April is an important month for much of Germany when it comes to World War II. The general surrender was signed in May 1945, but April was the month when city after city surrendered directly to allied forces. That makes now — April — the 70th anniversary of. . . .

What exactly?

Recently my local newspaper in Essen featured an article about this time period called As the Americans freed the Ruhr Region. That was an interesting take on what happened. It made me as an American, think — Did the US free this part of Germany? Or did it conquer it?

At the time, the Allies made it clear they were here to conquer, not to liberate. But they were slick. They dropped leaflets to the populace urging them to turn against the Nazi officials and surrender their cities without fighting. Many did. Maybe this was the moment when the war weary Germans began to conjure up the idea of being liberated from the Nazis, no matter what their political persuasion was in the past.

That attitude carried through right up to the present. It seems a lot more fashionable to talk about the liberation of the Germans than it is to talk about the conquering of Germany. There’s no denial that it happened; American, British, French and Soviet forces occupied German territory and held military bases far too long for the Germans to close their eyes to what happened.

But now, 70 years later, with most of Germany back in German hands and the old allied forces all but gone, we’re left with the idea that the Allies freed the Germans from a criminal regime.

That’s only somewhat true. At bottom, the Allies came to win the war. And so I’d re-title that recent article, As the Americans Conquered the Ruhr Region.

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