Category Archives: USSR

Who All “Collaborated” with Nazism in Europe?

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 366-368:

The frequently reiterated assertion that the clearance of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary has in some way prevented the outbreak of World War III is a proposition so obviously false as hardly to deserve rebuttal. What made for peace in Europe was a lengthy occupation of Germany by both superpowers, which in itself offers a complete explanation of why, so long as it continued, no danger was to be apprehended from that quarter. The successful rehabilitation of the German political system, the inculcation of democratic habits and instincts among the people, and the binding together of postwar Germany within a larger European union are nearly as important factors in the transformation that has taken place in the character of European nationstate interactions since 1945. In these circumstances, the continuing presence of significant ethnic German minorities in Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Russia has not threatened the peace of the continent. There is no reason to suppose that if others had remained in their ancestral homelands a greater menace was to be apprehended.

Lastly, the suggestion that the ethnic Germans were, as presumed fifth columnists before the war or eager Nazi collaborators during it, especially if not uniquely deserving of punishment is no easier to sustain. As we have seen, a rule specifying a minority nationality’s unconditional duty of loyalty to a state to which it has been unwillingly attached that can be depended upon to vindicate the Czech or Slovak nation’s stance in 1918 [deserting in great numbers to fight for Russia rather than Austria-Hungary] and to condemn that of the Sudetendeutsche twenty years later is difficult to formulate. As for their wartime record, evidence is scanty that it was any worse than, or different from, that of the German people as a whole. Unquestionably that is quite bad enough, and I should not wish to be interpreted as contending otherwise. But even if all Germans, ethnic or Reich citizens, were equally guilty, not all Germans were equally severely punished. Why the Volksdeutsche, who if the worst that can be said about them is true came late to Nazism, should have been imprisoned, expropriated, and deported when the people of the country that originated Nazism and exported it abroad by the most brutal means suffered none of these things is hard to square with notions of strict and impartial justice.

More to the point, it conveniently elides the wartime record of the majority populations, which itself did not always bear close examination. Many Slovaks, for example, bore little less responsibility for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference than did the Sudeten Germans. For most of the Second World War, Slovakia was a German client state; Slovak troops took part in the invasion of Poland alongside their German allies in September 1939, and of the Soviet Union in June 1941. With only a single dissenting voice in the Slovak parliament, the great majority of the country’s Jewish population was expelled to German-controlled territory, from which only a comparative handful returned alive. Yet few Slovaks were punished after the war for these offenses, and none expelled. Besides, at a more mundane level the postwar meaning of “collaboration” was highly variable, with the same actions—or inactions—attracting either official toleration or condign penalties based on one’s ethnicity. During the Great War of 1914–18, J. R. Sanborn points out, some of the inhabitants of central and southeastern Europe “held affinities for one occupying force or another … but most people wisely tried to keep their heads down, to stay out of danger when they could, and, when all else failed, to run away. Nothing got you on the end of a rope faster than taking sides in a fluid war with an uncertain outcome.” In the Second World War also, this inglorious but time-tested formula for survival was the most popular strategy practiced by ethnic Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and most other peoples who were given the opportunity to do so by their Nazi overlords, or, in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, their scarcely less vicious Stalinist counterparts. (Tragically, it was an option denied to Jews, Sinti, and Roma.) For only the Germans, though, was it adjudged a “passive war crime” at the end of the conflict.

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Turning German “Resettlers” into “New Farmers”

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 322-324:

The Soviets had no intention of allowing the “resettler” question (the term “expellee” was deemed politically incorrect in the East, as implying undue harshness on the part of the removing governments) to hang over their occupation zone indefinitely. The focus instead was on completing the task of resettlement and assimilation—or at any rate declaring it completed—within a measurable period.

Accordingly, the Soviet military authorities decided to kill two birds with one stone by tying expellee resettlement to land redistribution. Because most expellees in East Germany, like their counterparts in the West, had already been placed in the countryside—in Brandenburg, nearly 55 percent of the new arrivals were living in settlements of less than two thousand inhabitants in December 1947—this solution had the further advantage that no substantial internal redistribution of the four-million-strong expellee population would be required. Agricultural estates of more than a hundred hectares and those belonging to “war criminals” were broken up and expellees settled on the new smallholdings in numbers out of proportion to their share of the population. By the conclusion of the program, some 567,000 hectares of land were in expellee hands.

The results, though, generally bore out the prognostications of those British officials who had successfully diverted Ernest Bevin from pursuing a similar will-o’-the-wisp in 1944. The land reform program was an expensive failure. “Even at the end of 1946, three-quarters of the Neubauern (new farmers) had to work without horses … and only one third of the land reform farmers owned a cow. Only one farmstead in four was equipped with a plough, one in five with iron harrows and only one in fourteen with reapers and threshing machines.” Those who received livestock and equipment, moreover, tended to be members of the indigenous population, who profited from their superior connections in the rural communities to those overseeing the redistribution, while “resettlers” were largely overlooked. Lastly, exorbitant and unrealistic state requisitions and quotas, which forced the new farmers to turn over even their seed grain and sowing potatoes to the government, made it impossible for many to generate the minimum required for bare survival. As a result, living standards for the Neubauern were, as state inspectors reported in 1950, “almost unimaginably low,” while the cost of the program, which by 1953 had reached the alarming figure of 900 million marks, was described by Heinrich Rau, the Minister of Planning, as “a bottomless pit.” Rather than acknowledge the failure of the experiment and, as West Germany progressively did, recall the expellees from their initial billets in the countryside to the cities and towns as jobs and houses became available for them, the Soviet military authorities doubled down on their losing investment and announced a large-scale rural housing program in 1947. With practically the entire housing budget of the east going into building farmsteads that the resettlers were rapidly abandoning, reconstruction of war-damaged cities was virtually halted. As one Neubauer recorded, “The despair and anger among the settlers know no bounds…. Whole groups of settlers leave the settlements at night and have fled to the West …” Not until 1950 was this costly scheme discontinued, with very little to show for it.

By then, however, the authorities were ready to declare victory and move on. The Central Agency for Resettlers was dissolved in July 1948 and responsibility for its functions transferred to a small and low-profile section of the Ministry of the Interior. From that point on, even the term “resettler” (Umsiedler) became almost as taboo as “expellee” had become: all were to be equal citizens of the new German Democratic Republic, without distinction.

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Czech and Polish “Wild West” in 1947

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 255-257:

The removal of the ethnic Germans was not just an enormous logistical undertaking. It was also the source of a highly disruptive economic and social transformation of the affected areas, one whose impact remains to the present day. In much the same way that the wartime cooperation of ordinary Germans (and, indeed, Poles, Ukrainians, and other nationalities) in the persecution and removal of Jews had been obtained by the opportunity it provided to appropriate Holocaust victims’ property, Czechoslovak, Polish, and Hungarian citizens’ enthusiasm for the expulsions owed a great deal to the prospect that they would profit from the confiscation of their German neighbors’ wealth. The new borderlands, however, proved to be no Eldorado, and the new economic and social realities that were produced under abnormal circumstances brought a fresh set of unforeseen complications in their train.

To a substantial degree, the scramble for booty dictated the breakneck pace of the expulsions, as local authorities, militia bands, or politically connected individuals rushed to grab the most desirable German properties for themselves before others, or the central government, got in ahead of them. The lion’s share of the loot, nonetheless, wound up in the state’s hands, where it became an important instrument of communization. Before the Second World War, Communist parties had been negligible influences throughout central and eastern Europe. The Nazi-Soviet Pact; Stalin’s treacherous attack on Poland’s eastern frontier when the country was fighting desperately for its life; the expulsions and massacres that had followed, at the Katyn Forest and elsewhere; and the Red Army’s cynical abandonment of the Polish Home Army to the Nazis in the Warsaw Rising of August 1944 did nothing to persuade ordinary Poles that the Russian leopard had changed its spots. Though the USSR’s standing in Czechoslovakia was higher—thanks in large measure to the perception that Moscow, in contrast to the appeasement-minded Western powers, had been ready to assist Prague militarily before the Munich Conference—there was little enthusiasm for state socialism on the Soviet pattern. Because Communists controlled the Ministries of the Interior and of Agriculture in both countries after the war, however, they were also in a position to decide the redistribution of confiscated German property. They took full advantage of the rich sources of patronage this provided to buy, if not the support, then at least the acquiescence of citizens in their continued rule. The expulsions, then, provided the material basis that enabled the governments of the Soviet satellites to solidify their domestic standing at the moment of their greatest vulnerability.

As the dispute over the Jelonka Hotel demonstrated, though, property redistribution could be an instrument of social disruption as well as social cohesion. Disputes over the true ownership of a confiscated house or farm, in a situation in which the premises might have changed hands several times over the card table in a single weekend, would clog up the court systems of the expelling countries for years into the future. Overnight, the borderland areas were stripped not just of population but of agencies of government: when a German town was cleared of its residents, its local council, police force, municipal administrators, and providers of essential services like waste removal or water supplies usually went with them. Even in those relatively rare cases when replacement officials from the majority population could be found to take their place, Soviet military commanders, preferring to concentrate the skeins of power in their own hands, often prevented them from taking up their positions. In a literal and not merely a metaphorical sense, then, many of these districts became lawless areas—as the hapless Kazimierz Trzciński had discovered when he tried to take possession of his hotel. For several years after the change in jurisdiction, a vacuum of state authority existed and the rule of the gun prevailed. It was hardly surprising, then, that fewer people than resettlement authorities hoped were willing to put down permanent roots in such areas; or that a disproportionate number of those who did, like Trzciński himself, turned out to conform poorly to the image of the sturdy, self-reliant pioneer depicted in Communist propaganda. The name that both Poles and Czechoslovaks gave to their frontier regions after the war—the “Wild West”—reflected their awareness that even after the Germans’ departure, these were places that remained alien in many respects from the countries of which they were nominally a part.

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Occupied Germany as Ethnic Wastebasket

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 192-193:

As 1946, the year of “organized expulsions,” began drawing to a close, each of the Big Three was feeling the strain. “At present,” Colonel Thicknesse warned, “we tend to regard occupied Germany as a waste-paper basket with a limitless capacity for the unwanted waste of the world. We are not convinced that this attitude is correct, either economically or politically.” According to figures reported to CRX [= Combined Repatriation Executive], by November the Soviet zone had admitted more than 1.8 million expellees from Poland and Czechoslovakia; the U.S. zone approximately 1.7 million from Czechoslovakia and Hungary (including 160,000 who had arrived via Austria); and the British zone more than 1.3 million from the Recovered Territories: a cumulative total of almost five million people. To this figure could be added a number which could not be precisely calculated—but certainly one in the hundreds of thousands for each occupation zone—of Volksdeutsche who had made their way under duress out of their countries of origin, but entered Germany as unregistered “infiltrees.” All were arriving in a country whose urban centers the Western Allies had gone to immense trouble and expense during the previous five years to level to the ground, an endeavor in which they had enjoyed considerable success and which had left Germany with “a worse housing problem than has ever before existed in any area of comparable size and population.” Even after every available camp, military base, school, church, barn, air raid shelter, and, in some cases, cave had been filled with expellees, the onrushing human tide continued to overwhelm the best efforts of the rudimentary German administration upon whose shoulders the occupying forces thrust the responsibility. As a rule, according to reception officers in all three occupation zones, the expellees were arriving in possession of little more than the—usually insufficient—clothing in which they stood. The overwhelming majority were women and children. Few could make any meaningful contribution in the short term to their own support. Hundreds of thousands needed immediate care, in hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, or residential centers for the disabled, though the shortage of resources meant that a great many would not receive it.

This was not at all how the Allies had envisaged the population transfers when they had been sold on the idea during the war. Then the stated rationale had been to remove a cohort of “dangerous” Germans—above all, fit men of military age—who might threaten the security of the countries in which they lived. Instead, it had been the least dangerous Germans who had been deported, while the fit men were being held back for forced labor, and in many cases pressured to take out Polish or Czechoslovak nationality against their will. The occupying powers thus found themselves presented with a first-class social, economic, and humanitarian crisis that threatened to undo whatever plans they had made for German reconstruction, as well as to disrupt the economies of the expelling states for years to come. Predictably, each of the Big Three with the benefit of experience discovered its enthusiasm for this novel method of “stabilizing” the European continent shrinking to the vanishing point. After coping—or failing to cope—with the “wild expulsions” of 1945, and finding the “organized expulsions” of 1946 from their perspective to be less satisfactory yet, each of the Allied powers entered 1947 with the same overriding objective: to put an end to what was proving an intolerable burden to it as quickly as possible.

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Prewar Ethnic Cleansing in Europe

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 39-41:

In one respect it is misleading to speak of “the postwar expulsions.” From the very beginning of the Second World War, the European totalitarian powers engaged in ethnic cleansing on a scale never before seen in history. For Adolf Hitler, a continent from which “undesirable” peoples—Jews, Slavs, Roma, and others—had been displaced to make room for incoming German colonists lay at the very heart of his nightmarish racial vision. Even the Holocaust, when it had finally been decided upon, was but a means to this larger end. But his fellow dictator Josef Stalin also had grand ambitions to redraw the ethnographic map of the continent. During the two years of their uneasy partnership under the Nazi-Soviet Pact, both men found it convenient to work together.

Neither was a newcomer to the task. Stalin especially had a notable record of moving potentially troublesome national minorities around his empire, both as a form of collective punishment and to ensure that vulnerable borderlands were inhabited by ethnic groups—principally Russians and Georgians—in whose loyalty he considered he could repose greater confidence. To be sure, the internal transfer of smaller nations falling within the Russian orbit already had a long and dishonorable history by the time Stalin assumed control. Tsar Alexander II, the ironically named “Tsar-Liberator,” displaced nearly half a million natives of the western Caucasus in 1863–64 to enhance the security of the border. His grandson, Nicholas II, would follow his example in the first months of the Great War, removing to the Russian interior the ethnic Germans of central Poland along with an even greater number of Polish Jews. With the front beginning to collapse in the face of Hindenburg’s counterattacks in January 1915, Army General Headquarters stepped up this purge of potentially disloyal German, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish subjects, by the simple expedient of giving the expellees a short period to collect what goods they could and then setting fire to their houses and crops. As the displaced people fled east, without food or any semblance of an evacuation system in operation, they began to die in large numbers. In the central Asian regions and the Far East of the Russian Empire, Chinese, Korean, and Moslem populations were removed for similar reasons. But it was only after the Bolshevik Revolution that internal deportations of entire peoples became a regular instrument of state policy.

A youthful Stalin cut his teeth as an architect of forced removals when as “Commissar for Nationalities” he assisted his fellow Georgian, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, to clear out the Terek Cossacks from the northern Caucasus in 1920. In the second half of the 1930s, movements of this kind reached unprecedented levels. “Between 1935 and 1938,” as Terry Martin notes, “at least nine Soviet nationalities—Poles, Germans, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Koreans, Chinese, Kurds, Iranians—were all subjected to ethnic cleansing.” Most of these movements were connected to the Soviet leader’s paranoia over “spies” and “wreckers” within the country. In 1937, for example, 11,868 ethnic Germans living in the USSR were arrested as suspected Nazi agents; the following year no fewer than 27,432 were detained on similar charges. The number of Soviet Poles held for espionage was greater still. The majority of these detainees were executed; the peoples to which they belonged were internally exiled by police and NKVD units. During the years of Stalin’s “Great Terror,” a total of approximately 800,000 members of national minorities were victims of execution, arrest, or deportation—generally to the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which began to rival Siberia as convenient dumping grounds for peoples the government viewed with disfavor.

Although Hitler had less scope than his Soviet counterpart for large-scale transfers of population, he too worked energetically to convert Germany into an ethnically and racially homogeneous state even before the war. The persecution of the Jews since 1933 had the explicit intention of compelling them to leave the country: in its crudest form, this consisted of physically pushing those who held dual citizenship across the borders into the territory of neighboring countries. A further wave of coerced migrations, this time under international auspices, ensued as a result of the Munich Agreement, which provided a six-month window of opportunity for ethnic Czechs and Slovaks to move out of the Sudetenland (and Germans elsewhere in Czechoslovakia to transfer in) and established a German-Czechoslovak commission to “consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population.” In the spring of 1939, Germany browbeat neighboring Lithuania into ceding the largely German Memelland to the Reich, though tens of thousands of Volksdeutsche were left in the areas remaining under Lithuanian control. Lastly, at Mussolini’s behest, Heinrich Himmler opened negotiations with Italy in May 1939 to secure the removal of the 200,000 ethnic Germans of the Alto Adige region in the Italian Alps. Notwithstanding his “Pact of Steel” with Hitler concluded in the same month, the Duce had not been oblivious to the recent fate of countries bordering on the Reich that harbored German minority populations. After the Nazi state’s absorption of Austria in the Anschluss of 1938, Mussolini considered it wise to remove temptation, and his ethnic Germans, from his new partner’s field of vision. By July, an agreement in principle had been reached for the “voluntary” departure of the German-speaking population, though no decision was taken as to their ultimate destination. Although the pact supposedly required the ratification of the ethnic Germans themselves in a plebiscite, an affirmative vote was ensured by declaring that any who elected to remain ipso facto consented to be resettled anywhere within the Italian domains that Mussolini chose to send them. According to rumors deliberately spread to make certain that voters saw the matter in the correct light, this was to be Abyssinia.

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Missing Migration History in Europe

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 1-3:

Immediately after the Second World War, the victorious Allies carried out the largest forced population transfer—and perhaps the greatest single movement of peoples—in human history. With the assistance of the British, Soviet, and U.S. governments, millions of German-speaking civilians living in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the parts of eastern Germany assigned to Poland were driven out of their homes and deposited amid the ruins of the Reich, to fend for themselves as best they could. Millions more, who had fled the advancing Red Army in the final months of the war, were prevented from returning to their places of origin, and became lifelong exiles. Others again were forcibly removed from Yugoslavia and Romania, although the Allies had never sanctioned deportations from those countries. Altogether, the expulsion operation permanently displaced at least 12 million people, and perhaps as many as 14 million. Most of these were women and children under the age of sixteen; the smallest cohort of those affected were adult males. These expulsions were accomplished with and accompanied by great violence. Tens and possibly hundreds of thousands lost their lives through ill-treatment, starvation, and disease while detained in camps before their departure—often, like Auschwitz I, the same concentration camps used by the Germans during the Second World War. Many more perished on expulsion trains, locked in freight wagons without food, water, or heating during journeys to Germany that sometimes took weeks; or died by the roadside while being driven on foot to the borders. The death rate continued to mount in Germany itself, as homeless expellees succumbed to hypothermia, malnutrition, and other effects of their ordeal. Calculating the scale of the mortality remains a source of great controversy today, but estimates of 500,000 deaths at the lower end of the spectrum, and as many as 1.5 million at the higher, are consistent with the evidence as it exists at present. Much more research will have to be carried out before this range can be narrowed to a figure that can be cited with reasonable confidence.

On the most optimistic interpretation, nonetheless, the expulsions were an immense manmade catastrophe, on a scale to put the suffering that occurred as a result of the “ethnic cleansings” in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s in the shade. They took place without any attempt at concealment, under the eyes of tens of thousands of journalists, diplomats, relief workers, and other observers with access to modern communications, in the middle of the world’s most crowded continent. Yet they aroused little attention at the time. Today, outside Germany, they are almost completely unknown. In most English-language histories of the period they are at best a footnote, and usually not even that. The most recent (2009) edition of Mary Fulbrook’s excellent History of Germany 1918–2008 disposes of the episode in a single uninformative paragraph; the antics of the tiny ultraleftist Red Army Faction in the 1970s and 1980s, in comparison, rate four. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany is typical in not according the expulsions even a single mention. What is true of German history textbooks is also the case with those dealing with the history of Europe as a whole, and even of the central European states most directly concerned. Joseph Rothschild and Nancy Wingfield’s fine survey of the region in the postwar era, Return to Diversity—by far the most accessible and reliable one-volume treatment of the subject—takes a cumulative total of less than a page to explain the means by which Poland and Czechoslovakia, until 1939 among the most heterogeneous and multicultural countries in Europe, had just ten years later become ethnic monoliths. It is, then, entirely understandable why so many of my splendid and learned colleagues on the Colgate faculty should have expressed their confusion to me after reading in the newspapers in October 2009 that the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, had demanded that the other members of the European Union legally indemnify his country against compensation claims by ethnic German expellees, as the price of his country’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. None had been aware that anything had occurred after the war in respect of which the Czech Republic might require to be indemnified.

It would be incorrect, however, to attribute this pervasive ignorance of the expulsions, their context, and their consequences to any conspiracy of silence. What has occurred in the postwar era is something less calculated in nature, but more insidious in effect: the phenomenon of a historical episode of great significance that is hidden in plain sight. Certainly information, albeit of highly variable quality, on the expulsions is available—for those who possess the requisite language competence and are prepared to go looking for it. A 1989 bibliography lists almost five thousand works dealing with them to some degree in the German language alone. Even today, some sixty-five years later, living expellees are not hard to find; it has been calculated that a quarter of the current German population are expellees or their immediate descendants. What is denied, then, is not the fact of the expulsions but their significance. Relegated in textbooks to a single passing mention in a vaguely phrased sentence referring to the “chaos” existing in Germany in the immediate postwar era, or simply passed over in silence, the impression is effectively conveyed that they occupy a less important place in modern European history than the cultural meanings of football hooliganism or the relevance of the Trabant automobile as a metaphor for East German society.

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Echoes of the Russo-Japanese War

From Rising Sun And Tumbling Bear, by R. M. Connaughton (Orion, 2020), Kindle pp. 389-390:

Britain and the United States grew apprehensive as to Japanese aspirations. Their mutual suspicions were confirmed when, in 1915, Japan issued China with her notorious 21 Demands, a plan for the annexation of China. Japan was blocked for the time being, but there was reflection as to how long she could be kept down….

It had been in 1918 that a combined force which had included British, American and Japanese troops had gone to the assistance of the White Russians but, seeing the permanence of the revolution, Britain and America withdrew from the half-hearted intervention. Japan remained in Siberia until 1922 and did not return northern Sakhalin to Russia until 1925. (Russia acquired all of Sakhalin in 1945 as part of the agreement with the allies for her last-minute entry into the war against Japan.)

The interested powers had no intention of giving Japan a free hand in developing her power, and arranged at the Washington Conference in 1921 to impose conditions. Under this treaty the ratio of capital ship tonnages between Britain, the United States and Japan was set at 5:5:3. In 1923 the Anglo-Japanese alliance was abrogated and the London Naval Treaty of 1930 imposed further limitations upon the Imperial Japanese Navy. Anti-British feeling grew in Japan as pro-German sentiments increased. The technical exchange between Britain and Japan had ceased with the abrogation of the alliance. Since there was no prospect of support from the United States, with whom a fatal rivalry was now developing, Japan sought a new partner to supply essential technical expertise.

Britain’s building of the Singapore naval base caused a furore in Japan where it was seen as an Anglo-American provocative measure to attempt to limit Japan’s interests in the Pacific. In 1937, when the Sino-Japanese War began, relationships deteriorated further. Japan took full advantage of her time in China to develop and refine tactics and machinery. While the Stukas were being tested in Spain, a similar experience was being enjoyed by the Zeros in China. After the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, Japan moved closer to Germany, culminating in September 1940 with the signing of the tripartite pact. Japanese confidence had developed into Japanese over-confidence.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a repeat performance of the attack on Port Arthur. As if to acknowledge that point, the lead carrier Akagi flew the same battle flag as Admiral Togo had flown on the Mikasa during Japan’s pre-emptive strike on Port Arthur. What was surprising was that on 19 February 1942 a smaller Akagi carrier group would make a similar, successful, surprise attack on the airfield and ships at Darwin in what was to be described in Australia as ‘a day of national shame’.

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Gorbachev’s Visit and Krenz’s Coup

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle (pp. 235-237:

When First Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev arrived on October 7 [1989] to participate in the East German regime’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, Susie Corbett was in East Berlin on a regular shopping trip. “As far as I could see from touring the center of town in my car,” she recalled, “it seemed the whole place was enjoying a fête, with red Soviet flags dressing up the main thoroughfares and government buildings and the population seemingly keen to celebrate, too. Nothing seemed any different to my previous visits.” After a massive military parade, the Soviet leader’s pronouncements to the media in a public walkabout (unheard of by any Eastern Bloc leader until then) shocked Honecker and those closest to him in the SED hierarchy—Gorbachev announcing to the cameras, “A party that lags behind the times will harvest bitter fruit.” This was a clear and honest appraisal of the pressure the country was under from internal protests and his knowledge of the perilous financial state of the GDR. The planned torch-lit parade that evening, which would praise the creation of the GDR, the rule of the SED, and of course the leadership of Erich Honecker, turned into a farcical spectacle. Gorbachev looked on incredulously, standing alongside the grimacing East German leader, as they watched supposed loyal party activists shout to the Soviet general secretary, “Gorbi, Gorbi—help us!”

For the ailing Honecker, this was a disaster, which had quickly followed a fiery meeting, with the German and Russian men clashing verbally in private and in a meeting of the East German politburo, Honecker deriding Gorbachev’s reformist policies compared to what he believed were the GDR’s economic success. The Soviet leader had audibly hissed his derision at the old East German, with Honecker’s excuses met by deafening silence around the politburo table.

Robert Corbett received a request from Britain’s ambassador to West Germany, Sir Christopher Mallaby, to discuss the situation. Televised coverage of an October 16 march in Leipzig had been aired on West German TV following secret video recordings that were smuggled out of the GDR. Now the world could see hundreds of thousands of East Germans demonstrating, instead of just the hundreds who were trickling into the West German embassy compound in Prague seeking asylum. It was a far bigger story.

A general atmosphere of unease gripped Berlin, reinforced when the sudden news came through that Erich Honecker had been forced to step down. The younger generation within the East German politburo, led by his deputy Egon Krenz, had taken Gorbachev’s visit and his official rebuke on the need for the regime to change as a signal to make a grab for power. Krenz had long been seen as the heir apparent and had risen through the SED ranks to become secretary of the central committee. Crucially, he oversaw security for the country and was able to persuade the head of the Ministry of State Security, Erich Mielke, to support his bid to oust the ailing leader. The week after this bloodless coup, more than 350,000 people took to the streets of Leipzig for a second mass rally. Secret dossiers had been prepared for the new leader that outlined what kind of state he was now inheriting from the man he had unceremoniously ousted. The GDR was in effect bankrupt and surviving on enormous loans from the Federal Republic just to keep going in the short term. Debt was piling on top of debt to the international markets. Was the game up? Ambassador Mallaby and his fellow ambassadors of the USA and France were deeply concerned and this was reflected in the by now constant updating of plans by the three Western Allied Commandants and their staffs.

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Checkpoint Charlie’s Other Names

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle pp. 64-65:

Checkpoint Charlie would be formally distinguished by the Four Powers as the single crossing point (either by foot or by motor vehicle) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. Members of the Allied forces were subsequently not allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated for use by foreigners at the Friedrichstraße railway station. The name “Charlie,” though it would become quite catchy to fans of spy novels and films over the years, had a more prosaic backstory. The Allied checkpoints covering entry into East Germany, and then into Berlin, derived their names, simply, from the letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet. The Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn linking the city to the West were Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt/Marienborn and Checkpoint Bravo, its counterpart at Dreilinden/Drewitz in the southwest corner of Berlin. Soldiers of the US Army’s 287th Military Police Company would man this new crossing in shifts around the clock beginning on August 23. This small unit was then formally expanded, and a desk was placed in a nearby building on Freidrichstraße to serve as the official checkpoint, complete with a radio system. Now that it had a radio, it needed a call sign, and thus “Charlie” was attached to it. Within a few weeks, the US Army moved a trailer to the center of the road to act as the new control point on the Allied side. Checkpoint Charlie was now designated the major crossing point for Allied personnel, foreigners, and diplomats in the heart of Berlin. The Russians simply called it the “Friedrichstraße Crossing Point,” and their East German cousins the Grenzübergangsstelle (“Border Crossing Point”) Friedrich/Zimmerstraße—which was geographically where the checkpoint was located.

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Inner German Border Before the Wall

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle p. 16:

This Inner German border, … stretching almost fourteen hundred kilometers (close to nine hundred miles) from the Baltic Sea to the border with Czechoslovakia, was still not the impregnable barrier Stalin envisaged, a fact reflected in the name the locals living along its length gave to it, die Grenze (“the Border”).

Hans-Ulrich Jörges’s father decided to flee to the West in 1956, sending word to his family to follow him a year later. “We could leave,” Uli recalled later, “because they were not interested in a single woman with two children. I do remember a house search by Stasi officers, who wore long Gestapo-like leather coats, when I was three or four years old. Of course, that was a terrifying experience. In West Germany we settled in a village close to the border in Hessen, not far away from Bad Salzungen. Every Sunday for many years, in a sort of Homeric ritual, we traveled to the border and looked across the fence into our homeland of Thüringen. My parents would stand there fighting back the tears, gripping our hands tightly, and talking to one another to offer some comfort.”

For Uli’s family, the frontier was perhaps in the mind. “Our border was marked with a simple fence that you could walk across fields to and stand right up against, without any concern as to the border guards on the other side harming you. It was almost like a fence for retaining cattle in their field. There was no ‘Death Strip’ at that time, and when the border guards in the East passed by, one could even casually talk to them. I recall a small man standing beside us who shouted out to them as they marched past us silently that they come over to eat some white bread [difficult to obtain in East Germany]—and they did.”

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