The Hour of Retribution
[Source: "Flight and Expulsion" by Grube / Richter. Hoffmann and Campe Verlag: Hamburg, 1980. Pages 31 and 32.]
Translated by Leslie A. Riggle, Kansas / USA
As the victorious Soviet troops and their accompanying Polish allies met the east German civilian population, there occurred acts of terror that would eclipse all previous experiences of those who were affected. Robbery, plundering, arson, mistreatment, the rape of women on a large scale and the unreasonable execution of the completely innocent were all on such a scale that they were etched into the memories of so many refugees and expellees that this is their only memories that remain of the years 1944/45.
It would be a vain presumption to explain the events in East Prussia, Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg, Silesia and in Bohemia and Moravia in a rational manner. Those who have attempted to do so could find no logical explanation for the unimaginable cruelties.
Goebbel's famous tirade from his Sportpalast speech of February 1943: "Now, people, rise up and storm, break out!" was directed against his own people, who did not realize it was a master plan for massive and well-planned genocide against refugees in the east, and that often enough included Soviet armed forces.
The majority of the soldiers who crossed the Vistula and the Oder Rivers had, on their 500 to 700 kilometer march, seen what the SS units and special forces had not been able to cover up at the last moment: besides the scorched earth tactics, the willful destruction of all means of support for the remaining civilian population, the victims of terror and legalized murder.
The extermination camps that had been left behind by the Germans in their hasty retreat were in their original conditions and were discovered by the advancing Soviet troops because there had been no time to cover up any evidence. The liberation of the concentration camps at Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Chellmno, Stutthof and Auschwitz caused a desire for revenge on the part of the liberators, even more than among those who were liberated.
Almost every Soviet soldier who crossed the border into Germany had family members to lament - often entire families had been victims of the mass murder policies of the German occupation. Many of those atrocities against women, children and old people, were committed by Soviet soldiers whose brutalities and licentiousness could be traced to a lack of character and morals. However, the final impulse was a direct result of the barrage of propaganda directed toward the soldiers by military newspapers, leaflets and radio broadcasts; containing appeals to them to exact revenge and justice against the Germans. To all this was added an influx of fresh regiments from Asia and these, without any control, considered women to be booty, the same as precious metals and other goods. In these cases Asian relationships and customs triumphed.
Added to all this, the soldiers who had seen so much suffering, upon seeing towns and villages that were undestroyed and in which "normal" life continued, were provoked by feelings of revenge and envy to loot under the pretense of exacting justice. The pendulum swung back the other way and affected all who were the symbols of oppression, exploitation, murder and genocide. Even though most did not distinguish between SS functionaries and innocent civilians, their motive must be clearly stated: here was a release for the results of accumulated years of oppression. Their revenge touched all who fell into their hands.
But there are enough witnesses to instances of courage displayed by individual Soviet and Polish soldiers and civilians who resisted the "lynch" mentality against the Germans and who tried to stop the excesses against them by the victors. Many who complain today should thank the self-control of individual soldiers for their lives. It is important to remember this as well.
What remained? Humiliation of the innocent, addition of new suffering when the old had not yet been forgotten. So much bitterness and pain that an understanding over the decades has not been and is not possible. Innocent victims of criminal policies who suffered in the name of Germany's million-fold injustice.
The flight and retribution of the Germans was but the gloomy latest chapter of the horror of total war, but one thing should not be forgotten: that Germany, under Hitler, started it all.
"How should the horror be dealt with, how can one live with it?", asks Sebastian Haffner. His answer: "Accountability is no longer viable; thoughts of revenge make everything worse. Someone must have the magnanimity to say: "It is enough."