The 1st of April 1945, a tragic Easter day

Since the beginning of the year 1945, the end of the war was only a matter of time. Despite all slogans of the Nazi-regime ‘to keep up’, the resistance at all fronts broke down. Almost daily allied bomber groups flew over our region on course to Middle Germany. In the first half of March, the western front approached the Rhine in a long front-line.

After the surprising capture of the Ludendorff-Bridge near Remagen ( 7th of March ), US-troops established a bridgehead at the eastern banks of the Rhine. On the 23rd and 24th of March , American, British and Canadian units crossed the Rhine near Wesel and Rees. Now it was clear that the allies intended to surround the Ruhr-District and cut off the Reich. On March 25th, American units left the Remagen bridgehead and moved to Merburg and later north in the direction of Paderborn.

Because of the military actions in the Paderborn-Warburg region to encircle the Ruhr-District and the later advance to the Weser River, our region was a combat area for some days. On Holy Thursday, the 25th March, canon fire of the approaching front was heard in the south, in the direction of Korbach and Arolsen. At this time all kinds of preparations were made in a hurry. Weapons, Nazi-ensigns, and food were buried in the ground and valuables were hidden in the basements.

In the mean time, fresh recruited members of the home guard troops had to build up a tank barricade in the Agissenstrasse, consisting of buried tree trunks between the houses of Fritz Emmerich and Fritz Grothe (today Felix Sievers). Trenches were dug at the entrance streets of the village.

Everyone hoped and prayed that the events to come would end well. The Americans had advanced from Remagen to our region within 4 to 5 days without facing any noteworthy resistance. Why should something happen here?

These hopes were strengthened when it was reported that our district town, Warburg, was occupied nearly without combat action on Holy Saturday. Therefore, the inhabitants prepared themselves for Easter, waiting for the events to come.

One thing was not known in the village. During the night, a company of Wehrmacht soldiers, equipped with infantry weapons, had taken the southern rim of the village. In the morning, at 7 o’clock, most of the people went to Easter mass which was celebrated, in spite of the events, by Dean Dewenter.

Meanwhile, American pilots in recon planes had noticed the defending positions in front of the village and the attack forces took preparations to start. You could see moving Amercan tanks and armored cars, using the country lane from Hohenwepel to Grosseneder, where a few houses were burning. Both villages were conquered relatively quickly without strong resistance.

A few minutes past 8 o’clock, the granary got the first hit. Restlessness arose in the church. Many attendants went home hastily. Dean Dewenter called for calm and prudence. He allowed the parishioners to leave the mass, but continued the service until he had finished it. The minute the attendants had left the church, it was under fire. The first shot passed over the church and hit Bangern Smithy. The second grenade hit the church and cracked a big hole in the chancel vault. More shots hit the building. Fortunately, the shelling didn’t start five minutes earlier. When the attackers had found the correct range, phosphor shells were shot. Some houses nearby the church caught fire. Seeing that, many people panicked and left the village on foot or horse wagons in the direction of Schoenthal and Soethe Muehle or tried to find cover in deep lying country lanes and railway undercrossings carrying their most important possessions. Most of the people stayed in their houses, but had often to leave them because the houses burned above their heads. That meant during the shelling they had to cross the streets to find cover anywhere and at the risk of one’s life to save out of the burning houses what was savable.

A grim fight was on. Till 11.30 o’clock, the American guns fired at the defending groups and into the village because the retiring German troops by now were fighting between the houses and didn’t give up terrain without resistance. Everywhere buildings were on fire. Roaring cattle could be heard, ownerless horses were running in the streets.

After a short pause – the Americans waited for a capitulation – the guns started to fire anew. Without cease, one shell after the other smashed into the village. Machine gun salvos lashed into the walls. That lasted till 13 o’clock. Now it was burning everywhere. American tanks entered the village from the south. Infantry men advanced fighting between gardens and houses. Meanwhile, the defenders had retired to the upper village beyond the railway track.

At that time, the elder Anton Goette took a white flag and went to the road to Grosseneder towards the approaching American tanks. After he had explained that the German troops had left the lower village and the Siekstrasse, the gunfire was stopped and the tanks moved into the village, one after the other.

The fighting in the upper village lasted till 15 o’clock. A German lieutenant, hidden in Ahrens’ house disabled an American tank, using a bazooka. Thereupon, the house was destroyed. Hermann Saken’s house and the garage of the Kornhaus, which was used as a prison camp for Russian prisoners of war, caught fire. Six POW lost their lives. The rest of the German soldiers broke away alongside the railway track in the direction to Borgentreich.

That was the end of the fight for Eissen. 14 German and 3 American soldiers died, 65 German soldiers were captured, and the number of wounded soldiers is not known.

By the way, on the same day the encircling of the Ruhr-District was completed, as the advancing troops, moving through the Eastern Sauerland, Nordborchen and Paderborn, met with Anglo-Canadians near Lippstadt.

It is remarkable that among the civilians there were no victims. Only the farmer Josef Wiener’s shoulder and Anneliese Sievers’ (No. 7) thigh were hit by shrapnel.

In the evening, many Eisseners were standing stunned in front of the ruins of their houses. The village had a ghastly look: dying fires, smoke and flying sparks everywhere with thundering break-downs of buildings and chimneys. 47 buildings were destroyed by fire. The other houses were more or less damaged. Almost no rain pipe or window was undamaged.

Our beautiful church was an image of devastation. It had taken a half a dozen shell-hits. The lead-glazed windows were shattered, the nice shingle-roof with its airy bays was nearly completely unroofed. Especially tragic was that one shell had hit the center of the chancel painting which showed ‘God Our Father’.

The granary, in which 18,000 hundredweight of grain were stored, was heavily damaged. The school and the pastor’s house were hit in each case by two grenades. 2 big flax-heaps at the Peckelsheimer Strasse, in which the complete harvest of the Warburg region was stored, burned down. 8 horses, 118 cattle and 52 pigs suffocated.

Nobody was able to get sleep that night. Homeless people and rescued cattle had to be housed by neighbors, friends and relatives. Everybody who still had an intact house became hosts for the homeless people. Moreover, evacuated people were left again with nothing and had to find a new place to stay. In some houses there were 20 people living under extreme sanitary conditions in small spaces, but the people had escaped with their lives on Easter day, April 1ST, 1945.

In 1970, the village councilors around Mayor Nutt decided to put a memorial stone on the Schmidt’schen property near the church with the inscription “Unser Dorf in Not, 1.April 1945” (engl. “Our village in poverty April 1ST, 1945.”

Translated by Josef Ludwig