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The Many Faces of Defeat

The German People's Experience in 1945


Edward N. Peterson

This book examines the great variety of experiences of the German people at the end of World War II, beginning with the frightening bombings, the passage of armies, the imprisonment of soldiers and civilians, the troop occupation of each of five separate zones, plus Berlin and Königsberg, and their impact on the defeated. This experience ranged from a liberation from the SS, to an enormous relief that the war's killing was over, to the rapings of women, particularly in the east, to a massive looting and destruction, again worst in the east, and the expulsion of millions from their ancestral homes. The beginnings of recovery and self-government in the four zones, moving particularly quickly in the American zone. The fundamental result everywhere: Hunger.


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INTRODUCTION Bertolt Brecht- Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht. Bright pictures have shown us time and again the faces of victory, the pa- rades, the bands, sailors and soldiers grabbing and kissing joyous girls, "The Happy End." Victory was sweet. "We won and they lost!" Such scenes have demonstrated that war is good because its end is good. A war which brought in- calculable suffering to most of the world therefore can be remembered by nos- talgic Americans as "The Good War." Seeing only this joyous end could convince the viewer that everyone rejoiced and indeed many Germans were delighted at the end of Nazi tyranny and most were happy that the war had finally found an end: "Better a terrible end than a terror without end." That terrible end was also a beginning, with drastically new conditions for the Germans, some of which began to end first in 1989. Victory has been celebrated year after year with fanfares for graying veterans. Americans, otherwise prone to forgetfulness, remember with mixed feelings the one-time Russian ally, and since-then adversary. Americans also remember with ambivalence the West Germans, one-time enemy, and since then ally. Germans also have ambivalent feelings on V -E Day, which reminds them of the tragedies to millions, who fell purposelessly in the war, and the living, who fell from one kind of tyranny into another. The barriers, which began to come down in 1989, between East and West Germans and between East Germans and their freedom, began to...

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