23rd July 2007
One issue that intrigues me is how and why the British in Germany, after the war, transferred their efforts and energy from destruction to reconstruction.
One source which can give us an insight into this is the 'British Zone Review' the official publication of the British Military Government and Control Commission.
The first issue was published on 29th September 1945, nearly five months after the end of the war in Europe. In his introductory message on the front page, Field Marshal Montgomery, the Military Governor and Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Germany, spoke of entering the second phase of the occupation and how having won the war, his soldiers now had to fight a new battle to win the peace: the 'Battle of the Winter.'
"Before launching my troops into battle it has always been my custom to issue to them a Personal Message...
Some time before hostilities came to an end in Europe five months ago, plans were being prepared for the post-war task, which may be summarised as the permanent eradication of Nazism, and the administration of Germany according to the principles which we hold to be right.
Before the task of reconstruction can be undertaken, the complicated machinery of a war making race has to be carefully pulled apart. Furthermore, twelve years of Nazi rule and nearly six years of war have resulted in more than material destruction.
For five months we have been clearing the ground, and the task of sweeping clean is still proceeding. As we approach its completion we shall be entering, in concert with our Allies, the second stage, the stage of reconstruction. Much of the responsibility for guiding and supervising this reconstruction rests with you. The defeated enemy must be made to put his house in order. He must learn to feed himself. Also he must be made to pay for the war which was of his making. At present he cannot sustain himself, far less repay what he owes. First he must be raised to his feet, and then made to work in such a way that he will not only be able to liquidate his debts but finally find his own salvation. We shall try to be wise conquerors. As we were strong in battle so we shall be just in peace.
You are here in Germany to help with the administration and reconstruction of the most ravaged country the world has known. On you will depend the shape of the future Germany."
The issues which concerned the British were simple: how to avoid starvation and disease, which could spread to the rest of Europe. Under the heading 'Getting on with the Job' Montgomery explained that:
"The objectives for the battle of the winter are food, work and homes. Of course, it is not quite so simple as that; everybody knows that a thousand other considerations are immediately involved, transport, raw materials, administration and , above all, coal."
Under the headline, 'Will Germany starve this Winter: The problem of Feeding the British Zone', the current German food ration of 1,550 calories was contrasted with the "lowest wartime civilian consumption in Britain" of about 2,800 calories, and described as "the minimum needed to forestall an economic and social collapse that would be as disastrous for Western Europe as a whole as it would be for Germany" as "epidemics need no passports."
On page 8 of the same issue, another article described the 'Battle of the Winter' in more detail, under the heading 'Campaign against epidemics.'
"The war is over, but the Germans will receive a sharp reminder this winter that the terrors they unleashed in 1939 are not yet at an end. A demoralised people with inadequate housing, diet barely sufficient in some areas to prevent starvation, and little fuel for domestic heating, cannot hope to escape widespread misery and disease.
The Germans must fight the battle and bear the consequences, but in order to safeguard the occupying forces and to prevent Germany becoming a plague spot that would infect the whole of Europe we have to give whatever assistance is possible.
Unfortunately a serious strain has suddenly been thrown on this rather delicate structure. No sooner had the bulk of DPs been repatriated than a surge of hundreds of thousands of refugees threatened to pour in from the East - Germans turned out of Poland and Czechoslovakia, trekking westwards probably with little clothing and no food.
Quite apart from the general care of this mass of refugees, action must be taken to prevent them bringing fresh disease into our zone. The louse-borne scourge of typhus is a serious danger."