Stumbling on a long-ago photo, I saw an America that no longer exists
This past Memorial Day, I happened upon a large batch of photographs from World War II posted on The Atlantic website. There were hundreds in various categories with titles like “Pearl Harbor,” “The Allied Invasion of Europe” and “The Fall of Imperial Japan.”
Among some of the famous images of the war were many I hadn’t seen before. These were not the iconic photographs that appeared in Life magazine or in newspapers across the country. These were pictures that an editor looked at once before moving on. They were ordinary pictures, almost snapshots of the war.
As I scrolled through the category called “The Fall of Nazi Germany,” I stopped at image number 23. The caption reads: “Men of the American 7th Army pour through a breach in the Siegfried Line defenses on their way to Karlsruhe, Germany, on March 27, 1945, which lies on the road to Stuttgart.”
The Siegfried Line was an anti-tank barrier Hitler built in the 1930s that was supposed to keep Allied troops from entering Germany. It ran for almost 400 miles from the Netherlands in the north to the Swiss border on the south and consisted of more than 18,000 bunkers along with concrete “teeth” that were intended as tank traps. These concrete teeth look a lot like tombstones, giving it a very eerie feeling, like one very long graveyard.
Similar in purpose to France’s Maginot Line, it was supposed to protect the country from invasion. It worked just about as well as the failed French defense, as American troops poured through it in the later stages of the war.
What caught my eye in this particular photo wasn’t the detailed picture of the Siegfried Line or even the composition. It was much more personal. There, in a jeep, looking straight at the camera was Capt. Sidney P. Kozak, my father.