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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY TWENTY THREE The Time of Blood and Hate

Oh never come back The time of blood and hate Because there are people I love In Göttingen, in Göttingen

These are perhaps the most historic lines from the song Gottingen which we heard on Tuesday. They were written and most memorably performed by the French singer known as Barbara.

Barbara was a Jew who had spent her teenage years hiding from collaborators in Paris. In the 1960s she went to sing in Gottingen, fell in love with the city - and also, perhaps, with people she lists in her song 'Herman, Peter, Helga et Hans'. Her song was a sensation: Gerhard Schroeder, later German Chancellor, went to her concert - "I was a doctoral student in Gottingen when she came to sing. It went to our hearts, the start of a wonderful friendship between our countries." And he used 'Oh never come back / The time of blood and hate' when he and de Gaulle signed the Elysee Treaty of Reconciliation. The town awarded Barbara its Medal of Honour: the song's "quiet, emphatic plea for understanding [has] made an important contribution to Franco-German reconciliation".

British Zone green, French Zone bleue, American Zone orange, Soviet Zone red

In the summer of 1945, reconciliation was not in prospect. We have seen that the French took beloved German oaks as reparations and planted spruce in their stead. In their zone of occupation, the French ignored the Potsdam Declaration's denazification proposals. They did not even use the word denazification, choosing instead to call their programme epuration because, in French eyes, all Germans were guilty. And, of course, some of the French bore their own guilt for collaboration with the Nazis: Noel Annan, a junior intelligence office in Germany, tells in his memoir of the 10,000 French collaborators who aided Nazis in deporting French Jews. For the Americans and British who, at the outset, did intend to honour Potsdam, denazification proved a chimera. Probably, it could never have been done. Resouces were slim, the country was in chaos and the task was so inherently vast: Hitler had waged total war to the limit and Nazi tendrils reached into so many corners of German society.

The Americans tried to automate the process using an IBM tabulating machine and a questionnaire to assess complicity. By 1947, two million questionnaires had been processed: 66,000 suspected Nazis were arrested; 24,000 cleared; 500 put on trial with 42,000 still in prison. And, on the basis of self-confessed evidence, a further 350,000 people were excluded from public office. But the system drowned under the weight of numbers. At the end of the war, there simply weren't the resources available. The British were particularly hard pressed and certainly did not want to disrupt any economic activity in the country that would entail our having to feed Germany. So, as early as 1946, the task of denazification (except for the Nuremburg Trials and other military tribunals) was being delegated to German tribunals to administer and the emphasis shifted to rehabilitation. Many criminals fled the country while others bought certificates of innocence - Persilscheine (washes whiter than white). In the Soviet Zone, the denazification programme was more thoroughgoing with trials and the inculcation of communism. But the British and Americans had to fall back on a campaign to create a sense of collective guilt. And even this broad brush faced intractable problems.

children playing in the rubble (c) Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz

The Allied bombing campaign and the conquest had obliterated almost the entire infrastructure of Germany. Some towns – Gottingen and Goslar among them – survived physically intact, but cities like Berlin were reduced to rubble, populated by Trümmerfrauen (rubble women). There were twelve million refugees in camps or roaming the countryside; people were starving; disease was rife - and they had to face personal vengeance from victorious soldiers. Troops who had fought their way into Germany now looted homes, beat up such men as there were and raped both men and women. In Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War (2017), Miriam Gebhardt assesses the extent of the rape of women by Russian and Allied troops - around 850,000. And then there were the consequences for those women who became pregnant or chose unsafe abortions or suicide and those who suffered the terror in cities like Berlin where the Russians sought vengeance for their 200,000 comrades killed and wounded in the street fighting and the millions dead in Russia itself. The Allies controlled all media outlets and made them the tool of the collective guilt campaign. The Psychological Warfare Division masterminded campaigns; newspapers and radio hammered home "the moral responsibility of all Germans for Nazi crimes". In towns and villages across Germany, up went posters showing images from concentration camps with slogans such as:

YOU are guilty of THIS!

Fred Sansom, whose father was stationed in Burgsteinfurt, recalls how cinema too was harnessed in the campaign: “In Burgsteinfurt, up near the Dutch border, the local people showed such open resentment towards the occupying British forces that the army magazine The Soldier dubbed it “the Village of Hate”. As very few of Burgsteinfurt’s citizens went voluntarily to a screening of newsreel film of Buchenwald and Belsen, the military authorities decided to compel them. Some 4,000 people were assembled and marched to the movie theatre, led by their burgomaster and the District Assistant Provost Marshal.

Burgsteinfurt citizens – mainly women – being marched to the cinema (c)Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Photographs of people exiting the cinema show varied reactions. Some look shocked, some are in tears, others display no emotion. Two young women who laughed as they left the screening were made to watch the films again. A survey carried out by the Allies later that year concluded that almost every German had direct and repeated contact with the campaign to present the facts. It found most people accepted the authenticity of the images and that 'only an isolated few' dismissed the scenes as Allied propaganda.” Thank you Fred. The final nail in the coffin of Allied attempts to denazify and demilitarise Germany was the realpolitik of the Cold War. From late 1945, the Americans had become increasingly sensitive to the potential of the Soviet Union to overrun a weakened, demilitarised Europe. Herbert Hoover reported: "The whole economy of Europe is interlinked with the German economy through the exchange of raw materials and manufactured goods. The productivity of Europe cannot be restored without the restoration of Germany as a contributor to that productivity." And the Pentagon weighed in: " the complete revival of German industry, particularly coal mining ...[was now] ... of primary importance" to American security. So in 1948, to raise Germany (and the rest of Europe) as a bulwark against communism, the United States rolled out the Marshall Plan. A total of $15 billion was shared amongst European countries to rebuild and modernise: Britain received 28% of this, France 18% and West Germany 11% of these precious dollars. And in a curious twist, the Cold War also shielded some of the worst Nazi criminals. Given Soviet military strength on the continent, the Allies created secret arms caches and recruited German agents to take action should the Soviet tanks roll in. The process of recruitment was to pick ex-Nazis with blood on their hands and threaten them with exposure and inevitable retribution if they did not co-operate. It is a testament to the power of the European idea (and the Soviet threat) that just a decade after the Occupation ended, de Gaulle and Adenauer could sit in Paris and sign a treaty of reconciliation – a bonding that has been a powerful engine of European integration. But now, as I pedal towards the geographical centre of Germany, the Race Marshal has vanished on her Harley to forage for the ultimate Thuringian picnic to enjoy tomorrow. This is a rare documentary of life in Germany between 1945 and 1949 -

This is an extraordinary film explaining German history to US troops - Your Job in Germany-

For a review on the London School of Economics' blog of Miriam Gerhart's book see Several people have suggested that Gottingen is best sung by Barbara herself. So here she is in a link kindly provided by Therese Melville -

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