Been reading up on POWs during WWI and I came across the memoir of James Gerard, the US ambassador to Germany at the outbreak of the war, who pioneered the inspection of POW camps in Germany. I was fascinated by his description of the evacuation of American citizens from Germany after the start of the war, via special trains to Holland, steerage passages purchased in bulk by the US Embassy, emergency passports, and American Express traveller’s cheques (oh, sorry, traveler’s checks) cashed by special arrangement with German banks. The large part of the work went on in the ballroom of the US embassy in Berlin, administered by a hastily formed relief committee officials’ wives.
After the initial rush, the largest headache for the US ambassador was the amount of American luggage left behind, and those citizens who were reluctant to leave Germany. As he observed, “Few of them were business people; there were many song-birds, piano players, and students.”
This all brings to mind a famous incident in my own family lore. My great-grandfather, Justin Bryan Call, was in Germany serving a mission for the LDS church when the war broke out. According to my mother’s version (true or untrue?), after he heard the news, he headed to the local mission office only to find it closed. He managed to escape by the skin of his teeth (only to end up back at the Western front in 1918 – but that’s another story). I imagine he was one of the “song-birds” pestering the US ambassador after the bulk of Americans had made their escape.