KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A century-old farmhouse nestled along Germany’s border with Belgium has revealed several surprises during a major renovation, including a piece of American World War II history.
By August, Franziska and Niko Foerster had nearly gutted another room of their newly purchased 18th-century half-timbered house in the town of Rohren to install modern plumbing and heating. Looking between the old wooden beams, they noticed a ball of crumpled newspaper covered in debris.
Shaking off the dust, Niko delicately smoothed the frayed edges of the paper and revealed an edition of Stars and Stripes, dated Saturday February 3, 1945.
“We saw that it was an American newspaper and we were absolutely amazed,” said Franziska Foerster. “It was so unusual and unexpected.”
The headline of the banner tells of the Russian infantry assaults on the Oder, east of Berlin. Other parts of the homepage show images of a ‘Buzz-Bomb’ rocket test by the Air Force, updates on missing Canadian soldiers and exchange rates in France. .
A small language section shared a few phrases, such as “Where are the weapons hidden? and “I want to get my hair cut”, in French and German to allow GIs rudimentary communication in occupied areas.
“The notes even include aspects of our local dialect, which I think is quite amusing,” Franziska Foerster said.
The Foersters said surviving footage shows the town was nearly flattened by the end of World War II.
The edition found by the Foersters was printed in Liège, Belgium, about an hour’s drive from Rohren in Germany’s Eifel region.
However, it is unclear how the military newspaper ended up in the old house.
While Rohren was traditionally a sleepy hamlet, the freezing autumn and winter days of 1944 and 1945 were turbulent.
A final German offensive in December 1944 attempted to retake the occupied zone from the Americans. The heavy fighting left its mark on the Foersters’ home.
“We found pomegranate fragments during all phases of construction, embedded in all kinds of beams in the house,” Franziska Foerster said. “So we knew it must have been pretty scary during the war here.”
The few remaining residents ignored an evacuation order and remained in forest camps, seeking refuge in makeshift huts in the hills surrounding the town, according to the Monschauer Country Historical Society.
Whoever carried the newspaper into town was probably a member of the 9th Infantry Division of the 1st Army, which broke through the Monschau area in 1944.
Stars and Stripes reporter Russell Jones, who was attached to the unit, reported Rohren’s capture on February 1, 1945, just before the Foerster family found edition was published.
Few witnesses remain, Foerster said, except for a neighbor who was born in the house but has little recollection of his early childhood.
For Franziska Foerster, the diary tells a bit more of the story.
“You feel the house has a story,” she said. “The atmosphere is part of the reason we bought it. But when you learn more about what it was like here during the war, it takes on a different meaning.
Franziska Foerster said she secured the fragile pages between two sheets of acrylic glass to prevent the brittle paper from collapsing. It now hangs near its original location.
“This discovery is really fascinating,” she said. “It makes the history of the city almost comprehensible. It really belongs in the house.
To search for historic editions of the Stars and Stripes newspaper, visit online archives.
Stars and Stripes archivist Kat Giordano contributed to this report.