General Articles

Why Do We Help Those Germans?

The key to reborn Europe lies with 45 million hungry Germans. Maclean's editor reports why East and West woo their favor

W. ARTHUR IRWIN July 1 1948
General Articles

Why Do We Help Those Germans?

The key to reborn Europe lies with 45 million hungry Germans. Maclean's editor reports why East and West woo their favor

W. ARTHUR IRWIN July 1 1948

Why Do We Help Those Germans?

General Articles

The key to reborn Europe lies with 45 million hungry Germans. Maclean's editor reports why East and West woo their favor


WAR IN Europe in the near future is improbable. But there is no peace.

Outside Germany, Europe’s industrial recovery since arms were downed has been remarkable. But it will take a generation or more to restore many of Europe's cities and even after five years of U. S. aid the continent will still be running a deficit with the rest of the world.

Western Germany isa lunatic economy, a monetary madhouse whose 45 million now hungry bellies ultimately will tip the balance in the conflict between Russia and the democracies. Meanwhile the conqueror pays reparat ions to the conquered.

So far as softening up the West is concerned, Russia has played her cards with astonishing stupidity. And, to the European, the U. S. at times shows distressing signs of following suit. When the war trumpets sound on the Potomac and that’s the way they sound on t lie other side of he Atlant ic —the European shudders. He wants none of trumjxits which for him may herald invasion, occupation and atomic liberation.

Nevertheless, thanks to fear of Russia, from the Mediterranean to the Baltic the political trend at the moment is to (lit* right.

Western Union? A United States of Europe? In the last six months there have been more gestures in this direction than during any similar period in modern history. But it still remains to be seen whether the battered continent can summon the will to rebirth, the moral and spiritual energy which realization of this ancient dream would entail.

Such are some rtf the impressions which a Canadian observer carries home from Europe three years after VE-Day.

With the sok* exception of Germany, first impressions everywhere are of new life and recovery. It is only after one digs under an inflation-crusted surface that the gaps in the recovery pattern become evident.

The fields of France are lush and green with the promise of harvest, though the bread of France is still dark and coarse and rationed. Paris is again Paris, where motorists are mad and shopwindows glitter with their prewar lure. But the working girls of Paris cannot afford the New Lookit costs too much to live.

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Why Do We Help Those Germans ?

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Switzerland is a fantastic Shangri-la of plenty where every flower and every budding leaf is ordered in its proper place—a classic example of what a hardheaded and hard-working people can do with a meagre patrimony.

Northern Italy is alive with reconstruction. Railroads are being electrified, factories being rebuilt, farmsteads and villages repaired. The Rome of the wealthy drips luxury; the food in the swank hotels along the Via Veneto is fabulous, the service ditto. Touring Britons complain that Italy is the country which won the war, but ask the Italian wage earner who won and he’ll answer: prices. They’re up 5,000%. Wages have not kept pace and millions are dogged by poverty.

Belgium, thanks to its Congo uranium, is without dollar worries and is riding an industrial boom. Recovery in Holland has been slower—a turbulent East Indies is no Belgian Congo—but the Dutch too are on the way back.

Dc spite short rations and clothing coupons, which though recently lengthened are still short, London throbs with life and looks well. The buses are defiant in fresh coats of fire-engine red, Whitehall window boxes are ablaze with bloom and builders swarm over the broken halls of Westminster. Housing is still desperately short but house repair is everywhere in evidence.

Britons, generally, are fed to the teeth with restrictions and austerity and they’re not quite sure why the peace that is no peace should be so hard to take. But they are working. Absenteeism is less than two per cent and national output is more than 10% above prewar levels.

Financial Crazy Quilt

Where three years ago much of the continent’s railroad network seemed to bí? almost hopelessly washed up because of war damage, traffic has now been restored on all but the most minor lines and freight loadings are back to their prewar level.

Coal is no longer a bottleneck and electric power consumption is higher by 50% than it was before the war. Take out the economic quagmire which is Germany and the rest of the continent’s over-all industrial production is now running above prewar.

All of which, it seems to me, is rather striking evidence of the continent’s physical recuperative powers, particularly when one remembers that, apart from a few favored spots, urban Europeans still haven’t enough to eat. Farm production for the last crop year was less than three quarters of normal, j This year will be better but the bread j grain crop will not reach prewar level ! until 1951 and restoration of prewar! meat output will take still longer.

Financially the continent is still a crazy quilt of jumping figures. Last year it failed by seven and a half billion dollars to balance its books with the rest of the world. Without ERP it would be broke. Even with U. S. aid one of the crucial problems that still remains is how to win the battle against inflation.

Here’s the score on the movement of retail prices since the onset of war: Netherlands, doubled: Czechoslovakia, trebled; Belgium, up 3% times; France, up 13 times; Italy, up 50 times; Poland, up 136 times; Greece, up 238 times; Romania, up 1.500 times. In Hungary prices actually went up seven billion times before the monetary

stem caved in and a new one was .stituted.

In the last two years salaries in France have jumped 70% but the average city Frenchman still has to lay out three quarters of his income for food. Bread costs 24 francs a loaf as against one and a third francs before the war; meat 190 francs a pound as against 11; shoes, 1,800 francs against 120; suits, 9,000 against 300. A shopgirl in Paris earns the equivalent of $30 a month; a married clerk $42.

In Italy a skilled workman gets $50 a month; a senior civil servant ¡married) $60; a top newspaperman $85. Coal in Italy costs $25 a ton and it takes $3 to buy a really good meal in Rome.

Nice for Uncle Jacques

The effects of such price gyrations on the middle and lower-income groups in the cities are devastating. How do they manage? The wife goes to work, so do the children. The whole family digs in its garden allotment. They spend their wartime savings, wear old clothes, dabble in the black market, scrounge food from Uncle Jacques who owns the old family homestead in the country. Uncle Jacques, incidentally, unless his stock or machinery has been “liberated,” is doing nicely on his farm. In some countries he is eating better than he did before the war, despite the decrease in the total food supplies available.

In their efforts to dam the inflationary tides, governments have tried almost every device in the economist’s book but everyone realizes the only final answer is the raising of production to the point where scarcities disappear. Best guesses I could find were that this would take four to five years, and even then on two conditions: Europe itself must co-operate. Sufficient co-operation will be to break down currency and other barriers to trade; the U. S. must continue aid on a scale large enough to finance reconstruction as well as relief.

In the meantime most Europeans are convinced there’s no major war just around the corner. One reason for this belief is that they don’t want war; they’ve had all they can take. Another is that they know they’ll be the victims since there’s no force in Europe capable of stopping the Russians short of the Pyrenees, if there.

Still more important, they are convinced that despite the Kremlin’s provocative diplomacy the Russians aren’t ready for a shooting war and still think they can win their current objectives without one. High civilian and military authorities in Rome, Paris, Berlin and London share this view.

In Rome I even encountered the theory, American as it happened, that the Russians were not sorry to see the Communists lose the Italian election because they recognized that a Communist win would have brought the pressure dangerously near the explosion point.

There’s no doubt about the determination of the Russians to get the Western Adlies out of Berlin, but when a Russian road block detachment got over the line into the British sector and was surrounded by British troops, it moved out pronto.

There’s dread of war and dread of the Russians in Western Europe, but there’s little of the hysteria one sensed in New York and Washington following the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia and the crashing of a British plane by a Russian fighter over Berlin. During Easter week when American girls in finishing schools around Geneva were receiving frantic cables from their

parents ordering them to catch the next ship home to escape the Russian horde, the unworried Swiss were smashing all records for holiday travel. So far as violence was concerned the Italian election was a complete flop. Berlin itself, key pressure point in the East-West struggle, was as peaceful as a Toronto Sunday when I landed there early in May. In four days I saw exactly two Russian soldiers, both of them on guard at the Russian war memorial in the British sector. One wanders into and out of the Russian sector of the city at will. I flew out of Gatow airfield on the same course as the British aircraft which crashed and the only sign of anything unusual was a quick bank after takeoff, presumably to keep the plane out of Russian-controlled air.

Along with this placid acceptance of the facts of life in a peace which is not a peace goes a curious mixed attitude toward the Americans. The unprecedented generosity of ERP aid is appreciated by all but the Communists —they call it dollar imperialism—but the poor relation, while welcoming the rich uncle’s largess, seldom loves the giver. American power is universally respected and by the West universally courted. But there are qualms about the judgment with which it may be exercised.

In more than one capital I heard the heartfelt exclamation from responsible officials: “Thank God it was a British plane that was crashed at Berlin and not an American one!”

When the American House of Representatives on the eve of the Italian election plumped for aid to Franco, Italian anti - Communists groaned. “Yankee imperialism” in, alliance with Fascism was meat for the Communiste. When Molotov said “Yes” and Marshall said “No” to what sounded like an invitation to a settlement, the little man in Shoreditch, in Clichy and Zurich forgot that Molotov had jumped the gun, shook his head sadly and asked: Don’t they really want peace?

When Washington makes noises which across the Atlantic sound like the tocsin for a universal crusade to destroy the devil Communism by total war, a slow-spoken Dutchman from Amsterdam also shakes his head and asks: “Don’t they realize you can’t kill an idea with atomic bombs? We must be strong, yes. We can win, yes. But we can win only before the shooting starts— by proving the superiority of the free way of life. Afterwards will be too late; those that are left will all be totalitarians.” To which an Italian adds: “You can’t settle the Communist question in Italy by cutting off eight million heads.”

Trade with the “Enemy”

The British too have their misgivings. One point on which they have been in disagreement with the U. S. is that of trading with countries behind the Iron Curtain. During the spring Washington clamped down an almost total ban on such business, apparently on the theory that war being practically inevitable, it was practically equivalent to trading with the enemy. Not so the British.

“We see no reason why we should write off the whole of Eastern Europe as a dead loss,” explained one London authority. “Take Poland for instance. The Poles know that they cannot raise their standard of living unless they resume trading with the West. We should give them that chance not only in the interest of general European recovery but because beneficial contact with the West may well weaken the hold of the Communists. Governments

don’t last for ever, not even Communist governments.

“Right now we’re deadlocked with a Yugoslavian trade delegation, but ultimately we hope to reach a trade agreement there too.”

Behind the scenes there are other differences on policy, some of them fundamental. As was the case after the first great war, the French are determined to get from the United States a military treaty guaranteeing French security. To this the Americans have said in effect: "No. Such a treaty would automatically take the war-making power out of the hands of Congress and this we cannot accept.” More sweeping still in its implicaj ( ions is a clash of views on the military strategy to be followed in the event of a showdown with Russia. London believes the American plan is a withdrawal to the line of Great Britain, the Pyrenees, North Africa and the Middle East, followed by a launching of an attack on Russian centres of power from this crescent. As can well be imagined, neither the continental Euroj peans nor the British are at all happy I about this. One group in London already has launched a campaign to I convince the Americans that a re! established Western Europe could be defended on a line from the Baltic to the Adriatic.

How to Lose Friends

But if the Western Allies have their troubles, so have the Russians. If they had deliberately set out to bring about, the things they fear most, it is difficult to see how they could have done better. They need and want friends hut their tough-boy attitude at every international conference since San Francisco has left them isolated in a corner surrounded only by the uneasy satellites whose territories Russian arms command.

Their greatest fear is fear of "encirclement" led by the United States. Their bellicose diplomacy has roused the States to the pitch where "containment" is now the avowed policy of both major political parties. The Russians wanted to kill the Marshall plan before it got started. So they pulled a coup in Czechoslovakia which made the adoption of Marshall aid by Congress a certainty. They wanted disunity and chaos in Western Europe in which to fish for revolution. So they scared Western Europe into a degree of political and economic co-operation which even in its embryonic stages makes it difficult for the most optimistic revolutionist to hope for chaos.

One inevitable consequence of all this has been the swing to the right which I mentioned at the outset of this article. You can see it in the Labor Party in Britain. The anti-Bevin hoys on the Socialist left are much less vocal than they were a year ago. In France t ht' turn came last November with the collapse of the general strike, which failed not because of resistance from the right but because the majority of French workers realized that an attempt was being made to use them for political aims with which they did not agree.

Italy is another and obvious example; hut one should have no illusion that the Italian election finally saved Italy for democracy. The country has two million unemployed and the need for land reform is urgent. Says Foreign Minister Count Sforza: “This Government lias been given a blank cheque. It now has to deliver reforms which really meet the needs of the people. If it doesn’t— it is through."

But the one country in Europe where democracy is critically on trial is Germany. Germany is the crucial front

in the struggle between Moscow' and the West. Who wins the power, the mind and soul of Germany wins Europe.

And thus far, I regret to report, chaos and misery are the only winners. From our point of view the one macabrely cheerful note is that the Russians have generated more misery and far more fear than w'e have. For the moment, at least, Communism in Western Germany is getting nowhere.

Three years after an end to war the real ruler of Germany is Hunger. Hunger is the master of those pale pasty faces with the pinched look about the eyes that you see in the Berlin subway or the Frankfurt street.. Hunger primes a black market whose ramifications are fantastic. Hunger sits at the work bench with the German artisan whose production is down to less than half of normal.

May food rations for the normal adult consumer in the British and American zones ranged from 1,350 to 1,590 calories a day. Two thousand is considered the minimum necessary to maintain life without slow deterioration and 3,400 is about average in Canada. Since no one can live legally all live illegally.

It was in a Hamburg vaudeville theatre that I heard this bitter jape:

Who loves his life must cheat;

Who is too honest to cheat, must barter;

Who has nothing to barter, must steal ;

Who insists on honest bread, must


The mark is still used to measure wages, taxes and the cost of rationed food but since it will not buy survival it. no longer makes sense. For those who have them, the preferred media of exchange are cigarettes, coffee and coal in that order. Officially the exchange rate which governs foreign trade— controlled by a joint AmericanBritish export-import board is: one mark equals 30 cents; and it is on that basis that the German manufacturer is paid. But the black market says one mark is worth one fifth of one imported cigarette.

High and low, rich and poor, all participate in the illegal exchanges. Said a member of a Hamburg family which bears a world-known name, still a wealthy man: “Normally 1 wouldn’t have anything to do with this dirty business but my child must live. To ensure that 1 have no conscience.”

On the basis of a 30-cent mark the prices paid make even less sense than the mark itself. Here’s a blackmarket list from Berlin:

20 cigarettes............. $30

Coffee, one pound ....... $90

Margarine, one pound..... $60

Chocolate bar, each....... $ 9

Sugar, one pound......... $30

Nylon stockings, pair..... $60

Electric light bulb........ $60

Shoes, pair............. $240

Shoes resoled............ $60

Blanket................. $300

Second-hand Leica camera $2,400 Pay: Nine Cigarettes a Week

The average skilled workman makes 45 marks a week, equivalent on the above scale to $13.50 or nine cigarettes.

I saw the voucher for the wages of three house servants assigned to an occupying officer in Berlin. The combined net wages after taxes of a cook, a general maid and a parlormaid totaled 286 marks for a month—not quite three packages of cigarettes.

Black marketing in this kind of

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Continued from page 57 monetary madhouse has tong since ceased to be a mere matter of hole-inthe-corner swapping of a fistful of marks, a pair of shoes or the family clock for extra food or a kitchen pot. Workers get paid partly in black wages

knives in a cutlery plant, leather in a tannery, yarn in a spinning mill, which they sell or barter. Such wage dividends cut down absenteeism which runs as high as 25%. Manufacturers keep black books to conceal the diversion of goods which they sell in the black market. Food from the farm which is supposed to go into the legal market disappears and turns up black. When the control authority catches this going on, it punishes the offending community by cutting the legal ration —and so increases the need for illegal purchases.

Adrl to the picture the fact that eight million propertyless expellees from the lost eastern provinces have descended like a horde of starving locusts on a Western Germany which never did grow enough food to feed itself; the fact that in the count ry as a whole there are only 29 million men to 37 million women; the fact that the major cities still are anywhere from 30 to 70% rubble and it’s easy to understand why your German driver looks at the shattered Wilhelmstrasse and mutters: “It was a bad mistake.”

Dealing with the consequences of the mistake has not been easy, but we should not forget that for the first two years of the occupation the West as well as Russia seemed to do its best to aggravate them.

“Except as may he necessary to prevent starvation or such disease as may endanger the occupying forces • . . you will take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany.” Such were the instructions io the American occupying commander of 1945. A year later it was agreed that German industrial capacity should be “demilitarized” down to 55% of prewar capacity in order that Germany never again would “threaten her neighbors or the peace of the world.”

Result was that last year German exports were down to nine per cent of prewar and Western Germans were barely existing on a $600 million dole from the British and American taxpayers.

Now the instruction is “a program ■ • . directed toward the attainment at the earliest practicable date of a ^lf-sustaining Germany economy.”

History discloses fewer more ironic turn-arounds.

And rarely has history confronted the turnees with a crueler dilemma for so long as the Russians sit tight in their refusal to co-operate, rehabilitation of Western Germany means a partition of Germany which subsequently would leave Moscow in the position of being the only power able to offer Germans a united Germany without n third World War.

The technical details for a rehabilitation involving partition have all been worked out and at this writing it looks as though the die has been cast:

First: Currency reform in the three western zones.

Second: Promulgation of an “occupation statute” which would limit the powers of military government .

'Third: Calling of a German const if uent assembly to draft a new German constitution and the setting up of a provisional government for Western Germany.

The original schedule called for the summoning of the new assembly by autumn but the tentative date has now been pushed hack to early in 1949.

The gimmick in all this is that sooner or later the 45 million Germans in a new Western Germany will be completely free to choose their own course. If at that time Russia still occupies Eastern Germany, or what is more likely controls an Eastern German government, there’ll he nothing to prevent them saying to a nationalist Western Germany: Don’t forgot it was the West that carved your country in two. Play along with us and you can have your united Germany. Together we can rule the world.

What would you do if you were a German?

And what would you do if you were sitting in Whitehall and knew that ta) Western German recovery was essential to European recovery and (b) that partition of Germany was essential to Western German recovery?

That’s the one big question mark which throws its shadow across the political outlook in Europe.

It may be that, the only answer is a United States of Europe so strong and so productive of the good things in life that no German would leave it and any German left outside would seek to enter it. At least that’s the way it. looks to the visionaries who dream such dreams. And if you look at history you’ll find the dreamers often have been right. ★