In late August 1944, Company C of the Medical Gas Treatment Batallion and the 8th Field Hospital of the United States Army were in Northern France. The fighting had diminished in Brittany and the frontline began to move east. While awaiting their orders, some Company C medical officers took a few days off and visited newly-liberated Mont Saint Michel. My father was among them.
The strange, sometimes inaccessible little island, which had been a strategic fortification for hundreds of years, owed its safety to extreme tides. At low tide, pilgrims had walked 600 meters out from the coast amid the constant danger of quicksand. High tide could drown or strand assailants. For 1,200 years, the island successfully resisted threats of occupation. Until the Nazis besieged it.
As the American officers explored the island's ramparts, the French Second Armored Division was battling the Nazis for Paris. On August 25, the French liberated the City of Light.
Company C was ordered to join the Headquarters Detachment of the Batallion at Le Bourget Airport just north of Paris, 322 kilometers away. Cheering Frenchmen welcomed Company C when it arrived. Despite enemy robot bombs and fields thick with mud, Company C set up a tent hospital. It was ready to receive patients on September 5. The 8th Field Hospital staff arrived on September 7.
Soon the casualties became too numerous for Company C to handle, so the Batallion's four other companies joined it. Furthermore, the wounds soldiers endured were more severe than in Normandy and required a great deal of surgery, so more surgical teams were called in. Doctors in two tented operating rooms performed surgeries around the clock. The units evacuated 2,424 wounded to the United Kingdom, 1,303 wounded to General Hospitals in the immediate zone, and 550 patients to General Hospitals in and around Paris.
By mid-September, the Companies needed rest and everyone got passes to Paris even though the city was still off-limits to most G.I.s. My father was twice blessed; the Army offered every Jewish officer and G.I. a three-day furlough so that they could attend Rosh Hashanah services on Sunday, September 17. It was the first Rosh Hashanah to be openly celebrated after four years of the German occupation.
My father probably attended services at the Grand Synagogue, also known as the Rothschild Synagogue and the largest Jewish house of worship in France. About 100 Jews of all ages gathered outside as trucks of Jewish soldiers arrived from all over France. The congregants cheered wildly and greeted the men with tears, hugs, and kisses. An elderly woman grabbed the hand of a G.I. while reaching with her other hand into her jacket pocket. She withdrew a yellow star, ripped it up, and said in Yiddish, "Das iz vos ir hot getan far aundz! (This is what you have done for us!)" Tears ran down the G.I.'s face. No doubt my father's eyes would have welled up, too, and he would have thought of his parents and brother, who he had last seen five years ago when he left Lwów.
Fatigued from living in tents and tending the wounded for months, my father spent the next two days in Paris relaxing in cafés, meeting women, and going to the opera. What jubilation to be in this city again, not as the fugitive he had been in March, 1939, but as an American.