When we see films of concentration camps, when we see human skeletons standing there in front of the mocking of victorious Germans soldiers, when we see piles of bodies, tossed upon each other like cord wood, it’s easy to believe the Germans for the most part got away with the crimes. When we see urban street corners, some as old as a 1000 years immersed in buckets of gravels and dust and broken wood, when we see fine art and the brilliance of ancient architects in tatters, when we see desiccated bodies of partisans and Bolsheviks and Jews hanging from trees, it’s easy to think the Germans have imprecated themselves for eternity, and so deserve what they had coming. The Germans who survived World War II were indeed punished, they punished with vigor and unfettered cruelty.
Millions of German citizens, convinced that the Third Reich would continue for a thousand years, simply moved into the conquered territories and resettled. Before the Second World War there were already millions of German nationals invested in Eastern Europe. And believing that the might of German arms would protect them, they stayed until the bitter end. They lived in Poland and Russia, Hungary, Romania and in the Balkans and the Baltic states. All told, 12 million Germans experienced what could only be described as a full on pogrom. Once the war ended, the blood-letting was vicious. Experts believe 500,000 Germans were murdered in the revenge actions after the peace was signed.
One common German quip as the war wound down was “Enjoy the war. The Peace will be horrible.”
Consider first the massive Allied bombing raids into Germany from 1943 on that sent upwards of 26 million Germans into penury and homelessness. The ordinary citizens who could not stop Hitler, who could not stop the wheels of war from turning, so many of them were simply women and children at home while tens of million German men were at war. Even if they bought into Naziism, even if they did, they did not deserve the pain and death visited upon them.
1/3 of all German children were fatherless. The new world rendered in a defeated Germany created families of old men, old women, young mothers and children. The Russian soldiers raped upwards of 2.5 million German women. Some historians believe that US soldiers raped tens of thousands of German women. Author Anthony Beevor called this “the greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history.” Upwards of 200,000 German women committed suicide after they were raped. Public whippings, public rape, rape in front of children, public hangings, shaved heads and murder, these were the justices meted out to people who were arguably innocent.
Hundreds of thousands of abortions and hundreds of thousands of births resulted in this cursed generation. Some concentration camps now held Germans. Many Russians gathered Germans in townships, held mock trials and hung every male in the village, even children. The French and British also contributed to the sexual violence though not in the great numbers as the by the Russians.
Yes, the Germans suffered. So many suffered a fate they did not deserve and a fate that forever debased the victory.