An American Doctor Behind The Iron Curtain
by AMMIEL SCHWARTZ
I was posted to US Army Hosp Frankfurt July 1956. After I had been there for six months, I was asked if I would like to be the chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Berlin. I said “no.” I had heard of that job — no coverage, Autobahn, Checkpoint Charlie, Russian tanks, cars and people disappeared, need to get Russian permission to travel, etc, etc. My commanding officers said they valued my opinion and asked me to please pack my stuff.
So I arrived and found myself the only American OB-GYN behind the Iron Curtain. One day, a woman showed up in my clinic from Moscow. She was the wife of the TIME Magazine reporter there. I asked her why she had traveled so far, and she said, “I can get on a train in Moscow, get off in East Berlin, hail a cab and see an American doctor!” Same for the U.S. ambassador’s wife in Warsaw.
The East Berlin government insisted at that time the EastMark was worth the same as the WestMark. One could get 4 WestMarks for 1 US-Dollar and 4 EastMarks for 1 WestMark. One could go into East Berlin and buy goods worth $16 for a single American dollar.
My German nurse explained to me that essentially half of German men 16 to 60 years of age had not returned from the war. She felt her chances of marriage and children were nearly zero. She was plain looking and had a limp, but she wanted to fulfill her life as a woman. So went to an American bar enticed a GI to her home and had the chance to raise a lovely daughter.
Essentially most of the American officers in West Berlin were spies or supported the spies. The same was true for the Russian officers in Berlin. One could stroll through the Brandenburg gate, stop at a newsstand and buy the day’s copy of Pravda or Izvestia. My roommate in the bachelor’s quarters was a spy.
When I noticed a sudden outbreak of pubic lice (crabs) in officer’s wives I suspected something, and I told my roommate I thought something was going on. He said he would work on it. A couple days later, he told me that one of the “Fraulein,” a waitress at the Resi Bar, had the goal of sleeping her way through the Officer Staff in Berlin. I asked my roommate for the name of her current consort and in a day he had that and his phone number.
I called him and said, “This is Capt. Schwartz at the Army Hospital, don’t ask me how I know; but I know you are sleeping with Fraulein so and so. Please come to the hospital, and I will give you some DDT powder to treat you both.”He asked why he should ever do “that” and I explained that when his wife came to my clinic I would tell her exactly how she had gotten infected rather than some story about public toilets.
The commanding general at the hospital was pleased with my work, and when he found out I was being transferred, he asked if I was going to stay in the Army. When I told him that I wasn’t he said that a recommendation to my next command would do me no good and instead he had a commendation drawn up.