1945 poster: "The Shameful Deeds: Your Fault!"

UCSB Hist 133c, L07:
The 1945 Defeat and Its Legacies
lecture on Jan. 25, 2006 (L06; L08)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
contact: marcuse@history.ucsb.edu
page created Jan. 28, 2006, updated

Fortunes of War
Discovery of Genocide

Introduction (back to top)

  • Last lecture I argued that experiences during the Weimar and Nazi periods decisively shaped politics in Germany after 1945. Today I will argue that specific events at the end of the war shaped political culture in Germany from 1945 until the 1960s & beyond.
  • In order to ensure that students had read the assigned textbook chapter 6, I had announced that Q2 would be about the Potsdam Conference, denazification, or the reasons for the division of Germany. We did the Potsdam Conference. The question had two parts:
    • EITHER: name the countries that participated in the Potsdam conference,
      OR: say when it took place (month/s+year)
    • Name one crucial issue that was discussed at the conference
    • Answers:
      Soviet Union, Britain, United States (but not France or Germany); July-Aug. '45;
      Fulbrook 1992 p. 132f gives: borders and reparations at the two main issues.

1943-1945: Fortunes of War (back to top)

  • Feb. 1943: Battle of Stalingrad as turning point
  • June 1944: Allies invade France; end is near
  • July 1944: Soviet army liberates Maidanek camp
    July 20: army-led attempt to assassinate Hitler
  • But: extermination of Hungarian Jews, May-Aug. 1944
    But: murder of last 70,000 from Lodz gheto in Poland, Aug.
    But: Battle of the Bulge, Nov./Dec. 1944
    Winter 1944-45: evacuation "death" marches from camps -> skyrocketing death tolls

The Discovery of Genocide (back to top)

  • Dachau statistics
    • HALF of all 36,000+ named deaths occurred in last 6 months before liberation (Nov. 1944-Apr. 1945), thus equal numbers in almost 12 years vs. 1/2 year.
    • 1933-1944: average of 4 deaths per day
      1945: more than 100 deaths per day
    • 1940-1943: 1000-3000 deaths per year
      (avg. 80-250/mo only twice more than 400 per month)
    • 1944:    403 in October
                  997 in Nov.
                1,915 in Dec.
      1945: 2,625-3,977 per month from Jan. to Apr.
  • Commandant Kramer of Belsen to SS administration in Berlin, March 1, 1945 shows how utterly out of control the situation had become.
    • "You informed me me by telegram of 23rd February, 1945, that I was to receive 2,500 female detainees as a first consignment from Ravensbrück. I have assured accommodation for this number. The reception of further consignments is impossible, not only from the point of view of accommodation due to lack of space, but particularly on account of the feeding question. .... [I]t was decided that the camp could not hold more than 35,000 detainees. In the meantime this number has been exceeded by 7,000 and a further 6,200 are now on their way. As a result all barracks are overcrowded by at least 30%. ... In addition to this question, a spotted fever and typhus epidemic has now begun, which is spreading every day. The daily mortality rate, which was still in the vicinity of 60-70 at the beginning of February, has now attained a daily average of 250-300 and will increase further in light of the prevailing conditions."1945 Poster of liberated camp scenes
      (note: Anne Frank and her sister were dying in Belsen at this time)
  • Allied response: blame the Germans, rub their noses in the atrocities they perpetrated!
  • German response: The "Three Myths"
    • Myth of ignorance: "We didn't know"
      became: We don't want to know
    • Myth of victimization: "good Germans" were victims of "bad Nazis"
      became: victims of Allies (later: tourists)
    • Myth of resistance: Inasmuch as we knew, we resisted
      became: we know enough; sites should be cleaned up, survivors are unimportant
  • The Allied policies thus had to get the Germans to learn what had happened, make them feel responsible for it, and keep them from becoming too active in resisting those lessons.
  • How these myths played out over time played an important role in West and East German political culture for decades. We will return to these myths and their consequences in lecture 16.

Conclusion (back to top)

  • The lecture concluded with the three representative biographies illustrating how leading German politicians experienced the Weimar and Nazi years, and the end of the war (see end of L 5).
  • I didn't have time for the 6-minute film clip, so I began the next lecture with it.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Jan. 28, 2006, updated: see header
previous lecture:
06: Weimar & Nazi Germany   |   next lecture: 08: Four Ds of Potdam
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