GENERAL ARTICLES

THIS IS BERLIN

"To tell Germans how the war started, what Germany did and why she must pay is just as important as food and shelter in Berlin"

DUNCAN HOOPER August 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

THIS IS BERLIN

"To tell Germans how the war started, what Germany did and why she must pay is just as important as food and shelter in Berlin"

DUNCAN HOOPER August 1 1945

THIS IS BERLIN

"To tell Germans how the war started, what Germany did and why she must pay is just as important as food and shelter in Berlin"

DUNCAN HOOPER

BERLIN, via Moscow (By Radio) — From Moscow to Berlin is nearly four years of bitter war—or five to seven hours in a single plane hop. We did it in six hours fifty minutes in one of the Soviet-crewed Douglas transports which are now trundling to and fro between the two capitals with the regularity of suburban trains.

Speeding to the airdrome through Moscow’s broad asphalted streets I thought upon the Red Army’s long bitter road and sweet cup of victory that was Berlin, upon millions of Russians killed or maimed fighting Hitler’s Germany and millions more civilians slaughtered by the Germans to provide living room. How could any country exact full retribution for such sufferings? What could Russia do to the Germans, what could Russia mahe the Germans do that would make up for this?

I expected to find the answer in Berlin.

From the air Berlin at first looked as huge as and green as a country rownship. We dipped lower, and I took another look. Row after row of boxlike suburban homes, only occasionally smashed by bombs, gave way to the city proper -the flattened corpse of Berlin.

These were ruins as of some long-forgotten Roman city, and in the morning sunshine they winked and sparkled with myriad reflections from broken glass. This was a bomber’s view of Berlin; and it looked as though the bombers could do little except change the contours of the rubble heaps. The Tempelhof appeared under our port wing like some vast crater-pocked stadium ringed with concrete bands and blackened shells of airport buildings. Several rows of transports were parked there, facing the main airstrip.

Allied flags were fluttering, a guard of honor and a band were drawn up beside a line of shiny cars—but not for us. This was a “reception committee” for Montgomery, expected at any moment to sign the Allied declaration in the German capital. We circled twice, then flew on and landed at a smaller airport in Berlin, a night fighter base ring that was established to grapple with the RAF and the United States Air Force over the capital, while the Tempelhof made up its mind what to do with us.

The first thing I saw was a group of Germans working. Grouped around a shallow depression on the edge of the airfield, which evidently had been the side of a trench or crater, about 50 German women, ranging from 18 to 40 years of age, were leaning upon or—in the case of a few—working with spades. A Red Army man with a revolver at his belt—I subsequently discovered he was a metalworker, from war-blasted Kursk, who’d lost all his family at the hands of the Germans—was standing guard. These German women wore spring dresses, sunglasses, slacks and even gloves to keep the dirt off their hands.

Their tempo was about the slowest I’ve ever seen. The man from Kursk seemed to think so too. As I watched, he removed a spade gently from the hands of a German hausfrau in a spotted pinafore and with a few swift demonstratory strokes filled in about half the hole. Then the work slumped back to where it was before.

It didn’t look like savage retribution to me, and I said as much. The man from Kursk smiled. “They’ll learn and we’re not hurrying them,” he said. “On practically all jobs here they are working for themselves, really—-not us—-and the slower they work the worse it’ll be for them.”

As I turned away, the “work” had stopped completely, and the whole group were exchanging gossip over stationary spades. Next winter, when Berliners fight the cold among their ruins, they’ll realize the meaning of this implicit Russian attitude of “it’s up to you to help yourselves.” For the time being it was a

picniclike scene. All these women wore trim stockings and were better dressed than I'd seen for some time. They were smiling and joking, apparently quite cheerful.

Only one grim-visaged matron in a black dress was not sharing the general “day out” atmosphere.

“Do you get enough food now?” I asked her.

She looked at me coldly and bitterly» and said, “No —absolutely none. I’m living on what I put by.”

This was a lie, since I later had the opportunity of seeing all stages of the rationing system by which each Berliner gets an adequate, and in some cases generous, allocation of food, but it was interesting to see such an outspoken, determined opponent of the occupation regime at large.

Walking to the plane I found an engineer from Berlin’s industrial township, Siemenstadt, filling in another small hole in the ground. He was an unrepentant but worried German citizen.

“Hitler lost the war for us,” he told me. “Your ‘terror’ (air bombing) has smashed our factories. Where can I find work? How can I live now?”

In the same breath he said, “How can I get to America?”

The Tempelhof was ready to receive us now and we watched while the Allied leaders landed. We got our first view of Berlin’s streets as we drove in convoy through the capital. Allied flags were fluttering from the ruins. Smart Red Army girls on point duty waved us on with little colored flags, and groups of Berliners, kept at a respectful distance by Red Army tommy gunners, peered at us from side streets. Some of them waved. Judging by what I saw then and

since, the three million-odd population of the city consists principally of women, children and old men, with a fair number of young girls, and hardly any men of military age. We took up our quarters in the allbut-intact garden suburb of Wendenschloss, where an area of some five or six square miles was cordoned off for “Red Army only,” and relaxed in comfort on heavy German upholstery, German spring beds, and on mathematically designed German lawns. I had the front bedroom in what had been the comfortable redbrick villa of a certain Dr. Julius Hagen, house number 14; and in the next few hours 1 looked at his books, went through his files and decided what sort of man he was.

Hagen was a Nazi, aged 55, with two sons fighting in the East—it. seemed they never came home. He fled from Wendenschloss when Soviet shells began to bounce over the tramlines, and he went in such a hurry he even left his party card behind. He was obviously a most respected man in his community— didn’t he receive a letter from the local bowling club asking him to act as their honorary president about 1944?—and he had the best collection of Nazi propaganda literature in any of a dozen typical Wendenschloss homes.

“Blood and Earth” and “Fight for Racial Purity” were two of his titles. I wondered how many Russian girl slaves he kept to scrub his floors and polish the brasses on his door. A flight of stone steps led down into a sheltered garden with plump goldfish swimming around in a lily pond fitted with an electric purification pump and miniature observatory. Red Army men had got the pump

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working and were sunning themselves beside the pond, toying interestedly with the observatory.

A former Russian girl slave was

learning how to ride Hagen’s bicycle, on the lawn. I decided that w’hatever kind of contentment and satisfaction Dr. Hagen found in his Nazi-ridden, slave-serviced home, the Red Army was getting more pleasure out of it.

At the end of my first day in Berlin I decided the Russians haven’t gone

there to oppress the Germans. Of their plans to re-educate a beaten enemy I was to learn more later.

I slept in a bed made by a Russian girl in German style, with the ends of the clothes folded outward and inward to make a neat, envelopelike coverlet, ate a hearty Russian breakfast cooked on German type slow-burning range, then took the road into the centre of the city, past a Red Army man’s grave. A little wooden obelisk topped with the Red Star marked the spot where Sergt. Yager Stepanovich Arkipov had “died the death of a hero on April 23, 1945.” He was 42 and his comrades had added this inscription: “Glory to a hero fallen in battle for the freedom and independence of our Fatherland.”

I spent most of that day touring ruins about which it’s necessary to say no more than that they are completely awe-inspiring, and, after the first feeling of exhilaration in discovering just what Allied might did to Berlin, profoundly depressing. The mind boggles at the task of rebuilding Berlin. Meanwhile, Berliners walk about their shattered city apparently unconcerned, conditioned to the sight of not a single intact building along vast avenues of destruction fanning out from the heart of the city. Ultimately something will have to be done about rebuilding Berlin. But it will have to be a new kind of Germans, fully aware of the way they brought all this on themselves, who’ll do it.

The present mood among Berliners is one of bitterness against our “terror Weapon,” and almost complete nonrealization of the way in which their Luftwaffe smashed the virtually undefended cities of Europe. I noticed a number of German slogans, “Berlin Bleibt Deutsch” (Berlin Remains German) on shattered walls, but only one anti-Nazi slogan, “Hitler Ist Schuldig” (Hitler is guilty).

From this semialpine world of twisted girders and rubble came the stale stench of death; but, it was neat poster boards erected by Russians among the ruins that I found more interesting. A few in Russian, and obviously dating back to the period when German soldiers were still emerging from hide-outs in the ruins, said, “If a German offers to give himself up

take him. Don’t kick a man when he’s down.” But the great majority, in German and addressed to Germans, Hammered home this simple propaganda message: “We haven’t come

here to destroy you.”

Direct quotes from Stalin speeches, printed in large black letters with borders, were mostly chosen for this purpose. Typical slogans visible all over the city were, “History teaches that Hitlers come and go, but the German people remain-MStalin,” “The strength of the Red Army consists in that it has no race hatred for any nation, including the German nation . . . the Red Army respects the rights and independence of all peoples.” Reading these, the people of Berlin could believe they were dealing with reasonable people and not with the fanatical baby-eating Bolsheviks depicted by Goebbels. This looked like the beginning of the re-education of the German people. Joining a group of Germans standing in front of a newspaper pasted on a special bulletin board, I got another slant on the same subject. There, two newspapers published in Berlin, “Rundschau” and “Tägliche Nachrichten,” contained a representative collection of Tass dispatches from all over the world, including the latest British election sallies.

The main feature article that day was a description, with photographs, of a German murder camp in Poland. On the back page room had been found for four tiny joke cartoons—all with ration-

ing or end-of-the-war themes. This ! standard humor reached its peak in a sketch of a man trying to get into bed in his air raid warden’s uniform, while his wife reminded him there’d now been an end to all that.

Trams and even some buses were running, though with big queues, and there was busy pedestrian traffic I through streets. Many people were carrying bundles and rucksacks or pushing handcarts as though still in process of sorting themselves out. i Columns of carts laden with household goods and harnessed to sturdy German horses were forming up. These were not Germans but liberated Poles, i Czechs and Jugoslavs preparing for the long trek back to their homelands. Red Army girls kept strict order among the traffic, calling offenders to order with shrill blasts on their whistles.

A 22-year-old girl from Vienna came j over to me. “I’ll never forget the bombing,” she said. “In the daytime it wasn’t so bad. The bombs went ‘bang, bang,’ and we could see what was happening. But at night the Tommies’ bombs came down ‘boompf, boompf,’ and we all shuddered.”

That evening I went to the office of the Soviet Commandant of Berlin, Colonel - General Nickolai Berzarin, and heard how he was running the city. Berzarin was to be killed in a motorcycle accident a few weeks later, but that evening he was alert and vigorous —a typical military man of early middle age. He said frankly he’d sooner do a regular military job than be in charge of this city, but his system obviously was working well.

“Everything is based on my orders,” he said. “I give orders to the population directly through their own German officials, who see my orders carried out.” Berzarin quoted detailed figures ! on the rationing system now instituted J and said, “That’s what I’m doing for their stomachs.”

Something for Their Souls

He described how every facility had been given for Germans to worship in 20-odd churches now functioning in the city, and said, “That’s what I’m doing for their souls.”

He then gave some picture of the reconstruction problem in Berlin by declaring that his surveys showed 80% of the buildings either wholly or partly destroyed. He revealed, incidentally, that the Red Army has been giving considerable help to Berliners in supplies, drugs, and transports to clear away the mess, and said, “When we first came in, all the Germans thought they were going to be hung. Now they’ve learned better. They also have seen that we can organize things well, and the general mood is good. There have been isolated cases of sabotage.”

In working with the Germans, the Russians take no risks. Every German who is going to be given some measure of responsibility is carefully vetted first—“and we have our ways of knowing who our friends are,” Berzarin said.

My last memory of this forceful man was his firm handshake as he turned away to answer one of a small battery of constantly trilling phones.

On the third day I saw the other side of Russo-German co-operation in Berlin when I met 68-year-old Arthur Werner, former schoolmaster and now chief burgomaster of Berlin. Werner sat at the head of a long, polished table in what was formerly the conference room of the board of directors of a big Berlin insurance firm.

With his eyes wandering from the table to the ruins outside the window and back again, he explained, “The j

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j city of Berlin has been entrusted by t he ; Russian Command with the task of j repairing its damage. I have the confidence of General Berzarin, and I have the honor to welcome you on \ behalf of the city and people of Berlin.”

Werner told his own story—an ¡ ordinary affair—of an elderly German j uninterested in politics who eventually j got thrown out of his job because he was not a Party member.

“For two years I had to live on my I savings,” he said. “It was very ; difficult.” Difficulties and atrocities go by comparisons, because Werner was even more moved a few moments later when he told how he’d heard from another German the story of some scores of prisoners hanged one after another in a German jail.

“It was terrible, terrible,” he said. Someone explained that far worse things had happened at Maidenek, about which Werner still seemed improperly informed.

Werner gave the impression of a man of ordinary abilities trying to do a difficult job. He was in sharp contrast to Otto Geschke, his representative for social welfare, a Communist veteran of the Hitler terror and concentration camps, bearing deeply imprinted the marks of his sufferings.

Geschke claimed kinship with all other anti-Fascists as a fighter against Hitlerism, and wanted the world to be told of the struggle of German antiFascists as well as of the horrors of Hitler’s regime.

“Please help us raise Germany from the dust, wherein it was cast by Fascism, so that we may become a cultured and decent people,” he said. “It’s very difficult but it must be done.”

That night I touched the peak of Berlin night life by a visit to Kabarett Derkomiker, and heard plump chorus girls singing to a crowded hall of Germans, “Berlin remains Berlin.”

It was a song well in accord with the spirit of an audience who seemed contented, if not cheerful, on refreshment consistingsolely of iced ersatz orangeade.

On my last day I walked freely and j unescorted through the streets, stopped and talked with Berliners and watched them receiving their bread rations over counters without queues. Apart from the rations and huge supplies of semiuseless things like moth balls and foot , powder, there was nothing to buy. But ¡ the shopkeepers were making some | pretense of doing business, complaining i meanwhile that their best goods had been looted by German troops. One drugstore had nothing but lipsticks, marked “Made in France.”

Most Germans I saw were willing, even eager, to talk, but had only the J vaguest ideas of what had happened to their country. There were many who j cursed Hitler and some who abused him not because of Nazism, but because he’d lost their war for them.

Once I asked a little German clerk how many people he thought had perished in the bombing of Berlin.

“Half a million,” he said.

This produced an immediate denial by another German standing nearby, who said it was not a tenth of this figure. As I walked away a hostile crowd was closing in on the clerk, demanding how he could tell such lies.

I boarded a plane for Moscow next morning with a feeling that information on how and why the war started, what Germany did and why she must pay, is as important as food and shelter in Berlin. Most Germans seem to know nothing about these things and must be ; told before any legends of betrayal,

! heroic defeat and suchlike can gain a 1 foothold among them. And the Russians appear to be telling them.