In reporting on postwar Berlin, a U.S. Military Government observer noted a strange phenomenon: “From the very beginning of the Occupation in 1945, people have disappeared from Berlin. How many thousands of these were kidnapings or illegal arrests will perhaps never be known.”1 For the Berliner the war was over and the Hitler dictatorship destroyed, but many of the residents still lived in fear for the streets were not safe. Why did this city of ruins become the kidnap capital of the world?
It would be a gross exaggeration to describe the Berlin of 1945 as a city; it was the remains of what had been a city. Now, the landscape was merely rubble and twisted steel. An American described what he saw that summer: “This is more like the face of the moon than any city I had ever imagined.”2 Food, fuel, and water were often in such short supply that the inhabitants who remained found life a daily struggle against cold and starvation. With thousands of bodies still buried in the ruins and polluted water supplies, disease and epidemics were unavoidable. Typhus, diphtheria, and typhoid were rampant in the first months after the war. The number of deaths was especially high among children and the elderly.3
Even amid this mass devastation and sea of human misery, Berlin was already destined for a far different future than any of the other cities in Germany. International agreements made by the wartime Allies linked