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Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin is a tourist trap. I hate to say that. It’s a true piece of postwar history. But every time I’ve gone there, it feels more and more like a Disney film. I think it’s cute to get your picture taken with young men dressed as American soldiers in front of a hut with sandbags (not authentic), and the stands lining the street selling faux Russian fur hats and Soviet medals are just funny. But it’s too easy to forget how dangerous the place used to be.

Oh, and there are gift shops. Lots of them. There are so many “authentic” pieces of the Berlin Wall for sale, I get the impression the wall could’ve wrapped itself several times around the whole city.

pocket guideBut I love gift shops, and it was one on Checkpoint Charlie were I found a reproduction of the the Pocket Guide to Germany, prepared by the US Army Information Branch in 1944. It’s a short and handy guide for US troops preparing to occupy Germany. It’s also a great look at the attitude and goals the troops had when the war ended.

There was a real concern that US boys would feel sorry for the Germans, especially the women and children, after they moved in and saw the conditions they lived under. The Pocket Guide tried to keep troops on guard against the dangers of the postwar Germans.

However friendly and repentant, however sick of the laws of the Nazi party, the Germans have sinned against the laws of humanity and cannot come back into the civilized fold by merely sticking out their hands and saying — “I’m sorry.

Troops were told to especially be on their guard against German youth, the generation aged 14 to 28, who spent half their lives or more under Hitler.

Under a section called “Alibis,” the Guide arms US troops with answers to comments Germans might make to downplay their role in Hitler’s regime. Here’s an example.

German line: “After World War I, it was the cruel, inhuman terms of the Treaty of Versailles that made World War II inevitable.”

American answer: “…the Allies’ treatment of Germany after World War I was generous compared with Germany’s treatment of all the countries she has conquered and occupied since 1939.”

Absolutely true.

The Pocket Guide described the land and climate of Germany, some history, a bit of language. But the core goal of this interesting booklet was on page 33.

Let your attitude in Germany be:

Firm–

Fair–

Aloof–

and above all,

Aware…

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