They’re not forgotten by the people who lived them. But when it comes to German history, 1945-1948 are generally known for:
1) Ruins (usually of Berlin)
2) 4-power bickering that lead to a divided Germany and eventually, the Wall
3) Berlin Airlift
Until a few years ago, that’s pretty much all I knew about the time between World War 2 and the Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s. Somewhere in there, the Deutschmark was born, okay (1948). Germany was bombed to oblivion, you could say, and I had a hard time imagining how it went from that to a successful, modern economy. The Marshall Plan helped, but we know from many parts of the world today that funneling money at people doesn’t mean they’re going to prosper.
I got interested in how people lived in postwar Germany. In the first few years, people from a modern, industrial nation were thrown back to the stone ages. By people, I often mean women and children. Their men were dead, missing, imprisoned, and if the soldiers went home, they weren’t the same men who left. In general, the Germans had to cope with what they saw as the shame of defeat, and the deeper shame of individual (and some say, collective,) guilt. How did they live under those circumstances? What was it like for a child to carry a brick to school every day so that the walls could be rebuilt? What kind of change happens in a mother who silently lets her daughter slip away to be with an Allied soldier in exchange for food? From the Allied side, what were the differences between the Soviet, British and American treatment of Germans in their zones? What was it like for an Allied soldier, often a young man with little life experience besides war, to suddenly be a victor walking around a defeated people?
These are some of the issues I’m interested in. I want to share some of the info and sources I’ve found the past couple of years.
A caveat: I know how delicate some of the topics can be. I’ll try to put “difficult” material in as much context as I can, especially if I quote something from a period source that seems strange or offensive today. I do not in any way support revisionist history that denies Nazi Germany’s atrocities, and I’m not here to make people feel sorry for the Germans of the time. I’m interested in how people lived, what they thought and felt, how they survived. Part of their survival technique was to stay silent. The flood of information about the postwar years came only in the last few decades. I want to show flashes of that unique moment in German history as well as I can.