GENERAL ARTICLES

Blitzed Berlin

"It is no longer the old Berlin . . . the city's face has been changed unrecognizably... the community shaken to its foundations"—Taub

WALTER TAUB April 15 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

Blitzed Berlin

"It is no longer the old Berlin . . . the city's face has been changed unrecognizably... the community shaken to its foundations"—Taub

WALTER TAUB April 15 1944

Blitzed Berlin

WALTER TAUB

STOCKHOLM (By Cable)—“Will exchange large, round oak table for perambulator,” reads an advertisement in the Berliner Boersenzeitung. This is nothing unusual. Dozens of such advertisements are displayed daily in every Berlin paper. A man who came to Stockholm after a recent raid told me about this one because the advertiser was a personal friend of his. The advertisement got results, too. The telephone started ringing and many wanted to know how big the table was. “Is it really so big?” was the inevitable question. When assured that it was the voice would say,“That’s excellent, but . . . ”

Then the owner of the table would learn that the caller had no perambulator.

Sometimes it was a parrot which the owner, with “heavy heart,” was willing to exchange for the oak table. Or perhaps a petroleum stove. But as a baby can’t be taken for a walk with the help of either a parrot or a petroleum stove, the oak table hadn’t changed hands.

Today the German authorities have intervened in order to help people in such predicaments. A man who owns something he doesn’t need and wants something he hasn’t got can take the object he owns to one of the 23 recently established exchange centres in Berlin. Here he leaves his oak table, gramophone, saucepan or braces. Prices are estimated by an expert and entered on a form. This claim assignment gives him the right of exchange. One may exchange anything, but only for objects of equal value.

It is interesting to see what the Berliners of today try to get rid of. Hundreds of men brought in evening clothes on the first day the exchange centres opened. Berliners don’t believe they will be using their “glad rags” in the near future. People who have been

bombed out of their homes stand in long rows holding articles not concerned with the absolute necessities of life—skates, accordions and other musical instruments.

“But they trick us even in such sad moments,” one German told me. “They estimate the value of the goods not according to present-day standards but according to their peacetime value. Should I take them a pair of shoes which had cost me 12 marks before the war, I would only get three marks for them —even less if they were considerably worn.” However, my informant assured me that the possibility of anyone being willing to exchange shoes is slight, since they are just about the most sought after article in Germany, along with radio sets, since all Germans want contact with the world.

The hunger for news has grown extraordinarily in Berlin. But it isn’t German news that Berliners are curious about. When the German war communiques are read on the radio the Berliners refer to it as Klumpfusschen's Maerchenstunde (“Little Clubfoot’s Fairy Tale Hour”). They say this because Goebbels is without doubt the most hated man in the German capital.

It isn’t only that they have grown tired of Goebbels’ everlasting talk of victory; his private life has not escaped the notice of the sharp-eyed Berliners. Frau Goebbels, with her children, hasn’t been seen for a long time and Berliners take it for granted that she is visiting in some far safer district. Meanwhile Herr Goebbels is enjoying his freedom. During a recent air raid an entire row of chorus girls are said to have shared an air raid shelter with Berlin’s gauleiter. The girls are adepts at smoothing away the wrinkles caused by the little man’s worries about the dark present and the even darker tomorrow.

But they also have loose tongues that manage to say a great number of unpleasant things about the minister. In this way Berliners learn their chief isn’t suffering from hardship. It is now universally said

that in Goebbels’apartment and in his private shelter are culinary greetings from all of Europe butter from Denmark, fish from Norway, grapes from Italy, champagne from France, meat from the Balkans and oranges from Spain. Berliners, of course, are glad to hear this calming news from the home front’s leading apostle of the Spartan life.

Their reaction is reflected in a story commenting on Goebbels’ insistence that Germany has a secret weapon “now absolutely ready for use.” The question is asked: “What is the difference between lightning, thunder and the new German secret weapon?” And the answer is: “Lightning one sees but hears not. Thunder one hears but sees not. But one neither sees nor hears Germany’s secret weapon.”

It isn’t for Goebbels’ words that Berliners spin the dials of their radio sets, but rather to hear what is being said in London and Moscow. Himmler found a method of making listening to foreign stations more difficult—he simply had the short-wave apparatus removed from all sets. But on the medium wave lengths listeners can generally catch enough to learn what is going on in the world.

“We simply must know what they intend doing with us after the war. Please tell me—is it true that we

"It is no longer the old Berlin . . . the city's face has been changed unrecognizably... the community shaken to its foundations"—Taub

alone shall be forced to rebuild the whole of Russia?” That is a fair example of the questions one hears asked by Berliners today.

My friend went on to describe the difficulties of life in Berlin. Every word uttered by this methodical German citizen was one of despair. His house in Berlin had been destroyed, his family evacuated, and he had been living with another family in a cellar.

“If there are two or three more such mammoth attacks as those last ones,” he said, “there won’t be anything left of Berlin except the cellars where we sit caged like rats.”

He went on to describe a wedding which took place in a cellar where the walls were covered by red paper and the room was illuminated by the light of candles. “The guests sat around on boxes and drank each other’s health from wine bottles procured by a man who was something in the Party. He was only slightly known to us and had been invited solely for the sake of the bottles. Some of the guests got a little drunk and began to curse the Party. When the Party member offered to get material for a dress for the bride for a bribe of 400 marks, a bank clerk who was present shouted that a limit had been reached. He got up and struck the Party member. A rough-and-tumble fight followed and the next day two of the wedding party were placed under arrest.”

While my friend was telling me this he kept staring into Stockholm’s brilliantly lighted shop windows. Finally he went into a hosiery shop and bought two pairs of ladies’ stockings. “Are they English or Swedish?” he asked the saleswoman. And got the answer, “They come from Germany. They are Bamberg stockings.”

He could not believe it. It was years since it had been possible to buy such stockings in Berlin. I told him that last Christmas there were mountains of German toys in all the large Swedish department stores, even though it was impossible to obtain anything similar in Germany.

Germany has been forced to continue running part of her nonwar industry in order to maintain exports. But today it is no longer possible to maintain these exports to the same extent as before. Even this screw must l>e tightened, but the Germans don’t notice it since they have greater troubles closer to home.

Thought Berlin Safe

THESE troubles are most pressing if one has been bombed out - and there are few Berliners who haven’t had that experience at least once. The only undamaged residential section of the city is in the West End. But the Party is not very happy about many of the undamaged houses in this section. Previously they belonged to rich Jewish families. The Jews were deported to Poland and their well-furnished homes were “taken over” by various high officials, mainly Party swells from western Germany who thought Berlin would be a safe place to live. When the RAF proved otherwise the new occupants moved away to the south but the houses still remain the Party members’ “property.” Until now the authorities have not dared to do anything with them. While tens of thousands of people in Berlin are without a roof over their heads these stately homes stand empty.

Theoretically, Berlin’s bureaucratic machinery “takes care” of these homeless people, so they shouldn't worry about these empty houses. But the theory does not work out in practice.

After a night of bombing the exhausted homeless people are forced to stand in long queues at civicbuildings, where they undergo a strict examination. If they can convince the officials that their home has been totally destroyed they receive a piece of paper which gives them the right to obtain warm food. But to get this warm food they must go to the refuge* centre and stand in another queue. After a long wait they get a dish containing Eintopfgericht (one single dish all cooked in one single pot). The standard menu is potat;x?s and gravy. If a man wants to take foexi to his family he must bring his own bowl with him to the soup kitchen since such utensils are scarce.

Even potatoes are scarce now. Berliners are not getting the two and one half kilos supposed b» lx* allowed weekly. The catastrophically small potato harvest which caused this shortage was one of the hardest knocks Germany has suffered. Potatoes were the basis of the standard diet in Germany. Now the authorities beg the Berliners to save potatoes and substitute semolina - wheat middlings — and dumplings made of spaghetti. “It isn’t necessary to eat so many potatoes,” is the advice from official circles.

But the pigs refuse to heed this advice and continue to want more and more potatoes. When they don’t get them they become thinner. This has resulted in a

record slaughtering of the pig population—a grim commentary on Germany’s vaunted self-sufficiency.

The potato shortage has caused near panic among the homeless crowds in Berlin. Those who were evacuated were faced with a difficult problem because the only food card they were allowed to take with them was one entitling them to buy potatoes. But could one buy potatoes at the place to which they were being sent? Berliners didn’t think so and this led to a strange spectacle at the stations where the evacuation trains depart. As the refugees lined up most of them were dragging or carrying heavy suitcases, rucksacks and bundles packed with the only possession Berliners consider worth taking with them—potatoes!

Wood Pulp Suit

BOM BED out persons who are being evacuated are given 150 marks—total compensation for their destroyed property. In addition they are given a suit of clothes or more often a requisition for a suit. One 50-year old German describes his experience with the clothing allowance as follows:

“I didn’t understand why the man in the shop where the suits were distributed whispered to me to take a large one. I ignored his advice and chose a suit that fitted. Believe me I regret it now. When the train arrived at Plauen it was raining heavily. The rain went through my coat and the new suit was soaked through. Imagine my surprise when I put it on the next day; it had become several sizes smaller and would have exactly fitted my son.” He added that the suit was made of artificial wool produced from wood pulp.

He went on to describe the Berlin he had left. He said it would be a mistake to imagine that the city had been entirely razed to the ground. Much of it was still standing, but it was no longer the old Berlin. The city’s face had been changed unrecognizably and behind it the community had been shaken to its foundations.

People had lost interest in their personal appearance. Women and girls had been without permanent waves for three years due to shortage of electricity. Lipsticks had not been seen for a long time. No one bothered about looking nice anymore, he said. They fitted in well with the desolate surroundings and the whole effect was that of a grisaille painting—a grey, dull monochrome.

Everywhere stood piles of waste matter and garbage, unremoved for weeks at a time. After each raid garbagemen were employed removing furniture from bombed houses. As a result they were too tired to carry out their regular duties.

As the waste piles grew they became infested with rats. Seemingly impervious to the bombing and misery around them the rats became so bold that they constituted one of the real terrors of the stricken city. The authorities had urged the population to use rat poison but when this resulted in the death of hundreds of dogs, they had hurriedly begged the people to guard their dogs.

“Now we have to take care of the dogs, but our own flaks can’t take care of us,” was the bitter comment. What Berliners meant was that their apartments were practically uninhabitable. Damage caused by bombs goes unrepaired for months. Bathroom fixtures cannot be replaced; plaster Ls left where it falls. The joy of life and the power of resistance are not improved if one lives among such surroundings, and it doesn’t help if one looks through a broken window and sees nothing but scarred house fronts.

Recently Berliners were delighted with a reminder of old times: the appearance on the streets for a few days of private cars. Why was this? The reason was the underground and the tramways had been partially destroyed. Then, too, hundreds of buses had been damaged or demolished. You could drive in your car but only on condition that you took with you anyone who stopped the car on the road and asked for a lift to his place of work.

Food So Scarce

EVERYONE gets to work late. In front of restaurants which are able to decorate their doors with the placard Geoeffnet (Open) stand long queues. Inside, people sit waiting in vain for food. It may be because the kitchen staff has arrived hours late or because the day’s food supply has not arrived. For the past year there has seldom been enough food in Berlin restaurants to satisfy a normal appetite. And much of the food served lacks nourishment value.

A short time ago a Swede visiting in Berlin met with an enlightening incident in a restaurant. He

was being served with soup when the waiter suddenly dropped the bow'l. Instead of landing in the Swede’s stomach the soup landed on his suit. The waiter dried it oft' and said. “Sir, you may be absolutely reassured that this soup won’t leave any marks on your suit whatever.”

The Swede described the disorder resulting from disruption of railway traffic to and from, and within, the city. He was there when the Party got the idea of releasing private cars for some days until the most important repairs had been carried out.

“I saw people everywhere stopping cars and discussing with the driver the chances of being driven to work. Men and women were running through the streets gesticulating, shrieking, disputing, quarrelling and shouting. That’s the way they were trying to get to work.”

After what he had seen, my informant added it was easy to understand why Germans were not eager to continue working and why they were sour and bitter.

People Fear Gestapo

ABROAD I have often been asked why this . sourness doesn’t take the form of some sort of visible opposition to the Government. The explanation is simple: 10 years of National Socialism have blunted the capacity of the people to respond and sucked away their initiative. This “revolutionary” movement is the most de-revolutionizing treatment for a people one could imagine.

Himmler’s most powerful weapon is the neverending rumor about the prowess of the Gestapo. It has already been often proved that the Gestapo isn’t so effective, but Himmler succeeds in spreading continuously new rumors of the system’s cleverness.

The Gestapo is everywhere. It is like God, because even if you are alone you think you are being observed by the “always-open eye.” It is precisely this belief that Himmler and Goebbels try to foster these days when the confusion of the people approaches the danger point. To strangle incipient revolt the people are told that millions of willing tongues are ready to betray the first signs of treachery to the Reich.

Two men recently come to Stockholm from Berlin related independently the following episode which they claimed a friend and brother, respectively, had witnessed. An old Jew, to judge from the yellow star on his jacket, stepped onto a bus in Berlin. He took an unoccupied seat, but the conductor came up and said, “Don’t you know, Jew, that you are not allowed to sit down?” The Jew, obviously depressed, got off at the next stop. He was followed by a fellow bus passenger. The man approached him and said, “Excuse me, but I’m so ashamed for what has just happened. But don’t be depressed. All will be over soon.” Then the man who had posed as the Jew flashed his Gestapo badge and arrested the kindly passenger. Whether true or not, the story indicates what Berliners believe about Gestapo methods.

Quite possibly Himmler himself reads such stories. His idea is that as many as possible should learn that it is fatal to expreas unpermitted sympathy. The Jew in the story might well be replaced by a Russian prisoner of war or a Czech forced laborer. “Remember, it is dangerous to help the country’s enemies. Yes, dangerous even to talk to them. Your head sits loosely if you say anything of a defeatist nature, because who knows whom you’re talking to?” Thus does Himmler drive home the lesson. He publishes similar warnings in the newspapers, telling the people not to trouble the police with small thefts and similar bagatelles. “Police these times have a more important mission” is his way of putting it.

Perhaps someone may question this on the ground that by spreading such rumors Himmler causes it to be known abroad that Berliners are in opposition to the Government. But Himmler doesn’t trouble about this. He knows that it is known abroad; but he feels that an opposition that is held down by fear is a weak opposition and one not likely to burst into open rebellion. He also has another reason for accepting the risk of the world knowing that the whole of Berlin grumbles at the Nazis. His reasoning follows this line: “Is it not good if one gives the foreign countries the belief that the whole German system is ready to collapse internally? Then, perhaps, the world will say, ‘Why such large sacrifices if the German opposition is growing to the point where it may clean up Hitler without our aid?’ ”

Nevertheless on retiring for the night Berliners no longer greet one another with “Good night,” or “Heil Hitler.” Now they say, “Bleib uebrig!”—which is best translated: “May you be one of the ones left when it reaches the end.”