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A sobering look at postwar Germany
on 8 February 2008
A lot has been written about World War II, and some has even been written about the aftermath regarding the development of the Cold War. However, there is not a lot of published information giving an overall view of the occupation of Germany and the development of the divided country that lasted for 40 years. After the Reich, by Giles MacDonogh, rectifies that fact. It is heavily sourced, examining individual accounts as well as publications covering certain aspects of the occupation to give a broad overview of the horrors that developed and the neglect and outright savagery that caused the deaths of huge numbers of Germans in the aftermath of the war. MacDonogh gives a vivid yet very depressing picture showing that inhumanity was not limited to the Nazis.
MacDonogh begins the book with the months leading up to the end of the war, as the Soviets were advancing through Poland and eastern Germany, raping and pillaging as much as possible. Revenge was a common motive, vengeance for every inhumane act the Nazis perpetrated on the Soviets during the almost four years of war. Others just gave into their baser instincts. Heavily covered in this book, both at the beginning as well as throughout the text, is how Austria figured into the whole issue. Many on both sides saw the Austrians almost as guilty as the Germans for what happened, yet it was always treated slightly differently.
This makes the beginning of the book quite heavy. While MacDonogh obviously doesn't go into details of individual rapes, the near-constant refrain about the rape and pillaging, both from individual accounts as well as statistical ones, constantly wears on the reader. However, it also gets across just horrible life in Germany and Austria was in the few months after the war ended. He also details the mass starvation that was happening, as the populace lived on the bare minimum (and sometimes less) that allows sustenance. Hundreds of thousands died in this aftermath, and some thought `good riddance" to a population that they blamed for the war. This idea of "collective guilt" for the German populace is also examined by MacDonogh, where he presents figures from both sides of the controversy on whether the German civilians should be treated as a conquered people or as victims of the Nazi horror machine.
This is where After the Reich really becomes interesting, as MacDonogh details the political machinations of both sides (American/British/French against the Soviets) as they jockey for position. Stalin wanted a united Germany that acted as a buffer between the West and Poland/Czechoslovakia (where he was busy installing Communist rule), while the other Allies desperately resisted this idea, for various reasons. The French did not want a united Germany on their doorstep again, while the British and Americans did not want a prospective Soviet ally that close to France. All of this information is clearly presented by MacDonogh in a very interesting fashion.
MacDonogh ends After the Reich with the Berlin crisis and the massive airlift to keep the Soviets from taking over the entire city. Much like Germany itself, Berlin was divided into four occupation zones, but the Soviets tried to force the other Allies out in 1948 by blockading the land route from the Western zones to the city itself. This chapter is actually rather brief, but it's brimming with information. While a more detailed account can probably be found in a book on the Airlift itself, MacDonogh does an excellent job of covering the story well enough for the reader to know why it happened and how it was resolved.
After the Reich is a very important book in a number of ways. It shows us the horrors of trying to rebuild a country that's been devastated by war and its own government's evil, as well as demonstrating that all sides in war are capable of atrocities. We also see how human many of these people who commit these atrocities are. One of the most interesting chapters is on the Nuremburg trials and how the big guys (Goering, Hess, and others) treated the trials. Goering is shown scoffing at everything, Hess pretends to have lost his memory, and they all seem very human. Because of this, they seem even more evil. After the Reich is a riveting overview of the immediate postwar history of Germany, and it's valuable for that..