By James E. BrooksAugust 7, 2017
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Aug. 3, 2017) Abigail Addington-May grew up knowing little about her father's World War II service. She knew he served in Europe but just wasn't interested whenever the topic came up in discussion.
"We'd roll our eyes and say 'World War II again?' My brothers and sisters simply had no interest," said May.
Her father, Emerson Swartz, died in Dec. 1993, taking those personal stories and details with him. What he left behind was a box of photos, letters and other mementos that now are the only trace to his World War II experience.
It was this desire to understand her father's life and World War II service that brought Abigail, her husband and two children to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies for a visit.
In an email, May reached out to the public affairs office hoping to visit the place where her father once served shortly after the war.
"My father, Maj. Emerson A. Swartz, U.S. Army, was in command of the POW (Prisoner of War) camp at Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the end of the war. I have read that the George C Marshall center is located where the POW camp was. Is there a possibility that my family could come inside and visit the site? Is there anything on the campus that shows the history of the POW camp?" she wrote.
RESEARCH LIBRARY PROVIDES SOME CLUES
During their visit, the family spent time in the Marshall Center Research Library.
The research library supports the Marshall Center's programs and research needs with a collection of graduate-level research materials. But, the library researchers also have a good understanding of the legacy of Marshall Center's buildings before the center was inaugurated nearly 25 years ago.
Originally built for the German Wehrmacht in the late 1930s as barracks, the installation came under U.S. control in late April 1945 during the closing days of the war. It was immediately put to use as an internment camp for senior military officers and other National Socialist officials.
Swartz was one of several Army officers assigned to run the internment camp during the postwar years 1945 to 1947.
Research Librarian Elena Efimenko was more than eager to sit down with the family and share some history about the Marshall Center and learn from their family history as well.
"I'm very happy to help this or any other family find information about their ancestry. Too many of us know little about our family history, and I was delighted to give the family some references and internet links to help learn more about their father's wartime service. The Swartz family shared some pictures and info with us, it was wonderful," said Efimenko.
FAMILY MEMENTOS SHARED WITH MARSHALL CENTER
Along with their curiosity in family history, the May family brought with them some family mementos. Among the items was an original map of Garmisch-Partenkirchen with hand-drawn symbols identifying U.S. Army units in the area.
Secretary of the Joint Staff Maj. Joshua Southworth translated the diagrams.
"The symbols showed where 2nd Battalion 47 Infantry regiment headquarters were along with two company headquarters, military police headquarters and the medic station," said Southworth.
The Swartz family also brought personal photos their father took while he was here in Garmisch.
According to a historian with the local tourist center, the photos were of a solemn parade on June 10, 1946, when Garmisch's St. Martin church received new bells for the bell tower. During the war, all church bells were seized by the Nazis and melted down for war purposes. After the war, the citizens of Garmisch collected money in order to buy the new bells.
FAMILY LEAVES WITH BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF SERVICE
The May family knew Emerson Swartz led an infantry company with the 9th Division 47th Infantry in western Europe and was wounded near St. Lo. France during the allied advance towards Germany. He served briefly in Garmisch after hostilities and like thousands of others left the Army. His last day in uniform was at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on Christmas Eve 1946.
"To see the Marshall Center and learn about what my father did here after the war really helps my family and I make sense of what he did. It was a great visit and we now have more things we can look at online and learn more," said May.