Bombing – Berliners ‘prepared to see it through’

B17 over Berlin

B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Eighth Air Force pass through a flak-filled sky on a raid over Berlin, 6 March 1944.

A Berlin rescue squad plans the excavation of eighteen people believed trapped in a cellar following an air raid, May 1944.

A Berlin rescue squad plans the excavation of eighteen people believed trapped in a cellar following an air raid, May 1944.

Berlin had been under bombing attack for six months now. First with the RAF taking advantage of the long winter nights, then with the US 8th Air Force taking up the assault. At first the German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, had been shaken by the scale of the destruction. He kept his thoughts to himself and masterminded a propaganda campaign that sought to bolster morale and presented a confident face to the world.

It now looked like he had succeeded. Even if Germans resented the Nazi regime they would have been unwise even to share their thoughts with others, much less actively seek to oppose it. Those amongst the Allies who believed that striking at the very ‘heart of the Reich’ would undermine morale and eventually lead to revolt had been proved wrong.

In Dresden, so far to east it had not yet been bombed, former linguistics professor Victor Klemperer studied the language of the totalitarian regime. As a Jew married to an Aryan he had so far managed to avoid the worst of the persecutions. The list of his friends and neighbours lost in concentration camps was growing ever longer. He was therefore surprised to learn of the actual conditions in Berlin:

May 1, Monday, half past one

This morning, while I was tutoring Bernhard Stuhler, Steinitz appeared and introduced his (half-Aryan) niece, who had come from Berlin for the weekend. A young, robust, somewhat proletarian, very blond and German—looking, lipstick-wearing girl; her lively character rather likeable. What she reported from Berlin shook me, because it confirmed what Goebbels repeatedly emphasizes.

The Berliners are quite used to the raids – on Saturday, while we were sitting in the cellar at Mobius, they had another heavy one. Serious destruction on every street, loss of life everywhere, but in general the people’s mood is good, humorous, prepared to see it through.

Special rations and fear help things along, there’s grumbling here and there, but on the whole people carry on with self-confident Berlin wit and cockiness. No one is expecting imminent defeat; some say the war will last another two years, others, that the decisive German “retribution” is at hand. (For months there was official talk of “retribution,” then the public scoffed at it, then nothing more was heard of it. And now it pops up again in this account.)

The girl works in some Berlin factory, so hears this and that. Therefore the regime has no need to fear internal collapse or revolt. And on this point Goebbels is undoubtedly correct: As a means of bringing pressure to bear on morale the air offensive is a failure.

The Stuhlers say: It is impossible to judge morale today. All have had enough, and everyone trembles and dissimulates. This time nothing will come from inside Germany.

The Steinitz niece also related something very like what Eisenmann said on his return from the hospital. In Berlin there are no Jewish stars to be seen. The Gestapo acquiesces, or at least closes both eyes. The star is not worn or is covered. (As Eisenmann traveled through Berlin on the tram, his briefcase pressed to his chest.)

If the Gestapo is forced to take action because of a denunciation, then the person denounced gets a warning the first time, after that a fine… Here, on the other hand, concealing the star inevitably leads to death by way of concentration camp.

See To The Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-45: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1942-1945: To the Bitter End, 1942-45 v. 2.

A target indicator (left centre) descends over the Schoneberg district of Berlin, during a night raid by 27 De Havilland Mosquitos of the Late Night Striking Force.

A target indicator (left centre) descends over the Schoneberg district of Berlin, during a night raid by 27 De Havilland Mosquitos of the Late Night Striking Force.

Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito

Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV, DZ483 ‘GB-R’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk, in preparation for a night raid on Berlin, Germany by aircraft of No. 2 Group. Two weeks later, DZ483 crashed at Marham while attempting to land on one engine, on returning from the low-level raid on Jena. Its crew, Flying Officer A J Rae and Flying Officer K S Bush, were both killed.

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