27th November 2006
The National Archives (TNA) has recently republished a 64 page pocketbook, first issued to British soldiers in late 1944 and early 1945, when they first crossed the frontier into Germany.
An introduction by Edward Hampshire, Modern Records Specialist at TNA, places the book in context:
"Germany [the pocketbook] must be viewed as a product of a specific historical moment, representing the beliefs, hopes and prejudices of the individual officials, propagandists and military officers who wrote it. At times unintentionally humorous and sweepingly generalist in its assertions, it deals with a range of social and political matters specific to the planned occupation; the guide also serves to open a window onto the wider cultural assumptions and political priorities of wartime Britain and its public servants."
The book was not immune from the tendency, common at the time, to indulge in national stereotyping. For example the following passage on 'What the Germans are like?'
"When you meet the Germans you will probably think they are very much like us. They look like us, except that there are fewer of the wiry type and more big, fleshy, fair-haired men and women, especially in the north. But they are not really so much like us as they look. The Germans have, of course, many good qualities. They are very hard working and thorough; they are obedient and have a great love of tidiness and order. They are keen on education of a formal sort, and are proud of their 'culture' and their appreciation of music, art and literature. But for centuries they have been trained to submit to authority - not because they thought their rulers wise and fight, but because obedience was imposed on them by force."
Another section covers 'What the Germans think of us?'
"...the basic German view of the British is something like this: The British do not work so hard as the Germans or take their work seriously. The British do not organise as well as the Germans ... But on the whole the Germans admire the British. The efforts of the German Propaganda Ministry to stir up hatred against us have not been in spite of the R.A.F. raids, a great success ... Even Hitler had a grudging respect for us ... He envied us the British Empire and admired the national qualities that went to building it up - imagination, enterprise and tough endurance."
Edward Hampshire in his introduction says quite correctly that "there are the generalisations that appear absurd and simplistic to modern eyes." But it is easy to forget how common this was at the time.
Compared with the US film shown to US troops entering Germany for the first time, (see my earlier posting) this booklet is surprisingly free from prejudice, and in many ways is down to earth and practical. For example the following passage shows an understanding of the effect of propaganda in wartime:
"You must also remember that most Germans have heard only the German side of the war and of the events that led up to it. They were forbidden to listen to any news except that put out by their own Propaganda Ministry and were savagely punished if they disobeyed."
And the scale of destruction caused by the Allied air raids:
"If you come from the west you will enter the most-bombed area in Europe. Here the destruction is many times greater than anything you have seen in London, Coventry or Bristol. Compare these figures: in eleven months (September, 1940, to July, 1941) the Germans dropped 7,500 tons of bombs on London - we dropped nearly 10,000 tons on Duisburg in two attacks between Saturday morning and Sunday morning, the 14th to 15th October 1944. In western towns from Hamburg south through the industrial Ruhr and Rhineland - with Essen, Dusseldorf, Duisburg and many other centres - and east to Nuremburg and Munich, you will see areas that consist largely of heaps of rubble and roofless windowless shells."
And the condition of the German people:
"In Western and Central Germany you will find a war area of bleak poverty and devastation. The Germans have been well and truly paid for what they did to Warsaw, Rotterdam and Belgrade. But the German people have had other things to bear. Probably more than three and a half million German soldiers have been killed in action and another million severely wounded. The supply of food for German civilians was restricted even before the war began so that they could have 'guns instead of butter.' During the war their rations have been a good deal lower than ours; they have had much less meat, bread and milk and the quality of the food was inferior."
Not surprisingly perhaps, the book was concerned that some soldiers 'may be tempted to feel sorry' for the Germans and stated in capital letters: "THERE WILL BE NO BRUTALITY ABOUT A BRITISH OCCUPATION, BUT NEITHER WILL THERE BE SOFTNESS OF SENTIMENTALITY."
Soldiers were warned to be on their guard against "propaganda in the form of hard luck stories" and told to "Be fair and just, but don't be soft."