On June 3rd, 1945, not quite a month after the Second World War had come to an end, I had my ninth birthday, but my parents had nothing with which to celebrate it. At that time we had a monotonous diet, not quite enough to eat, consisting of one slice of bread and a bowl of rhubarb soup, thickened with a bit of shredded, steam-dried potatoes, of which Dad had been able to bring home a small bag from work (he stole them). We had to make sure to make the supply last. That was not very difficult, because they tasted awful, but the rhubarb masked the taste a bit, especially because it had quite a bite to it, because there was no sugar to be had. Still, we ate that rhubarb soup, plus one slice of bread, breakfast, lunch and supper, for six weeks in a row. We ate nothing else, because there was nothing else, until the garden produced a little, but it did not produce potatoes, because we had not planted any. We had consumed the seed potatoes, and none could be obtained for planting.
Dad had worked at a plant that produced wall-paper paste flakes from potato starch extracted from shredded, steam-dried potatoes. His employer had a big supply of those, enough to keep production going for a while, until it was again possible to produce a potato crop. We could not buy any potatoes. There were none to be had, not for another year-and-half.
Food was almost impossible to get, Germany was in ruins and ashes, about 82 percent of my hometown (Duesseldorf) had been destroyed (as opposed to about 84 percent of Duesseldorf’s traditional rival city, Cologne, just 36 km upriver by rail and 42 km by road), and what food we could get was often far less than what our food-ration cards permitted us to purchase.
A maintenance food ration for an adult should be 2,400 calories a day, and our ration cards permitted us no more than half of that per day, but most of the time we could not get even that much food.
Natural gas (actually gas made by gasifying coal) that was the most popular fuel for cooking in many households, was not available, because the gas distribution lines had been damaged by the bombing, and besides, not enough coal could be supplied for the city’s cokeries to provide for the demand. Electricity was being made available only for two hours each day, one at noon and one at six in the evening. There was not enough coal to keep electricity generation going; only a small fraction of the demand could be satisfied. Coal for heating or for cooking stoves could not or only rarely be obtained. In the two winters that followed, we often could not heat our home, except for when my three older brothers managed to steal some coal out of sunken barges at the Rhine River or at the local RWE power generation station.
At one time a stack of railroad ties mysteriously appeared in the back of our little barn, behind the house, so that it could not be seen from the road. I remember the many hours I spent helping to cut them to stove size, and even that one of my uncles showed me how to sharpen the saw and to set it’s teeth, as it got dull from the sand and dirt that clung to those railroad ties. Still, those railroad ties helped us to be able to cook and kept us from freezing in our home. We would burn them in the kitchen stove and keep at least the kitchen warm for a good portion of the day. It made for a cozy family life.
Those memories were triggered by a video that someone had pointed out on Facebook, a video that shows archived colour footage of what the bombed-out city of Berlin looked like two months after the war.
The end of that war was 70 years ago, but most of the suffering that the Germans had to go through had really begun in earnest in about 1943, intensified after May 1945 and continued until July of 1948, when the Morgenthau Plan was replaced with the Marshall Plan. Over night, money was worth something again, the stores no longer were empty but full to bursting with goods, some of which we had not even dreamed about because we did not know them. There no longer was any rationing of food and other consumer goods. People began to wear new clothing again. We no longer had to walk barefooted, and re-construction started with a speed that was soon called the German Economic Miracle. Most importantly, people again had enough food and began to eat. Food became an all-consuming passion in which many freely indulged, and a lot of people found out what it is like to be fat or at least overweight — well, to put it more politely and with due respect to the demands of political correctness, many people transformed from being thin lines in the landscape to having a formidable physical presence that could not be overlooked.
Now a few photos that will illustrate that Berlin was far from being the only German city that got turned into rubble and ashes. The photos that follow here are from various cities that ranged in size from about a 100,000 to over a million people. Some of the names of the cities may be familiar to readers, others may not. More information on all of them can be found on the Internet. The amazing thing about that is that most people I try to ask about air raids on German cities know virtually nothing about them, even though the Internet puts information on that into reach at a moment’s notice.
Still, I was nine when the war came to an end. The memories of the war and especially of its aftermath are lasting and will last me until I am six-feet under, but I am proud to have helped with the re-emergence of Germany and its economy, out of ruins, rubble and ashes, and here is what the cities looked like before that re-emergence happened.
Lastly, I noticed that Facebook popped up a link to a video called “Hellstorm – Exposing The Real Genocide of Nazi Germany.” The link showed up in connection with a commentary I had posted in the discussion thread following the announcement of the 1945 Berlin footage mentioned in the beginning of this article. I think that Facebook must have made an error with that link, because it is without a doubt to a video that is politically incorrect. It has propagandistic overtones but provides a far more thorough summary of the last part of the war and its aftermath in Germany than I did in this article.
The video is propagandistic because it is one-sided. It mentions and documents almost exclusively only the suffering of the German population in the final days of the war and afterwards. Well, perhaps that is not so wrong, except that there were other people in Europe who suffered as extremely hard as the Germans did. One might argue that those people should receive empathy and compassion, too. Yes, they should, and they did, for seventy years. Now perhaps is the time to let the Germans tell a bit of their side as well.
That is the truth, and I could not really find anything extraordinarily wrong with anything in the video. Germans, as I well know, did starve for three long years after the war was over, and that was the result of a deliberate consensus by the Allied Forces to starve the Germans out of existence. That plan was succeeding, whether anyone wishes to consider that claim to be propaganda or not. Fortunately, there were elections, especially in the U.S., and saner minds prevailed. Someone with good-old American business sense had the insight that dead Europeans would not constitute a good market for American products. So they put about $15 per head into circulation in Europe and turned the Europeans into good and dedicated consumers of American products and ideology. That is good marketing, and you know what? Good marketing does not work without effective public relations, which, applied to promoting goods, services and ideology, is nothing other than good, old-fashioned propaganda. It certainly helped to get the American economy back out of the slump it was into after the high output of war materials came to a virtual standstill at the end of the Second World War. There was a high demand for American goods in Europe after the war.
Aside from that, if some of the Germans think that they must blow off a little steam, why not let them tell their side of the story? They can’t do it at home! The German authorities lock’m up in jail if they do. They were not the victors of that war. The history that has been and will be taught in the schools is the one being written by the victors, not the losers, Germany was the loser and is still an occupied country up until now, with no end in sight for that state of affairs.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, eh? What better way to keep an enemy-country close than to keep it occupied for seventy years and for as long after as possible. Mind you, some of the countries that are still being occupied now are not now and were not then enemy countries. They were allies and are occupied just as much and as hard as Germany is! What is it with that?