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The New International, January 1946


A. Jeffers

Politics in Occupied Germany

Two Letters by an Observer


From New International, Vol.12 No.1, January 1946, pp.9-11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The effects of total defeat are wearing off. But, of course, it is not the purpose of the occupation to let the effects wear off entirely. That is not why the Second World War was fought, nor the reason why 400,000 men are to take turns staying over here – for a generation. Even though military government is being withdrawn from Kreis and Bezirk level and local administration returned to the hands of the German authorities, even though city police have been armed with World War I vintage rifles and are wearing uniforms again instead of armbands, and even though local elections are to be held, Germany will not be free, politically or economically.

One is not politically free unless one is economically free. So few people realize that, but a lot of Germans soon will, even if they don’t put it into those words. “What good are elections to us,” they will say, “if all we do is elect the persons who are to carry out American orders?”

“The right to choose our burgomasters is too expensive at 1,200 calories a day. Democracy is no substitute for security any more than the ‘free’ labor unions you are granting us are a substitute for jobs. And de-nazified schools don’t bring prosperity to de-industrialized cities. You Americans talk about the wonders of democracy like a salesman praises the tonic he is trying to sell, but both are likely to turn out to be impotent concoctions.”

I am afraid they will be right. For in a sense all capitalist democracy is impotent. Our “way of life” can provide us with elections, but not with jobs; atom bombs, but not security; freedom, but not from want or from fear of another war.

Democracy is to be our gift to the German people, whom we don’t like. That shows its relative place in the scale of the things we value. From the Germans we shall exact in reparations, coal, machinery, chemical and steel plants, labor, financial assets. But we will give them democracy, the only thing, apparently, which it is better to give than to receive. We Americans put first things first.

Put Physical Needs First

The German people are also putting, first things first. They are using their earliest public opportunities to do so. For instance, on October 13, 1945, the Bavarian city of Furth staged its first mass political rally in twelve years. Ten thousand people attended, and they were addressed by representatives of the four new political parties in Bavaria.

“The speakers,” reports an American observer, “dealt with the physical needs of Germany as well as political aims of their respective parties. Housing and fuel shortages topped the list of emergencies. ‘First comes the fulfillment of the physical needs of Germany, then the re-education along political lines,’ one speaker was quoted as telling the crowd.”

Thus the post-war thoughts of the German people, until now a general smoldering more confused and impotent than the feelings of the Italian people, for instance, are rapidly flowing together into the channels of deepest necessity and developing direction and pressure.

It is still not clear to many Germans what takes place when one loses a war. Goebbels told them that they would be slaughtered, enslaved and dispossessed (he was haunted, no doubt, by visions of the millions to whom the Nazis had meted out that fate). But nothing like that happened, except to some party members and the obvious criminal element (Gestapo, SS, SD, etc.), and the Germans breathed with relief.

They found Americans to be human beings very much like themselves, too. After discounting the topheavy percentage of American soldiers who carried on quite boorishly and were offensively obsessed with a conqueror complex, the rest were quite decent when known personally. Many girls who were being whistled at for the first time in their lives very quickly caught on to the idea that it was not a sign of disrespect, but of enthusiasm. They found American soldiers and their chocolate and cigarettes much to their liking.

Resent Americans’ Wealth

But here is where the first expression of resentment – from German males – made its appearance. German youths – Wehrmacht dischargees and teenagers – passed the word around that German girls seen in the company of American soldiers could expect to have their hair cropped and would be “blacklisted.” Leaflets and chalk scrawls carried the message. It sprang up in so many places in Germany at once as to indicate spontaneity. This was not entirely a positive case of “wolves” versus ‘‘wolves,” nor an affair of German honor. Nor was it a case of. German men versus American men. It was the resentment of poor men, without chocolate or tobacco even for themselves, against rich men, whose advantage lay in the candy bars, cigarettes, K-rations, chewing gum, soap and sometimes coffee and sugar and canned goods, which they carried with them. It was a “class” struggle, and it reached such proportions that it was brought out into the open before the 10,000 persons who held their first political assembly in Furth not so long ago.

With the withdrawal of the majority of Yanks from Europe, this particular issue will vanish and German youth will find far more serious things confronting it. But the pattern will not change: poor land v. rich land.

There is the problem of jobs, for instance – a problem not unfamiliar to the United States either. Unemployment in Germany is acute. Hundreds of thousands of former workers in war industries have been “laid off” with finality. “No more war – no more work.” The rediscovery of that fact is world-wide today, but there is this difference here in addition: reconversion, which would mean jobs, is barely taking place.

If ever a country could logically expect a building boom, ruined Germany should. But what to build with? Virtually every item necessary for the construction of a house is listed as a scarce commodity: tiles, tarpaper, cement, lime, plaster, lumber, nails, wire, plumbing, glass, porcelain insulation. Not even the plants that produce these things can be rebuilt without imports from abroad to help start them rolling. Meanwhile, the railroads are overtaxed transporting American troops out of Germany. Freight cars are scarce; unobstructed rail lines are scarce; engines are scarce; coal is scarcest of all. Germans will use wood this winter because there isn’t enough coal to run the factories with if they were standing. All these things put together make it no wonder that, as anAmerican newspaper states, “Large-cale rebuilding has not started yet in German cities.” It is doubtful whether “large-scale” rebuilding will start even in the coming year.

New Soil for Fascism

There is another aspect to the problem of jobs, if we are to believe a news heading in the Stars and Stripes. “Germans Found Reluctant to Work, Await US Aid,” it states, and continues:

“Germans in the American zone still are reluctant in many cases to accept jobs, even though facing food shortage and cold this winter, an official survey revealed today ...”

“As released prisoners of war return to civilian life, some reluctance has been evident with respect to accepting jobs other than those of pre-service days. Office workers particularly have shown little interest in physical labor or agricultural work.”

You can’t blame a man who was drafted into the Wehrmacht when half way through his law studies for not wanting to swing a scythe or a pick for the rest of his life (yes, they still cut the hay and the wheat in the old-fashioned way in Germany). And a girl who had her heart set on clothes designing won’t willingly turn to clothes washing now. Yet if Germany is to be de-industrialized and agriculturalized that is what tens of . thousands of Germans will have to do, and they will bear an eternal grudge against those who they feel robbed them of a fuller life. Long after they have forgotten that, they, or else their parents who used to cry “Heil Hitler!” will be resentful, and if you try to remind them of their Nazi days they will remind you that it was just such resentment that started Hitler on his way to power after the last war – resentment of the underprivileged against the privileged, of those at the bottom against those at the top, of the vanquished against the victors.

The meeting of ten thousand persons in Furth two weeks ago was a meeting of the vanquished. The emphasis there presented to them by the man who said “Houses first – democracy afterward” is the emphasis of the bottom, and it is diametrically at variance with the emphasis of the top (i.e., the American conquerors). It will not change. It cannot change as long as the under-privileged-versus-privileged relationship exists.

How MG Uses CP

Here is some comment the meeting drew. It is a further quotation from the Furth item:

“High MG official here, who attended the rally, observed that the Germans were not ready for free elections. He advanced two main reasons for this opinion. First there is a fear and a distrust of the power of a single outstanding party, and secondly, there is still a reluctance to express political views, a hangover from the days of Nazi domination.”

The second reason is easily enough accounted for. Political views are at the crystallizing stage now and will be expressed soon. In the first reason we are left to guess what “single outstanding party” is disturbing a “high MG official’s” mind. I advance, therefore, another, more candid, news item which may shed some light where it is needed:

“Eisenhower Charges Red Bloc Hampers Democracy in Berlin”

“Berlin, Oct. 17 (AP) – Gen. Eisenhower reported today that the Communist Party had formed a political bloc in Berlin, and indicated that such a device would find no welcome in the American Zone. This bloc, Gen. Eisenhower said in his second monthly report on occupation policies, is “counter to the traditional American concept of political activity and vigorous political life in a democratic sense.”

General Eisenhower is putting first things first, as seen from on top. What follows, now that we know that communist political blocs will find no welcome in the American Zone?

Soon you will be reading editorials in your local paper in the following vein:

“The German people have been so perverted by nazism that it will take many years to purge them of it. They have not proved capable of adapting themselves to democratic methods, and as evidence of this we cite the fact that they have allowed one party to dominate them.”

The idea will be that democratic elections are being monopolized (sabotaged) by the communists. Therefore no elections should be permitted until the monopoly has been broken. It will be proposed in polite language that to get rid of the communists we should get rid of democracy. This is not a new idea. But you carry on the prediction from there.

Can you imagine an audience of Germans – defeated Germans – applauding a speaker who proclaims: “We hail the victorious Red Armies!” That’s what most of the thousand man and women in the Nürnberg opera house did this morning at the local Communist Party’s coming-out convention.

Except for the unusual time – eight a.m. on a Sunday morning – it was a typical communist meeting. It could have been taking place in the States. The stage was backdropped by a huge red hammer-and-sickle. A banner proclaimed “Brüder, in einem zusammen die Hand!” The opera house was full by the time I got there. With very few exceptions those assembled were older people – pre-Hitler communists, and perhaps 25 per cent were women. One of the main speakers, however, was thirty years old and vigorous in speech and physique.

After an orchestral rendition of the William Tell Overture, the master of ceremonies gave the keynote speech: Germany had been at war for six years; the communists have been at war since 1933, and even before that they were fighting Hitlerism and pointing out its dangers to the people. Many have fallen (here a standing tribute to “those present with us in spirit”). But right has prevailed in the end. Yet the struggle against capitalism is not over, nor are the insidious roots of Nazism killed off.

For Party Unity

We admit our mistakes. Had we stood united against Hitlerism in 1932 the Nazi system could not have come to power. But we must not hang our heads nor despair at the ruins we see about us. Though we Germans stand low in the esteem of the nations of the world, it is up to us communists to prove that Hitler did not act in our name.

The program: First and most important: unity of parties – specifically of the social democrats and communists. Chief argument: “Had we been united in 1932 ... etc.” Whether a united front or an actual integration is intended was not made clear.

Second: Strong upbuilding of and support to the new labor unions.

Third: Rooting out of every trace of nazism in every shop and office in the land – in whatever guise it tries to cling to its outlawed domain. This touched a tender spot in the audience, which gave howls of assent to some impromptu speakers who rose in their seats to shout the names of specific agencies which they considered insufficiently purged: Reichsbank, Wohnungsamt (Housing Bureau) and some other city departments.

Yet the Communist Party’s speaker went on to point out that just as many persons who never were Party members are worse Nazis at heart, many members of the party were forced to join or else were swayed in the early days by false promises and unable to extricate themselves later. “The time has come for all persons who were members of the NSDAP (Nazis) to show their good intentions by redeeming themselves with deeds,” he said.

Fourth: A program for youth – mentioned but not dwelt upon.

Fifth: We all agree there is a hard winter ahead of us.

Cheers for Russia

Somewhere in the process of apologizing to the world for Germany’s misdeeds the main speaker mentioned that Russia had suffered more than any other country from the war, and right after that he made his allusion to the victorious Russians – and then I knew that I was listening to the classic party line.

Applause and cries of “Bravo!”, “Sehr richtig!” (That’s right!) had been spotted right along through two main addresses, wherever a rising inflection, ending in a climactic pause called for it, and here again an accolade was obviously anticipated by the speaker. He got it; the convention was well under control. But there was just a brief moment of hesitation before it came, and perhaps it came a little reluctantly. I might be mistaken. Anyhow, the same well-regulated applause and a little less hesitation will be forthcoming next time, and on the third and fourth occasion the audience will have learned that whenever the Russians are mentioned enthusiasm is in order.

The victorious American, British and French armies went unnoticed.

The meeting lasted a little over two hours and ended with the singing of a party hymn (not the “International”) which I had never heard before, though everybody knew the words.


Nürnberg, Germany
November 1945

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