After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation
by Giles MacDonogh
Basic Books, 618 pp., $32.00
In the spring of 1945 Germany went down into chaos and defeat. In Germany itself, occupied by its enemies, slave labor, concentration camps, starvation, imprisonment without charge, and executions did not disappear with the Nazis. The revelations of the death camps, spread around the world in April 1945 by newsreel footage from Bergen-Belsen, seemed to give a free hand to those who were now in control. Giles MacDonogh has given himself the formidable task of chronicling the lives of Germans when they fell into the hands of their conquerors. In his book After the Reich he has done this in unsparing detail. It is a compendium of human misery. MacDonogh knows Germany and Austria well and has a wide acquaintance there. He has drawn on firsthand accounts and private memoirs which he has been able to add to his research into published sources.
As early as January 1943, the Allies had set their sights undeviatingly on an unconditional German surrender. Stalin thought that making such a demand was bad tactics but to Roosevelt and Churchill it carried an emotional charge that obscured all consideration of what it would entail. On July 26, 1944, an Instrument of Surrender was agreed to by the Allied governments: “The German Government and the German High Command…hereby announce Germany’s unconditional surrender.” But when the time came there was no German government to grovel to the Allies, and the High Command could only surrender militarily. The concept of unconditional surrender did not exist in law. So the Allies seized sovereignty for themselves. On June 5, 1945, a lavish ceremony was held in Berlin for the “Declaration of Defeat and Assumption of Sovereignty,” with much military pomp (and doubtful legality).
According to the declaration, Germany was to be divided into three occupied zones under the Control Commission for Germany and Austria and administered respectively by the Americans, the British, and the Russians. (France was later assigned a small zone carved out of British and American territory.) Austria would be separated from Germany and would be similarly occupied. Berlin would be divided into four sectors and would be the seat of the Allied Control Council—the occupation government. The members of the council were the four military governors of the zones. On July 17, 1945, a little over a month later, in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, the Big Three met for the last time, but with changes: Roosevelt, who had died in April, had been succeeded by President Truman; and halfway through the conference, Prime Minister Clement Attlee replaced Churchill, who had been defeated in the British general election. At Potsdam the Allies laid down the rules by which they would control all aspects of German life for the foreseeable future. These rules were in due course ignored, manipulated, flouted, overzealously adhered to, and ultimately abandoned.
At Yalta in February 1945, the Big Three had agreed that Russia would take a substantial portion of Poland in the East and Poland would receive territorial compensation in …