who recovered 31 World War II–era planes at the bottom of the same lake. The number on the conning tower was still visible and duckboards on the deck were still in place.
DANIEL P. MCCARTHY
The Nazis’ Nest with a View
The story of three U.S. Army officers successfully stealing the Hesse crown jewels (“Soldiers of Fortune,” May 2009) reminded me of the constant battle in Bavaria during the same period to safe guard valuable personal property of titled or wealthy German families. I was chief of civil-military relations in the Office of the High Commissioner for Germany.
Our responsibility was to track down valuable German property “liberated” by members of the armed forces. Batting score on jewelry was low but much better on works of art and antiques of all kinds. Sometimes there were special problems to consider, one of which was whether to blow up Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. The Germans used slave labor to accomplish a seemingly impossible engineering project. They drilled through solid rock to accommodate a mirrored elevator that carried favored guests to what truly is an eagle’s nest high on a mountain ridge above the city. Our recommendation was to raze the SS bar racks at the base of the mountain and turn the area into a park. This was accepted, and thousands have since visited this unique residence.
WILLIAM B. HUSSEY
Has Germany Come Clean?
I10-volume German history book (“The am upset with the recent article on the Third Reich From the Inside Out,” May 2009) because you seem to think the Germans have finally come clean about what happened in the European theater. I have not read the 12,000 pages, but I am guessing they did not even come close to the truth. I am guessing they left out the part where they tried to exterminate entire populations using the most brutal means available. I am guessing they left out the part where they murdered innocent children, women, the elderly, mentally ill, and even decorated World War I veterans. I am sure they left out these trivial details.
I am sorry for being so blunt in this letter. I am just tired of people trying to rewrite history the way they see it.
CRAIG M. CHRISTON
Author Dennis Showalter replies: It is certainly a reader’s right to challenge the nature of the presentation. It is, however, unnecessary to guess about its contents. The review includes several specific references to volumes in the series that present the Reich’s atrocities in con text and in detail. These are available for purchase, or on interlibrary loan.
May I take the liberty as well of recommending War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, edited by Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann. This translation of an anthology originally published in German is a comprehensive overview of the Wehrmacht’s crimes and atrocities—and, at 400 pages, less formidable than the MGFA’s work.
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.