As I was first organizing the President’s Collection, I happened upon a bound book title European Diary. Intrigued, I opened it to find a 1949 letter from a Lieutenant Colonel to the University of Maryland’s President Harry Byrd praising Dr. Ray Ehrensberger, head of the Speech department at the time, who he worked with extensively at the Pentagon. The letter was followed by a short 1950 letter, addressed to Dr. Ehrensberger appointing him the University of Maryland’s Director of the European program of the College of Special and Continuation Studies, and two articles about Dr. Ehrensberger’s work in Europe. Finally, the rest of the book is made of diary entries beginning February 20, 1950, and ending September 8, 1950, written by the man himself, Dr. Ray Ehrensberger. Dr. Ehrensberger would go on to become the University’s Chancellor, in his post from 1970 to 1975 But this diary depicts the first few months Ehrensberger spent in the European program. Over a few weeks as I read through the diary, I learned about Dr. Ehrensberger, his travels, and his extensive work establishing the University in post-war Europe. Over the next few blog posts, I will document some of the more interesting stories Dr. Ehrensberger shared in his European Diary.
His story, well detailed, begins on a very cold morning in which Dr. Ehrensberger is traveling from Washington to Frankfurt, Germany. The trip is several days long, bitterly brisk, but highlighted by several moments in which soldiers praised the University of Maryland’s programs with servicemen abroad. Upon arriving in Germany, he travels across Eastern Germany. He weaves stories of traveling the Autobahn, leading a German band in a Sousa march, and drinking good Bavarian beer. To me, though, the most interesting thing he narrates is the state of post-war Germany. He notes that Darmstadt is one of the most destroyed cities in Germany:
It is a rather large place and was destroyed in one air raid by the British which lasted for 45 minutes. It is estimated that 45,000 people were killed in 45 minutes and over 80 percent of the city is completely burned out. The raid was in retaliation to the killing of two British aviators that had parachuted down. The British came over and dropped notes telling them to observe the rules of war, but the burgomaster took the two aviators in a public square and shot them. A few days later the British came over and dropped fire bombs which burned out the town. I was told by people who survived the raid that you could not walk in the streets for three days afterwards due to the fact that the asphalt was still boiling. You can drive for blocks even today in Darmstadt and not see a single whole building, just shells everywhere.
As a daughter of a Veteran myself, I lived 4 years in Germany and have traveled through Darmstadt, as well as the other towns he mentions, like Garmisch, and Heidelberg. These towns I know are fully intact, restored, and distinctly German (I.e. a lot of brick and stone featuring some wondrous street markets, particularly in the Winter), so hearing Dr. Ehrensberger’s entries regarding these towns so shortly after WWII is starkly different than my own lived experiences in Germany. He also details how quickly the Germans worked to rebuild their towns, beginning with cultural buildings like churches and theaters that were damaged.