Revisiting the “Good War’s” Aftermath:
Emerging Truth in an
Ocean of Myth
The Danger of Historical Lies
by Mark Weber
President Clinton's Distortion of History
On January 20, 1997, Bill Clinton began his second term as President with a swearing-in ceremony at the White House followed by an inaugural address. During the first few minutes of this speech, Clinton briefly surveyed the history of the past ten decades:
What a century it has been. America became the world's mightiest industrial power; saved the world from tyranny in two world wars and a long Cold War; and time and again, reached across the globe to millions who longed for the blessings of liberty.Not only do these proud, even boastful words contain historical lies, they manifest an arrogance that lays the groundwork for future calamity. In truth, in neither the first nor the second world wars did the United States "save the world from tyranny."
World War IIn April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for America's entry into World War I by proclaiming that "the world must be made safe for democracy." On another occasion, he declared that US participation in the conflict would make it a "war to end war." To secure support for this crusade, newspapers and political leaders, and an official US government propaganda agency, portrayed Germany as a power-mad tyranny that threatened the liberty of the world.
However, within just a few years after the November 1918 armistice that ended the fighting, this wartime propaganda image was widely recognized as absurd. Today no serious historian regards Wilhelmine Germany as a "tyranny," or believes that it posed any kind of threat to the United States, much less "the world."
Ironically, America's principal allies in World War I -- Britain and France -- were at the time the world's greatest imperial powers. (A sore point for many Americans of Irish background was Britain's control of Ireland.) Many in the United States regarded Britain, not Germany, as the foremost threat to world liberty, recalling that Americans had waged a bitter, drawn-out war for independence from British rule (1775-1783), and that during a second war with the same country (1812-1814) British troops had sacked and burned down the US capital.
World War IIPresident Clinton's distortion of history is even more glaring with regard to the Second World War. America's two most important military allies in that conflict were the foremost imperialist power (Britain) and the cruelest tyranny (Soviet Russia).
During both world wars, Britain ruled a vast global empire, subjugating millions against their will in what are now India, Pakistan, South Africa, Palestine/Israel, Egypt and Malaysia, to name but a few. America's other great wartime ally, Stalinist Russia, was, by any objective measure, a vastly more cruel despotism than Hitler's Germany.
If the US had not intervened in World War II, Germany and its allies might have succeeded in vanquishing Soviet Communism. A victory of the Axis powers also would have meant no Communist subjugation of eastern Europe and China, no protracted East-West "Cold War," and no "hot wars" in Korea and Vietnam.
In fact, and contrary to Clinton's version of history, during the Second War the United States helped substantially to preserve the world's most terrible tyranny. In cooperation with the Soviet Union, the United States helped to oppress "millions who longed for the blessings of liberty."
Today's political and intellectual leaders seem eager to whitewash or forget the Soviet role in the World War II, or America's cordial wartime alliance with Soviet Russia and its leader. To solidify the Allied coalition -- formally known as the "United Nations" -- President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin met together in person on two occasions: in November 1943 at Teheran, Iran, and in February 1945 in Yalta, Crimea.
In a joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the Teheran meeting, the three leaders expressed "our determination that our nations shall work together in war and in the peace that will follow." The "Big Three" continued:
We recognize fully the supreme responsibility resting upon us and all the United Nations to make a peace which will command the good will of the overwhelming mass of the peoples of the world and banish the scourge and terror of war for many generations.To emphasize the trusting nature of their alliance, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin concluded their joint statement with the words: "We came here with hope and determination. We leave here, friends in fact, in spirit and in purpose."
We shall seek the cooperation and active participation of all nations, large and small, whose peoples in heart and mind are dedicated, as are our own peoples, to the elimination of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance. We will welcome them, as they may choose to come, into a world family of democratic nations.
... Emerging from these cordial conferences we look with confidence to the day when all the peoples of the word may live free, untouched by tyranny, according to their varying desires and their own consciences.
The wartime leaders of the United States, Britain and Soviet Russia accomplished precisely what they accused the Axis leaders of Germany, Italy and Japan of conspiring to achieve: world domination. At the Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences, and in crass violation of their own loftily proclaimed principles, the US, British and Soviet leaders disposed of millions of people with no regard for their wishes (most tragically, perhaps, in the case of Poland). To insure the rule of the victorious Allied powers after the war, the "Big Three" established the United Nations organization to function as a permanent global police force.
LessonsMany Americans recall their country's role in the Vietnam war, and other overseas military adventures since 1945, with embarrassment and even shame. But most Americans -- whether they call themselves conservative or liberal -- like to regard World War II as "the good war," a morally unambiguous conflict between Good and Evil. So successfully have politicians and intellectual leaders, together with the mass media, promoted this childish, self-righteous view of history, that President Clinton could be confident that it would be accepted without objection.
The President's distortion of history is all the more remarkable considering that in this same inaugural speech he proclaimed the dawning of an "information age" in which "education will be every citizen's most prized possession."
How a nation views the past is not a trivial or merely academic exercise. Our perspective on history profoundly shapes our actions in the present, often with grave consequences for the future. Drawing conclusions from our understanding of the past, we make or support policies that greatly impact the lives of millions.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, political leaders, journalists and scholars often rationalized and justified America's ill-fated role in the Vietnam war on the basis of a badly distorted understanding of Third Reich Germany, drawing faulty historical parallels between Ho Chi Minh and Hitler, with erroneous references to the September 1938 Munich Conference.
The hubris of Clinton's portrayal of history is not merely an affront against historical truth, it is dangerous because it sanctions potentially even more calamitous military adventures in the future. After all, if the United States was as righteous and as successful as the President says it was in "saving the world" in two world wars, why would anyone oppose similar world-saving crusades in the future?
From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 3), pages 2-3.
BOOK REVIEW ARTICLE
Thomas Goodrich’s Hellstorm:Thomas Goodrich
Hellstorm: The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944–1947
Just imagine living in a world in which law and order have broken down completely: a world in which there is no authority, no rules and no sanctions.
In the bombed-out ruins of Europe’s cities, feral gangs scavenge for food. Old men are murdered for their clothes, their watches or even their boots. Women are mercilessly raped, many several times a night.
Neighbour turns on neighbour; old friends become deadly enemies. And the wrong surname, even the wrong accent, can get you killed.
It sounds like the stuff of nightmares. But for hundreds of millions of Europeans, many of them now gentle, respectable pensioners, this was daily reality in the desperate months after the end of World War II.
Humiliated: A French woman accused of sleeping with Germans has her head shaved by neighbors in a village near Marseilles
Two Frenchmen train guns on a collaborator who kneels against a wooden fence with his hands raise while another cocks an arm to hit him, Rennes, France, in late August 1944
In Britain we remember the great crusade against the Nazis as our finest hour. But as the historian Keith Lowe shows in an extraordinary, disturbing and powerful new book, Savage Continent, it is time we thought again about the way the war ended.
For millions of people across the Continent, he argues, VE Day marked not the end of a bad dream, but the beginning of a new nightmare. In central Europe, the Iron Curtain was already descending; even in the West, the rituals of recrimination were being played out.
This is a story not of redemption but of revenge. And far from being ‘Zero Hour’, as the Germans call it, May 1945 marked the beginning of a terrible descent into anarchy.
Of course World War II was that rare thing, a genuinely moral struggle against a terrible enemy who had plumbed the very depths of human cruelty. But precisely because we in Britain escaped the shame and trauma of occupation, we rarely reflect on what happened next.
After years of bombing and bloodshed, much of Europe was physically and morally broken. Indeed, to contemplate the costs of war in Germany alone is simply mind-boggling.
Across the shattered remains of Hitler’s Reich, some 20 million people were homeless, while 17 million ‘displaced persons’, many of them former PoWs and slave labourers, were roaming the land.
Half of all houses in Berlin were in ruins; so were seven out of ten of those in Cologne.
Not all the Germans who survived the war had supported Hitler. But in the vast swathes of his former empire conquered by Stalin’s Red Army, the terrible vengeance of the victors fell on them all, irrespective of their past record.
In the little Prussian village of Nemmersdorf, the first German territory to fall to the Russians, every single man, woman and child was brutally murdered. ‘I will spare you the description of the mutilations and the ghastly condition of the corpses,’ a Swiss war correspondent told his readers.
‘These are impressions that go beyond even the wildest imagination.’
Near the East Prussian city of Königsberg — now the Russian city of Kaliningrad — the bodies of dead woman, who had been raped and then butchered, littered the roads. And in Gross Heydekrug, writes Keith Lowe, ‘a woman was crucified on the altar cross of the local church, with two German soldiers similarly strung up on either side’.
Many Russian historians still deny accounts of the atrocities. But the evidence is overwhelming.
Across much of Germany, Lowe explains, ‘thousands of women were raped and then killed in an orgy of truly medieval violence’.
But the truth is that medieval warfare was nothing like as savage as what befell the German people in 1945. Wherever the Red Army came, women were gang-raped in their thousands.
One woman in Berlin, caught hiding behind a pile of coal, recalled being raped by ‘twenty-three soldiers one after the other. I had to be stitched up in hospital. I never want to have anything to do with any man again’.
Of course it is easy to say that the Germans, having perpetrated some of the most appalling atrocities in human history on the Eastern Front, had brought their suffering on themselves. Even so, no sane person could possibly read Lowe’s book without a shudder of horror.
Are we more immune to the atrocities that occurred after the war ended on the continent because we did not suffer the indignity and pain of occupation?
German refugees, civilians and soldiers, crowd platforms of the Berlin train station after being driven from Poland and Czechoslovakia following the defeat of Germany by Allied forces
The truth is that World War II, which we remember as a great moral campaign, had wreaked incalculable damage on Europe’s ethical sensibilities. And in the desperate struggle for survival, many people would do whatever it took to get food and shelter.
In Allied-occupied Naples, the writer Norman Lewis watched as local women, their faces identifying them as ‘ordinary well-washed respectable shopping and gossiping housewives’, lined up to sell themselves to young American GIs for a few tins of food.
Another observer, the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, wrote that he had seen ‘the moral collapse’ of the Italian people, who had lost all pride in their ‘animal struggle for existence’.
Amid the trauma of war and occupation, the bounds of sexual decency had simply collapsed. In Holland one American soldier was propositioned by a 12-year-old girl. In Hungary scores of 13-year-old girls were admitted to hospital with venereal disease; in Greece, doctors treated VD-infected girls as young as ten.
What was more, even in those countries liberated by the British and Americans, a deep tide of hatred swept through national life.
Everybody had come out of the war with somebody to hate.
In northern Italy, some 20,000 people were summarily murdered by their own countrymen in the last weeks of the war. And in French town squares, women accused of sleeping with German soldiers were stripped and shaved, their breasts marked with swastikas while mobs of men stood and laughed. Yet even today, many Frenchmen pretend these appalling scenes never happened.
Her head shaved by angry neighbours, a tearful Corsican woman is stripped naked and taunted for consorting with German soldiers during their occupation
It is easy to say that the Germans, having perpetrated some of the most appalling atrocities in human history, had brought their suffering on themselves
The general rule, though, was that the further east you went, the worse the horror became.
In Prague, captured German soldiers were ‘beaten, doused in petrol and burned to death’. In the city’s sports stadium, Russian and Czech soldiers gang-raped German women.
In the villages of Bohemia and Moravia, hundreds of German families were brutally butchered. And in Polish prisons, German inmates were drowned face down in manure, and one man reportedly choked to death after being forced to swallow a live toad.
Yet at the time, many people saw this as just punishment for the Nazis’ crimes. Allied leaders refused to discuss the atrocities, far less condemn them, because they did not want to alienate public support.
‘When you chop wood,’ the future Czech president, Antonin Zapotocky, said dismissively, ‘the splinters fly.’
It is to Lowe’s great credit that he resists the temptation to sit in moral judgment. None of us can know how we would have behaved under similar circumstances; it is one of the great blessings of British history that, despite our sacrifice to beat the Nazis, our national experience was much less traumatic than that of our neighbours.
It is also true that repellent as we might find it, the desire for revenge was both instinctive and understandable — especially in those terrible places where the Nazis had slaughtered so many innocents. So it is shocking, but not altogether surprising, to read that when the Americans liberated the Dachau death camp, a handful of GIs lined up scores of German guards and simply machine-gunned them.
We in Britain are right to be proud of our record in the war. Yet it is time that we faced up to some of the unsettling moral ambiguities of those bloody, desperate years
By any standards this was a war crime; yet who among us can honestly say we would have behaved differently?
Lowe notes how ‘a very small number’ of Jewish prisoners wreaked a bloody revenge on their former captors.
Such claims, inevitably, are deeply controversial. When the veteran American war correspondent John Sack, himself Jewish, wrote a book about it in the 1990s, he was accused of Holocaust denial and his publishers cancelled the contract.
Yet after the liberation of Theresienstadt camp, one Jewish man saw a mob of ex-inmates beating an SS man to death, and such scenes were not uncommon across the former Reich. ‘We all participated,’ another Jewish camp inmate, Szmulek Gontarz, remembered years later. ‘It was sweet. The only thing I’m sorry about is that I didn’t do more.’
Meanwhile, across great swathes of Eastern Europe, German communities who had lived quietly for centuries were being driven out. Some had blood on their hands; many others, though, were blameless. But they could not have paid a higher price for the collapse of Adolf Hitler’s imperial ambitions.
In the months after the war ended, a staggering 7 million Germans were driven out of Poland, another 3 million from Czechoslovakia and almost 2 million more from other central European countries, often in appalling conditions of hunger, thirst and disease.
Joyous: When we picture the end of the war, we imagine crowds in central London, cheering and singing
Today this looks like ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. Yet at the time, conscious of all they had endured under the Nazi jackboot, Polish and Czech politicians saw the expulsions as ‘the least worst’ way to avoid another war.
Indeed, this ethnic savagery was not confined to the Germans. In eastern Poland and western Ukraine, rival nationalists carried out an undeclared war of horrifying brutality, raping and slaughtering women and children and forcing almost 2 million people to leave their homes.
What these men wanted was not, in the end, so different from Hitler’s own ambitions: an ethnically homogenous national fatherland, cleansed of the last taints of foreign contamination.
In 1947, in an enterprise nicknamed Operation Vistula, the Poles rounded up their remaining Ukrainian citizens and deported them to the far west of the country, which had formerly been part of Germany. There they were settled in deserted towns, whose old inhabitants had themselves been deported to West Germany.
It was, Lowe writes, ‘the final act in a racial war begun by Hitler, continued by Stalin and completed by the Polish authorities’.
To their immense credit, the Poles have had the courage to face up to what happened all those years ago. Indeed, ten years ago the Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, publicly apologised for Operation Vistula.
Yet the supreme irony of the war is that in Poland, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, VE Day marked the end of one tyranny and the beginning of another.
Justifiable: Conscious of all they had endured under the Nazi jackboot, Polish and Czech politicians saw the expulsion of Germans as 'the least worst' way to avoid another war
Here in Britain, we too often forget that although we went to war to save Poland, we actually ended it by allowing Poland to fall under Stalin’s cruel despotism.
Perhaps we had no choice; there was no appetite for a war with the Russians in 1945, and we were exhausted in any case. Yet not everybody was prepared to accept surrender so meekly.
In one of the final chapters in Lowe’s deeply moving book, he reminds us that between 1944 and 1950 some 400,000 people were involved in anti-Soviet resistance activities in Ukraine.
What was more, in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which Stalin had brutally absorbed into the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of nationalist guerillas known as the Forest Brothers struggled vainly for their independence, even fighting pitched battles against the Red Army and attacking government buildings in major cities.
We think of the Cold War in Europe as a stalemate. Yet as late as 1965, Lithuanian partisans were still fighting gun battles with the Soviet police, while the last Estonian resistance fighter, the 69-year-old August Sabbe, was not killed until 1978, more than 30 years after the World War II had supposedly ended.
We in Britain are right to be proud of our record in the war. Yet it is time, as this book shows, that we faced up to some of the unsettling moral ambiguities of those bloody, desperate years.
When we picture the end of the war, we imagine crowds in central London, cheering and singing.
We rarely think of the terrible suffering and slaughter that marked most Europeans’ daily lives at that time.
But almost 70 years after the end of the conflict, it is time we acknowledged the hidden realities of perhaps the darkest chapter in all human history.
Savage Continent: Europe In The Aftermath Of World War II by Keith Lowe is published by Viking at £25. To order a copy for £20 (p&p free), call 0843 382 0000.
BOOK REVIEW ARTICLE
Revisiting the “Good War’s” Aftermath: Emerging Truth in an
Ocean of Myth
Dwight D. Murphey
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
, which was made a part of Germany . (Both the eastern and western boundaries of Poland were drastically shifted westward by agreement of the allies, with Poland taking an important part of Poland and the Germany Soviet Union taking eastern .) The other 7.2 million were forced from their ancestral homes in Poland 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 , “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. Silesia
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 ; 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.” Switzerland
Under the Russian occupation of
, MacDonogh sees “striking similarities” to Stalin’s “deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian kulaks in the early 1930s.” As in the East Prussia , “cases of cannibalism were reported, with people eating the flesh of their dead children.” Ukraine
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
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.” Berlin
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
and nobody bothers to cut them down. Thousands of corpses are carried into the sea by the Berlin Oder and —one doesn’t notice it any longer. Thousands and thousands are starving in the highways… Children roam the highways alone….” Elbe Rivers
In his The German Expellees: Victims in War and Peace, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas told how in
Marshal Tito used camps as extermination centers to starve Germans. Yugoslavia
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
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. Berlin
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
: “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.” December 5, 1945
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 in the north [of Teschen ] on 10 May. For five days they raped, looted, torched and killed.” He writes of “French soldiers’ behaviour in Czechoslovakia , 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 Stuttgart who had formed into gangs and robbed and raped all over central Russia 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 (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 Russia only after Konrad Adenauer’s visit to Germany 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 Moscow 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
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 the Hague 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 … 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.” Worms
It would be a mistake to think that a world food shortage caused the
to be unable to feed its prisoners. Bacque writes that “Captain Lee Berwick of the 424thInfantry who commanded the guard towers at United States … told me, ‘Food was piled up all round the camp fence.’ Prisoners there saw crates piled up ‘as high as bungalows.’” Camp Bretzenheim
What MacDonogh tells us about
’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 Britain that “was meant to be particularly grueling.” There, “conditions for the 130,000 prisoners were reported to be ‘not much better than Belgium 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: “
ran a secret prison in Britain 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.” Germany
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
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. Germany
MacDonogh says that under the Russians “
lost around 85 percent of its industrial capacity.” Every machine was taken from Berlin . The ships were taken from the Vienna Danube, and “one Soviet priority was the seizure of any important works of art found in the capital [ ]. 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 Vienna 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
and Greece . 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….” Yugoslavia
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
’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.” Germany
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 (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 Russia against the Germany 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
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 Nuremberg ’s trial and execution of Eichmann. Israel
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
. By contrast, no one was ever “brought to justice” for the Allies’ expulsion of the millions of Germans from their ancestral homes in central Nuremberg 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
for another twenty years. His book tells the following personal story: His German parents emigrated to the Arizona State University from United States in 1928 and 1929. They had two sons born in Germany Brooklyn (who were hence citizens), one of them Arthur Jacobs. The boys lived their early years in U.S. 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 , where they were well treated. They were “voluntarily repatriated” to Texas (after being threatened with deportation) in October 1945, several months after Germany ’s surrender. Germany
When they arrived in
, 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 Germany . At the Hohenasperg prison, he was placed under strict discipline as a prisoner, and guards threatened him repeatedly with hanging if he disobeyed. Ludwigsburg
The camp at
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. Ludwigsburg
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 “
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 Germany who would bring them to Kansas to live with them. Accordingly, Jacobs and his brother left for the America in October 1947. They had been in United States 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 Germany , he became an industrial engineer and later a member of the ASU faculty. Arizona State University
If MacDonogh wrote all that we have reported (and more) from his book, how can it be said that in important ways he continued the cover-up of such horrors, a cover-up that since 1945 has consigned them to a memory hole? This brings us to the book’s deficiencies, which are of such a nature as to give readers a lessened realization of the extent of the atrocities and of who was responsible for them.
Most egregious is MacDonogh’s treatment of the work of Canadian historian James Bacque, author of Other Losses and Crimes and Mercies. When he refers to the first of these books, he says that Bacque “claimed the French and Americans had killed a million POWs,” a claim that “was called a work of ‘monstrous speculation’ and was dismissed by an American historian as an ‘absurd thesis.’” According to MacDonogh, “it has since been proved that Bacque misinterpreted the words ‘other losses’ on Allied charts to mean ‘deaths’….” Accordingly, he speaks of “Bacque’s red herring.” So greatly does he dismiss Bacque that in a section on “Further Reading” at the end of the book, MacDonogh apparently forgets about Bacque entirely, saying that “on the treatment of POWs there is nothing in English, and the leading American expert—Arthur L. Smith—publishes in German.”
I thought it fair to ask Bacque what his response is to MacDonogh’s dismissal. Bacque replied that “the word speculation describes my critics well, because it is they who have not been in all the relevant archives and who have not interviewed the thousands of survivors who have written to newspapers, TV journalists and other authors about their near-death experiences in the camps of the Americans, French and Russians.” Far from admitting that he had misinterpreted the category of “Other Losses,” Bacque says that “the meaning of the term… was explained to me by Colonel Philip S. Lauben, United States Army, who was in charge of movements of prisoners for SHAEF in 1945. I have the interview on tape and Lauben’s signature on a letter confirming this. Lauben has never denied what he told me.” Lauben later told the
BBC that he was “mistaken,” but the likelihood of a mistake is slight since he was a responsible officer on the ground and saw both the camps and the reports.
The difference between MacDonogh’s and Bacque’s treatment of the subject of German prisoners of war in American hands is apparent when we compare the attention each gives to the cutting off of food. MacDonogh reports in one sentence that “any attempt to feed the prisoners by the German civilian population was punishable by death.” This is astounding in itself and certainly deserves explication. Bacque tells us considerably more: “General Eisenhower sent out an ‘urgent courier’ throughout the huge area that he commanded, making it a crime punishable by death for German civilians to feed prisoners. It was even a death-penalty crime to gather food together in one place to take it to prisoners.” He says “the order was sent in German to the provincial governments, ordering them to distribute it immediately to local governments. Copies of the orders were discovered recently in several villages near the
Rhine….” On pages 42-3 of Crimes and Mercies, Bacque publishes a German and an English copy of a letter dated , by which district officials were notified of the prohibition. May 9, 1945
Bacque provides evidence such as that of Professor Martin Brech of
, who was a guard at the Mahopac, NY camp at Aldernach in U.S. . Brech said that “he fed some loaves of bread through the wire, and was told by his superior officer, ‘Don’t feed them. It is our policy that these men not be fed.’” “Later, at night, Brech sneaked some more food into the camp, and the officer told him, ‘If you do that again, you’ll be shot.’” Germany
Thus, we find in Bacque a much sharper description and attribution of responsibility than we do in MacDonogh. In light of the immense detail given in MacDonogh’s book, this would be forgivable were it not for his attempt to blot out the work of a major scholar who has studied the subject exhaustively.
A similar cutting-short diminishes a reader’s comprehension of other important subjects, which MacDonogh touches on so briefly that the reader is hardly able to form a full mental picture. For example, MacDonogh tells how in the execution of Joachim von Ribbentrop at
“the hangman botched the execution and the rope throttled the former foreign minister for twenty minutes before he expired.” In his book Nuremberg: The Last Battle, historian David Irving tells considerably more, including the fact that the gallows had been designed in a way that allowed the trapdoor to swing back and smash “every bone” in the faces of Keitel, Jodl and Frick. He says that Goering’s body (after Goering had committed suicide by taking poison) “was dragged into the execution chamber… [where] the army doctors [made] frantic attempts to revive him so that he could be hanged.” Nuremberg
There are a number of places at which MacDonogh half-tells about something important, only to leave it incomplete. We’ve already noted his mention of “30,000-40,000 prisoners sitting in the courtyard [at the Pioneers’ Barracks in
]… With no protection against the rain they froze.” We are left to guess the consequences of their freezing. At another place, he reports that “the Americans maintained camps for up to 1.5 million… Nazis or members of the SS.” That is his only mention of those camps, which one might suppose were even more punitive than the others. Was MacDonogh too overloaded with other detail to pursue such matters further? Did he deliberately refrain from exploring certain things? Or was the failure due a scatter-gun recital of fragmentary details? Worms
A reader will need to assess the degree to which After the Reich is a work of scholarship as distinguished from a narrative for popular reading. MacDonogh includes many pages of endnotes, citing a large number of sources. Very occasionally, he speaks critically of a given source. But for the most part he accepts whatever a given source has to tell. The book would profit greatly from a bibliographical essay in which he would evaluate the principal sources, sharing with the reader a careful analysis of the evidentiary basis for his narrative. An example of where a critical evaluation is essential comes with his reference, say, to Ilse Koch’s “lampshades and trophies made from human skin and organs,” which MacDonogh says the psychologist Saul Padover claims to have been shown. We need to know what MacDonogh would conclude if MacDonogh were to consider the counter-evidence that calls the lampshade collection a “legend.” The same holds true for MacDonogh’s many citations to Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews. There is a vast scholarly literature questioning every aspect of the Holocaust. One would never know that that literature exists from reading MacDonogh, who either doesn’t know of it or finds it prudent, as so many do, not to mention it.
Notwithstanding the book’s limitations, After the Reich accomplishes much when it provides another link in the chain of disclosures that, over time, are providing conscientious readers with a more complete understanding of modern history.
The fact that, at the time of the events and for so many decades thereafter, enormities of the greatest importance have been scrubbed clean by propaganda suggests implications far beyond the events themselves. The British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli observed that “all great events have been distorted, most of the important causes concealed,” and went on to say that “If the history of
is ever written by one who has the knowledge and the courage, the world would be astonished.” The implications suggest profound questions, which we would be remiss not to mention: England
How is it that a certain version of reality can, on so many subjects, hold almost total sway, while the voices of millions and of a good many serious scholars are marginalized into nothingness? (Fortunately, so far as Bacque’s work is concerned, it is available in twelve languages in 13 countries, even though it has long been unavailable in the
.) United States
Do we really know the truth about much of anything? Or are countless subjects veiled in a miasma of omission and distortion?
Where are our academic historians? Most historians like to give us pleasing myths, which is something expected of them and for which they are rewarded with medals, prizes and high sales.
How pervasive is a cravenness that will put almost anything ahead of a search for truth? Does mankind care very deeply about truth?
To what extent is a society or an age “democratic” if its citizens’ minds are filled with phantoms, so that most of the judgments they make are either vacuous or manipulated?
And to what extent is it “democratic” if those citizens don’t even have a vital say in decisions of the gravest importance? It is significant that Keeling says that “the people of no nation in modern history, including ourselves, have ever enjoyed an important voice in the making of the great decisions either of going to war or of framing the peace arrangements.”
Dwight D. Murphey
 Adenauer is quoted in James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, 1997), p. 119. Readers may wish also to consult Theodore Schieder, ed., The Expulsion of the German Population from the Territories East of the Oder-Neisse-Line (Bonn: Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, 1958). Alfred-Maurice de Zayas is the author of three additional books on this subject: The German Expellees: Victims in War and Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986); A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-50 (
: St. Martin’s Press, 1994); andNemesis at Potsdam: The Expulsion of the Germans from the East (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). New York
 See two books by Victor Gollancz on the treatment of refugees: Our Threatened Values and In Darkest Germany.
 Capehart is quoted in Ralph Franklin Keeling, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War Against The German People (Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review edition, 1992), p. 64. The book was first published in 1947 by the
in Institute of American Economics . Chicago
 Bacque, Crimes and Mercies, p. 91.
 Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 64.
 Zayas, de, The German Expellees, p. 97.
 Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 64.
 Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, pp. 62, 63.
 Bacque, “A Truth So Terrible,” Abuse Your Illusions; article sent to me by author.
Ran Torture Camp After WWII: report http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsite. Britain
 Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. VI.
 Nikolai Tolstoy, The Secret Betrayal (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977), pp. 371, 24, 315, 40, 183, 242, 343. Readers will do well to read, as well, Julius Epstein,Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present (Old Greenwich, CN: 1973) and Nicholas Bethell, The Last Secret: Forcible Repatriation to Russia 1944-7 (London, 1974).
 See the discussion of the
killings in Bacque, Crimes and Mercies, pp. 74-5, 135. Katyn Forest
 Disraeli is quoted in Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 135.
 Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 134.
British Historian Details Mass Killings and Brutal Mistreatment of Germans at the End of World War Two
By Mark Weber
Germany’s defeat in May 1945, and the end of World War II in Europe, did not bring an end to death and suffering for the vanquished German people. Instead the victorious Allies ushered in a horrible new era that, in many ways, was worse than the destruction wrought by war.
In a sobering and courageous book, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (now available at the IHR Bookstore), British historian Giles MacDonogh details how the ruined and prostrate Reich (including Austria) was systematically raped and robbed, and how many Germans who survived the war were either killed in cold blood or deliberately left to die of disease, cold, malnutrition or starvation.
Many people take the view that, given the wartime misdeeds of the Nazis, some degree of vengeful violence against the defeated Germans was inevitable and perhaps justified. A common response to reports of Allied atrocities is to say that the Germans “deserved what they got.” But as MacDonogh establishes, the appalling cruelties inflicted on the totally prostrate German people went far beyond that.
His best estimate is that some three million Germans, military and civilians, died unnecessarily after the official end of hostilities.
A million of these were men who were being held as prisoners of war, most of whom died in Soviet captivity. (Of the 90,000 Germans who surrendered at Stalingrad, for example, only 5,000 ever returned to their homeland.) Less well known is the story of the many thousands of German prisoners who died in American and British captivity, most infamously in horrid holding camps along the Rhine river, with no shelter and very little food. Others, more fortunate, toiled as slave labor in Allied countries, often for years.
Most of the two million German civilians who perished after the end of the war were women, children and elderly -- victims of disease, cold, hunger, suicide, and mass murder.
Apart from the wide-scale rape of millions of German girls and woman in the Soviet occupation zones, perhaps the most shocking outrage recorded by MacDonogh is the slaughter of a quarter of a million Sudeten Germans by their vengeful Czech compatriots. The wretched survivors of this ethnic cleansing were pitched across the border, never to return to their homes. There were similar scenes of death and dispossession in Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia as the age-old German communities of those provinces were likewise brutally expunged.
We are ceaselessly reminded of the Third Reich’s wartime concentration camps. But few Americans are aware that such infamous camps as Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz stayed in business after the end of the war, only now packed with German captives, many of whom perished miserably.
The vengeful plan by US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau to turn defeated Germany into an impoverished “pastoral” country, stripped of modern industry, is recounted by MacDonogh, as well as other genocidal schemes to starve, sterilize or deport the population of what was left of the bombed-out cities.
It wasn’t an awakening of humanitarian concern that prompted a change in American and British attitudes toward the defeated Germans. The shift in postwar policy was based on fear of Soviet Russian expansion, and prompted a calculated appeal to the German public to support the new anti-Soviet stance of the US and Britain.
MacDonogh’s important book is an antidote to the simplistic but enduring propaganda portrait of World War II as a clash between Good and Evil, and debunks the widely accepted image of benevolent Allied treatment of defeated Germany.
This 615-page volume is much more than a gruesome chronicle of death and human suffering. Enhanced with moving anecdotes, it also provides historical context and perspective. It is probably the best work available in English on this shameful chapter of twentieth century history.