Aachen area, November 1944, Allied pamphlet outlining how the German population can protect itself
The battle of Aachen shows the different mindsets present among the German military elite by the final stage of the war. The first defender of the Aachen area, Generalleutnant Count von Schwerin, had declared Aachen an open city, stopped the civilian evacuation, and had set up his defensive positions outside of the city, to its north-east. As the American advance was slower than expected, this allowed an extra German division to arrive in the area, which, according to orders, did intend to fight for the city. When the German High Command found out that von Schwerin had left the city, he was sacked and replaced. The final commander of the Aachen garrison was Oberst Wilck, under whose command German forces thought in the heart of the city for 10 days, causing massive civilian casualties.
With the German military fully prepared to fight in the midst of its population, Allied propagandists produced this leaflet, entitled "WILCK - He is to blame", stressing the detrimental role of the retreating Wehrmacht on its front, and gives directions to the population on the back:
1. Know what is happening: Stay up to date on the military events and don't be influenced by rumours
2. Speak openly with soldiers: Try to convince them that their resistance will do damage to the city
3. Protect your belongings: In the chaos many opportunist will try to steal property
4. Protect public property: German troops might attempt to destroy gas, water, and electricty plants. Try to prevent this
5. Join with like-minded people: Trying to convince a commander to surrender is more succesful as a group than alone.
We should keep in mind, however, that these "advices" above all meant to benefit the Allies, and did not always have the interests of German civilians at heart. Preventing people from taking to the street also conveniently meant not having to deal with refugee streams that might prevent a rapid advance. The awareness that a city, like Aachen, was still full of civilians hardly weighed in the decision to fight for it.
Westfront, November 1944 - May 1945. Leaflet "Ihr seid abgeschnitten!" (Z.G. 86 K-B)
This leaflet, entitled "You are now cut off!" was printed from November 1944 onwards, and was aimed at encircled German troops. It does not deal with Germany's broader strategic situation, but instead restricts itself to immediate concerns. That the exact wording was of paramount importance is shown by the "K-B" suffix at the bottom. The original ZG 86 leaflet was never distributed: this version was edited in Paris (K) and printed in Brussels (B). The wrinkels and burn marks show that this leaflet was dissiminated by artillery shells.
"You are now cut off. Allied units are already deep in your rear. You fought bravely, but from now on a continuation of the fight is useless. You have to surrender or die shortly before the end of the war."
What follows are instructions on how to surrender individually or as a group, and a summary of the way prisoners of war are treated, which promises a "decent treatment", "good food", "hospital treatment", "the opportunity to write", and, most importantly, it promises that soldiers will return home as soon as possible after the completion of the war.
Westfront, December 1944 - May 1945. Leaflet "EINE MINUTE die Dir das Leben retten kann." (Z.G. 108)
Similar to the above leaflet, this leaflet, entitled ONE MINUTE that can safe your life", was aimed at encircled German troops, and was printed from December 1944 onwards. It also does not deal with Germany's broader strategic situation, but instead asks to carefully read six points.
"1. In a battle of material, valour alone cannot offset the inferiority of tanks, planes and artillery.
2. With the failure in the West, and the collapse in tthe East, the decision has fallen: Germany has lost the war.
3. You are not facing barbarians who delight in killing, but soldiers who would spare your life if possible.
4. But we can only spare those who do not force us, by senseless resistance, to use our weapons against them.
5. It is up to you to show us your intention by raising your arms, waving a handkerchief, etc., in an unmistakable manner.
6. Prisoners-of-war are treated decently, in a fair manner, as becomes soldiers who fought bravely."
On the back are instructions on how to surrender individually or as a group, and a summary of the way prisoners of war are treated, which promises "immediate revove from the battle area", a "decent treatment", "good food", "hospital treatment", "the opportunity to write", and, most importantly, it promises that soldiers will return home as soon as possible after the completion of the war.
Moscow/ East Prussia, 24 January 1945, To the participant of the fighting in East Prussia, Comrade Aleksander Smesik
This is a "personalised" congratulatory pamphlet, celebrating the capture of the East Prussian cities of Lyck, Neuenburg and Bialla. It reprints parts of Stalin's 252nd Order of the Day.
To the participant of the fighting in East Prussia, Comrade Smesik
Order No. 252 of the Supreme Commander Marshal of the Soviet Union Comrade Stalin of 24 January 1945 expresses gratitude to our army, and therefore you, the participant of the battles for Lyck, Neuenburg and Bialla, for the excellent fighting.
The military council congratulates you and expresses a firm belief that you will smash and destroy our sworn enemies even stronger. Go west! Let’s hoist the banner of victory over Berlin!
Army Military Council
Görlitz, 24 January 1945. Letter containing a woman's motivations for suicide
Especially after the Soviet winter offensive had commenced on 12 January 1945, the mood of many Germans was one of dejection and terror. Especially those who had internalised the Nazi propaganda, which had consistently presented the Red Army as a bestial, almost zombie-like moloch, the fear of being overrun was crippling. Many saw suicide as their only way out.
Thank you for your last letter. I'm desperate, what's to become if the Russians keep advancing further? Maybe we have to leave Görlitz, but where to go? Would you possibly take me in? If I could only find the courage to put an end to my life, then all fear and worry would be over, but it is not that easy. Maybe God will give me the strength and the courage to do that. If at least the winter would be over. Görlitz is teeming with refugees, those poor, poor people. I'd very much like to take at least one person in, but I don't have any beds and my house is really very cold. If only God would help. Being without a home (Heimatlos sein) that would be terrible. On Tuesday 16 January Dresden suffered a heavy bombardment, did it not? Here in Görlitz were heard the firing of the guns. You have been spared? If a misfortune should meet you and I still have my home, then of course it is always open to you.
I have given your address to two residents, in case death should reach me. I would like to die so much, but only graciously and without suffering. I have a cold again, but it is the excitement. One moment I'm shaking with cold, and the next I'm glowing hot again. Give my address to two other places, so that we are mutually informed about everything. Will the war come to an end soon? I hope you get this letter. Only postcards are supposed to be written. Please let me hear something soon and all of you are warmly greeted.
Your sister Helene
Westfront, February - March 1945. Pamphlet "Zwei Lehre- Eine Entscheidung!"
This pamplet, "Two lessons - One Decision!", takes aim at two practices: evacuation and the Volkssturm militia, and argues strongly against them.
"1. The evacuations of East Prussia, Posen, Silesia, and the eastern parts of Pomerania and Brandenburg turned into horrific chaos, in which millions of peaceful workers, peasants, and citizens suddenly became miserable refugees. The NSDAP did not want to leave the Russians anything but "rubbish and ashes".
Result: Panic. Millions clogged the country roads, as there were neither sufficient means of transport nor provisions for the reception for refugees. Thousands became the free game of the Russian fighter-bombers fighting the German retreat. Other thousands who were brought to Berlin on the responsibility of the party fell victim to the heaviest air raids in the war. The lesson: in the face of an attacking modern army, an evacuation order means - MURDER.
2. The Volkssturm in Beuthen, Gleiwitz, Kattowitz, Königshütte, Oppeln und Hindenburg were thrown into action against trained shock troops of Konev's army. The NSDAP ordered thousands to be sacrificed and towns ravaged rather than to surrender in hopeless circumstances. The completely insuffient defenders were quickly defeated by Soviets and their cities taken anyway - by storming, instead of an orderly entry. Throwing the Volkssturm against a modern army is MURDER. Throwing yourself into such a mission is SUICIDE. At this stage of the war, there is only one salvation for a city in the combat area: orderly surrender."
What the pamplet blatantly ignores is that Germany in 1945 was hardly the place for an open conversation with soldiers or authorities, and that refusal to obey orders or counteract them was punishable with death. Again, we see that the pamplet does not really consider the plight of the civilian population, at which it is aimed, but above all intends to speed up the collapse of Germany.
Freudenberg area, Oberbarnim bei Buckow, 22 February 1945, Alfred Gnörich and wife to Mr. and Mrs. Henke
Certainly not all Germans tried to stay ahead of the Red Army by fleeing westwards, many simply preferred to undergo the end of the war in a familiar place, and thus took their chances. Although Mr. and Mrs. Gnörich took to the streets, they did not head west, but instead moved a mere 30 kilometres south. Their motivation seems to have been some immediate relief of stress, as their village, Bad Freienwalde, had some military importance as a final stopover before the Oder, and, since it lay a mere 10 kilometers from the river, could even be shelled by the Red Army. On the other hand, the tiny hamlet to which they evacuated, Freudenberg, lay in the middle of nowhere, and the chance that the war would pass it by was much larger. The Gnörich's choice to evacuate to Freudenberg suggests that the had every intention of returning home after the fighting would be concluded.
Lieber Frau, lieber Herr Henke,
Wir sind hier glücklich gelandet und verhältnismäßig gut untergekommen, habe gute Betten und ein warmes Zimmer. Mit der Verpflegung lässt es sich trotz einiger Küchenschwierigkeiten auch ganz gut an, sodass wir zufrieden sein können. Wann nicht fast täglich Fliegeralarm wäre könnte man glauben, man lebe in der Winterfrische. Nur etwas langeweile schleicht sich ein, was aber für unsere schwachen Nerves Ganz wohltönend ist. Ausser dem Rundfunk haben wir leider kein Verbindung mit der Aussenwelt, denn der Märkische Bote kommt altbacken nur 2 mal wöchentlich hierher. Kreisblatt fehlst ganz. Wie steht es in Frw. [Freienwalde]? Ist noch alles im Lot? Wir hören Kanonendonner auch hier! Hoffentlich sind sie alle wohlauf und haben nichts zu befürchten.
Mit herzlichen grüssen sind wir ihre alten Freunde A. und A. Gnörich
Dear Mrs and Mr Henke,
Fortunately we ended up in a nice accomodation, we have good beds and a warm room. The food can be quite good despite some difficulties with the kitchen, so we are surely satisfied. If air raid alarms were not sounding almost daily, one would believe to be living in a winter resort. Only a bit of boredom creeps in, which is actually quite pleasant to our weak nerves. Unfortunately, we have no connection with the outside world except the radio, because the Märkische Bote arrives here only twice a week, already out of date. The local circular is missing completely. How is it in Frw. [Freienwalde]? Is everything still in order? We hear cannon thunder here too! I hope you are all well and have nothing to fear.
With warm greetings we are your old friends A. and A. Gnörich
Westfront, mid-February 1945. Leaftlet: "Die russische Flut"
Leaflets concerning strategic developments tended to be less succesful than leaflets encouraging immediate action, but this leaflet, "The Russian flood", is nevertheless interesting, due to its wording. Soviet troops did not see themselves as "a flood", and this leaflet of the Western Allies thus uses language that their eastern ally might have considered offensive. Of course, the purpose it served was clear, but it shows that at this stage of the war, the SHAEF made no effort to correct German preconceptions of the Red Army, and these dehumanised views would remain common in the post-war world.
"The above map shows the advance of the Red Army until midday 10 February. Since 12 January, the Russians stormed forward from the Narev swamps to Stargard (460 km.), from Warsaw to Frankfurt a.d. Oder (430 km), and from Sandomir to Liegnitz (295 km.) The last dam is BROKEN! "Over the Oder and to Berlin!" This was the battle cry of Field Marshal Zhukov when the Red Army launched its decisive operation. Since then, four weeks have passed, Today the Russians crossed the Oder at of a dozen places."
Westfront, March 1945, Pamphlet "Deutschlands Zukunft"
The Yalta Conference (a.k.a. Crimea Conference) of February 1945 is without a doubt one of the most controversial conferences in modern history. It was there, in Yalta, that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt definitively decided that the Russian shere of influence was to encompass all of Eastern Europe. It was also here that Great Britain famously "betrayed" Poland, by trading away Eastern Poland, in return for areas east of the rivers Oder and Neisse and the southern part of East Prussia - effectively moving Poland over 250 kilometres westward.
The call for an "Unconditional Surrender", which had been put forward in Tehran in 1943, was also reiterated. The Allied call for "Unconditional Surrender" had been grist to the mill for German propagandists, who presented it as "evidence" that the Allies would not lay down their arms before Germany would be completely destroyed. For a German soldier laying down his weapon thus meant allowing (and even facilitating) the inevitable destruction of his country at the hands of the Allies. This pamplet therefore sets out what was actually meant with "unconditional surrender" by printing parts of a speech Roosevelt held to the American Congress:
"Unconditional surrender does not mean the annihilation or enslavement of the German people. The National-Socialist leadership deliberately withheld this part of the Yalta-statement from the German people. The Nazi leaders want to make the German people believe that the Yalta Declaration meant the enslavement and annihilation of the German people. In this way, the Nazis hope to save their own skin, through this deception they want to drive the German people to further, useless resistance."
Roosevelt then continues with what Unconditional Surrender does mean:
Temporary occupation by Great Britain, Russia, France, and the United States; the end of barbaric laws and institutions; the end of military influences in public, private and cultural life; quick, just and measured punishment for war criminals, and so on. It is also stressed that the Allies, contrary to after the First World War, will not demand financial compensation.
Wałbrzych/ Waldenburg, 30 July 1945. Registration confirmation for job placement of Emma Schmidt
In post-war Poland, the ethnic German population faced numerous hardships. One of these hardships was forced labour, and this document hints at this practice. It belons to a certain Frau Schmidt, who had to report to an executive official at the Urząd Pracy i Opieki , the Polish Office of Labor and Social Welfare,
"Ms. Emma Schmidt, living at Christian-Günther-Strasse 7, registered here on 30 July for the purpose of job placement. She was assigned." The "German" address reveals that much in the former Lower-Silesian town of Waldenburg had not yet been changed by the time she had to report for job placement in the "new" Polish town of Wałbrzych.