Letter from Katherine Fite to Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Fite, December 28, 1945. K. Lincoln Papers, War Crimes File. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library)
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Paris, Friday, Dec. 28.Dearest Mother and Daddy,
Can't tell whether this letter or myself will reach you first. But it is along time since I wrote. I have spent a large part of my time in Paris arranging for homecoming - and today heard that I have a place on the Vulcania sailing from Le Havre on Monday. That means I am coming via State Dept. - not War Dept. The Embassy, I think, would have preferred to have me travel on army orders and army boats - less trouble for them. But I dreaded coming on a troop ship - probably waiting 48 hours or more in Le Havre - then coming on a Liberty Ship - crowded. And being pushed around as a civilian by the army. But with the State Dept. travel orders, the Embassy really had no choice and I think gave me a good priority in the end - since the Vulcania was supposed to be all booked. The U.S. Lines apparently get a ship about every week - what the army chooses to give them and the Vulcania is a prize - and will accommodate more women whom they apparently have difficulty in moving. So I am enormously relieved.
The trip here was something - 29 hours on a "leave train". We were told we had reserved space, which proved to be wooden benches in a third class coach - no lights. We left at midnight - slept as best we could on the wooden seats and were routed out at 4:30 a.m. in Augsburg and told to austiegen from our car and umstiegen into another - our car was kaput. There was no place to umstiegen - everything was full. First we landed in a baggage compartment back of the coal car - then I landed in a "female compartment" - a heaven - of upholstered seats and a seat to myself. Had 3 heavy bags to move so was dependent on outside help.
All next day through lovely German country - rolling hills - toy villages - then mountains by a plain, the Black Forest, I think. Lunch, first meal, at Carlsruhe where the army piled us standing into trucks and took us to the Red Cross. Train was full of 157 nurses going home - other people male and female en route to leave in Switzerland via Strasbourg - or leave in Paris. I picked up a Polish girl en route to Paris hoping to meet her husband, a London Pole who doesn't dare come home to Poland whom she hadn't seen for 6 1/2 years. "There is no 'friede' in Poland" she said.
In the French zone saw lots of Arab horses and white turbans. Supper a la GI out in the middle of nowhere - just piled out of the train and grabbed a tray (dipping it into a barrel of water) and going through a chow line in a shed. But the food was good cold turkey - creamed potatoes - canned grapefruit. Then we washed our tray again. Arrived in Paris at 5:15. Three of us paid a porter 4 packs of cigarettes (we had no money to bring us across town through the metro to the billeting office. Fresh grapefruit for breakfast and then to bed. Moved the next day to a better hotel where I have a private bath. The hotels are heated - which seems selfish - the French have so little heat. And so little power. Lights off a great deal and the minute the theater is over or the shop closes.
Xmas Eve we tried to get into the Madeleine, but we had no tickets and it was "complete". We wanted to go to Notre Dame but it would have been too long a walk home - the metro stops at 12. So we went to a dance at the George V. Hotel and drank champagne. A strange Xmas Eve.
Xmas day I went out to the Chalufours. Partly pleasant, partly not - as one of the sisters and a guest who came in, in the afternoon were so bitterly anti-American. It was uncomfortable. But there was a lovely, very, very old priest there who was so thrilled because the College of Cardinals is no longer Italian and who does like Americans. Andre and family were not there. They gave me Cecile Thureau-d'Angin's address but I have not looked her up. Everyone i.e. Americans, is conscious of the bitterness, the edginess and the self-pity of the French. To go back to the Chalufours - their house was freezing - just a little stove in the living room. And one brother was sick in bed getting pneumonia in a cold room. He looked so sad. I took them PX candy and soap. They had lamb for dinner which Olive assured me had come from the country. I took more freely of the cabbage and potatoes - home grown. Late in the afternoon we had tea and bread and butter sandwiches and fruit cake and you couldn't refuse.
Wednesday came the devaluation and we are left without money - unless we wish to lose more than half. Military personnel, including their civilians had to turn it in that day - and I stood in line 2 1/4 hours doing it. At that I should be grateful to the army for absorbing the difference. I turned in $80 which means a savings of almost $50. Have a receipt.
Paris sad - no food - no sidewalk cafes. Goods in the stores are lousy and frightfully high. Good-looking sweaters around $80.
Military personnel eat in American messes. For that I have to wear my uniform. But again I'm lucky.
Went to the Louvre today. Jammed with people. And heated. Suppose that protects the pictures.
Wed. night I saw life as it is supposed to be in Paris, i.e. naked women at the casino, lots and lots of naked women and such a respectable bourgeois audience with a number of children there.
Tomorrow night to the opera Comique.
Getting around is done by metro. I don't believe there are any taxis. There are some hacks with tubercular horses.
Europe is a sad worn out continent. I'm glad to leave. The U.S. is sitting atop the world. I have been reading Time - European edition - this evening - and I realize how remote and exuberant and luxurious the U.S. is going to seem. We have to run the world - but the vast majority have no idea what the rest of the world is like. And how can equilibrium be maintained between wealth and energy on the one hand and poverty and exhaustion on the other?
Much, much love,