Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945

Hastings, Max

Vintage, 2004

pp. 163 - 164

“Many civilians, even in areas such as East Prussia and Silesia, which now lay close to the Red Army, found it difficult to comprehend the notion that their entire world was on the verge of extinction, that the streets in which they shopped, the farms on which they milked cows, the communities in which they had lived their lives, would forever be destroyed within a matter of months. It was hard for any ordinary person to discover the truth. And what was the truth, anyway? An alarming number of German people retained some hope that Hitler’s promised “wonder weapons” might yet avert defeat; that fissures among the Allies would undo Germany’s oppressors. Many Germans found it unthinkable that the Western allies, fellow citizens of a civilized universe, would allow their country to be delivered into the clutches of Stalin’s barbarian hordes. Few German civilians felt shame or guilt about what their nation had done to Europe. Instead, more than a decade of the most brilliantly orchestrated propaganda culture in history had imbued almost all, young and old, with a profound sense of grievance towards their country’s enemies and invaders, a passionate resentment against the Allied armies and air forces. Germany’s enemies were now destroying centuries of culture through bombing, while assisting the Red Army to reach the very frontiers of the Reich. As to such matters as concentration camps, Jews or even the plight of slave laborers who worked in factories within daily sight of the civilian workforce, most people shrugged that this was the regrettable order of things forced upon Germany by her persecutors. ’There was no guilt about what Germany had done in the world-or only a very little, at the very end,’ observed Gotz Bergander, a Dresden teenager who became a post-war historian.  They said: “Who started this war? Germany was only defending itself.”‘ A collective self-pity underpinned German behaviour in the last phase of the conflict, embracing all from Adolf Hitler to the humblest civilian. Bergander, an uncommonly thoughtful young man, once observed to a friend that everywhere the Germans had gone in Europe they had been uninvited. His friend shrugged: ‘That’s the way war is.’ Bergander said afterwards: ‘Everyone was convinced that we were surrounded by enemies.’”