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German Youth Activities (GYA) Augsburg

 

What is the victor of a war and occupier of a defeated state going to do with a once dictatorial state that had declared war on him, and which he had bombed into oblivion and then brought under his power by occupation with his forces… Revenge? Retribution? Agrarianize the economy (Morgenthau Plan)? Negligence? Punishment? Political adsorption? About this range historians later published various analyses, and, depending on their political orientation, weighted up differently.

The local situation existed as predetermined: The victorious powers acted depending on their special interests, foreseeing the political development. The threatening expansion of the communist hemisphere caused the American government and their forces to establish barriers against the East. At the same time, Germany was not allowed to reconsider NS ways of thinking. The country was at shambles, poverty and hunger were dominating everyday life, men were a rare commodity, women were without any perspective and, after annulment of the fraternization ban in October 1945, in the natural interest of the American soldiers. Also, there was a host of kids, mostly fatherless, often orphans, and without support and orientation in a defeated country. Should the youth of this country which had caused the war left their own devices? Was reeducation the right means to save Germany’s youth from another nationalistic drifting off? So far, they had known only a totalitarian dictatorship, war, and the tempting “Führer state”.

Schools were closed, youth organizations prohibited because of their NS-past. The very first ‘weapons’ of reconciliation with the kids of the enemy were not difficult to handle by the American soldiers: these were casual friendliness, chewing gum and chocolate. And the hitherto unknown black skinned men were especially excelling here. Cigarettes became a substitute currency. Oh my God, all of a sudden everything was different now!

As early as in September 1945, the 7th U.S. Army and the Military Government considered an organized youth support, later known as German Youth Activities, GYA. This was taking on concrete shape in the spring of 1946. Was it possible to help German kids as well as to give the soldiers a meaningful and satisfying task? How could fun, education, sports and a positive picture of America be combined in a historically singular transfer? At the same time, subject soldiers should be kept from German women and alcohol in the notorious clubs, and transferred to a meaningful occupation with children. Because these were, out of necessity, playing in the ruins of the air raids ad often exposed to the dangerous practices of post-war life. They were even set up to black market activities.

 

U.S. soldier at the gate of the GYA center Remboldstraße, view at Schwibbogenplatz, direction Vogeltor (May 1954). The diamond shaped symbol on the left of the welcome sign is the “Red Diamond” insignia of the 5th Infantry Division. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).

 

       All over the American zone, signs of a new age were installed. (Photo: U.S. Army, screenshot).

 

By the mid 1950s, the U.S. Army had developed a diverse program for boys and girls of various classes. Gender specific inclinations were taken into consideration accordingly: sports and handicrafts for the boys, handiwork and typing for the girls. In 1949 existed about 100 structured youth groups of all kinds. Every week, up to 1000 kids were guests. To keep up with the restricted mobility of the population, a mobile youth library drove to the outer city districts. For sure It was calculated by the occupying troops that American type sports like basketball or baseball especially enthralled the hearts of the boys. Of course, soccer was also played – everything under the supervision of soldiers and by the rules of fair play.

Further activities were film evenings, dancing and theater, but also singing, music,photography and reading. On Thanksgiving and St. Nick’s day there were events for Augsburg’s orphans. The GYA kids engaged themselves also charitably in hospitals and refugee camps. There were Public performances, ski camps, journeys to the Ammersee, or camps in the court of the GYA juvenile home at Remboldstraß. The variety of activities was remarkable wide.


 

                             Post war era boys learning fretwork. (Photo: U.S. Army, screenshot).

 

 

 LTC Vincent J. Conrad, GYA youth officer Swabia until May 1949, and a great friend of the German youth. His grandparents were from Germany. His motto: “Everything for the betterment of the German Youth“. After 30 years of service, he retired to his Californian home. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).

 

At Pentecost 1949, a big GYA inter-school competition took place at the TSG sports field at Stätzlinger Straße. Far right two U.S. Army service members. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).


Boys on Easter nest hunt at Augsburg’s Siebentischwald, South of Spickel in 1950. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).


Augsburg girls dancing Rheinländer at an evening camp of the Füssen GYA,1951. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).


The GYA-movement was the origin of long lasting youth friendships. Here are two Augsburg pupils in an Oberjoch ski camp, January 1952. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).


Girls of the dance group Ehrensberger are travelling to Frankfurt/Main on November 26, 1949. There, they are representing with an U.S. truck decorated in the colors of their home town Augsburg. The reason was the “Vittles Bowl” EC football classic parade. (Photo: Isolde Ehrensberger estate).

 

   43rd Infantry Division’s Brigadier General Gailey visiting at Augsburg GYA center’s puppet theater.

 

During a Christmas celebration at the Garrett Theater, the GYA dance group performed a ballet for 600 American dependent children; one week later, on December 19, 1952, the performance was repeated for 800 German school children.


Two German kids present a St. Nikolaus switch to Major General Partridge of the 5th Infantry Division (1954).

 

 

The GYA-Center was established in a splendid former director’s villa of Spinnerei- and Weberei (spinning and weaving mill) Sparrenlech at Remboldstraße 1. At the beginning, it was under the stewardship of Mrs. Clinton A. Pierce, the wife of Augsburg’s Commanding General. On May 4, 1949 the American philanthropist and benefactress Catherine Filene Shouse visited at the GYA center. She was the second wife of the American publisher, lawyer and politician Jouett Shouse from Kentucky. Mrs. Shouse already had donated thousands of CARE-packages in the American Zone of Germany. During a further tour through German GYA centers at the end of 1953/beginning of 1954, she especially attended the Augsburg GYA activities. A further GYA was at Gögginger Straße 72 and 74, opposite Renk company. That center was supported by the 109th Infantry Regiment in 1953, while the 43rd Infantry Division supported the center at Remboldstraße. Then it was sponsored by the 5th Infantry Division. Until May 1949, LTC Victor J. Conrad was the managing GYA officer, his successor was CPT Robert W. Wardrop. In February 1949, CPT Joyce Burton became deputy youth officer.

The then lord mayor Dr. Klaus Müller and his wife Anni always emphasized their commitment for the GYA work. The Women’s Army Corps and the director of the Military Government, Mr. Donald S. Root were also committed to youth welfare work. The program extended to the Amerika Haus at Prinzregentenstraße, which was officially opened on December 14, 1948. As early as in January of the same year, the first children’s reading hour was held at the old Amerika Haus at Schmiedberg (American Library). Already in 1946, children of Displaced Persons (DPs) were involved in the GYA and experienced American Christmas celebrations.

 

GYA Center, January 1954: Catherine Filene Shouse (left) talking with members of the 43rd Infantry Division. In the middle: Major General Charles K. Gailey. (Photo: Schlesinger Library).

 

GYA Center, January 1954: Catherine Filene Shouse (left) listening to Augsburg children during a Christmas singing in English. (Photo: Schlesinger Library).

 

The Augsburger Hans-Günther Diebener was a registered reader at the American Library of the Amerika-Haus already at the age of ten. He also took English courses there. At Christmas, little Singspiele were performed here, to which the parents were invited. As a member of the Albert-Greiner-Singschule, he was once allowed to participate with other kids in an American Christmas celebration at the ‘Ludwigsbau’ near the Gögginger Brücke. There, they sung German as well as American Christmas carols, and were given presents (by, cite, “well-dressed American ladies”). After the closure of the GYA center at Remboldstraße, the youth moved to the juvenile home at Kanalstraße 15 in the Bleich district. The local schoolboy band became the “Canal Street Tooters” soon after.

 

          Singspiel at the Amerika Haus in front of the kids’ parents. (Photo: Hans Günter Diebener).


Soap Box Derbies

Between 1949 and 1957, the annual Soap Box Derbies were a highlight of the GYA program. This spectacle was hitherto unknown in Germany and became an American export hit in the big U.S. Army garrison cities. Up to 20,000 spectators lined the sloping curbs at Augsburg’s Pfannenstiel as well as later at the Rosenaustadion. The meagre post-war culture lured the citizens, up front the 10-15-year-old boys, to eagerly attend the American Soap Box Derby fun. Still in 1964, the newly elected Lord Mayor Wolfgang Pepper started a derby at the Rosenaustadion. The GYA had then already been out of existence for a long time.

The idea to alter transportation boxes of soap packages into racing cars appropriate for children had been developed by an US company in the thirties and came across the Atlantic as a peaceful consequence of the war. Sponsorship in Germany was taken over by the Adam Opel AG, a daughter of America’s General Motors. The company even manufactured special kits for it. In the garrisons, the derbies were under the patronage of the local units. In Augsburg these were the Constabulary, the 43rd and the 5th Infantry Division, and finally the 11th Airborne Division. Already in 1949, 15,000 children participated in more than 500 derbies (including the U.S. sector of Berlin). German Championships took place at Munich’s Theresienwiese. There, the winners gained a two-week journey to the States, where they and their fathers could watch the highlight of the derby world, the big All American Soap Box Derby in Akron/Ohio.

The winners were awarded a big laurel wreaths and a bicycle, while the other participants received games and sports articles. The Community Commander as well as the Lord Mayor (at the beginning Dr. Klaus Müller) were present at the presentation ceremonies. This was the very proof of the friendship between the occupying forces and the occupied.

The GYA era lasted only a very short period in comparison to the more than fifty years of U.S. Forces presence. That is just why it acquired a not insignificant importance in the interaction of the population and the, then, occupying forces. The remaining traces lasted much longer than the age of a human. The later American counterpart was the American Youth Activity (AYA) with a common German-American youth program.

 

                      1955 The upper launching ramp at Pfannenstiel. (U.S. Army Photo by Pasca).


In 1957, the 11th Airborne Division is organizing the Soap Box Derby at the Rosenaustadion. An Augsburg policeman is holding the megaphone for an announcement by a parachutist. (Photo: Big Pictures, Screenshot).

 

The parachutists of the 11th are cheering their Augsburg protégés on winning. (Photo: Big Pictures, Screenshot).


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