About the Episode
Welcome to a new podcast series where we revisit some of our most riveting and educational discussions on World War II. This episode, titled Victory in Europe: One Year Later, is brought to you by the Jenny Craig’s Institute for War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.
Today, we are taking a visit back to May 7, 2021, when Dr. Rob Citino, the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian at The National WWII Museum, sat down with Jeremy Collins, the Director of Conferences and Symposia, for the commemoration of V-E Day. By May 7, 1946—a year after the Germans surrendered in Reims to the Allied forces—what had changed in Europe? How was the Allies’ relationship with the Soviet Union? Citino and Collins discussed this and much more.
Topics Covered in this Episode
- Victory in Europe
- Nuremberg Trials
- Soviet Union
Robert Citino, PhD
Robert Citino, PhD, is the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. Dr. Citino is an award-winning military historian and scholar who has published ten books including The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943, Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942, and The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich, as well as numerous articles covering World War II and twentieth-century military history. He speaks widely and contributes regularly to general readership magazines such as World War II. Dr. Citino enjoys close ties with the US military establishment and taught one year at the US Military Academy at West Point and two years at the US Army War College.
Join The National WWII Museum as we commemorate the surrender of Nazi Germany and V-E Day by taking a look back at the events of the year after surrender and how they shaped the modern world with Dr. Rob Citino, Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian and the Executive Director, The Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.
ContributorRobert Citino, PhD, is the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian in the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of...
Wars are not as easy to wrap up as you might think. While VE-Day ("Victory in Europe") rightly celebrates our victory over Adolf Hitler and the fiendish plans of his Third Reich, a closer look reveals a very complex situation: the Germans angling for the best deal they could get, the Allies close to falling out with one another, and--eventually--two separate surrender ceremonies.
World War II On Topic is made possible by The Herzstein Foundation.
Hello, I'm Jeremy Collins, the Director of Conferences and Symposia at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Welcome to World War II on Topic, a new podcast series where we revisit some of our most engaging and enlightening discussions on the war. This episode is brought to you by the museum's Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. We are taking a visit back to May 7th 2021 when I sat down with our Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, Dr. Rob Citino, for a conversation to commemorate VE Day.
The title of the program was Victory in Europe: One Year Later. We discussed how Europe, the United States and the world had changed on May 7th 1946, one year after the Germans surrendered. What had changed in Europe, how was the relationship between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union and much more was discussed. Without further ado, I present Victory in Europe: One Year Later.
With us today is Dr. Rob Citino. He is the Museum's Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian. He is also the Executive Director for the Museum's Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, which makes him the holder of the longest title here in New Orleans at our campus. Rob is the author of 10 books. The leading expert on the German military and he is also widely respected teacher before he came to us. He was a professor at the Army War College at West Point, University of North Texas, all over the place. And we were lucky to get him and we're lucky to keep him.
Rob was found out that he is the winner of the 2021 Samuel Eliot Morison prize from the Society for Military History for his lifetime scholarly achievements in the field of military history, and we couldn't be more proud or happy for him. So, ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to have a great conversation with Rob and we'll get started.
As I mentioned, today marks the 76th anniversary of the surrender at the little red schoolhouse in Rheims, France. Rob, the next day, the world, or at least the Western world, celebrated what is now known as V-E Day, Victory in Europe Day. Though this was a momentous occasion and the war against Nazi Germany was officially concluded, there was much work to do. A young Jack Kennedy just two months later, while touring Berlin, remarked, "The devastation is complete." Tell us about the state of affairs in Europe and in Germany in the summer of 1945.
Dr. Rob Citino
Well, thanks, Jeremy, first of all, for your warm and fulsome introduction. It's great to be with everyone today. These anniversaries are big for us at the museum. I have the greatest job in the world. We get to talk of World War II 24/7, but the anniversaries really do bring these special moments. So, I'm glad we're having an opportunity to discuss this. First of all, let me just, let me talk a bit about the surrender date, you know on May 8th. May 7th, surrender at Reims and then May 8th, when we get into sort of what we usually recognize as V-E Day. And actually, there were a series of surrenders.
A war that is being fought across the continent on multiple fronts, it's not like somebody fires a gun in the air. I mean, it's okay, it's over, and everybody immediately drops their weapons. Germans had been surrendering or piecemeal in various parts of Europe and Northern Europe and Northern Italy. The surrender at Reims was supposed to be this sort of official surrender. The Soviets then wanted their own. They wanted it made plain to everyone, future generations and future historians that they had played the biggest role. And so, they wanted to orchestrate their own ship place in Berlin the next day and kind of signed it after midnight. So, V-E Day can be celebrated and remembered in various places in various ways.
I guess the talk about Europe in immediate wake of the surrender and then into 1946. Wars rarely end with what happened in Europe. And what happened in Europe was a complete physical destruction of the principal combatant, Hitler's Germany. I study war for a living and I'm here to tell you that in the vast majority of wars that are fought in the past, somebody sues for peace at some point when it appears that they've been defeated, when it appears that they can no longer reach their political objectives. And thus, you send out teams of negotiators, maybe to a neutral country like Switzerland, let's say and you broker a peace.
Hitler's crimes is behavior and his crimes were so far beyond the pale of accepted diplomatic and political behavior that there was just no one who would treat with him. No one who would negotiate with him, and he realized that and he used that as a kind of driving whip to keep the Wehrmacht in the field. Till the end, he had the support of the common man in the field. He had the support of most of the generals as well. So, they fought this war until quite literally, the Germany and Europe itself had been devastated. And I don't think destroyed is too strong of a term.
So, the Europe that followed V-E Day, the Europe of 1956 is an empty shell or maybe a corpse of six years of high intensity combined arms warfare from one corner to the other. Tens of millions of Europeans were dead. Millions more were living with wounds, physical or mental that would not heal. This war, unlike past wars, had obliterated entire cities. Some from air attack, but some from old style ground combat. You don't want to be in the way of the US Army in 1944 or 1945. It's just, it has firepower on a level that has simply never been seen before. So, you have a trash heap of rubble factories and shops, homes and churches.
To talk about what the Germans were and what Germany was like, there's always the metaphor, the picture of the Trümmerfrauen, which is quite literally the rubble women. Patton made them famous in his memoir, War As I Knew It, which his army is passing through some destroyed German City, and he sees German women of various ages and they're stacking the rubble into neat little pieces on the ground, little piles. And Patton said, the equivalent, I'm paraphrasing. He said something like, "We knew from that point, the Germans would be back." But that's simplifies the procedure.
Cities were without basic amenities. They were without running water. They were without power. They were without heat. Agriculture from one corner of the continent to the other had just come to a screeching halt and so had industrial production, I mean, you just don't go to work in the conditions of mid-spring 1945. And if you're a German worker, you've probably been under bombing all night. Maybe the factory has been obliterated. And even if you're okay and your factory is okay, there's the rubble between you and the factory.
So, I mean, take for example, take the Netherlands, the country had been occupied by the Germans in 1940. The shape of the fighting in '44 and '45 meant that the Allies really didn't punch into the Netherlands until well into 1945. And that left the Dutch to experience this horrible hunger of winter, as they call it, the winter of hunger, that famine winter of '44, '45. And I challenge any of our listeners out there to challenge myself to live on 400. As an adult to live on 400 calories per day, because that's what most of the Dutch were eating at that time.
I'll just say to focus in on Germany at the very end of these brief comments. What were the Allies going to do with Germany? Millions of concentration camp prisoners all over the country. Many were already on the verge of starvation were sick with typhus, typhoid or cholera. What to do with the millions of suddenly free slave laborers who are wandering the countryside, hundreds of miles of home. Refugees fleeing the fighting in East and West. So, we have this new, if there's a set of initials that can be summed up 1946 in Europe, it's DP, displaced persons.
Obvious solution, "Let's send them home." But what if you don't have a home or if your home has been destroyed? What if political conditions in your homeland mean it's no longer safe for you to go home. And here you have, I think the United Nations, this brand new organization coming to the fore. It's really the hero of the age. The UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. They didn't always know what they were doing either. Quite frankly, they didn't understand local conditions, but they fed and bathed and deloused enough people to try, I think, save tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives towards the end.
So, Jeremy, there's V-E Day. Flag waving, parades, cognac, crowds singing the La Marseillaise or whatever your national anthem happens to be. And then, there's the following year and following two years in which your homeland, which was one sort of glittering display of civilization has been turned into a heap of rubble. And I think that's what Europe is contending with, from East to West, in fact, the victors almost as much as the defeated.
Rob, you talked about rubble, and there was another level of rubble and that was a political rubble that was left in the wake of victory amongst the Allies. And almost immediately, Germany became parceled off between the victors, the French, the British, the Americans and of course, the Soviets. Tell us how the soldiers became governors. That's one of the famous Green Books of the US Army in World War II. Tell us about this military occupation.
Dr. Rob Citino
Well, let's start, I mean, with just the sort of basics. What had been Germany was now divided into four zones. So, we'll discuss those. That doesn't even completely cover the complexity. But the four zones, the four victorious powers, the British, the Americans, the Soviets, and the French. Now, if you're sitting out there listening to these remarks, so how did the French get in there? Well, it's a good question. France had gone out of the war early in '40 and they come back.
The Free French had done great service in the Western Allied Armies. They were driving American tanks and dressed in American kit. And you could be forgiven for thinking they were an armored division of the US Army if you saw General Leclerc's second Armored Division, who are helping to liberate Paris. But the French, it was perceived by Western Allies and especially by President Roosevelt that France, rebuilding Europe without a powerful France was inconceivable, if only as a counterweight to Germany. And so, originally there were going to be three zones, roughly the British in the North, and the Americans in the South and the Soviets in the East. But then the Western powers wanted a French zone, which Stalin said, "That's fine. Carve it out of your own territories. You're not carving it out of mine. That would make no sense." And so a fourth zone was created.
But let's also remember that there's a huge territory in the East where tens of millions of Germans live. Pomerania and the Northeast and Silesian in the Southeast with the detached province of East Prussia. These provinces were now lost to Germany. There was a new border called the Oder–Neisse line, which is roughly those four zones that I mentioned. Poland was enlarged and moved to the West. The Soviets took a piece of East Prussia. So, Germany was not simply partitioned into four. It was more or less dismembered into six or seven or eight units, depending upon how you counted.
Now, to talk about the German experience of rebuilding how they experienced it, it's difficult. And I think the audience can understand that living under Soviet occupation, living under American occupation is probably a pretty different story. West German, so what finally happened when the French, British, and American zones were unified in the late '40s. West Germans will tell you all the time, "My first encounter with an American soldier, I was worried. I didn't know the language. He was speaking a smattering of German. He gave me a piece of gum."
I mean, Helmut Kohl, the later Chancellor of unified Germany distinctly remembers being given a piece of gum by American servicemen as they pass through town. They touse somebody on the head and said, "Good boy." And that's probably not true of every US soldier. I mean, a lot of US soldiers by 1945 are carrying a bit of anger towards the Germans for all their dead comrades and dead buddies that they'd lost on the way into Germany.
But the Red Army was doing something very, very different in Eastern Germany and that communizing the country and clamping down of, if I say communism, it doesn't really do justice to what was happening. Clamping down a Stalinist system in East Germany. So, what will concentrate for the moment on the West? I think that soldiers become governor. So, in the American zone, their first governor was Eisenhower and in the British on the first governor was of course, Montgomery. General de Tassigny General was the French governor, and then you Zhukov in the East.
So, suddenly, you had soldiers who were very skilled at blowing things up, who now had to completely transition into a different line of work, which was attempting somehow to put them back together. Now, the plan originally was that the four zones would be ruled as one by an Allied Control Commission, that is representatives of the victorious powers. That was the '45 plan. By '46, '47, that was breaking up a little bit as we're seeing tensions between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Now, the issues were pretty basic ones. How many reparations Germany should pay and that was largely going to be to the Eastern zone and from the Eastern zone and the other zones to the Soviet Union.
But also how much control there should be Soviet control there should be over the economy? How many arrests there should be? Should there be a new police state in the East erected on the ruins of the old. And that is, I consider myself a man of the gentle left, I suppose, but it's very difficult to support what Stalin in the NKVD was doing. That is the forerunner of the later KGB, what the NKVD was doing in their occupation zone. They're arresting and shooting people wholesale.
So, I think that in the American zone, in particular, the US Army, which was under firm civilian control and always has been and was tasked with civilian rebuilding, and went about trying to model good behavior. But staging elections as soon as possible, making sure that your local Burgermeister, your local mayor, had not been some Nazi tool. Showing that American occupation was not what you expected it to be. It was not here to steal and to pillage, and to further American power, as much as it was to rebuild a functioning democracy. And once again, I mentioned chewing gum.
But if you read the concept of especially young people growing up in what became Western Germany and the American zone. You hear it again and again. "My first encounter with an American serviceman, I was driving a taxi. And he got in the back and it was like the creature from Mars. He was fast talking. He was chopping his gum." There's gum again.
"He was real tall and burly in a way that most of us weren't because we haven't really been eating decent meals for the last two or three years. And he just talked a mile a minute about how interesting he found Germany, how happy he was to be here, how happy he was that the war was over. We're all going to be friends now." That cab driver, said, "I just I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. It was a look into not only my own future, but the future of Germany. Not as an outcast, not as a pariah, but as a member of the, shall we say, the family of nations once again in good standing."
And given what Germany had done, collectively, given what many Germans had supported, not all but many. Given what had been done in the country's name, it's an open question as to whether this country, this defeated land would ever reestablish itself as a respected and civilized country. But I think you can say that the occupation, and I'm downplaying the British, I think they deserve the same sort of role. Britain has a well-developed civil society, so does France, so do the Americans, so I'm speaking of the Western zones here. But I think they did knit together a common purpose of rebuilding a democracy, a country with civil rights, with respect for the individual.
And again, that is no small accomplishment. And so, it's never been a surprise to me that those three zones in the West: Britain, France and America, what first become a unified customs zone, sometimes known as tribes zoning, the three zones together. But would eventually become the Federal Republic of Germany, a land built on those three occupation zones common democratic principles.
So, a shout out to Eisenhower and Montgomery and de Tassigny. These guys were called upon to shift career, shift their focus very late in their careers. Nobody blew things up like the Western Alliance, and then nobody put them back together either. And that's, I think, the real achievement of '46 and '47.
Rob, two things you touched on. One is just a comment from myself that you can comment on. The idea that France is rebuilding itself and it's also put in charge of part of Germany to have to rebuild. I think that'd be an interesting dissertation if it's not already out there to see…
Dr. Rob Citino
It's probably out there already.
... similarities, lessons learned in France that were utilized in Germany. But you touched on the denazification. Can you talk just a little bit about the political acrimony that came from that or was it universally accepted in the West that this must be done?
Dr. Rob Citino
From time to time, that'd be an in politic comment on the part of some Western leader like George Patton, that we need these guys. You can't arrest everybody who has any skills in the country. And then that would invariably blow up in the newspapers back home before Patton's death, but there were other leaders, other military commanders as well. The Soviets took a take-no-prisoners attitude, but they were more than willing to use the former security apparatus. Let's remember that East Germany would become a police state in which I'm only slightly exaggerating, practically, every citizen spied on every other citizen. And that's being built very early on in the war. And so, the Soviets were willing to cooperate with the former security apparatus.
Americans and the British and the French wanted to denazify their zones as well. They were interested in scientific knowledge as well. I'd only mentioned Wernher von Braun, for example. One of the Fathers of the American Space Program. So, look, you've conquered Germany and we'll get to it later, you put the leaders on trial. And then how far down do you go? Clearly, if individuals could be accused plausibly with evidence and testimony of murder or of wholesale arrests, then you had some grounds on which to move.
But what you would really have required, Jeremy, is, and I'll go beyond '46, '47, you would have required a large scale purge of professors and civil servants and teachers and the local Sanitary Commission and whoever else did it then. Because who would they've been working for from 1933 to 1945? They've been working in some sense for the government and that meant working for Adolf Hitler in the National Socialist Party. So, the entire elite structure of East Germany, the entire elite structure of West Germany would have had to been removed down to the level of your child's first grade teacher.
By and large, the West did not do that. Carrying out a purge to Stalin, that's called Tuesday. If anybody has practice of carrying out purges and I think you saw purges carried out in the East. I think ideological purge is the best way to put it. And that's one of the reasons why West Germany got rebuilt a lot faster than East Germany. I did realize I'm in some controversial ground here, but that's how it's always appeared to me, at least.
Thank you. As one war ended in Europe, another one began in Germany and Europe for the most part. Created a clear separation between the USSR and the Western Allies, who would work together to defeat a common enemy in the Nazis. Tell us about the Cold War, the onset of the Cold War. Was this inevitable? Was it tangible for those on the ground? Did they sense that these two new superpowers of West versus Soviet was happening or was this a bigger more geopolitical discussion taking place in Politburo meetings or in cabinet meetings?
Dr. Rob Citino
I love questions where it's either or, and the answer is yes. I mean, it's happening in both places. So, soldiers who one day were told to cooperate with the Russians are now standing guard on the border of your zone against of it. It quite literally happened overnight and it could be very bewildering. There was all sorts of talk about giving free schooling and vocational training to the demobilized forces while they were still in Germany and waiting to go home. But in fact, that did not happen because they had a new task and that was to guard the border now against Soviet infiltration or Soviet encroachment and the same thing is happening on the other side.
So, it's definitely on what was sort of micro level, but obviously, it's also a macro level issue as well, in which the meetings of the Allied Control Commission become increasingly contentious as it's clear that we've entered a new phase of our relationship. There's a new US President, President Truman, who was not quite as interested in, shall we say, playing ball with Stalin with Uncle Joe as Franklin Roosevelt was. And I'll let our audience judge whether that was a wise or unwise policy. I think, most of us who look back that see what happened under Truman to be a necessary corrective.
It was no longer a war. It was peace. It's a different phase of the relationship that was going to have to change. But Truman was not above giving Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, some strong duck. Again, live up to your promises. You got to live up to your promises, Molotov. Nobody ever talks to me that way. And Truman said, "Live up to your promises, and I'll stop talking to you." That drastically throws them out of the office. This is before the war is fully over. This was very early on, in the Truman presidency. So, there's a new sheriff in town and obviously, so there'll be a new regiment there, but it's also known from top to bottom.
So, we talked a bit about the occupation zone. And I said, it's really a complex issue and more complex than just four. And there's one more to talk about and that's the City of Berlin. If you want a place that was the epicenter of the Cold War, the City of Berlin, this great megalopolis of 3 million or so people. At least that was the population before World War II, the largest city in Europe, is occupied by the hours. It too was broken up into four occupation zones, French, American, British and the Soviet, but it sits in the middle of the big Soviet occupation zone, which would become eventually East Germany, but was now simply the Soviet occupation zone.
So, very early on, arrangements had to be made for how American troops could be recycled in and out of Berlin, French, British as well. They would literally have to traverse Soviet occupied territory. Now, I think everyone in the audience knows where this is eventually going to go. It's going to end in a wall. A wall that would be built across Berlin to separate the Soviet zone from the three Western zones and a wall that using the passive voice, which is always a mistake, a wall that the Soviets will build, the East Germans and the Soviets will build, not the West.
So, quite literally, if you lived in Berlin, you could no longer easily cross the street. If you live in a certain district, where the trans zone border happen to run and that will eventually be turned into a wall. So, when you say, was it on a micro level? I'm saying, "Well, yeah, Truman knew it. Churchill knew it." Churchill says, "There's an Iron Curtain falling down on the continent," he says in 1946. In April of 1946, Stalin clearly knows that he's already looking to how this occupation zone of his, the big one, will be ruled full time.
There's not a communist there, but there's the SPD, the Social Democratic Party of Germany. And this is when Stalin and Eastern German officials ordered the unification of those two parties. So, that the manpower of the SPD, will not be more or less harnessed to the political goals of that Communist Party, the KBD and they named it the socialist Unity Party. It's called SPD in German. To me, it's a great piece of marketing. We don't have a communist society. We don't have a communist, but there's no communist, where it's just a Unity Party of all forces on the left. It's just the next month that Churchill says the Iron Curtain is falling down.
So, I think, Jeremy, I'm just giving you some examples from the various levels of from Truman, and Churchill, and Stalin, all the way down to a grandmother wanting to do her weekly grocery shopping in Berlin, which becomes suddenly very difficult to do. And you feel like you're a pawn. And I think many Europeans felt that they were pawns of this big super power struggle. Those in the West were happy to be in the West. Many of those in the East would have gladly fled. Some, perhaps many, lots eventually made their peace living in the East, but there was never a time when there were not people trying desperately to flee from Soviet rule to Western.
Thank you. You had touched on it briefly with the denazification. But the Nazi war crimes trials took place during this period. We all know the horrors of the Holocaust were discovered to their fullest extent with the discovery and liberation of the concentration camps, from January of '45, all the way through the end of the war. Was the decision to seek down and prosecute those leaders of the Nazi regime and those others who were responsible for the industrialized mass murder, is that a moral decision or a political decision? And I think I know your answer within the core answer for question.
Dr. Rob Citino
Yes. Yes. I mean, that's why these questions always help us bring these big issues into focus. I mean, there were those on the side of the West leaders who said, "You know what we should just do? Line up and find the 10 biggest Germans, line them up against the wall and shoot them." It will be quick. It will be painless for our side. It will show the Germans, again, I'll use the phrase, there's a new sheriff, there's a new regime in town. And we're no longer going to tolerate Nazism in our ranks. From that, at times Churchill fell, there's just be some summary trials. Do it quickly. Get it over with. In the old style, when you conquer the country, you'll get rid of the rules.
But on the American side, there were many, especially within the legal community, because America has a deep standing tradition of due process. There were many in America who said, "No." Well, it's fine to shoot Nazis and frankly, I agree with that. There are several I would have gladly lined up against the wall and shot if I had the legal authority to do so. There are many in the West, who said due process is important. It's what sets the West apart.
It's easy to say you're a democracy. "We're democracy or we're a Republic?" It's easy to make big statements about your system of law and government and jurisprudence. But what really separates America from a dictatorship is due process. There's something called Habeas Corpus. If you get arrested, you have to be charged with a crime within a certain period of time and then a certain term, or else you have to be let go. If you don't have that, then you can be arrested at any time and stuck in a dungeon somewhere in the style of a medieval Holy Roman Emperor, and rot there. Without ever talking to anyone or without ever even being told why you're there.
So, due process was important and that view eventually prevailed. I think, within the British of Anglo-American Alliance, American views tended to prevail by the end of the war, because America was clearly the most powerful country. The Soviets have been holding trials for 20 years. Due process was not a major part of those trials, so often referred to as show trials. But they were interested for their own reasons as well.
So, it's 1946, to come back to our theme. It's October of 1946 to November of 1945, just about or excuse me. November '45 and October '46. I got backwards there. That's just about a solid year. Sir Norman Birkett, one of the British judges, called it famously, "The greatest trial in history," which is something to hear from one of the judges. But I think of the American prosecutor there and it's Robert Jackson. His opening statement, which became justifiably famous, and he put it this way, I'm going to read if no one minds.
I do have this committed to memory, but I want to make sure I don't even miss a preposition. "That four great nations," he said, "flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason." This statement says so much. It has to be one of a statement is so rich, you want to unpack on every little detail. I won't do that, because that would take us to 2:30 in the afternoon.
But I will say this, and I think the crucial point there is the Allies were not seeking vengeance, at least not from the Western perspective. They're not seeking vengeance. They weren't seeking the judgment of law, which is our biggest protector as Americans against government encroach and it's the biggest common law in the British traditions. "A man's home is his castle," so says the Magna Carta. The king just can't break in for any reason, unless he's got a good reason to do so. And he usually has to present some written statement that he does.
So, due process, protection under the law, common law protections. This is what the Western Allies were seeking. I just think, I think it's a noble statement ad frankly, I think it was a noble cause. I hear, I mean, we know, people come up and talk to me all the time. I say, "No, I work in the museum." And one of the things often discussed, "What do you think about the Nuremberg trials?" And a lot of Americans today, say, "Victors justice."
If the situation had gone the other way that have put Truman on trial for dropping the bomb, for example. And may be true. Who knows? But the situation did not go the other way and we could only act as the protectors and guarantors of the civil society that democratic protections under which we live. And that's the new Germany we wish to create. And so, props to Justice Jackson. It's one of the immortal statements.
And I'll urge anyone out there online to look up the opening statement of Robert Jackson at the IMT, the International Military Tribunal and to hear him say that. There's some audio, which is not the crispest of audio. I've never really heard what I consider a great audio recording, but see if you can find one. He was one of the great Americans, or at least an American rising to the great occasion in late 1945.
Rob, a side question on that with the legacy of Nuremberg. This time in 1946, the Japanese were going through. They're saying the same principle of a war tribunal that the Western Allies, that the Allies were putting Japanese war criminals on trial for. Is the legacy still today? When does it stop? Is it a one-time affair?
Dr. Rob Citino
Good question. First of all, there were many trials. I mentioned the International Military Tribunal. Put the big 24 on trial. It's the first one and still the most famous, the IMT at Nuremberg. But I often say the Nuremberg trials because there were other trials later at Nuremberg. There were US Army trials that took place in Dachau. So, the first IMT at Nuremberg was 24 high-ranking Nazis, but those Dachau trials put over 2000, shall we say, lower ranking, less important Nazis on trial. Less important Nazis could be a commandant at a concentration camp and believe me, he had blood on his hands to a horrific degree.
So, there are numerous trials. And then, there are the famous SCAP trials, the trials that would be the International Military Tribunal of the Far East. Don't be so worried about some distinctions there and then answer your general question, Jeremy. The Far Eastern Tribunal has never really, amongst jurists, won the respect that the European one did. It was seen too much as under the influence of one individual and that would, of course, be the sort of pseudo Emperor of Japan now, General Douglas MacArthur.
The situation of Asia was fundamentally different than the situation in Europe. In Europe, when the Americans over ramped, when the Americans took Paris and then entities, they liberated France. France was free again. When the British went through Belgium and the Netherlands, those countries were free again. In Asia, most of Asia was still under Western-direct, Western domination as colonies. And so the, Dutch East Indies were liberated of their Japanese overlords that handed back to their former Dutch overlords.
And so, it's an unusual situation. I'll just give you an example. One of the jurists, some of the jury of the SCAP trial, one of the lawyers, he was a representative of British India. And he voted to acquit every single Japanese officer. He said, "You can't have a Brit sitting." British officers, of course, were on the tribunal as well. "You can't have Britain sitting in judgment of other people's imperialistic behavior." Britain invented imperialism. Now, I think he's really mixing apples and oranges to a certain degree.
The Japanese had done horrific things as occupying forces and there's no doubt about that. And the notion that somehow their imperialism was sort of equivalent to I don't know what American rule in the Philippines. I think the historic record contradicts that. I think, on the one hand, you'd say, "Imperialism is imperialism. You don't let the locals rule themselves, you're doing a bad thing." But I think you can also say there are lesser and greater benign forms of imperialism. And one feature is mass murder and that was the Japanese form. So, I don't agree with that, but I'm just saying there are these distinctions of today when people think of the war crimes trials, almost always, they're looking to Europe for precedence.
And now, the big question you ask, is there a legacy? There was a huge legacy of the war crimes trials today. And think of the war in Bosnia in the 1990s. It resulted in one trial after the other of the sort of Bosnian-Serb forces, who attempted to ethnically cleanse their portions of Bosnia or the Serbian forces, who attempted to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. Poor unfortunates loaded on a train car and hauled out of their home country and then dumped somewhere on a side. It all look too much like 1943, 1944.
So, on the World Court, the Hague is in some way, one of the centers today of International Affairs. And I think the international community looks very carefully at how you fight a war. You might not like this as an officer, but almost any time nowadays, if you're in the middle of an occupying or you're occupying a region, or you're trying to put down an insurgency, and you're planning a big operation to put down the insurgents, you're going to have to talk to the lawyers before you implement that operation.
Because they're going to want to know what's the potential for collateral damage? What's the potential for civilian deaths? Are the troops going to be under tight control? Will there be reprisals? There's a million and one questions it could ask. So, we live in the Nuremberg age even today.
Rob, a quick clarification. I know the answer, but you referenced SCAP a couple of times. For the audience sake, will you clarify that acronym?
Dr. Rob Citino
Well, it's the Supreme Commander of the Allies in the Pacific, I do believe. Thanks, Jeremy for putting Dr. Citino on the spot. And it's MacArthur is off, so MacArthur was SCAP. He was the Supreme Commander. And so, when you say the SCAP trials, that is different than the Nuremberg trials, which were not overseen by General Eisenhower, which would be the equivalent. And so, again, I think there's arguments to be made both ways. But I know that even amongst the Americans I talked to, there's a wide difference of opinion between the Pacific and the European trials.
And it goes to your point that it really was clouded by MacArthur's involvement. It was named after him.
Dr. Rob Citino
The Nuremberg trials were disassociated with any Allied personnel. Rob, we've talked about the victors. We've talked about the perpetrators. You discussed displaced persons briefly in your opening answer. The discovery of the camps not only found the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands that were killed, and yet to be cremated. There were still tens of thousands who were liberated.
Tell us a little bit about how the Allies and the Soviets, the Western Allies in the Soviets, how did they treat these tens of thousands of people who had been held in these terrible camps. And what was put in place? You mentioned UNRRA to take care of these victims. And where did they end up?
Dr. Rob Citino
Yeah, so the Allies come into Germany from East and West German-occupied territory ad there are camps. There was a camp system. If Germany, if the Third Reich was anything, it was a camp state, a state of concentration and death camps. They were everywhere. If you were fortunate enough not to be in one of them, you were almost certainly, a newer captured enemy prisoner of war. You're almost certainly laboring as a slave laborer, somewhere in the bowels of a aircraft factory. You're Dora-Mittelbau, the camp of mob houses.
So, slave labor and recent data zones of the concentration and death camp system, the United Nations, Jeremy, placed the number of that somewhere around eight or nine million people at that time. And what to do with them? In many cases, they were the walking dead. They had not been fed or they were already very ill, so you couldn't simply give somebody a tin of corned beef, which we often hear. Some food that's given to them.
The American tanks break down the wall in my concentration camp or the wire around my concentration camps and started handing up food. And some people eat too much and died. Your system simply cannot handle the richness of a sort of American style diet at that time. So, you can't simply say, "Here's some food. Here are the train ticket." There are no trains. There's no standing bridge between Berlin and Minsk by this point. And there are no planes, so there are no plane tickets. So, what do you do?
Well, you do what you can. You delouse and you give first aid. But you probably do it in situ, that is you do it on site. And what does that mean? It means that very often you're staying in the camp. That you're staying in the same camp where you were incarcerated. Now, admittedly, you're no longer being beaten. You're no longer in threat of your life, but neither can you simply leave. The Allies were terrified of the notion that there would be some epidemic.
We've just live through an epidemic, a pandemic, excuse me, of COVID. In some ways, we're still living through it. But we're talking here about a pandemic or an epidemic of I want to say typhus, that would have killed a million people within weeks, or cholera. Some highly contagious disease that would spread like wildfire. And in people's weakened conditions, we all know the sort of co-factors. And people's weakened conditions would kill them already.
So, in 1946, you have your Polish-Jews who are on camps in Germany. While many Germans, some of whom served the previous Third Reich, served the previous fascist masters of Germany are walking around free. You're still behind barbed wire. Again, I'm not saying you're still in jail, but it's one of the great ironies of the period and it's because of the scale of the problem. Arrangements were going to have to be made for the Western occupation zones to take refugees.
The French said, "Look, we weren't at Potsdam. We didn't sign any agreement that said the Soviets were going to expel all the Germans from Eastern Europe. We're not taking any refugees at all, because we weren't part of it." That had to be negotiated. And so, the problems are just ever present. And sometimes people pick around the edges and say, "Well, UNRRA, they didn't do this or they didn't do that. They could have done this. They could have done that." They did all they could. It was a superhuman effort, that I think anyone who studies it dispassionately would say, saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of life.
So, the problem is, is huge. Again, if World War II is over now, but the new war 1946 is what to do with the DPs? I mentioned earlier to the political side. So, if you're Polish, but somehow you felt a foul of the communists, you can't go home to Poland because it's not under Soviet domination. Maybe you don't want to go home to Poland for that very reason, but let's say you can't. And so, what do you do? You send someone back to their certain death?
There's a small people who lived along the delta of the Volta River. So, we're talking about far, far to the East, on the Great Step, the Great Flat Plain on the Volga. And they are known as the Kalmyks. They're unusual people. They're sort of Mongolian descent related to Genghis Khan, the original Mongol invaders. They are Buddhists, so technically, they live in Europe. So, Europe's own really indigenous Buddhist community. They hated Stalin with a passion because he tried to tamp down their traditional way of life and their religion. And when the Germans came, they cooperated with the Germans, formed a cavalry corps, the Kalmyk Cavalry Corps.
What do you do with the Kalmyks? It was decided since they were former Soviet citizens to eventually send them home to the Soviet Union. And I don't suppose I have to tell anyone what that meant for that for their future, but the entire Kalmyk people were sort of deported to the interior of the Soviet Union, and suffered gravely as a result. So, there's a UNRRA way and then there's the Soviet way of how to deal with sort of the displaced persons, and frankly, I'm on the side of UNRRA.
Rob, I'm going to ask you one last question and save our-
Dr. Rob Citino
Well, this went quite quickly, Jeremy.
And we've got some good questions that have come in already and they've been sending us some from Facebook. We've talked almost exclusively about Europe here. It's what we're commemorating today with V-E Day this weekend, but let's talk a little bit about America one year after V-E day. Obviously, the war in the Pacific has ended. Soldiers coming home. Just tell us what the Spirit was, what the situation on the ground was back in the United States.
Dr. Rob Citino
Yeah, so this is a good question, because, as you may know, Jeremy, if there's any trope, figure of speech, about the post war, it says America was bursting with wealth and vitality and power and the nuclear monopoly and the economy humming on all cylinders. That's in 1950s and it's arguable then, too, but it's not the 1940s. It's certainly not 1946. Labor in America had done very, very well in the war. They organized millions of workers newly arrived in the factories.
They were indispensable to American victory. Everyone knew it, the production, their industrial production. And essentially, they made themselves indispensable by agreeing not to strike during the war, that they would hold off for the duration of the war. But the war is over now, and labor didn't want to see what had happened after World War I. Say, 10, 12 million soldiers come back and that's what's happening in 1945 and '46, Operation Magic Carpet. Suddenly, there's not enough jobs to go around for anyone and suddenly you're back on the red line where many of them had been before the war began or where their fathers or brothers had been.
And so, there's a wave of strikes. In September 1945, oil workers had essentially remained, the hours had remained at the elevated wartime levels. You were forced to work overtime, but without any significant pay increases. So, 40,000, 45,000 oil workers go out on strike across the country. President Truman took the drastic step of ordering them, the US Navy to seize many of the refineries. And he ordered the workers to begin back to work.
But there's a strike wave in '45 and '46, almost 20,000 electrical workers, meatpackers, 750,000 steel workers, so you're in the millions that the United Mine Workers on a John L. Lewis are going to join. And that's how most Americans still heat their own coal. It's not oil fired. And it's interesting to me that somehow this has been a bit read out of the equation. There's a bit of social tension in World War in America, immediate post war. The workers are feeling their oats and wanting to go on strike. They use that strike weapon to get higher salaries.
That's Walter Reuther with the UAW, John Lewis in the UMW. But at the same time, there's conservative forces who say, "This is disloyal. It's still a dangerous world." And the passage of the Taft-Hartley Law. But essentially, sort of put some limitations on the ability to strike, so you can't have a support strike. My industry is fine, but I'm striking in support of another strike. Can't have a strike for political cause. If Schmidt Lab gets elected governor, we're walking. You're supposed to represent the economic and workplaces interests of your clientele of your union membership. Taft-Hartley said he couldn't have a closed shop, a union only.
Now, many of those provisions have been written out there but Taft-Hartley is still on the books. And I think Labor and Labor's rights to strike, laborers rights to job actions, they've always been controversial. They've been tamped out during wartime, but we see as we get back to the time of peace, that once again, they're coming to the fore. I guess we really shouldn't be overly shocked by that. It seems to be more than natural way of things. In 1950s and '60s, there was labor peace because the country was so profitable. But '45 and '46 looked a little bit different to people at the time.
Soldiers in the field at '45, so late in the war, when it was just dragging on and who knows when it's going to end. There's a Pacific soldier, who used to say Golden Gate '48. We won't be getting back home. We'll be sailing through the Golden Gate. We won't be back home until 1948. But then there was a capper line, breadline in '49. And so, it didn't happen that way, thank God. But those were the expectations of many soldiers. "We're going to be here forever. And then we get home, there's not going to be any jobs. We're going to be right back where we started." And while it didn't work out, it's certainly an understandable angst on the part of the American people.
Thank you, Rob. We're going to get to the audience questions. We'll start with one on Facebook. How did initial rebuilding efforts and plans differ between Trizonia and the Soviet occupation zones?
Dr. Rob Citino
Oh, a very, very good question. Now, do you have a name for that smart question?
Let's call him Jeremy. I do not have a name.
Dr. Rob Citino
Let's call him, Jeremy. No, let's call him, no. Well, that's a really good question and there's a basic division between rebuilding the East and the West. The West was legitimately trying to rebuild and the East was trying to squeeze, that being the Soviets, trying to squeeze as much in reparations in dismantled factories, raw materials, finished goods. As could possibly be dragged out of their own zone and the other three zones as reparations.
I'm not completely, how would I put this? So, I'm not drawing a completely negative picture of saying that I think this was inhuman on the part of the Soviets. No country in the world had suffered more from World War II than the Soviet Union. If ever there was a country that legitimately needed reparations, it was probably the Soviet Union. But look, you can do one of two things. You can conquer a country. Cart off everything you want out of it. You can enslave the population. You can sow salt there, so nothing will ever grow again.
I'm thinking, for example, Rome's treatment of Carthage after the Third Punic War. You can have a Carthaginian peace. But don't expect that country to function well. Don't expect it to have social stability. You're going to have to occupy it the rest of its existence or it will fall apart. And that is precisely what happened to East Germany is that it sort of fell apart once the Soviets were no longer and it took a while, admittedly, but once the Soviets were no longer committed to it.
So, you can also treat a country well, put its economy back on its feet, and then say it's going to have to pay reparations, at some point. That seems legitimate. But you can't sort of do both. You can't take everything out of the country, and then demand reparations from it. It's a contradiction in terms. And I don't think the Soviets ever squared that circle in Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany, but also their Eastern European satellites as well.
For clarification, that question came from Austin Bender.
Dr. Rob Citino
Austin, very good question.
So, we have a couple of shout outs, and congratulations for your award. One from James and one from our friend, Marcus Cox. Marcus followed up-
Dr. Rob Citino
Well, thanks, folks. I appreciate that. I appreciate that very much. I joke a lot. I always have a little bit of a try to have a funny comment. And I hope this isn't a put them out to pasture because he's a senior guy award and I don't think it is. It's really gratifying. Because let's face it, we're all in peer groups. And this is a distinction that's been awarded to me and granted to me, by the judgment of my peers. And I'm speechless, with gratitude. And so thanks, too, for the couple of shout outs. Thank you.
Yeah, I encourage the audience to Google the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize. Many of our friends, Rick Atkinson, Conrad Crane, our founder, Steven Ambrose are the previous recipients and in addition to Gerhard Weinberg. So, check it out. And it is, like I said, it's something we're all proud of.
Rob Marcus wanted to know, was the American approach to the war crimes trials a part of winning the hearts and minds of Europe at the beginning of Cold War? Was it a strategic approach knowing that the world was watching?
Dr. Rob Citino
Wow. Marcus always brings it. That's a great question. No, I think it was both. I think that American policymakers, the wise ones and we've been blessed as a people. We've always have some wise policymakers in Washington. I think the American policymakers knew that American power was not simply based on guns and boots on the ground, as we like to say and air power as important as all those things are. But that there's a soft power as well, and that America was most powerful in many ways because of its soft power. By which I mean, it's lower, Marcus.
The fact that there have always been millions of people who would like to come to the United States and live here. I'm of Italian ethnicity, and that describes both my father's both parents and on my mother's side of Slovak, and it describes them as well. So, we have a form of soft power. You've labeled it hearts and minds as, a little later in the game, that's the term that would be used in Vietnam.
But let me just say that any foreign policy and Nuremberg, the decision to stage the Nuremberg trials was a form, it was a branch of American Foreign Policy. Any foreign policy that doesn't take into account soft power, that doesn't take into account its impact on public opinion, both at home and abroad, so hearts and minds, if you will. Any policy that doesn't do that is doomed to failure.
Clausewitz, the great German of Analyst of War, he put it in a very interesting way. He said, "War is a triad, a trinity." On the one hand, there's passion and violence and then that's our it. And then there's a policy and that the wisdom and rationality of policy. And then there's you put the armies together and a lot of things that happen, there's chance. He also said that war is the continuation of policy by other means.
I think in 1946, '47, our policy was the continuation of war against the Nazis. We've beaten them, beaten them badly. Nobody should be unhappy about the way the work turned up, but we wanted to make sure that the scourge never came back again. And so, I think that you can say it's both.
It's strategic that we want to make sure that you know that the Nazis never come back because we don't want World War III. But we also want to hold these trials to show the Middle East in the West, that America and Britain and the French have the interests of democracy and the interests of the German people at heart. So once again, I'll answer that very good either or with a yes. I think there's elements of both.
Rob, you mentioned your Italian heritage. We have a question from Janice. Can you talk about the civil wars that erupted in places like Italy in post war?
Dr. Rob Citino
Absolutely. So, we talked about memory. Is this Janice? I'm sorry, Janice?
Dr. Rob Citino
Janice, we talk about memory, how we remember things. And it's not just our, like I remember my fourth birthday. It's how we as a society choose to remember and to memorialize and what statues we put up, and what days off do we have? So, it's to me, I'm talking about public memory here. Public memory in Italy is a minefield. So, Mussolini was the fascist dictator. He got Italy embroiled in this war that the vast majority of Italians wanted nothing to do with and for which Italy was hopelessly unready.
When Sicily was invaded, he was overthrown, but not by a popular uprising of the Italian people. He was overthrown by a coup within the Fascist Party supported by the king. So, there were still fascists running Italy. And then the Chief of Staff of the Battalion Army, Marshal Badoglio, he began negotiating with the West to take Italy out of the war altogether, really still in the war, after Mussolini. And that will be keyed into when the Allies invade mainland Sicily, mainland Italy, which they did at Salerno in Calabria in September of 1943.
And so, the Italians surrendered. Unfortunately, the Germans were already in the country and they occupied virtually two-thirds of the Italian boot, all the way down to Naples. They round up hundreds of thousands of Italians, disarmed Italian soldiers and shipped them off to labor camps in Germany. What happens at the end is you have Italy being fought over the Western Allies and the Germans, plus Italians on both sides.
You have Italians who were still loyal to the previous regime of Mussolini. You have Italians who were still loyal to the post-Mussolini Badoglio regime. You have Italians who don't know what to do, because their king has taken off and isn't really giving directions one way or the other. And on the other side, you have partisans, anti-fascists partisans and regular military units fighting on the side of the Allies. And so, within a given Italian village, you could have Germans on one side, Americans on the other, partisans duking it out on both sides. And it was very difficult, almost impossible to tell the players without a scorecard and the sort of metaphor we use.
Mussolini will be ruling over a sort of rump Italian state in the north and sometimes the Italian Social Republic, sometimes the Republic of Salò. Salò being the town, a little town where his headquarters were. He's a shell of his former self, but I'm here to say one thing about this sort of civil war in Italy, which can be taken at the frontline and also behind the lines. Civil wars are always the worst in terms of cruelty, in terms of atrocity, and in terms of wounds that will never really heal.
So, you can travel from the tip of the toe of the Italian boot, all the way up to the knee, or whatever you call the top of Italy. It's so much like a boot. You can travel north to south in Italy, and you travel there hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles and try to find memorials, try to find statues that remember Mussolini, that remember his overthrow, that remember World War II in Italy, that remember the victims of this horrible civil war that took place, and it's very, very difficult to find them.
And so, we talk about memory. American memory of the war, it's in, we're here at the museum, we do it. There's a National World War II Memorial in Washington, virtually every city has a Sherman tank. Every town in America has a Sherman tank. We remember World War II. We think it was one of our finest hours, as Churchill might say about Britain. But there are countries which I think have made a conscious or unconscious decision to forget it. And I think Italy is one of those countries. And you say, well, you never forget your past and that's true, but it's very difficult for Italians. The Italians don't see the point, by and large, reveling in that very difficult past time.
Rob, you've finished where I wanted to finish, and that is on memory. The War of 75 years in our rearview mirror. And let's go back to where we started with Germany. The war ends against Nazi Germany. What did the end of the war mean? And more importantly, if there can be a collective answer, how did the Germans remember the war today?
Dr. Rob Citino
Yeah, that's a good question. Start with the various occupation zones, and that's a separate question, I think we've talked about that enough. But I'm really talking here about memory in the West. We've all done things were ashamed of, and then you multiply that by 80 million and you have Germany situation, of course, at the end of the war. Germany always prided itself on being a land of dichter und denker, poets and thinkers. And now, it's richter und henker, the judges and hangmans as Bertolt Brecht famously said, the Communist East German playwright.
It's never going to be easy to live down Hitler, Jeremy or maybe impossible to live down Hitler. So, there are all the typical human ways of sort of denial at first. Silence, we don't want to talk about it. "I personally didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't me. Hitler made me do it. I tried to disagree with Hitler, but his piercing blue eyes hypnotized me." You read this again and again in the memoirs of his officers. There was public recognition, something had gone badly wrong, when Germany, West Germany would be reformed, there was a new constitution that guaranteed all those rights that Hitler had robbed the German people of.
West Germany signed a reparations agreement with Israel in September of 1952, so it's a little bit farther away. West Germany didn't have money to sign reparations agreement with anyone in 1946. But it's given the Jewish state of some of 3 billion marks or so over the next 14 years and then another 450 billion or millions of the World Jewish Congress. So, when it came to the Holocaust, still there just wasn't a lot of discussion of it. And as I mentioned earlier, you need a purge.
You'd have to sort of get rid of every person of authority. Every writer, every scholar, every professor that they can want my line of work. Every civil servant in the country. That's going to be difficult to do. Many of our viewers have read Paul Carrell's Invasion: They're Coming. It's a great story of how the German bear market attempted to defend Western Europe against the Allied V-E invasion. Paul Carell. What many Americans didn't do, I started that book up as a little kid. What I didn't know at the time, that the author's name is Carrel Paul Schmidt. He had worked in Ribbentrop's Foreign Office as a propagandist. He had been the one to write the big press release justifying the rest of all the Budapest Jews in 1944, the last big Jewish community anywhere.
So, Jeremy, that's a webinar for another day because it's going to take another generation to ask their parents and grandparents. "Oppa, what did you do in the war?" In America, it's a beautiful thing. You ask your grandfather and he revels. He wants to tell you what he's proud of his service, you're on his knee. But in Germany, it's not a question you want to ask, unless you're prepared for a very difficult answer.
Thank you for listening. If you liked what you heard, please consider visiting nationalww2museum.org/podcast for more episodes. Again, that is nationalww2museum.org/podcast. Don't forget to rate and subscribe. We truly appreciate it.
This series is brought to you by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, which supports content like this from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. I'm Jeremy Collins, signing off.