Beat starving in a camp

“The overall quality of the Eastern Worker experience is not entirely clear. The few who worked for farmers were generally satisfied with their treatment and payment, and initially some even wanted to stay in Germany forever. On the whole, the Eastern Workers, who were mostly females, worked much harder than either western European or Balkan foreign workers. In their native Ukraine, women generally worked harder than men.” – Karel C. Berkhoff,  in Harvest of Despair

Wreckage

“I hopped off in the Podil [in Kiev] and walked down the Andriïvsky Uzviz, which was lined with beggars all the way. Some of them were whining and begging openly for money, others exposed their amputated limbs in silence. There were other, quiet, intelligent-looking elderly men and women, some with spectacles and pince-nez, standing there; they were professors and teachers of various kinds, like our math teacher who had died. In the case of some of them who sat there you couldn’t tell whether they were alive or dead. There had always been plenty of beggars about even before the war, but now there were so many it was simply frightful. They wandered all over the place, knocking on people’s doors, some of them people who had lost their homes through fire, some with babies, some of them on the run, and some swollen with hunger. It was bitterly cold and the people walked down the streets with grim expressions on their faces, hunching themselves up from the wind, worried, in ragged clothes, in all sorts of strange footwear and threadbare coats. It was indeed a city of beggars.” – A. Anatoli Kuznetsov, Babi Yar

The crop was ripening

“There are almost no eyewitness accounts of public interactions between German and local city dwellers who were not girlfriends of the Germans. A glimpse comes from Jacob Gerstenfeld-Maltiel, a man who escaped from the Lviv ghetto and reached Dnipropetrovsk early in 1943. Despite his experiences as a Jew in the General Government, the way the Germans behaved toward the Slavs of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (all of whom he misidentifies as Russians) shocked him. It was for him ‘so abysmal that we, who came from the West, simply could not adjust to it. Here the Germans could really feel like the Herrenvolk. The Russians were put on the same level as cattle. It was inconceivable that a German would walk shoulder to shoulder with a Russian. If it happened that a German was obliged to walk with a Russian, he always strode a few paces behind him or in front. Germans sitting down with the locals in a café or a restaurant? The very idea was ridiculous! A German did not stand in line, whatever his rank was. He would commandeer the barber’s chair even if ten people were waiting for a haircut. He had a free ride in the trams and always had the right to a seat. The examples could be multiplied a hundred-fold, and though these were minor irritations, they humiliated the Russian population painfully and unceasingly.’ ” – Karel C. Berkhoff,  in Harvest of Despair

Body, too

“Passersby could be forced to watch public hangings of ‘saboteurs’ or ‘Jews.’ German onlookers, meanwhile, often took pictures. The victims were left suspended from the balconies or lampposts—there were no public gallows in the cities—for days. In Kiev, the first public hangings, of two ‘arsonists,’ apparently took place in late September 1941. They are also reported for that city in February and March 1942. On at least one of those later occasions, the ropes broke and, as a crowd looked on, the henchmen resorted to shooting the accused. Inhabitants of large cities also saw gas vans (actually, one van per city) speeding by. They called this mobile gas chamber that could hold and kill fifty prisoners the dushohubka—the destroyer of the soul.” – Karel C. Berkhoff,  in Harvest of Despair

No winners

“Food is given out in the evening. We stand in line, but instead of leading us into the kitchen in an organized fashion, they shout, ‘To the canteen!’ ‘Run!’ The hungry people rush to the kitchen, where there are several dirty barrels with a millet slop. Everybody knows that there is not enough food and tries to get at it first. Jostling starts. Now the ‘order supervisors’ appear and start up . . . a line using sticks, rods, rubber truncheons—anything they can beat you with. The usual results are head injuries, nearly broken arms, or the murder of an emaciated and weak prisoner. The beatings go on for hours. Meanwhile, half the prisoners no longer want to eat . . . They lie down on the damp ground—for there are not enough sheds for all—and sleep until 5 in the morning.” – Motel’e (quoted by Karel C. Berkhoff in Harvest of Despair; ellipses in original)

Special pleading

“They were taken away in groups of ten, past the trees. There, the first ten men dug themselves a common grave (the required amount of shovels had been arranged), and a brief volley of automatics rang out. The next ten were ordered to cover the grave with earth and to dig a new one. Thus it went on till the end. All died in silence, only one suddenly fell down with a heart-rending cry. He crawled across the ground to the legs of the soldiers who were coming to get the next ten. ‘Don’t kill me, my mother is Ukrainian!’ he screamed. They booted him hard, kicked his teeth out, and dragged him away under his arms. He fell silent, his bare feet dragging.” – Leonid Volynskii (quoted by Karel C. Berkhoff in Harvest of Despair)

Doing the Lord’s work

“Of the Ukrainians, the Baptists and Evangelical Christians seem to have helped Jews the most. In Volhynia alone, they apparently saved hundreds. These Protestants felt that their Christian faith allowed for nothing else. Also important was that they were a community in which mutual trust prevailed, so that they could quickly pass Jews from one locality to the next.” – Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair

Undeniable

“Everybody is saying now that the Jews are being murdered. No, they have been murdered already. All of them, without exception—old people, women, and children. Those who went home on Monday have also been shot. People say it in a way that does not leave any doubt. No trains left Lukianivka at all. People saw cars with warm shawls and other things driving away from the cemetery. German ‘accuracy.’ They already sorted the loot! A Russian girl accompanied her girlfriend to the cemetery, but crawled through the fence from the other side. She saw how naked people were taken toward Babi Yar and heard shots from a machine gun. There are more and more such rumors and accounts. They are too monstrous to believe. But we are forced to believe them, for the shooting of the Jews is a fact. A fact which is starting to drive us insane. It is impossible to live with this knowledge. The women around us are crying. And we? We also cried on September 29, when we thought they were taken to a concentration camp. But now? Can we really cry? I am writing, but my hair is standing on end.” – Iryna Khoroshunova, October 2, 1941 (quoted by Karel C. Berkhoff in Harvest of Despair)

Nor forgotten

“We still don’t know what they did to the Jews. There are terrifying rumors coming from the Lukianivka Cemetery. But they are still impossible to believe. They say that the Jews are being shot . . . Some people say that the Jews are being shot with machine guns, all of them. Others say that sixteen train wagons have been prepared and that they will be sent away. Where to? Nobody knows. Only one thing seems clear: all their documents, things, and food are confiscated. Then they are chased into Babi Yar and there . . . I don’t know. I only know one thing: there is something terrible, horrible going on, something inconceivable, which cannot be understood, grasped, or explained.” – Iryna Khoroshunova, September 29, 1941 (quoted by Karel C. Berkhoff in Harvest of Despair; ellipses in original)

German efficiency in action

“The Jewish Holocaust in Dnieper Ukraine was rather different from the Holocaust in western and central Europe, where Jews were put into ghettoes and then, sooner or later, were shipped away to be gassed to death. In Dnieper Ukraine, most Jewish men, women, and children died at the edge of or inside their graves: anti-tank ditches dating back to Soviet times or pits dug by prisoners of war, non-Jewish locals, or the victims themselves.” – Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair

The end of the world as they knew it

“After 1945 the world was totally different from what it had been in 1939; mid-century saw the balance of power shift westward across the Atlantic Ocean to a newly internationalist United States. Europe found itself divided along lines that were drawn up at wartime conferences in which most of the affected nations did not participate. Political division also took place in Asia, although not immediately after the war. Another consequence of the war was the decline of European colonialism. Empires were just too costly to maintain, and even though political leaders in Great Britain and France tried to hold on to their colonial possessions, the move toward independence in Africa and Asia was inevitable and irreversible.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Stalin would have had them all shot on sight

“The war crimes trials in Germany and Japan have been criticized by some as having no legal, judicial basis. Many critics making this argument have stated that the Allies would have been better off simply executing the top German and Japanese leaders under military law instead of engaging in an elaborate legal charade. Those who supported the trials, however, believe that they were an important step in the establishment of internationally accepted standards of behavior, and that all future political leaders needed to know that they could be held accountable in an international forum for wartime behavior. Whatever their legality, narrowly defined, the trials were an unprecedented public airing of German and Japanese policies and conduct. In addition, the Axis leaders tried and punished were given a kind of due process their victims never enjoyed.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Burning down the house

“Before 1939, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy were the most influential nations in the world, but when the war ended, Germany, Italy, and France were in shambles, and Great Britain was nearly bankrupt and its colonies were pressing for independence.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

It happened, nonetheless

“No one, whether Nazi or not, should be led summarily before a firing squad without legal trial and consideration of the relevant facts and proofs. Rather would I here and now be led out into the garden and shot than that my honor and that of my country should be smirched by such baseness.” – Winston Churchill to Josef Stalin (quoted in The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.)

Government policy

“The Germans systematically persecuted, hunted, and exterminated the Jews of Europe during the Nazi era. Once the war had started, they rounded up Jews from virtually every nation on the continent and summarily executed them, murdered them in gas chambers, or worked them to death in slave labor camps.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Cheeky lad

“Ortiz frequently went into German-occupied towns wearing civilian clothes to gather information, quietly passing himself off as a local. On one occasion, however, he did things a little different. He strolled unnoticed into a cafe, wearing a long coat. Several German officers were present, drinking and cursing the troublesome Maquis. They saved their special venom for the devious American who worked with the Maquis. Ortiz threw back his long coat and stood before them in his Marine uniform, a .45-caliber pistol in hand. Leveling the pistol at the celebrants, he had them raise their glasses in toasts to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Marines. When the gunpoint toasts were completed, Ortiz turned and vanished into the night.” – Steven J. Legge, “U.S. Marine Colonel Peter Ortiz served covertly with the Resistance in France”

Jeannie’s not going back in that bottle

“Between 1940 and 1945 the number of working women increased by 50 percent and the percentage of women in the U.S. workforce increased from 27.6 percent to nearly 37 percent. In the aviation industry, the increase was even more dramatic, from 1 percent to 65 percent by 1943. Time reported that in 1943: ‘Many a factory manager has found that when women are good they are better than men. They are more painstaking as inspectors, are nimbler with their fingers, don’t fret or get bored with repetitious work, are generally quicker, and particularly good at assembling small parts.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

And then the men came home

“American women achieved an unprecedented degree of independence during World War II. Many joined the military, and many others found themselves working outside the home for the first time in their lives. For those who entered the labor force and accepted employment in nontraditional jobs, the civilian day often began earlier and ended later. They were working a 48-hour week and still had a household to maintain. Everything from breakfast to bedtime seemed to have changed. Rationing and shortages affected the preparation of every meal, and the useful life of a piece of clothing was extended far beyond what it once had been. Working women adapted to the use of mass transportation, crowding into buses or streetcars rather than driving their own automobiles. Household items as mundane as metal bobby pins were prized because they were scarce. Working mothers had to provide for the well-being of their school-age children. Because day care was virtually nonexistent, grandparents or neighbors often helped. The phenomenon of the latchkey child began to grow. Because of the demands of wartime, juggling work schedules and maintaining the home, two or three generations of family members often lived under one roof, pooling their resources and sharing responsibilities. They planted victory gardens to supplement rationed staples, recycled whatever they could, and banked much of their income because there was little to buy. These nest eggs would play a part in the U.S. postwar economic boom as pent-up demand for consumer goods was satisfied. Although most husbands and boyfriends did return from overseas—some having been absent for more than three years—the definition of ‘normal’ home life had been forever changed, and aspects of the changed lives of American women in World War II endure today.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

No lebensraum for the neighbors

“The home front in occupied Poland was a veritable Nazi reign of terror. Polish Jews were herded off to concentration and extermination camps, and the treatment of Poles in general was what might be expected from an occupier who thought of them, at best, as Untermenschen. Because Poland was one of the first nations that the Nazis occupied (in 1939), they tested the limits of barbarity on Polish soil. Hallmarks of the Polish home front were massacres; forced labor; murders of Jews, intellectuals, clergy and the nobility; mass deportations of Poles, to be replaced by Germans; freezing; hunger; and misery.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Not like in other lands

“The solidarity of the Norwegian people (population three million) against the Nazi occupation was epitomized by the nation’s schoolteachers, who walked out en masse rather than teach a ‘Nazified’ history of the world.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Fingers in the dikes

“While the Dutch had little more than a ceremonial military presence (and the royal retinue), they did have Les Gueux (the Beggars), a secret society that had, since the 16th century, stealthily battled its country’s various oppressors. Les Gueux was responsible for poisoning Nazi soldiers in restaurants, drowning isolated Nazis in the canals, and other acts of patriotic terrorism. Dutch resistance was stubborn and courageous, and in the end, the Netherlands suffered enormously under the occupation, including thousands who starved during the severe winter of 1944-45 as the Allied invasion of Germany stalled on the Dutch border.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Equality

“The people of Leningrad and Stalingrad put up some of the most tenacious defenses in modern military history. Leningrad was under siege from September 1941 until January 1944, and as many as a third of its three million inhabitants died of starvation or disease. Electricity was cut off, potable water was nonexistent, and the only lifeline was a wintry truck and train route over frozen Lake Ladoga. In addition, the Germans on the outskirts of the city shelled it constantly, adding to the horrific casualty figures. Still, the citizens kept the trolley lines running and built their own fortifications, with the women digging a massive antitank ditch around the city, driving trucks, and operating streetcars. The Nazi assault similarly devastated Stalingrad, although over a shorter period of time. Munitions workers in the city drove the tanks that they had built directly off the assembly line and into battle. When the Nazis retreated, not a single building was left intact in Stalingrad.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Later they grew bombed and invaded

“By the time World War II broke out, Mussolini had been the Italian dictator for 17 years, and all political life revolved around this flamboyant, crude peasant from the Romagna hills in Northeast Italy. His Fascist movement was, like Hitler’s invocation of an earlier racially pure Reich, predicated on a return to the glory days of the Roman Empire. . . . He built up a huge though ineffectual army and bankrupted and terrorized the country. Although one of his greatest achievements, it was claimed, was making the trains run on time, the truth is that, as the war dragged on, nothing in Italy worked. While Mussolini spouted lines from Virgil and Dante, his people grew hungry.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

How to deal with labor costs

“During the later stages of the war, German industry used slave labor procured from occupied France and Poland, Russian prisoners, and Jewish concentration camp inmates. The living conditions were almost unfathomably harsh: long unpaid hours of work, meager food rations, unheated and inappropriate quarters (for example, dog kennels, stables, bombed work camps), inadequate water, no toilets or sanitation, rampant disease, and no medical attention. The Krupp munitions plants were the primary recipients of this slave labor force. Krupp even built a fuse factory on the grounds of the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, in the same area where I.G. Farben built its synthetic coal-oil and rubber plant. ‘Resettled’ Poles and Jews were forced to build the camp itself at Auschwitz (in 1940) but also to work in these adjoining factories until they collapsed from exhaustion; then they were exterminated.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Business as usual

“In February 1933, soon after being named Chancellor, Adolph Hitler convened a meeting with German business leaders. The three business leaders most vital to the war industry and rearmament of the Wehrmacht were present: Baron Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, who made armaments; Karl Bosch and Georg von Schnitzler from I.G. Farben, the chemical maker; and Albert Voegler, head of the United Steel Works. They were predisposed to support the new leader because, in their minds, he stood for order. Business leaders also believed, wrongly, that they could manipulate Hitler. Hitler explained to them that he planned to stay in power indefinitely, even if he did not win future elections. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring, also present, explained how certain ‘financial sacrifices’ were necessary and that these ‘surely would be much easier for industry to bear if it realized that the election of March 5 would surely be the last one for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years.’ Krupp was particularly impressed by the speech. On the spot, the Nazi inner circle was able to get promises of three million marks from the guests. Thus, from the very beginning of his regime, Hitler had enlisted the financial and political support of the major German industrialists.” – The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.

Desiring to be lied to

“Nothing is easier than leading the people on a leash. I just hold up a dazzling campaign poster and they jump right through it.” – Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, The World War II Desk Reference, Douglas Brinkley and Michael E. Haskew, eds.