2009-08-21 22:49:06 UTC
at the End of World War Two
By Mark Weber
Germanys 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 new book, After the Reich: The Brutal
History of the Allied Occupation, 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 Reichs 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
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 wasnt 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.
MacDonoghs 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