Volunteers Needed

To my readers, listeners and friends everywhere. . . .

Most of you are probably wondering why I am so remiss lately with my written and audio blogs on this web site.  Well, the fact is that for the last few months I have finally turned my full attention to the follow-up book of Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947.   The time spent on the research and writing–and rewriting–quite honestly eats up most of my waking moments.

The working title for this new book is Summer, 1945: Germany, Japan and the Harvest of Hate.  I don’t think I need to add–especially for those of you who have read Hellstorm yourselfthat this book will be a ground-breaking, gut-wrenching account. Much of the material in Summer, 1945 will be new to even the more serious students of the period.  Given the terrible crimes committed against both nations during that fateful last summer of the war I firmly believe that this book will have an even greater impact on the world than Hellstorm had.  And that is saying much.

Many of the comments I received from those who had finished Hellstorm mentioned that the book changed the way they viewed the world, that the book was “life-altering”, that there was the reader before the book, and there was now the reader after the book.  This, I predict, will be the same reaction of those who read Summer, 1945.  As before, the book will be graphic, to the point, and will pull absolutely no punches.  For the first time in over 70 years, most of these dark secrets, long-hidden from the world, will finally be available.  What was done to Germany and Japan by the Allied forces during and after the war were crimes so vast and hideous that one is quite literally staggered by the utter and shameless evil.

I am proud to say that in the past, many of you stepped to the front with your donations to help. Although I never asked for funds back then most of you instinctively understood the financial limitations of a non-academic historian such as myself . . . and you replied in kind.  For that, I thank you, one and all.

But now, I must do that which I never did in the past–I must ask up front for your financial support. As you might imagine, a book of this nature is expensive to research and write. Since I am working full-time on the book, there is very little extra income available . . . and like everyone else, I have bills that must be paid.

And so, to those of you who like your history honest, accurate and fearless, I ask that you give what you can.  To those of you who donate $50 or more, I will, upon publication, send a signed copy of the book.  Additionally, in the event a film is made based on the book, as was the case with Hellstorm, I will also see that you receive the DVD.

For those of you who can contribute via paypal, my ID is mtgoodrich@aol.com.  For those of you donating with cash, check or money order, my mailing address is: Tom Goodrich, 9011 Midnight Pass Rd., # 527, Sarasota, FL, 34242

On behalf of  history, Truthful History, thanks to everyone!

Tom

(Above: The US firebombing of Tokyo, 1945.  An estimated 100,000-200,000, mostly women, children and the elderly were burned to death that night)

 

The “Greatest Generation”

Dachau, Germany, American soldiers posing in front of bodies of dead German сс

 
Every month, it seems, yet another movie is released based upon some real or some fanciful event of World War Two. Invariably, like some stylized Greek drama in which the actors all wear the same masks and all chant the same lines, the cast in these propagandistic morality plays are as predictable as the message. On one side are arrayed the Allies, the good guys; generally, these are the happy-go-lucky gum-chewing Americans who are heroically “fighting for freedom” and are striving to save the world and the folks back in Ohio from slavery; on the other side are the arrogant Germans, the evil Nazis; this is the dark force the world is being saved from, those over-bearing monsters who live only to murder, rape, torture, kill, and make lampshades and bars of soap out of poor, defenseless, harmless Jews.
It has now been over 70 years since the conclusion of the so-called “Good War.” Thousands of books, articles and movies have been devoted to this pivotal period and the supposedly heroic sacrifice of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Despite the sheer tonnage of material dedicated to the victor’s version of WWII, there has yet to be an honest, accurate and straight-forward retelling of that cataclysmic event and what it really looked like, not merely from the victors’ perspective, but through the eyes of the vanquished, as well.

The following is from my book Hellstorm—The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947. To date, this book remains the only in-depth account of what the end of the war and the beginning of the so-called “peace” looked like from the German perspective.  To this day, what happened to Germany and her people, especially after the war, remains the darkest and best-kept secret in world history. And to this day, what happened to Germany and her people also remains, by far, the greatest and most sadistic crime ever committed in the history of mankind.

(above: Members of the “Greatest Generation” enjoying the “Good War” by defecating on the bodies of recently murdered German prisoners.)

***

Following its devastating defeat during the Ardennes offensive of December 1944, the Wehrmacht withdrew and regrouped behind the “West Wall,” a mostly imaginary line that roughly traced the Reich’s western border. There, as elsewhere, the German Army was a dim shadow of its former self, vastly outnumbered in men and materiel, but above all, totally overwhelmed in the air. While the end of Nazi Germany loomed in the east, the end also steadily advanced from the west. Unlike the howling savagery to the east, fraught with nightmarish ferocity, defeat in the west came methodically, inexorably and, judged by the standards of the east, almost silently.

“We felt powerless before the immeasurable material superiority of the Americans, without which the Russians and British would have capitulated long since… ,” revealed one German officer.

Nevertheless, the hard-pressed Landser was still more than a match for the American “GI” and the British “Tommy.” Whenever the two sides met on anything approaching equal numbers, the results were always the same. Defending its homeland reinvigorated the German Army, of course, but during the fighting in Italy and North Africa, the outcome was similar. Asked his opinion of American troops during the fighting in North Africa—a campaign where Germany’s ally, the Italian Army, had scattered and surrendered like sheep—one captive Landser told his US interrogators bluntly: “The Americans are to us what the Italians are to you.”

Though American commanders were understandably outraged by such sentiment, the panic created among Allied ranks during the Ardennes offensive only reinforced this assessment within the German Army. One reason for the Landser’s low opinion of his American adversary could simply be attributed to lack of experience. Sights and sounds that many German soldiers had long since become accustomed to were terrifying novelties to most GIs. Remembered a British sergeant:

The Americans will bunch, whereas we go up two sides of a road. . . . They were shouting at each other and firing at nothing…. It appeared that the American infantrymen were not trained in “battle noises.” They seemed to drop to the ground and fire, whenever shots were heard close by. When passing a burning farmhouse, there was a sound of what appeared to be a machine-gun; no one could have been in the house, because of the flames, and it was obviously ammunition burning; but it took some time to get the Americans up and on again. As we [proceeded] I saw a figure in a long German greatcoat rise to his feet from the center of a field, and walk towards us with his hands up. The man was Volkssturm [militia], about 50 or 60 years of age, a long, thin chap. Before we could do anything about it, three Americans let fly with their carbines and the figure fell. God, we were angry.

While small arms fire was frightening, green US troops found artillery barrages utterly horrifying.

“[S]hells would not only tear and rip the body,” said one frantic American, “they tortured one’s mind almost beyond the brink of sanity.”

“[T]he pure physical terror that savages you when loud and violent death is screaming down from the sky and pounding the earth around you, smashing and pulping everything in search for you” was, a comrade added, “emasculating.”  Recalled another American novice:

I asked [the sergeant] if he was hit and he sort of smiled and said no, he had just pissed his pants. He always pissed them, he said, when things started and then he was okay. He wasn’t making any apologies either, and then I realized something wasn’t quite right with me. … There was something warm down there and it seemed to be running down my leg….I told the sarge. I said, “Sarge, I’ve pissed too,” or something like that and he grinned and said, “Welcome to the war.”

Accustomed to the bloodless “clean” kills of Hollywood, sudden, hideous sights also worked to unman the average American newcomer. After taking direct hits, some saw their buddies vaporize in a spray of “red spots.” Others viewed comrades lying along roads, nothing more than “half a body, just naked buttocks and the legs.” With the war obviously nearing its end, and with sights like the above vivid in their minds, few GIs “went looking for a Purple Heart.” Also, and as was the case in 1917, many American soldiers suffered what some observers called “spiritual emptiness;” a seeming uncertainty as to what exactly they were fighting for … or fighting against.

Despite years of anti-Nazi propaganda and attempts to demonize the German soldier, front-line troops, as always, were first to discard hate. From released or escaped prisoners, it soon became apparent that Allied POWs were treated well and accorded all the rights of the Geneva Convention. Additionally, details that were seemingly trivial matters to politicians, propagandists and rear-echelon troops were all-important concerns to the actual fighters.

“One thing I’ll say for the Germans,” a British Tommy admitted, “they were better than we were with enemy dead; buried them properly and neatly with their equipment … over the crosses.”

Not surprisingly, “understandings” among the adversaries were quickly reached to make the war more tolerable to both parties. “We maintained very friendly communications with the Germans,” confessed an American major. “Before they shelled Homberg they would let us know in advance the exact time. Before we shelled Leverkusen we would let the Germans know in advance. So everybody took cover ahead and nobody got hurt.” On countless other occasions front-line troops met, mixed, traded trinkets, even socialized.

On more than one occasion, drunken American, British and German soldiers found themselves rioting together in the same bars and brothels and even standing in the same lines to use the same restrooms.

Such incidents as the above had a way of putting an all-too human face on the “evil Hun.” The same factors which worked on Allied attitudes of the German worked on German attitudes of the Allies. Unlike the East Front, German soldiers were well aware that their foe in the west was a signatory of the Geneva Convention. Under this agreement, Landsers were guaranteed by law the status of POW upon capture or surrender. And like their Allied counterparts, with the end of war in sight, many “Jerries” along the West Wall were unwilling to play hero. “I am neither looking for an Iron Cross,” a German soldier declared, “nor a wooden one.” Also, it was no secret that Landsers, high and low, considered the Western Allies the lesser of two evils. With the Red Army roaring across Germany from the east, many Germans were secretly hoping the Americans might occupy what remained of the Reich before the communists did.

Nevertheless, and although the war in the west was not characterized by the same “do or die” determination as it was in the east, thousands of patriotic German officers and men were committed to defend their homeland to the “last ditch.” As the Americans and British pressed the Wehrmacht back from the West Wall, then over the Rhine, a glimpse at the task faced is given by an English officer from the town of Rees:

They had been chased out of France, Belgium and Holland, into Germany, back over the Rhine, and now street by street across Rees into a corner. Yet they were still fighting it out…. The situation now was that the enemy were confined to the last hundred yards, at the very tip of the east end, but they were in a strong position with deep trenches and concrete and any attempts to get at it were met by heavy fire. I was going to make a last effort with C Company, when in came four or five prisoners, including a captain, who said he was in command. . . . He was marched in front of me as I sat at my table poring over the map, and he gave me a spectacular Hitler salute which I ignored…. He was a nasty piece of work, cocksure and good-looking in a flashy sort of way, but I had to admire the brave resistance which he had put up. The strain of battle was apparent in the dark black chasms under his eyes.

In spite of such fierce resistance, the massive weight of the Allied advance slowly ground all opposition into the mud. “[I]t must be stated that the morale of our men [in the west] is slowly sinking… ,” admitted propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. “[T]hey have now been fighting uninterruptedly for weeks and months. Somewhere the physical strength to resist runs out.”

***

If morale among troops was “slowly sinking,” that of many civilians in the west had long since sunk. After enduring years of air attacks and now invasion, some Germans were more than willing to accept defeat. Unlike the terrified trekkers to the east, relatively few Germans in the west abandoned their homes. Despite the best efforts of Nazi propaganda, the racial and cultural ties with the Western Allies, particularly the Americans, was simply too strong to arouse the same depth of fear as did the Soviets. Hardly was there a German family that did not have at least one close relative in America and most felt that there was an essential goodness in any people who could give to the world a Mickey Mouse, Shirley Temple or Laurel and Hardy. Far from fleeing the advancing Allies, many civilians actually ran to greet them. Remembered a young German:

[O]ne very sunny morning we saw across the fields a convoy of vehicles coming, and as they came closer we saw they were Americans, with little white stars on the side. There was a jeep up front and then tanks and troops carriers, and the bloke in the jeep had both his hands up, and in one hand he had a loaf of bread and in the other a lump of cheese. They came on very slowly . . . and as they came the Home Guard threw down their weapons and rushed toward the Americans, and my mother leapt up and started racing over the fields, with me about two hundred yards behind her, straight toward the American column. The man in the jeep turned out to be a very fat American sergeant, and my mother threw her arms around his neck and kissed him and hugged him in absolute joy and relief. It was all over.

“Wherever we drove through the Rhineland those first weeks in April the feelings of the German people were unmistakable,” reported war correspondent, Leonard Mosley.

The war was not yet over but they knew it was lost, and they were engaged in an instinctive effort to save something from the wreck. The mass of the people were casting off National Socialism like an old coat, almost without grief or regret, determined to forget it and to work to recreate, in cooperation with their conquerors, the things that had now been destroyed. . . . The men and women we stopped on the streets to ask the way were polite and helpful; they gathered round in bunches when they heard us speaking German, and bombarded us with questions: “How far had we advanced? When would the war be over? Where were the Russians?”

When reports from recaptured towns and villages stated that the Americans (or, “Amis”) had treated civilians well and had not even engaged in looting, the desire among other Germans to surrender became overwhelming. Home Guard units were disbanded, white flags sprouted from doors and windows and many communities refused to aid the German Army in any way.

“Twice,” recalled a British POW, “I watched an SS corporal go to a house and ask for water and each time the housewife, having seen his uniform, slammed the door in his face. He meekly retreated.”

In a desperate bid to shore up crumbling resistance, Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda office warned citizens that “these Americans were combat troops whose only function was to fight; but after them come the rearguard service troops and especially the Jews, who have in all other cases acted ruthlessly against the population.” Unfortunately, the truth in these words became apparent once the front-line troops pushed on.

***

Unlike the wild and almost unmanageable Red Army, US military commanders might have prevented much of the excesses committed by their men against helpless civilians had they so willed it. In most cases, however, they did not. On the contrary, the words of some high-ranking officers seemed designed to encourage atrocities.

“We are engaged in a total war, and every individual member of the German people has turned it into such,” US general Omar Bradley announced. “If it had not been Hitler leading the Germans, then it would have been someone else with the same ideas. The German people enjoy war and are determined to wage war until they rule the world and impose their way of life on us.”

“[T]he German is a beast,” echoed Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight David Eisenhower, a man whose hatred of all things German was well known. In much the same vein as Soviet premier Josef Stalin and American president Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower advocated the outright massacre of German army officers, Nazi Party members and others. In all, according to the American general, at least 100,000 Germans should be “exterminated.”

“In heart, body, and spirit . . . every German is Hitler!” faithfully trumpeted the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. “Hitler is the single man who stands for the beliefs of Germans. Don’t make friends with Hitler. Don’t fraternize. If in a German town you bow to a pretty girl or pat a blond child … you bow to Hitler and his reign of blood.”

Not surprisingly, such sentiment from above quickly worked its way down. Soon after combat soldiers moved out of a community and rear echelon troops moved in, the reality of occupation became clear. Wrote one shocked reporter, William Stoneman of the Chicago Daily News:

Frontline troops are rough and ready about enemy property. They naturally take what they find if it looks interesting, and, because they are in the front lines, nobody says anything. . . . But what front-line troops take is nothing compared to the damage caused by wanton vandalism of some of the following troops. They seem to ruin everything, including the simplest personal belongings of the people in whose homes they are billeted. Today, we have had two more examples of this business, which would bring tears to the eyes of anybody who has appreciation of material values.

“We were crazy with happiness when the Americans came,” one woman said, “but what [they] did here was quite a disappointment that hit our family pretty hard.”

They broke everything and threw it all outside. Later, we found only piles of rubbish. . . . Those who came in the first few days were fighting troops and they had seen something of the war. But those who came later … hadn’t seen anything at all. And many of these very young soldiers wanted to experience something, like repeat a little of the war. . . . We had original watercolors and so forth on the walls, which weren’t framed, and they wrote all over them. In the cellar we had bottles of apple juice. When we wanted to get some later, after the Americans had left, they’d drunk it all up and filled the bottles with urine. Or, in our cooking pots was toilet paper, used toilet paper.

In many towns, the invaders unlocked jails, prisons and concentration camps and invited the inmates to join the revelry.  “They just opened up the camps and let them go,” noted Amy Schrott, a young German raised in New Jersey. “The Russians and Poles were looting the houses and killing the shopkeepers. Then they began raping the girls.”

When a prison camp at Salzwedel was thrown open, a mob of various nationalities literally tore the town to pieces. Locating the mayor, a gang of Russians dragged the man, his wife and daughter to the cemetery. After lashing the mayor to a tombstone, a line of laughing men began taking turns with his naked wife as she screamed on her hands and knees. When a Mongolian started to rape his daughter, the father, in a final fit of rage, tore the tombstone from the ground, then fell over dead.

A glimpse at the anarchy unleashed is given by Christabel Bielenberg (below) of Furtwangen as she pedaled a bicycle near the town:

chritabelIt was like a drunken circus along the road. There were hordes of liberated Russian forced laborers, all dressed in clothes they had looted from all the ransacked shops, roaring with laughter and falling all over the road. And there were soldiers in huge army trucks tearing past all over the road in a crazy kind of way—it was a fantastic scene….

When we got to Furtwangen it was in pandemonium. All the radios had been requisitioned from their German owners and put in the windows facing out-ward toward the street—and each radio was playing a different program at full blast. All the freed Russians and Poles were waltzing down the street—it was just like a carnival going through the town. The Germans were walking round in a daze wearing white armbands as a sign of surrender. As for the French . . . [t]he troops were not French but Moroccan…. These were the men who occupied our area.

That was when the raping started. [They] raped up and down our valley in the first few days. Two people were shot trying to protect their wives. Then they moved out and another lot of French colonial troops moved in—Goums from the Sahara, tall, black, strange people in uniforms like gray dressing-gowns. They were terrifying. First they came into Rohrbach and stole all the chickens and my children’s rabbits. A few days later they came at night and surrounded every house in the village and raped every female between 12 and 80…. What was so frightening about them was the silent way in which they moved…. [T]hey came up to the door and one of them asked: “Where’s your husband?” I said that he was away and as I was talking to them I suddenly realized that one of them was standing right behind me—he had climbed in through a window and crept right up to me through that creaking wooden . . . house without making the slightest sound.

While Moroccan and other French colonial troops had an especially bad reputation and raped on a massive scale in Germany and Italy, American and British soldiers were not above reproach. “Our own Army and the British Army . . . have done their share of looting and raping… ,” a US sergeant admitted. “[W]e too are considered an army of rapists.”

“Many a sane American family would recoil in horror if they knew how ‘Our Boys’ conduct themselves . . . over here,” added another GI.

“We expected Russian lawlessness… ,” said one German, “but we once believed the Americans were different.”

***

In part because of propaganda and the attitudes publicly espoused by western political and military leaders that “the only good German is a dead one,” in part because of unfounded rumors of massacres and rapes committed at captured US field hospitals, in part because of genuine German atrocities, such as at Malmedy, wherein scores of American POWs were mowed down by SS troops during the Ardennes campaign—because of these and other factors, large numbers of captured or surrendering Germans were simply slaughtered on the spot.

Among many American units, “take no prisoners” was the motto. For those members of the SS, Wehrmacht and Volkssturm lucky enough to survive capture, death often awaited behind the lines. In the transit from front to rear, hundreds of prisoners were allowed to suffocate, starve or freeze to death in railroad cars. Upon reaching the prison camps, thousands more perished. Wrote an eyewitness from Rheinberg in April:

One inmate at Rheinberg was over 80 years old, another was aged nine. . . . Nagging hunger and agonizing thirst were their companions, and they died of dysentery. A cruel heaven pelted them week after week with streams of rain…. [A]mputees slithered like amphibians through the mud, soaking and freezing. Naked to the skies day after day and night after night, they lay desperate in the sand … or slept exhaustedly into eternity in their collapsing holes.

With General Eisenhower turning a blind eye to the Geneva Convention, only the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs still held in Germany prevented a massacre of prodigious proportions.

***

While the British were mopping up huge areas to the north, Americans were doing the same further south. For the most part, US forces were also greeted with white flags, cheers and tears of relief from a war-weary populace. When the Americans did meet determined defenders, it was often small pockets of old men and little boys. Reflected a GI: “I could not understand it, this resistance, this pointless resistance to our advance. The war was all over—our columns were spreading across the whole of Germany and Austria. We were irresistible. We could conquer the world; that was our glowing conviction. And the enemy had nothing. Yet he resisted and in some places with an implacable fanaticism.”

Those defenders who survived to surrender were often mowed down where they stood. Gustav Schutz remembered stumbling upon one massacre site where a Labor Service unit had knocked out several American tanks.

“[M]ore than a hundred dead Labor Service men were lying in long rows—all with bloated stomachs and bluish faces,” said Schutz. “We had to throw up. Even though we hadn’t eaten for days, we vomited.”

Already murderous after years of anti-German propaganda in the Jewish media and Hollywood, when US forces entered the various concentration camps and discovered huge piles of naked and emaciated corpses, their rage became uncontrollable. As Gen. Eisenhower, along with his lieutenants, Patton and Bradley, toured the prison camp at Ohrdruf Nord, they were sickened by what they saw. In shallow graves or lying haphazardly in the streets were thousands of skeleton-like remains of German and Jewish prisoners, as well as gypsies, communists, and convicts.

“I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place,” ordered Eisenhower. “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”

“In one camp we paraded the townspeople through, to let them have a look,” a staff officer with Patton said. “The mayor and his wife went home and slashed their wrists.”

“Well, that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard,” growled Eisenhower, who immediately wired Washington and London, urging government and media representatives to come quickly and witness the horror for themselves.

Given the circumstances, the fate of those Germans living near this and other concentration camps was as tragic as it was perhaps predictable. After compelling the people to view the bodies, American and British officers forced men, women and children to dig up with their hands the rotting remains and haul them to burial pits. Wrote a witness at one camp:

[A]ll day long, always running, men and women alike, from the death pile to the death pit, with the stringy remains of their victims over their shoulders. When one of them dropped to the ground with exhaustion, he was beaten with a rifle butt. When another stopped for a break, she was kicked until she ran again, or prodded with a bayonet, to the accompaniment of lewd shouts and laughs. When one tried to escape or disobeyed an order, he was shot.

For those forced to handle the rotting corpses, death by disease often followed soon after.

Few victors, from Eisenhower down, seemed to notice, and fewer seemed to care, that conditions similar to the camps existed throughout much of Germany. Because of the almost total paralysis of the Reich’s roads and rails caused by around-the-clock air attacks, supplies of food, fuel, clothes, and medicine had thinned to a trickle in German towns and cities and dried up almost entirely at the concentration camps.  As a consequence, thousands of camp inmates swiftly succumbed in the final weeks of the war to typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis, starvation, and neglect. When pressed by a friend if there had indeed been a deliberate policy of starvation, one of the few guards lucky enough to escape another camp protested:

“It wasn’t like that, believe me; it wasn’t like that! I’m maybe the only survivor who can witness to how it really was, but who would believe me!”

“Is it all a lie?”

Yes and no,” he said. “I can only say what I know about our camp. The final weeks were horrible. No more rations came, no more medical supplies. The people got ill, they lost weight, and it kept getting more and more difficult to keep order. Even our own people lost their nerve in this extreme situation. But do you think we would have held out until the end to hand the camp over in an orderly fashion if we had been these murderers?”

As American forces swept through Bavaria toward Munich in late April, most German guards at the concentration camp near Dachau fled. To maintain order and arrange an orderly transfer of the 32,000 prisoners to the Allies, and despite signs at the gate warning, NO ENTRANCE—TYPHUS EPIDEMIC, several hundred German soldiers were ordered to the prison.

When American units under Lt. Col. Felix Sparks liberated Dachau the following day, the GIs were horrified by what they saw. Outside the prison were rail cars brim full with diseased and starved corpses. Inside the camp, Sparks found “a room piled high with naked and emaciated corpses. As I turned to look over the prison yard with unbelieving eyes, I saw a large number of dead inmates lying where they had fallen in the last few hours or days before our arrival. Since all the many bodies were in various stages of decomposition, the stench of death was overpowering.”

Unhinged by the nightmare surrounding him, Sparks turned his equally enraged troops loose on the hapless German soldiers. While one group of over three hundred were led away to an enclosure, other disarmed soldiers were murdered in the guard towers, the barracks, or chased through the streets. US Army chaplain, Captain Leland Loy:

[A] German guard came running toward us. We grabbed him and were standing there talking to him when . . . [a GI] came up with a tommy-gun. He grabbed the prisoner, whirled him around and said, “There you are you son-of-a-bitch!!” The man was only about three feet from us, but the soldier cut him down with his sub-machine gun. I shouted at him, “what did you do that for, he was a prisoner?” He looked at me and screamed “Gotta kill em, gotta kill em.” When I saw the look in his eyes and the machine gun waving in the air, I said to my men, “Let him go.”

“[T]he men were deliberately wounding guards,” recalled one US soldier. “A lot of guards were shot in the legs so they couldn’t move. They were then turned over to the inmates. One was beheaded with a bayonet. Others were ripped apart limb by limb.”

While the tortures were in progress, Lt. Jack Bushyhead forced nearly 350 prisoners up against a wall, planted two machine-guns, then ordered his men to open fire. Those still alive when the fusillade ended were forced to stand amid the carnage while the machine-gunners reloaded. A short time later, army surgeon Howard Buechner happened on the scene:

Lt. Bushyhead was standing on the flat roof of a low building…. Beside him one or more soldiers manned a .30 caliber machine gun. Opposite this building was a long, high cement and brick wall. At the base of the wall lay row on row of German soldiers, some dead, some dying, some possibly feigning death. Three or four inmates of the camp, dressed in striped clothing, each with a .45 caliber pistol in hand, were walking along the line. . . . As they passed down the line, they systematically fired a round into the head of each one.

“At the far end of the line of dead or dying soldiers,” Buechner continued, “a small miracle was taking place.”

The inmates who were delivering the coup de grace had not yet reached this point and a few guards who were still alive were being placed on litters by German medics. Under the direction of a German doctor, the litter bearers were carrying these few soldiers into a nearby hospital for treatment.

I approached this officer and attempted to offer my help. Perhaps he did not realize that I was a doctor since I did not wear red cross insignia. He obviously could not understand my words and probably thought that I wanted him to give up his patients for execution. In any event, he waved me away with his hand and said “Nein,” “Nein,” “Nein.”

Despite his heroics and the placing of his own life in mortal danger, the doctor’s efforts were for naught. The wounded men were soon seized and murdered, as was every other German in the camp.

“We shot everything that moved,” one GI bragged.

“We got all the bastards,” gloated another.

In all, over five hundred helpless German soldiers were slaughtered in cold blood. As a final touch, Lt. Col. Sparks forced the citizens of Dachau to bury the thousands of corpses in the camp, thereby assuring the death of many from disease.

The Dachau Massacre (Public Domain)

The Dachau Massacre

Though perhaps the worst, the incident at Dachau was merely one of many massacres committed by US troops. Unaware of the deep hatred the Allies harbored for them, when proud SS units surrendered they naively assumed that they would be respected as the unsurpassed fighters that they undoubtedly were. Lt. Hans Woltersdorf was recovering in a German military hospital when US forces arrived.

Those who were able stood at the window, and told those of us who were lying down what was going on. A motorcycle with sidecar, carrying an officer and two men from the Waffen-SS, had arrived. They surrendered their weapons and the vehicle. The two men were allowed to continue on foot, but the officer was led away by the Americans. They accompanied him part of the way, just fifty meters on. Then a salvo from submachine guns was heard. The three Americans returned, alone.

“Did you see that? They shot the lieutenant! Did you see that? They’re shooting all the Waffen-SS officers!” That had to be a mistake! Why? Why?

Our comrades from the Wehrmacht didn’t stand around thinking for long. They went down to the hospital’s administrative quarters, destroyed all files that showed that we belonged to the Waffen-SS, started new medical sheets for us with Wehrmacht ranks, got us Wehrmacht uniforms, and assigned us to new Wehrmacht units.

Such stratagems seldom succeeded, however, since SS soldiers had their blood-type tattooed under the left arm.

“Again and again,” continues Woltersdorf, “Americans invaded the place and gathered up groups of people who had to strip to the waist and raise their left arm. Then we saw some of them being shoved on to trucks with rifle butts.”

When French forces under Jacques-Philippe Leclerc captured a dozen French SS near Karlstein, the general sarcastically asked one of the prisoners why he was wearing a German uniform.

“You look very smart in your American uniform, General,” replied the boy.

In a rage, Leclerc ordered the twelve captives shot.

“All refused to have their eyes bandaged,” a priest on the scene noted, “and all bravely fell crying “Vive la France!”

Although SS troops were routinely slaughtered upon surrender, anyone wearing a German uniform was considered lucky if they were merely slapped, kicked, then marched to the rear. “Before they could be properly put in jail,” wrote a witness when a group of little boys were marched past, “American GIs . . . fell on them and beat them bloody, just because they had German uniforms.”

After relatively benign treatment by the British, Guy Sajer and other Landsers were transferred to the Americans. They were, said Sajer, “tall men with plump, rosy cheeks, who behaved like hooligans.”

Their bearing was casual…. Their uniforms were made of soft cloth, like golfing clothes, and they moved their jaws continuously, like ruminating animals. They seemed neither happy nor unhappy, but indifferent to their victory, like men who are performing their duties in a state of partial consent, without any real enthusiasm for them. From our filthy, mangy ranks, we watched them with curiosity…. They seemed rich in everything but joy….

The Americans also humiliated us as much as they could…. They put us in a camp with only a few large tents, which could shelter barely a tenth of us…. In the center of the camp, the Americans ripped open several large cases filled with canned food. They spread the cans onto the ground with a few kicks, and walked away. . . . The food was so delicious that we forgot about the driving rain, which had turned the ground into a sponge….

From their shelters, the Americans watched us and talked about us. They probably despised us for flinging ourselves so readily into such elementary concerns, and thought us cowards for accepting the circumstances of captivity. . . . We were not in the least like the German troops in the documentaries our charming captors had probably been shown before leaving their homeland. We provided them with no reasons for anger; we were not the arrogant, irascible Boches, but simply underfed men standing in the rain, ready to eat unseasoned canned food; living dead, with anxiety stamped on our faces, leaning against any support, half asleep on our feet; sick and wounded, who didn’t ask for treatment, but seemed content simply to sleep for long hours, undisturbed. It was clearly depressing for these crusading missionaries to find so much humility among the vanquished.

***

While the occupation of Germany was in progress during the spring of 1945, a horror unimaginable was transpiring in Czechoslovakia. On May 5, when rumors swept through Prague that US forces were only seven miles away, the citizens of the Czech capital rose up against the Nazi occupation. Before the day was out most of the German garrison had been isolated and surrounded.

Meanwhile, the roundup of prisoners, including many refugees, began. Years of pent hatred for the German minority in their midst now had a free hand among the population. Wrote Juergen Thorwald:

Crowds of Czechs awaited the transports of German prisoners in the streets to pelt them with stones, spit into their faces, and beat them with any object that came to hand. German women, children, and men ran the gauntlet, with arms over their heads, to reach the prison gates under a hail of blows and kicks. Women of every age were dragged from the groups, their heads were shaved, their faces smeared with paint, and swastikas were drawn on their bared backs and breasts. Many were violated, others forced to open their mouth to the spittle of their torturers.

On May 9, with the fighting ended, the mob turned its attention to the thousands of Germans locked in prisons.   “Several trucks loaded with German wounded and medical personnel drove into the [prison] court,” Thorwald continues. “The wounded, the nurses, the doctors had just climbed from their vehicles when suddenly a band of insurgents appeared from the street and pounced upon them. They tore away their crutches, canes, and bandages, knocked them to the ground, and with clubs, poles, and hammers hit them until the Germans lay still.”

“So began a day as evil as any known to history,” muttered Thorwald.

In the street, crowds were waiting for those who were marched out of their prisons…. [T]hey had come equipped with everything their aroused passions might desire, from hot pitch to garden shears…. They … grabbed Germans—and not only SS men—drenched them with gasoline, strung them up with their feet upper-most, set them on fire, and watched their agony, prolonged by the fact that in their position the rising heat and smoke did not suffocate them. They … tied German men and women together with barbed wire, shot into the bundles, and rolled them down into the Moldau River…. They beat every German until he lay still on the ground, forced naked women to remove the barricades, cut the tendons of their heels, and laughed at their writhing. Others they kicked to death. 

“At the corner opening onto Wasser Street,” said Czech, Ludek Pachmann, “hung three naked corpses, mutilated beyond recognition, their teeth entirely knocked out, their mouths nothing but bloody holes. Others had to drag their dead fellow-Germans into Stefans Street…. ‘Those are your brothers, kiss them!’ And so the still-living Germans, lips pressed tightly together, had to kiss their dead.”

As he tried to escape the city, Gert Rainer, a German soldier disguised as a priest, saw sights that seemed straight from hell:

[A] sobbing young woman was kneeling, showering kisses on a child in her arms. . . . The child’s eyes had been gouged out, and a knife still protruded from his abdomen. The woman’s torn clothing and disheveled hair indicated that she had fought like a fury. Lost in her sorrow, she had not noticed the approaching stranger. He bent down to her and put her in mind that she had better not stay here. She was in danger of being shot herself.

“But that’s what I want!” she suddenly cried. “I don’t want to go on living without my little Peter!”

 In their sadistic ecstasy, people turned public mass murder into a folk festival. … Five young women had been tied to an advertising pillar, the rope wrapped about them several times. Their seven children had been packed into a gutter of sorts at their feet…. [A] Czech woman, perhaps 50 years of age, was pouring gasoline over the tied-up mothers. Others were spitting in their faces, slapping them and tearing whole fistfuls of hair. Then the oldest of them, laughing frenetically, lit a newspaper and ran around the pillar holding the burning paper to the gasoline-soaked victims. Like a flash, the pillar and the five others disappeared in flames several meters high…. The spectators had not noticed that one of the burning Germans had torn through the charring rope and thrown herself into the flames that licked up through the grating. With strength borne of a courage beyond death, she lifted out the grating and, lying on her stomach, tried to reach down into the tangle of blazing children. Lifeless, she lay in the flames.

In the meantime, the other four women, on fire from their feet to their hair, had slumped down as the common support of the rope was gone. That was the cue for their murderers to begin dancing around the pillar, cheering and rejoicing. The howling of the butchers grew even louder.

On Wenzels Square there was not one lamp-post without a German soldier strung up from it. The majority of them had been war-injured. . . . A crowd literally jumping for joy surrounded an arena-like clearing, in the center of which two men held a stark-naked young German woman. Each of her breasts had been pierced with a large safety-pin, from which Iron Crosses were hung. A rod bearing a swastika flag at one end had been stabbed through her navel…. A naked German lay motionless beside her trampled child. She had been beaten to death. A gaping head wound revealed her brain, oozing out.

Several men had been dragged down from a Wehrmacht truck. Their hands were tied, the other end of the rope fastened to the hitch beneath the back end of the truck…. A young Czech climbed into the driver’s seat. When the truck started, the spectators fell into a frenzy of hatred…. The five captives were pulled along by ropes some 60 feet long. As yet they could keep up with the truck. But the more the driver picked up speed, the more it became impossible for them to keep on their feet. One after the other fell, jerked forward, and was dragged along at ever-increasing speed. After but a few rounds, the Germans were mangled beyond recognition. One single lump of blood, flesh and dirt comprised the pitiful haul of this chariot of bestiality.

At the huge sports stadium, thousands of Germans were herded onto the field to provide amusement for a laughing, howling audience. “Before our very eyes . . . [they] were tortured to death in every conceivable way,” remembered Josefine Waimann. “Most deeply branded on my memory is the pregnant woman whose belly . . . uniformed Czechs slashed open, ripped out the fetus and then, howling with glee, stuffed a dachshund into the torn womb of the woman, who was screaming dreadfully…. The slaughter happening in the arena before our very eyes was like that in ancient Rome.”

The horror born at Prague soon spread to the rest of Czechoslovakia, particularly the Sudentland, where Germans had lived for over seven centuries.

“Take everything from the Germans,” demanded Czech president, Edvard Benes, “leave them only a handkerchief to sob into!”

“You may kill Germans, it’s no sin,” cried a priest to a village mob. At Bilna, wrote a chronicler . . .

men and women were rounded up in the market square, had to strip naked and were made to walk single-file while being beaten by the population with whips and canes. Then . . . the men had to crawl on all fours, like dogs, one behind the other, during which they were beaten until they lost control of their bowels; each had to lick the excrement off the one in front of him. This torture continued until many of them had been beaten to death. . . . What was done to the women there simply cannot be described, the sadistic monstrousness of it is simply too great for words.

“When I passed through Czechoslovakia after the collapse,” one German soldier recalled, “I saw severed human heads lining window sills, and in one butcher’s shop naked corpses were hanging from the meat hooks.”

When the fury had finally spent itself in Czechoslovakia, over 200,000 people had been butchered. Similar purges of German minorities occurred in Rumania, Hungary and Yugoslavia where men, women and children, by the hundreds of thousands, were massacred in cold blood. The slaughter throughout Europe was not confined to ethnic Germans alone. Following the Allied occupation of France, over 100,000 French citizens were murdered by their countrymen because of collaboration with the Germans or anti-communist activities. Similar, though smaller, and less bestial, reckonings took place in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Norway.

***

“It just wasn’t human,” an American GI said simply of the forced repatriation to the Soviet Union of millions of anti-Communist Russians and Ukrainians after the war.

Well aware that some grim details from “Operation Keelhaul” were bound to surface, Allied leaders were quick to squash rumors and reassure the public. “[T]he United States Government has taken a firm stand against any forced repatriation and will continue to maintain this position… ,” solemnly assuaged a spokesman for the War Department long after most of the Russian returnees had been slaughtered or enslaved in Stalin’s USSR. “There is no intention that any refugee be returned home against his will.”

To do otherwise, General Eisenhower later chimed, “would … violate the fundamental humanitarian principles we espoused.”

Even as he was soothing public concern over Russian repatriation, Eisenhower’s “humanitarian principles” were hard at work in the numerous American death camps.

***

“God, I hate the Germans,” the Supreme Allied Commander had written his wife in 1944. As Mrs. Eisenhower and anyone else close to the general knew, Dwight David Eisenhower’s loathing of all things German was nothing short of pathological.

DwightD.Eisenhower(LibraryofCongress)BESTGOODWith the final capitulation on May 8, the allied chief found himself in control of over five million ragged, weary, but living, enemy soldiers. “It is a pity we could not have killed more,” muttered the general, dissatisfied with the body-count of the greatest blood-bath in human history. And so, Eisenhower (right) settled for next best: If he could not kill armed Germans in war, he would kill disarmed Germans in peace. Because the Geneva Convention guaranteed POWs of signer nations the same food, shelter and medical attention as their captors, and because these laws were to be enforced by the International Red Cross, the American leader simply circumvented the treaty by creating his own category for prisoners. Under the general’s reclassification, German soldiers were no longer considered POWs, but DEFs— Disarmed Enemy Forces. With this sleight-of-hand, and in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, Eisenhower could now deal in secret with those in his power, free from the prying eyes of the outside world.

Even before war’s end, thousands of German POWs had died in American captivity from starvation, neglect or, in many cases, out-right murder. Wrote a survivor from one camp in April 1945:

Each group of ten was given the outdoor space of a medium-sized living room. We had to live like this for three months, no roof over our heads. Even the badly wounded only got a bundle of straw. And it rained on the Rhine for days. And we were always in the open. People died like flies. Then we got our first rations…. [W]e got one slice of bread for ten men. Each man got a tiny strip of that one slice. . . . And this went on for three long months. I only weighed 90 pounds. The dead were carried out every day. Then a voice would come over the loudspeaker: “German soldiers, eat slowly. You haven’t had anything to eat in a long time. When you get your rations today from the best fed army in the world, you’ll die if you don’t eat slowly.”

When two members of the US Army Medical Corp stumbled upon one of Eisenhower’s death camps, they were horrified by what they saw:

Huddled close together for warmth, behind the barbed wire was a most awesome sight—nearly 100,000 haggard, apathetic, dirty, gaunt, blank-staring men clad in dirty field gray uniforms, and standing ankle-deep in mud. . . . The German Division Commander reported that the men had not eaten for at least two days, and the provision of water was a major problem—yet only 200 yards away was the River Rhine running bank full.

With German surrender and the threat of retaliation against Allied POWs entirely erased, deaths in the American camps accelerated dramatically. While tens of thousands died of starvation and thirst, hundreds of thousands more perished from overcrowding and disease. Said sixteen-year-old Hugo Stehkamper:

I only had a sweater to protect me from the pouring rain and the cold. There just wasn’t any shelter to be had. You stood there, wet through and through, in fields that couldn’t be called fields anymore—they were ruined. You had to make an effort when you walked to even pull your shoes out of the mud. . . .

[I]ts incomprehensible to me how we could stand for many, many days without sitting, without lying down, just standing there, totally soaked. During the day we marched around, huddled together to try to warm each other a bit. At night we stood because we couldn’t walk and tried to keep awake by singing or humming songs. Again and again someone got so tired his knees got weak and he collapsed.

Added a starving comrade from a camp near Remagen:

The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole…. Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain….

We had to walk along between the holes of the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men….I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”

Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camps were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.

“The Americans were really shitty to us,” a survivor at another camp recalled. “All we had to eat was grass.”

camps_1_en_0

 American Death Camp

At Hans Woltersdorf ’s prison, the inmates survived on a daily soup made of birdseed. NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, read the words on the sacks. At another camp, a weeping seventeen-year-old stood day-in, day-out beside the barbed wire fence. In the distance, the youth could just view his own village. One morning, inmates awoke to find the boy dead, his body strung up by guards and left dangling on the wires. When outraged prisoners cried “Murderers! Murderers!” the camp commander withheld their meager rations for three days. “For us who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness . . . it meant death,” said one of the men.

“Civilians from nearby villages and towns were prevented at gun-point from passing food through the fence to prisoners,” revealed another German from his camp near Ludwigshafen.

There was no lack of food or shelter among the victorious Allies. Indeed, American supply depots were bursting at the seams. “More stocks than we can ever use,” one general announced. “[They] stretch as far as [the] eye can see.” Instead of allowing even a trickle of this bounty to reach the compounds, the starvation diet was further reduced.

“Outside the camp the Americans were burning food which they could not eat themselves,” said a starving Werner Laska from his prison.

Horrified by the silent, secret massacre, the international Red Cross—which had over 100,000 tons of food stored in Switzerland—tried to intercede. When two trains loaded with supplies reached the camps, however, they were turned back by American officers.

“These Nazis are getting a dose of their own medicine,” a prison commandant reported proudly to one of Eisenhower’s “political” advisors.

“German soldiers were not common law convicts,” protested a Red Cross official, “they were drafted to fight in a national army on patriotic grounds and could not refuse military service any more than the Americans could.”

Like this individual, many others found no justification whatsoever in the massacre of helpless prisoners, especially since the German government had lived up to the Geneva Convention, as one American put it, “to a tee.”

“I have come up against few instances where Germans have not treated prisoners according to the rules, and respected the Red Cross,” wrote war correspondent Allan Wood of the London Express.

“The Germans even in their greatest moments of despair obeyed the Convention in most respects,” a US officer added. “True it is that there were front line atrocities—passions run high up there—but they were incidents, not practices; and maladministration of their American prison camps was very uncommon.”

Nevertheless, despite the Red Cross report that ninety-nine percent of American prisoners of war in Germany had survived and were on their way home, Eisenhower’s murderous program continued apace. One officer who refused to have a hand in the crime and who began releasing large numbers of prisoners soon after they were disarmed was George Patton. Explained the general:

I emphasized [to the troops] the necessity for the proper treatment of prisoners of war, both as to their lives and property. My usual statement was . . . “Kill all the Germans you can but do not put them up against a wall and kill them. Do your killing while they are still fighting. After a man has surrendered, he should be treated exactly in accordance with the Rules of Land Warfare, and just as you would hope to be treated if you were foolish enough to surrender. Americans do not kick people in the teeth after they are down.”

Although other upright generals such as Omar Bradley and J. C. H. Lee issued orders to release POWs, Eisenhower quickly overruled them. Mercifully, for the two million Germans under British control, Bernard Montgomery refused to participate in the massacre. Indeed, soon after war’s end, the field marshal released and sent home most of his prisoners.

After being shuttled from one enclosure to the next, Corporal Helmut Liebich had seen for himself all the horrors the American death camps had to give. At one compound, amused guards formed lines and beat starving prisoners with clubs and sticks as they ran the gauntlet for their paltry rations. At another camp of 5,200 men, Liebich watched as ten to thirty bodies were hauled away every day. At yet another prison, there were “35 days of starvation and 15 days of no food at all,” and what little the wretched inmates did receive was rotten. Finally, in June 1945, Liebich’s camp at Rheinberg passed to British control. Immediately, survivors were given food and shelter and for those like Liebich—who now weighed 97 pounds and was dying of dysentery—swift medical attention was provided.

“It was wonderful to be under a roof in a real bed,” the corporal reminisced. “We were treated like human beings again. The Tommies treated us like comrades.”

Before the British could take complete control of the camp, however, Liebich noted that American bulldozers leveled one section of the compound where skeletal—but breathing—men still lay in their holes.

If possible, Germans in French hands suffered even more than those held by Americans. When France requested slaves as part of its war booty, Eisenhower transferred over 600,000 Germans east.

“Gee! I hope we don’t ever lose a war,” muttered one GI as he stared at the broken, starving wrecks being selected for slavery.

“When we marched through Namur in a column seven abreast, there was also a Catholic procession going through the street,” remembered one slave as he moved through Belgium. “When the people saw the POWs, the procession dissolved, and they threw rocks and horse shit at us. From Namur, we went by train in open railroad cars. At one point we went under a bridge, and railroad ties were thrown from it into the cars filled with POWs, causing several deaths. Later we went under another overpass, and women lifted their skirts and relieved themselves on us.”

Once in France, the assaults intensified. “[W]e were cursed, spat upon and even physically attacked by the French population, especially the women,” Hans von der Heide wrote. “I bitterly recalled scenes from the spring of 1943, when we marched American POWs through the streets of Paris. They were threatened and insulted no differently by the French mob.”

Like the Americans, the French starved their prisoners. Unlike the Americans, the French drained the last ounce of labor from their victims before they dropped dead. “I have seen them beaten with rifle butts and kicked with feet in the streets of the town because they broke down of overwork,” remarked a witness from Langres. “Two or three of them die of exhaustion every week.”

“In another camp,” a horrified viewer added, “prisoners receive only one meal a day but are expected to continue working. Elsewhere so many have died recently that the cemetery space was exhausted and another had to be built.”

Revealed the French journal, Figaro: “In certain camps for German prisoners of war … living skeletons may be seen . . . and deaths from undernourishment are numerous. We learn that prisoners have been savagely and systematically beaten and that some have been employed in removing mines without protection equipment so that they have been condemned to die sooner or later.”

“Twenty-five percent of the men in [our] camp died in one month,” echoed a slave from Buglose.

The enslavement of German soldiers was not limited to France. Although fed and treated infinitely better, several hundred thousand POWs in Great Britain were transformed into virtual slaves. Wrote historian Ralph Franklin Keeling at the time:

The British Government nets over $250,000,000 annually from its slaves. The Government, which frankly calls itself the “owner” of the prisoners, hires the men out to any employer needing men, charging the going rates of pay for such work—usually $15 to $20 per week. It pays the slaves from 10 cents to 20 cents a day … plus such “amenities” as slaves customarily received in the former days of slavery in the form of clothing, food, and shelter.

When prisoners were put to work raising projects for Britain’s grand “Victory in Europe” celebration, one English foreman felt compelled to quip: “I guess the Jerries are preparing to celebrate their own down-fall. It does seem as though that is laying it on a bit thick.”

In vain did the International Red Cross protest:

The United States, Britain, and France … are violating International Red Cross agreements they solemnly signed in 1929. Investigation at Geneva headquarters today disclosed that the transfer of German war prisoners captured by the American army to French and British authorities for forced labor is nowhere permitted in the statues of the International Red Cross, which is the highest authority on the subject in the world.

***

Meanwhile, those Germans not consigned to bondage continued to perish in American prisons. Landsers who did not succumb to hunger or disease often died of thirst, even though streams sometimes ran just a few feet from the camps. “[T]he lack of water was the worst thing of all,” remembered George Weiss of his enclosure where the Rhine flowed just beyond the barbed wire. “For three and a half days we had no water at all. We would drink our own urine. It tasted terrible, but what could we do? Some men got down on the ground and licked the ground to get some moisture. I was so weak I was already on my knees.”

“[O]thers,” observed American guard, Martin Brech, “tried to escape in a demented or suicidal fashion, running through open fields in broad daylight towards the Rhine to quench their thirst. They were mowed down.”

As if their plight were not already hideous enough, prisoners occasionally became the targets of drunken and sadistic guards who sprayed the camps with machine-gun fire for sport. “I think . . ,” Private Brech continued, “[that] soldiers not exposed to combat were trying to prove how tough they were by taking it out on the prisoners and civilians.”

I encountered a captain on a hill above the Rhine shooting down at a group of German civilian women with his .45 caliber pistol. When I asked, “Why?” he mumbled, “Target practice,” and fired until his pistol was empty…. This is when I realized I was dealing with cold-blooded killers filled with moralistic hatred.

While continuing to deny the Red Cross and other relief agencies access to the camps, Eisenhower stressed among his lieutenants the need for secrecy. “Ike made the sensational statement that … now that hostilities were over, the important thing was to stay in with world public opinion—apparently whether it was right or wrong . . . ,” recorded George Patton. “After lunch [he] talked to us very confidentially on the necessity for solidarity in the event that any of us are called before a Congressional Committee.”

To prevent the gruesome details from reaching the outside world— and sidetrack those that did—counter-rumors were circulated stating that, far from mistreating and murdering prisoners, US camp commanders were actually turning back released Germans who tried to slip back in for food and shelter.

Ultimately, at least 800,000 German prisoners died in the American and French death camps. “Quite probably,” one expert later wrote, the figure of one million is closer to the mark. And thus, in “peace,” did ten times the number of Landsers die than were killed on the whole Western Front during the whole of the war.

***

Unlike their democratic counterparts, the Soviet Union made little effort to hide from the world the fate of German prisoners in its hands. Toiling by the hundreds of thousands in the forests and mines of Siberia, the captives were slaves pure and simple and no attempt was made to disguise the fact. For the enslaved Germans, male and female, the odds of surviving the Soviet gulags were even worse than escaping the American or French death camps and a trip to Siberia was tantamount to a death sentence. What little food the slaves received was intended merely to maintain their strength so that the last drop of energy could be drained from them.

And so, with the once mighty Wehrmacht now disarmed and enslaved, and with their leaders either dead or awaiting trial for so-called “war crimes,” the old men, women and children who remained in the dismembered Reich found themselves utterly at the mercy of the victors. Unfortunately for these survivors, never in the history of the world was mercy in shorter supply.

***

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe, the purge of Nazi Party members from government, business, industry, science, education, and all other walks of German life commenced. While a surprising number of Nazis were allowed—even compelled—to man their posts temporarily to enable a smooth transition, all party members, high and low, were sooner or later excised from German daily life. In theory, “de-Nazification” was a simple transplanting of Nazi officials with those of democratic, socialist or communist underpinnings. In practice, the purge became little more than a cloak for an orgy of rape, torture and death.

BeFunky_waffen-SS-soldiers-brutalised-american-allied-soldiers-ww2-001.jpg 

De-Nazification

Because their knowledge of the language and culture was superb, most of the intelligence officers accompanying US and British forces into the Reich were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in the late 1930s. Although their American and English “aides” were hardly better, the fact that many of these “39ers” became interrogators, examiners and screeners, with old scores to settle, insured that Nazis— or any German, for that matter—would be shown no mercy.

One man opposed to the vengeance-minded program was George Patton. “Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and [Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working … ,” wrote the general in private. “I am frankly opposed to this war-criminal stuff. It is not cricket and it is Semitic….I can’t see how Americans can sink so low.”

Soon after occupation, all adult Germans were compelled to register at the nearest Allied headquarters and complete a lengthy questionnaire on their past activities. While many nervous citizens were detained then and there, most returned home, convinced that at long last the terrible ordeal was over. For millions, however, the trial had but begun.

“Then it started,” remembered Anna Fest, a woman who had registered with the Americans six weeks earlier.

Such a feeling of helplessness, when three or four heavily armed military police stand in front of you. You just panic. I cried terribly. My mother was completely beside herself and said, “You can’t do this. She registered just as she was supposed to.” Then she said, “If only you’d gone somewhere else and had hidden.” But I consider that senseless, because I did not feel guilty. . . . That was the way it went with everyone, with no reason given.

Few German adults, Nazi or not, escaped the dreaded knock on the door. Far from being dangerous fascists, Freddy and Lali Horstmann were actually well-known anti-Nazis. Records Lali from the Russian Zone:

I am sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I am simply carrying out my orders. Until when did you work for the Foreign Office?”

Till 1933,” my husband answered.

Then you need fear nothing,” Androff said…. “We accuse you of nothing, but we want you to accompany us to the headquarters of the NKVD, the secret police, so that we can take down what you said in a protocol, and ask you a few questions about the working of the Foreign Office… .”

We were stunned for a moment; then I started forward, asking if I could come along with them. “Impossible,” the interpreter smiled. My heart raced. Would Freddy answer satisfactorily? Could he stand the excitement? What sort of accommodation would they give him?

“Dont worry, your husband has nothing to fear,” Androff continued. “He will have a heated room. Give him a blanket for the night, but quickly, we must leave. .. .”

There was a feeling of sharp tension, putting the soldier on his guard, as though he were expecting an attack from one of us. I took first the soldier, then the interpreter, by their hands and begged them to be kind to Freddy, repeating myself in the bustle and scraping of feet that drowned my words. There was a banging of doors. A cold wind blew in. I felt Freddy kiss me. I never saw him again.

“[W]e were wakened by the sound of tires screeching, engines stopping abruptly, orders yelled, general din, and a hammering on the window shutters. Then the intruders broke through the door, and we saw Americans with rifles who stood in front of our bed and shone lights at us. None of them spoke German, but their gestures said: ‘Get dressed, come with us immediately.’ This was my fourth arrest.”

a_riefenstahlSo wrote Leni Riefenstahl (left), a talented young woman who was perhaps the world’s greatest film-maker. Because her epic documentaries— Triumph of the Will and Olympia—seemed paeans to not only Germany, but National Socialism, and because of her close relationship with an admiring Adolf Hitler, Leni was of more than passing interest to the Allies. Though false, rumors also hinted that the attractive, sometimes-actress was also a “mistress of the devil”—that she and Hitler were lovers.

“Neither my husband nor my mother nor any of my three assistants had ever joined the Nazi Party, nor had any of us been politically active,” said the confused young woman. “No charges had ever been filed against us, yet we were at the mercy of the [Allies] and had no legal protection of any kind.”

Soon after Leni’s fourth arrest, came a fifth.

The jeep raced along the autobahns until, a few hours later …I was brought to the Salzburg Prison; there an elderly prison matron rudely pushed me into the cell, kicking me so hard that I fell to the ground; then the door was locked. There were two other women in the dark, barren room, and one of them, on her knees, slid about the floor, jabbering confusedly; then she began to scream, her limbs writhing hysterically. She seemed to have lost her mind. The other woman crouched on her bunk, weeping to herself.

As Leni and others quickly discovered, the “softening up” process began soon after arrival at an Allied prison. When Ernst von Salomon, his Jewish girl friend and fellow prisoners reached an American holding pen near Munich, the men were promptly led into a room and brutally beaten by military police. With his teeth knocked out and blood spurting from his mouth, von Salomon moaned to a gum-chewing officer, “You are no gentlemen.” The remark brought only a roar of laughter from the attackers. “No, no, no!” the GIs grinned. “We are Mississippi boys!” In another room, military policemen raped the women at will while leering soldiers watched from windows.

After such savage treatment, the feelings of despair only intensified once the captives were crammed into cells.

“The people had been standing there for three days, waiting to be interrogated,” remembered a German physician ordered to treat prisoners in the Soviet Zone. “At the sight of us a pandemonium broke out which left me helpless…. As far as I could gather, the usual senseless questions were being reiterated: Why were they there, and for how long? They had no water and hardly anything to eat. They wanted to be let out more often than once a day…. A great many of them have dysentery so badly that they can no longer get up.”

“Young Poles made fun of us,” said a woman from her cell in the same zone. “[They] threw bricks through the windows, paperbags with sand, and skins of hares filled with excrement. We did not dare to move or offer resistance, but huddled together in the farthest corner, in order not to be hit, which could not always be avoided. . . . [W]e were never free from torments.”

“For hours on end I rolled about on my bed, trying to forget my surroundings,” recalled Leni Riefenstahl, “but it was impossible.”

The mentally disturbed woman kept screaming—all through the night; but even worse were the yells and shrieks of men from the courtyard, men who were being beaten, screaming like animals. I subsequently found out that a company of SS men was being interrogated.

They came for me the next morning, and I was taken to a padded cell where I had to strip naked, and a woman examined every square inch of my body. Then I had to get dressed and go down to the courtyard, where many men were standing, apparently prisoners, and I was the only woman. We had to line up before an American guard who spoke German. The prisoners stood to attention, so I tried to do the same, and then an American came who spoke fluent German. He pushed a few people together, then halted at the first in our line.

Were you in the Party?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, then said: Yes.”     He was slugged in the face and spat blood.

The American went on to the next in line. 

Were you in the Party?”

The man hesitated.

“Yes or no?”

Yes.”

And he too got punched so hard in the face that the blood ran out of his mouth. However, like the first man, he didn’t dare resist. They didn’t even instinctively raise their hands to protect themselves. They did nothing. They put up with the blows like dogs.

The next man was asked: “Were you in the Party?”

Silence.

Well?”

No, he yelled, so no punch. From then on nobody admitted that he had been in the Party and I was not even asked.

As the above case illustrated, there often was no rhyme or reason to the examinations; all seemed designed to force from the victim what the inquisitor wanted to hear, whether true or false. Additionally, most such “interrogations” were structured to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. Explained one prisoner:

The purpose of these interrogations is not to worm out of the people what they knew—which would be uninteresting anyway—but to extort from them special statements. The methods resorted to are extremely primitive; people are beaten up until they confess to having been members of the Nazi Party…. The authorities simply assume that, basically, everybody has belonged to the Party. Many people die during and after these interrogations, while others, who admit at once their party membership, are treated more leniently.

“A young commissar, who was a great hater of the Germans, cross-examined me… ,” said Gertrude Schulz. “When he put the question: ‘Frauenwerk [Women’s Labor Service]?’ I answered in the negative. Thereupon he became so enraged, that he beat me with a stick, until I was black and blue. I received about 15 blows … on my left upper arm, on my back and on my thigh. I collapsed and, as in the case of the first cross-examination, I had to sign the questionnaire.”

AmericanTorturePen(PublicDomain)BEST

American Torture Pen

“Both officers who took our testimony were former German Jews,” reminisced a member of the women’s SS, Anna Fest. While vicious dogs snarled nearby, one of the officers screamed questions and accusations at Anna. If the answers were not those desired, “he kicked me in the back and the other hit me.”

They kept saying we must have been armed, have had pistols or so. But we had no weapons, none of us….I had no pistol. I couldn’t say, just so they’d leave me in peace, yes, we had pistols. The same thing would happen to the next person to testify…. [T]he terrible thing was, the German men had to watch. That was a horrible, horrible experience…. That must have been terrible for them. When I went outside, several of them stood there with tears running down their cheeks. What could they have done? They could do nothing.

Not surprisingly, with beatings, rape, torture, and death facing them, few victims failed to “confess” and most gladly inked their name to any scrap of paper shown them. Some, like Anna, tried to resist. Such recalcitrance was almost always of short duration, however. Generally, after enduring blackened eyes, broken bones, electric shock to breasts—or, in the case of men, smashed testicles—only those who died during torture failed to sign confessions.

Alone, surrounded by sadistic hate, utterly bereft of law, many victims understandably escaped by taking their own lives. Like tiny islands in a vast sea of evil, however, miracles did occur. As he limped painfully back to his prison cell, one Wehrmacht officer reflected on the insults, beatings, and tortures he had endured and contemplated suicide.

I could not see properly in the semi-darkness and missed my open cell door. A kick in the back and I was sprawling on the floor. As I raised myself I said to myself I could not, should not accept this humiliation. I sat on my bunk. I had hidden a razor blade that would serve to open my veins. Then I looked at the New Testament and found these words in the Gospel of St. John: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Yes. You can mangle this poor body—I looked down at the running sores on my legs—but myself, my honor, God’s image that is in me, you cannot touch. This body is only a shell, not my real self. Without Him, without the Lord, my Lord, ye can do nothing. New strength seemed to rise in me.

I was pondering over what seemed to me a miracle when the heavy lock turned in the cell door. A very young American soldier came in, put his finger to his lips to warn me not to speak. “I saw it,” he said. “Here are baked potatoes.” He pulled the potatoes out of his pocket and gave them to me, and then went out, locking the door behind him.

***

Horrific as de-Nazification was in the British, French and, especially the American Zone, it was nothing compared to what took place in Poland, behind Soviet lines. In hundreds of concentration camps sponsored by an apparatus called the “Office of State Security,” thousands of Germans—male and female, old and young, high and low, Nazi and non–Nazi, SS, Wehrmacht, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, all—were rounded up and imprisoned. Staffed and run by Jews, with help from Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other concentration camp survivors, the prisons were little better than torture chambers where dying was a thing to be prolonged, not hastened. While those with blond hair, blue eyes and handsome features were first to go, anyone who spoke German would do.

Moments after arrival, prisoners were made horrifyingly aware of their fate. John Sack, himself a Jew, reports on one camp run by twenty-six-year-old Shlomo Morel:

ShomoMorel(PublicDomain)BEST“I was at Auschwitz,” Shlomo (left) proclaimed, lying to the Germans but, even more, to himself, psyching himself like a fighter the night of the championship, filling himself with hate for the Germans around him. “I was at Auschwitz for six long years, and I swore that if I got out, I’d pay all you Nazis back.” His eyes sent spears, but the “Nazis” sent him a look of simple bewilderment…. “Now sing the Horst Wessel Song!” No one did, and Shlomo, who carried a hard rubber club, hit it against a bed like some judge’s gavel. “Sing it, I say!”

The flags held high …,” some Germans began.     

“Everyone!” Shlomo said.

The ranks closed tight….”

“I said everyone!”

“Blond!

Shlomo cried to the blondest, bluest-eyed person there. “I said sing!” He swung his rubber club at the man’s golden head and hit it. The man staggered back.

Our comrades, killed by the Reds and Reactionaries….”

Sonofabitch!” Shlomo cried, enraged that the man was defying him by not singing but staggering back. He hit him again, saying, “Sing!”

Are marching in spirit with us….”    

“Louder!”

Clear the street for the Brown Battalions….”

Still louder!” cried Shlomo, hitting another shouting man.

“Millions of hopeful people….”    

“Nazi pigs!”

 “Are looking to the swastika… .”

Schweine!Shlomo cried. He threw down his rubber club, grabbed a wooden stool, and, a leg in his fist, started beating a German’s head. Without thinking, the man raised his arms, and Shlomo, enraged that the man would try to evade his just punishment, cried, “Sonofawhore!” and slammed the stool against the man’s chest. The man dropped his arms, and Shlomo started hitting his now undefended head when snap! the leg of the stool split off, and, cursing the German birchwood, he grabbed another stool and hit the German with that. No one was singing now, but Shlomo, shouting, didn’t notice. The other guards called out, “Blond!” “Black!” “Short!” “Tall!” and as each of these terrified people came up, they wielded their clubs upon him. The brawl went on till eleven o’clock, when the sweat-drenched invaders cried, “Pigs! We will fix you up!” and left the Germans alone.

Some were quite fixed…. Shlomo and his subordinates had killed them.

The next night it was more of the same . . . and the next night and the next and the next. Those who survived the “welcoming committees” at this and other camps were flung back into their pens.

“I was put with 30 women into a cell, which was intended to accommodate one person,” Gerlinde Winkler recalled. “The narrow space, into which we were rammed, was unbearable and our legs were all entangled together. . . . The women, ill with dysentery, were only allowed to go out once a day, in order to relieve themselves. A bucket without a cover was pushed into the cell with the remark: ‘Here you have one, you German sows.’  The stink was insupportable, and we were not allowed to open the little window.”

“The air in the cells became dense, the smell of the excrement filled it, the heat was like in Calcutta, and the flies made the ceiling black,” wrote John Sack. “I’m choking, the Germans thought, and one even took the community razor blade and, in despair, cut his throat open with it.”

When the wretched inmates were at last pried from their hellish tombs, it was only for interrogation. Sack continues:

As many as eight interrogators, almost all Jews, stood around any one German saying, “Were you in the Nazi Party?” Sometimes a German said, “Yes,” and the boys shouted, “Du schwein! You pig!” and beat him and broke his arm, perhaps, before sending him to his cell. . . . But usually a German said, “No,” and the boys … told him, “You’re lying. You were a Nazi.”

“No, I never was.”

Youre lying! We know about you!”

“No, I really wasn’t—”

“Du lugst! You’re lying!” they cried, hitting the obstinate man. “You better admit it! Or you’ll get a longer sentence! Now! Were you in the Nazi Party?”

No! the German often said, and the boys had to beat him and beat him until he was really crying, “I was a Nazi! Yes!”

But sometimes a German wouldn’t confess. One such hard case was a fifty-year-old….

Were you in the Party?”

“No, I wasn’t in it.”

“How many people work for you?”

“In the high season, thirty-five.”

“You must have been in the Party,” the boy deduced.

He asked for the German’s wallet, where he found a fishing license with the stamp of the German Anglers Association. Studying it, he told the German, “It’s stamped by the Party.”

Its not,” said the German.

Hed lost his left arm in World War I and was using his right arm to gesture with, and, to the boy, he may have seemed to be Heiling Hitler. The boy became violent. He grabbed the man’s collar, hit the man’s head against the wall, hit it against it ten times more, threw the man’s body onto the floor, and, in his boots, jumped on the man’s cringing chest as though jumping rope. A half dozen other interrogators, almost all Jews, pushed the man onto a couch, pulled off his trousers, and hit him with hard rubber clubs and hard rubber hoses full of stones. The sweat started running down the Jews’ arms, and the blood down the man’s naked legs.

Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!”

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!” the German screamed—screamed, till the boys had to go to Shlomo’s kitchen for a wooden spoon and to use it to cram some rags in the German’s mouth. Then they resumed beating him. . . . The more the man contradicted them, the more they hated him for it.

After undergoing similar sessions on a regular basis, the victim was brought back for the eighth time.

By now, the man was half unconscious due to his many concussions, and he wasn’t thinking clearly. The boys worked on him with rubber and oak-wood clubs and said, “Do you still say you weren’t in the Party?”

“No! I didn’t say I wasn’t in the Party!”

You didnt?”

“No!” said the punch drunk man. “I never said it!”

You were in the Party?”

Yes!”

The boys stopped beating him. They practically sighed, as if their ordeal were over now. They lit up cigarettes….

Scram,one said to the German. The man stood up, and he had his hand on the doorknob when one of the boys impulsively hit the back of his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.  

Aufstehen, du Deutsches schwein. Stand up, you German pig,” the boys said, kicking him till he stood up and collapsed again. Two boys carried him to his cell and dropped him in a corner….

Of course, the boys would beat up the Germans for “Yes”es as well as “No”s. In Glatz, the Jewish commandant asked a German policeman, “Were you in the Party?”

Of course! I was obliged to be!”

“Lie down, the commandant said, and six weeks later the boys were still whipping the German’s feet.

Some torture sessions lacked even the pretense of an examination. Remembered Eva Reimann:

My cell door opened. The guard, who, because of the foul smell, held a handkerchief to his nose, cried, “Reimann Eva! Come!” I was led to a first-floor room.

He shouted at me, “Take off your shoes!” I took them off.  “Lie down!” I lay down. He took a thick bamboo stick, and he beat the soles of my feet. I screamed, since the pain was very great. . . . The stick whistled down on me. A blow on my mouth tore my lower lip, and my teeth started bleeding violently. He beat my feet again. The pain was unbearable….

The door opened suddenly, and, smiling obligingly, a cigarette in his mouth, in came the chief of the Office, named Sternnagel. In faultless German he asked me, “What’s wrong here? Why do you let yourself be beaten? You just have to sign this document. Or should we jam your fingers in the door, until the bones are broad. . . ?

A man picked me up by the ankles, raised me eight inches above the floor, and let me fall. My hands were tied, and my head hit hard. . . . I lay in a bloody puddle. Someone cried, “Stand up!” I tried to, and, with unspeakable pain, I succeeded. A man with a pistol came, held it to my left temple, and said, “Will you now confess?” I told him, “Please shoot me.” Yes, I hoped to be freed from all his tortures. I begged him, “Please pull the trigger.”

After barely surviving his “interrogation,” one fourteen-year-old was taken to the camp infirmary. “My body was green, but my legs were fire red,” the boy said. “My wounds were bound with toilet paper, and I had to change the toilet paper every day. I was in the perfect place to watch what went on…. All the patients were beaten people, and they died everywhere: at their beds, in the washroom, on the toilet. At night, I had to step over the dead as if that were normal to do.”

When the supply of victims ran low, it was a simple matter to find more. John Sack:

One day, a German in pitch-black pants, the SS’s color, showed up in Lola’s prison. He’d been spotted near the city square by a Pole who’d said, “Fascist! You’re wearing black!” At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola’s prison. Some guards, all girls, then seized the incriminating evidence: the man’s black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of the tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, “Shut up!” and they didn’t recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The “man” was fourteen years old.

The girls decided to torture him [with]. . . . fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire.

At the larger prison camps, Germans died by the hundreds daily.

You pigs!” the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days, a Jewish guard cried, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!” and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. “Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!” the guard cried, and, when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. “Now cry!” the guard said. “And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!” and all the Germans moaned,

All the dogs are barking,

All the dogs are barking,

Just the little hot-dogs,

Arent barking at all.

The guard then cried, “Get undressed!” and, when the Germans were naked, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German’s throat, the German soon dying.

Utterly unhinged by years of persecution, by the loss of homes and loved ones, for the camp operators, no torture, no sadism, no bestiality, seemed too monstrous to inflict on those now in their power. Some Germans were forced to crawl on all fours and eat their own excrement as well as that of others. Many were drowned in open latrines. Hundreds were herded into buildings and burned to death or sealed in caskets and buried alive.

Near Lamsdorf, German women were forced to disinter bodies from a Polish burial site. According to John Sack:

The women did, and they started to suffer nausea as the bodies, black as the stuff in a gutter, appeared. The faces were rotten, the flesh was glue, but the guards—who had often seemed psychopathic, making a German woman drink urine, drink blood, and eat a man’s excrement, inserting an oily five-mark bill in a woman’s vagina, putting a match to it—shouted at the women . . . “Lie down with them!” The women did, and the guards shouted, “Hug them!” “Kiss them!” “Make love with them!” and, with their rifles, pushed on the backs of the women’s heads until their eyes, noses and mouths were deep in the Polish faces’ slime. The women who clamped their lips couldn’t scream, and the women who screamed had to taste something vile. Spitting, retching, the women at last stood up, the wet tendrils still on their chins, fingers, clothes, the wet seeping into the fibers, the stink like a mist around them as they marched back to Lamsdorf. There were no showers there, and the corpses had all had typhus, apparently, and sixty-four women . . . died.

Not surprisingly, the mortality rate at the concentration camps was staggering and relatively few survived. At one prison of eight thousand, a mere 1,500 lived to reach home. And of those “lucky” individuals who did leave with their lives, few could any longer be called human.

When a smattering of accounts began to leak from Poland of the unspeakable crimes being committed, many in the West were stunned. “One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again,” muttered one US senator, who then reported on beatings, torture and “brains splashed on the ceiling.”

“Is this what our soldiers died for?” echoed a Briton in the House of Commons.

Added Winston Churchill: “Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain.”

While Churchill and others in the West were expressing shock and surprise over the sadistic slaughter taking place in the Soviet Zone, precious little was said about the “tragedy on a prodigious scale” that was transpiring in their own backyard.

***

Among the millions imprisoned by the Allies were thousands of Germans accused of having a direct or indirect hand in war crimes. Because the victorious powers demanded swift and severe punishment, Allied prosecutors were urged to get the most damning indictments in as little time as possible. Unfortunately for the accused, their captors seemed determined to inflict as much pain as possible in the process.

“[W]e were thrown into small cells stark naked,” Hans Schmidt later wrote. “The cells in which three or four persons were incarcerated were six and a half by ten feet in size and had no windows or ventilation.”

When we went to the lavatory we had to run through a lane of Americans who struck us with straps, brooms, cudgels, buckets, belts, and pistol holders to make us fall down. Our head, eyes, body, belly, and genitals were violently injured. A man stood inside the lavatory to beat us and spit on us. We returned to our cells through the same ordeal. The temperature in the cells was 140 Fahrenheit or more. During the first three days we were given only one cup of water and a small slice of bread. During the first days we perspired all the time, then perspiration stopped. We were kept standing chained back to back for hours. We suffered terribly from thirst, blood stagnation and mortification of the hands. From time to time water was poured on the almost red-hot radiators, filling the cells with steam, so that we could hardly breathe. During all this time the cells were in darkness, except when the American soldiers entered and switched on electric bulbs … which forced us to close our eyes.

Our thirst became more and more cruel, so that our lips cracked, our tongues were stiff, and we eventually became apathetic, or raved, or collapsed.

After enduring this torture for several days, we were given a small blanket to cover our nakedness, and driven to the courtyard outside. The uneven soil was covered with pebbles and slag and we were again beaten and finally driven back on our smashed and bleeding feet. While out of breath, burning cigarettes were pushed into our mouths, and each of us was forced to eat three or four of them. Meanwhile the American soldiers continued to hit us on eyes, head, and ears. Back in our cells we were pushed against burning radiators, so that our skin was blistered.

For thirteen days and nights we received the same treatment, tortured by heat and thirst. When we begged for water, our guards mocked us. When we fainted we were revived by being drenched with cold water. There was dirt everywhere and we were never allowed to wash, our inflamed eyes gave us terrible pain, we fainted continuously.

Every twenty minutes or so our cell doors were opened and the soldiers insulted and hit us. Whenever the doors were opened we had to stand still with our backs to the door. Two plates of food, spiced with salt, pepper, and mustard to make us thirstier, were given us daily. We ate in the dark on the floor. The thirst was the most terrible of all our tortures and we could not sleep.

In this condition I was brought to trial.

During the Nazi war crimes trials and hearings, almost any method that would obtain a “confession” was employed. Eager to implicate high-ranking German officers in the Malmedy Massacre, American investigator Harry Thon ordered Wehrmacht sergeant Willi Schafer to write out an incriminating affidavit:

Next morning Mr. Thon appeared in my cell, read my report, tore it up, swore at me and hit me. After threatening to have me killed unless I wrote what he wanted, he left. A few minutes later the door of my cell opened, a black hood encrusted with blood, was put over my head and face and I was led to another room. In view of Mr. Thon’s threat the black cap had a crushing effect on my spirits…. Four men of my company … accused me, although later they admitted to having borne false testimony. Nevertheless I still refused to incriminate myself. Thereupon Mr. Thon said that if I continued to refuse this would be taken as proof of my Nazi imagestyopinions, and . . . my death was certain. He said I would have no chance against four witnesses, and advised me for my own good to make a statement after which I would be set free. . . . I still refused. I told Mr. Thon that although my memory was good, I was unable to recall any of the occurrences he wished me to write about and which to the best of my knowledge had never occurred.

Mr. Thon left but returned in a little while with Lieutenant [William] Perl (above) who abused me, and told Mr. Thon that, should I not write what was required within half an hour, I should be left to my fate. Lieutenant Perl made it clear to me that I had the alternative of writing and going free or not writing and dying. I decided for life.

Another Landser unable to resist the pressure was Joachim Hoffman:

[W]hen taken for a hearing a black hood was placed over my head. The guards who took me to my hearing often struck or kicked me. I was twice thrown down the stairs and was hurt so much that blood ran out of my mouth and nose. At the hearing, when I told the officers about the ill treatment I had suffered, they only laughed. I was beaten and the black cap pulled over my face whenever I could not answer the questions put to me, or gave answers not pleasing to the officers….I was beaten and several times kicked in the genitals.

Understandably, after several such sessions, even the strongest submitted and signed papers incriminating themselves and others.

“If you confess you will go free,” nineteen-year-old Siegfried Jaenckel was told. “[Y]ou need only to say you had an order from your superiors. But if you won’t speak you will be hung.”

Despite the mental and physical abuse, young Jaenckel held out as long as he could: “I was beaten and I heard the cries of the men being tortured in adjoining cells, and whenever I was taken for a hearing I trembled with fear…. Subjected to such duress I eventually gave in, and signed the long statement dictated to me.”

Far from being isolated or extreme cases, such methods of extorting confessions were the rule rather than the exception. Wrote author Freda Utley, who learned of the horror after speaking with American jurist Edward van Roden:

Beatings and brutal kickings; knocking-out of teeth and breaking of jaws; mock trials; solitary confinement; torture with burning splinters; the use of investigators pretending to be priests; starvation; and promises of acquittal. . . . Judge van Roden said: “All but two of the Germans in the 139 cases we investigated had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was standard operating procedure with our American investigators.” He told of one German who had had lighted matchsticks forced under his fingernails by the American investigators to extort a confession, and had appeared at his trial with his fingers still bandaged from the atrocity.

In addition to testimony given under torture, those who might have spoken in defense of the accused were prevented. Moreover, hired “witnesses” were paid by the Americans to parrot the prosecution’s charges.

When criticism such as Utley’s and van Roden’s surfaced, and even as victims were being hung by the hundreds, those responsible defended their methods.

“We couldn’t have made those birds talk otherwise…,” laughed one Jewish “interrogator,” Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld. “It was a trick, and it worked like a charm.”

Volunteers Needed

To my readers, listeners and friends everywhere. . . .

Most of you are probably wondering why I am so remiss lately with my written and audio blogs on this web site.  Well, the fact is that for the last few months I have finally turned my full attention to the follow-up book of Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947.   The time spent on the research and writing–and rewriting–quite honestly eats up most of my waking moments.

The working title for this new book is Summer, 1945: Germany, Japan and the Harvest of Hate.  I don’t think I need to add–especially for those of you who have read Hellstorm yourselfthat this book will be a ground-breaking, gut-wrenching account. Much of the material in Summer, 1945 will be new to even the more serious students of the period.  Given the terrible crimes committed against both nations during that fateful last summer of the war I firmly believe that this book will have an even greater impact on the world than Hellstorm had.  And that is saying much.

Many of the comments I received from those who had finished Hellstorm mentioned that the book changed the way they viewed the world, that the book was “life-altering”, that there was the reader before the book, and there was now the reader after the book.  This, I predict, will be the same reaction of those who read Summer, 1945.  As before, the book will be graphic, to the point, and will pull absolutely no punches.  For the first time in over 70 years, most of these dark secrets, long-hidden from the world, will finally be available.  What was done to Germany and Japan by the Allied forces during and after the war were crimes so vast and hideous that one is quite literally staggered by the utter and shameless evil.

I am proud to say that in the past, many of you stepped to the front with your donations to help. Although I never asked for funds back then most of you instinctively understood the financial limitations of a non-academic historian such as myself . . . and you replied in kind.  For that, I thank you, one and all.

But now, I must do that which I never did in the past–I must ask up front for your financial support. As you might imagine, a book of this nature is expensive to research and write. Since I am working full-time on the book, there is very little extra income available . . . and like everyone else, I have bills that must be paid.

And so, to those of you who like your history honest, accurate and fearless, I ask that you give what you can.  To those of you who donate $50 or more, I will, upon publication, send a signed copy of the book.  Additionally, in the event a film is made based on the book, as was the case with Hellstorm, I will also see that you receive the DVD.

For those of you who can contribute via paypal, my ID is mtgoodrich@aol.com.  For those of you donating with cash, check or money order, my mailing address is: Tom Goodrich, 9011 Midnight Pass Rd., # 527, Sarasota, FL, 34242

On behalf of  history, Truthful History, thanks to everyone!

Tom

(Above: The US firebombing of Tokyo, 1945.  An estimated 100,000-200,000, mostly women, children and the elderly were burned to death that night)

 

Dirty Japs

When I was a child, I vividly recall a scene from an old war movie. . . .

The US Marines are storming some Pacific island and driving the terrified “Jap” defenders before them, much as safari beaters drive prey. The wild chase increases in momentum until the enemy is finally flushed from the trees and onto the beach. Halting their tanks, situating their machine guns for maximum effect, the marines open fire. Scores of Japanese are mowed down mercilessly. With no hope, with no escape, the survivors leap into the surf and try to swim for it. In a matter of minutes, there is not a living “Nip” among them.

Another scene I vividly recall seeing—and this only once—was a war documentary. A Japanese sailor is struggling in the water amid a flotsam of oil and debris, desperately trying to save himself. Clearly, he is a survivor from a recently sunk ship. The sailor is so close to the American naval vessel that I can see the fear and confusion in his face. Suddenly, from a point beyond camera range, bullets spray the water around the man. In a panic, the sailor begins swimming around and around in circles. Finally, a well-aimed bullet blows the young man’s head apart and he sinks silently beneath the surface.

In those old documentary films that cover World War Two in the Pacific, there is a very good reason why one seldom sees a live Jap in any of them, much less a prison camp filled with live Japs. Just as they were doing in Europe, Americans in the Pacific were taking no prisoners.  The awful truth never mentioned in these films, or in any book, for that matter, is that the war with Japan from start to finish was a black flag no-quarter contest in which the rules of engagement were shockingly simple: If the Japanese won, they lived . . . if they lost, they died.

***

Millions raped, millions tortured, millions enslaved, millions murdered—truly the defeat of Nazi Germany was utter in its hate and hellish in its evil.  It was, by all standards, the most savage and sadistic such defeat in human history.

Savage and sadistic as the war and ensuing Jewish “peace” in Germany was, nowhere was the terrible price of propaganda more evident than in the war with Japan. Unlike the Germans who not only looked and acted much like the Americans, British, French, and Russians, and shared a similar religion and culture, the Japanese were outwardly, at least, very different from their opponents in World War Two. Most graphic, of course, was race and the fact that the Japanese were Asians.

Although racially and culturally the enemy nations differed, prior to hostilities each side had no difficulty at all interacting amicably with one another. Indeed, a great degree of mutual respect, even admiration, existed among the two peoples.

All that changed in a blink, of course, on December 7, 1941.  With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor the American propaganda mill had no problem at all transforming those who had been universally acknowledged as a kind, courteous, and dignified people into a race of “dirty rats,” “yellow monkeys” and “sneaky Japs.” Thus, unlike the vilification campaign waged against Germans which took a great amount of time, effort and imagination, the job of demonizing the Japanese was simple. Once the US Government and the entertainment industry were up and rolling, the natural outrage and racial instincts of white Americans took over.

In the anti-Japanese furor that swept America following Pearl Harbor, in the hyper-heated madness to exact revenge for the attack, rare was that American who paused to consider that perhaps the impetus behind Pearl Harbor was the months of deliberate and humiliating aggression directed at Japan by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, including the embargo of vital raw materials without which Japan was doomed to collapse as an industrialized nation. Well before December 7, 1941, such sanctions were correctly viewed by the proud Japanese leadership, as well as the world, as a de facto declaration of war by the United States. Also, though few were aware at the time, it has long since been known that Roosevelt and others in the US government were well aware of the coming attack in the central Pacific.

Nevertheless, because of Japan’s military pact with Nazi Germany, Roosevelt and his Jewish “advisers” desperately hoped that backing the Japanese into a corner would provoke just such a response resulting in the United States entering the European war via the “back door.” In that case, the U.S. would then join with Britain and the Soviet Union to crush Hitler and Germany.

Thus, and almost on cue, the “sneak” attack at Pearl Harbor and the “date which will live in infamy” was used by the propagandists as a rallying cry to whip the American people—who had been decidedly against war—into a frenzy of anger, hatred and revenge.

If possible, the degree of American rage actually increased four months later when lurid details of the “Bataan Death March” reached the public. Bad enough in its own right, the chaotic 60-mile forced march of over 70,000 American and Filipino troops captured after the siege of Bataan was made infinitely worse by the fact that many of the prisoners were already near death from lack of food and medicine resulting from the long siege itself. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of prisoners, unable to provide transportation, the Japanese could do little else but watch as hundreds of prisoners dropped dead along the road during the long march.

De-Humanizing the EnemyDescribing them as “yellow vermin,” angry American artists created posters depicting the Japanese as everything and anything, save human—sneaking cockroaches, rampaging monkeys, large-fanged snakes, flapping vampire bats—an official U.S. Navy film described enemy soldiers as “living, snarling rats.”

Reinforcing this dehumanization process were US political and military leaders. While General Eisenhower was busily murdering as many as a 1.5 million disarmed German prisoners in his secret death camps, Admiral William Halsey, US commander of operations in the South Pacific, seemed determined that not a single Japanese in his sphere of operations would survive to even reach a death camp.

“Kill Japs! Kill Japs! Kill more Japs!” Halsey exhorted his men time and time again. “Remember Pearl Harbor—keep ‘em dying!”

Thus, in what was perhaps the worst-kept secret throughout all branches of the US military, it was this unofficial, yet understood, injunction to all American service men, high and low, that there was to be absolutely no mercy shown the enemy in combat.

“You will take no prisoners, you will kill every yellow son-of-a-bitch, and that’s it,” yelled a marine colonel to his men as their landing craft was about to touch shore on one Japanese-held island.

And thus it was, from the outset, from the initial island invasions of 1942, all the way down to 1945 and the nuclear holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “no quarter” to Japan and the Japanese was the tacit understanding.

***

Despite the generally held belief that persists to this day, a belief which argues that all Japanese soldiers willingly, even eagerly, died for the emperor, relatively few young men embraced such an end if there was any hope of living. Like the American, British and Australian soldiers they were facing, most Japanese soldiers dreamed only of a day when the war was over; when they could return home in peace to family and friends; to marry a sweetheart; to raise a family; to tend a small garden; to enjoy life. Nevertheless, almost from the first, it soon became apparent to these young men that there would be, that there could be, no surrender. Wrote one American early in the war:

Japanese were known to come out of the jungle unarmed with their hands raised crying ‘”mercy, mercy,” only to be mowed down by machine-gun fire.

Time and again, on every contested island and every spit of sand, Japanese soldiers and sailors were slaughtered the instant they raised their hands and walked forward to surrender. After scores of such encounters in which breathless comrades in hiding watched, waited, then witnessed the massacre of their unarmed friends, fewer and fewer Japanese soldiers entertained even the slightest notion of giving up.

Ironically, though murdering a helpless enemy may have brought some sadistic satisfaction to Allied soldiers, the failure to take prisoners insured that thousands of comrades would also be killed by an enemy now forced to dig in and fight to the death. It is also a fact that as the war wore on and defeat became certain, more and more Japanese soldiers would have gladly surrendered if only they could.

“If men had been allowed to surrender honorably,” admitted one Japanese veteran late in the war, “everybody would have been doing it.”

OneoftheFew--ALiveCaptiveBEST

One of the Few: A Live Enemy

In addition to the murder of prisoners, numerous other atrocities occurred. When one marine battalion captured a Japanese field hospital containing over 400 unarmed men, including patients and medics, all were slaughtered on the spot. Other massacres occurred when hundreds, even thousands, of Japanese were driven onto beaches or small peninsulas where there was no hope of escape. Such wholesale “kill offs” reminded one Midwestern marine of nothing so much as the merciless massacre of jack rabbits driven into fenced enclosures back home.

“Nothing can describe the hate we feel for the Nips,” wrote an American lieutenant to his mother. “The destruction, the torture, burning & death of countless civilians, the savage fight without purpose—to us they are dogs and rats—we love to kill them—to me and all of us killing Nips is the greatest sport known—it causes no sensation of killing a human being but we really get a kick out of hearing the bastards scream.”

Remembered another witness:

When a Japanese soldier was “flushed” from his hiding place . . . the unit . . . was resting and joking. But they seized their rifles and began using him as a live target while he dashed frantically around the clearing in search   of safety. The soldiers found his movements uproariously funny. Finally . . . they succeeded in killing him. . . .  None of the American soldiers apparently ever considered that he may have had human feelings of fear and the wish to be spared.

Flame throwers were a particularly sadistic way to “roast rats.” Reported one observer:

I have asked fighting men, for instance, why they—or actually, why we—regulated flame-throwers in such a way that enemy soldiers were set afire, to die slowly and painfully, rather than killed outright with a full blast of burning oil. Was it because they hated the enemy so thoroughly? The answer was invariably, “No, we don’t hate those poor bastards particularly; we just hate the whole goddam mess and have to take it out on somebody.”

“We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them,” bragged William Halsey. As the admiral was well aware, his men were doing much more than just burning and drowning the enemy. . . .

With discipline lax or non-existent, those who wanted to torture, kill and mutilate, did. Desecration of bodies first began with the first islands invaded. Along a wide stream dividing the two armies on Guadalcanal, fresh arriving troops noticed decapitated Japanese heads stuck on poles facing across the river. There on the “Canal” and elsewhere, U.S. Marines tossed the dead and dying into open latrines while others laughingly urinated into the open mouths of the wounded.

The collection of ears, noses, fingers, and other body parts was a pastime many marines proudly participated in. Some strung the trophies and wore them like necklaces.

“Our boys cut them off to show their friends in fun, or to dry and take back to the States when they go,” said one man matter-of-factly.

Cured Japnese SkullJapanese skulls were another popular trophy. Some were sent home to friends, family, even sweethearts. Most heads, however, after being “cured” by ravenous ants or boiled in kettles to remove flesh, were then sold to eager naval personnel.

Bones were also collected. Some were carved to form letter openers for folks back home. Even the White House received one such present.

“This is the sort of gift I like to get,” laughed President Roosevelt. “There’ll be plenty more such gifts.”

Understandably, when news reached Japan that the bodies of their sons and husbands were being wantonly abused and that the US president himself countenanced such atrocities, there was outrage. The Americans were portrayed in the Japanese press as “deranged, primitive, racist, and inhuman.” Explained one American, himself equally outraged:

The thought of a Japanese soldier’s skull becoming an American ashtray was as horrifying in Tokyo as the thought of an American prisoner used for bayonet practice was in New York.

Of all the trophies, however, none were more sought out than gold-capped teeth. After any battle or massacre, the mouths of the fallen were often the first stop for many Americans. Like South Sea prospectors, fights broke out when “claim-jumpers” attempted to steal the bodies claimed by others. One excited marine felt he had struck it rich after spotting a dead enemy. “But,” according to a witness . . .

. . . the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his knife on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, “Put the man out of his misery.” All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Understandably, Japanese soldiers had no more desire to surrender and be tortured than did US soldiers fighting the Indians on the Plains of America a century earlier. Each fought to the finish, but each also saved the “last bullet” for them self. If a Japanese soldier found himself surrounded with no way to escape or kill himself, he committed “suicide” by walking calmly back and forth along the enemy lines until a bullet found its mark. Sometimes ten, even twenty, Japanese would thus kill themselves simultaneously.

Once the Americans reached Saipan, Okinawa and other Japanese islands with civilian populations, mass rape was added to the menu of war crimes. Small wonder that a Japanese soldier, or civilian, for that matter, would do whatever it took to keep from falling into Allied hands. As one American revealed:

The northern tip of Saipan is a cliff with a sheer drop into the sea. At high tide the sharp coral rocks are almost covered with swirling surf. The Japanese civilians and the surviving soldiers were all crowded into this area. Now one of the worst horrors of the war occurred. In spite of loud-speaker messages asking them to surrender, and assurances that they would be well-treated, they began killing themselves. Soldiers clutched hand grenades to their bellies and pulled the pins. Through our spotting scopes from our observation post I witnessed this sickening spectacle. One of the worst experiences of my life.

Not only were there virtually no survivors among the 30,000 men of the Japanese garrison on Saipan, but two out of every three civilians—some 22,000 in all—were either murdered or committed suicide.

“We just blew it all up,” admitted one marine. “We don’t know if there were women and children or whatever, we just blew them up.”

“Japanese are still being shot all over the place,” reported an Australian late in the war. “The necessity for capturing them has ceased to worry anyone. Nippo soldiers are just so much machine-gun practice.”

A handful of prisoners did manage to get captured, of course, by accident if nothing else. All were spared solely for the information they might provide. When the interrogation was through, the subjects were of no further use. Wrote one witness:

When they flew Japanese prisoners back for questioning on a C-47, they kept the freight door at the side of the plane open, and when the questioning of each man was concluded, he’d be kicked overboard before they reached their destination.

Of course, it was not just island-hopping marines who committed countless atrocities; virtually all American service men partook. A Japanese sailor whose ship or submarine was sunk stood no better chance of survival than his comrade on shore. US naval vessels routinely shelled all life boats and machine-gunned any survivors still in the water. Overhead, Japanese pilots who escaped from burning planes were themselves murdered by Allied airmen as they struggled in their parachute harnesses.

As late as October, 1944, it was announced that a mere 604 Japanese were being held in Allied POW camps.

***

Just as the Allied air forces were targeting cities and civilians in Germany, so too was the US air force incinerating the women and children of Japan.  As was the case with his peers in Europe, cigar-chewing, Jap-hating Gen. Curtis Lemay had no qualms whatsoever of targeting non-combatants. Once his air armada moved within striking distance of the Japanese home islands, the American air commander sent his B-29 bombers to attack Japan with high explosives and phosphorous bombs. Virtually all Japanese urban centers suffered utter destruction but it was the larger cities that were forced to endure the hell of “fire bombing.”

In one raid on Tokyo alone, in one night, an estimated 75,000 to 200,000 people, mostly women and children, were burned to death. Only the incineration of Dresden, Germany, with an estimated death toll of between 200,000-400,000, was greater.

In January, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur forwarded to President Roosevelt a Japanese offer to surrender that he had just received. Roosevelt spurned the request. Seven months later, the new American president, Harry Truman, received virtually the same offer from the Japanese. This time, the Americans accepted. Had the Japanese surrender been accepted when first offered, well over one million people, American and Japanese, would not have died needlessly. Had peace been made in January, 1945, there would have been no battle blood-bathes as occurred at Iwo Jima, Saipan and Okinawa. There would have been no firebombing murder of hundreds of thousands of women and children in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and every other major Japanese city. And, perhaps most important of all, had the Japanese peace offer been accepted earlier there would have been no horrific use of atomic weapons against the women and children of Japan and no stigma or shame attached to we Americans forever for the use of such hideous and hellish weapons.

The fiery deaths of civilians in Tokyo and other cities and the vaporization of 200,000 mostly women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains an evil black smear on the human soul for all time to come; they provide a clear and terrible testament to man’s inhumanity to man. The unbridled assaults against the helpless civilians of Japan were also a graphic comment on the powerful price of propaganda. From beginning to end, American political and military leaders hoped to punish the Japanese like no other people in history had been punished. Hence, the refusal to accept Japan’s surrender in January, 1945, and the refusal to accept the surrender several times later on. The argument made by President Truman and his apologists that the atomic bombs were used to “end the war sooner” and thereby save both American and Japanese lives, was a lie; it was a lie then and it is a lie to this very day. In fact, Truman deliberately prolonged the war until the bombs were tested, assembled, delivered, and ready for use against Japan.  When the first device exploded as planned at Hiroshima and vaporized an estimated 80,000-100,000 civilians, Truman was eager to use another such bomb against another civilian target, Nagasaki. Had Truman a hundred nuclear weapons in his arsenal—rather than the mere two that he used—it seems clear he would have happily dropped them all on the women and children of Japan.

“The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them,” argued the American president. “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless necessary.”

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

Another argument for the use of the atomic bombs when Japan was willing, even eager, to surrender, was an attempt to impress the Soviet Union with American might. If such a line of reasoning was indeed true, as many later pointed out, then the weapons could have just as easily been used against isolated military targets, and not urban areas filled with women and children.

Certainly, one strong reason for using the weapon, though never mentioned then, and seldom mentioned even now, was hate. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were merely a more dramatic and devastating continuation of the no-quarter policy that had been in effect since December 7, 1941. The bombs were used against a much-hated enemy simply because the Americans wanted to use them. Weapons that would kill tens of thousands in a flash, then kill tens of thousands more in the most hideous and painful ways imaginable, made perfectly good sense at the time; it certainly made sense to Truman and millions of Americans then, and sadly, it still makes perfectly good sense to millions of Americans even now, seventy years later.

“The Dirty Japs began the war,” as the reasoning ran then, and still runs now, “the Dirty Japs fought the war in the most inhumane and barbarous way possible, and so it is thus fitting that these dirty yellow rats should suffer like no other people ever suffered;” or, as one American historian phrased it more delicately: “[T]he widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.”

Nevertheless, with the war clearly won, and with pangs of conscience beginning to reassert themselves among some, a few voices felt that the dropping of the terrible new weapon was a display of sadistic savagery, pure and simple.

“The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul,” former US president, Herbert Hoover, wrote shortly after the news reached him.

Added the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy:

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were almost defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.

And even Dwight David Eisenhower—a man who himself knew more than a little about the mass murder of a helpless enemy—suddenly found a mote of pity when he registered his complaint against the use of the hideous new weapon. “The Japanese were ready to surrender. . . ,” the general wrote. “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Mercifully, for everyone concerned, the Allied powers soon accepted the Japanese surrender seven months after it was originally offered and World War Two, the most savage and evil conflict in history, was over.

***

And while this was in progress, the “world’s worst peace” was claiming its European victims in their millions. None suffered more in war, none suffered more in “peace,” than German females.  Of all the numerous war crimes committed by the Allies during World War Two, the massive rapes committed against the helpless women and children were perhaps the most monstrous.  Of course, an untold number of German women and children did not survive the violent, nonstop assaults.  One million?  Two million?  Ten million?  Since no one in power cared, no one in power was counting.

And as this monstrous crime was enveloping the women of Europe, a similar spiritual slaughter was transpiring in Asia.

Because the great bulk of fighting in the war against Japan was fought on the water, in the air or across islands either uninhabited or sparsely populated, rape is a word seldom mentioned in American war diaries or official reports during the years 1941-1944.  When US forces invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa, however, this changed.  Almost immediately, and in spite of the bloody fighting, US soldiers began the sexual assault on the females of the island.  In one prefecture alone, during a ten-day period, over one thousand women reported being raped.  Since most victims would never come forward and voluntarily suffer such shame in a society where modesty and chastity were prized above all else, the number of rapes was undoubtedly much greater than reported.

Incidents like the following became common:

Marching south, men of the 4th Marines passed a group of some 10 American soldiers bunched together in a tight circle next to the road. They were “quite animated,” noted a corporal who assumed they were playing a game of craps. “Then as we passed them,” said the shocked marine, “I could see they were taking turns raping an oriental woman. I was furious, but our outfit kept marching by as though nothing unusual was going on.”

So pervasive was the crime, and so frightened were the people, that hundreds of Okinawa women committed suicide by swallowing poison or by leaping from the steep cliffs of the island.

With their nation’s surrender in August, 1945, Japanese officials were so concerned about the mass rape of their wives and daughters by the victors that they rounded up tens of thousands of girls from poorer families throughout the nation and all but forced them into prostitution at various brothels, or “comfort stations.”  Although such stop-gap measures did prevent wholesale rape on a German scale, this was small consolation to the women and children who had to endure the sanctioned sex attacks.  Earning anywhere from eight cents to a dollar a day, a girl working in the “rape stations,” as they more commonly were called, might be brutally raped and sodomized from 15 to 60 times a days.

“They took my clothes off,” remembered one little girl. “I was so small, they were so big, they raped me easily. I was bleeding, I was only 14. I can smell the men. I hate men.”

Despite hundreds of thousands of American and Australian occupation soldiers using the rape stations, thousands more preferred taking their sex violently.  In the days, weeks and months after the surrender, numerous atrocities were committed as the victors laid claim to the “spoils of war.”

In the Spring of 1946, American GI’s cut the phone lines in Nagoya and raped every women they could get their hands on, including children as young as ten.  At another city, US soldiers broke into a hospital and spent their time raping over 70 women, including one who had just given birth.  The mother’s infant was flung to the floor and killed.

Had Allied occupation commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, spent even half the time on stemming rape as he spent censoring news from Japan or running down real or imagined Japanese war criminals, the attacks would have been curtailed.  But, like his opposite in Europe, Gen. Eisenhower, he did not.

As American historian, John W. Dower, acknowledged:

Once you recognize that soldiers rape–including “our” guys, our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, sons, husbands, boyfriends, grandsons–then you understand the tremendous resistance [by authorities] to recognizing mass rapes during wartime as the atrocity it has always been and still is.

***

When it comes to propaganda, we suspected our enemies of it, but we never figured we were using propaganda. We felt like our country was too honest to use propaganda on us, and we honestly were not conscious that they were.

So wrote Katharine Phillips, an American Red Cross worker during World War Two.  Hardly concealed in Katherine’s words written long after the war, is the fear, the dread fear, that perhaps the inhuman evil that her generation was told to hate a thousand times over during four years of war may not have been so evil or so inhuman after all.  Just as with every other war known to man, World War Two had also been a war of words, a war of poisonous words; a war of deceit, treachery, hate, and lies in which trusting, unsuspecting people were lashed once again into a frenzy of murderous madness by outrageously vicious and vile propaganda. True, some angry words are perhaps needed in times of war to awaken and impassion the laggards among us to work and slave like ants to win such a contest; but equally true, some of that same propaganda, in the hands of evil men behind desks far removed from danger, contribute to outright murder of the most heartless and cold-blooded kind, encourage rape on a massive, historical scale, add to the agonizing death by fire of uncounted millions of women and children, and engender enough hate, misery and pain to make a planet groan.

For many, like Katherine, it took years before they came to realize that the very people they had been programmed to despise, dehumanize and ultimately exterminate like vermin were but after all, very frail, very frightened, very human, and finally . . . were very much like themselves. For a fortunate few, however, even in the midst of the terrible inferno itself, reality sometimes shattered the hate-filled propaganda unexpectedly.

The sudden re-humanization of the Japanese came as a shock to some. While sifting through a blackened, blown-out cave on Iwo Jima, one marine was “horrified” when he discovered some childish and brightly-colored paintings strewn among the wreckage. After poring over the art work, the soldier was stunned.

“The Japanese soldiers had children . . . who loved them and sent their art work to them,” the incredulous marine suddenly realized, just as American children would send pretty pictures to their equally proud fathers.

Rummaging through pockets of the fallen enemy, other Americans were startled when they found newspaper clippings of baseball teams back home in Japan, just as any normal American soldier would carry; or they discovered inside enemy helmets photos of beautiful Japanese movie stars just as many US marines folded pin-ups of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth in theirs; or they unwrapped delicate letters from home with pictures of girl friends inside, or they stumbled upon a torn photo amid the debris of battle of a now-dead soldier laughing and rolling on the ground with puppies in his back yard back home. For some Americans, the abrupt realization that there were more similarities between them and their enemy than not was life-altering.

Occasionally, in even more startling ways, the realization of shared humanity came when a dead soldier’s diary was discovered:

Sept. 30 1942 (still on Guadalcanal) We took a short rest in the grove, when we found a figure of a man in a bush. Had he escaped from a crashing plane or infiltrated from the sea? Two or three soldiers chased and caught him after five min or so. He was a young American soldier.

He got a bayonet cut on his forehead and was bleeding. He sat down on the ground leaning on coconut trunks and had his hands tied behind his back. He looked thin, unshaven and wore a waterproofing overcoat.

He pleaded with me to help him, ‘General, Help me! ‘General, Help me!’ He thought I was senior and an officer of higher rank. In the rain, I stood hesitant about what to do with this American soldier. It was impossible for me to set him free. We couldn’t take him with my party. . . . We had not roughed him up after capturing him, but the moment I had deported him, the men of the HQ treated him violently. I thought later I should have released him.

I regretted what I had done to him. He didn’t make me feel any hatred as an enemy. It was a strange feeling for me. He looked quite young and mild-mannered, and didn’t look strong or ferocious at all. He was gentle but fully composed and never disgraced himself. I can’t say what befell this young soldier. I am sure he was not a soldier who would easily leak out a military secret. And I am afraid he never returned to his camp.

With the dawn of peace, men and women of good will finally found the strength and courage to revisit the awful crucible they had recently escaped from. Some, in shame, cast off the old prejudice and hate that they once had so eagerly embraced, and seek a reckoning, an new and honest understanding of the past that they had played a part in.

Such was the case of Edgar Jones. A veteran himself, first in Europe, then in the Pacific, Jones struggled mightily to make sense of the many senseless things he had seen, heard and perhaps even done. When he was through, when he truly understood what had occurred, the veteran exploded in anger . . . and honesty.

We Americans have the dangerous tendency in our international thinking to take a holier-than-thou attitude toward other nations. We consider ourselves to be more noble and decent than other peoples, and consequently in a better position to decide what is right and wrong in the world. What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers. .  .  . [W]e mutilated the bodies of enemy dead, cutting off their ears and kicking out their gold teeth for souvenirs, and buried them with their testicles in their mouths. . . . We topped off our saturation bombing and burning of enemy civilians by dropping atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless cities, thereby setting an all-time record for instantaneous mass slaughter.

As victors we are privileged to try our defeated opponents for their crimes against humanity; but we should be realistic enough to appreciate that if we were on trial for breaking international laws, we should be found guilty on a dozen counts. We fought a dishonorable war, because morality had a low priority in battle. The tougher the fighting, the less room for decency, and in Pacific contests we saw mankind reach the blackest depths of bestiality.

Fortunately, the passionate, heartfelt words of Edgar Jones now speak for millions more around the globe. Alas, if only such words as his could be emblazoned across the sky in fiery letters before each and every rush to war and before each and every “holy crusade” to slaughter an “inhuman” enemy, then certainly the world would be a better place because of it.

Truth Volunteers Needed

 

To my readers, listeners, friends, and comrades….

Most of you are probably wondering why I am so remiss lately with my written and audio blogs on this web site.  Well, the fact is that for the last few months I have finally turned my full attention to the follow-up book of Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947.   The time spent on the research and writing–and rewriting–quite honestly eats up most of my waking moments.

The working title for this new book is Summer, 1945: Germany, Japan and the Harvest of Hate.  I don’t think I need to add–especially for those of you who have read Hellstorm yourselfthat this book will be a ground-breaking, gut-wrenching account. Much of the material in Summer, 1945 will be new to even the more serious students of the period.  Given the terrible crimes committed against both nations during that fateful last summer of the war I firmly believe that this book will have an even greater impact on the world than Hellstorm had.  And that is saying much.

Many of the comments I received from those who had finished Hellstorm mentioned that the book changed the way they viewed the world, that the book was “life-altering”, that there was the reader before the book, and there was now the reader after the book.  This, I predict, will be the same reaction of those who read Summer, 1945.  As before, the book will be graphic, to the point, and will pull absolutely no punches.  For the first time in over 70 years, most of these dark secrets, long-hidden from the world, will finally be available.  What was done to Germany and Japan by the Allied forces during and after the war were crimes so vast and hideous that one is quite literally staggered by the shameless evil.

I am proud to say that in the past, many of you stepped up to the plate with your donations to help. Although I never asked for funds back then most of you instinctively understood the financial limitations of a non-academic historian such as myself . . . and you replied in kind.  For that, I thank you, one and all. But now, I must do that which I never did in the past–I must ask up front for your financial support.  As you might imagine, a book of this nature is expensive to research and write. Since I am working full-time on the book, there is very little extra income available . . . and like everyone else, I have bills that must be paid.

And so, to those of you who like your history honest, accurate and fearless, I ask that you give what you can.  To those of you who donate $50 or more, I will, upon publication, send a signed copy of the book.  Additionally, in the event a film is made based on the book, as was the case with Hellstorm, I will also see that you receive the DVD.

For those of you who can contribute via paypal, my ID is mtgoodrich@aol.com.  For those of you donating with check or money order, my mailing address is: Tom Goodrich, 9011 Midnight Pass Rd., # 527, Sarasota, FL, 34242

On behalf of Truthful History, thanks to everyone!

Tom

(Above: The US firebombing of Tokyo, 1945.  An estimated 100,000-200,000, mostly women and children, were burned to death that night)

 

Hero

“When the sun is low in the sky, even dwarves cast long shadows.”

Just as U.S. flags seem perpetually at half staff for this person, that person, any person, “hero” too is a word, a thing, an idea, that has virtually lost its meaning.  Although it still has a positive ring, when an athlete with the IQ of an ice cube scores to win a game and is called a “hero” or when an entire 4th grade class at Orwell Elementary are proclaimed “heroes” because they successfully raised $500 to help feed poor “migrants” in their town, then somehow calling someone a hero who performs a truly heroic act loses lots of luster.  My quick definition of a hero would be someone who, without any hope of recognition, enrichment or advancement, nevertheless chooses to risk his skin in an attempt to perform a great deed of altruism.

Glen Greenwald was the journalist who reported the leaked NSA info given to him by the young whistle-blower, Ed Snowden. Here is what he said of Snowden:

“What I actually started to realize about all this is two things. Number one, courage is contagious. If you take a courageous step as an individual, you will literally change the world because you will affect all sorts of people in your immediate vicinity, who will then affect others and then affect others. You should never doubt your ability to change the world. The other thing that I realized is it doesn’t matter who you are as an individual or how formidable or powerful the institutions that you want to challenge are. Mr. Snowden is a high school dropout. His parents work for the federal government. He grew up in a lower middle class environment in a military community in Virginia. He ended up enlisting in the United States Army because he thought the Iraq War at first was noble. He then did the same with the NSA and the CIA because he thought those institutions were noble. He’s a person who has zero privilege, zero power, zero position and zero prestige and yet he by himself has literally changed the world.”

Hero?  This kid (33 years-old) fits my definition neatly.   Don’t want to split no hairs, either.  What is the point of protection when freedom is missing?  Rather than be a totally protected prisoner behind four gray walls, someone just  mercifully shoot me.

And yes, I’m positive that another false flag “terror” event like 9/11 is on tap to show American sports fans and Walmart shoppers just how much we need even more war, not less, and even more “protection,” not less . . . and our protectors will point and say, “Now, do you see why Edward Snowden was so bad?  Traitors like him allowed this to happen.”  And alas, polls will show that 96% of American sports fans and Walmart shoppers agree.

But just as power corrupts, so too does secrecy.  Unless we, each of us, seize the baton that this young, selfless man has extended to us we may expect more secrecy, not less, more surveillance, not less, less freedom, not more.  Any government that runs on secrecy, torture and war is not a government I want any part of.

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.”

Nor do I, Ed.

We need more heroes like Edward Snowden, not less.

War R Us

As these United States of Surveillance & Torture approach one of its highest, holiest days, Memorial Day, a few thoughts straight from the cocoanut to the keyboard. . . .

Why is it that we Americans must always witness soldiers, sailors and airmen marching in the flag at sporting events? Who gave these folks a corner on “patriotism?” Why must patriotism always be associated with wars, death, wars, lost limbs, wars, wheel chairs, wars, and other such brainless bull shit?  Why not allow firemen or farmers or brick layers or doctors or electricians or students or housewives or truck drivers to present the colors? After all, do we not count?  Do we not represent America too? Do we not slave and build and create and produce and pay taxes that allow Pentagon fat fucks to shower their mistresses with presents?  Do we not enable the military/industrial complex to shell out billions on aircraft that can’t fly?  Do we, the working men and women of America, do we not make $500 army toilet seats possible? In a word, does not our labor that purchases these bimbo gifts, these crashed jets, and these toilet seats, does not this also make a nation safe and strong?

The reason members of the armed forces must always represent us, of course, is that the old can-do America of hope and prosperity has been usurped utterly by the welfare/warfare state; we have been taken over not by the peace-makers, but by the war-makers; we have been hijacked by those with a vested interest in perpetuating war. Indeed, the average American sitcom-watcher is so busy waving flags, tying yellow ribbons, supporting troops, and honoring “heroes” that “peace” is a word hardly heard anymore.

American TV runs an endless list of old war movies reminding us how glorious war is; there is even a military channel showing all the up-to-date and fun, fun ways we might murder other people. One cannot watch a sporting event on TV without several military recruitment commercials trying to woo the young and the dumb to join “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” (Hmmmm.  A quarter million of anything—meatballs, monkeys, or marines—does not sound like a “few” to me) or to join the navy and be “a force for good around the world” (“good,” of course, depends on which side of the sidewinder missile you happen to be on), or “Get off your butt, you yellow-livered bed-wetter, and be strong . . . BE ARMY STRONG!”  Football and baseball teams now regularly sport camouflage uniforms to show their patriotism and military support.  Video games are all about combat and slaughter, past, present and future, and impressionable teens eagerly shed rivers of cyber blood and dream of the day when they can shed rivers of real blood. Our holidays—Christmas, included—have become little more than war commemoration days in which we give solemn thanks to all the “heroes” who keep us safe from all those lurking boogie men around the globe who hate our freedoms and who are trying to take them away. “Peace on earth, good will toward men” is now but a quaint slogan with about as much modern relevance as “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!”

“Support the Troops!” This phrase has become the universal cry. Why?  Why support the troops any more than we support the cops, the car salesmen, the garbage men, the school teachers, or the funnel cake makers?  “Support the Troops . . . They are fighting for our freedoms.” Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!  Sorry, but NO ONE seven thousand miles away killing with drones and missiles is fighting for my freedom. Last time I looked no one anywhere in the world was trying to filch my freedoms except my very own federal government.  And so, until we come to our senses—not likely–or suffer a defeat so deadly and devastating that no American will even whisper the word “War” for a thousand years—very likely—I expect to see so-called “heroes” in military uniform cranking out the flag before every sporting event.

***

Of course, the endless wars we witness today have absolutely nothing to do with “freedoms” here in America but they have everything to do with making the world safe for Israel to continue its crimes around the globe without fear of punishment.

I can think of no other nation on the planet—save Israel—that is more geared toward war, destruction, torture, assassination, and unmitigated evil than this one I live in, America!   And the sad fact is, this nation has been taken over so thoroughly by AIPAC and its horde of Jewish lobbyists that we are now little more than Israel’s personal ATM and private army, ready to go wherever we are told to go—and pay for it ourselves, mind you—whether it is to the hot sands of Sudan or to the green fields of Ukraine. The US military and its endless wars to defend Israel neither defines me nor speaks for me. Had I the power I would bring home tomorrow all American troops from around the globe, find them good civilian jobs or place them on our southern border with Mexico with orders of “shoot to kill.” Not only would this move save US taxpayers trillions and trillions and stop millions and millions from invading us, but it would help heal all the angry scars we have created around the world these past hundred years.

And “Neocons”?  I would bet that not one in fifty Americans could accurately define “neocon” if questioned on the street.  Those of us with similar carbon-dating well remember the greasy, vulgar hair-balls of the Sixties who led violent protests against the US wars waged against communism.  Well, these same “peace-loving” radical leftists who opposed the war and actually sided with the Marxists back then are now the flaming pro-war “conservatives,” or neocons, of today.  The difference?  When the wars were waged against communism, wars were bad; when wars are fought to further Israel’s goals, as all current American wars are, wars are good.  Remember Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman, Bela Abzug, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and other loud Jews of the Sixties who led the anti-war movement and who were supposedly so opposed to war and violence?  These same people–or their younger versions–are now the war-mongering Neocons of today, those who never met a Middle East war or an American body bag that they did not love.  Right now, war with and destruction of Israel’s greatest enemy, Iran, is their main mission, and Donald Trump is happy to oblige.  Neocons are hypocrisy personified and Donald Trump is the embodiment of lying treachery.

Final Thought—No government which sanctions torture, no government which spies on me, no government which works to limit my freedoms, no government which is clearly and patently anti-white, no government which encourages the invasion of my country by illegal “migrants,” no government which sends my child or grandchild off to fight for Israel in whatever their war de jur happens to be, no government who does all this will ever get my respect or loyalty. This warfare/welfare regime is utterly and terminally out of control and yet we have the spectacle at this time of year of these brain-dead hicks, urged on by the warbots of the Jewish media, getting all mushy-mouthed and misty-eyed about “fallen heroes,” about “fighting for our freedoms,” about “all their sacrifices,” and about all other such lame nonsense.   Muttering such platitudes beats the hell out of thinking, I suppose.  The simple fact is:  To honor anyone who fights to prop up evil is the same thing as honoring evil itself.

Final Thought #2We should work to make war such a shameful and ignominious pursuit that whenever some senile fossil like John McWar of Arizona, or the equally revolting and equally despicable Israel-Firster, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, when these or any other neocon war-monger suggest that what this nation needs is yet another nice quick war to help our gallant little ally, Israel, then all of our surviving 18-25 year-olds should yawn loudly, then respond in a unified voice. . . .

“You want war, you go for it.  But remember, Bucko: You break it, you buy it.  Any blowback, any jets flying into buildings killing thousands, any dirty bombs playing in Peoria, any American tourists losing their cabezas in Egypt, any of that will be crimes charged directly to you; to YOU, Bucko, not to the Muslim maniacs made maniacs by your endless wars against them.  TO YOU, BUCKO, TO YOU! Do not—repeat—Do NOT be dragging back to our porch any more dead skunks after your Israeli-instigated foreign adventures.  As we have learned so well, a dead skunk is a gift that keeps on giving . . . and giving . . . and giving.”

Final Thought #3–What about America and its lovely allied associate, ISIS?  If a nation creates evil, if a nation funds evil, if a nation arms evil, if a nation protects evil, and if a nation excuses evil . . . then that nation IS evil.  America is evil.  America is evil in the truest sense of the word.  And as long as we remain Israel’s dutiful attack dog around the globe, just so long will our nation remain evil.

The Great Evil

#5 The Good War (Public Domain) Sarah

To help celebrate the end of the “Good War” in 1945 and the beginning of the “Good Peace,” allow me to offer the following from my books, Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947 and Rape Hate–Sex and Violence in War and Peace.

***

And so, with the once mighty German Army now disarmed and enslaved in May, 1945, and with their leaders either dead or awaiting trial for so-called “war crimes,” the old men, women and children who remained in the dismembered Reich found themselves utterly at the mercy of the victors. Unfortunately for these survivors, never in the history of the world was mercy in shorter supply.

Soon after the Allied victory in Europe, the purge of Nazi Party members from government, business, industry, science, education, and all other walks of German life commenced. While a surprising number of Nazis were allowed—even compelled—to man their posts temporarily to enable a smooth transition, all party members, high and low, were sooner or later excised from German daily life. In theory, “de-Nazification” was a simple transplanting of Nazi officials with those of democratic, socialist or communist underpinnings. In practice, the purge became little more than a cloak for an orgy of rape, torture and death.

denazification

De-Nazification

Because their knowledge of the language and culture was superb, most of the intelligence officers accompanying US and British forces into the Reich were Jewish refugees who had fled Germany in the late 1930s. Although their American and English “aides” were hardly better, the fact that many of these “39ers” became interrogators, examiners and screeners, with old scores to settle, insured that Nazis— or any German, for that matter—would be shown no mercy.

One man opposed to the vengeance-minded program was George Patton. “Evidently the virus started by Morgenthau and [Bernard] Baruch of a Semitic revenge against all Germans is still working … ,” wrote the general in private. “I am frankly opposed to this war-criminal stuff. It is not cricket and it is Semitic….I can’t see how Americans can sink so low.”

Soon after occupation, all adult Germans were compelled to register at the nearest Allied headquarters and complete a lengthy questionnaire on their past activities. While many nervous citizens were detained then and there, most returned home, convinced that at long last the terrible ordeal was over. For millions, however, the trial had but begun.

“Then it started,” remembered Anna Fest, a woman who had registered with the Americans six weeks earlier.

Such a feeling of helplessness, when three or four heavily armed military police stand in front of you. You just panic. I cried terribly. My mother was completely beside herself and said, “You can’t do this. She registered just as she was supposed to.” Then she said, “If only you’d gone somewhere else and had hidden.” But I consider that senseless, because I did not feel guilty. . . That was the way it went with everyone, with no reason given.

Few German adults, Nazi or not, escaped the dreaded knock on the door. Far from being dangerous fascists, Freddy and Lali Horstmann were actually well-known anti-Nazis. Records Lali from the Russian Zone:

“I am sorry to bother you,” he began, “but I am simply carrying out my orders. Until when did you work for the Foreign Office?”

“Till 1933,” my husband answered.

“Then you need fear nothing,” Androff said…. “We accuse you of nothing, but we want you to accompany us to the headquarters of the NKVD, the secret police, so that we can take down what you said in a protocol, and ask you a few questions about the working of the Foreign Office… .”

We were stunned for a moment; then I started forward, asking if I could come along with them. “Impossible,” the interpreter smiled. My heart raced. Would Freddy answer satisfactorily? Could he stand the excitement? What sort of accommodation would they give him?

“Don’t worry, your husband has nothing to fear,” Androff continued. “He will have a heated room. Give him a blanket for the night, but quickly, we must leave. .. .”

There was a feeling of sharp tension, putting the soldier on his guard, as though he were expecting an attack from one of us. I took first the soldier, then the interpreter, by their hands and begged them to be kind to Freddy, repeating myself in the bustle and scraping of feet that drowned my words. There was a banging of doors. A cold wind blew in. I felt Freddy kiss me. I never saw him again.

“[W]e were wakened by the sound of tires screeching, engines stopping abruptly, orders yelled, general din, and a hammering on the window shutters. Then the intruders broke through the door, and we saw Americans with rifles who stood in front of our bed and shone lights at us. None of them spoke German, but their gestures said: ‘Get dressed, come with us immediately.’ This was my fourth arrest.”

So wrote Leni Riefenstahl, a talented young woman who was perhaps the world’s greatest film-maker. Because her epic documentaries— Triumph of the Will and Olympia—seemed paeans to not only Germany, but National Socialism, and because of her close relationship with an admiring Adolf Hitler, Leni was of more than passing interest to the Allies. Though false, rumors also hinted that the attractive, sometimes-actress was also a “mistress of the devil”—that she and Hitler were lovers.

“Neither my husband nor my mother nor any of my three assistants had ever joined the Nazi Party, nor had any of us been politically active,” said the confused young woman. “No charges had ever been filed against us, yet we were at the mercy of the [Allies] and had no legal protection of any kind.”

leni

Leni Riefenstahl

Soon after Leni’s fourth arrest, came a fifth.

The jeep raced along the autobahns until, a few hours later …I was brought to the Salzburg Prison; there an elderly prison matron rudely pushed me into the cell, kicking me so hard that I fell to the ground; then the door was locked. There were two other women in the dark, barren room, and one of them, on her knees, slid about the floor, jabbering confusedly; then she began to scream, her limbs writhing hysterically. She seemed to have lost her mind. The other woman crouched on her bunk, weeping to herself.

As Leni and others quickly discovered, the “softening up” process began soon after arrival at an Allied prison. When Ernst von Salomon, his Jewish girl friend and fellow prisoners reached an American holding pen near Munich, the men were promptly led into a room and brutally beaten by military police. With his teeth knocked out and blood spurting from his mouth, von Salomon moaned to a gum-chewing officer, “You are no gentlemen.” The remark brought only a roar of laughter from the attackers. “No, no, no!” the GIs grinned. “We are Mississippi boys!” In another room, military policemen raped the women at will while leering soldiers watched from windows.

After such savage treatment, the feelings of despair only intensified once the captives were crammed into cells.

“The people had been standing there for three days, waiting to be interrogated,” remembered a German physician ordered to treat prisoners in the Soviet Zone. “At the sight of us a pandemonium broke out which left me helpless…. As far as I could gather, the usual senseless questions were being reiterated: Why were they there, and for how long? They had no water and hardly anything to eat. They wanted to be let out more often than once a day…. A great many of them have dysentery so badly that they can no longer get up.”

“Young Poles made fun of us,” said a woman from her cell in the same zone. “[They] threw bricks through the windows, paperbags with sand, and skins of hares filled with excrement. We did not dare to move or offer resistance, but huddled together in the farthest corner, in order not to be hit, which could not always be avoided. . . . [W]e were never free from torments.”

“For hours on end I rolled about on my bed, trying to forget my surroundings,” recalled Leni Riefenstahl, “but it was impossible.”

The mentally disturbed woman kept screaming—all through the night; but even worse were the yells and shrieks of men from the courtyard, men who were being beaten, screaming like animals. I subsequently found out that a company of SS men was being interrogated.

They came for me the next morning, and I was taken to a padded cell where I had to strip naked, and a woman examined every square inch of my body. Then I had to get dressed and go down to the courtyard, where many men were standing, apparently prisoners, and I was the only woman. We had to line up before an American guard who spoke German. The prisoners stood to attention, so I tried to do the same, and then an American came who spoke fluent German. He pushed a few people together, then halted at the first in our line.

“Were you in the Party?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, then said: Yes.” He was slugged in the face and spat blood.

The American went on to the next in line.

“Were you in the Party?”

The man hesitated.

“Yes or no?”

“Yes.”

And he too got punched so hard in the face that the blood ran out of his mouth. However, like the first man, he didn’t dare resist.

They didn’t even instinctively raise their hands to protect themselves. They did nothing. They put up with the blows like dogs.

The next man was asked: “Were you in the Party?”

Silence.

“Well?”

“No,” he yelled, so no punch. From then on nobody admitted that he had been in the Party and I was not even asked.

As the above case illustrated, there often was no rhyme or reason to the examinations; all seemed designed to force from the victim what the inquisitor wanted to hear, whether true or false. Additionally, most such “interrogations” were structured to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible. Explained one prisoner:

The purpose of these interrogations is not to worm out of the people what they knew—which would be uninteresting anyway—but to extort from them special statements. The methods resorted to are extremely primitive; people are beaten up until they confess to having been members of the Nazi Party…. The authorities simply assume that, basically, everybody has belonged to the Party. Many people die during and after these interrogations, while others, who admit at once their party membership, are treated more leniently.

“A young commissar, who was a great hater of the Germans, cross-examined me… ,” said Gertrude Schulz. “When he put the question: ‘Frauenwerk [Women’s Labor Service]?’ I answered in the negative. Thereupon he became so enraged, that he beat me with a stick, until I was black and blue. I received about 15 blows … on my left upper arm, on my back and on my thigh. I collapsed and, as in the case of the first cross-examination, I had to sign the questionnaire.”

American torture pen

American torture pen

“Both officers who took our testimony were former German Jews,” reminisced a member of the women’s SS, Anna Fest. While vicious dogs snarled nearby, one of the officers screamed questions and accusations at Anna. If the answers were not those desired, “he kicked me in the back and the other hit me.”

They kept saying we must have been armed, have had pistols or so. But we had no weapons, none of us….I had no pistol. I couldn’t say, just so they’d leave me in peace, yes, we had pistols. The same thing would happen to the next person to testify…. [T]he terrible thing was, the German men had to watch. That was a horrible, horrible experience…. That must have been terrible for them. When I went outside, several of them stood there with tears running down their cheeks. What could they have done? They could do nothing.

Not surprisingly, with beatings, rape, torture, and death facing them, few victims failed to “confess” and most gladly inked their name to any scrap of paper shown them. Some, like Anna, tried to resist. Such recalcitrance was almost always of short duration, however. Generally, after enduring blackened eyes, broken bones, electric shock to breasts—or, in the case of men, smashed testicles—only those who died during torture failed to sign confessions.

Alone, surrounded by sadistic hate, utterly bereft of law, many victims understandably escaped by taking their own lives. Like tiny islands in a vast sea of evil, however, miracles did occur. As he limped painfully back to his prison cell, one Wehrmacht officer reflected on the insults, beatings, and tortures he had endured and contemplated suicide.

I could not see properly in the semi-darkness and missed my open cell door. A kick in the back and I was sprawling on the floor. As I raised myself I said to myself I could not, should not accept this humiliation. I sat on my bunk. I had hidden a razor blade that would serve to open my veins. Then I looked at the New Testament and found these words in the Gospel of St. John: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Yes. You can mangle this poor body—I looked down at the running sores on my legs—but myself, my honor, God’s image that is in me, you cannot touch. This body is only a shell, not my real self. Without Him, without the Lord, my Lord, ye can do nothing. New strength seemed to rise in me.

I was pondering over what seemed to me a miracle when the heavy lock turned in the cell door. A very young American soldier came in, put his finger to his lips to warn me not to speak. “I saw it,” he said. “Here are baked potatoes.” He pulled the potatoes out of his pocket and gave them to me, and then went out, locking the door behind him.

***

Horrific as de-Nazification was in the British, French and, especially the American Zone, it was nothing compared to what took place in Poland, behind Soviet lines. In hundreds of concentration camps sponsored by an apparatus called the “Office of State Security,” thousands of Germans—male and female, old and young, high and low, Nazi and non–Nazi, SS, Wehrmacht, Volkssturm, Hitler Youth, all—were rounded up and imprisoned. Staffed and run by Jews, with help from Poles, Czechs, Russians, and other concentration camp survivors, the prisons were little better than torture chambers where dying was a thing to be prolonged, not hastened. While those with blond hair, blue eyes and handsome features were first to go, anyone who spoke German would do.

Moments after arrival, prisoners were made horrifyingly aware of their fate. John Sack, himself a Jew, reports on one camp run by twenty-six-year-old Shlomo Morel:

“I was at Auschwitz,” Shlomo proclaimed, lying to the Germans but, even more, to himself, psyching himself like a fighter the night of the championship, filling himself with hate for the Germans around him. “I was at Auschwitz for six long years, and I swore that if I got out, I’d pay all you Nazis back.” His eyes sent spears, but the “Nazis” sent him a look of simple bewilderment. . .

“Now sing the Horst Wessel Song!” No one did, and Shlomo, who carried a hard rubber club, hit it against a bed like some judge’s gavel. “Sing it, I say!”

“The flags held high . . . ,” some Germans began.

“Everyone!” Shlomo said.

“The ranks closed tight. . . .”

“I said everyone!”

“Blond!”

Shlomo cried to the blondest, bluest-eyed person there. “I said sing!” He swung his rubber club at the man’s golden head and hit it. The man staggered back.

“Our comrades, killed by the Reds and Reactionaries… .”

“Sonofabitch!” Shlomo cried, enraged that the man was defying him by not singing but staggering back. He hit him again, saying,

“Sing!”

“Are marching in spirit with us…”

“Louder!”

“Clear the street for the Brown Battalions… .”

“Still louder!” cried Shlomo, hitting another shouting man…. “Millions of hopeful people…”

“Nazi pigs!”

“Are looking to the swastika… .”

“Schweine!” Shlomo cried. He threw down his rubber club, grabbed a wooden stool, and, a leg in his fist, started beating a German’s head. Without thinking, the man raised his arms, and Shlomo, enraged that the man would try to evade his just punishment, cried, “Sonofawhore!” and slammed the stool against the man’s chest. The man dropped his arms, and Shlomo started hitting his now undefended head when snap! the leg of the stool split off, and, cursing the German birchwood, he grabbed another stool and hit the German with that. No one was singing now, but Shlomo, shouting, didn’t notice. The other guards called out, “Blond!” “Black!” “Short!” “Tall!” and as each of these terrified people came up, they wielded their clubs upon him. The brawl went on till eleven o’clock, when the sweat-drenched invaders cried, “Pigs! We will fix you up!” and left the Germans alone.

Some were quite fixed…. Shlomo and his subordinates had killed them.

The next night it was more of the same . . . and the next night and the next and the next. Those who survived the “welcoming committees” at this and other camps were flung back into their pens.

“I was put with 30 women into a cell, which was intended to accommodate one person,” Gerlinde Winkler recalled. “The narrow space, into which we were rammed, was unbearable and our legs were all entangled together. . . . The women, ill with dysentery, were only allowed to go out once a day, in order to relieve themselves. A bucket without a cover was pushed into the cell with the remark: ‘Here you have one, you German sows.’ The stink was insupportable, and we were not allowed to open the little window.”

“The air in the cells became dense, the smell of the excrement filled it, the heat was like in Calcutta, and the flies made the ceiling black,” wrote John Sack. “I’m choking, the Germans thought, and one even took the community razor blade and, in despair, cut his throat open with it.”

When the wretched inmates were at last pried from their hellish tombs, it was only for interrogation. Sack continues:

As many as eight interrogators, almost all Jews, stood around any one German saying, “Were you in the Nazi Party?” Sometimes a German said, “Yes,” and the boys shouted, “Du schwein! You pig!” and beat him and broke his arm, perhaps, before sending him to his cell. . . . But usually a German said, “No,” and the boys … told him, “You’re lying. You were a Nazi.”

“No, I never was.”

“You’re lying! We know about you!”

“No, I really wasn’t—”

“Du lugst! You’re lying!” they cried, hitting the obstinate man. “You better admit it! Or you’ll get a longer sentence! Now! Were you in the Nazi Party?”

“No!” the German often said, and the boys had to beat him and beat him until he was really crying, “I was a Nazi! Yes!”
But sometimes a German wouldn’t confess. One such hard case was a fifty-year-old….

“Were you in the Party?”

“No, I wasn’t in it.”

“How many people work for you?”

“In the high season, thirty-five.”

“You must have been in the Party,” the boy deduced.

He asked for the German’s wallet, where he found a fishing license with the stamp of the German Anglers Association. Studying it, he told the German, “It’s stamped by the Party.”

“It’s not,” said the German.

He’d lost his left arm in World War I and was using his right arm to gesture with, and, to the boy, he may have seemed to be Heiling Hitler. The boy became violent. He grabbed the man’s collar, hit the man’s head against the wall, hit it against it ten times more, threw the man’s body onto the floor, and, in his boots, jumped on the man’s cringing chest as though jumping rope. A half dozen other interrogators, almost all Jews, pushed the man onto a couch, pulled off his trousers, and hit him with hard rubber clubs and hard rubber hoses full of stones. The sweat started running down the Jews’ arms, and the blood down the man’s naked legs.

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!”

“Warst du in der Partei?”

“Nein!” the German screamed—screamed, till the boys had to go to Shlomo’s kitchen for a wooden spoon and to use it to cram some rags in the German’s mouth. Then they resumed beating him. . . . The more the man contradicted them, the more they hated him for it.

shlomo merel

Shlomo Morel

After undergoing similar sessions on a regular basis, the victim was brought back for the eighth time.

By now, the man was half unconscious due to his many concussions, and he wasn’t thinking clearly. The boys worked on him with rubber and oak-wood clubs and said, “Do you still say you weren’t in the Party?”

“No! I didn’t say I wasn’t in the Party!”

“You didn’t?”

“No!” said the punch drunk man. “I never said it!”

“You were in the Party?”

“Yes!”

The boys stopped beating him. They practically sighed, as if their ordeal were over now. They lit up cigarettes….

“Scram,” one said to the German. The man stood up, and he had his hand on the doorknob when one of the boys impulsively hit the back of his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

“Aufstehen, du Deutsches schwein. Stand up, you German pig,” the boys said, kicking him till he stood up and collapsed again. Two boys carried him to his cell and dropped him in a corner….

Of course, the boys would beat up the Germans for “Yes”es as well as “No”s. In Glatz, the Jewish commandant asked a German policeman, “Were you in the Party?”

“Of course! I was obliged to be!”

“Lie down,” the commandant said, and six weeks later the boys were still whipping the German’s feet.

Some torture sessions lacked even the pretense of an examination. Remembered Eva Reimann:

My cell door opened. The guard, who, because of the foul smell, held a handkerchief to his nose, cried, “Reimann Eva! Come!” I was led to a first-floor room.

He shouted at me, “Take off your shoes!” I took them off. “Lie down!” I lay down. He took a thick bamboo stick, and he beat the soles of my feet. I screamed, since the pain was very great. . . . The stick whistled down on me. A blow on my mouth tore my lower lip, and my teeth started bleeding violently. He beat my feet again. The pain was unbearable….

The door opened suddenly, and, smiling obligingly, a cigarette in his mouth, in came the chief of the Office, named Sternnagel. In faultless German he asked me, “What’s wrong here? Why do you let yourself be beaten? You just have to sign this document. Or should we jam your fingers in the door, until the bones are broad. . . ?

A man picked me up by the ankles, raised me eight inches above the floor, and let me fall. My hands were tied, and my head hit hard. . . . I lay in a bloody puddle. Someone cried, “Stand up!” I tried to, and, with unspeakable pain, I succeeded. A man with a pistol came, held it to my left temple, and said, “Will you now confess?” I told him, “Please shoot me.” Yes, I hoped to be freed from all his tortures. I begged him, “Please pull the trigger.”

After barely surviving his “interrogation,” one fourteen-year-old was taken to the camp infirmary. “My body was green, but my legs were fire red,” the boy said. “My wounds were bound with toilet paper, and I had to change the toilet paper every day. I was in the perfect place to watch what went on…. All the patients were beaten people, and they died everywhere: at their beds, in the washroom, on the toilet. At night, I had to step over the dead as if that were normal to do.”

When the supply of victims ran low, it was a simple matter to find more. John Sack:

One day, a German in pitch-black pants, the SS’s color, showed up in Lola’s prison. He’d been spotted near the city square by a Pole who’d said, “Fascist! You’re wearing black!” At that, the German had bolted off, but the Pole chased him a mile to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, tackled him by a gold mosaic, hit him, kicked him, and took him to Lola’s prison. Some guards, all girls, then seized the incriminating evidence: the man’s black pants, pulling them off so aggressively that one of the tendons tore. The man screamed, but the girls said, “Shut up!” and they didn’t recognize that the pants were part of a boy scout uniform. The “man” was fourteen years old.

The girls decided to torture him [with]. . . . fire. They held down the German boy, put out their cigarettes on him, and, using gasoline, set his curly black hair afire.

At the larger prison camps, Germans died by the hundreds daily.

“You pigs!” the commandant then cried, and he beat the Germans with their stools, often killing them. At dawn many days, a Jewish guard cried, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier!” and marched the Germans into the woods outside their camp. “Halt! Get your shovels! Dig!” the guard cried, and, when the Germans had dug a big grave, he put a picture of Hitler in. “Now cry!” the guard said. “And sing All the Dogs Are Barking!” and all the Germans moaned,

All the dogs are barking,
All the dogs are barking,
Just the little hot-dogs,
Aren’t barking at all.

The guard then cried, “Get undressed!” and, when the Germans were naked, he beat them, poured liquid manure on them, or, catching a toad, shoved the fat thing down a German’s throat, the German soon dying.

Utterly unhinged by years of persecution, by the loss of homes and loved ones, for the camp operators, no torture, no sadism, no bestiality, seemed too monstrous to inflict on those now in their power. Some Germans were forced to crawl on all fours and eat their own excrement as well as that of others. Many were drowned in open latrines. Hundreds were herded into buildings and burned to death or sealed in caskets and buried alive.

Near Lamsdorf, German women were forced to disinter bodies from a Polish burial site. According to John Sack:

The women did, and they started to suffer nausea as the bodies, black as the stuff in a gutter, appeared. The faces were rotten, the flesh was glue, but the guards—who had often seemed psychopathic, making a German woman drink urine, drink blood, and eat a man’s excrement, inserting an oily five-mark bill in a woman’s vagina, putting a match to it—shouted at the women . . . “Lie down with them!” The women did, and the guards shouted, “Hug them!” “Kiss them!” “Make love with them!” and, with their rifles, pushed on the backs of the women’s heads until their eyes, noses and mouths were deep in the Polish faces’ slime. The women who clamped their lips couldn’t scream, and the women who screamed had to taste something vile. Spitting, retching, the women at last stood up, the wet tendrils still on their chins, fingers, clothes, the wet seeping into the fibers, the stink like a mist around them as they marched back to Lamsdorf. There were no showers there, and the corpses had all had typhus, apparently, and sixty-four women . . . died.

Not surprisingly, the mortality rate at the concentration camps was staggering and relatively few survived. At one prison of eight thousand, a mere 1,500 lived to reach home. And of those “lucky” individuals who did leave with their lives, few could any longer be called human.

When a smattering of accounts began to leak from Poland of the unspeakable crimes being committed, many in the West were stunned. “One would expect that after the horrors in Nazi concentration camps, nothing like that could ever happen again,” muttered one US senator, who then reported on beatings, torture and “brains splashed on the ceiling.”

“Is this what our soldiers died for?” echoed a Briton in the House of Commons.

Added Winston Churchill: “Enormous numbers [of Germans] are utterly unaccounted for. It is not impossible that tragedy on a prodigious scale is unfolding itself behind the Iron Curtain.”

While Churchill and others in the West were expressing shock and surprise over the sadistic slaughter taking place in the Soviet Zone, precious little was said about the “tragedy on a prodigious scale” that was transpiring in their own backyard.

***

Among the millions imprisoned by the Allies were thousands of Germans accused of having a direct or indirect hand in war crimes. Because the victorious powers demanded swift and severe punishment, Allied prosecutors were urged to get the most damning indictments in as little time as possible. Unfortunately for the accused, their captors seemed determined to inflict as much pain as possible in the process.
“[W]e were thrown into small cells stark naked,” Hans Schmidt later wrote. “The cells in which three or four persons were incarcerated were six and a half by ten feet in size and had no windows or ventilation.”

When we went to the lavatory we had to run through a lane of Americans who struck us with straps, brooms, cudgels, buckets, belts, and pistol holders to make us fall down. Our head, eyes, body, belly, and genitals were violently injured. A man stood inside the lavatory to beat us and spit on us. We returned to our cells through the same ordeal. The temperature in the cells was 140 Fahrenheit or more. During the first three days we were given only one cup of water and a small slice of bread. During the first days we perspired all the time, then perspiration stopped. We were kept standing chained back to back for hours. We suffered terribly from thirst, blood stagnation and mortification of the hands. From time to time water was poured on the almost red-hot radiators, filling the cells with steam, so that we could hardly breathe. During all this time the cells were in darkness, except when the American soldiers entered and switched on electric bulbs … which forced us to close our eyes.

Our thirst became more and more cruel, so that our lips cracked, our tongues were stiff, and we eventually became apathetic, or raved, or collapsed.

After enduring this torture for several days, we were given a small blanket to cover our nakedness, and driven to the courtyard outside. The uneven soil was covered with pebbles and slag and we were again beaten and finally driven back on our smashed and bleeding feet. While out of breath, burning cigarettes were pushed into our mouths, and each of us was forced to eat three or four of them. Meanwhile the American soldiers continued to hit us on eyes, head, and ears. Back in our cells we were pushed against burning radiators, so that our skin was blistered.

For thirteen days and nights we received the same treatment, tortured by heat and thirst. When we begged for water, our guards mocked us. When we fainted we were revived by being drenched with cold water. There was dirt everywhere and we were never allowed to wash, our inflamed eyes gave us terrible pain, we fainted continuously.

Every twenty minutes or so our cell doors were opened and the soldiers insulted and hit us. Whenever the doors were opened we had to stand still with our backs to the door. Two plates of food, spiced with salt, pepper, and mustard to make us thirstier, were given us daily. We ate in the dark on the floor. The thirst was the most terrible of all our tortures and we could not sleep.

In this condition I was brought to trial.

During the Nazi war crimes trials and hearings, almost any method that would obtain a “confession” was employed. Eager to implicate high-ranking German officers in the Malmedy Massacre, American investigator Harry Thon ordered Wehrmacht sergeant Willi Schafer to write out an incriminating affidavit:

Next morning Mr. Thon appeared in my cell, read my report, tore it up, swore at me and hit me. After threatening to have me killed unless I wrote what he wanted, he left. A few minutes later the door of my cell opened, a black hood encrusted with blood, was put over my head and face and I was led to another room. In view of Mr. Thon’s threat the black cap had a crushing effect on my spirits…. Four men of my company … accused me, although later they admitted to having borne false testimony. Nevertheless I still refused to incriminate myself. Thereupon Mr. Thon said that if I continued to refuse this would be taken as proof of my Nazi opinions, and . . . my death was certain. He said I would have no chance against four witnesses, and advised me for my own good to make a statement after which I would be set free. . . . I still refused. I told Mr. Thon that although my memory was good, I was unable to recall any of the occurrences he wished me to write about and which to the best of my knowledge had never occurred.

Mr. Thon left but returned in a little while with Lieutenant [William] Perl who abused me, and told Mr. Thon that, should I not write what was required within half an hour, I should be left to my fate. Lieutenant Perl made it clear to me that I had the alternative of writing and going free or not writing and dying. I decided for life.

Another Landser unable to resist the pressure was Joachim Hoffman:

[W]hen taken for a hearing a black hood was placed over my head. The guards who took me to my hearing often struck or kicked me. I was twice thrown down the stairs and was hurt so much that blood ran out of my mouth and nose. At the hearing, when I told the officers about the ill treatment I had suffered, they only laughed. I was beaten and the black cap pulled over my face whenever I could not answer the questions put to me, or gave answers not pleasing to the officers….I was beaten and several times kicked in the genitals.

Understandably, after several such sessions, even the strongest submitted and signed papers incriminating themselves and others.

“If you confess you will go free,” nineteen-year-old Siegfried Jaenckel was told. “[Y]ou need only to say you had an order from your superiors. But if you won’t speak you will be hung.”

Despite the mental and physical abuse, young Jaenckel held out as long as he could: “I was beaten and I heard the cries of the men being tortured in adjoining cells, and whenever I was taken for a hearing I trembled with fear…. Subjected to such duress I eventually gave in, and signed the long statement dictated to me.”

Far from being isolated or extreme cases, such methods of extorting confessions were the rule rather than the exception. Wrote author Freda Utley, who learned of the horror after speaking with American jurist Edward van Roden:

Beatings and brutal kickings; knocking-out of teeth and breaking of jaws; mock trials; solitary confinement; torture with burning splinters; the use of investigators pretending to be priests; starvation; and promises of acquittal. . . . Judge van Roden said: “All but two of the Germans in the 139 cases we investigated had been kicked in the testicles beyond repair. This was standard operating procedure with our American investigators.” He told of one German who had had lighted matchsticks forced under his fingernails by the American investigators to extort a confession, and had appeared at his trial with his fingers still bandaged from the atrocity.

In addition to testimony given under torture, those who might have spoken in defense of the accused were prevented. Moreover, hired “witnesses” were paid by the Americans to parrot the prosecution’s charges.

When criticism such as Utley’s and van Roden’s surfaced, and even as victims were being hung by the hundreds, those responsible defended their methods.

“We couldn’t have made those birds talk otherwise… ,” laughed one Jewish “interrogator,” Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld. “It was a trick, and it worked like a charm.”

The Devil’s Laughter

(The following is from my book, Rape Hate—Sex & Violence in War & Peace)

Traumatic as first encounters were, when the Soviet shock troops moved off many Germans would concur that the experience had not been as bad as feared. While rapes had occurred and while many German men of military age had been marched east or shot on the spot, the front line soldier was far more concerned with fighting and survival than with loot, rape and revenge. Not so with those who followed. In numerous instances, before Red combat officers and men pushed on they turned to the helpless civilians with stone-like faces:

“The Mongols are coming. . . . Very bad men. You go quick. Go quick.”

Composed largely of Mongols, Kazakhs, Kalmuks, and other Asians, as well as convicts and Jewish commissars, these men who formed the second wave of troops were regarded, even by their own comrades, as utterly merciless. Terrified by the news, many Germans did attempt to flee and move in the wake of the first Soviet wave. Most, however, found themselves trapped and could do little more than hide young girls and once again pray that their worst fears were unfounded. After a wait of sometimes days, but normally only hours, the dreaded second wave arrived. There were no preliminaries. Unlike storm troops, who cautiously entered towns and villages and slipped nervously from door to door, the rear echelons burst noisily into communities atop trucks, tanks or peasant carts crammed high with loot. Often wildly drunk, many wore a bizarre array of stolen clothes and gaudy jewelry. Adding to the chaos were herds of bellowing cattle and sheep.

It was almost like a scene from the Middle Ages—a migration, no less,” said one stunned observer.

Soon after the “carnival columns” halted in a German town, hell on earth was unleashed. “It seemed as though the devil himself had come. . . ,” a witness from Silesia wrote. “The ‘Mongol barbarism of the Asiatic plains’ had come not in a propaganda phrase but in the flesh.”

While flames shot up from different corners of the towns and gunfire erupted as citizens were murdered in the streets, the invaders soon began kicking in doors to homes, shops and churches. “[A] whole horde of Asiatic-looking fellows appeared and started searching the cellar… ,” recalled one priest. “The place was a dreadful sight by the time they had finished. The room was already full of smoke and I begged one of the Russians to let us out. . . . Were they going to let us be burnt to death? After a while, however, a more civilized-looking Russian appeared and I repeated my request. He led us out to . . . the courtyard of the convent. The noise was deafening—the raucous shouts of the Russians, the crackling of the flames, the crashing of beams and brickwork.”

Many horrified Germans tried to greet with a smile their strange visitors. Revealed one woman from a boarding house in Berbitz:

As a precaution, the landlord, Mr. Grebmann, had lined the vestibule with liquor bottles in the naive hope that his house might thereby be spared from ransacking. To the succeeding troop of slant-eyed Mongolians, the tenants brought their jewelry and watches. Hysterical, Mrs. Friedel embraced one of the greasy Kirgis and drank with him from the same bottle, and the elderly Mr. Grebmann patted them familiarly on the back. . . . One of the Mongolians held up my Tom’s tall leather boots triumphantly, the other one put my rings into his pants pocket. . . .

Scarcely had this second detachment left the house and we were beginning to breathe freely, when fists once more thundered at the door: thus it kept up the whole day. The house doors were not permitted to be locked any more. Each took what he wanted either in a more or less harmless or in a malicious way. Soon we and the Russians were wading knee-deep in thrown-around clothing, laundry and bits of smashed dishes . . .

As soon as a new detachment of Russians entered the house noisily, we squatted trembling about the round table in Grebmann’s living room. One of the soldiers sat at the table with us with pistol disengaged and demanded schnapps or vodka, while the others rummaged around the house. . . . [N]o one dared to speak. We women sat with downcast eyes and lowered head. Someone had told us never to look a Russian in the eye, otherwise we would be lost . . .

Before long the inside of the house looked as if a band of robbers had lived there. . . . The fellows had cut the beds up into little pieces, slit open the upholstered chairs, thrown furniture around; had slashed pictures, despoiled books, cracked eggs against the wall; had poured liqueur over the rugs, torn curtains down, and scattered the entire contents of all the closets and drawers all over. One of the most painful shocks for me was to see how two of the ruffians with their heavy boots kicked the chest in which I had my beautiful porcelain wrapped in tissue paper and cotton wadding. They were all treasured pieces. . . . My most beautiful piece . . . was used by one of them as a toilet.

As a rule, the Soviets generally sought out gold and jewelry first, with an especial eye for “uri,” or wristwatches. It was not unusual to see Red troops laden with necklaces and gold chains or sporting as many as a dozen watches on each arm. When the people had been plucked clean of valuables, interest usually turned to liquor. In their mad quest for “wodka,” soldiers greedily imbibed everything from fine wines and champagne to rubbing alcohol and perfume. Red troops, observed one woman, were “crazy for anything even smelling of alcohol.”

And then. . . .

Rape was a word that [had] occurred again and again in [our] conversation,” admitted Lali Horstmann. “It was an expression which caused no pang of fear in our times for its meaning was purely figurative—‘to be ravished’ belonged to the realm of lyrical poetry. Now its original sense was terrifyingly restored and brought us face to face with a new peril.”

Suddenly the door of the room we were in was opened and some soldiers entered,” a frightened boy recalled as he sat with a group of women huddled in a dark room. “One or two matches were struck and I saw that there were about eight Russians in the room who were obviously looking for women.”

The child continues:

As I crouched there in my corner I saw one of the Russians coming towards me. The match he held in his hand went out. I felt, rather than saw, a hand reach out towards me. I had a fur cap on my head, and suddenly I felt fingers tracing curl-like movements on my temple. For a brief moment I did not know what to make of this, but the next instant, when a loud “No” resounded through the room, I thanked God with all my heart that I was not a woman or a girl.

Meanwhile the beasts had spotted their victims and shared them out. Then they suddenly started shooting at random. But it was dark in the room and no one could see where the shots were being fired or who was hit. I heard wails and groans and voices calling out to me to help, but there was nothing I could do. Right next to me poor defenseless women were being ravished in the presence of their children.

Merely because a female had been raped once was no guarantee she would not be assaulted again and again. “Many of the girls were raped as often as ten times a night, and even more,” said a witness from Neustadt.

There was never a moment’s peace either by day or at night,” added another victim:

The Russians were coming and going the whole time and they kept eyeing us greedily. The nights were dreadful because we were never safe for a moment. The women were raped, not once or twice but ten, twenty, thirty and a hundred times, and it was all the same to the Russians whether they raped mere children or old women. The youngest victim in the row houses where we lived was ten years of age and the oldest one was over seventy. . . . I am sure that wild and hungry animals would not have behaved any differently.

Wrote a girl from Posen who desperately clung to a cousin for safety:

When we were lying in bed at night we kept hearing steps coming up the stairs. . . . They beat on the door with their rifle-butts, until it was opened. Without any consideration for my mother and aunt, who had to get out of bed, we were raped by the Russians, who always held a machine pistol in one hand. They lay in bed with their dirty boots on, until the next lot came. As there was no light, everything was done by pocket torches, and we did not even know what the beasts looked like.

Like hunted prey leading predators from their young, some mothers instinctively sacrificed themselves. Recorded one little girl, ten-year-old Mignon Fries:

[S]he told us in a stern voice to go outside to play and under no circumstances to come back in. No matter what we heard, until she herself would come for us, no matter how long it took. Fearfully we looked at her even though we didn’t know exactly what we were afraid of. . . . We went outside and stood around for awhile not knowing what to do, just listening to the noise in the apartment. My mother had just closed all the windows but we could still hear the soldiers talking, laughing and shouting. Then the music started and before long the soldiers were singing. . . .

The day gave way to evening, it got rather chilly and still we were outside and the “party” got noisier. Every once in a while a soldier would open a window and throw an empty vodka bottle outside. Sometimes the music would stop for a while, but the singing and shouting continued. As it got later and later we became very hungry and cold, but having been raised in an atmosphere of strict obedience we didn’t dare go back in the house against our mother’s orders and just huddled against the wall of the shed in the garden trying to keep each other warm. . . .

The music and the singing broke off as suddenly as it had started. . . . Within minutes it was all over and all the soldiers left the house. . . . But it was a long time before our mother finally came out to get us. She was very pale and hugged both of us very tightly for a long time and we could feel her body shaking.

Berlin: Our Finest Hour

 Volkssturm

(The following is from my book, Hellstorm–The Death of Nazi Germany, 1944-1947)

On the afternoon  of  April 24, 1945, Helmuth Weidling, along with an aide, Major Siegfried Knappe, entered Berlin, his automobile escorted by a pair of roaring motorcycles. Due to the chaotic conditions caused by the Russian advance, Weidling’s corp had lost touch with other units and the general hoped to regain contact via the communications center below the Reich Chancellery. What the two officers saw on their short drive through the capital was sobering. Wrote Maj. Knappe:

The city was under fire from heavy artillery, which was probably mounted on a railroad car somewhere thirty or more kilometers away, and there was also some bombing by Russian aircraft. Fortunately, the artillery was not con- centrated; it was scattered all over the city, with a heavy artillery shell landing somewhere in the city every few minutes.

Smoke and dust covered the city. Streetcars were standing disabled in the streets, their electric wires dangling. In the eastern suburbs, many buildings were burning and the civilian population was queuing up in bread lines and in line to get water from any source that was still working. Civilians were everywhere, scurrying from cover to cover because of the artillery shells and bombs. To avoid creating a possible panic, Goebbels had refused to issue orders for civilians to leave the city, even women and children, and now thousands more were fleeing into Berlin from the east. Defending Berlin was obviously going to be a very ugly business, and many civilians were going to die in the fighting.

Arriving at the Reich Chancellery at about 6:00 p.m., we left our car and driver to proceed on foot, taking the motorcycle runners with us. The area around the Reich Chancellery was pitted with deep craters. Fallen trees were scattered about like matchsticks, and the sidewalks were blocked by piles of rubble. The Reich Chancellery was badly damaged, with only shells of walls remaining in some places. The entrance hall ... had been completely destroyed. The only part of the Reich Chancellery that was still usable was the underground  bunker system. In the underground garage, we saw several Mercedes-Benzes we had seen Hitler use in parades and political rallies. There was an entrance to the passage to Fuhrer Headquarters in the underground bunker from the garage. SS guards at the entrance saluted Weidling, with his Knight’s Cross and Swords. These first guards were SS unteroffiziers, but the deeper we went toward the bunker, the higher the rank of the guards became. . . .

Fuhrer Headquarters was about three levels down from the garage. We were stopped at many guard posts, even though Weidling was a general with many impressive military decorations, and we were searched by the guards before being admitted to the actual Fuhrer bunker. The SS guards were respectful, but here we were carefully investigated as to who we were, where we came from, and what our business was. We had to show proper identification and surrender our pistols.

Then we finally entered the antechamber to the offices of … General [Hans] Krebs, and … General [Wilhelm] Burgdorf. We were announced, and Burgdorf ’s adjutant . . . came to welcome us. He led us to the next room, where both Krebs and Burgdorf awaited us. . . . They had talked to us only briefly when Krebs said he would announce Weidling’s presence to Hitler and see if Hitler wanted to talk to him. That was surprising, since Weidling had not come to see Hitler and knew of no reason Hitler would want to talk to him.

When Krebs and Burgdorf were out of the room, Weidling said quietly, “Something is wrong. They are behaving strangely. After about ten minutes, Burgdorf returned and told Weidling that Hitler wanted to see him. I stayed behind, of course.

After about twenty more minutes, Weidling returned and told me that Hitler had ordered us to come into Berlin and take over the eastern and southern fronts of the city.

This news, startling in itself, was soon transcended by what Weidling saw and heard in the bunker. Gone were the days of cool efficiency, the days when the German High Command was a well-oiled machine hitting on all cylinders. As Weidling discovered, shouting, arguments, and finger-pointing was now the order of the day.

What a difference between the haphazard way things were being done now and the professional way things had been done in 1940 and 1941!” reflected Maj. Knappe.

Weidling, Knappe and other visitors from “above” were also struck by the ghastly atmosphere of the bunker. Sunless, cheerless, cool, and damp, the compound’s pale and lethargic inhabitants haunted the hallways like beings from another world, or, as one inmate admitted, “like zombies.

Since 16 January, when Hitler had installed himself in his concrete shelter, we had to spend our time inside the bunker,” revealed one of the chancellor’s personal secretaries, Traudl Junge. “[I]t was our ninety-sixth day spent fifty feet underground, beneath sixteen-feet thick slabs of cement resting on walls some six feet wide at their base.

More recently, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, had moved in along with Joseph Goebbels and his large family. Adding to the cramped conditions, the Fuhrer’s top adviser, Martin Bormann, was also ensconced below.

Perhaps most shocking of all to Weidling and other newcomers to the bunker was the appearance of Adolf Hitler himself. As one officer recalled:

[T]hose of us who had known him in the earlier years before the war, when he was a human dynamo often bursting with restless energy, now noted, from about nineteen forty-two on, that he seemed to be aging at least five full years for every calendar year. Near the very end, on the day he celebrated his last birthday, he seemed closer to seventy than to fifty-six. He looked what I would call physically senile.

During that birthday gathering on April 20, scores of officials and Party members from across Germany had arrived “to greet the Fuhrer, to shake his hand and swear their loyalty. According to Traudl Junge, many of the visitors urged their leader to leave Berlin:

Mein Fuhrer, the city will soon be surrounded and you will be cut off from the south. There is still time to withdraw to Berchtesgaden from where you can command the southern armies.

Hitler shook his head, bluntly turning down their suggestions.

No, I can’t,” he answered. “If I did, I would feel like a lama turning an empty prayer wheel. I must bring about the resolution here in Berlin—or else go under.

Emboldened by their leader’s decision to go down fighting, others swore allegiance. “We shall never leave him in the lurch, whatever the danger ... ,” Dr. Goebbels vowed. “If history tells of this country that its people never abandoned their leader and that their leader never abandoned his people, that will be victory.

And now, with his elevation to commander of the capital defenses, Gen. Weidling was being called upon to do the impossible—to keep not only Adolf Hitler and Berlin from “going under,” but to prevent Germany from going down as well. With roughly 15,000 mostly ragged and battle-drained troops to work with, and with perhaps twice that number of poorly armed, poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, Weidling was being asked to not only hold off half a million Soviet soldiers, and an equal number of reserves, but defeat and destroy them. Although Hitler had ordered the armies of Generals Walter Wenck and Theodor Busse to break the ring and relieve Berlin, Weidling well knew that this was a phantasm. Far from rescuing the capital, these units would be hard-pressed to prevent their own encirclement and destruction.

As the general and Major Knappe drove through the capital that night to their new headquarters at Templehof Airport, both understood well the hopeless nature of their task. While the inevitable defeat might be postponed for a few days, or weeks at most, nothing could save Berlin from becoming “one huge urban killing ground.

[I]t was on this night that the apocalyptic battle for the city of Berlin began in earnest, Maj. Knappe wrote. “The next day, Russian assault troops fought their way into the suburbs of the city.

Berliners!” cried Joseph Goebbels over the radio, “I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and parents. The battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle.

Stirred by the summons of Joesph Goebbels, aware that Hitler himself was sharing their fate, thousands of men, women and children responded to the clarion, some riding street cars to the front lines in the suburbs. The speed of the Soviet onslaught and the haphazard nature of the defense created a logistical nightmare. Explained one Volkssturm commander:

I had four hundred men in my battalion, and we were ordered to go into the line in our civilian clothes. I told the local Party leader that I could not accept the responsibility of leading men into battle without uniforms. Just before commit- ment we were given 180 Danish rifles, but no ammunition. We also had four machine-guns and a hundred Panzerfausts. None of the men had received any training in firing a machine-gun, and they were all afraid of handling the anti-tank weapons. Although my men were quite ready to help their country, they refused to go into battle without uniforms and without training. What can a Volkssturm man do with a rifle without ammunition? The men went home; that was the only thing we could do.

Although many defenders were lost for similar reasons, others were determined to help in any way they could. Some women and children built barricades in the streets or dug anti-tank ditches. Old men and boys acted as couriers. Clerks, school teachers, government employees, even artists and musicians, hovered near the front in hopes of picking up weapons and uniforms from the battlefield. While Soviet forces converged upon the city, some of the first hammer-blows were delivered in the southern suburbs along the Teltow Canal. Remembered Russian general, Ivan Konev:

I reached Teltow when the artillery preparation was almost over. Our troops had taken up assault positions and were poised to enter the city; there were tanks, motorized infantry and the artillery that was finishing its work…. The advance detachments began to cross the canal before the end of the artillery preparation. Everything was shaking. The entire locality was wrapped in smoke. Heavy artillery was demolishing the houses on the other side of the canal. Stones, slabs of concrete, fragments of wood and dust were flying into the air. We had over 600 guns per kilometer on a narrow frontage, and they were all pounding the northern bank. . . . The bombers—one flight after another—were also delivering their blows….

I remember how vast the city appeared to me. I noted the massive old buildings, in which the district that lay before us abounded, and the density of these buildings; I took note of everything that might complicate our task of capturing Berlin. I also noticed the canals, rivers and streams that crossed Berlin in differ- ent directions. Such a multiplicity of water obstacles promised additional difficulties. Before us lay a front-line city, besieged and prepared for defense. . . . As I gazed upon Berlin I reflected that its end would spell the end of the war and that the sooner we took the city the sooner the war would be over.

Once in the suburbs, it was not long before Konev and other Russians realized that the war was far from over. Near Oranienburg, a member of the Hitler Youth wrote:

Our leader and the police fetched us from our homes and we had to assemble in the SS barracks. Then [we] were divided up by our companies and attached to the SS and Volkssturm. We first saw action to the northeast of the town. Most of us were killed by infantry fire, because we had to attack across open fields. Then the fighting in the town; two days of it. In two days and two nights Oranienburg changed hands four times. That finished another part of us. Then the Russians started bombarding the town with Stalin-Organs [i.e., multi-tubed rocket launchers], and when we wanted to finish and go home, we were stopped and made to join the escape across the canal. My platoon leader, who refused, was strung up on the nearest tree ... but then he was already fifteen years old.

Although resistance on the approaches to Berlin was generally light, the further the Soviets advanced, the stiffer the defense became. Increasingly, the Russians resorted to formula tactics. Said one German defender:

[A]ircraft flew over the buildings where resistance was suspected and where they had spotted snipers posted on the roofs, dropping small-caliber bombs, or possibly clusters of hand grenades. Simultaneously the tanks advanced, slowly opening a passage with their fire. Behind the tanks came the infantry, usually about thirty to forty men armed with submachine-guns. Behind the assault troops came other shock troops, who searched the houses to left and right. As soon as a cellar or building had been visited, the assault troops passed on, leaving one or two sentries. The Russians did their mopping up very cautiously and burnt with petrol all the houses from which they had been fired upon.

As the Soviets pressed forward, they captured several prison camps.

While POWs of other nationalities were set free, Russian inmates were merely handed a rifle and pointed to the front.

On a street in the suburbs, Werner Adamczyk and other nervous artillerymen waited while spotters located targets. As the young German gunner recalled:

I could see a long line of women in front of a grocery store, waiting to be served out of the meager supply of food. Suddenly, we got a firing command. We were to fire three salvos directed less than a kilometer ahead. As our guns went off, the women in line ducked down to the floor…. After the salvos went off, we loaded the last shell and waited….

Then the moment of final destiny arrived. A Russian tank swerved around the corner of one of the streets ahead of us. Its turret was swinging from one side to the other, firing its shells at random. My breathing stopped when I saw one of its shells detonating in the middle of the row of women waiting in line at the grocery store. Several of them fell to the ground; screams of horrible panic and pain filled the air. . . . Some unknown men, maybe from the rest of our infantry, emerged in front of us and fired a “Panzerschreck” at that tank. It was a direct hit. The tank blew up in an inferno of fire. But fragments of it killed some more of the nearby women.

Moments later, our gun barrels down for direct shooting, another tank appeared. Every gun fired its last round. At least two of our shells hit the tank and blew it to pieces.

Young Siegfried Losch found himself sniping from windows with a group of paratroopers convalescing from the Italian front. After escaping the Oder, the seventeen-year-old had briefly considered shed- ding his uniform and blending with civilians. Loyalty to the Fatherland caused him to pause, however, and the ubiquitous Field Police gave him even more reasons to reconsider. Soon, Losch and his comrades found cover near the Olympic Stadium.

There was no real organization. Every little group fought as good as it could. Confusion existed. For instance, there were members of the Volkssturm dressed in brown overcoats and Czechoslovakian helmets. I almost shot one man. He was rather old. I told him to change his uniform, if he wanted to survive. Then there were members of the Adolf Hitler school, a Nazi elite high school. These boys were armed like cowboys. Each one had several pistols. They picked the weapons up from dead soldiers. They were highly motivated. I remember, there was a T-34 tank about 60 yards from our position, firing ever so often along the houses. Suddenly I heard a big bang from the T-34. One of those students had knocked out the tank. He had crawled on the balcony across from us and hiding behind some petunias he shot a bazooka [i.e., Panzerfaust] at the tank….He was maybe 14.

As the incidents above illustrate, and as the Soviets soon discovered, Berlin was a graveyard for tanks. The Panzerfaust, and its more lethal cousin, the Panzershreck, was a simple, yet extremely effective tank-killing device that could be fired with little or no training. Wagons, carts and wheel-barrows loaded with the weapons were constantly resupplying the fronts and doled out like loaves of bread. Additionally, the narrow streets of Berlin, lined with multi-storied stone and brick ruins made perfect canyons for ambush.

General Wilhelm Mohnke describes a tank attack upon one of his positions:

They came on at dawn with tanks and infantry. Their tanks were highly unmaneuverable, blocked by rubble, and were sitting ducks in this classic street-fighting situation. Even young boys and old men, or women, for that matter, armed with bazookas and heroic despair, could get at them from point-blank range, usually under fifty yards, often from a cellar. . . . The Russians had brilliant tank commanders who had learned their business against us out on the steppes and in the open country. Even in city fighting, for example, in Stalingrad or Warsaw, they had never come up against hostile, armed civilians. They realized their mistake only belatedly, after they had lost hundreds of tanks.

After that first frontal assault, they got smarter. They simply pulled back and plastered us with artillery, of which they had a plenitude. They never tried to storm our positions again.

In other sectors as well, Soviet commanders screened their tanks with sheets of iron or bags of cement and held them back until strong points had been obliterated by artillery. A French POW watched a typical operation outside the Schultheiss Brewery:

The roadblock’s defenders were bombarded by heavy mortars set up in some ruined houses nearby. Then the Russians set up a 75 or 105mm gun several hundred metres from the barricade. The Russian gunners were completely exposed and, at the cost of several casualties, succeeded in getting some shots on the target, destroying the barricade and killing a number of Germans.

Then the Soviet infantry, about a hundred strong, charged in screaming, quickly swamped the remaining defenders, opened the barrier and regrouped on the street corner opposite the brewery. German losses were increased by the bitterness of the Soviet soldiers, who seemed to be drugged, and rarely took prisoners. We found numerous German corpses, civilians and soldiers, when we were able to get out of the brewery.

With Berlin surrounded, the Soviets sought to sever the city’s last link with the world by overrunning Templehof Airport. One of those defending the far approaches to the airfield scribbled in his diary:

Russian artillery is firing without let-up. We need infantry reinforcements, and we get motley emergency units. Behind the lines, civilians are still trying to get away right under the Russian artillery fire, dragging along some miser- able bundle holding all they have left in the world. On and off, some of the wounded try to move to the rear. Most of them stay, though, because they are afraid of being picked up and hanged by flying courts-martial. The Russians burn their way into the houses with flame throwers. The screams of the women and children are terrible.

Afternoon. Our artillery retreats to new positions. They have very little ammunition. The howling and explosions of the Stalin organs, the screaming of the wounded, the roaring of motors, and the rattle of machine guns. Clouds of smoke, and the stench of chlorine and fire. Dead women in the street, killed while trying to get water. But also, here and there, women with bazookas, Silesian girls thirsting for revenge.

8 p.m.: Russian tanks carrying infantry are driving on the airport. Heavy fighting.

April 25: 5:30 a.m. New, massive tank attacks. We are forced to retreat. Russian drive on the airport becomes irresistible. Heavy street fighting—many civilian casualties. Dying animals. Women are fleeing from cellar to cellar. We are pushed northwest. [H]eavy Russian air attacks. Inscriptions on the house walls: “The hour before sunrise is the darkest,” and “We retreat but we are winning.” Deserters, hanged or shot. What we see on this march is unforgettable.

As the ferocious fighting approached the airport’s perimeter, General Weidling realized he could not hold the vital link long. Major Knappe:

During the evening, I entered a room where Weidling was meeting with [two generals]. They were discussing whether to defend Berlin dutifully or whether it would be appropriate to stay here and let the Russians pass by on both sides of us and then break through the Grunewald (woods to the west of the city), escape to the west, and surrender to the Western Allies. If we stayed to defend Berlin it would be necessary to move our headquarters to the center of the city, because within two days at the latest the Russians would be occupying this building. Weidling then made his decision to stay and defend Berlin. [We] ... decided to move corps headquarters to a big antiaircraft bunker near the Berlin zoo. The zoo bunker,a heavily fortified place with heavy antiair- craft guns on the roof, would be safe against bombing and artillery. When we left our headquarters, we had to be careful, because the railroad embankment behind our building was under fire and we had to cross it to get to our kubelwagen [i.e. Jeep] and motorcycle. We crossed it by dashing from cover to cover, finally arriving safely at our vehicles. As we drove through the city, the earth trembled with each exploding artillery shell, and a huge geyser of earth and debris erupted from the ground with each explosion. The noise was deafening, and the heaving of the earth was unsettling. A sliver of shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell finally punctured one of the tires on my kubelwagen.While my driver was changing the tire, a woman watching from a house nearby offered me a cup of tea. She was about forty-five years old and matronly, with worn clothes, bedraggled hair, and a kind face…. Her apartment was in shambles from the artillery blasts. Small knickknacks, little pieces of her life, lay shattered on the floor about her.

When will the Russians arrive, Herr Major?” she asked.

In a matter of hours,” I told her honestly. A day at most. You will be safest if you stay in your basement.

Like this helpless woman, females could do little else but sit in their cellars and wait. Unlike bombing raids, which had a certain rhyme and rhythm, death from artillery could come at any moment. Hence, life was now passed almost entirely underground talking . . . and thinking.

The word ‘Russians’ is no longer mentioned. The lips won’t pronounce it,” confided one thirty-year-old female. While rape was on everyone’s mind, she added, “not a single woman talked about ‘it’.”  

A nervous gaiety breaks out. All kinds of stories are making the rounds. Frau W. screeches: “Rather a Russki on the belly than an Ami on the head!” (i.e., American bombers)—a joke not quite fitting her mourning crepe. Fraulein Behn shouts through the cellar:

Now let’s be frank—I’ll bet there’s not a virgin among us!” No one answers. I find myself wondering…. Probably the janitor’s younger daughter, who is only sixteen and who, ever since her sister’s faux-pas, has been strictly watched. And certainly, if I know anything about the faces of young girls, the eighteen-year-old ... who is sleeping peacefully in the corner.

When those in hiding were finally forced by hunger and thirst to surface, the sights they saw were staggering. Continues the woman above:

Walking south one is aware of approaching the front. The city railroad tun- nel is already blocked. People standing in front of it said that at the other end a soldier in underpants is hanging, a sign saying “Traitor” dangling from his neck. They said he is hanging so low that one can twist his legs. This was reported by someone who saw it himself and had chased away some boys who were amusing themselves twisting the dead man’s legs.

The Berliner Strasse looks fantastic, half torn up and blocked by barricades. Queues in front of the shops, flak roaring overhead. Trucks moving citywards. Filthy mud-covered figures with vacant faces covered in blood-smeared band- ages trudging along between them. In the rear hay carts driven by gray-heads. The barricades guarded by Volksturm men in patched uniforms. Soft-faced children under huge steel helmets, horrifying to hear their high voices. So tiny and thin in their far-too-loose uniforms, they can’t be more than fifteen.

There are no more streets. Just torn-up ditches filled with rubble between rows of ruins…,” said another hungry scavenger, Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. We climb across mountains of ruins, rummage through rubble and broken glass, crawl through unknown cellars, tear out other people’s boxes and bags. Shellfire above us. We don’t pay attention. We hardly bother to take cover. A fever has gotten hold of us.

Rita Kuhn was also searching for food. As the little girl approached her neighborhood bakery, she soon became lost.

I thought I was in another city. Everything looked very, very unfamiliar. The trees had lost all their leaves. And buildings on both sides were . . . little holes, big holes, and just the whole area is devastated. . . . I walked on, and I looked at the trees, and I saw pieces of clothing on the trees. Pretty soon, as I got closer to the bakery there were pieces of human flesh. They were all over, everywhere. On the trees, on the balconies, pieces of clothing, pieces of human flesh….I almost fell over a woman, lying there in the street, dead, with her legs blown off….I came to where I thought the bakery was, and there was just a big hole. Sure enough, that’s where it had hit, and people hadn’t had time to take cover.

Like this unfortunate group, once a source of food or water had been found, little or nothing could drive the desperate people away.

Whole families take turns standing in line, each member doing a shift of several hours…,” wrote a witness. “With a few beefsteaks and loins of pork in sight, even the shakiest old grandma will hold her ground. There they stand like walls, those who not so long ago dashed into bunkers the moment three fighter planes were announced over Central Germany.

Just as we were about to drive past such a line, noted Major Knappe, “an artillery shell exploded beside the line of women. As the smoke began to clear, I could see that many of the women had been hit. Those women who were unhurt carried the dead, the dying, and the wounded into the entrances of nearby buildings and cared for them—and then again formed their queues so they would not lose their places in line!”

When another direct hit on a food line killed and wounded over a dozen, one viewer was stunned to see victims merely wipe the blood from their ration cards and reform the line. As the sounds of street fighting neared, however, few any longer risked the food and water sorties. Confined to their dark cellars, alone with their thoughts, it was now that dreadful anticipation came crushing down.

We sheltered in the air raid cellar of our house when the fighting came very close…. [W]e heard a series of thundering crashes which came nearer and nearer. One young boy in our cellar was brave enough to look out. He told us that two Russian tanks and a lot of soldiers on foot were coming and that the tanks were firing into the houses as they moved up the street. One tank was firing at the houses on the left. The boy suddenly jumped down from the slit through which he had been looking and almost immediately our house was struck by a shell.

The noise moved past us. The sound of the firing grew less and less loud. We all sat quite still…. Each of us had our own thoughts. Mine were of my husband who was a sailor somewhere. We all sat silent waiting, wondering and fearful. Very soon the Red Army would be here. Suddenly the door was pushed open and in the doorway was the silhouette of a man. Then another and another. Two pocket torches were switched on and their beam passed from one face to another in the cellar. “Alles Kaput,” shouted one of the silhouettes, “Komm,” and we made our painful way up the shelter stairs and into daylight. There they stood, the soldiers who had come into our cellar, laughing and shouting. “Alles Kaput. They looked about sixteen years old. The Ivans had arrived.

As their frightened countrymen to the east had earlier discovered, Berliners also soon found that tough and hard as Russian shock troops might be, they were a far cry from the blood-thirsty monsters propaganda and imaginations had sketched them as. “The first troops were friendly and gave us food,” said a teenager. “They had officers with them who spoke German very well and told us to be calm, that everything would be all right. But also like their eastern brethren, Berliners soon learned that there was a world of difference between the first wave of Soviet soldiers and the second.

These are good, disciplined and decent soldiers,” one Russian officer explained to a Mother Superior at a maternity hospital. “But I must tell you—the ones coming up behind are pigs.

With such warnings, some terrified women tried to follow the front, dodging from cellar to cellar, dying from bombs and bullets as they did, but staying just ahead of the horror behind. For most, however, it was too late.

I step out into the dark corridor. Then they got me. Both men had been standing there waiting. I scream, scream. . . . One man seizes me by the wrists and drags me along the corridor. Now the other one also pulls, at the same time gripping my throat with one hand so that I can no longer scream…. I’m already on the ground, my head lying on the lowest cellar stair. I can feel the coldness of the tiles against my back. Something falls from my coat with a tinkling sound. Must be my house keys….One man stands guard at the door upstairs while the other claws at my under- wear, tears my garter belt to shreds and violently, ruthlessly has his way.

When it’s all over and, reeling, I try to get up, the other man hurls himself upon me and with fists and knees forces me back on the floor. Now the first man is standing guard, whispering: “Hurry, hurry... .

Suddenly I hear loud Russian voices. Someone has opened the door at the top of the staircase, letting in light. Three Russians come in, the third one a woman in uniform. They look at me and laugh. My second attacker, interrupted, has leaped to his feet. They both go off with the others, leaving me lying on the floor. I pull myself up by the banister, gather my things together, and stagger along the wall toward the door of the cellar. . . . My stockings are hanging over my shoes, my hair has fallen wildly over my face, in my hand are the remains of the garter belt.

What followed was worse than anything we had ever imagined,” recalled nineteen-year-old Juliane Hartman.

One Russian went into the garage and the other headed for the house. Not having the slightest idea of what would happen, I followed the man into the house. First, he locked all of the doors behind him and put the keys in his pocket. I began to feel a bit funny when we got to one of the bedrooms. I wanted to go out on the balcony, but he pointed his gun at me and said, Frau komm!” We had already heard about a few of the horrible things going on, so I knew one thing for certain and that was “Don’t try to defend yourself.” An upper-middle-class child, I had never been told about the facts of life.

A short time later, Juliane learned much more about the “facts of life” when “an entire horde of Mongolians” stood facing her.

Recounts Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, a German communist:

In the middle of the night I wake up. A flashlight is shining into my face. “Come, woman,” I hear a voice. The smell of cheap liquor assails me. A hand covers my mouth.

Good woman ... come,” the voice repeats. A heavy body falls upon me. “No, no,” I gargle, half choked, trying to slip deeper into the pillows. The smell of cheap liquor. Close to my ear panting breath. “O God! ... Dear God!”

Following her own ordeal, Andreas-Friedrich tried to console a young Marxist friend:

She sits huddled on her couch. “One ought to kill oneself,” she moans. “This is no way to live.” She covers her face with her hands and starts to cry. It is terrible to see her swollen eyes, terrible to look at her disfigured features.

Was it really that bad?” I ask.

She looks at me pitifully. “Seven,” she says. “Seven in a row. Like animals....” She is eighteen years old and didn’t know anything about love. Now she knows everything.  Over and over again, sixty times.  How can you defend yourself?” she says impassively, almost indifferently. “When they pound at the door and fire their guns senselessly. Each night new ones, each night others. The first time when they took me and forced my father to watch, I thought I would die.

I shudder. For four years Goebbels told us that the Russians would rape us. That they would rape and plunder, murder and pillage.

Atrocity propaganda!” we said as we waited for the Allied liberators.

A German attorney and his Jewish wife were two more Berliners who had eagerly anticipated the arrival of Soviet troops. According to a witness:

For months the couple had been looking forward to the liberation of Berlin, had spent nights by the radio, listening to foreign broadcasts. Then, when the first Russians forced their way into the cellar and yelled for women, there had been a free-for-all and shooting. A bullet had ricocheted off the wall and hit the lawyer in the hip. His wife had thrown herself on the Russians, imploring their help in German. Whereupon they had dragged her into the passage. There three men had fallen upon her while she kept yelling: “Listen! I’m a Jewess! I’m a Jewess!” By the time the Russians had finished with her, the husband had bled to death.

Because of the close-quarter street fighting, German troops were often unwilling spectators to the horror taking place just beyond. “The nights, when the women in the occupied side streets were raped by Russian soldiers, were awful, a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth reminisced. “[T]he screams were horrible. There were terrible scenes. Added another Landser: “[I]t is just not a pretty sight to see a terrified, naked woman running along a roof top, pursued by a half-dozen soldiers brandishing bayonets, then leaping five or six stories to certain death.

After witnessing such scenes as the above, resistance—already fierce— soon turned fanatical. Ferocious as the fight became, little or nothing could stave off the inevitable. Nowhere was this fact more painfully clear than in the bunker far below the Reich Chancellery. Traudl Junge:

[A]n acute sense of anxiety had spread throughout the bunker. Outside, it was like the depths of hell. During the daytime the rumble of gunfire never stopped, and explosions that rocked the ground continued all night long…. Imprisoned in the bunker, we tried to get hold of some news about the outcome of the battle. It should have been at its height. Was that the noise of our guns and tanks? Nobody knew.

Hitler went out to the officers who were waiting in the corridor. “Gentlemen,” he said, “the end is approaching. I shall stay in Berlin and I shall kill myself when the moment comes. Any of you who wish to leave may do so. You are all free to go.

When those present begged him to fly south to the Alps, while there was still time, Hitler merely waved the words aside: “In this city I have had the right to give orders; now I must obey the orders of Fate. Even if I could save myself, I would not do it. The captain goes down with his ship. How can I call on the troops to undertake the decisive battle for Berlin if at the same moment I myself withdraw to safety?”

While some in the bunker still held hope, pinning their last prayer on General Wenck breaking the Russian ring and relieving the capital, Wenck himself suffered no such delusion.

The idea of fighting through to Berlin . . . was completely absurd,” the general later wrote. “The Army would have taken weeks to recover and gain battle strength. From hour to hour our own position was growing weaker. The Russians now attacked in overwhelming numbers. Continues Traudl Junge:

By 26 April, we were cut off from the outside world apart from a radio link.... It began to be obvious that we no longer had an army capable of saving us.... The sound of guns was coming closer and closer, but the atmosphere in the bunker remained the same. Hitler was haggard and absent-minded….[H]e was hollow-eyed and paler than ever. He seemed completely to have given up his role as leader. There were no briefing sessions, no more fixed schedules, no maps spread out on the table. Doors stood wide open. Nobody bothered with anything any more. Our single obsession was that the moment of Hitler’s suicide was approaching.

Goebbels ... arrived to discuss with Hitler their plans for a final radio broadcast. The population were to be told that the Fuhrer was staying in the besieged capital and that he would personally take part in the city’s defense. It was a futile hope that this message would give the German people the courage and energy to achieve the impossible: the sad truth was that there were few able-bodied men left, and a large number of youngsters would sacrifice their lives in vain at a time when their Fuhrer had already given up.

Despite the fast-approaching end, details of state continued. After destroying a Soviet tank single-handedly, a stunned and sleepless child was led down to the bunker and introduced to the Fuhrer.

boy-iron-cross-germany-1945
With a great show of emotion,” noted a bystander, “Hitler pinned an Iron Cross on the puny chest of this little chap, on a mud-spattered coat several sizes too big for him. Then he ran his hand slowly over the boy’s head and sent him back out into the hopeless battle in the streets of Berlin.

As the circle closed on central Berlin, the combat became increasingly savage. “One of the worst things . . . was that the Russians always had fresh reserves to put into the fighting, so they could rest their troops...,wrote Maj. Knappe. “[O]ur people had to just keep fighting, hour after hour and day after day, until they were killed or seriously wounded.

Gradually we lost all human appearance, a German soldier recounted. “Our eyes burned and our faces were lined and stained with the dust that surrounded us.

The dust from the rubble hung in the air like a thick fog ..., added General Weidling as he ducked and dodged from door to door to inspect his defenses. “Shells burst all round us. We were covered with bits of broken stones.

Another weary Landser took time to faithfully record the daily agony:

Continuous attacks throughout the night. The Russians are trying to break through…. Increasing signs of disintegration and despair. . . . Hardly any communications among the combat groups, in as much as none of the active battalions have radio communications any more. Telephone cables are shot through in no time at all. Physical conditions are indescribable. No relief or respite, no regular food and hardly any bread. Nervous breakdowns from the continuous artillery fire. Water has to be obtained from the tunnels and the Spree [River] and then filtered. The not too seriously wounded are hardly taken in anywhere, the civilians being afraid to accept wounded soldiers and officers into their cellars when so many are being hanged as real or presumed deserters and the occupants of the cellars concerned being ruthlessly turfed out as accomplices by the members of the flying courts martial.

Potsdamer Platz is a ruined waste. Masses of wrecked vehicles and shot-up ambulances with the wounded still inside them. Dead everywhere, many of them frightfully mangled by tanks and trucks.

Violent shelling of the city center at dusk with simultaneous attacks on our positions. Russians heading for Potsdamer Platz pass us in the parallel tunnel.

As this diarist made note, while one battle raged above, another raged below. Not only was Berlin one of the largest cities in the world, it was also one of the most modern and beneath its surface stretched a maze of subway tunnels, pedestrian passageways and huge drainage pipes. With maps in hand, German commanders were quick to seize the initiative ... with devastating results. Admitted a Russian general:

Our troops would capture some center of resistance and think they had finished with it, but the enemy, making use of underground passages, would send reconnaissance groups, as well as individual saboteurs and snipers into our rear. Such groups of submachine-gunners, snipers, grenade throwers and men armed with panzerfausts emerging from the underground communications fired on motor vehicles, tanks and gun crews moving along already captured streets, severed our lines of communication and created tense situations behind our firing lines.

Though terrified by the black labyrinth, Soviet soldiers were compelled to enter them. Alexander Zhamkov and a squad of scouts crept through one subway until they spotted a distant light.

We decided to crawl the rest of the way. There was a niche in the wall ... and a small electric bulb burning. Close by we heard Germans talking, and there was a smell of tobacco smoke and heat-up tinned meat. One of them flashed a torch and pointed it towards us, while the Germans remained in the shadows. We pressed ourselves to the ground and peered ahead. In front, the tunnel was sealed with a brick wall with steel shields set in the middle. We crawled for- ward another few metres. All of a sudden, bullets began to sing. We hid in the niches. After a while, we attacked, throwing hand grenades and firing Panzerfausts, and broke through. Another 200 metres and another wall.

[T]hat is the worst possible sort of combat,” said an underground fighter. You see only flashes of fire coming at you: flame throwers and tracer ammunition.

Nightmarish in its own right, frightened civilians crowding the subway platforms added immeasurably to the horror, as one soldier reveals:

Platforms and waiting rooms resemble an army camp…. Exploding shells shake the tunnel roofs. Chunks of concrete collapse. Smell of powder and clouds of smoke in the tunnels. Hospital trains of the underground municipal railway roll along slowly. Suddenly a surprise. Water pours into our combat headquarters. Screams, weeping, cursing, people fight for the ladders which lead to the surface through the ventilation shafts. The masses pour over the railway sleepers leaving children and wounded behind…. The water rises over a meter before it slowly recedes. The terrible fear and panic lasts for more than an hour. Many drowned. The cause: on somebody’s orders engineers had demolished the sides of the Landwehr Canal … in order to flood the tunnels to block underground enemy advances….

Late afternoon, we move to Potsdam Platz [station]. Shells penetrate the roof. Heavy losses above, civilians and wounded. Smoke pours through the shell holes…. After one heavy shell explosion … by the station entrance next to the Pschorr brewery, there is a horrible sight: men, women and children are literally plastered to the walls. 

And, the soldier continues, as if the horror were not already great enough, “Flying courts-martial appear among us.”

Most are very young SS. Hardly any decorations. They are blind and fanatical. Hopes of relief and the simultaneous fear of the courts-martial revitalize the men again. General [Hans] Mummert bans the reappearance of any flying courts-martial in this defense sector. A division with the most bearers of the Knight’s Cross and the oak leaf cluster does not deserve to be persecuted by such young fellows. Mummert is determined personally to shoot one such court-martial that interfered in his sector.

As noted above, the “chain dogs” were omnipresent, insuring that few would “snap” and run to the rear. “[A]nywhere you went, you saw military police, a Hitler Youth member stated. “Even when the Russians were already in sight, you could see police a hundred yards farther on, still trying to check people. Whoever didn’t have the right papers or the correct pass was strung up as a deserter.

Of the one hundred and forty men originally in Lothar Ruhl’s company, only a dozen or so were left. Nevertheless, said the brave seventeen-year-old, “An SS patrol stopped me and asked me what I was doing. Was I a deserter?”

They told me to go along with them and said that all cowards and traitors would be shot. On the way, I saw an officer, stripped of his insignia, hanging from a streetcar underpass. A large sign hung around his neck read, “I am hanging here because I was too much of a coward to face the enemy.” The SS man said, “Do you see that? There’s a deserter hanging already.” I told him that I was no deserter; I was a messenger. He said, “That’s what they all say.” I wound up at an SS assembly point. One of our platoon leaders sat there. He saw me and yelled, “Hey, what are you doing with one of our men?” The answer was, “We picked him up.” The platoon leader asked, “What do you mean ‘picked him up?’ This man is our messenger and I know him very well. Let him go so he can get back to his duties.” They finally let me go.

After one of many small counterattacks, German troops briefly reoccupied a battered neighborhood. Wrote a witness:

People who lived there had put out white flags of surrender. There was this one apartment house with white bed sheets waving from the windows. And the SS came—I’ll  never forget this—went into the house, and dragged all of the men out. I don’t know whether these were soldiers dressed in civilian clothing, old men, or what. Anyway, they took them into the middle of the street and shot them.

Two groups largely untroubled by flying courts-martial were the Hitler Youth and Volkssturm. Often living only blocks from where they fought, no military police were necessary to remind these men of the fate awaiting their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters should they fail. Explained a Russian general:

[T]he mood prevailing in the Volkssturm during the decisive fighting for Berlin may be described as one of hysterical self-sacrifice. Those defenders of the Third Reich, including mere boys, believed themselves to be the personification of the last hope of a miracle…. It is noteworthy that those men armed with panzerfausts usually fought to the end and during that last stage displayed much more fortitude than the German soldiers who had been through the mill and were demoralized by defeat and many years of strain.

Far from passively defending a sector, the old men and boys launched furious, though forlorn, counterattacks. As a consequence, they died by the thousands. When one Hitler Youth unit joined the battle, it was five thousand strong. Five days later only five hundred were left.

As the struggle for Berlin intensified and the carnage increased, doctors and nurses were taxed beyond their limits. Remembered one physician:

[A]mputations were carried out on an old wooden table covered with a mattress. The surgeons operated without gloves, practically without antiseptics, and with instruments hardly boiled. Everything was defective or exhausted. It was impossible to change one’s overalls and even washing one’s hands became a problem. The oil lamps were dead and the last candles consumed. Fortunately we had found two bicycles equipped with electric lights, and the pedals turned by hand provided sufficient illumination for the operating tables.

Moving in dark, smoky rooms, wading over floors awash in blood and body parts, exhausted medical personnel also endured a nonstop barrage of curses, screamed at them in German, Russian, French, Spanish, and Dutch.

All of us were now living a waking nightmare. We had lost any sense of clock or calendar time ..., said Ernst-Guenther Schenck, an intern compelled to perform surgery though his field was nutrition.

Minor casualties, the walking wounded, soldiers shot in the hand or the foot, were not even allowed to leave their assigned combat posts. Those dragged to us, or trundled in on stretchers, were usually unconscious. Many a wounded soldier died, in horrible anguish, on the blood-smeared table as I operated. These were bewildered young men dragooned from half of Europe. I was up to my elbows in entrails, arteries, [and] gore.

Assisting Dr. Schenck was a Catholic nun, who stuffed arms, legs, bones, and intestines into trash cans.

Surprisingly, amid the smoking, flaming hell that was Berlin, another world existed, a world of strange and surreal contrasts. While men and women fought and died on one street, drunken revelers, bent on a final fling, yelled and laughed on an adjacent street. During brief lulls in the almost constant din of battle, shocked Landsers heard jazz and polka music blaring behind them in the German zone, and the screams of rape victims to their front in the Russian zone. Len Carpenter, an English POW who had simply walked away from his prison, found himself wandering through this bizarre landscape, as if in a “coma.

I remember going out and queuing up for some salt pork in the middle of the fighting and the queue being strafed by a Russian plane, and I remember joining in when the Germans started looting the shops and getting a big tin of jam and a typewriter, of all useless things. I remember the Hitler Youth boys singing as they marched past after driving the Russians out of Herrenstrasse railway station, and I remember the first Russians to arrive—they were Russians who had been fighting on the German side and when they took shelter in the cellar with us I thought, “Just my luck to be caught by the Red Army with this lot in tow.

When the Red Army did in fact arrive, Carpenter’s “coma,” if anything, worsened.

[W]hen all the guns and shouting had died down I emerged into the streets. From quite a distance away I could hear the shrieks of young girls. A local cobbler who was a Communist went forward to meet the Russians and show them his Party card but all they did was pinch the leather jacket off his back….I had a chit printed in four languages which said I was a British subject, but they weren’t interested, they couldn’t read, they just dropped it on the ground. I went with them on a plundering foray. We broke into a shoe shop with a lovely stock of shoes in it, and we broke into the wine and spirit shops, all sorts of places.

By the last days of April 1945, all of Berlin save the city center was under Russian control. Consequently, almost everything that the capital had to give had fallen to the victors.

I sense a strange, intangible something in the air, evil and menacing. Some of these fellows look past me in a strange way, exchanging glances with each other. One of them, short and yellow and smelling of alcohol, involves me in a conversation, tries to lure me sideways into a courtyard, points at two watches strapped to his hairy wrist, promising to give me one if I….

I retreat into the cellar corridor, sneak across the inner courtyard, think I’ve given him the slip when suddenly there he is, standing beside me, and following me into the cellar.

[H]e suddenly throws me onto the bed. Shut your eyes, clench your teeth, don’t utter a sound. Only when the underwear is ripped apart with a tearing sound, the teeth grind involuntarily. The last underwear.

I feel fingers at my mouth, smell the reek of horses and tobacco. I open my eyes. Adroitly the fingers force my jaws apart. Eye looks into eye. Then the man above me slowly lets his spittle dribble into my mouth….Paralysis. Not disgust, just utter coldness. The spine seems to be frozen, icy dizziness encircles the back of the head. I find myself gliding and sinking deep down through the pillows, through the floor.

Once more eye looks into eye. The lips above me open. I see yellow teeth, one front tooth half-broken. Slowly the corners of the mouth rise, tiny wrinkles form round the slit eyes. The man is smiling.

When I got up I felt dizzy and wanted to vomit. My ruined underclothes fell round my feet. I staggered along the passage ... to the bathroom. There I vomited. In the mirror I saw my green face, in the basin what I had vomited. I didn’t dare rinse it as I kept on retching and we had so little water left in the bucket. 

After the horror stories from the east, most women in Berlin expected to be raped once or twice ... but not dozens of times.

I felt wretched and sore and crept around like a lame duck. The widow, realizing immediately the reason why, got down her medicine chest from the loft where she had been hiding it. Without a word she handed me a jar containing vaseline, but her eyes were brimming. I too felt weak and was aware of something rising in my throat.

It occurred to me how fortunate I have been until now, how in the past love-making for me has never been a burden, but always a pleasure. I have never been forced, never had to force myself. Whatever it was like, it was good. What makes me so wretched at this moment is not the too-much, it’s the abused body taken against its will, which reacts with pain. Frigid is what I have remained during all these copulations. It cannot, it must not be different, for I wish to remain dead and unfeeling so long as I have to be prey. As a result I’m glad I feel so sore and sick. And yet there I stood blubbering, with the jar of vaseline in my hand, in front of the equally blubbering widow.

Throughout ravaged Berlin, the victors ruthlessly laid claim to the spoils of war.

They queued up,” whispers his wife, while Elvira just sits there speechless. “They waited for one another to finish. She thinks there were at least twenty, but of this she isn’t quite sure. She had to take almost all of it herself. The other one was unwell, they let her alone after four times.

I stare at Elvira. Her swollen mouth hangs from her deathly pale face like a blue plum. “Just let them see,” says the distiller’s wife. And without a word Elvira unbuttons her blouse, opens her chemise, and reveals her breasts covered with bruises and the marks of teeth…. She herself started talking. We could hardly understand a word, her lips are so swollen. “I prayed all the time,” she muttered. “I prayed: Dear God, I thank You for making me drunk….” For even before queuing up, as well as after, the Ivans had forced liquor down the woman’s throat.

Nothing, it seemed, was a defense against the assaults. “Most of us tried to make ourselves look a lot older than we really were, said Hedwig Sass, who was in her early forties. “But then the Russians always said, ‘You not old. You young.’ They laughed at us because of the old clothes and eye-glasses we were wearing. Added another woman: “The younger one, so the mother whispered to me, knowing that the Ivans didn’t like menstruating women, had stuffed herself with cotton. But it didn’t do her any good. Amidst howls and laughter the two rowdies had thrown the cotton all over the kitchen and laid the sixteen-year-old girl on the chaise lounge in the kitchen.

The same woman continues:

We sit around the kitchen table, everyone hollow-eyed, greenish-white from lack of sleep. We all whisper and breathe uneasily. In turn we all stare at the bolted, barricaded back door, praying it will hold out. All of a sudden the sound of steps on the back stairs, and the alien voices which seem so coarse and bestial to our ears. Silence and paralysis settle over the table. We stop chewing and hold our breath. Hands tremble, eyes open wide in horror. Then it’s quiet again beyond the door; the sound of steps has died away. Someone whispers: “If it’s going on like this.

No one answers. Suddenly the refugee girl from Konigsberg throws herself screaming across the table: “I can’t stand it any longer, I’m going to end it all. . . .” She had to submit to it several times last night, under the roof where she had fled, followed by a gang of pursuers. Her hair hangs over her face; she refuses to eat or drink.

We sit, wait, listen. We can hear firing from a distance. Shots whip down our street.

Like the frantic girl above, many females did indeed choose the ultimate escape. “There is no other talk in the city. No other thought either,” revealed Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. “Suicide is in the air. . . . They are killing themselves by the hundreds.

german-women-walk-past-dead-german-soldier-berlin-april-1945

Those women who did not commit suicide sought out officers, commissars and other powerful men, offering their bodies in hopes of ending the brutal, random assaults.

Compelled by hunger and thirst to leave their holes, Germans were stunned by what they saw in the streets. To many, it was if Berlin had returned to the Dark Ages. Primitive, Asiatic carts, piled high with plunder, stood side by side with American-made tanks and jeeps. Over open fires Kulaks and Tartars roasted whole hogs and oxen on spits. Horses, cattle and sheep, many trailed by their young, filled the streets with a bedlam of sounds.

The smell of cow-pat and horse dung was everywhere,” one German recalled.

Not all foul odors were so rustic. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

We hurry upstairs. An unbearable stench assails us.... Something slimy makes me slip. “They can’t have been sober.” Repulsed, I hold my nose. Andrik stands at the bathroom door. Aghast, he stares at the cause of the stench.

Buffaloes must have done this,” he stammers, totally overwhelmed, and tries to flush the toilet. There is no water. Nor is there gas, electricity or tele phone. Only chaos. Total and impenetrable chaos.

Dagmar comes back from the cellar. “It’s even worse down there,” she reports and distractedly runs her hands through her hair. “It’s a deluge, I tell you, a real deluge!”

Shoveling shitsoon became a new preoccupation for many a once-tidy hausfrau. Gagging and retching, the women tried mightily to remove piles of excrement left in living rooms, hallways and kitchens. They certainly haven’t much restraint, these conquerors,” one disgusted woman wrote. “[T]hey relieve themselves against the walls; puddles of urine lie on the landings and trickle down the staircase. I’m told they behave just the same in the empty apartments placed at their disposal. In a corner of the back staircase one of them is lying in a puddle of his own making.

In their dazed, feral condition, many Germans themselves were in no frame of mind to maintain the veneer of civilization. “While looking for a rear entrance,” said a witness, “we run into a woman who, with raised skirt, is quite unashamedly relieving nature in a corner of the yard. Another sight I’ve not seen before in Berlin.

Like snarling, ravenous wolfpacks, many Berliners swiftly reverted to the law of the jungle. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

In front of us a white ox comes trotting around the corner. With gentle eyes and heavy horns. Frank and Jo look at each other. In a moment we have surrounded the animal.

Five minutes later it is done. Five minutes later we all act as if we have gone mad. Brandishing kitchen knives, their sleeves rolled up, Frank and Jo are crouching around the dead animal. Blood drips from their hands, blood runs down their arms and trickles in thin lines across the trodden lawn. And suddenly, as if the underworld had spit them out, a noisy crowd gathers around the dead ox. They come creeping out of a hundred cellar holes. Women, men, children. Was it the smell of blood that attracted them? They come running with buckets. With tubs and vats. Screaming and gesticulating they tear pieces of meat from each other’s hands.

The liver belongs to me,” someone growls.

The tongue is mine . . . the tongue . . . the tongue!” Five blood-covered fists angrily pull the tongue out of the ox’s throat.

Ah,” a woman screams, and rushing away from the crowd, she spins around twice and then hastens away. Above her head she waves the ox’s tail.

Records another viewer:

[S]omeone had come rushing into the cellar with the glad tidings that a horse had collapsed outside. In no time the whole cellar tribe was in the street. The animal was still twitching and rolling its eyes when the first bread knives plunged into it—all this of course under fire. Everyone slashed and ripped just where he happened to be. When the philologist’s wife reached out toward some yellowish fat, someone had rapped her over the fingers with the handle of a knife. “You there—you stay where you are!” She had managed nevertheless to cut out a piece of meat weighing six pounds. [W]e no longer have any sense of shame.

Meanwhile, in the rapidly shrinking pocket that was German Berlin, the death struggle continued. For fear of hitting comrades closing from all sides, Soviet artillerymen now lowered their guns to point-blank range. Nowhere was the fight more intense than in the streets surrounding the heavily fortified flak towers. Recounts a civilian near the Zoo tower:

The barricades . . . were defended by the remnants of Volkssturm units and some youngsters. The Russians had mounted some light guns outside our building to fire at these obstacles. The Russians pushed any men and women that appeared capable of work out of the cellars at gun-point and made them clear the streets of the rubble, scrap metal and steel plates used as anti-tank obstacles, and that without any tools. Many were killed by the fire of German soldiers still holding out.

[T]he smell of death now permeated everything,” Major Knappe wrote from inside the Zoo bunker. “In addition to human corpses, many of the animals from the zoo had escaped and been killed. The acrid smell of smoke mingled with the stench of decomposing corpses. Dust from pulverized bricks and plaster rose over the city like a heavy fog. The streets, littered with rubble and pockmarked with huge craters, were deserted.

Atop the tower itself, anti-aircraft guns were lowered and fired non-stop into the surrounding streets. Even so, admitted a soldier inside the bunker, “Russian pressure . . . cannot be contained much longer. We will have to withdraw again.

We experienced the violent shaking when all eight 125mm anti-aircraft guns fired a salvo at the Russians ..., remembered one Landser inside the Humboldthain  flak-tower. “Their artillery fire was particularly fierce against the walls of the bunker since their infantry could not get in. The brave gunners were being killed mercilessly at their posts, and they were nearly all young Flak Auxiliaries, fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds. These brave youngsters continued to serve their guns fearlessly, and several were felled before our eyes.

Among the thousands of civilians huddled behind the massive walls, one described the atmosphere:

Of the actual fighting I saw nothing but we all heard a lot because the walls were not so thick that they kept out the sounds of shells and bombs bursting against the Flak tower walls. The tower soon became an emergency hospital and we were all expected to help. . . . More and more wounded were brought in and a lot died. Burial parties took the bodies outside and because there were not enough men to dig proper graves the bodies were just put into shell holes and covered with a sprinkling of earth….

There were suicides in the tower, as well. It was a ghastly time and when the shelling began to come really close it was clear that the Russians would soon be at the doors. We all knew what that meant and some of the girls decided not to wait until the Ivans came but to end their lives there and then.

To keep Hitler abreast of the battle, General Weidling and Major Knappe were compelled to spend much of their time moving between headquarters and the Chancellery. Reveals Knappe:

The whole area was in ruins…. Artillery shells exploded continuously, with thundering detonations. When I went outside now, the smoke from the burning city sliced through my nostrils and lungs like a jagged blade edge. The streets were full of both debris and bodies, although the bodies were hardly recognizable as such. The corpses of both soldiers and civilians who had been killed in the shelling and bombing were under debris, and everything was covered with a gray-and-red powder from the destruction of the buildings. The stink of death was suffocating…. [I]nfantry fighting was now everywhere….

When I made the trip to Fuhrer Headquarters now (approximately one kilometer), I had to dart from cover to cover, watching not only for incoming artillery rounds but for rifle and machine-gun fire as well. . . . Some of the SS troops defending the Chancellery were dug in before the building. [These] one thousand SS troops defending Fuhrer Headquarters—were red-eyed and sleepless, living in a world of fire, smoke, death, and horror.

In the bunker beneath the building itself, Ernst-Guenther Schenck was now in his seventh straight day at the operating table. “Casualties were now tumbling in from the fierce street fighting just three blocks away . . . and from the larger battle now raging for the Reichstag . . . ,” said Dr. Schenck. “From time to time, soldiers who were still conscious and could talk, told me of their hopeless battle. The younger ones, many under sixteen, were terrified, bawling.

Returning to Major Knappe:

To the people at Fuhrer Headquarters, we represented the outside world. Nobody there had left the bunker for several days. They were safe in the bunker, with its many feet of concrete under many feet of earth, but they did not know what was going on outside—that the fighting was only a kilometer away or that the “rescuing” armies had been halted. Hitler and the high command were juggling divisions that no longer existed or were just skeletons of themselves.

Every time I came into the bunker, Martin Bormann especially was eager to know what was happening. He was always there, in the big antechamber in front of Hitler’s office and living quarters. Every time I came in he would insist that I sit down on one of the green leather chairs and have some of his goodies and tell him about the situation on the outside.

The “situation” was always grim, of course, but Bormann, Goebbels, Hitler, and the other bunker dwellers needed accurate information on Russian proximity so that each might prepare for the end in his own fashion. Joining Major Knappe on what proved to be his final trip to the bunker was Gen. Weidling. Knappe continues:

The bunker smelled damp, and the sound of the small engine that ran the exhaust system provided a constant background noise….I saluted, and Hitler walked toward me. As he neared, I was shocked by his appearance. He was stooped, and his left arm was bent and shaking. Half of his face drooped, as if he’d had a stroke, and his facial muscles on that side no longer worked. Both of his hands shook, and one eye was swollen. He looked like a very old man, at least twenty years older than his fifty-six years.

Weidling presented me to Hitler: “Major Knappe, my operations officer.” Hitler shook my hand and said, “Weidling has told me what you are going through.  You have been having a bad time of it. Being accustomed to saying “Jawohl, Herr General,” I automatically said “Jawohl, Herr . . .” and then, realizing that this was wrong, I quickly corrected to “Jawohl, mein Fuhrer.” Hitler smiled faintly, and Goebbels smiled broadly—but Weidling frowned because his subordinate had made a social error.

Hitler said goodbye, shook my hand again, and disappeared in the general direction of Goebbels’s quarters. Although his behavior had not been lethargic, his appearance had been pitiful. Hitler was now hardly more than a physical caricature of what he had been. I wondered how it was possible that in only six years, this idol of my whole generation of young people could have become such a human wreck. It occurred to me then that Hitler was still the living symbol of Germany—but Germany as it was now. In the same six years, the flourishing, aspiring country had become a flaming pile of debris and ruin.

One reason Weidling had come in person was to inform Hitler that his men could no longer hold out; permission for a breakout of the garrison was requested. The other reason the general had come was to urge his leader to escape while there was still time. To the first request, permission was granted; to the second, Hitler was firm. Others, including the Fuhrer’s private pilot, Hans Baur, begged Hitler to leave.

I had at my disposal a prototype six-engine Junkers with a range of over 6000 miles, Baur reminisced. We could have gone to any Middle Eastern country well disposed towards the Fuhrer.

To all the entreaties, however, Hitler’s response was the same: “One must have the courage to face the consequences. Fate wanted it this way.

Continues the chancellor’s secretary, Traudl Junge:

The bunker shook with the thundering of the Russian artillery bombardment and the air attack. Grenades and bombs exploded without interruption, and that alone was enough to warn us that the enemy would be at the door in a matter of hours. But inside the bunker there was no unusual activity. Most of the country’s leaders were assembled, doing nothing but waiting for the Fuhrer’s ultimate decision. Even Bormann, always energetic in the extreme, and the methodical Goebbels were sitting about without the smallest task to occupy them. Hopes of victory had been upheld throughout recent days, but nobody held such illusions any longer. It seemed amazing to me that, despite everything, we still ate and drank, slept and found the energy to speak.

Despite the gloom and despair, many underground—and  many above—did much more than eat and sleep. Some, said a witness, “went up the palm tree.” Remembers Dr. Schenck:

[M]any took to drink. Drink in turn relaxed inhibitions, releasing primitive animal instincts. From time to time I had to leave a patient on the table while I took a five-minute break in the fresh air—to calm my nerves and to steady my scalpel hand. Many of the same wild, red-eyed women who had fled their Berlin apartments in terror of rape by Red Army soldiers, now threw themselves into the arms, and bed rolls, of the nearest German soldiers they could find. And the soldiers were not unwilling. Still it came as a bit of a shock to me to see a German general chasing some half-naked Blitzmaedel [signalwoman] between and over the cots. The more discreet retired to Dr. Kunz’s dentist chair upstairs in the Chancellery. That chair seemed to have had a special erotic attraction. The wilder women enjoyed being strapped in and made love to in a variety of novel positions. Another diversion was group sex, but that was usually off in the dark corners.

Returning to Traudl Junge:

As the hours went by, we became completely indifferent to everything. We weren’t even waiting for anything to happen any more. We sat about, exchanging an occasional word and smoking. There was a great sense of fatigue, and I felt a huge emptiness inside me. I found a camp bed in a corner somewhere, lay down on it and slept for an hour. It must have been the middle of the night when I woke up. In the corridors and in the Fuhrer’s apartments there was a great deal of coming and going by busy-looking valets and orderlies. I washed my face in cold water, thinking that it must be the moment for the Fuhrer’s nighttime tea. When I went into his office, he held out his hand to me and asked: “Have you had some rest, my dear?”

Slightly surprised by the question, I replied, Yes, mein Fuhrer.”

“Good. It won’t be long before I have some dictation for you.

Later, as Traudl wrote, Hitler spoke:

It is not true that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war back in 1939. It was desired and provoked solely by those international politicians who either come from Jewish stock or are agents of Jewish interests. After all my many offers of disarmament, posterity simply cannot pin any blame for this war on me. After a struggle of six long years, which in spite of many setbacks will one day be recorded in our history books as the most glorious and valiant manifestation of the nation’s will to live, I cannot abandon this city which is the German capital. Since we no longer have sufficient military forces to withstand enemy attacks on this city . . . it is my desire to share the same fate that millions of other Germans have accepted….The people and the Armed Forces have given their all in this long and hard struggle. The sacrifice has been enormous. But my trust has been misused by many people. . . . It was therefore not granted to me to lead the people to victory. The efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war have been so great that I cannot believe that they have been in vain.

At approximately 3:15 p.m., April 30, Adolf Hitler retired to his room, placed a pistol to his head, then squeezed the trigger. Beside him, his newly-wed wife, Eva, also lay dead.

After administering poison to their children, Joseph and Magda Goebbels bid farewell to those remaining in the compound. Wrote one witness who watched as the couple prepared to leave the bunker for their final act in the courtyard above:

Going over to the coatrack in the small room that had served as his study, he donned his hat, his scarf, his long uniform overcoat. Slowly, he drew on his kid gloves, making each finger snug. Then, like a cavalier, he offered his right arm to his wife. They were wordless now. So were we three spectators. Slowly but steadily, leaning a bit toward each other, they headed up the stairs to the courtyard.

Learning of Hitler’s death, many in Berlin now resolved to escape the noose.

I’ll never forget sitting in a bunker and hearing of Hitler’s end. It was like a whole world collapsing,” explained a sixteen-year-old Hitler Youth. Adolf Hitler’s death left me with a feeling of emptiness.

Nonetheless, I remember thinking that my oath was no longer valid, because it had been made to Hitler. . . . So the oath was null and void. Now the trick was to get out of Berlin and avoid falling into the hands of the Russians. . . . Berlin burned: oceans of flames, horrible clouds of smoke. An entire pilgrimage of people began marching out of Berlin. I spotted an SS Tiger tank unit with room in one of the tanks, so they took me along.

Even to a hardened soldier, [Berlin] was most unreal, phantasmagoric,” said another of those fleeing. “Most of the great city was pitch dark; the moon was hiding; but flares, shell bursts, the burning downtown buildings, all these reflected on a low-lying, blackish-yellow cloud of sulphurlike smoke. . . . We made most excellent moving targets, like dummies in a shooting gallery.

Young Siegfried Losch, whose war had begun seemingly a lifetime ago on the Oder, also joined the breakout:

The bridge we had to cross was under fire….I noted that a German tank was crossing the bridge and I took advantage of it by running on the opposite side from where the fire was coming. On the other side of the bridge we all gathered and found that no one was lost. As we walked along ... more soldiers joined our group. . . . from all ranks and organizations, i.e. army, SS, air force and uniformed civilians. There was even a two star panzer general among us.

Increasingly, as the Soviets realized what was taking place, the break-out became a massacre.

Underfoot are the bodies of those who had not made it as far as the bridge. Sad their luck; let’s hope ours is better for in a minute or two it will be our turn to race across. Every man on our lorry is firing his weapon; machine-gun, machine pistol or rifle. We roll onto the bridge roadway. The lorry picks up speed and races across the open space. It is not a straight drive but a sort of obstacle race, swerving to avoid the trucks, tanks and cars which are lying wrecked and burning on the bridge roadway. There is a sickening feeling as we bump over bodies lying stretched out, hundreds of them all along the length.

Although most such groups quickly came to grief, a surprising number, by bluff, courage and sheer determination, did succeed in breaking through the ring. Once clear of the flaming capital, the ragged, bleeding columns struck west, hoping to reach the British and Americans.

Meanwhile, despite the death of their leaders and the collapse of organized resistance, the hopeless fight for Berlin continued, especially among the elite SS. “Bolshevism meant the end of life ..., one young German said simply. “[T]hat’s the reason for the terribly bitter fight in Berlin, which wasn’t only street to street, but house to house, room to room, and floor to floor. [E]very single brick was bitterly fought over.

Rather than surrender and be murdered, most SS were determined to die fighting. Of the three hundred members in one French battalion who began the Battle of Berlin, only thirty were still standing. As much might be said for the Balts, Letts, Danes, Dutch, Spanish, Swiss, and other SS units.

[They are] still fighting like tigers,” reported a Russian general to his commander, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who was hoping to present the German capital as a May Day prize to Stalin.

We all wanted to finish it off by the May 1 holiday to give our people something extra to celebrate,” explained an exasperated Zhukov, “but the enemy, in his agony, continued to cling to every building, every cellar, floor and roof. The Soviet forces inched forward, block by block, building by building.

Finally, on the afternoon of May 2, General Weidling formally surrendered the city. While most obeyed their commander and laid down their arms, many refused to submit. Remembered Lothar Ruhl:

Now and again, we heard shots . . . so I asked who was doing the shooting. I was told, “Come around to the back, the SS are shooting themselves.” I said, “I don’t want to see it.” But I was told, “You have to watch.” People were actually standing around shooting themselves. Mostly, they were not German SS men; they were foreigners, some West Europeans and some East Europeans. The group included a number of French and Walloons.

When the Russians [finally] rounded us up,” Ruhl continues, “we were divided into different march columns. . . . The Russians didn’t select anyone in particular; they just said, ‘You go here, you go there, and these men go sit in the square. No one was allowed to stand up. If anyone tried, the Russians immediately fired live ammunition at head level.

We prisoners,” said another weary Landser, “waiting as soldiers always have to wait, sat in the exhausted daze that the end of a battle brings. There was such a depression that we hardly talked, but dozed off into light sleep or smoked, waiting to know what was our fate.

That “fate,” as rumors had already hinted, was in fact contained in one chilling word—Siberia. Even so, many surviving soldiers quietly counted their blessings. Johannes Hentschel:

I had begun to console myself. I was alive. Now, as we were herded out of the Reich Chancellery … where a truck was waiting to haul us away, destination unknown but suspected, we looked up and saw a very grim sight. Dangling bodies of some six or seven German soldiers were suspended from lamp-posts. They had been hanged. Each had a crude German placard pinned or tied to his limp body—traitor, deserter, coward, enemy of his  people.

They were all so young. The oldest may have been twenty, the others in their mid-teens. Half of them wore Volkssturm armbands or Hitler-jungend uniforms. As we were shoved aboard our truck, prodded in the buttocks by bayonets, I saw that I could almost reach out and touch one of those lifeless boys. He looked sixteen perhaps. His wild, bulging, porcelain blue eyeballs stared down at me blankly, blinkless. I shuddered, looked away.

Another soldier leaving Berlin for slavery was Wilhelm Mohnke. As the general and thousands of other dispirited captives marched east on the roads, they were stunned by what they saw.

There was very little traffic moving in the same direction we were. But coming toward us now, column after column, endlessly, the Red Army support units. I say columns, but they resembled more a horde, a cavalcade scene from a Russian film. Asia on this day was moving into the middle of Europe, a strange and exotic panorama. There were now countless panya wagons, drawn by horse or pony, with singing soldiery perched high on bales of straw. Many of them had clothed themselves in all kinds of unusual civilian dress, including costumes that must have come from ransacked theater and opera wardrobes. . . . Those who noticed that we were Germans shook their brown fists and fired angry volleys into the air. Then came whole units of women soldiers, much better disciplined, marching on foot. . . . Finally came the Tross, or quartermaster elements. These resembled units right out of the Thirty Years’ War.

Behind the east-bound German prisoners, roughly 20,000 dead comrades lay buried beneath the rubble of a place that no longer resembled anything of this world. “The capital of the Third Reich is a heap of gaunt, burned-out, flame-seared buildings, reported one of the first American correspondents to reach Berlin. “It is a desert of a hundred thousand dunes made up of brick and powdered masonry. Over this hangs the pungent stench of death. It is impossible to exaggerate in describing the destruction. Downtown Berlin looks like nothing man could have contrived. Riding down the famous Frankfurter Allee, I did not see a single building where you could have set up a business of even selling apples.

Added a German visitor later:

The first impression in Berlin, which overpowers you and makes your heart beat faster, is that anything human among these indescribable ruins must exist in an unknown form. There remains nothing human about it. The water is polluted, it smells of corpses, you see the most extraordinary shapes of ruins and more ruins and still more ruins; houses, streets, districts in ruins. All people in civilian clothes among these mountains of ruins appear merely to deepen the nightmare. Seeing them you almost hope that they are not human.

But, and almost miraculously, there were humans yet living in Berlin. When the guns finally fell silent, these dazed survivors spilled from their cracks and caves, trying to flee a nightmare, they knew not where. “Crowds of people were laboriously trying to make their way through the rubble,Traudl Junge noted. “Old and young, women and children, and a few men carrying small packs, pushing rusty carts or prams full of assorted belongings. The Russian soldiers did not seem to be paying much attention to these desperate human beings.

Ruth Andreas-Friedrich:

We clamber over bomb craters. We squeeze through tangled barbed wire and hastily constructed barricades of furniture. It was with sofas that our army tried to block the Russian advance! With oil cloth sofas, wing chairs and broken armoires. One could laugh if it didn’t rather make one feel like crying.

Tanks riddled with holes block the way. A pitiful sight, pointing their muzzles toward the sky. A fatality comes from them. Sweet, heavy, oppressive. . . . Burned-out buildings left and right. God be with us, if it goes on this way. Silently we keep walking. The weight of our luggage is crushing us. . . .

Behind a projection in a wall sits an old man. A pipe in his right hand, a lighter in his left. He is sitting in the sun, completely motionless. Why is he sitting so still? Why doesn’t he move at all? A fly is crawling across his face. Green, fat, shiny. Now it crawls into his eyes. The eyes . . . Oh God have mercy! Something slimy is dripping onto his cheeks.

At last the water tower looms up in the distance. We are at the cemetery. The gate to the mortuary is wide open. Again that sweet, oppressive smell. Bodies, nothing but bodies. Laid out on the floor. Row after row, body after body. Children are among them, adults and some very old people. Brought here from who knows where. That draws the final line under five years of war. Children filling mortuaries and old men decomposing behind walls.

While stunned survivors drifted among the ruins like ghosts in a graveyard—or stood for hours in the interminable water lines—the conquerors celebrated in an orgy of drink, rape, music, and song.

A rosy-cheeked Russian is walking up and down our line, playing an accordion, said one broken woman who had been raped dozens of times. “‘Gitler kaputt, Goebbels kaputt, Stalin goot!’ he shouts at us. Then he laughs, yells a curse, bangs a comrade on the shoulder and, pointing at him, shouts in Russian . . . ‘Look at this one! This is a Russian soldier, who has marched all the way from Moscow to Berlin!’ They are bursting out of their pants with the pride of conquerors. It is evidently a surprise to themselves that they have gotten this far.

Although he had failed to present the German capital to Stalin as a May Day gift, and although the cost of taking Berlin had been enormous—well over 300,000 casualties—Marshal Zhukov was exuberant as well. 

What a stream of thoughts raced through my mind at that joyous moment! I relived the crucial Battle for Moscow, where our troops had stood fast unto death, envisioned Stalingrad in ruins but unconquered, the glorious city of Leningrad holding out through its long blockade of hunger, the thousands of devastated villages and towns, the sacrifices of millions of Soviet people who had survived all those years, the celebration of the victory of the Kursk salient—and now, finally, the goal for which our nation had endured its great sufferings: the complete crushing of Nazi Germany, the smashing of Fascism, the triumph of our just cause.

No one was more quietly elated or deeply relieved, however, than Josef Stalin. And none more clearly perceived the great political and post-war prize that had been gained than the communist dictator.

Stalin said,” remembered Gen. Nikita Khrushchev, “that if it hadn’t been for [U.S. Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower, we wouldn’t have succeeded in capturing Berlin.