Chapter Seven

Berlin Re-Visited

I arrived in Berlin on New Year's Eve, 1945, having travelled more than halfway round the world to get there. During the war years I had been in the Pacific and Far East and my last part in it was to land with the first detachment of U.S. Marines at the Yokosuka naval base in Tokio Bay at the end of August, 1945. I had afterwards .been transferred to the other pole of the Berlin-Tokio axis. At the end of November, 1945, I was back in England for the first time since February, 1939.

While I was recovering from a bout of malaria and assembling clothes to withstand a European winter after five years of tropics, I went to a crowded meeting in London's Albert Hall, called under the auspices of the "Save Europe Now Committee." Chief speaker of the evening was Mr. Victor Gollancz. It was soon quite clear that the meeting was a "Save Germany Now" meeting, that its tendency was anti-Czech, anti-Polish and above all, anti-Russian. The war had finish exactly three months previously, with the Soviet Army playing a decisive part in defeating the Japanese.

The only previous occasion on which I had heard Mr. Gollancz speak was in 1937, at a summer school not far from London, held under the auspices of the Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union. Mr. Gollancz had recently returned from the Soviet Union and he spoke on his impressions as a Jew.

"For the first time," he said, "I felt what it was like to move in a society completely free from anti-Semitism. Only in that atmosphere completely free from racial discrimination, did I realise that there had always been anti-Semitism in England. Life here can never be the same again for. Me. I know there has never been complete equality for me as a Jew. I have never been fully accepted; always there have been some hesitancies. Only in the Soviet Union did I feel that every racial barrier was down, that every citizen was respected on his merits, not for his race, creed or colour."

Mr. Gollancz's speech made an impression on me because only a few weeks previously Paul Robeson, the great negro singer, had said something along similar lines, at a meeting in the London Albert Hall.

Now a short six months after the Nazis had been defeated, having gassed and burned to death one quarter of the population of Poland and caused 20,000,000 deaths in Europe alone, including 7,000,000 Soviet citizens, Mr. Gollancz was suddenly moved with a great tenderness for the Germans-at the expense of Germany's victims. His main pity was directed to the expellees from Poland and Czechoslovakia. He drew a harrowing picture of them trudging through the snow, their few belongings packed on their backs or pulling them in carts behind them. When he spoke of the suffering of children, it was not of Polish or Greek children he spoke but suffering German children.

As often as he could conveniently weave it into his oratory, he referred to "inhuman conduct," "uncivilised actions," "un-Christian attitudes" of Soviet, Czech and Polish governments, and each time a shout went up from the over-filled hall "Shame," and not a few times the German equivalent "Pfui," because there seemed almost as many Germans as English in the hall that night.

When he finally asked the crowd to demand from the Government that no increase in English rations should be allowed as long as there was one hungry child in Germany, there was a great roar of approval. No less vocal and emotional were Michael Foot, Labor M.P., Mr. Guy Boothby, Tory M.P., and others prominent in political life.

Nobody could object to a meeting to help suffering children anywhere in the world; and nobody could criticise a warm-hearted British public offering to go without for themselves to succour misery. But the callous hypocrisy of the campaign of Gollancz and those allied with him, was to exploit human suffering to whip up hatred against the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. Was it the Russians who had slaughtered millions of Jews in Europe, I was forced to ask myself, or was it the Soviet Army sweeping through Poland and Germany that saved the lives of most of those that still existed? How could one explain the attitude of Gollancz, if it were not to deliberately sabotage the friendly feelings of the British people towards the' Soviet Union in those early days after the war?

Gollancz's actions in 1945 and Churchill's actions in 1949 by contributing money to the defence of Field Marshal Manstein, murderer of tens of thousands of Russians and Jews, are inseparable. Fawn on Russia as long as her aid was necessary to defeat Hitler and later Japan, slander her the moment her help was no longer necessary. And Gollancz the Liberal and Churchill the Tory, were joined by Labor M.P. for Northampton, R. T. Paget, and the son of Labor Minister Silkin, Mr. R. S. Silkin, in heaping abuse on the Soviet Union and defending German militarism, when the last two, as barristers, undertook the legal defence of Manstein at Hamburg.

The English newspapers in November, 1945, were full of harrowing accounts of Germans arriving back from East Prussia, Silesia and the Sudetenland, in unheated trains and cattle trucks. A great wave of emotion swept over the English people, who are kind-hearted folk, at the thought of so much human misery. The accounts were not balanced, by descriptions of long lines of Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and French slave workers, moving back and forth over the face of Europe, with whips and machine-gun bullets to keep them moving, or of civilian populations choking the roads of Europe during the fighting, with German planes strafing them from the air.

There were no reporters to describe these things at the time, no. correspondents to describe fat German Nazi families, moving into Polish and Czech farms after the owners had been rounded up for the gas-chambers or the slave gangs. For the first time, the British public heard of such miseries after the war – with Germans the victims. Great sympathy for the Germans was whipped up in a number of London newspapers, not only those who had consistently supported the Nazis before the war and presented Hitler as a man who believed in cleanliness, orderliness and discipline – much to be preferred to Czechs or Poles, French or Russians – but also in the so-called Liberal papers, "News-Chronicle" and "Manchester Guardian.”

To leave London where the natural sympathy for the underdog, implanted in most British breasts, was being exploited by the press, and to arrive in Berlin where a specific anti-Russian attitude was noticeable among the overwhelming majority of army officers and control commission officials, was not a large step. After that it was natural to find that it was the Germans of the concentration camps who were to be despised and the German generals who were to be pitied.

"A damned scandal that men like Jodl, Doenitz and Raeder should be held as war criminals," exploded one Colonel of Press Relations to me almost the first night I arrived. "They should be released and working with us, giving us the benefit of their experience." Some of them were.

The bars and clubs resounded with anti-Russian stories and it was particularly noticeable that it was just those officers who had no combat experience who were the most vocal about the necessity for, and ease with which the Russians had to be “pushed back into their own country.”

Despite the non-fraternisation regulations at that time, most of the officers had German girl-friends, all drawn from the same class, the class which had the advantage of education and travel, and could usually speak English. They poured out their tales of lost property, terror and narrow escapes from rape. (Despite thousands of stories about Russian rapings, in three and a quarter years in Berlin, I never met a German woman who herself had been raped, but there were an enormous number in Berlin's West-end who would willingly go to bed with any soldier for twenty cigarettes.) The frauleins repeated the same stories with thousands of refinements into sympathetic British and American ears.

A friend of mine who arrived in Berlin in early 1946 and found the entire officer caste of the British Army pro-German and anti-Russian through the influence partly of the frauleins, said: "Lord, I would never have believed it; but I see now the penis is truly mightier than the sword."

The frauleins' bedtime stories varied little. Their theme was the Russians were barbarians, uncivilised, unreliable, an inferior race little better than animals. They had won the war only because of American equipment, Russian winters and Anglo-American air power.

My first visit to a German family – a few days after I arrived – was to a mother and grown-up daughter, Helga, in the fashionable West-end of Berlin.

After a few words of general conversation there came a furious tirade against the Russians which was new to me then – at least from German lips.

"Why did you British and Americans wait so long on the Elbe?" questioned Helga. "We were waiting to welcome you with open arms. Instead of that you let the Russians come. Those savages. Those barbarians." Her voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch as she repeated the lines she had learned as a faithful disciple of Goebbels. "You let those Mongol apes loose on a cultivated people like us, to rob, rape and destroy us."

What a treasure for Mr. Gollancz, I thought as she babbled on in her frenzy, repeating catchwords and phrases from the Goebbels vocabulary.

At one point the mother paused between mouthfuls of gruel and bread to interrupt.

"You know, Helga, our soldiers didn't always behave as they ought to have done at the front," she said in a mild understatement.

Helga straightened up and flushed. "Mutti," she screamed, "I won't have you say things like that about our troops. German soldiers and German officers are always correct. They could never have behaved like these... these..." and she sought for a term sufficiently vile, "these Slavic gutter pigs. They should be our slaves and would have been but for that awful winter at Stalingrad."

I thought at that time that Helga was an exception, a candidate for a lunatic asylum, but I soon realised she was the normal spokesman for the Berlin upper middle-class.

It took me several weeks in Berlin and meetings with hundreds of Helgas and their mothers before I found anyone who spoke of Germany's guilt. Hitler's guilt, yes, because he had interfered with the generals who would have "won" the war. It took weeks to find anyone who had a feeling of guilt or a word of sympathy for the Russians or Poles. And the first one I met who spoke of Germany's guilt was one who had least of all reason to take upon himself, guilt for the Nazis. He was a victim of Fascism, who had spent eight years in a concentration camp.

I had last visited Berlin in November, 1938, when the smoke was still rising from the synagogues, and hundreds of shops had their fronts boarded up with planks, after the organised burning, smashing and looting, by the brown-shirted bullies, Hitler's stormtroopers. In 1946, I found the German middle-class had forgotten about that episode and were innocent of any knowledge of persecution of Jews or Communists. "But we had no idea such things were going on," they would say with wide-eyed innocence.

I did not find Berlin in 1946 a more pleasant place than when I left it in March, 1939. I found the West-enders even more unpleasant than seven years previously. Their own and their neighbours' sufferings had taught them only to be more callous, more ruthless, more arrogant, less sensitive to the sufferings of their fellows.

If Berlin, the city, had been crumbled into an unrecognisable rubble-heap, the West-end Berliners had changed little. They still had the annoying habit, which I remembered well from the old days, of marching down the street as if they were on a parade ground, gazing straight ahead, deviating from their course for nobody smaller than themselves. The weak, the young, the aged, had to leap aside to avoid being trampled underfoot by the well-fed, West Berlin burgers. A lost war, the collapse of an unholy and inhuman faith, a destroyed capital took away nothing of the arrogance from the Prussian middle-class.

The attitude of the western occupation powers from the first days was to bolster, praise and even curry favor with this arrogance. And after the first couple of years of occupation, they were made to feel that they were the real heroes, the pioneers of the fight against Communism; that it was the West which had made a mistake from the first in not fighting alongside the Germans to bring the Russians and Communism to their knees.

In Berlin, almost from the moment the occupation started, it was taken for granted by the Germans that if one spoke English, one would immediately sympathise with German "sufferings" at the hands of the Russians. Such was the atmosphere in the Allied clubs that it was regarded as seriously "bad form" to mention the record of German troops in the occupied countries, or the torture and execution of ten million men, women and children.

During my few weeks in London on my way to Germany from Japan, I had seen photographic exhibitions of Belsen, Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, the piles of children's shoes, sacks of human hair all arranged with German tidiness; piles of bodies, dead indistinguishable from the still living. In Berlin one was amazed to learn that Germans had never seen these pictures. After a week or two of being .accosted in bars and trams and being told of Russian atrocities, I felt that every bar and shop, every tram and train in every village and city throughout Germany should be forced to display these pictures. Then perhaps the middle-class – and it was always the middle-class – would not have the effrontery to accost one in bars or on the streets and to complain about the Russians. Their stock excuse when one mentioned Ravensbruck or Belsen was, "Of course, we knew nothing about it. Yes, horrible. But all done by the S.S."

The German middle-class knew better than anybody else what was going on – especially as regards the Jews. They all had business dealings with Jews. Every city-dweller in Germany could see quite well what happened in the first week of November, 1938, when the synagogues were fired and shops looted. Concentrations camps did not start with the war. They started within a few weeks of the abolition of the Weimar Constitution which gave Hitler his powers as dictator. The arrest of thousands of Communists, trade union officials, socialists and Jews did not take place in 1939 or 1940, but from 1933 onwards. One must mention these unpalatable facts because German "innocence" on these matters has been given official recognition by the highest British and American officials in Germany.

General Robertson, then British Military Governor, issued a statement on June 4, 1948, giving new "fraternisation" instructions to British personnel in Germany urging the friendliest and closest relations with the Germans. Amongst other things he said, "They are a Christian and civilised people to whom we can no longer bear any ill-will.... A people who had fallen under evil influences during the war."

What was done by the Nazis until the day war broke out is sanctioned in other words by General Robertson. No one could object to an appeal for friendly relations between the British and German people, but the nature of General Robertson's appeal is such as to drive home to the German people that the British chose them rather than the "un-Christian and uncivilised" Russians. General Robertson tells the Germans they were quite all right as Nazis, but went wrong "during the war."

To make it quite clear that the official attitude was to be anti-Russian and pro-German, Brigadier General Frank Howley, then U.S. Commandant of Berlin, publicly rebuked a U.S. officer who had sent a New Year's greeting to a Russian colleague. "I won't have any of my staff playing 'footsie-wootsie' with the Russians," said Howley, with his usual exquisite choice of language. Howley was one of those who insisted on closest relationships between Americans and Germans – of the right reactionary type, of course.

One wondered whether Howley had turned a hundred and eighty degree circle in his respective attitudes towards Germans, or Russians, or whether he had just dropped the mask he was forced to wear during the days of Allied co-operation. In any case nothing could do more to improve the morale of the thousands of neo-Nazis, than such statements by Howley and Robertson.

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