this really happened -- but in
reverse. It happened in
Germany, and we, the British
occupying forces, carried it
London, Augfust 25, 2001
THE BRITISH JACKBOOT
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Meanwhile, thousands of Displaced
Persons -- Germany's slave labourers from
the East -- were roving the countryside,
raping and pillaging, driven by hunger and
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Finally, in October 1947, the task was
handed over to the German Lander or local
government areas, to sort out
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
There were three women to every man. In
Berlin, by December 1946, half a million
women were selling sex for Western
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
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
Newsreel of the death camps had been
seen across the Western world.
Unlike eastern Europeans, the British
in occupied Germany had no bloodlust for
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
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
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
A STRANGE Enemy People:
Germans Under The British 1945-50, by
Patricia Meehan, will be published by
Peter Owen Publishers in September at