“May he rot forever!”

Jewish Museum Berlin

A German-Jewish emigrant returns as a liberator in 1944/45

Around 30,000 German-Jewish emigrants returned to Germany during the Second World War as members of the Allied Forces. Among them was Werner T. Angress, who was born in Berlin in 1920.

Fleeing the Nazis
Werner T. Angress fled Germany for England in October 1937, at the age of 17, to join his parents and two brothers who were already in exile. In preparation for emigration, he had spent a year in Silesia at Groß Breesen, a non-Zionist agricultural training farm for Jewish youth. Five months later the whole family resettled in Amsterdam. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War “Töpper”, as Angress was known to his friends, left Europe and traveled alone to the USA.
The U.S. Army Paratrooper
When the USA entered the war in December 1941 Angress lost contact with his family in the meanwhile German-occupied Netherlands. By this time, he was a soldier in the U.S. Army. He had enlisted voluntarily. During his basic military training he acquired American citizenship. In January 1944 he and his unit were transferred to England. The Allied invasion was imminent.

Without ever having made a single practice jump, Werner T. Angress parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.

After the invasion he was engaged in active combat. On several occasions he only narrowly escaped his death.

Back in Germany
Seven years after his emigration Werner T. Angress finally found himself back on German soil—as a liberator.

In his frequent letters to the social pedagogue Curt Bondy—formerly the director of Groß Breesen, then living in exile in the USA—“Töpper” sketched in English his impressions of occupied Germany: “Bo,” he wrote, “if they erase Germany’s boundaries off the map nobody would be sorry here. This state, this nation has forfeited the right to exist.”
Angress also wrote how terribly worried he was that he might never again see his family alive.

In late April 1945 Angress and his comrades were headed northeast. On a country road in Mecklenburg they learned that Hitler was dead. To celebrate the news, they drank some brandy, which they had confiscated. Their toast was: “May he rot forever!”

The Wöbbelin Concentration Camp
Only a few hours after soldiers of his division discovered Wöbbelin concentration camp, near the town of Ludwigslust, Angress and two officers set off there. An odor of putrefaction hit them even before they entered the camp. The sight of piles of corpses and his encounter with surviving prisoners, who were reduced to skin and bone and seemed completely apathetic, deeply shocked Angress.

On 7 May 1945 between 150 and 200 deceased prisoners were given a formal burial in the grounds of Ludwigslust Palace. Some people of Ludwigslust had been made to dig the graves. The local population, including captured Wehrmacht officers, was required to file past the dead.

During the funeral Angress saw one of the German officers, now a prisoner of war, light a cigarette in an exaggerated show of indifference. He asked him to refrain from smoking. In reply he was told that he, a mere master sergeant, lacked the rank to give an officer orders. Angress drew his gun. The officer threw down his cigarette and stomped it out.

On this day, Angress had been a soldier with the U.S. Army for exactly four years.

Angress described the liberation of Wöbbelin and the funeral for the prisoners who had died there in another letter to his good friend Curt Bondy. He enclosed with the letter his report, which he hoped would be forwarded to all of his friends and acquaintances.
Bondy went a step further. In publishing an article in the local newspaper, the Richmond Times Dispatch of 4 June 1945, he made sure the news reached the general public.

Reunited After Almost Six Years
Shortly after the end of the war Angress traveled with a comrade to the newly liberated Netherlands, to look for his family in Amsterdam. It was on Mother’s Day 1945 that the 24-year-old found himself standing in front of the apartment at Cliostraat 39, where he had last seen his parents and brothers in October 1939. He learned that they had been living for a while on nearby Rubenstraat.

Being reunited with his mother Henny and his brothers Fritz and Hans was overwhelming. All three of them—separately from one another—had survived the Nazi dictatorship underground. His mother in particular was in a state of physical and nervous exhaustion.

Werner T. Angress’s hopes of being reunited also with his father were not fulfilled.
Ernst Angress had been arrested on 26 April 1941 and after an odyssey through various prisons in the Netherlands and the German Reich, was finally deported to Auschwitz on 29 November 1942.
There, he was murdered on 19 January 1943, at the age of 59.

Return to the USA
Werner T. Angress returned to the USA in August 1945, where he was released from the U.S. Army a few months later. He traveled immediately to Richmond. There, his former teacher Bondy gave him a warm welcome. Angress began a university degree course that same year and concluded his studies in 1953 with a PhD in History. He later became a Professor of Modern European and German History.

After his retirement Angress resettled in his birthplace, Berlin. He also returned several times to Wöbbelin and took part there in commemorations of the liberation of the camp in 1945.
Werner T. Angress died in 2010 at the age of 90.

Credits: Story

All documents and photographs:
Leo Baeck Institute (Archives, Jewish Museum Berlin), Werner Tom Angress Collection

Text and exhibit selection: Jörg Waßmer

Editor: Henriette Kolb, assistance: Lisa Schank
Translation: Jill Denton, Michael Ebmeyer
Proofreading: Julia Bosson
Photo reproduction: Jens Ziehe

Literature:
Werner T. Angress,... immer etwas abseits. Jugenderinnerungen eines jüdischen Berliners 1920–1945, Berlin, 2005.

We would like to express our gratitude to the donor, Werner T. Angress.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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