ECLIPSE OF THE NAZI
Australian war correspondent, renown
writer and historian Alan Moorehead (1910-1893) is known to a reader of this
site by his notes about encounters with Soviet
soldiers and officers in Iran in 1941 (from the book “African Trilogy”)
and by the page about the Gallipoli battle
based on his book “Gallipoli”. This page offered to your attention is based
on his book “Eclipse” about the last two years of WWII. On the front roads
Moorehead chanced to have met mainly those Russians which had found themselves
on the other side of the front line.
As usual the author of this site considered it necessary to copy some pages
written about behaviour of the American soldiers in the liberated Europe. Many of his comments
are similar to the comments of another Australian
war correspondent – Osmar White.
This book also contains many comments
which nowadays sound very topically and clearly refute the popular amongst
some Russian intellectuals concept of war between
Russia and so-called “United
Europe” in 1941-1945.
The German coastal
troops, which had taken the first shock, included many Poles and recently
conscripted Russians. These men became demoralized as soon as they lost their
officers and NCOs. They either gave themselves up at once, or drifted aimlessly
about the countryside waiting for a chance to surrender.
And so it was
not hunger that made [French] detest the Germans. It was something
else; a very ordinary sense of pride. We shall have to wait until
we get to Paris to see the full
effect of this but it was strongly apparent here in Normandy. The mere presence
of the Germans in the role of overlords grated on these country people in
a surprising way. It was not that the Germans behaved very badly. It was
simply that they had the power to behave badly or any other way
The French guerilla
fighters, the maquis who sacrificed everything
to their loyalty and enthusiasm, were loved in direct ratio to the hatred
directed on the collaborationists. The maquis
were a minority of Frenchmen, but everyone admired them and was willing
to hide them and assist them. They were the expression of the best side of
France, of France revived, France non-materialist.
So long as the maquis existed and were ready
to risk torture and death at the hands of the Germans, every Frenchman could
say, 'France is not dead.
She is still a country of heroes.' Not unnaturally then, when a collaborationist
gave away a maquis to the German Gestapo he was
hated with a passion which the incoming Allied soldiers were quite unable
to understand. The doughboy and the tommy were
disgusted at the way the French mistresses of German soldiers were dragged
out into the village squares to have their heads shaved. It seemed indecent
and vicious. Often they intervened. All this became much more intense when
we got to Paris and Brussels…
There was one
slight trend which one noticed at first in the French reception of the Allies,
especially the British. They were afraid that we might be resentful of their
country's collapse in 1940. They feared that our reaction might be something
like that of the Germans towards Italy when Italy collapsed. In
point of fact no such attitude was expressed, and whatever the troop id and
felt among themselves I heard no British soldier flinging recriminations
at the French in the whole march through France.
the interior the maquis had risen in strength…
At different times they cut all the railways leading into Paris. Enemy divisions
crossing France were forced
to proceed as though through hostile country, with armed reconnaissance units
on either flank. Pitched battles involving ten thousand men were being fought
in the south. All over France German ammunition dumps were being exploded,
bridges blown up, telegraph lines cut and German convoys waylaid. It was
no longer safe for German vehicles to travel through forests without escort.
Hundreds < miles behind the front the enemy garrisons found they had I
mount guard at night. Sabotage spread through the factories and the workshops
like a disease. Within a few weeks the maquis
were holding areas of France three or four
times the size of our bridgehead in Normandy. France was in a state
of open rebellion.
…Before the end
of 1940 they began to realize that there was something worse than war and
that was humiliation and injury in the spirit in defeat. This was the soil
of the resistance movement. It was first of all a revolt not so much against
the Germans, but against the concept of defeat, against themselves as they
were in 1940…
were most unusual. It was in a little village called Bricquebec that I finally got a chance to see them
close at hand. A series of wooden sheds had been wired off as a prisoners'
cage, and there were five separate compartments. German
officers. German NCOs. German
soldiers. A mixture of Russian, Polish and Czech
conscripts. And then an indeterminate collection
of Todt workers in civilian clothes, mostly Italian
and Spanish. A French crowd stood outside looking through the wire.
In the midst
of this babel each nationality behaved exactly
as you would have expected. The German officers and NCOs sat in taut and
rigid little groups. They looked across the heads of their guards and the
other prisoners, saying nothing. They did not even speak to each other. What
they wished to convey was perfectly clear: dignity, pride, contempt, indifference.
Strength in defeat. On the whole they succeeded
in this attitude. Or at least they succeeded in convincing themselves. The
guards were bored with it, and the other prisoners indifferent.
The German privates
were sleeping in rows, striking no attitudes, simply resting. When a new
truck-load of prisoners arrived, they were ordered to make room for them,
the Germans rose in a body. They moved three paces to the right. Then they
lay down again in rows. Quite possibly they would all have gone to sleep
simultaneously if someone had given the order.
Then the Russians
and the Poles. They stood like
cattle, dumb, slow and heavy. One man sang a lament. The rest simply stood
and waited. They were given biscuits and meat, and they showed no reaction
except to reach out and take the food. Had they been led out and shot one
by one they would probably have shown no surprise. In every way the situation
was entirely beyond their comprehension.
Then the Italians. They came clamouring at the wire, ten of them talking together.
'You speak Italian? Ah, Merciful God, he speaks Italian. Excuse. Excuse. A great
service! The very greatest service! Will you explain to the American soldiers
that we did not fight? We did not fight at all. We were prisoners of the
Germans. They made us work. We are nothing whatever to do with the Germans.
We wish to fight the Germans. We wish to be free and go home. Jose and Giuseppe
here must return to Cherbourg to collect our
things. We had no time to collect our clothes. They will be gone only a short
time. Have you any cigarettes, any chocolate?'
Outside the cage
the French had been shaving the heads of two village girls who had slept
with the Germans. And now in the dusk they had come up to the gates to jeer
and spit at the Germans inside. They began thinking up new lines of invective
and the noise was considerable.
private on the gate was a good head and shoulders above the crowd. 'Aw.
Get the hell out of it,' he said at last, waving his gun.
That was the
outward scene in the prisoners' cage, and it made no sense at all. A dozen different nationalities. All of them reacting in different ways, pulling in different
directions, speaking different languages. And
yet an hour or two since they had all been fighting with a suicidal ferocity.
Pillboxes were being held long after their eventual destruction was a certainty.
The Russians had been firing right up to the last few yards before they threw
up their hands. And now here in the prisoners' cage there was complete disintegration,
an evident hatred of the Germans. As one group had marched in, a German officer
had stooped to pick up a fallen cigarette. Before his hand could reach it
a Pole ran forward and ground the butt into the mud. Then he turned and laughed
in the German's face.
I found an American
soldier who spoke Polish, and we began to talk to the prisoners, especially
one man who was more intelligent than the others. 'Why did I fight for the
Germans? Like to see my back? It's got scars across
it from the neck down to the arse. They hit me
there with a sword. Either you obeyed orders or you got no food. Certainly
I went on firing from the trench. There was a German NCO standing behind
me with a revolver. It wasn't enough just to shoot. You had to shoot straight.
If you didn't you got a bullet in the back. Don't
believe me. Ask the others. Like the Germans? I'd like to tear their guts
June 28th: The
commander of the “Wolga” Tartar Battalion, a
foreign unit, reported to the German army headquarters that he (the commander)
had been shot at by his own men and one hundred of them had deserted. The
battalion was withdrawn from die line.
Little by little
the story came out. The Turkestan carpenter, the
clerk from Lvov. The mechanic from Barcelona and the farmer's
boy who was born in Gorizia. These were the
children of occupied Europe, and it suddenly
became apparent that to ascribe to them the name of 'enemy,' or indeed the
name of anything, was a ridiculous over-simplification. The word 'conscript'
came nearest to their condition. But conscription in
what circumstances. Nothing had been seen like it in Europe since the Napoleonic
wars. Even that parallel was not complete enough. One began to have a vision
of the dark ages in Europe, of a period
infinitely less moral than the time of the Roman Empire. This was less
than a mercenary army. It was an impressed army. The soldier fought not out
of the voluntary desire for money, but out of fear of what the Germans would
do to him if he did not fight. He avoided the certainty of immediate punishment
from the Germans by accepting the chance of being hit by the Allies on the
One began to
follow the stages of Nazi conscription. They, the Germans, the master race,
the men with all the modern engines of war, had over-run the villages of
Europe. France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic States, Poland, White Russia, the Ukraine, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. Austria, Rumania and the rest. They came into
the villages in uniform, riding in armoured
cars. They were the overlords, the new feudal masters. They made a great
show in front of the unpolitical village boy.
They said: 'This is the new epoch. This is the era of the new god Adolph
Hitler. A new uniform and a gun for everyone who
wants to follow.' It was easy enough to dazzle the villager, Instead
of milking the cows every night he could swing along behind a military band.
He got a new rifle all to himself. There were sports and competitions. Adolph
Hitler wanted to build young healthy bodies. Up at dawn.
Exercises. Plenty of good
fresh food. Solemn and stirring parades.
The boy was one of a team now, an heroic team,
a crusader against Bolshevism. And off he went to the front.
Quite a few Letts and Croats and White Russians had been gathered
in this way. All volunteers. Germany was on the way
to victory, and they were marching with her. But as the war went on more
men were needed. It became necessary to visit the villages again. There were
a certain number of able-bodied men in every place. Now they were told: 'You
must play your part in the great revolution. We want workers and fighters.
We will pay good wages.' And then, when the volunteers did not come forward,
the threats. The unpolitical boy did not have
much choice. Either go with the Nazis or run away
and hide. It needed courage to do the latter. Food was becoming more and
more difficult to get in the village. Life was getting duller and more constricted.
Reluctantly many went off to the labour gangs
and the new regiments. Still it was not enough. More men were needed. This
time they were taken by force. You got a ticket saying you must report for
duty. There was no alternative. From one end of Europe to the other
the conscripts were forced into the machine. And finally you arrived at the
ludicrous anomaly of the Russian peasant firing at the American doughboy
in Normandy—a Russian peasant
who knew nothing of Stalinism or Hitlerism, who knew only that somehow he
had been led into a pillbox and told to fire.
For a full week
before we had arrived, this street fighting had been going on. Already three-quarters
of Paris had fallen to
the Resistance movement. The whole city had been secretly divided into resistance
zones, little underground cells that might be in garage or a back-street
I was looking
round for someone to guide me down towards tie left bank of the river when
one of the boys with an FFI arm->and stopped me. 'Come on,' he said. 'I'll
take you to our headquarters.'
'You speak English?'
'I'm in the RAF.'
It was the sort
of story that is impossible to absorb. Shot down over the Channel, the rescue
and the escape, three years wandering round Europe, the fight in
the Warsaw ghetto and then
Paris. 'I'm Australian,'
he said. 'In our group we have Spanish, Dutch, Poles and Portuguese as well
as the French.'
They lived in
a rambling garage-cum-workshop. At the gate the young Spaniard
was piling half a dozen wooden-handled German grenades into his car. 'I can't
make out how you work them,' he said. 'Do you pull this or this or what do
They had about
twenty prisoners, men and women, locked in a back room. All of them stood
up when we entered the room, and it was fairly clear that they expected to
die. More than half were French snipers. The attitude of the FFI youths towards
them was that of a workman in a butchery, who
will presently take such animals as he is directed to take, and kill them.
Within the hour they had received an order that all prisoners must be handed
over to the incoming Allied authorities. It neither pleased nor displeased
them. To kill or not to kill. It was all the same
so long as these pieces were taken off the chessboard of Paris. The prisoners
were without identity any more. To the FFI youths who had captured them they
were merely abstract evil; so many capsules of poison which were pleasant
to display as the measure of their success in the fighting.
said in English: 'We have been conducting our courts martial in the next
room. Last night we had a dentist who used to give his patients away to the
Gestapo. We took evidence on his behalf before we shot him.'
Mad with excitement the million
people of Brussels rushed out into the open,
screaming and shouting and waving flags. The joy of Paris was a pallid thing compared
to this extravaganza.
witnessed the population of Brussels and other Belgian
cities, as well as in France if not more
brutally, avenged themselves on POWs and women which marred their reputations
by sleeping with the occupiers. Whilst the Belgians had suffered less than
French of the occupation and war their hatred towards the Germans was limitless
and reached pathological proportions. However, the Belgians reserved hostile
feelings towards the Soviet Russia too.
Here, as in France and Italy, there was a
powerful and wholly ignorant fear of Russia. I dined at
many a little bourgeois home where they shook their heads apprehensively
over the advances Of the Red Army. Ces
gens-la; they were
bad for business. Bad for the Church too,
if it came to that. It was the one part of Goebbels's
propaganda that had sunk home. The little doctor had an instant success whenever
he broadcast, as he did so well, a line like this 'You will not listen. We
know you will not listen, you Christian peoples of Europe. But one day
you will have to listen. You say you are opposed to Nazi Germany. Very well. What is the alternative? The Bolsheviks. Don't believe the Americans and the
British will come and save you. The Red wave is breaking towards you from
the east. One man and one man alone stands against
it: the German grenadier at Kiev (or Warsaw or Odessa according to
the news). If he fails then everything goes. You can take your choice, you
It sounded pretty
good stuff to a lot of people at home in America and England as well.
The truth was
of course that what the people feared was not so much Russia but the rise
of their own Communists. In Belgium as in France and Italy the swing to
the left was very marked. Since the war had placed the
emphasis less on money and more on human energy the labour
organisations had grown greatly in power.
There was no unemployment in Europe during the occupation.
The demand for man-power grew stronger and stronger. And
with it the strength of the left. Presumably as soon as the war was
over good old peace-time unemployment would start again and the influence
of the left diminish. But the little Belgian and French capitalist by no
means felt sure of this happy issue of affairs. He feared that in some way
the local worker would join hands with the terrible Bolsheviks who were,
as the good doctor said, surging on from the east. And then where were you?
What happened to business then? A minor stockbroker cried hotly to me over
the black-market oysters one night: 'These strikers in the Belgian mines.
I would put a machine-gun at the pithead and force them to go down.'
The main trouble
probably was that none of these people had received one iota of reliable
information about Russia for more than
five years. When one told them that Russia was now probably
one of the most nationalistic and conservative countries in the world, that
class distinctions were being rapidly revived under Stalin and private ownership
was well on its way back, they regarded this as a joke.
That was the
first thing we learned inside a week of living with the Germans; they expected
to be ill-treated. They had an immense sense, not of guilt, but of defeat.
If a man's shop was entered and looted by Allied soldiers he never dreamed
of protesting. He expected it. And the reason for this was that he was afraid.
Mortally and utterly afraid. And so the German
made the ordinary normal reaction of a man overcome by fear; he ran to obey.
.Hi was obsequious. And the women turned away their heads. They walked
past with wooden despairing expressions on their faces, a though they were
being pursued by someone. One saw few tears For the Germans the catastrophe
had gone far beyond that point Tears were a useless protest in front of the
enormity of the shelling and the bombing. And so one was always surrounded
b; these set wooden faces.
car got stuck in the mud. At a word the Germans ran to push it out. Once
a German came up to my drive and said: 'The Russian prisoners of war are
looting my shop. Wil the English soldiers please
come and see they do it in an orderly manner?' It never occurred to him to
contest the right of the Russians to loot. He was simply anxious to avoid
the needles smashing of his windows as well.
Moorehead accidentally found himself amidst a debate between a German pastor and an American officer who was trying to find in a bomb shelter occupied by German civilians some space for refugees. The pastor agreed to help and show vacant premises.
'I was in England before the war,'
the pastor said. 'I had many friends there. This is the room for the air
raid sirens. We were very much relieved when the bombers came and then passed
on to some other place.' He was making a big effort to speak English slowly
and carefully. 'Here is the first-aid. Here the ventilator room.' In each
room the attendants jumped up when we entered and stood to attention.
'I must apologize
for the lavatories,' the pastor said. 'Since the Russian prisoners went there
has been no one to keep them clean.'
I asked why the
Germans themselves could not clean their own lavatories, but he apparently
did not understand and went on with some other subject. After half an hour
I for one could stand no more, and we moved through the lower decks of the
shelter towards the entrance.
East of Rhine
For a few weeks—before
it was stopped altogether—the looting was widespread and heavy. German cars
by the hundred were dragged out of garages and hiding-places under the straw
in the barns, painted khaki and driven away. Cameras and watches and revolvers
were taken automatically from prisoners and frequently from civilians. Wine
was fair booty for everybody. In nearly every town the shops were broached,
the distilleries emptied. Even pictures were stripped from their frames.
This was quite different from the German manner. The Germans had looted systematically
and officially. They had seized not odd bottles of wine but a whole year's
crop. They seized the products of entire factories. They seized rolling stock
from the railways, gold from the banks, iron from
the mines; and in the end they stole the conquered people themselves.
As soon as we
crossed the Rhine we were confronted
by a problem almost as big as Germany herself; the
millions upon millions of semi-slave workers. With every mile we went into
Germany they grew more
numerous on the roads: little groups of Frenchmen, then Dutch, then Belgians
and Czechs and Poles and Italians, and finally, in overwhelming majority,
the Russians in their bright green uniforms with 'SU'—Soviet Union—painted in white
on their backs. Half the nationalities of Europe were on the march, all moving
blindly westward along the roads, feeling their way by some common instinct
towards the British and American lines in the hope of finding food and shelter
and transportation there. These millions lived a vagabond existence. At every
bend of the road you came on another group, bundles on their shoulders, trudging
along the ditches in order to avoid the passing military traffic. The Germans
were terrified of the Russians. Again and again women ran out to us to cry:
'Can't you leave a guard with us? The Russians have taken everything. The
next lot will smash up the place if they find nothing.' More than that the German women feared for themselves.
Cases of rape increased. The looting increased. And still that vast moving
human frieze kept pouring down the roads, constantly augmenting its numbers
with every new town that was captured.
One began to
get a new picture of Nazi Germany. What we were seeing was something from
the dark ages, the breaking up of a medieval slave state. All
the Nazi flags and parades and conquests in the end were based on this one
thing—slave labour. There was something monstrous
about the wired-in worker's compounds and sentry boxes round each factory,
something that was in defiance of all accepted ideas of civilization. As
yet, in early April, we had only begun to glimpse the extent and depth of
the Nazi terror system, but already one sensed the utter disregard of the
value of human life in Germany. And now the
Reich was collapsing at its roots because the slaves were melting away.
One saw mostly
women in the country towns and in the farms as we passed on; nearly all the
German men were either at the front or prisoners or dead. And the slaves
were on the road. There was no longer anyone to sow the crop, no one to reap
the harvest later on. Here and there a foreigner chose to remain with his
German master. Indeed, on the whole the country labourers
got sufficient food and they looked healthy enough. But nothing on earth
would have kept the industrial workers in the factories and the mines once
the Germans had gone. First they rushed out into the streets to loot. Then
they took the road to the west until they drifted into hastily made British
and American camps where some attempt was made to sort them out and send
Liquor at the
moment of liberation caused as much uproar as anything else. The Poles and
Russians especially in their first wild moments of freedom would run roaring
on the hated factory machines and smash them with crowbars. When they found
a distillery or one of the many dumps of wine stolen from France there were scenes
to break the heart of the connoisseur.
In Belsen concentration
We saw the women
guards first. A British sergeant threw open the cell doors and some twenty
women wearing dirty grey skirts and tunics were sitting and lying on the
floor. “Get up,” the sergeant roared in English. They got up and stood to
attention in a semi-circle round the room and we looked at them. Thin ones, fat ones, scraggy ones and muscular ones; all of
them ugly and one or two of them distinctly cretinous.
I pointed out one, a big woman with bright golden hair and a bright pink complexion.
'She was Kramer's
(camp commandant – VK) girl friend,' the sergeant growled.
'Nice lot, aren't they?'
There was another
woman in a second room with almost delicate features, but she had the same
set staring look in her eyes. The atmosphere of the reformatory school and
the prison was inescapable.
Outside in the
passageway there was a large blackboard ruled off in squares with white lines.
Down the left-hand side of the board was a list of nationalities - Poles,
Dutch, Russians,' and so on. Spaced along the top of the board was a list
of religions and political faiths—'Communist, Jew, Atheist.' From the board
one might have seen at a glance just how many prisoners were in the camp
from each nation and how they were subdivided politically and religiously.
However, most of the numbers appeared to have been rubbed off, and it was
difficult to make out the totals exactly. Germans seemed to make up the majority
of the prisoners. After them Russians and Poles.
A great many were Jews. As far as one could decipher there had been half
a dozen British there, one or two Americans. There had been something like
fifty thousand prisoners altogether…
The crowds of
men and women thickened as we went farther into the camp. The litter of paper
and rags and human offal grew thicker, the smell less and less bearable.
At the entrance soldiers were unloading trucks filled with wooden latrines,
but these had not yet been placed about the camp, so many hundreds of half-naked
men and women were squatting together in the open, a scene such as you sometimes
see in India—except that here it was not always possible to distinguish men
from women, or indeed to determine whether they were human at all.
We drove through
the filth in cars and, presently emerging on to an open space of yellow clayey
soil, we came on a group of German guards flinging bodies into a pit about
a hundred feet square. They brought the bodies up in hand-carts, and as they
were flung into the grave a British soldier kept a tally of the numbers.
When the total reached five hundred a bulldozer driven by another soldier
came up and started nudging the earth into the grave. There was a curious
pearly colour about the piled-up bodies, and
they were small like the bodies of children. The withered skin was sagging
over the bones, and all the normal features by which you know a human being
had practically disappeared. Having no stomach for this sort of thing I was
only able to look for a second or two, but the SS guards and even the British
soldiers there appeared to have grown used to the presence of death and
to be able to work in it without being sick.
are doing a wonderful job,' the captain said. 'They are in the huts all day
sorting out the living bodies from the dead, and it's not easy sometimes
to tell the difference. Of course there are many who are just hopeless and
they are simply left. But they are saving a lot now. We have got in all the
food we want— two meals a day, at ten and six. Come on and have a look at
one of the huts. We will go to the women first.'
It was a single-storey,
rectangular wooden building, I suppose about a hundred feet long. Wooden
bunks ran in tiers up to the ceiling, and there was a narrow passage just
wide enough to allow you to pass through. Since the majority of the women
there were too weak to move and had no attention whatever the stench was
nauseating. Hurrying through, handkerchief to nose, one saw nothing but livid
straining faces and emaciated arms and legs under the filthy bed-clothes
on either side. Many were using their last strength to moan feebly for help.
These enforced animals were piled one on top of the other to the ceiling,
sometimes two to a bunk.
An old hag somewhat
stronger than the others was standing at the farther door. 'I'm twenty-one,'
she whispered. 'No, I don't know why they put me in here. My husband is a
doctor at the front. I'm German but not Jewish. I said that I did not want
to enlist in the women's organization and they put me in here. That was eighteen
'I've had enough
of this,' I said to the captain.
'Come on,' he
said. 'You've got to go through one of the men's huts yet. That's what you're
It was if anything
more rancid than the one I had seen, but this time I was too sick with the
stench to notice much except the sound of the voices: 'Doctor—doctor.'
As we returned
towards the entrance the people round us were noticeably better in health
than those at the pits and the huts. As they were able to walk some instinct
drew the people away from the charnel houses and up and out towards the entrance
and the ordinary sane normal world outside. It was all like a journey down
to some Dantesque pit, unreal, leprous and frightening.
And now as one emerged into the light again one's first coherent reactions
were not of disgust or anger or even, I think, of pity. Something else filled
the mind, a frantic desire to ask: 'Why? Why? Why? Why had it happened?'
With all one's soul one felt: 'This is not war. Nor is it anything to do
with here and now, with this one place at this one moment. This is timeless
and the whole world and all mankind is involved
in it. This touches me and I am responsible. Why has it happened? How did
we let it happen?'
We stood there
in a group, a major from the commandos, a padre, three or four correspondents,
having at first nothing to say, and then gradually and quietly asking one
another the unspoken question.
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Was it sadism?
No, on the whole not. Or if it was sadism, then
it was sadism of a very indirect and unusual kind. Relatively little torture
was carried out at this camp. The sadist presumably likes to make some direct
immediate act which inflicts pain on other people. He could not obtain much
satisfaction from the slow, long process of seeing people starve. Then again
the Germans were an efficient people. They needed man-power. Can one imagine
anything more inefficient than letting all this valuable labour go to rot? The prisoners in Belsen were not even
obliged to work. They were simply dumped in here and left to make what shift
they could with a twice-daily diet of turnip stew. Incidentally this lack
of work probably led to the break-up of the prisoners' morale as much as
The Germans too
had a normal fear of disease spreading among themselves.
And yet they let these thousands of bodies lie on the ground. It's true there was not a great deal of typhus in the
camp, but it had already broken out when the German commanders approached
the British and offered to cede the camp under the terms of a truce.
It was not torture
which had killed the prisoners. It was neglect. The sheer
indifference of the Nazis. One began to see that the most terrible
thing on earth is not positive destruction nor
the perverse desire to hurt and destroy. The worst thing that can happen
to you is for the master to say: 'I do not care about you any more. I am
indifferent.' Whether you washed or ate or laughed or died—none of this was
of any consequence any more, because you as a person had no value. You were
a slug on the ground, to be crushed or not to be crushed, it made no difference.
And having become
attuned and accustomed to this indifference the guards were increasingly
less affected by the suffering of the people around them. It was accepted
that they should die. They were Russians. Russians die. Jews die. They were
not even enemies. They were disease. Could you mourn or sympathize with the
death throes of a germ?
Now here is where
the evidence of Kramer, the camp commandant, comes in. To consider Kramer
calmly I think we have first got to rid ourselves temporarily of our memory
of that published picture of him shuffling across the yard in shackles.
And we have to forget for the moment the tide he was given through the world:
'The Monster of Belsen.' A friend of mine, a
trained intelligence officer and interrogator in the British army, went
into the whole question very carefully with Kramer, and this was Kramer's
'I was swamped.
The camp was not really inefficient before you crossed the Rhine. There was running
water, regular meals of a kind—I had to accept what food I was given for
the camp, and distributed it the best way I could. But then they suddenly
began to send me train-loads of new prisoners from all over Germany. It was impossible
to cope with them. I appealed for more staff, more food. I was told this
was impossible; I had to carry on with what I had. Then as a last straw the
Allies bombed the electric plant which pumped our water. Cart-loads of food
were unable to reach the camp because of the Allied fighters. Then things
got really out of hand. In the last six weeks I have been helpless. I did
not even have sufficient staff to bury the dead, let alone segregate the
'But how did
you come to accept a job like this?' he was asked. The reply: 'There was no question of my accepting
it. I was ordered. I am an officer in the SS and I obey orders. These people
were criminals and I was serving my Fuhrer in a crisis by commanding this
camp. I tried to get medicines and food for the prisoners and I failed. I
was swamped. I may have been hated, but I was doing my duty.'
There was some
truth in this last. Not only were the prisoners fond of hurling missiles
at Kramer since we had arrived but his own guards turned on him as well.
Kramer asked the British authorities that he should be segregated. He was
told that in this event he would have to be shackled and to this he agreed.
Who then was
responsible for Belsen, and for that
matter all the other camps? The SS guards? They
say they were ordered. They hated the work, but disobedience to Kramer meant
death. Kramer says he was in precisely the same position. And so presumably
do all the other Kramers above him, until you
reach Himmler. What does Himmler say? Himmler says
he is serving his Fuhrer. The Fuhrer of course was innocent and knew nothing
about the vulgar details. (Quite a number of Germans assured us of that.)
But — we can imagine Himmler
saying—it was vital to protect the Fuhrer from his declared enemies inside
the Reich — the Jewish Bolsheviks who would have cheerfully murdered him.
At this dire crisis for Germany and the Party
one could not be too nice about the details—possibly some people were treated
a little too harshly, but one could not afford to take chances. The Nazis
were perfectly prepared to treat these prisoners with humanity, but the enemies
of Germany made this impossible.
They destroyed communications, they blocked the food supply Naturally the camps suffered.
But the people
of Germany? Why had they
allowed this thing to be? Why had they not protested? The average German
answers: In the first place we did not know these camps existed Secondly
how could we have protested? What possibly could we have done? The Nazis
were too strong.
Very well then,
why did you not protest when the Nazis were rising to power?
How could we foretell that the Nazis would end with this horror? When they
first came to power they embarked on a programme
that was excellent for Germany: new roads,
modern buildings and machines. It seemed
rational and good at the beginning.
When we realized that Hitler was turning to war it was already too late.
the Nazis had
claimed our children. They were Nazified in the schools. A parent would be denounced
by his own child if he spoke against the Nazis. Little by little we were
overwhelmed and in the end it was too late. There was no point at which we
could have effectively protested. Why did not foreign countries which had
the power check the Nazis soon enough? If only you had attacked us before
the Nazis became strong.
And so the thing
is thrown back upon the world. No one anywhere is willing to take responsibility.
Not the guard or the torturer. Not Kramer. Not Herr Woolf.
They were all ordered. Not Himmler or Hitler
(the end justified the means: they were fighting to rid the world of the
terrible menace of Jewish Bolshevism — they were ordered by their high sense
of duty). Not the German people. They too had to obey. And finally, not the world. Is England Germany's keeper?
That is the line
of argument which we have heard as observers. of
this final eclipse of Germany.
of Germany came not with
a bang but a whimper, following no precedent in other wars. Indeed the act
of surrender—or rather the several acts of surrender—did not do much more
than underline a fait accompli and give the semblance
of authority to a situation that was frankly chaotic.
The Germany in which we
found ourselves travelling at the end of April
presented a scene that was almost beyond human comprehension. Her capital
lost and almost razed, and nothing to give that ash-heap significance beyond
a name, a history and the presence of a lunatic who was about to make his
last gesture to a colossal vanity—his death. Around us fifty great cities
lay in ruins, or at least in partial ruins. Many of them had no electric
light or power or gas or running water, and no coherent system of government.
Like ants in an ant-heap the people scurried over the ruins, diving furtively
into cellars and doorways in search of loot. Like ants you would see women
scuttling down a side-track with their bundles only to be blocked by debris
and then turn irresolutely back, shoving and bumping against one another.
Everyone was on the move, and there was a frantic ant-like quality about
their activity. Life was sordid, aimless, leading nowhere. Every house in
every unbombed village was stacked to the roof
with city refugees living on soup and potatoes. From the Ruhr across Germany an occasional
factory chimney smoked, but ninety per cent of the country's industry was
at a standstill. No trains ran. Every family was bereaved or broken up. The
housing situation was impossible and likely to get worse. A very large part
of the population was simply wandering on the roads with the millions of
foreigners. And to these was now added the German army itself. A mass flight
from the Russians towards the Elbe and the Anglo-American
lines began. Officers stripped off their uniforms and begged or stole civilian
clothes from the nearby houses. Mass fear had gripped them so greatly that
when aircraft appeared in the sky the shout went up: 'The Russians! The Russians!'
and the mob would break out in panic across the countryside.
The ports were
at a standstill, and such shipping as put out
into the Baltic sailed aimlessly for a day or two and then came back to the
shore for the inevitable surrender. This time the German navy was so disorganized
it had not even the will to scuttle. And unlike the last war the naval morale
was the highest of the three services. The Luftwaffe had long since been
beaten down, much of its personnel drafted haphazardly into the army, where
the rot had gone far beyond recall.
of the Nazi Party was leaving a vacuum; there was no movement, either religious or political or military or dynastic,
able to assume control at the last moment. Nowhere in the world was there
any sanctuary for a German, and so the average German made a poor man's choice:
he decided to surrender to the Anglo-Americans if he could. One had to be
in Germany at this moment
to appreciate the blind and universal fear of the Russians. In every soldier's
mind there was a fixed certainty that if he were taken by the Reds he would
be starved, beaten, sent to Siberia and there worked
to an early death. In every civilian's mind there was an equal certainty
that his women would be seized and raped, his goods impounded or destroyed
and himself condemned to some unthinkable inhuman
end. Dr. Goebbels had achieved his last success.
He had so planted the idea of the terror of the Bolshevik hordes that when
the hordes actually appeared every German lost hope and the frantic panic
to the west began.
As Moorehead witnessed the German generals
did their best to surrender to the Allies not to the Soviet Army. In one
case Montgomery himself refused such a proposal. He said: “Those armies are
fighting the Russians, so they must surrender to the Russians. I am not going
to have any dealings…” It went to the point when the German generals gave
themselves up having found from the Allies that their units had already been
overrun by the Soviets! Up to the last moment the Nazis tried to make a separate
deal with the Allies…
Moorehead never had any doubts
that it was the Soviet Army which had borne the brunt of fighting against
the Nazi Germany
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