An address by Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, delivered at an IHR meeting in Orange County, California, on July 25, 2009.

(A report on the meeting is posted here.)

We hear a lot about terrible crimes committed by Germans during World War II, but we hear very little about crimes committed against Germans. Germany’s defeat in May 1945, and the end of World War II in Europe, did not bring an end to death and suffering for the vanquished German people. Instead the victorious Allies ushered in a horrible new era of destruction, looting, starvation, rape, “ethnic cleansing,” and mass killing --one that Time magazine called “history’s most terrifying peace.” 

Even though this “unknown holocaust” is ignored in our motion pictures and classrooms, and by our political leaders, the facts are well established. Historians are in basic agreement about the scale of the human catastrophe, which has been laid out in a number of detailed books. For example, American historian and jurist Alfred de Zayas, along with other scholars, has established that in the years 1945 to 1950, more than 14 million Germans were expelled or forced to flee from large regions of eastern and central Europe, of whom more than two million were killed or otherwise lost their lives.

One recent and particularly useful overview is a 615-page book, published in 2007, entitled After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation. / 3 In it, British historian Giles MacDonogh details how the ruined and prostrate German Reich (including Austria) was systematically raped and robbed, and how many Germans who survived the war were either killed in cold blood or deliberately left to die of disease, cold, malnutrition or starvation. He explains how some three million Germans died unnecessarily after the official end of hostilities -- about two million civilians, mostly women, children and elderly, and about one million prisoners of war.

Some people take the view that, given the wartime misdeeds of the Nazis, some degree of vengeful violence against the defeated Germans was inevitable and perhaps justified. A common response to reports of Allied atrocities is to say that the Germans “deserved what they got.” But however valid that argument might be, the appalling cruelties inflicted on the totally prostrate German people went far beyond any understandable retribution.

Although I’m focusing here on the treatment of Germans , it’s worth keeping in mind that they were not the only victims of postwar Allied brutality. Across central and eastern Europe, the heavy hand of Soviet rule continued to take lives of Poles, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and people of other nationalities.

As Soviet troops advanced into central and eastern Europe during the war’s final months, they imposed a reign of terror, pillage and killing without compare in modern history. The horrors were summarized by George F. Kennan, the acclaimed historian who also served as US ambassador to the Soviet Union. He wrote:

“The disaster that befell this area with the entry of the Soviet forces has no parallel in modern European experience. There were considerable sections of it where, to judge by all existing evidence, scarcely a man, woman or child of the indigenous population was left alive after the initial passage of Soviet forces; and one cannot believe that they all succeeded in fleeing to the West … The Russians … swept the native population clean in a manner that had no parallel since the days of the Asiatic hordes.”

During the last months of the war, the ancient German city of Königsberg in East Prussia held out as a strongly defended urban fortress. After repeated attack and siege by the Red Army, it finally surrendered in early April 1945. Soviet troops then ravished the civilian population. The people were beaten, robbed, killed and, if female, raped. The rape victims included nuns. Even hospital patients were robbed of their possessions. Bunkers and shelters, packed with terrified people huddling inside, were torched with flame-throwers. About 40,000 of the city’s population were killed, or took their own lives to escape the horrors, and the remaining 73,000 Germans were brutally deported.

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