Posted Monday, August 27, 2001

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All this really happened -- but in reverse. It happened in Germany, and we, the British occupying forces, carried it out.


Daily Mail

London, Augfust 25, 2001



Rape, torture, execution and the horrors of interrogation camps. A new book paints a chilling picture of Germany under British rule in the aftermath of World War II

Christopher Hudson


TRY to imagine Britain occupied by a victorious Germany after World War II. A young boy is executed for displaying a picture of Churchill on his birthday.

Theft carries the death penalty, so does possession of any kind of firearm.

Firing squads are expensive. Hanging wastes time. The Nazi Penal Branch asks permission to use the guillotine, which can carry out six single executions in 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, internment camps have sprung up across the country. Almost 40,000 British civilians and prisoners of war, men and women aged 16-70 have been swept up into these camps and are held without charge or expectation of a trial.

They include not only 'war criminals', profiteers and anti-Nazi agitators, but anyone who 'ridicules, damages or destroys' German culture, along with any persons 'considered dangerous to the Occupation or its objectives', even if they have not committed any offence.

One English mother of four has been imprisoned for a year because she hid in a ditch to snatch a word with her husband who was out on a working party.

Conditions in these camps are brutal. Inmates sleep in their clothes, packed five at a time like sardines on beds constructed from old pieces of wood.

There is so little to eat that the majority of them are emaciated.

Family visits are restricted to 30 minutes every three months.

Internees are frequently kept in dark cellars to prepare them for interrogation. According to a report compiled by a courageous German bishop, they are 'terribly beaten, kicked, and so mishandled that traces can be seen for weeks afterwards.

'The notorious Third Degree methods of using searchlights on victims and exposing them to high temperatures are also applied.' All this really happened -- but in reverse. It happened in Germany, and we, the British occupying forces, carried it out.

According to a new book by Patricia Meehan, historian and former BBC TV producer and documentarist who worked in Germany in 1945, the first few years of our Occupation were tarnished by deeds which would not have seemed out of place in Hitler's Third Reich.

Besides internment centres and holding camps for returned prisoners of war, there were also secret camps known by the initials DIC -- Direct Interrogation Centres.

One day in February 1947, two of the inmates of No.74 DIC (Bad Nenndorf) were dumped at an Internee Hospital. One patient was skeletal, suffering from frostbite, unable to speak; the other was unconscious, with no discernible pulse -- cold, skeletal and covered in 'thick cakes of dirt; frostbite to arms and legs'.

BOTH men died within hours. A third, who had been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, committed suicide while undergoing interrogation. The resulting investigation uncovered horror stories of deprivation amounting to torture. Men were treated for injuries without anaesthetic.

One prisoner, after eight days of solitary confinement, was put in an unheated punishment cell in midwinter. Buckets of cold water were thrown into the cell which the prisoner had to mop up with a rag.

His jacket and boots were removed, and he had to stand with bleeding feet for about ten hours in extreme cold on a concrete floor. Finally he had to crawl on hands and knees to interrogation.

The Camp Commandant, Medical Officer and three interrogators were suspended and charged. But charges were dropped or reduced to negligence.

All three courts-martial, including the Commandant's, petered out, and the men were allowed to leave the service.

True, Bad Nenndorf was an extreme case, which made the headlines. And after fighting Germany in two world wars, it was hardly surprising if there were outbreaks of vindictiveness among British officers who had fought and suffered in them.


CERTAINLY Hitler and Himmler would not have concerned themselves with the legality of such crimes.

Nevertheless, the very fact that this barbarism could have gone unnoticed or neglected by higher authorities for nearly two years is evidence of the chaos which engulfed defeated Germany, upon which no number of bureaucrats and administrators could at first impose order.

After Germany surrendered in May 1945, it was divided into sectors, with Russians in the east, Americans in the south, French in the west and the British occupying the northwest, from Bonn to Hamburg.

Millions of Germans were on the roads -- women, children and old people, pushing bicycles, prams and carts, or crowding into cattle wagons, to escape the Red Army which was killing and raping as it advanced, laying waste to millions of homes and driving soldiers and civilians alike back to forced labour in the USSR.

Meanwhile, thousands of Displaced Persons -- Germany's slave labourers from the East -- were roving the countryside, raping and pillaging, driven by hunger and vengeance.

Hatred for the Germans knew no bounds. Thousands of them died in Polish camps. In Czech camps, babies were drowned in latrines while their mothers were made to watch; German doctors were made to crawl and eat human excrement.

Hence the panic-driven migration to the western sectors, where 50 million Germans crowded into territory where 38 million had lived before the war.

Britain inherited the most heavily populated zone. Hamburg, the second biggest city after Berlin, lay in ruins. From July 24 to 29, 1943, five RAF raids had created a firestorm which rose two and a half miles above the city.

In those five nights, most of Hamburg was destroyed. Some 750,000 people were made homeless, and up to 150,000 killed -- many more than died from air raids in Britain in the whole of World War II.

When the occupying forces arrived in Hamburg, they discovered a land of cave-dwellers.

Thousands of people were living in windowless concrete air-raid shelters; thousands more crammed into cellars under the rubble or else climbed a ladder into rooms suspended in some teetering ruin, amid falling masonry.

Water supply was a standpipe in the ruins for a few hours a day, for those lucky enough to have a receptacle which could hold liquid. There were no knives, forks, pots, pans, needles, scissors, shoelaces, soap or household medicines.

Urban Germany had become a nation of rag-and-bone people, dragging little trailers after them in case they spotted something in the rubble, and rooting in dustbins for food which the newly-arrived occupying forces had thrown away.

The human response of British servicemen might have been one of sympathy, but by order of the London government, the C-in-C of the British Zone, Field Marshal Montgomery, was ordered to enforce a strict policy of 'non-fraternisation'.

'You must keep clear of Germans -- man, woman and child -- unless you meet them in the course of duty,' he instructed. 'You must not walk with them or shake hands or visit their homes.' There was to be no smiling, no playing with children; (soldiers were put on a charge for 'permitting children to climb on an Army vehicle').

General Eisenhower, in the U.S. sector, thought this self-defeating -- how were the Allies supposed to influence the Germans if they could not speak to little children?

It took Montgomery three months to persuade London of the sense of this, and it was another three months before the Cabinet cancelled the non-fraternisation order.

Relations immediately eased between the conquerors and the conquered, although a system of apartheid remained in place.

British and Germans travelled in separate carriages on the Under- ground. They did not worship together, or see films together, or sit together to listen to music. Officers' wives attending dances would have to be warned in advance if Germans were present.

It was unnatural; more than that, it put a brake on every aspect of administering Germany.

In May 1947 a new instruction was handed down: 'We should behave towards the Germans as the people of one Christian and civilised race towards another whose interests in many ways converge with our own and for whom we no longer have any ill-will.' The trouble was that it had been drummed into British personnel going out to the British Zone that the Germans were a race of pariahs.

In November 1945, the Foreign Office had set out the principles by which Germany should be governed: 'The primary purpose of the JACKBOOT Occupation is destructive and preventive, and our measures of destruction and prevention are only limited by consideration for (1) the security and wellbeing of the forces of Occupation, (2) prevention of unrest among the German people, (3) broad considerations of humanity.' The consequence was that in the early years all Germans were regarded as equally guilty, except by a handful of German specialists.

Ignorance started at the top. The new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, had not forgotten his time as an infantry officer in the trenches of World War I.

He once confided in the late Lord Longford that he had always disliked Germans very much, but that he and his wife had once had a nice German maid.

His Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, explained: 'I try to be fair to them but I 'ates them, really.' Neither of them ever visited the British Occupied Zone.

British attitudes towards Germans had hardened since the pre-war maxim that: 'All Germans are intelligent, honourable and pro-Hitler, but never more than two of these three.' Media hostility played its part.

Several newspaper correspondents in Germany were under tacit instructions not to send back reports which were complimentary to the Germans -- a line which did not really change until the Queen's visit in 1965.

Three factors contributed to the failure of the British administration to get to grips with the situation in the Occupied Zone despite the efforts of the native population to help.

The first was a diktat laid down to the Allies by President Roosevelt that all Nazi party members were to be excluded from public office and from important positions in private enterprise.


HE WAS told that party membership had been virtually a condition of employment in most of the German civil service, and that whole new departments would have to be recruited and trained up. But Roosevelt was unyielding.

The second was that the existence of a genuine opposition to Hitler within Germany, which had culminated in the failed July 1944 plot on his life, had been concealed from the British public for propaganda reasons during the war; it was easier to rally arms against an undivided evil.

Nor did people recall the 20 million Germans who had voted against Hitler in the last election before the war. This left the Zone administrators with no more sophisticated a view of the German people than was provided in a booklet handed out to all new arrivals.

Entitled The German Character, it explained how the Germans 'stress fanatical willpower, work and sacrifice' and described their sadism, fatalism and sentimentality, warning that to 'try and be kind or conciliatory will be regarded as weakness'.

Thoughtful British officials might have raised an eyebrow at this, but -- which was the third factor -- recruits to the central administration of the British Zone, known as the Control Commission Germany (CCG), tended not to be of high calibre.

They included demobbed servicemen with nowhere to go, officers who could not find a good job in 'civvy street', and in the words of a Foreign Office memo, 'retired drain-inspectors, unsuccessful businessmen and idle ex-policemen'.

Very few of them could speak German. Encouraged to believe that non-Nazis were as dangerous as Nazis, they kept all Germans at arm's length.

No one could apply for public employment who had not been de-nazified, which meant they had to fill in a form demanding their record of employment and income, and their memberships of every party, group, club, union or institute since Hitler came to power.

More than one million of these forms were issued. Checking them became a nightmare for the CCG officials, who knew no German and could not conceive the reality of life under a dictatorship.

Anybody who had not risked death by openly resisting the Nazi authorities became liable to dismissal or even internment. The process meant that Germans with invaluable knowledge and experience were being removed from their posts.

The Germans joked about Hitler's 1,000-year Reich -- 12 years of Nazism and 988 years of de-nazification. The CCG took the point. Soon it was no longer necessary to de-nazify all the typists, only the head typist.

Finally, in October 1947, the task was handed over to the German Lander or local government areas, to sort out properly.

There was plenty left to administer. It was a condition of the peace treaty that swathes of German industrial plant had to be dismantled and equipment destroyed.

Meanwhile the CCG regulated matters which even the Nazis had never interfered with. And even songs came under scrutiny in case they had links to the Nazis.

By the end of 1946, the CCG numbered 24,785 personnel, their American opposite numbers merely 5,008.

Overmanning brought boredom, drunkenness and corruption to the CCG as well as to servicemen. They were, after all, living in a country where everything could be bartered.

German food rations averaged 1,500 calories a day: too much to die on but not enough to live comfortably. Cigarettes were the only viable currency and all sales were black market.

Even girls from good families found that they had nothing to offer except their bodies -- either that or join the 'rubble ladies' who cleared the roads and ruins and emptied basements of half-decomposed corpses.

There were three women to every man. In Berlin, by December 1946, half a million women were selling sex for Western goods.

In the British zone, where one cigarette was worth five marks and troops had a free weekly allowance of 50 (plus chocolate and soap), 80 per cent of the girls suffered from VD, and penicillin had to be flown in from Britain.

On the grounds that the standard of morality of German women was so low, the British Army and Government agreed that troops should officially be excused from paying maintenance for any offspring that they conceived.

The Army C-in-C responded to the scandal by organising 'Leadership Courses' and early morning runs.

So much negligence, and so much callousness. But it has to be weighed against the loathing that existed for all things German -- a loathing which was being deepened by revelations of Nazi atrocities.

Newsreel of the death camps had been seen across the Western world.

Unlike eastern Europeans, the British in occupied Germany had no bloodlust for revenge.

AND their behaviour, even the worst of it, has to be set against the plans Hitler had for Occupied Britain, which decreed that Britain's entire able-bodied male population aged 17-45 would be dispatched to the Continent, thus bringing the UK effectively to a standstill.

And, slowly, some of the right decisions were made.

With a gigantic effort, German education in the British Zone was put back on its feet and the years of Nazi indoctrination overcome.

In June 1948 the three Western allies introduced the new currency, the Deutschmark, thus in a stroke destroying the black market and allowing shopkeepers to put goods on their shelves for sale in real money.

Finally, in July 1951, after six years, came the formal announcement of the end of 'the state of war with Germany'. The Army stayed on, but the Occupation was at an end.

A STRANGE Enemy People: Germans Under The British 1945-50, by Patricia Meehan, will be published by Peter Owen Publishers in September at GBP 17.99.
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