The standard narrative about WWII is that the Nazis and Germans were nasty and brutish and the Allies-especially the Americans and British- acted nobly with self restraint and magnamnity towards the Germans. However, on closer inspection the reality is different. The fact is that in WWII was a horribly destructive and cruel war and everyone eventually got well into the muck and mire of a brutal all out war. The Americans and British were no different as the review below shows. The Germans were not the only ones caused suffering. The Allies treated German civilians and soldiers with carpet bombs, ethnic clensing, planned starvation, rape, massacres, theft, etc., most of which was done intentionally and other they allowed to happen under their watch.
[This article was published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 95-110.]
BOOK REVIEW ARTICLE
Revisiting the “Good War’s” Aftermath: Emerging Truth in an Ocean of Myth
Dwight D. Murphey
Wichita State University, retired
After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation
Basic Books, 2007
Those who honestly chronicle human events, present or past, are a rare and honorable breed. We should certainly ennoble them within the pantheon of our earthly gods. As we do so, we will no doubt include those who, not out of alienation against the West or the United States or its people but out of a thirst for truth, are bringing to light the awful events that followed in the wake of World War II (as well as the enormities that were committed as part of the way in which the war was fought against civilian populations, although that is a subject we won’t be exploring here). That war has been known among Americans as “the good war,” and those who fought it as “the greatest generation.” But now, slowly, we are hit by the realities so commonplace to a complex human existence: there was much that was not good, and along with the self-sacrifice and high intentions there was much that was venal and brutal. These realities are coming to the surface because there are some scholars, at least, who are aware that an ocean of wartime propaganda spawns a myth that continues for several decades and who have a commitment to truth that overrides the many inducements to conform to the myth.
This article began as a simple review of Giles MacDonogh’s book that is identified above. His book is largely of the myth-breaking sort I have just praised. Because, however, there is valuable additional material that I am loath to leave unmentioned, I have expanded it to include other information and authors, although leaving it primarily a review of After the Reich.
MacDonogh’s is a puzzling book, both brave and craven, mostly (but not entirely) worthy of the high praise we must give to incorruptible scholars. As we have noted, the American public has long thought of the Allied effort in World War II as a “great crusade” that pitted good and decency against Nazi evil. Even after all these years, it is likely that the last thing the public wants to learn is that vast and unspeakable wrongs were committed by both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union during the war and its aftermath. It flies in the face of that reluctance for MacDonogh to tell “the brutal history” at great length.
That willingness is commendable for its intellectual bravery. In light of it, it is puzzling that even as he does so he puts a gloss over that history, in effect continuing in part a cover-up of historic proportions that has been fixed in place by the overhang of wartime propaganda for almost two-thirds of a century. The great value of his book thus cannot be found in its completeness or its strict candor, but rather in its providing something of a bridge—albeit quite an extensive one—that can start conscientious readers toward further study of an immensely important subject.
For this article, it will be valuable to begin by summarizing the history MacDonogh relates (and to add somewhat to it). It is only after doing this that we will discuss what MacDonogh obscures. All of this will then lead to some concluding reflections.
In his Preface, MacDonogh says his purpose is to “expose the victorious Allies in their treatment of the enemy at peace, for in most cases it was not the criminals who were raped, starved, tortured or bludgeoned to death but women, children and old men.” Although this suggests the tone of the book will be one of outrage, the narrative is in the main informative rather than polemical. MacDonogh’s scholarly background includes several books of German and French history and biography (as well as four books on wine).
The expulsions (today called “ethnic cleansing”). At the end of the war, MacDonogh tells us, “as many as 16.5 million Germans were driven from their homes.” 9.3 million were expelled from the eastern portion of Germany, which was made a part of Poland. (Both the eastern and western boundaries of Poland were drastically shifted westward by agreement of the allies, with Poland taking an important part of Germany and the Soviet Union taking eastern Poland.) The other 7.2 million were forced from their ancestral homes in Central Europe where they had lived for generations.
This mass expulsion was settled upon in the Potsdam Agreement in mid-1945, although the Agreement did make it explicit that the ethnic cleansing was to take place “in the most humane manner possible.” Churchill was among those who supported it as conducive “to lasting peace.”
In fact, the process was so inhumane that it amounted to one of history’s great atrocities. MacDonogh reports that “some two and a quarter million would die during the expulsions.” This is at the lower end of such estimates, which range from 2.1 million to 6.0 million, if we take only the expellees into account. Konrad Adenauer, very much a friend of the West, found himself able to say that among those expelled “six million Germans… are dead, gone.” We will be seeing MacDonogh’s account of the starvation and exposure to extreme cold to which the post-war population of Germany was subject, and it is worth mentioning at this point (even though it goes beyond the expulsions) that the historian James Bacque says that “the comparison of the censuses has shown us that some 5.7 million people disappeared inside Germany between October 1946 [a year and a half after the war ended] and September 1950….”
What MacDonogh calls “the greatest maritime tragedy of all time” occurred when the ship the Wilhelm Gustloff, carrying Germans from Danzig in January 1945, was sunk with “anything up to 9,000 people,… many of them children.” In mid-1946, “pictures show some of the 586,000 Bohemian Germans packed in box cars like sardines.” At another point MacDonogh tells how “the refugees were often packed so tightly that they could not move to defecate and emerged from the trucks covered with excrement. Many were dead on arrival.” [This calls to mind the scenes described so vividly in Volume I of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.] In Silesia, “streams of civilians were forced from their homes at gunpoint.” A priest estimated that a quarter of the German population of one Lower Silesian town killed itself, as entire families committed suicide together.
The condition of the German population–starvation and extreme cold. Germans refer to 1947 as Hungerjahr, the “year of hunger,” but MacDonogh says that “even by the winter of 1948 the situation had not been remedied.” People ate dogs, cats, rats, frogs, snails, nettles, acorns, dandelion roots and wild mushrooms in a feverish effort to survive. In 1946, the calories provided in the U.S. Zone of Germany dropped to 1,313 by March 18 from the mere 1,550 provided earlier. Victor Gollancz, a British and Jewish author and publisher, objected that “we are starving the Germans.” This is similar to the statement made by Senator Homer Capehart of Indiana in a speech to the U. S. Senate on February 5, 1946: “For nine months now this administration has been carrying on a deliberate policy of mass starvation….” MacDonogh tells us that the Red Cross, Quakers, Mennonites and others wanted to bring in food, but “in the winter of 1945 donations were returned with the recommendation that they be used in other war-torn parts of Europe.” In the American zone of Berlin, “it was American policy that nothing should be given away and everything should be thrown away. So those German women who worked for the Americans were fantastically well fed, but could take nothing home to their families or children.” Bacque says “foreign relief agencies were prevented from sending food from abroad; Red Cross food trains were sent back to Switzerland; all foreign governments were denied permission to send food to German civilians; fertilizer production was sharply reduced… The fishing fleet was kept in port while people starved.”
Under the Russian occupation of East Prussia, MacDonogh sees “striking similarities” to Stalin’s “deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian kulaks in the early 1930s.” As in the Ukraine, “cases of cannibalism were reported, with people eating the flesh of their dead children.”
The suffering from extreme cold mixed with the starvation to create misery and a heavy death toll. Even though the winter in 1945-6 was a normal one, “the terrible lack of coal and food was acutely felt.” Abnormally cold winters struck in 1946-7 (“possibly the coldest in living memory”) and 1948-9. In Berlin alone, 60,000 people were thought to have died within the first ten months after the end of the war; and “the following winter killed off an estimated 12,000 more.” People lived in holes among the ruins, and “some Germans—particularly refugees from the east—were virtually naked.”
In his book Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War Against The German People, Ralph Franklin Keeling cites a quote from a “noted German pastor”: “Thousands of bodies are hanging from trees in the woods around Berlin and nobody bothers to cut them down. Thousands of corpses are carried into the sea by the Oder and Elbe Rivers—one doesn’t notice it any longer. Thousands and thousands are starving in the highways… Children roam the highways alone….”
In his The German Expellees: Victims in War and Peace, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas told how in Yugoslavia Marshal Tito used camps as extermination centers to starve Germans.
Mass rape—to which one must add the “voluntary sex” obtained from starving women. The onslaught of rape by invading Russian forces is, of course, infamous. In the Russian zone of Austria, “rape was part of daily life until 1947 and many women were riddled with VD and had no means to cure it.” MacDonogh tells us that “conservative estimates place the number of Berlin women raped at 20,000.” When the British arrived in Berlin, “officers later recalled the shock of seeing the lakes in the prosperous west filled with the corpses of women who had committed suicide after being raped.” The age of the victim made little difference, with those raped ranging from 12 to 75. Nurses and nuns were among the victims (some as many as fifty times). “The Russians were particularly hard on the nobles, setting fire to their manor houses and raping or killing the inhabitants.” Although “most of the unwanted Russian children were aborted,” MacDonogh says “it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 ‘Russian babies’ survived.” The Russians raped wherever they went, so that it wasn’t just German women who were raped, but also women of Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, and Yugoslavia even though it was on the same side.
There was an official policy against rape, but it was so commonly ignored that “it was only in 1949 that Russian soldiers were presented with any real deterrent.” Until then, “they were egged on by [Ilya] Ehrenburg and other Soviet propagandists who saw rape as an expression of hatred.”
Although there was a “widespread incidence of rape by American soldiers,” there was an enforced military policy against it, with “a number of American servicemen executed” for it. Criminal charges brought for rape “rose steadily” during the final months of the war, but declined sharply thereafter. What did continue was arguably almost as bad: the sexual exploitation of starving women who “voluntarily” sold sexual services for food. In Gruesome Harvest, Keeling quotes from an article in the Christian Century for December 5, 1945: “The American provost marshal… said that rape represents no problem for the military police because ‘a bit of food, a bar of chocolate, or a bar of soap seems to make rape unnecessary.’” The extent of this is shown by the figure MacDonogh provides of an “estimated 94,000 Besatzungskinder or ‘occupation children’ [who] were born in the American zone.” He says that in 1945-6 “many female children resorted to prostitution to survive. Boys, too, performed a service for Allied soldiers.”
Keeling, writing for the 1947 publication of his book [which explains his use of the present tense], said there was “an upsurge in venereal diseases which has reached epidemic proportions,” and went on to say that “a large proportion of the contamination has originated with colored American troops which we have stationed in great numbers in Germany and among whom the rate of venereal infection is many times greater than among white troops.” In July 1946, he says, the annual rate of infection for white soldiers was 19%, for black troops 77.1%. He reiterated the point we are making here when he pointed to “the close connection between the venereal disease rate and availability of food.”
If MacDonogh mentions rape by British soldiers, it has escaped me. He does tell, however, of rape by Poles, the French, Tito’s partisans, and displaced persons. In Danzig, “the Poles behaved as badly as the Russians… It was the Poles who liberated the town of Teschen in the north [of Czechoslovakia] on 10 May. For five days they raped, looted, torched and killed.” He writes of “French soldiers’ behaviour in Stuttgart, where perhaps 3,000 women and eight men were raped,” says “a further 500 women [were] raped in Vaihingen,” and reports “three days of killing, plunder, arson and rape” in Freundenstadt. Of the displaced persons, he says that “there were around two million POWs and forced labourers from Russia who had formed into gangs and robbed and raped all over central Europe.”
Treatment of the prisoners of war. In all, there were approximately eleven million German prisoners of war. One and a half million of these never returned home. MacDonogh expresses an appropriate outrage here: “To treat them with so little care that a million and a half died was scandalous.”
The Red Cross had no role vis a vis those held by the Russians, since the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention. MacDonogh says the Russians made no distinction between German civilians and prisoners of war, although we know that a KGB report does sort them out for deaths and other purposes. At war’s end, they held approximately four to five million within Russia (and here, again, the KGB archives are worth consulting, as historian James Bacque has done; they show a figure of 2,389,560). Large numbers were held for over ten years, being sent back to Germany only after Konrad Adenauer’s visit to Moscow in 1956. Nevertheless, in 1979—34 years after the end of the war!—“there were believed to be 72,000 prisoners still alive in—chiefly Russian—custody.” Some 90,000 German soldiers were captured at Stalingrad, but only 5,000 made it home.
The Americans made a distinction between the 4.2 million soldiers captured during the war, who were entitled to the shelter and subsistence called for by the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and the 3.4 million captured in the West at its end. MacDonogh says the latter were classified as “Surrendered Enemy Persons” (SEPs) or as “Disarmed Enemy Persons” (DEPs), and were denied the protections of the Conventions. He doesn’t give a total figure for those who died in American custody, saying “it is not clear how many German soldiers died of starvation.” He tells, however, of several situations: “The most notorious American POW camps were the so-called Rheinwiesenlager.” Here, the Americans allowed “anything up to 40,000 German soldiers to die from hunger and neglect in the muddy flats of the Rhine.” He says “any attempt to feed the prisoners by the German civilian population was punishable by death.” Although the Red Cross was empowered to inspect, “the barbed wire surrounding the SEPs and DEPs was impenetrable.” Elsewhere, at “the Pioneers’ Barracks in Worms… there were 30,000-40,000 prisoners sitting in the courtyard, jostling for space. With no protection from the rain they froze.” The prisoners were starved at Langwasser, and at a “notorious camp” at Zuffenhausen where “for months lunch was turnip soup, with half a potato for dinner.”
It would be a mistake to think that a world food shortage caused the United States to be unable to feed its prisoners. Bacque writes that “Captain Lee Berwick of the 424th Infantry who commanded the guard towers at Camp Bretzenheim… told me, ‘Food was piled up all round the camp fence.’ Prisoners there saw crates piled up ‘as high as bungalows.’”
What MacDonogh tells us about Britain’s treatment of German POWs seems conflicting. It had 391,880 prisoners working in Britain in 1946, and a total of 600 camps there in 1948. He says “the regime was not so hard, and in terms of percentages the number of men who died in British custody is strikingly low compared to the other Allies.” Elsewhere, however, he tells how “the British could evade [the Geneva Convention’s stipulation]… that they provide 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day,” so that “for most of the time levels fell below 1,500 calories.” The British had a camp in Belgium that “was meant to be particularly grueling.” There, “conditions for the 130,000 prisoners were reported to be ‘not much better than Belsen’… When the camp was inspected in April 1947 there were found to be just four functioning lightbulbs…there was no fuel, no straw mattresses and no food apart from ‘water soup.’”
A Reuters report in December 2005 adds an important dimension: “Britain ran a secret prison in Germany for two years after the end of World War II where inmates including Nazi party members were tortured and starved to death, the Guardian says. Citing Foreign Office files that were opened after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper says Britain had held men and woman [sic] at a prison in Bad Nenndorf until July 1947… ‘Threats to execute prisoners, or to arrest, torture and murder their wives and children were considered “perfectly proper” on the grounds that such threats were never carried out,’ the paper reports.”
The French wanted German labor to help rebuild the country, and for this purpose the British and Americans transferred about a million German soldiers to them. MacDonogh says “their treatment was particularly brutal.” Not long after the war, according to the Red Cross, 200,000 of the prisoners were starving. We are told of a camp “in the Sarthe [where] prisoners had to survive on 900 calories a day.”
The stripping of the German economy. Allied leaders disagreed among themselves about the Morgenthau Plan to strip Germany bare of industrial assets and turn it into an agrarian country. The opposition of some and hesitation of others did not, however, prevent a de facto implementation of the plan. By the time the confiscation was ended, Germany was largely bereft of productive assets.
MacDonogh says that under the Russians “Berlin lost around 85 percent of its industrial capacity.” Every machine was taken from Vienna. The ships were taken from the Danube, and “one Soviet priority was the seizure of any important works of art found in the capital [Vienna]. This was a fully planned operation.” But “worse than the full-scale removal of the industrial base of the land was the abduction of men and women to develop industry in the Soviet Union.”
Under the Americans, the dismantling of industrial sites continued until General Lucius Clay stopped it a year after war’s end. Until Clay acted, Clause 6 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Order 1067 embodied the Morgenthau Plan. MacDonogh says that where “American official theft was carried out on a massive scale” was in “seizing scientists and scientific equipment.”
The British took much for themselves and passed other industrial property on to “client states” such as Greece and Yugoslavia. The British royal family received Goering’s yacht, and the British zone of Germany was stripped of “plants that might later offer competition with British industries.” MacDonogh says “the British… had their own brand of organized theft in [something called] T-Force, which sought to glean any industrial wizardry….”
For their part, the French asserted “the right to plunder.” “The French… made no bones about pocketing a chlorine business in Rheinfelden, a viscose business in Rottweil, the Preussag mines or the chemicals groups Rhodia,”… and much more.
If the Plan had been fully implemented over a longer period of time, the effects would have been calamitous. Keeling, in Gruesome Harvest, says that by seeking “the permanent destruction of Germany’s industrial heartland” it would have had as an “ineluctable consequence… the death through starvation and disease of millions and tens of millions of Germans.”
The forced repatriation of Russians to Stalin. MacDonogh’s book limits itself to the Allied occupation, but there are, of course, many other aspects of the aftermath of the war that deserve mention, although here we will limit ourselves to just one of them. (MacDonogh does give some details about it.) It is the Allied repatriation of captured Russians to the Soviet Union. In The Secret Betrayal, Nikolai Tolstoy tells how between 1943 and 1947, a total of 2,272,000 Russians were returned. The Soviets harvested 2,946,000 more from the parts of Europe taken by the Red Army. Those sent to the Soviet Union by the Western democracies included thousands of people who were Tsarist emigres and had never lived under the Soviet regime. Tolstoy says that even though there were many who did want to return to Russia (while many others desperately did not, and were sent back, in effect, kicking and screaming), they were uniformly brutalized, executed, raped or made into slaves. Some of the repatriates were Russians who had volunteered to fight for Germany against the Soviet Union and who were led by General Vlasov. Some were Cossacks, many of whom were not even Soviet citizens. The violent repatriations began in August 1945. Tolstoy recounts how deception, clubbings, bayonets, and even threats from a flame-throwing tank were employed to force the removal.
Victors’ justice. When the war was over, there was a consensus among the Allies’ leaders that the top Nazis should be put to death. Some wanted immediate execution, others “a drumhead court martial.” There was an odd virtue in the insistence by the British on following “legal forms,” which is what was decided upon. The result was a series of trials with the trappings of normal judicial proceedings, but that were actually a travesty from the point of view of the “rule of law,” lacking both the spirit and particulars of “due process.” In two chapters, MacDonogh gives an account of the main Nuremberg trial and of the series of trials that continued for years afterwards. Among these, the Americans conducted several trials in Nuremberg after the main one; thousands of cases were brought before “denazification courts”; the German courts, after they were operational, continued the process; and of course we know of Israel’s trial and execution of Eichmann.
There are many reasons to call it “victors’ justice.” For it to have been otherwise, a truly impartial tribunal would have had to have been convened somewhere in the world (if such a thing had been possible in the aftermath of a world war), and war crimes committed by all sides prosecuted. But, of course, we know that such impartial justice was not in contemplation. In the Nuremberg indictment, the Nazis were charged with the mass killing of the Polish officer corps at the Katyn Forest, a charge that was discretely (and with great intellectual and “judicial” dishonesty) overlooked in the final judgment after it became clear to all that the Soviet Union had done the killing. Another of the many possible examples would be that Nazi deportations were charged as both a war crime and a crime against humanity at Nuremberg. By contrast, no one was ever “brought to justice” for the Allies’ expulsion of the millions of Germans from their ancestral homes in central Europe.
A source readers will find instructive. Because of the credibility of its source, the account given by U.S. Air Force Major (retired) Arthur D. Jacobs in his book The Prison Called Hohenasperg will be useful to readers as they absorb (and assess) the information contained in MacDonogh’s book and those of the other authors referred to here. It is valuable as a story both of American brutality and American compassion.
Jacobs spent 22 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1973, and then became a member of the faculty at Arizona State University for another twenty years. His book tells the following personal story: His German parents emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1928 and 1929. They had two sons born in Brooklyn (who were hence U.S. citizens), one of them Arthur Jacobs. The boys lived their early years in Brooklyn, attending elementary school. The family was taken and held for some time at Ellis Island near the end of the war, and was then interned for seven months at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where they were well treated. They were “voluntarily repatriated” to Germany (after being threatened with deportation) in October 1945, several months after Germany’s surrender.
When they arrived in Germany, Jacobs’ mother was sent to one camp, the father and two sons to another. The latter reached an internment camp in Hohenasperg after a 92-hour journey locked inside a boxcar in freezing weather with mostly women and children, fed only bread and water, and “without heat, without blankets, and without toilets, except for an open, stinking bucket.” Jacobs himself was twelve, and turned thirteen during his week at Hohenasperg before he was sent to another camp at Ludwigsburg. At the Hohenasperg prison, he was placed under strict discipline as a prisoner, and guards threatened him repeatedly with hanging if he disobeyed.
The camp at Ludwigsburg was in effect a holding center pending release. It is informative that Jacobs tells us of the meager diet: “At breakfast we received one glass of ‘gray’ milk and one slice of black bread. There was no lunch meal.” At supper, “each person received one bowl of soup…, mostly water flavored by bouillon. There were no second helpings… I always had hunger pangs.” While he and his brother were at Ludwigsburg, they were forced to watch films of German death camps.
The mother, father and brothers were released from their respective camps in mid-March 1946, and went to live with Jacobs’ grandparents in the British Zone. They weren’t welcomed by Germans they met, because “we were four more mouths to feed.” Jacobs saw that “Germany was war-torn and starving.” He was befriended by an American soldier, who got him a job with Graves Registration. He lost his job when the soldier was transferred, and it became a struggle to “live through this starvation period—the winter of 1946-1947.” After much knocking about, he got another job with the American Army, this time in a motor pool. An American woman took an interest in him who knew of a ranch couple in southwest Kansas who would bring them to America to live with them. Accordingly, Jacobs and his brother left for the United States in October 1947. They had been in Germany for 21 months. It was eleven years before Jacobs saw his parents again. He went on, as we have said, to become a career officer in the U.S. Air Force. After obtaining his MBA at Arizona State University, he became an industrial engineer and later a member of the ASU faculty.