After the Reich (2007) by Giles Macdonogh is a brilliant book on what happened in Germany after WWII. It explores what actually happened and gives a thorough overview of the fate of Germans under Allied occupation. The book outlines the massive ethnic cleansing, the mass internment and the politics of what happened in Europe after WWII. It also does so without being vindictive.
The book is divided into 5 parts. The first part, Chaos, looks at Vienna and the expulsions from Easter Europe. The second section looks at life in each of the Allied Zones in Germany. In part 3 Guilt, the Black Market, the detention of POWs and the trials of Germans is dealt with. The fourth part; The Road to Freedom, looks at how the politics worked after the war between the Allies.
The first section looks at the fall of Vienna, Berlin and the expulsions of Germans from the East. The massive territorial loss, of about 1/4 of Germany’s territory in 1937 is documented as are the rapes and murders that went on during this massive round of ethnic cleansing. Areas that had been German for a thousand years were depopulated. This is a very inconvenient truth.
In the second section each of the Allied zones of occupation and Austria is given individual treatment. Macdonogh also mentions the words Bizonia and Trizonia that are rarely discussed. The comparison of the zones with thFrench caring little for denanzification but looting while the Americans were zealous denanzifiers but fed their zone better and so on are similar to the stories that I have heard from people who lived through these times. In looking at each zone Macdonogh also looks at the culture which is a little odd but quite interesting. How symphony orchestra leaders were treated while people starved is a curious thing to read about. But it does illustrate the attitudes of the various powers toward German culture and society. Macdonogh also talks about the number of people who starved. His figure is around 2 million.
In the third section on Crime and Punishment Macdonogh looks at German guilt first off. This section is highly readable and looks at what Germans at the time were saying about the Nazis. It doesn’t dwell on condemning the Germans and instead provides an understanding of what was happening. The view of the Black Market is fascinating. It becomes clear that the Black Market immediately established itself and was very important in helping people avoid starving to death. It’s amazing how trading starts so quickly after disasters like WWII. Macdonogh confronts the war crime of German POW deaths in custody. He comes up with a figure that around 1 million Germans died after the wars end in these camps while trials for putting people in camps were going on. Macdonogh doesn’t dwell on the hypocrisy and merely points out that this is what happened. He attributes some of this to vengence but also points out that handling such large numbers of people in times when supplies are short is likely to result in these vast numbers of deaths. Macdonogh also looks at the Nurnberg war crimes trials and the other trials of Nazis and Germans that continued on. He is not complementary of the trials pointing out that the rules of evidence included heresay and that pointing out where the Allies had done the same things as the Germans was rejected out of hand.
In the fourth section: The Road to Freedom Macdonogh looks at the piece in Potsdam and the start of the Cold War. He points out that the Allies did not negotiate well at Potsdam and allowed Stalin to get away with what he wanted. He makes the case that the Soviets wanted a single demilitarised German state rather than the split that actually happened. He misses the points that the Soviets could have made the Soviet Block much stronger had they not taken so much territory from the Germans, in particular by leaving the Germans in Silesia. The Berlin airlift is given substantial deserving treatment as it represents the turning point from Allied cooperation to the Cold War settlement.
The conclusion is more a description of the final fate of Germany than a summary of this disturbing but brilliant book. Macdonogh wisely does not make moral judgements about what happened in Germany following WWII. It’s interesting that no major historian has written a book like this. Macdonogh has the luxury of not having to worry about whether he would be condemned and blocked by his peers for looking at things academics have avoided. The subject matter should be disturbing for people who believe that Allied conduct during WWII was of the highest order. This is not to condemn the Allies, merely to point out that the war was far murkier than has been presented in the standard version learnt by most people in the English speaking world.
The book is superb. Many other reviewers agree including this review at the Telegraph. For a complete understanding of WWII this book is a must.
( This is the 100th review on this site )