From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.12, December 1945, pp.366-371.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
German Prisoners of War in the United States amount to over 350,000 men. Representing a cross section of the army, they also represent a cross section of the German people. Although isolated from the continuity of life of the German community generally, and their respective class particularly, they nevertheless react to their present environment and to the historical events of the present (as experienced by them or as reflected by news reports) in a way conditioned by their specific backgrounds.
Although rigid divisions in the social composition and political tendencies of PoWs do not exist, the latter are nevertheless, for the sake of clarity, presented here in categories and sub-categories.
They are not a homogeneous group; they have various degrees of conviction and dissimilar backgrounds. Once they were the exponents of a fairly large mass movement; but today they are completely without popular support. Hence they have, as a group, the appearance of a clique.
Among the officers it is, generally, the young ones (23-32) who may be classed Nazis by conviction and upbringing. They come from middle class homes which could usually afford to give them a higher education, thus enabling them to get the “higher” type of jobs (professional, executive, technicians, etc.). Such jobs were not as plentiful during the Weimar period as they were under the Four Year (preparedness) Plans of the Hitler regime; nor was there the security which seemed to attach to them after 1933. These men were thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazi theories in the schools, universities and professional organizations. The Nazi theories were nothing but modifications of ideas which had already taken a historical position in the ways of thinking, the standards and customs of the German middle classes. Hence the young Nazi officers were not just indoctrinated from the “outside” but they brought along the background which acted as the fertile soil upon which Nazi doctrine could bear rich fruit.
The older officers are not the mystical fanatics which their younger colleagues are inclined to be; but they nevertheless identified themselves with or followed the Nazis because of the latter’s aims and principal points of program. They may not have agreed, for instance, with the persecution of the Jews or the treatment of the Poles but these were “minor” points to them. They were unable to regard such points as symbols of major significance. Being conservative members of the middle class, they often identified the Nazi ideas with the idea of the German nation; they are apt to identify themselves with society per se.
There are, of course, dissidents among these officers, most of them young ones. Since they, too, were considered as belonging to the ruling class, their freedom of expression inside the compounds (PoW barbed wire enclosures) was even more restricted than the highly circumscribed freedom of expression among the enlisted men. They belong, as a group, to a type of anti-Nazi which will be treated below.
The defeat of Germany has, so far, little affected the social outlook of the German officers generally. Rather, their psychology is, to some extent already and will increasingly be, that of the upper classes of a nationally oppressed people. (Their subtle arrogance, their pride, alert to any invidious comparison of “national” achievements; their attitude of “the end justifies the means”; i.e., they have no scruples about being “immoral.”) They feign co-operativeness with the western Allies, based on a presumed common antagonism towards the USSR. Where they have personal contact with American officers, this contact is, generally, on the basis of fraternal class relations. German officers are known to have enjoyed the generous confidence, sometimes even hospitality, of American officers.
Under the Geneva Convention, privileges are extended to them which take cognizance of their class status, making the most rigid distinctions between them and enlisted men. Nevertheless, as members of their class, they are aware of America’s role in their native country; and although regarding her as protecting Germany from “Bolshevism” (i.e., the USSR), they are bent on regaining their old position of leadership in Germany by appearing co-operative, knowing that American authorities do not want “chaos” and “revolution” which would take the place of the ruling class. It is significant that, lacking popular support to realize their aspirations of leadership in Germany, they bank upon the Americans to assist them.
The Nazis among the enlisted men amounted, prior to V-E day, to about 20 to 25 per cent of PoWs interned in the average PoW camp. Of these no more than 50 per cent were hardened Nazi elements; i.e., the kernel of the Nazi movement. The rest were followers, “Schlagwortnazis” (men taken in by mere slogans). It was the NCOs who made up the bulk of the hardened Nazis. When speaking of Nazis, reference is made to this kernel and to the officers spoken of above.
A large part of the Nazis come from rural communities. It seems that they were not directly farmers (excepting those from East Prussia and the more prosperous farms of northern Germany); rather that they were employed by small industries located in rural districts. There are groups which were students until drafted; others who held minor executive positions in a shop, business (chief clerks and the like), or party formations. They are politically backward elements (excepting the officers who are quite class conscious), often opportunist, usually good soldiers. Many professional Army and Navy men can be found among them.
It may be mentioned incidentally that most enlisted men of the German Navy seem to come from rural districts; i.e., they belong to the politically most backward layers of the German people. Since the German Army and Navy were merged under one high command and transfers from one to the other of the two services were routine matters, it is not impossible that the design behind the social composition of the Navy was to lessen the chances for a repetition of the revolts in the Navy of November 1918.
Those elements of the population who are ignorant and have an archaic distrust towards anything foreign often are Nazis. However, most of the Nazis are made up of men with an average education.
The Nazis often form cliques in the compounds. Before V-E day they strove to terrorize their fellow PoWs into accepting their ruthless control over the compounds. As indicated above, many of them held positions as NCOs in the Germany Army, and since American authorities retained them in these positions, they had (and to a great extent still have) virtual control over all the activities of PoWs; i.e., they organized and ran educational and recreational programs; they made up the rosters assigning work details, which is a most effective lever of control since they assign “soft” and “dirty” jobs. They drafted lists of PoWs to be transferred to other posts, these lists being merely formally approved by an American officer. Thus they were able to get rid of “troublemakers.”
Until recently they “censored” the news and sabotaged the distribution of newspapers. They were in a position to terrorize their fellow PoWs into conforming with Nazi ideas and phony exhibitions and demonstrations of patriotism. It is safe to say, that it was the mass of PoWs and the pressure they brought to bear upon American authorities, and not the latter, who broke the control of the Nazis in the compounds.
The bulk of the German soldiers are non-Nazis. They can be generally divided into men with a petty bourgeois background, and men from working class families.
The former usually come from homes whose livelihood depended on a small business or a clerical or academic position. It also includes small-scale peasants and lesser civil service employees.
It is these people who took some pride in stating that they had never been active politically. They kept themselves “neutral.” At one time or other they may have derived a small gain from the existence of the Nazi regime; and for a short while they have become interested in one of the many Nazi party, sub and sister organizations. Such an interest ceased to be genuine when the squeeze in which they found themselves became unbearable (except that in the presence of the Gestapo it had to be bearable). Then they sought refuge in abstaining from politics completely. This group is the most terrorized of all non- and anti-Nazi groups. Abstention from political thinking, years of black insecurity and of the Nazi police boot, making it impossible to form even the tiniest cell of opposition, have resulted in a loss of character, of moral fiber, of the ability to think critically, especially in the more educated. Today their hopes are concentrated upon the Americans; often they are servile and opportunistic to a pitiful degree.
Nevertheless, although they are not the ones who will make a revolution, they will certainly follow it, deeply frustrated and discontented as they are. It would be incorrect to say there are no valuable elements among them.
As is known, the professions in Germany were utterly corrupted by Nazism. Most of the older academicians, though inwardly disagreeing with the Nazis, rarely quit their positions, accepting all the restrictions imposed by the Nazis upon their various fields (mainly in the liberal arts, of course; science being, on the one hand, incompatible with, on the other, indispensable to Nazism). Usually however, the sons of these people did not take to Nazi doctrine the way other young Germans did; and they (the sons) have often retained a relatively amazing degree of critical faculty.
The men with a proletarian background are the least affected by Nazi doctrines, and appear to be the most open to the influence of Marxism. They are not politically conscious; in the early months of their captivity they seemed to be indifferent to politics but to-day they are incomparably more alert, and, as will be shown below, they are groping for political ideas which would show them a way out of the blind alley in which they find themselves.
The younger ones come from working class homes where the father may often have belonged to the Communist or Social Democratic parties or labor unions. They went to work in the shops, and the educative influence of 8 hours of mechanical work, the cooperation in a modern plant and mixing with the older workers tended to offset the indoctrination during their time off. This is not to say that the Nazis did not have any success in impressing their ideas upon these men; they had a monopoly on ideas as well as on education generally. Nevertheless, my impression has been that the young workers are not vitally poisoned by Nazi ideology; the reality of their daily lives was not conducive to this.
Those from 18-20 have hardly been touched by Nazi doctrines. It is from this age group that the “Edelweiss” organizations arose, which translated the passive opposition of German youth to the compulsion and iron-bound discipline of the Hitler Youth into active resistance by breaking up meetings, stealing weapons and using them on the more brutal Hitler Youth leaders, etc. The “Edelweiss” was mainly a working class youth movement, and its centers were to be found in the industrial sections of Germany. From the age of 20 the curve of susceptibility to and digestion of Nazi ideas goes upward and reaches its zenith at the age group of 27 to 28. Then it declines again until at the age group of 30 to 31 it is at the approximate level of the first age group.
The older workers (those above 31) are practically unimpressed by Nazi propaganda. What erroneous views they still hold with regard to some apparently beneficent Nazi policies (the “Strength through Joy” movement and the like) are of no vital import whatever in the general picture of their half-neutral, half-hostile attitude toward the Nazis. Most of them had to suffer chicanery, constant “supervision” by minor Nazi bosses, endless deductions from their pay, and – especially those from the Ruhr and Saxony industrial districts, hotbeds of radical working class action-searches for subversive literature and concentration or work camps. Their organizations and therewith their massed power, had been destroyed. With a family to feed and a job to risk it would have been ludicrous to put up the kind of opposition which the liberals and newspaper editors of Allied countries thought in the safety of their offices to be the only token by which the German people could show their hatred of Nazism.
In my many talks with German workers, now interned as Prisoners of War in this country, I often wished that some day a book would be written, something on the line of Dos Passos’ USA. It would tell of the thousandfold instances of small groups of courageous workers resisting their Fascist oppressors; getting together to take up collections for the Spanish Civil War, to fraternize with non-German slave workers by giving them food and cigarettes (this is confirmed by these slave workers themselves), buying demonstratively from Jewish stores, staying away from work by reporting sick. Such a book would tell why the Nazis had to increase their police forces from month to month and year to year; why they had to add concentration camp to concentration camp; why they had to limit learning to a bare minimum; why they had to send men to prison for staying away from the job as little as two days. The German people were held in terror by a police force unsurpassed in ruthlessness, lawlessness and ubiquity. That would scarcely have been necessary, had the masses loyally supported their government as the present hate campaign in the Allied press would have us believe.
The workers, both young and old, and most of the young PoW enlisted men generally, have few illusions left. The older age groups tend to regard the western Allies as liberators, much in the fashion of many French, Italians, etc. The youth is more or less indifferent to Allied occupation (at this stage). To almost all of them Fascism has completely discredited itself. Nationalistic ideas and the idea of “following the leader” have practically died out, and, at the present, it seems impossible that they could ever regain a hold in the minds of these Germans.
There is another group of non-Nazis. They are the Poles, Austrians, Sudeten Germans. The former two usually come from rural areas and are politically either indifferent or very backward. Some of the Poles are Nazis, but this is of no significance in the face of the heroic struggles the Polish people fought against the Nazis. Among the Sudeten Germans are a number of Social-Democrats. However, the bulk of them appears to have been nationalist Germans, inclined to accept the Nazis as their saviors. As is well-known now, the Czech government discriminated against the German minority in Czecho-S1ovakia, attempting to relegate them to an inferior economic status. This accounts for the large following of the “Sudetendeutsche Volkspartei” (of which Henlein was the leader), which later merged with the Nazi party. Especially the unemployed seemed to adhere to the Volkspartei and since, with the annexation of the Sudetenland to Germany, they were finally given jobs, it is not surprising if the Nazis found some of their staunchest supporters among them.
It can be said about the non-Nazis generally that, if they are poisoned by any Nazi doctrines, they do not appear to be poisoned with that of racial superiority or with anti-Semitism or with any degree of chauvinism. Only upon the Russians do they look with an air of cultural superiority not unmixed with a fear that has been drilled into them for years and which is not totally unjustified in the face of what is happening today in Russian-occupied territories. Almost all German troops have occupied, at one time or other, any one of the score of foreign countries that suffered German imperialism. And nothing could and did more easily dispel among German soldiers the gospel of racial superiority and chauvinistic hatred preached to them for years than this day-to-day contact with foreign peoples, not excepting those of the USSR. The vast efforts of a dictatorial government proved fruitless in the face of the reality of human life.
After what the German people have been through, most of them are anti-Nazis today. The term, as used here, applies to the politically most conscious layers of anti-Nazi PoWs.
They fall, generally, into three groups: The non-Germans, the disgruntled petty bourgeois and the radical working class elements. There are opportunists among them, especially among the second group.
Anti-Nazis were usually separated from other PoWs when they asked American authorities for protective custody. (Special enclosures were provided for this.) They did this especially when their lives were in danger from Nazi gangs in the general compounds. In the months preceding the capitulation of the German armies, it had, of course, become increasingly safer to speak up among the other PoWs when the Nazis uttering dire threats of terrible retribution were shut up with increasing firmness by PoWs less convinced of the righteousness of the Nazi cause. Groups of anti-Nazi PoWs met right under the noses of SS gangs. After V-E day anti-Nazi PoWs in the general compounds could not afford to be any less cautious than before since American authorities by no means hurried to remove the more vicious Nazi elements and hence did not create the necessary conditions for a free exchange of ideas. This free exchange grew only after the PoWs generally had overcome the terrific shock of the final defeat and had begun to ask questions. Once at that stage, Nazism became utterly discredited and the few who still advocated its doctrines experienced ridicule.
As will be described below, the anti-Nazis consist of various class elements among the German and other European peoples. They have only one common characteristic politically: They are anti-Fascists. The special compound (mentioned above) reflects, therefore, the following phenomenon. Very real tensions exist between Catholic centrists and communists, socialists and Stalinists, Austrian Social Democrats and the followers of the Schuschnigg regime. During the anti-Nazis’ confinement to the general compounds, where the Nazis exercised control, all these tensions remained under an iron lid of suppression of all political discussion. Once freed from this terror and given ample “democracy” to express themselves, all the contradictions of German and Austrian political life, of class interests, rose to the surface, and sharp clashes often occurred. Thus the once common anti-Fascist tendencies quickly disintegrated once Fascist terror had been removed.
The non-Germans consist mostly of Austrians. There are also Poles, Russians, Czechs and Dutch. The Austrians were considered as Germans by the German Army. Nevertheless, they feel that they are a nation apart from the Germans. The impossibility for Austria to exist as an independent nation, separated as it was by the treaty of Versailles from Serbia, Hungary and other Balkan countries with which its economy was vitally bound up, was reflected by the desire of the Austrian masses to unite with Germany. This desire was supported by German and Austrian Marxists in the interests of a more powerful proletariat of German nationality. The annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938 indeed promised a higher standard of living to Austria.
However, the Nazis treated the country like foreign conquerors, creating a bureaucratic apparatus there as a means of providing positions for their stooges and filling the more important posts with Germans. They exploited its resources for their war machine and moved large amounts of its products to Germany. In other words, they failed to integrate Austrian and German economy, thus exercising an imperialist rule over Austria.
Hence, many even of those people who had enthusiastically acclaimed Anschluss in 1938 grew to hate the Germans as oppressors and at the present time the Austrian masses are unquestionably in favor of sovereignty for Austria. The Allies are taking advantage of this sentiment which serves to weaken the working class of German nationality and make the recovery of Austrian industry practically impossible. Nevertheless, a large number of Austrian PoWs favor the independence of Austria.
The Poles and Czechs among the anti-Nazis are mostly working class people who participated in one form or other in their respective resistance movements. The Czechs as well as the Dutch have vague ideas about going back to what used to be before 1938 (at which time the living standards of both peoples were relatively high). The Poles are disillusioned, they care less about what happens than any of the others. Many of them have lived the life of slaves for the past 7-8 years. They would serve in the Polish Army, fighting the Germans, would be taken prisoner, would be released to work in German labor battalions in Russia. Later on they would be pressed into the German Army under penalty of death if they refused and would finally be captured by the Americans to face another two, three years of captivity. Soon they will be “repatriated,” only to face a very dark future.
The Dutch PoWs appeared to be least backward, both politically and in intelligence. They appeared to be very international minded and to have no illusions about the nature of this war. Nor do they think of the United States the way the Czechs and Austrians think about it. Much of this is due to the way they were treated by the US Army. They were civilian laborers for a Dutch firm, working under contract on German defense projects along the channel coast when they were captured, and they were given no consideration because of their presumed status as Allies. Instead of being sent to the American rear, awaiting speedy repatriation, they were sent to the US and locked behind barbed wire.
About the Russians I met I can say little, due to language barriers. The Germans succeeded in getting quite a few of their Russian prisoners of war to volunteer for service in the German army. Most other Russian prisoners, however, worked in labor battalions. They generally give the impression of being backward peasants. However, since most of the skilled and semi-skilled industrial Russian workers were kept in Germany proper no general conclusions should be drawn from this impression.
The second group consists of German petty bourgeois elements. They are the same types as have already been described under the heading “non-Nazis,” only that these men are more rebellious than the others. A great number of them are Catholic small peasants from southern Germany; others are the sons of lesser civil servants and independent handicraftsmen (the latter are especially militant since their economic independence had been shattered by Nazi decrees) from the Rhineland, Bavaria and central Germany (Saxony). They have always upheld the Allies as fighters for freedom and they have deep-seated illusions in this respect. When they propagate their views – in a typically petty bourgeois individualistic fashion, giving vent to emotions of rabid hatred in front of hostile or indifferent, politically backward PoWs – they disregard that some of the Nazi propaganda, despite its aims, was based on facts, such as the strangulation of Germany by British and American capitalism, British suppression of colonial masses, etc. The other PoWs could not be convinced that this war was a fight for freedom; as little can they be convinced of American democracy while stationed in the South. The anti-Nazi petty bourgeois are not, generally, politically minded in the sense of adhering to a definite party or program. Today, their illusions about the Allies are slowly giving way to confusion on what to think of the Allied role in Europe. It is becoming increasingly difficult for them to answer the many questions of their fellow PoWs.
About the anti-Nazi officers the following may be said. Forced, as they were, to constantly live together with the most outspoken and conscious Fascists and to abide by the latter’s codes and concepts of the German officer, they experienced the reality of the terroristic system of Nazism. The intensive academic training which many of them received, the clandestine methods they used in maintaining contact with each other and the psychological effects of the intellectual struggle against Fascist ideology, which, in the most guarded and devious ways, they had to wage, if only to save themselves from succumbing to Fascist poison, matured them to a higher degree than the average PoW of petty bourgeois origin. They appear, generally, never to have been affiliated with political parties; some of the older ones were followers of the Social Democrats.
They are rabid anti-communists. In the case of the older ones this attitude stems from their fear of the drab masses of men they saw demonstrating in their native German cities before 1933: the younger ones, unburdened by the concreteness of such fears, identify (as do most non- and anti-Nazi PoWs) communism with Stalinism and its terror. Many of these men have been selected by the American government for jobs in the administration of Germany. However, they are “troublemakers,” they do not appear to be amenable to executing “soft” policies. Many of those selected may compromise in view of the prestige and advantages of their position. But the stronger elements will not. They constitute a potentially most valuable part of a reconstituted German workers’ movement.
The third group consists of radical working class elements. Those not segregated into the anti-Nazi special compounds sometimes expressed their opinions quite openly to fellow PoWs. There are such factors as class loyalties at work among PoWs, which often cause them to protect their less restrained fellows from the ill will of Nazi bosses. The German Army used to induct known communists and other enemies of the German government, taking able-bodied men from the concentration camps because of the growing man power shortage. The induction of these elements took place from early 1944 onwards before which they had been barred from military service. The German army did not promote these men but otherwise did not bother them so long as they did not engage in subversive activities.
Most of these men were industrial workers in the shops of the industrial centers of Germany. Usually they devoted their spare time to functionary work in the Communist, Social-Democratic or Socialist parties or their youth organizations. Their age is, generally, above 32. Some of them have spent long years in concentration camps and this has left indelible marks upon them. Those I have met are neurotic, unbalanced personalities, incapable of thinking in clear terms, to say nothing of assuming positions of leadership – for the present time. Given favorable conditions, there is nothing that would prevent full or partial recuperation, of course.
They impress one as having been isolated for years, unable to associate with fellow thinkers, misinformed, confused by Stalinism, unable to evaluate correctly. Even now it is not easy for them to discuss freely and keep company. They have obviously borne the brunt of the Fascist repression.
Some of those who formerly were Communists have ceased to support the USSR, fearing and hating Stalin quite as much as Hitler. They as well as the others are vaguely thinking of a Socialist Germany. But to them the Allies are the liberators from nightmarish terror. They do, to be sure, recognize the Allies for what they are: imperialists, acting solely in their own selfish interests. But these politically conscious anti-Nazi workers saw no other way out of the huge Gestapo prison which Germany was, except through the military defeat of the Nazis. They reflect a hopelessness which the German proletariat must have experienced during the latter war years under the impact of increased Nazi terror and merciless bombings. PoWs describe the devastated cities of Germany: how men and women suffocated, burnt, were blown to bits; how a friend was sent to a concentration camp because, looking at the charred remnants of his bomb-struck little house, he swore at the Nazis; how they would push a bicycle over narrow paths, winding their way between huge piles of debris. Listening to such stories, it is easy to understand why the German workers – who, unlike the bourgeoisie, were compelled to remain in the cities and could not quickly evacuate them by car like the Nazi bosses – accepted in despair the Allies as liberators from war and the Nazis.
As indicated above, these anti-Nazi workers have no basic illusions about the Allies but they were willing to fight with them, like other anti-Nazis, since they saw no other way of destroying Fascism. It was mainly the refusal of the Allies to accept them as fighters on an equal basis that baffled them.
These men remain militant and courageous anti-Fascists; but they have become less radical, not more. Although they are recognizing the Allies for what they are, they accept the future of the German people as necessarily dominated by the Allies, since only their troops, so they reason, could keep the Fascist elements from regaining power. For the present, at least, they have lost faith in the potential strength of the German masses. They are aware of this. But they do not consider themselves revolutionists anymore in the sense of translating their political ideas into organizational work and action. They are tired and disillusioned. Their state of mind seems to reflect the state of mind of the older age groups of the betrayed German working class. The Stalinists among them looked upon the USSR as the liberator; and they seemed to judge only that small part of the German proletariat which was communist, capable of fighting Nazism. Today the Stalinists are quieting down, are beginning to doubt their convictions with regard to Russia. The newspapers do not bear out their hopes of a proletariat liberated by the Soviet Union.
After years of concentration camps, persecutions, fears and drab hopelessness, these men appear to have little spirit left to contribute much to the German revolution by way of leadership, theory or heroic example. Fascism has weighed too heavily upon them.
It is the youth of Germany which is the hope and future of the German revolution.
It has been implied above that differences in class, hence backgrounds and aspirations, are as distinct among young PoWs as they are among the older ones. The important difference is that the former are not as conscious of this as the latter. Another difference is that the distinction between working class and petty bourgeois youth is diminishing, due to the increasing proletarianization of the German and Austrian lower middle classes. In the older PoWs this distinction is necessarily more marked.
What Nazism has “done” to German youth deserves some careful research, as do the innumerable contradictions between its educational policies and ideals, and the realities of the military necessities regarding human material of a modern, mechanized mass army. I have mentioned above that the chauvinistic teachings of Nazism completely lost their effect when German troops were in contact with “enemies” for any period of time. So did the ideals of the “fighter,” by which was meant the medieval knight rather than the modern, strictly matter-of-fact soldier, to whom cooperativeness is of necessity, second nature. The “morals” of German youth, i.e., standards of honesty and decency, are quite as high as those of any other army – again, this is necessarily so. You can’t live together in close quarters any other way, and the habits thus acquired are not abandoned outside of one’s own group. When they are, they suffer general deterioration which necessarily affects the individual’s life within the group. None of this, of course, can apply to the special SS troops serving as occupational police, etc. They are in no way representative of the composition of the German army.
Final defeat was, of course, a terrific shock, especially to young PoWs, even though it had been expected for months. The Nazis, having learned from propaganda policies in the last war, understood how to teach the soldiers to believe in victory. But events themselves caused many doubts among these men, and after they had witnessed, through the media of newspapers and radio, the debacle of the most respected Nazi leaders betraying them and their people, it was like standing before an abyss.
They did not become “anti-Nazis” by any means. But they began to be interested in political ideas. Their interest in them has grown into a voracious hunger for newspapers, magazines, books written by anti-Nazis and anything that would help them in gaining consciousness of their own position in human society. This, of course, is a broad generalization. Their immediate interest is in information. Why had things happened this way, what were the causes, what can be done now? Wendell Wilkie’s book One World, translated into German, and, together with a very few other books by anti-Nazi authors, made available to them through their canteens, was sold out in a few days. Newspapers are studied, rather than read, and it seems as though the amount of (German-language) newspapers delivered into the compounds is ever insufficient.
The term “democracy” is, more or less, new to them; hence they are unable to understand it in the formal, parliamentarian sense. To the embarrassment of American authorities, they have applied it to some concrete issues, such as the highly preferential treatment accorded German PoW officers. (The antagonism between German enlisted men and officers is, of course, as old as the German Army. But it was doubly sharp during the war when officers had, as usual, the best of everything, meting out sternest punishment, often in camps as bad as concentration camps, trying to earn laurels at the enlisted men’s expense, etc.) Thus with repatriation impending, the US Army brass hats have ruled that German PoW officers, who during the entire period of their captivity have been exempt from doing as much as one day’s work (but nevertheless received from $20 to $40 in pay), who have lived in clean single rooms and have quite often enjoyed a most generous interpretation of the Geneva Convention by American officers – these people, among whom are to be found the worst and most vicious types of Fascist, are allowed to take with them 175 lbs. of baggage.
On the other hand, PoW enlisted men, who have had to work for 80 cents a day doing the hardest kind of common labor, subject to ruthless repression in case of refusal or strike (“administrative punishment” the Army calls it, consisting, among other things, in putting a whole compound on hunger rations of bread and water), living in crowded barracks and often receiving scant food rations – these men, most of whom were the victims of Fascism, are allowed to take along but 55 lbs. of baggage (plus 10 lbs. which may consist only of “re-educational” literature, issued through the War Dept.) Thus they are forced to give up the few objects of small value they had bought through their canteens from their hard-earned dollars. They have voiced their protests to American authorities, pointing to the glaringly unjust discrimination against them. These protests have of course been quite futile. But the tone in which they are made or written up in letters to the administration, show that the term “democracy” exists only in its concrete meaning to the PoWs making them. It is pretty safe to say that these men will apply the term to spheres of life other than their existence behind stockades.
Naturally they are all very eager to get home, and to rebuild Germany and Europe on a sound foundation. They are searching for the political concepts by which to formulate a program according to which they might best realize their aspirations. Everything they have experienced has readied them, has made them receptive to the teachings of the Fourth International and therefore they present, as does German youth generally, a most fertile field for us.
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