Germany's Condition after the War
Byline: Martin Rubin, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
If Germany ever had a more disastrous year in its history than 1945, it is hard to think of one. Even the shaming defeat of 1918 ended World War I with no foreign troops on German soil (and many of theirs on their opponents'), and the much-resented Versailles Treaty of 1919 only chipped away at the fatherland's territorial integrity.
But the final year of World War II saw the British, French and American forces from the West and the Russian juggernaut from the East crush the reich between them before it finally capitulated early in May. The first month of 1945 saw nearly half a million German soldiers killed in action, while the next three months brought the year's total to one-and-a-quarter million more, Richard Bessel tells us, than were killed in 1942 and 1943 put together, and they were killed largely within Germany. And then there were the civilian casualties, largely from the Allied bombing raids that reduced most German cities to rubble.
As if all this were not enough trauma, millions of Germans from the eastern portion of the nation were homeless, countless civilians having clawed their way westward to escape the Russian forces, who systematically raped, plundered and looted. In this detailed study, Mr. Bessel, a professor at the University of York, does not minimize the scope and ubiquitousness of this Soviet terror as it swept into Germany, but he does point out that the French troops, particularly the colonial soldiers from Africa, behaved in a remarkably similar fashion in their zone of occupation in the southwest.
British and American troops conducted themselves in general with admirable correctness toward the conquered population, despite widespread feelings of anger and contempt toward them, so it was no wonder that so many Germans tried to make for areas under their control.
Also, soldiers who surrendered to the Russians had a much rougher time than their compatriots who were fortunate enough to lay down their arms to the other Allies: Many ended up for years in forced labor camps in the Soviet gulag, some not returning home for more than a decade.
In Germany 1945, Mr. Bessel points out that Germany's lamentable condition was largely due to Hitler's obstinate determination against all reason to fight to the bitter end even after it was apparent even to the other Nazis that the war was lost.
This policy was enforced right up till the end all the way down the line, with roving court-martials summarily executing any soldiers trying to lay down their arms. Although Nazi Germany had wrought havoc on Europe and beyond, its people were now paying a terrible price, summed up succinctly in these words from the book:
When the Second World War ended, Germany had become a land of the homeless, the dispossessed and the displaced. Never before in its history had the country contained so many people who had lost their homes, who had been evacuated, expelled, uprooted, imprisoned.
Once Germany finally surrendered only days after Hitler committed suicide early in May, the bombing and shooting stopped along with all the casualties they inflicted. …