Friday, September 28, 2007

Giles MacDonogh's "After the Reich"

Giles MacDonogh is the author of several books on German history, including The Last Kaiser: A Life of Wilhelm II and Frederick the Great as well as histories of Berlin and Prussia. A graduate of Oxford University, MacDonogh has written for the Financial Times, the Times (London), the Guardian, and the Evening Standard.

His latest book, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, charts the chaos in Germany following the collapse of the Third Reich and the savagery that consumed well over 2 million civilian lives as the country struggled toward reconstruction.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to After the Reich and reported the following:
Page 99 is representative of the first part of the book, which is the part which has excited reviewers. I have tried to give a 'warts and all' picture. Later, when I deal with the trials and reconstruction of Germany before 1949, the text is rather more staid.

Page 99:

saying the Germans had raped his sister. While the Woman was raped later by two Russians, a female soldier interrupted her comrades. When she saw what they were doing she merely laughed. The Woman promptly complained to another officer, but he dismissed her. They had not done her any harm, and all his men were healthy, he said.

Ruth Friedrich was spared, largely because her lover, the conductor Leo Borchard, spoke fluent Russian. She visited a friend who had been raped by seven soldiers, ‘one after the other, like beasts’. ‘We need to commit suicide . . . we certainly can’t live like this,’ the friend said. Ruth’s friend Frank addressed the Russian need for women: the euphoria of victory manifested itself in the flesh of Berlin’s womenfolk; the Russians took bodily possession of German soil, bit by bit; and bodily they consumed German flesh, night by night.

The preferred form of suicide was poison, and there was much discussion of the best and most painless way to quit life. The discussions had started before the Russians arrived. It had been a favourite topic of conversation between Hitler and his secretaries at their nocturnal teas. Berlin women, it seems, were short of food, but well provided with poison. There were instances of mass-suicide by poison. The actor Paul Bildt and some twenty others despatched themselves thus, only he woke again and lived for another dozen years. His daughter was among the dead. Attesting once more to the incidence of suicide among the nobles, especially those who lived on isolated estates in the Mark Brandenburg, the writer cites a number of cases showing how far the old families would go to protect the dignity of their daughters: death was preferable to dishonour.

Elsewhere the rapes soon became routine and when it was not accompanied by violence it could eventually be laughed off. A kind of gallows humour grew up that was encapsulated in the expression ‘Besser ein Iwan auf dem Bauch als ein Ami auf dem Kopf!’ (Better a Russki on the belly than a Yank on the head!), meaning that rape was preferable to being blown up by a bomb. The Woman’s friend, a widow, was over fifty when she was raped by an unbearded boy. He later paid her a compliment, saying she was considerably tighter than the women of the Ukraine. She was proud of the remark and repeated it to other women. One journalist of Margret Boveri’s acquaintance, for example, was able to make light of her rape, even if she had cried at the time – ‘in retrospect the story sounded very funny: the hanging water bottle and all the other bits of equipment getting in the way, the inexperience of the young man and the speed at which it was consummated’. Margret commented: ‘Middle-class people have never spoken so frankly about sex before. Are they really sympathising with the victims,
Learn more about After the Reich at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue