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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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THE BRITISH Britain as Victor Poor but with the Best Conscience Great Britain moved swiftly from Churchill and Glory to Attlee, and Austerity. The Coalition of Conservative and Labour, which had brought the country from the brink of defeat in 1940, developed intolerable strains as victory approached. Churchill, who had dominated the conduct of the war and foreign policy, had been willing to pay any price to defeat Hitler. Some historians, con- fronted with the weakness of Britain after Churchill, have come to blame his ex- tremely vigorous conduct of the war for the country's exhaustion. Britain paid the price for "Its Finest Hour" by being Great no longer. Still confident in his power, he had promised in October, 1944, to hold the fateful election soon after the defeat of Germany. Then he did not campaign effectively. His election call "to leave these socialist dreamers to their Utopias or nightmares" failed to move people as had the great speeches of 1940. The Labour Party machinery was in much better shape. Its core was in the trade unions, and many organizers, because of their importance to war production had not been called up. More importantly, his Tories were identified with the Dole- ful Depression, its hunger marches, its slums and millions of unemployed. The country wanted a long-delayed social justice, and although Churchill ig- nored reform, his government had already taken the first steps. It had paved the way to the Welfare State by sponsoring the Beveridge Report on the extension...

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