GENERAL ARTICLES

THE "HERRENVOLK" IN DEFEAT

Behind a facade of cringing servility the civilians of occupied Germany still cherish dreams of a Greater Reich—But first they face a terrible winter of famine

L. S. B. SHAPIRO May 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

THE "HERRENVOLK" IN DEFEAT

Behind a facade of cringing servility the civilians of occupied Germany still cherish dreams of a Greater Reich—But first they face a terrible winter of famine

L. S. B. SHAPIRO May 1 1945

THE "HERRENVOLK" IN DEFEAT

L. S. B. SHAPIRO

Maclean’s War Correspondent

IN GERMANY (By Cable)— This is the land of the herrenvolk, the erstwhile master race, the bullies of Europe; this is the land that bred and armed and supplied the legions that Hitler sent forth to inflict his new order upon the world, the country of iron discipline, the home of the scientifically brilliant and the emotionally mad, the fatherland in which the faultless logic of mathematics conspired with a gross misconception of humanity to produce the power and the terror of Nazism on the march. This is Hitler’s land.

It is not the Germany of the Baedeker and of Bach, of lilting holidays and spotless towns. That Germany exists only in the deep crevices of the most persistent memories. For most of us the memories of that Germany have been blacked out by six years of war and 12 years of stark terror. Since 1942 we have journeyed toward Germany by a long hard bloodspattered route. From El Alamein and Stalingrad we have hacked and blasted our way through German stubbornness and German steel—until our conscious minds have come to consider that land as the lair of the dragon, the hard core of the world’s evil. We have convulsed Germany from the air and in our relentless advance tQward her borders we have made ditches in a dozen countries run with her blood. The more savagely she resisted surrender the more consistently we regarded her as a supernatural land of muscle and madness.

And now we have arrived in Germany. When we spilled over the frontier in the great offensive that launched the battle for the Reich on Feb. 8 our assault troops, their adult years wholly spent in the shadow of Hitler’s evil, were curious to know what manner of life existed in this land accursed by most of the world.

We found a confusing intermingling of the expected and the unexpected. We came upon towns shattered and rubble-piled by our fierce bombardment, and upon prosperous farms teeming with fine cattle and well-stocked cellars. We ran against fanatical resistance from the remains of the Wehrmacht and when we broke it we discovered a docile and diffident population anxious to do our bidding with the exactitude of

well-trained servants. We found plentiful evidence of cruelty to imported slave workers from eastern Europe and also a cringing good humor in the faces of the would-be taskmasters.

Most important, we discovered that the attitude of today’s Germen civilian in the face of defeat is exactly the same as that of his father in 1919. For all of Hitler’s defiant boasts that he has changed the character—yes, the very soul—of the German nation we found that Hans, the farmer, and Wolfgang, the shopkeeper, have rehearsed thoroughly the old game of piety, humility and wide-eyed innocence. They are all ready to demonstrate—if we give them half a chance—that the war was all a regrettable error, that they are really splendid fellows at heart and that peace will be wonderful when Hitler and his troublesome Nazis are eliminated. To their conquerors they are already turning a tearful face, smiling a bittersweet smile and reciting their little piece to the accompaniment of violins playing Strauss. Wagner is abhorrent to them.

Hitler may rant and storm that 1918 will never be repeated but there can be no doubt that the tear-stricken little drama of 1919 is ready for presentation in 1945—if an audience can be found.

At this writing we are over the Rhine and biting deep into the heart of Germany. How many millions of German civilians we have overrun and what they feel are matters difficult to assess in the heat of battle. We are plunging for the kill and we cannot pause to enquire as to the state of Frau Schultz’s larder or Herr Gustav’s lumbago. But in the weeks of our occupation of the Rhineland from Emmerich to Coblenz we have had full opportunity to examine this curious people and to draw up blueprints for the handling of the entire nation in the immediate postwar period.

In the Rhineland alone about one million German civilians fell under our authority. The problem of handling them presented itself in three distinct facets:

(1) How much supervision do they need to prevent them from interfering, by sabotage and espionage, with our military operations?

(2) What is the state of their food supply and housing facilities?

(3) How effectively have 12 years of Hitlerism befogged their minds and how much re-education will be necessary before they can be trusted with citizenship in a decent world?

1 was with British and Canadian forces when they plunged down from the Nijmegen salient and blasted their way through the main Siegfried position in the Reichswald, through the towns of Cleve and Goch, then on to the Wesel crossing. During this furious battle we came upon what seemed to be evidence that the German soul had been toughened beyond measure by Hitler’s oratory and Goebbels’ enlightenment program. Nazi troops fought savagely against superhuman odds, and such buildings that stood were decorated with signs reading, “We believe in Adolf Hitler and victory”—“Death is sweeter than slavery” —“He who is afraid is a fool”—“Victory or Siberia.”

Security police and Allied Military Government detachments moved in

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Behind a facade of cringing servility the civilians of occupied Germany still cherish dreams of a Greater Reich—But first they face a terrible winter of famine

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on the heels of the forward troops, ready to isolate, register and render harmless the civilians left behind. The ambitious nature of this program proved hardly necessary. We are surprised, not only by the numbers of civilians who elected to remain behind, but also by the docile nature of their behavior and their anxiety to cooperate. In urban centres like Goeh and Cleve about one quarter of the people resisted German attempts to evacuate them across the Rhine, and on the farms more than 50% of the original population remained.

Another mystery was quickly cleared up. What had happened to the Volkssturm, the home guard that was going to resist in every house and behind every pile of rubble to the last drop of blood? I was present as the mystery was unravelled. A German major was being escorted to a prison cage along the Goch-Cleve road when he passed the huge Allied Military Government camp for civilians at Bedburg. Near the entrance to the camp several score of German men lolled securely in the ample bosoms of their families. The major glanced at these as he passed, suddenly became livid of face and cried, “Traitors! Cowards! The Führer shall hear about this!” It seems that the portly gentlemen resting in the refugee camp were leaders of the Cleve province Volkssturm battalion. The home guardians had been concentrated and armed on the night of our attack hut when they were called upon to rush forward to support the Wehrmacht they merely disappeared into the woods and shelters and waited with their families until the battle passed, being very careful to burn the arm hands and bury the weapons which would identify them as combatants. So much for the Vo/kssturm.

It turned out that the civilians in the area were as easy to handle as a herd of cattle. They carried out instructions with alacrity and seemed grateful even for such hard living conditions as our military operations made necessary. They were made to evacuate their towns and their farms so long as the district remained an area of front-line operations, and they were gathered together in huge camps organized by Allied Military Government detachments. In the northern Rhineland area the biggest of these camps was in the grounds of the immense Bedburg hospital settlement. Here some 30,000 civilians were concentrated. The discipline was strict according to individual cases ranging from men physically capable of working on road maintenance to expectant and nursing mothers who required special care and foods. The Allies brought no food to the camps. Everything was supplied from stocks found in towns and from neighboring farms, and

AM(! detachments provided only tents for those who could not be accommodated inside vacated hospital buildings. A strict curfew was imposed and only those with special passes were allowed outside the compound grounds.

The community was organized by the Germans themselves. They did so well at conducting affairs in this emergency centre that only 38 Allied officers and men were required to supervise the smooth functioning of the Bedburg camp. The diet was Spartan but sufficient, consisting mostly of bread, soup and meat, the quantities being rigorously supervised to differentiate between nonworkers and those who volunteered for heavy work. Expectant and nursing mothers and young children had special allotments of milk.

The same pattern extended throughout the conquered Rhineland. The discipline that Hitler had imposed upon his people for 12 years was now paying us good dividends. Hard as it was they seemed content with their lot. Security police had less trouble protecting our lines of communication in the Rhineland than in France and Belgium. Apparently the German secret service found it easier to recruit dissident Frenchmen and Belgians to sabotage purposes than to convince German civilians to resist. The herrenvolk turned out to be ideal underdogs. Once delirious with victory they now accepted defeat naturally, as though it were part of the orderly pattern of their lives.

Hungry Days Ahead

Much has been made in war correspondents’ reports about the quantities of fine foods we found stored in the cellars of even the most modest homes, and about the great herds of cattle the retreating Germans left behind. All this is true—but there is a sequel to the story—a ghastly sequel which, much as we loathe the Germans, must becloud the civilized world one day.

Yes, we found cellars stocked with hams and preserved vegetables and other items designed to satisfy the stomach and delight the gourmet. Some of this food was stocked by careful hausfrauen, much of it was the loot of Belgium, France and Holland. Our experts quickly estimated that Germany has food stocks to keep the country fed for six months.

But let us examine what happens after that period. There are no more occupied countries to loot. German domestic food production during 1945 will be the lowest in that country’s history—a negligible amount against the wants of 80 million 'people. By the autumn of this year, when the Reich stands bleeding and naked in defeat, the food stocks will have run out, and unless the victorious Allies are prepared to rush food staples into Germany a great starvation will spread over the land.

Will the Allies be in a position to alleviate hunger in Germany? The answer must be “no.”

After the last war the winter of 1919 was the most desperate in Germany’s history. Eight hundred thousand people died of malnutrition because the ponderous machinery required to feed a great nation took a minimum of six months to come into operation. Germany’s reserve stocks had been depleted by the blockade and her people died in the streets while a new distribution system was being organized.

At the present time Germany has approximately six months of food in stock. If Hitler surrendered unconditionally now, the nation could live for this period on her own fat. This would hardly be enough to prevent a degree of starvation in Germany, because after the current war it will require one year, probably much more, for the Allies to make available food for Germany and to repair her transportation system for proper distribution.

It will take longer than six months because the situation in Germany and in Europe is vastly more complex this year than it was in 1919. In the first place we are duty bound to relieve the grievous shortages in France, Belgium, Holland, Greece, Poland and Jugoslavia before we can divert anything for the conquered enemy. In the second place the German transportation system has been almost completely ruined by our strategic bombing. We had a good example in France last summer of how a transport breakdown breeds starvation; we have mauled Germany’s road, rail and bridge system much more viciously than we did that of France. Then again the shipping which might ordinarily carry American foodstuffs to Germany will be urgently required to carry on the war against Japan.

All this means that when Germany’s six months of food stocks run out a famine, unprecedented in European history, will descend upon that unhappy country. Germany still has a chance to alleviate this suffering by a prompt surrender, thus providing a six-months buffer against the great famine. But Hitler has made an “irrevocable” decision to fight on to the end in the “national redoubt” centring on Bavaria and his Berchtesgaden stronghold. In doing so this megalomaniac is condemning millions of his people to starvation. Indeed, for each day from now on that the war continues, between five and eight thousand people in Germany are doomed to starvation next winter and spring.

They’re Still Hitlerites

This brings us to the final facet of Germany’s civilian problem. How effectively has 12 years of Hitlerism befogged the minds of the people? The best answer is written in the story of current operations. The German people are still resisting against hopeless odds though their land is a desolate sea of bloodshed and suffering and their future is black as the mud of a Rhineland farm after the battle has passed. There can be only one explanation for this: the German people still believe in the divinity of Hitler’s leadership and at this writing they seem willing to follow him into the valley of national suicide.

One would not readily recognize the power of Hitler’s leadership among the Rhineland folk we have conquered. They are a treacherous people. Once within our lines they are benign and homely and reeking with good will. Like any military nation they are philosophical in defeat as they were ecstatic in victory. We will have no trouble with them during military operations. But behind their façade of pitiful cringing they have not forgotten Hitler and their dreams of a great Germany spreading its own order upon the world. They will now appeal to the pity of the world—not because it is their natural urge to do so but simply because it is good military practice to salvage what one can from the wreckage of defeat. Like their soldiers they fight well until we overrun their positions, then they give up. Like their high command they mean to try again one day to attain the victory that slipped from the finger tips in the winter of 1941.