Tag Archives: Berlin

Berlin, 1950 – Reflections

While the blog is called “Brush off the dust!” and I evoke the image of treasure hunting through the grandparents’ attic, I have never had the opportunity to crawl through any of my own grandparents’ attics.  In fact, I am pretty certain Mom’s parents did not have an attic in either of the houses I visited.  Dad’s family lives in Germany, so my opportunities to go attic-spelunking in Deutschland have been relatively few.  (For the record, I envy those of you whose matriarchs and patriarchs own attics.)

Conveniently enough, for me, my grandmother sent some small portion of her “attic”-worthy belongings my way when she made the decision to downsize earlier this summer.  (What treasures!)  Among these are included English-language relics of post-war Germany.

Grandpa was already an Army officer when the U.S. entered World War II, having signed up in Wyoming back in the 1920s.  While he did not actually see any fighting action as a logistics officer, he was in France behind the front lines, negotiating for lodging and food for the reconquest of France and Germany.  After the war, in 1949, he was stationed there, in Würzburg.  So, in my possession are several German publications, three of which I want to share, here.

One of the things I received among my Grandma’s treasures were Grandpa’s 1943, U.S. War Department-issued, introductory German language guide (TM 30-306).  Being reasonably competent in German, myself, I find this little booklet rather absurd and amusing.  (Pity the poor American sergeant who relied upon this guide to make his way!)  One particularly interesting aspect I noted is the pronunciation of the Germanich, the most important of which is the nominative, first person singular, Ich, which is described as “ish.”  I don’t know if it was done like this because the actual pronunciation is difficult to describe in text to English-speakers, if it was accidental because the writers of the guide were from Berlin, or learned from German-speakers speaking in the Berlin dialect, or if it was intentional that Americans should speak as Germans from the German capital.  Regardless, the guide must have produced thousands of ludicrous moments between awkward-speaking American soldiers and the beleaguered Germans.

U.S. War Department document TM 30-306

ublished for military personnel only,” June 22, 1943 by the U.S. War Department.”]

German-speaking areas shaded in black, according to the War Department

Throughout the guide are cartoons featuring "German" dialogue, though all is written as it should be pronounced, not spelled. Note the wiener dog; he appears in each cartoon at varying lengths.

Berlin was divided into four zones, just as the rest of Germany was, following the Allied defeat of the Nazis: the American, French, British and Soviet sectors.  Relations with WWII-ally Soviet Russia began to deteriorate quickly as the Second World War ended and the Cold War began.  This was dramatically played out in Berlin as the Soviets tried to starve the West out of West Berlin, leading to the dramatic Berlin Airlift.  (For a great synopsis of Berlin in 1948-9, click here to see this segment of CNN’s Cold War series, Episode 4.)

In 1950, right after the blockade had been broken with the Airlift, my Grandma’s Women’s Club got permission to travel through the Soviet sector and visit Berlin.  As a result of the blockade being broken, the Soviets allowed periodic visits across their zone capping the numbers per month.  I have an English language brochure about Berlin that was printed by Graphische Gesellschaft Grunewald, “issued by the ‘Official Travel Office’ [sic] of the City of Berlin.”  This answers questions such as, “How do I get to Berlin?” (“The time has passed when it was complicated and inconvenient to make arrangements for a visit to Berlin.  Today there are excellent air and road services to Berlin.  There is no difference between arranging a trip to Berlin and travelling in the Western zones.  However if travelling by car or railway a Russian visa must be obtained from a Soviet Consulate prior to departure in order that you can cross the Soviet zone.”)  “By what means shall I travel?”  (“Air travel is by far the fastest and least complicated method of reaching Berlin.  In this case a Russian visa need not be obtained.”)  “What currency is used in Berlin?”  (“The currency used in the three Western Sectors of Berlin is the same as in Western Germany, namely the German West Mark (DMW).  In the Soviet Sector of Berlin the currency used is the German East Mark.  It should be borne in mind that it is not permitted to have West Marks in one’s possession when visiting the Soviet Sector or Zone.”)  And, so on.  The “Official Travel Office,” or Verkerhrsamt, was located on Fasanenstrasse at Berlin-Charlottenburg in the Western zone.  The brochures placid answers and matter-of-routine tone fail to mask the sinister reality of East Berlin and Soviet-controlled East Germany: anything “not permitted,” especially something so simple as having foreign currency, should not feel so ominous!

"Welcome to Berlin" Hints for guests travelling to Berlin from foreign countries

"Is there any Night Life? The Night Life of Berlin is in full service and colourful electric signs show the way to a great variety of comfortable bars and night clubs."

"Berlin has an excellent telephone and telegraph service. Long distance telephone calls and telegrams may be sent and accepted to and from all parts of the world.

For this trip, busing Army wives through East Germany to Berlin, the Special Services issued a tour booklet: Special Services Tour of Berlin, 1950.  (It was compiled by Viviane W. Adams of the Berlin Military Post.)  The booklet covers historic German landmarks, some former Nazi landmarks (such as the SS and Gestapo Headquarters) and other tourist sites–many of them still in ruins from the bombing.

Light reading for a bus trip through Soviet-occupied East Germany.

Map of Berlin glued and folded into the back of the book

Soviet sector of the city

American zone

British sector

French zone

The sights in Berlin

Potsdamer Platz after the war

Future location of the Berlin Wall

The seat of the German Parliament during days of the monarchy and the Weimar Republic, built in 1884-94.

If I have the opportunity, I will need to ply Grandma for more information and stories (maybe photographs!) about the trip.  I know she recently relayed to Mom that a friend of hers wanted to see the airport where the Airlift had taken place on this trip and they were able to go right up to it and take pictures.  I hope Grandma took pictures, too!  Back to the “attic” I’ll go!

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Gateway drug to the Nazi Holocaust–the Nuremburg Laws


First page of the Nuremburg Laws signed by Adolf Hitler


As promised on Monday, this post is a follow up to my visit to the National Archives where the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 Nazi Germany are now on display.  (To see the remarkable story behind this exhibition check out the previous post.)  There are three laws that make up the Nuremburg Laws, but the one that is most important to the subsequent history is the final law seeking to establish the purity of German blood.  What follows, are two points of view regarding the context under which these laws come about.  One view, that of author and scholar Robert Gellately, focuses on a political origin, while the other view, that of scholar Henry Friedlander, focuses on the authority of the cultural elite.  These points of view are not mutually exclusive, simply different in both their emphasis and the end goal of their publications (Gellately writing about “the era of social catastrophes,” and Friedlander writing about “euthanasia to the final solution”).

The political environment.


"Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, The age of social catastrophe" by Robert Gellately


Following the conclusion of the First World War, on November 9, 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and Chancellor Prince Max of Baden resigned, leaving the returning soldiers, young Adolf Hitler among them, feeling betrayed.  In this vacuum an active socialist political movement stepped up: by noon Philipp Sheidemann of the Majority Socialists Party declared the formation of a “German Repubic,” followed within hours by Karl Liebknecht, of the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party, proclaiming a “Free Socialist Republic of Germany.”  These events would feed into the military’s myth that the “homefront let down the battlefront” during World War I and will become an “article of faith,” to Hitler, still recovering from a gas attack at the end of the war, and millions of other Germans.  The nickname, “November criminals,” will come to represent everything they hate: Marxists, Jews, Bolsheviks.  (83)

Bavaria’s monarchy in Munich was replaced by a radical Council Republic, despite its traditional and religious demeanor.  Hitler and many others tied the Jews with Communism and Bolsheviks because of prominent Russian and German Socialist and Communist leaders who were Jewish, though not necessarily religious.  They “become synonymous with Bolshevism and entangled with anti-Semitism.”  (84)  Although some of the leading left politicians would preferred Germany to follow the way of Russia–as Lenin deeply desired–the people of Germany were not overwhelmingly sympathetic:

Germany was a land of property owners, where millions had investments in stocks, bonds, and savings.  The country also had a pension and welfare system that helped integrate state and society.  Most workers were opposed to Communism, and even radical left-wingers were not anxious to emulate the Bolsheviks.  (84)

The concern, nonetheless, remained relevant as the majority of Russians had also not desired the Revolution Lenin orchestrated.  Lenin wanted to penetrate the west through Germany and Austria and sent emissaries who worked with the newly founded German Communist Party from 1918-1919, discussed the use of terror and attempted a coup. (85-87)  The presence of the Socialists caused a great deal of instability and violence; the new Bavarian government would ultimately have to lay siege to Munich to wrest it from a Leninite.  But, by this time, the socialists parties in Germany, Austria and Hungry were waning.  (89)  Yet, the damage was done and the stage had been set for Hitler.  Most Germans firmly associated the Jews with the Bolsheviks and, thus, with destabilization and international threat.  Anti-Semitic organizations achieved membership in the hundreds of thousands during this post-war period.  (91)

German economists will later blame the failing economy on international Jewry, labeling it a cancer besetting the economy, “Breaking the ‘slavery of interest’ became code for ending the economic power of the Jews.”  (91-2)  Hitler finally finds his calling in life, politics, and helps to further the interests of the German Workers’ Party, an organization well to the right of the soviets, interested in moderate government regulation on capitalism.  He makes his mark quickly, shrewdly competing with the socialists for workers in the ranks of the party by changing the name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and, in 1920, establishing the swastika on the white circle on the red background as the flag.  The red was meant to symbolize the “social idea” (and steal the attractive color from the soviets), the white nationalism and the swastika the “mission and struggle of Aryan man.”  (95-6)

After setbacks and then a sweeping rise to power, Hitler was elected Chancellor, with jobs and the economy being important campaign issues.  He initially says little pubically about the Jews, although the party boycotts and physically intimidates them, (315), but he does start his camp-system, some 160 such sites established by 1933, for torture and imprisonment (302).  Criminals, such as sex offenders, and communists are targeted–with German socialist support!  In the press, the camps are described as anti-Communist institutions to ease them into the culture, playing off the genuine fears of Communist disintegration of laws and order.  (303)

While the boycott of Jewish businesses fails to catch on, anti-Semitic policies were argued for in support of transferring Jewish professional success to Germans.  (317)  From the time of the boycott, “individual actions” were taken steadily against Jews–euphemism for violence and damage of property–without instigation from Berlin, acted entirely on local initiatives, though never without controversy.  But, despite this uneasiness with unsanctioned, but nevertheless unpunished, violence, the tenor was against the Jews and by 1935 Hitler believed he had the popular support he needed to start passing legal restrictions based on race.  And so, the Nuremburg Laws were passed forbidding the mixing of Jewish blood with German or German-related blood: banning marriages, sex and even the employ of a German woman under the age of 45 in a Jewish household.   Gellately reports on, “[a] Gestapo report for Berlin [that] said Jews were now shut out of the ‘community of the people.'”  (319)

The authority of the cultural elite.


"The Origins of Nazi Genocide, From euthanasia to the final solution" by Henry Friedlander


Origins of Nazi genocide are in the misappropriated biological theory of Darwin as applied to society:

Nazi genocide did not take place in a vacuum.  Genocide was only the most radical method of excluding groups of human beings from the German national community.  The policy of exclusion followed and drew upon more than fifty years of scientific opposition to the equality of man.  (1)

The would-be science of eugenics was advanced by German and other western scholars that “merged [eugenics] with the racist doctrine of ultra-nationalists to form a political ideology based on race.”  Scientists created constructs and scales on human intelligence, turning “popular prejudices” into scientific and academic theory, such as sexism based on brain size.  Nazi academics and doctors looked back and drew from a long tradition of academic authorities, as they so chose.  (1)

With his rise to the chancellorship, Hitler and his cadre of scientists began with sterilization, in 1933 and serving “as the model for all eugenic legislation” throughout Nazi control.  It forced sterilization on individuals with any of a variety of mental and physical disabilities.  The later Marriage Health Law, passed in the same year as the Nuremberg Laws,

mandated screening the entire population to prevent marriages of persons considered carriers of hereditary degeneracy, particularly those covered by the sterilization law.  (23)

As race hygiene had always linked disability to criminal activity, criminal traits believed to be hereditary were also targeted in 1933, often with the sympathy of law-abiding citizens.  (23)  A book compiling all the Nazi laws written against Jews fills a four-hundred-page tome.  While the first is written in 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,

the centerpiece of the anti-Jewish legislation was enacted in September 1935 as the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, together known as the Nuremberg racial laws.  (24)

This same law will be extended to include “other racially alien blood,” especially “Negroes and Gypsies.”  And, Jews will be eliminated from eligibility, though they are not originally, from German citizenship because German blood is a prerequisite.  (25)  Not only that, Jewish patients would be banned from hospital care under the same pretense.  (268)


The Nuremberg Laws will be on display at the National Archives for most of October, positioned opposite the Magna Carta and after the arc of the Hall of the Charters of Freedom.  I recommend the trip if it is possible.  The documents are profound not because of the words on the pages, nor even the signatures that passed them into law, but because they represented the next step, the one that set the legal course for the Holocaust.

For more information about the documents and how they came to be at the National Archives, or to see what they said exactly, refer to the previous post which has many useful links.

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