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The Treatment of Postwar Germans by the Allies: The Ethical or Unethical Reality
Book Essay on: James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950
by James Coon
for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About James Coon
I am a fourth year History and German Studies major. I've developed a deep interest in German language, history and culture ever since I lived with a host family for a month in Bavaria while I was in high school. I selected Bacque's book because the plight of the Germans after the conclusion of the war, as well as what they had to specifically contend with compared to the Allies and the central Europeans, has always particularly interested me.
Abstract (back to top)
In this book, James Bacque analyzes recently declassified KGB archives of Post-World War II figures to reach the conclusion that Eisenhower and the Western Allies maliciously starved 9.3 million German expellees, POWs and civilians simply out of indignation and subsequently initiated an immense cover-up. Bacque claims that the Allies accomplished this enormous act of vengeance through the disruption of agriculture and manufacturing, intentional prevention of food deliveries and the implementation of "unnecessary" squalid conditions in the inmate camps. Bacque, while providing absolutely no concrete evidence of bodies, utilizes subjective oral histories and a perplexing array of figures to selectively extrapolate statistics while accusing the Americans and the British of being inherently "warlike" people and predisposed to violence. Bacque emphasizes the gravity of German POW maltreatment and praises Herbert Hoover for his humanitarian efforts in helping initiate a worldwide food campaign that allegedly helped save 800 million people. Bacque also asserts that this perceived mass murder of Germans is the longest running "big lie" perpetuated by historians and governments alike.
Essay (back to top)
Following the conclusion of World War II, a disproportionate number of German citizens, expellees and Prisoners of War were displaced in the chaotic theater of Europe. A significant number of these Germans perished due to various causes, and some historians have questioned whether their deaths were a consequence of unethical treatment by the Allies. One of these historians, James Bacque, the author of Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, uses many selective and highly speculative accounts from oral histories of prisoners and guards to governmental communiqués and recently declassified KGB archives to support his assertion that most if not all of the “excess” deaths of the Germans following World War II were intentionally caused by the Western Allies. According to Bacque, at least 9.3 million Germans were maliciously starved to death or murdered at the behest of Dwight Eisenhower and the Western victors who subsequently conducted a mass cover-up. While many Germans did indeed die needlessly following the end of the war, Bacque’s biased assertions of malicious intent by the Western Allies and the subjective evidence he uses to substantiate these claims are fundamentally false and merely conspiratorial.
Bacque unequivocally accuses Dwight Eisenhower and the Western Allies for their premeditated culpability in millions of alleged deaths of Germans. In fact, he claims that in 1941 the Allies preemptively desired to “deceive the public” (Bacque, 19) and by 1944 were already constructing a “policy of vengeance” (Bacque, 167) to unleash on the Germans: “Western planning for vengeance against Germans and for the destruction of Germany began in England in 1944, with its chief architects Morgenthau and Dwight Eisenhower” (Bacque, 25). Bacque purports that Eisenhower simply wanted to see the Germans struggle and “see things made good and hard for them for a while” (Bacque, 26). Additionally, Bacque emphasizes that Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s immensely punitive Pastoralization plan (the Morgenthau Plan) stipulating German deindustrialization--which would necessitate the deaths or expulsion of 25 million Germans for it to be successful-- was actually continued under Eisenhower: “Eisenhower began to carry it out on his own initiative [in ‘secret’] in 1944” (Bacque, 28). He therefore accuses Eisenhower of circumventing the standards set by the Geneva Convention by perpetuating the inhumane Morgenthau plan whereby he maliciously keeps the prison camps in squalid conditions. Furthermore, Bacque accuses Eisenhower of “making it a crime punishable by death to feed the prisoners” (by the general citizenry), (Bacque, 40) and in effect he initiated a “terror policy” (Bacque, 45) regarding the treatment of the German prisoners. Essentially, Bacque argues that Eisenhower was no less than a tyrant by establishing a systematic policy of starvation through circumvention of the Geneva Convention-- solely because of his indignation towards the Germans. He and the Allies allegedly administered these draconian policies in several ways.
Purported Western maltreatment of Germans
First and foremost, the Allies supposedly fabricated the worldwide food shortage of 1945 to 1947. As is very widely known, the consequences of exhausted resources, destruction, migration and disease after World War II precipitated a mass food shortage in Europe and the world over. However, Bacque asserts that this is merely a “creation” by fanciful historians and that in fact the actual world food production was “97 per cent of normal” (Bacque, 124). As a result of this ‘deception’ many Germans perished while all along there was an ample food supply for them.
Second, the enforced reduction of industry (supposedly the brainchild of Eisenhower’s continued adherence to the Morgenthau Plan) “assured the prolonged starvation of Germans.” Through drastically limiting oil production, dismantling and confiscating machinery and factories, imprisoning the male labor force and so forth, the Allies were making it “good and hard on the Germans.” Bacque perceives this reduction of industry as “theft” by the Allies and adds it to the list of crimes perpetrated by them. Additionally, he argues that as a result of this concerted effort to starve the Germans through deindustrialization, the production of fertilizer was intentionally eradicated, marking a great hindrance on German self-sufficiency by producing their own foodstuffs (Bacque, 92).
Finally, Bacque highlights the ethnicity and the ‘inherent’ malevolent nature of the Western victors as causes for their inhumanity towards the Germans. Bacque affirms that the British and Americans, namely English-speaking nations, are “warlike peoples” whose “Anglo-Saxon militarism” has led to furious vengeance in previous generations against such peoples as the Irish, French, Sioux, Filipinos (basically anyone besides the Americans and British), (Bacque, 39). The Anglo-Saxons wage war because it is supposedly their nature to do so. Unfortunately, expresses Bacque, the Germans after World War II were just hapless victims of these violent tendencies. Through a mass fabrication of a food shortage, severe deindustrialization and the violent nature of an entire people, the Germans were systematically starved, abused and killed. In order to truly assess what Bacque is alleging here--namely wanton Anglo-Saxon tyranny and vengeance--one must examine the Post-World War II figures of the dead and missing.
Deaths of POWs
Post-World War II statistics are a perplexing array of figures stemming from different cultures and experts. However, James Bacque seems to have extrapolated his own interpretation from these numbers. He states that there are “three main locales for death for Germans after the surrender”: the POW camps, the expellees at home or on the road, and the residents of occupied Germany (Bacque, 108). Starting with the POW camps, there were also “three areas where corpses accumulated. The open air inside the camps themselves…in the camp hospitals… [and] during the transportation to, or in the ‘evacuation hospitals’” (Bacque, 52). Bacque’s previous work Other Losses postulates there were an additional 800,000 to one million German POWs who died who weren’t accounted for after the war (Bacque, 52). In Crimes and Mercies, by examining recently declassified KGB documents, Bacque adds another 450,600 prisoner deaths to the list, making a sum total of 1.5 million deaths of POWs (Bacque, 84). He comes to this conclusion by comparing Soviet and German census results between 1946 and 1950 and “subtracting the ‘proven’ Soviet deaths of Germans from the West German survey of the missing” (Bacque, 74). From this, he concludes that 600,000 to 900,000 died in American and French captivity alone (Bacque, 75). He’s confident in these figures because he claims that the Russians are telling the truth--whereas in the West the “lying continues” (Bacque, 84) --because the Soviets simply “have nothing to hide” (Bacque, 74) since the Cold War is over.
Mass resettlement and deaths of citizens in Postwar Europe
It is generally accepted that there were approximately 10 to 14 million expelled ethnic Germans from their Eastern lands as a direct result of the Potsdam Conference of July, 1945. Bacque once again compares census results between October 1946 and September 1950 and subtracts the 1950 census results recorded by the Germans “under Allied supervision” as 68,230,796 from what the population “should have been” when he adds in 4,176,430 births according to the Statistisches Bundesamt, which creates the sum of 73,940,891. He somehow concludes that there must have been “a shortage of 5,710,095” people (Bacque, 75). Consequently, he deduces that 5.7 million inside of Germany must have been killed as well as an additional 2.1 million expellees en route to Germany that “were not included in the official death figures” according to the West German government (Bacque, 84). Altogether, 1.5 million POWs, 2.1 million ethnic German expellees and 5.7 million Germans inside of Germany allegedly perished needlessly at the behest of the Western powers, creating a grand total 9.3 million unaccounted-for deaths (Bacque, 116). How could this happen? In Bacque’s view, “the Military Governor and official German figures are self-contradictory and self-serving” (Bacque, 122-23) and the deaths of these people were concealed to preserve the reputations of the Western powers.
Denial of history
The aforementioned statistics compiled by Bacque indicate that an extraordinary denial of history would have to have occurred here. “No denial of history has ever been so successful” (Bacque, 113) according to Bacque; and historians have simply been lying to cover up “the longest running big lie in the history of Western Democracies” (Bacque, 124). Furthermore, these deaths were not accidental and were actually perpetrated by a ‘vengeful’ Eisenhower and Western elites intent on creating utter misery for the poor Germans. This scenario is utterly improbable. Bacque has clearly extrapolated desired results from a selective base of sources including his previous book Other Losses to somehow deduce that he has uncovered the greatest historical oversight (or massive “lie”) in history. Since there are so many falsehoods in his argument to be dispelled, one must look at the most outlandish statement that he makes: Eisenhower’s perceived tyranny and collusion with other Western powers to starve the Germans, the “creation” of the world wide food shortage and the ban on fertilizer, and finally his dubious evidence and a sheer lack of common sense.
Eisenhower and the Western Allies were swamped with millions of POWS. Initially, the U.S. expected only 3 million but eventually received 5 million Wehrmacht soldiers (out of a total of 11 million including the other Allies), in addition to 7 million displaced persons (Ambrose and Bischof, 144). Clearly, Eisenhower was overwhelmed and even commented in a letter to George C. Marshall that “he had never been trained at West Point on what to do with such masses of prisoners” (Ambrose and Bischof, 8). This staggering prison population created the harrowing open-air prison camps, not an evil Eisenhower. Moreover, while Eisenhower initially harbored a “collective guilt” for the Germans, according to Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose in the anthology Eisenhower and the German POWS: Facts against Falsehood (which is actually an explicit refutation of Bacque’s book Other Losses by a number of prominent scholars), his views of the Germans eventually evolved to assume that not all Germans were guilty, although it was “correct” to assume that all Nazis were guilty (Ambrose and Bischof, 34). Anyone with a shred of humanity (including Eisenhower who with his own eyes witnessed the grisly piles of bodies at the concentration camps) would harbor resentment for an advanced industrialized nation that enforced a policy of mass genocide on 6 million Jews and an additional 6 million Russians, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, etc. Bacque doesn’t even mention the term Holocaust in his book and even attempts to act the apologist for the Germans by emphasizing their victimization at the hands of “Anglo-Saxon militarism.”
Exoneration of Eisenhower
Eisenhower simply did not maliciously starve 9.3 million Germans. Whatever punitive actions were taken against the Germans were directed by his superiors, namely the leaders of the Big Three (Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill) who endorsed the policy of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ (Ambrose and Bischof, 32), (and not Eisenhower as Bacque claims), and the JCS1067 (Joint Chiefs of Staff paper) which dictated orders on conducting the occupation of Germany. Bacque conveniently fails to mention this crucial document at all because this document stipulated a virtual ban on imports for Germany, which in turn would support Bacque’s general argument, while also refuting the blame on Eisenhower (Ambrose and Bischof, 71). This was due to the fact that the other liberated territories were in dire conditions as well and the Germans were not to take precedence over the countries that they had pillaged and destroyed. Not surprisingly, Bacque doesn’t even hint at the fact that Eisenhower pleaded with his superiors to allow him to import food: “In view of the critical food situation in Germany, it is necessary for me to take timely action to meet emergency conditions” (Ambrose and Bischof, 6). Eisenhower intended to import food but the JCS1067 had impeded him greatly until he utilized the “disease and unrest” presurrender revision of the document. Occupation policies were predetermined by the Big Three and the European Advisory Commission and not by a diabolical and vengeful Eisenhower (Ambrose and Bischof, 59). Eisenhower’s “starvation order” (according to the oral history of a random U.S. Army officer), which supposedly commanded German POW camps “to exterminate as many POWs as the traffic would bear,” is also entirely unsubstantiated. Bacque even admits that he was “unable to locate the original of this order” (Bacque, 41). It was Eisenhower who actually requested adequate sustenance for the Germans.
Existence of food shortage
Bacque’s argument that the food shortage after the war was a “creation” by historians is simply unfounded. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) anticipated a catastrophic food shortage prior to the end of the war and even stated in March, 1945 that “the plight of the 4,500,000 inhabitants of the three Western provinces [of Germany] will become absolutely catastrophic” (Ambrose and Bischof, 97). Destroyed shipping and transportation networks that precluded food to be sent to those who needed it; the disappearance of essential coal reserves (which made fertilizer production impossible and not, as Bacque postulates, a consequence of the Morgenthau Plan to reduce fertilizer production clandestinely enforced by Eisenhower); dilapidated or destroyed farm equipment; drastically reduced manpower; inoperable production factories; and a variety of other factors that Bacque refuses to acknowledge caused a food shortage, not the vengeful Westerners (Ambrose and Bischof, 104). The food crisis became most severe in the winter of 1946-47 (das Hungerjahr) in lieu of extreme weather conditions and the breakdown of old rolling stock (which were utilized to move bulk items such as essential coal) thereby causing the collapse of the fragile German economy (Ambrose and Bischof, 110). Not only were the Germans starving but so were the Dutch, the British, the French, the Belgians, the Italians and even the Greeks, to name just a few. The “creation” of such a worldwide calamity is wholly inconceivable.
Lack of evidence
Finally, Bacque produces absolutely no tangible evidence to substantiate his audacious assertions and uses highly selective sources. Throughout the entire book Bacque does not mention any discovery of a single one of these alleged 9.3 million bodies. According to a Maclean’s review of the book, credible historians “whom Bacque considers supportive” such as Peter Hoffman of Montreal’s McGill University, admonished Bacque to actually locate the bodies: “for years, I’ve told him to find the bodies…if there were mass graves, there would be evidence of them” (Maclean’s, 1997). Bacque provides none! Moreover, Bacque uses subjective oral histories from prison camp guards such as Martin Brech and inmates whose memories and biases can cloud true occurrences (other inmate accounts have actually been favorable concerning their Western captors). He also cites his own previous work for many of the statistics that he throws out and invests an unusual amount of confidence in the ‘reliability’ of KGB archives by claiming that the Russians no longer have anything to hide. Bacque seems to have no pertinent factual backing whatsoever for his argument.
It would be impossible to elaborate on all the fallacies that Bacque postulates and all the circumstantial and concrete evidence he ignores. To name a few: his questionable extrapolations from a convoluted array of numbers; his ridiculous accusations of the Western powers having a naturally “warlike” prowess; his characterization of the Germans as the consummate ‘victims’; his ignorance of the catastrophic conditions in Europe after World War II and the psychological damage imposed on its residents and soldiers. Those who have a strong German revisionist perspective would find this book quite fascinating, but anyone with common sense and some historical background would find this book’s argument of Western malice and mass murder to be factually vacuous, purely conspiratorial and overly sensational.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: