GENERAL ARTICLES

WINTER CRISIS IN GERMANY

Life for Germans is a frigid hell. Their ordeal may mean their rebirth, says Shapiro, but it also could lead to everlasting embitterment.

L. S. B. SHAPIRO February 1 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

WINTER CRISIS IN GERMANY

Life for Germans is a frigid hell. Their ordeal may mean their rebirth, says Shapiro, but it also could lead to everlasting embitterment.

L. S. B. SHAPIRO February 1 1946

WINTER CRISIS IN GERMANY

Life for Germans is a frigid hell. Their ordeal may mean their rebirth, says Shapiro, but it also could lead to everlasting embitterment.

L. S. B. SHAPIRO

Maclean’s European Correspondent

FRANKFURT, Germany—A few days before Christmas, in the blackened skeleton of the building that was once Nuremberg’s imposing central station, hundreds of German civilians shuffled toward track 12. The one o’clock train for Frankfurt was almost ready to depart. Most of the passengers were middle-aged women and their children. All— even the children—carried canvas packs on their backs, held there by leather straps that looped under their armpits. In addition they lugged suitcases and small trunks. Sometimes two or three women banded together to push along the platform an outsize trunk massive enough to discourage a professional piano mover. There were no porters, and the few men travellers couldn’t help because each was laden down like a pack mule.

The German train guards, immaculately uniformed in contrast to the dowdy civilians, hurried the crowd along with sharp commands. They were typical of the Reich—these train guards. Give a German a uniform and a little authority and he becomes immediately a colonel general in his small orbit.

Carrying only a haversack and a portable typewriter, I pushed my way quickly through the crowd and reached the car reserved for Allied military personnel. There were eight of us in the whole car. It was a modern, first-class carriage, and although it lacked heat its windows were intact and its seats were soft and comfortable.

None of the other carriages had glass in their windows; some were boarded over and some had no protection at all.

The whistle tweaked twice. Latecomers squealed and jabbered excitedly, and lifted their children and their baggage onto the nearest carriage. As the train pulled out each civilian carriage was jammed to capacity, the passengers overflowing on the open platforms

At Fuerth, Nuremberg’s big suburban station, another great crowd awaited the train. Women with babies were allowed to squeeze their way into the carriages. Other persons crowded onto the platforms of the old-fashioned, thii’d-elass equipment and still others prepared to make the six-hour journey clinging precariously on the outer steps of the train.

As the train headed across south-central Germany it ran into a sleet storm. The people on the open platform ahead of our car soon looked like overstuffed icicles. Those on the steps seemed frozen to the guard rails. In our car it was cold enough, even with our doors and windows intact.

Half hour out the sleet storm increased in intensity. The eight of us in the military car decided to invite the women and children on the open platforms nearest us to share our comfort and comparative warmth. They trooped in gratefully and sank, half exhausted, iifto seats.

“Life Is Not Fit for Pigs”

TWO WOMEN and their two small children squeezed into the seats next to me. The mothers removed the children’s soaked coats and rubbed their hands and cheeks. Then they removed their own coats and dropped back sighing with relief and pleasure.

Unaware that I understood German—or perhaps not giving it a thought—the women began a bitter conversation.

“We’re the lucky ones today,” one woman said. “We would have frozen to death out there.”

“Ja,” said the other. “I have been travelling with my child from Munich. Life is not fit for pigs any more.”

“They tell us people shouldn’t travel,” the first sighed. “But what can one do? They requisitioned my house. I must go to live with my sister in Frankfurt. They say things are better there.”

One of the children began whimpering. His mother dug into a suitcase and brought out a small green apple. “Here,” she said, “and don’t ask for another.” “He is always hungry,” she said, turning to the other woman. “The ration is not enough. How do they expect us to live?”

The other nodded. “I know,” she sighed. “The war

has ruined us all. It will never be good again in Germany. The war! The war! What a misfortune!”

They glanced at me out of the corners of their eyes and lapsed into silence.

It was cold and dark and sleety as the train slid into Würzburg, the halfway point. The car’s eight originals scrambled into the military canteen for a hot snack.

Our car was empty of German civilians when I got back. A French officer said, “A German train guard came through and chased them out. He said it was against regulations for them to ride in this car and they’d have to find themselves room in the civilian carriages or get off the train.”

Rain was pouring down when we rolled into Frankfurt’s east station. Some of the passengers from our train shuffled into the shelter of the station and laid themselves down on the cement floor amid their baggage. Others went out into the courtyard and hired pushcarts on which they heaved their baggage. Then they trundled them toward the centre of the city.

I do not record this vignette of routine life in today’s Germany in oi’der to promote a sense of pity for the conquered. If I have lost my capacity for pity it is because I have seen too many Belsens and Buchenwalds, too many of our graves from Sicily to the Elbe, too much of the handiwork of these people who now seek hollow-eyed for the sympathy they themselves denied to others.

Nor can the Germans be considered the unfortunates of Europe. Drab and hungry and hopeless as their lives are, they are better off than their former victims in Poland, Russia and Yugoslavia. They eat better than some of the French, they are better dressed than some of the Italians, they are happier than most of the Jews. If it is compassion I seek to promote, the Germans stand last on the list of eligibles.

But it is important to know how the Germans are living if one is to understand the march of events in the occupied and beaten Reich during the next four months. These four months will determine whether the people of the Reich propose to work their passage back into the family of nations or whether they reveal themselves to be so chronically incorrigible that we must maintain a rigid occupation for 15 or more years to come.

This winter marks the crisis, the turning point for Germany. Physically and mentally it is the worst, the most humiliating winter the Germans have known in their modern history. The winter of 1919 was perhaps hungrier for them, but they ran themselves; they had their self-respect: they were the captains of their souls; they were still Germany. Now they

have nothing, neither government, nor wealth, ncr self-respect, nor organization. Now they are dependent upon their conquerors for evex-ything-for food, for justice, for the merest machinery of community life. Their troubles mount, one upon another like the piles of rubble in their cities.

The French, whom they despised, the Russians, whom they feared, the British,' whom they envied, the Americans, whom they laughed at—these are the masters in Germany and they are the servants. We live in the habitable buildings heated by the labor of German coal miners; they live in the cold hovels recovered from rubble. They serve our tables; their women are our too-willing camp followers. Scores of thousands of their young men are marched and worked as prisoners under their vex’y eyes, in the midst of their big cities. The humiliation is overpowering. One can see it written on German faces from Cologne to Berlin. The once proud, the once prosperous, the once all-powerful German volk is ixx the deepest, most desolate winter of its history.

When a big man—big in the sense of his self-esteem —is committed to prison at hard labor for a heinous crime, we are told he must go through two phases before his jailers can begin to know his reaction to the catastrophe that has befallen him. The first phase is one of shock. The second comes when the calculated shame of his position seeps into his conscious mind and he knows where he stilnds, Only then can his jailers judge whether he proposes to rehabilitate himself out of an honest remorse or whether a counterfeit martyrdom has embittered his mind and made it useless and even dangerous to the community outside.

After her defeat and surrender Germany was virtually clapped into her own jail by the United Nations. The first, the shock, phase passed with (lie summer and autumn. And with the coming of winter, with the cold, with the unbelievable spectacle of her erstwhile great herded ignominiously in a prisoners’ dock before the Nuremberg tribunal, Germany’s second phase began. She knows now where she stands. She knows the full extent of her humiliation and defeat.

How will her people react? That is the question Allied intelligence teams are seeking to answer as quickly as possible. That is why every German trend this winter is examined and interpreted. We must know how Germany is going to come out of her second phase so that we may plan the future of our occupying troops, of European economics, and of Germany herself. That is why the drabness of life in Germany must be examined, though there is no intent to arouse feelings of pity.

Food Barely Adequate

EXCEPT for public health experts there is no point in discussing Germany’s food supply in point of calories. The experts say the calory content has been raised from 1,500 to 1,550 per day and that now each German is assured enough to eat to keep on his job and to maintain a minimum health standard. From the point of view of the Reich’s reaction to her winter ordeal, it is perhaps more important to examine an average German family on an average day.

I looked around Frau Continued on page 47

Winter Crisis in Germany

Continued from page 11

Hoenigmann’s two-room apartment on Hanauerstrasse in Frankfurt the other day. It consisted of a kitchen and a bedroom, each dimly lit by a single electric bulb. Although it was daytime, the windows gave no light because, lacking glass, they were boarded over. The apartment was on the ground floor of a building which had been fire-bombed. The two upper stories were gutted, and Frau Hoenigmann’s ceiling leaks when it rains, which it does practically every day during the winter.

Her two daughters, aged 10 and 12, were sitting in front of a small wood stove, feeding twigs into it. They go to school. Frau Hoenigmann works nights as a charwoman in the Farben building, now occupied as American headquarters. Her 17-year-old son has no job. He hangs around the station during the day carrying baggage for Allied troops, who are lavish with their occupation marks. Probably he also touts for black marketeers.

From the kitchen, where Frau Hoenigmann and her two daughters sat, I could see through the open door into the bedroom. It contained one large bed and three straw paillasses on the floor, one in each corner. The bed was occupied by an elderly woman and a girl, both coughing raucously.

“That’s my sister and her daughter,” explained Frau Hoenigmann. “They had to give up their house, so they came to live with me. I used to sleep in the bedroom with my two daughters. Now my sister and niece also sleep in that room with us, and my boy sleeps here in the kitchen on a paillasse.”

“In some ways we’re the lucky ones,” she said. “I have a job, and my chil-

dren with me, and a roof over our heads.”

Before the war Herr Hoenigmann ! owned a chocolate and pen shop on Kaiserstrasse. When his shop was ; knocked out in the blitz, Herr Hoenig1 mann was drafted into the German i Army as a supply orderly, although he was 44. Frau Hoenigmann hasn’t heard from him since last February, when he was on the East Front. She thinks he is dead, but nobody in the district has heard officially about casualties since last March.

On food Frau Hoenigmann admits she does better than most. She has one meal at American Headquarters and she gets the regular ration for her children. In addition, she says, the Americans on guard duty at night are kind to her and she often brings home chocolate and pieces of white bread.

Her biggest worry is cold. The wood stove gives only sufficient heat to warm the meals. The bedroom is draughty and completely unheated. Her second biggest worry is her 12-year-old daughter. “It is hopeless to bring up girls respectably in this atmosphere,” she said harshly. “When they are 13 or 14 they no longer have morals. The streets are full of girls of that age who are running after soldiers. It is maybe because the home is so unpleasant and because German boys have nothing to offer. Girls become discouraged so easily and they sink so rapidly. The whole generation of German girls has gone to the gutter. My daughter is a good girl—now. But I am afraid for her in this atmosphere.”

Some Unrest Already

German reaction to the drabness and the hopelessness of life this winter has, thus far, not been encouraging. In his last report from the British sector, Field Marshal Montgomery warned against increasing lawlessness. British troops in Berlin now carry arms at night. In the final report before returning to the United States, General of the Army Eisenhower saw the faint beginnings of resistance which may become organized. Bands of youths have attacked our troop« in isolated districts. In Kassel not long ago there was a mass mutilation of six American soldiers by an organized band of Hitler Youth. The general German reaction to the Nuremberg trial may be briefly described as a shrug and a scoff.

The best report on the German mind that has come to light recently was written by a psychologist attached to the Intelligence Division of the United States occupation forces. He explained the problem thusly:

“The German mind is not a simple instrument. It is really a combination of two entirely separate elements which merge only occasionally. The first element is reason—methodical, cold, unimaginative and often exceedingly

dull. The second is romantic emotion— blind, overwhelming, without restraint and sometimes almost unconscious. It has been said that each German’s secret desire is to be run over on a pedestrian crossing when the traffic lights are in his favor. For him that prospect satisfied all the elements in his complex mind. His reason would be satisfied because it would seem to him patently unjust for someone to be run over on a pedestrian crossing while the green light was on. His romantic emotions would be satisfied because he would feel that he had died a martyr for the things he holds most dear—civil regulations and traffic-police ordinances, which have always been formulated by his ‘betters,’ who, of course, ‘know all about such things.’

“Today the little man in Germany feels that he has reached the rightfully ordained end of the road that is in store for every German. The law had said to him: ‘Go ahead, cross the street!’ and upon executing this order he was immediately run down. This did not come as a surprise. Rather than surprise he feels a mixture of righteousness and sëlf-pity—righteousness for having followed the law to the letter, and selfpity for having been knocked out cold in so doing—a fate which he considers the traditional tragedy of the German people . . . This is the reason why German soldiers would fight fanatically at one minute and, upon counting their last bullet, surrender quite reasonably the next. It is the reason why Germans, who only eight months ago swore undying loyalty to their Führer, today carefully read and follow Military Government regulations to the letter. It is the reason, also, why the present German docility does not present the slightest cause for complacency among the guardians of world security.”

Spring Will Tell

We will know by spring how Germany is going to turn as she emerges from her winter of great test. We may have a lawless, hopeless Germany on our hands—and this means occupation by substantial forces indefinitely. It means an economic drain on Europe and the world. It means that the spark is ever ready to be applied to another European powder barrel.

Yet there is a chance that the better elements within Germany will prevail; that their speechmaking and their newspaper writing—combined with the winter ordeal—will foster in the German mind a determination to make an end of the past and a beginning for the future.

We will know by spring whether our peculiar formula of hardness and humanity and education is going to work; whether this winter’s suffering is going to cleanse or chronically embitter this nation with frightening capabilities.