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 [This article was published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 95-110.]


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

/ Giles MacDonogh / Basic Books, 2007

Part I

  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.”[1]  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….”[2] 

  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.”[3]  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….”[4]  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.”[5]

  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….”[6]

  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.[7] 

  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.’”[8] 

 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.”[9]

  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.”


To be continued …