Many Russian troops had been angered by the apparent wealth of Germany as they began to occupy the eastern territories. Why had a country with such fine houses and productive farms caused such misery by invading Russia? Most of the Soviet troops originated from peasant backgrounds with very basic living standards – they wanted to know what had the Germans sought to gain?
As journalist Alan Moorehead entered western Germany he too was struck by the relative prosperity of the country. In the country areas at least the population had been protected from many of the privations of war. They seemed to have done better than many in England and France where the rationing and shortages had been commonplace throughout the war years:
We had entered Germany in the north-west, the rich Rhineland province, where the border populations were mixed, more subject to outside influences and presumably less overborne by the Nazis.
The first thing that struck you in the lush green countryside was the cattle, so numerous, so well fed. Chickens and pigs and horses were running everywhere. The farms were rich, wonderfully well equipped and managed. The farming people and their foreign workers were well dressed, and they looked strong and healthy. One could turn into any house at random and find a cellar lined with glass jars of preserved vegetables and fruits. It was nothing unusual to come on many sides of bacon, and larders of fresh meat and dairy butter. In the better homes there was wine and often French liqueurs.
The villages and smaller towns too had a solid bourgeois comfort which had been unknown in England and France for years. Silk stockings were a commonplace. There was not much leather in the shops, but every house seemed to have a good linen cupboard, and there was always an extraordinary variety of electrical gadgets, like radio sets and cookers and vacuum cleaners.
On the walls no sign of Nazi flags or pictures of Hitler; these had been snatched down at the last minute before the Allied troops arrived. Whenever you entered a gasthaus or a shop you would always be certain of seeing a discoloured patch on the wallpaper where a photograph of one of the Nazi leaders had hung until the previous day.
Whenever you approached a farm in a jeep, the German family would remain indoors and send out one of their foreign workers, preferably a Dutchman, in order (they hoped) to make a good impression. Most of their valuables they hid in the cellar or dug into the ground under the chickens’ runs. As for the eggs and chickens and the other things they could not hide, these they offered almost eagerly, expecting no payment. They expected to lose everything in the way of cattle and horses, and the motor-cars which had been stored away years since under the straw in the barns.
That was the first thing we learned inside a week of living with the Germans; they expected to be ill-treated. They had an immense sense, not of guilt, but of defeat. If a man’s shop was entered and looted by Allied soldiers he never dreamed of protesting. He expected it.
And the reason for this was that he was afraid. Mortally and utterly afraid. And so the German made the ordinary normal reaction of a man overcome by fear; he ran to obey. He was obsequious. And the women turned away their heads. They walked past with wooden despairing expressions on their faces, as though they were being pursued by someone. One saw few tears.
For the Germans the catastrophe had gone far beyond that point. Tears were a useless protest in front of the enormity of the shelling and the bombing. And so one was always surrounded by these set wooden faces.
Sometimes our car got stuck in the mud. At a word the Germans ran to push it out. Once a German came up to my driver and said: ‘The Russian prisoners of war are looting my shop. Will the English soldiers please come and see they do it in an orderly manner?’ It never occurred to him to contest the right of the Russians to loot. He was simply anxious to avoid the needless smashing of his windows as well.
We lived in farmhouses and small hotels, most of them filled with refugees from the bombed-out towns. We said: ‘We will require this room and that room in an hour’s time.’ At once the German families rose and left—to live in the cellar probably. They cleaned the rooms, washed our clothes, did our cooking.
After the first week in Germany it never occurred to us to mount sentries at night. Often four or five of us would sleep entirely alone in a village filled with hundreds of Germans, most of whom had husbands and brothers who had been killed or captured by the British, and whose houses had been wrecked by the British. Never anywhere did any German civilian attempt to shoot at me or menace me or steal any possession of mine.