A lot has been written about World War II, and some has even been written about the aftermath regarding the development of the Cold War. However, there is not a lot of published information giving an overall view of the occupation of Germany and the development of the divided country that lasted for 40 years. After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh rectifies that. It is heavily sourced, examining individual accounts as well as publications covering certain aspects of the occupation to give a broad overview of the horrors that developed and the neglect and outright savagery that caused the deaths of huge numbers of Germans in the aftermath of the war. MacDonogh gives a vivid yet depressing picture showing that inhumanity was not limited to the Nazis.
MacDonogh begins the book with the months leading up to the end of the war, as the Soviets were advancing through Poland and eastern Germany, raping and pillaging as much as possible. Revenge was a common motive, vengeance for every inhumane act the Nazis perpetrated on the Soviets during the almost four years of war. Others just gave in to their baser instincts. Heavily covered in this book, at the beginning and throughout, is how Austria figured into the whole issue. Many on both sides saw the Austrians as nearly as guilty as the Germans for what happened, yet it was always treated slightly differently. The fall of Vienna to the Soviets is the first chapter, and MacDonogh uses this as a stepping stone to detail just how horrible the Soviets treated everybody who lived behind the new front lines. Starvation as well as wanton rape were the main aspects of civilian life once the Soviets had passed.
However, After the Reich doesn’t absolve the other Allies from all blame. The American and British troops committed their fair share of horrible acts, from wholesale theft of property and infrastructure to their own share (though admittedly much less than the Soviets) of rapes and murders. MacDonogh details everything, warts and all, though he leaves most of this criticism on these topics to the Soviets, who were quite blatant about it.
This makes the beginning of the book quite heavy. While MacDonogh obviously doesn’t go into details of individual rapes, the near-constant refrain about the rape and pillaging, both from individual accounts as well as statistical ones, wears on the reader. However, it also does get across just how horrible life in Germany and Austria was in the few months after the war ended. He also details the mass starvation as the populace lived on the bare minimum (and sometimes less) of sustenance. Hundreds of thousands died in this aftermath, and some thought “good riddance” to a population that they blamed for the war.
This idea of “collective guilt” for the German populace is also examined by MacDonogh, where he presents figures from both sides of the controversy on whether the German civilians should be treated as a conquered people or as victims of the Nazi horror machine. It’s a running theme throughout as MacDonogh moves on to the administration of the four zones that Germany was divided into (Soviet, American, British and French). The effort to “de-Nazify” Germany was sometimes pursued heavily, with most of the populace seen as carrying some blame for what happened. On the other hand, this desire waned over the years as the objective became more to form a German democratic state to counter what the Soviets were turning their zone into.
This is where After the Reich really becomes interesting, as MacDonogh details the political machinations of both sides (American/British/French against the Soviets) as they jockey for position. Stalin wanted a united Germany that acted as a buffer between the West and Poland/Czechoslovakia (where he was busy installing Communist rule), while the other Allies desperately resisted this idea, for various reasons. The French did not want a united Germany on their doorstep again, while the British and Americans did not want a prospective Soviet ally that close to France. This information is clearly documented by MacDonogh in an interesting fashion.
Even more interesting, before he gets to the politics of the situation, are his (sometimes brief) chapters on the return of culture to the various German zones and how this differed from one zone to another. The reader gets information on the return of theater, opera and classical music to German cities as they slowly started to rebuild from the vicious Allied bombing during the war. We see how civilians were learning to cope with the hardships brought on by occupation and resettlement, as millions of Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes to make room for land settlements with Czechoslovakia and Poland.
MacDonogh ends After the Reich with the Berlin crisis and the massive airlift to keep the Soviets from taking over the entire city. Much like Germany itself, Berlin was divided into four occupation zones, but the Soviets tried to force the other Allies out in 1948 by blockading the land route from the Western zones to the city itself. This chapter is actually rather brief, but it’s brimming with information. While a more detailed account can probably be found in a book on the Airlift itself, MacDonogh does an excellent job of covering the story well enough for the reader to know why it happened and how it was resolved.
After the Reich is an important book in a number of ways. It shows the horrors of trying to rebuild a country that has been devastated by war and its own government’s evil, as well as demonstrating that all sides in war are capable of atrocities. We also see how human many of those people who committed these atrocities were. One of the most interesting chapters is on the Nuremburg trials and how the big guys (Goering, Hess, and others) treated the trials. Goering is shown scoffing at everything, Hess pretends to have lost his memory, and they all seem very human. Because of this, they actually seem even more evil.
After the Reich is a riveting overview of the immediate postwar history of Germany, and it’s valuable for that. You can read a lot of different books with some details of this time period, but I don’t know if this broad of an overview has existed before now. Try to get through the beginning of the book, which will really affect your mood (despite being important to know), and you will find yourself rewarded.