British and American War Crimes During World War II

hellstrom

Hellstrom: the Death of Nazi Germany 1944-47  

by Thomas Goodrich

Aberdeen Books (2010)

 Book Review

 

The victor always writes history. Only German war crimes were prosecuted at Nuremberg. British and American war crimes were whitewashed out of history. If not for Kurt Vonnegut’s best selling 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, Americans would have no knowledge of the deliberate targeting of civilians in the firebombing of Dresden.

Hellstrom: the Death of Nazi Germany 1944-47 is a meticulously researched encyclopedia of Allied war crimes during World War II. In it, historian Thomas Goodrich carefully compiles statements of scores of eyewitnesses, including Allied pilots and war correspondence about US, British and Russian atrocities against German civilians and POWs during and after the war.

A Deliberate Campaign of Terror Bombing

Dresden wasn’t the only German city subjected to carpet firebombing aimed at terrorizing civilians. Based mainly on victim and pilot statements, Goodrich details the deliberate firebombing (with phosphorus-based incendiary bombs) that occurred in Hamburg, Berlin, Nuremberg, cologne, Daimstat, Pforzheen and Wurzburg. The allies also firebombed three Swiss cities, another war crime, as Switzerland was a “neutral” country with no identifiable military targets.

Goodrich mainly focuses on Dresden, one of the last German cities to be firebombed. Many residents believed it would be spared, owing to its culture treasures and role as a hospital city for injured civilians. Dresden had no defense installation, major factories or air defenses. Owing to the absence of anti-aircraft weapons, the Allied bombers could fly low enough to target fleeing civilians and hospitals designated with a large red cross on their roof. The Red Cross later estimated that the Dresden massacre killed 300,000 – 400,000 civilians.

Prior to Dresden, the American pilots, unlike the British Royal Air Force (RAF) deliberately refrained from targeting. At Dresden, this changed, with Americans planes deliberately targeting civilians who survived the initial firestorm.

Eisenhower Deliberately Circumvents Geneva Convention

Like Bush II, Eisenhower deliberated created a new category of prisoners called Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF), so he wouldn’t be bound by the Geneva Convention regarding treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs).

His treatment of POWs worsened following the May 8, 1945 armistice with Germany, as he no longer feared German retaliation against American POWs. In all, 800,000 German POWS died in French and US POW camps after the war ended the armistice. This contrasts with German treatment of Allied POWs, which followed the Geneva Convention 99% of the time.

The book contains victim statements from German POWS held in outdoor pens where they were drenched by continuous rain and fed 1/10 of a K ration three or for days a week. Eisenhower denied the Red Cross access to POW camps, as well as prohibiting them from supplying German prisoners food. The British, US and French military also used German POWs as slave labor, despite formal Red Cross protests that this, too, violated the Geneva Convention.

Forcible Repatriation of Soviet Dissidents

In addition to the maltreatment of POWs, the Allies honored a commitment they made at Yalta to repatriate one million Soviet dissidents (including White Russians who fought the Bolsheviks in 1917) to the USSR. This included 4,000 Soviet dissidents in the US who were forcibly repatriated. Stalin, in turn, summarily executed them or sent them to slave labor camps.

The Brutal Allied Occupation

The treatment of German civilians and POWs by invading forces varied. On both the eastern and western fronts, experienced front line troops tended to be the most civilized. They reasoned that good treatment would make the Germans in the next village more likely to surrender. The rear guard tended to be far less experienced and more inclined to engage in rape, gang rape, looting and torture. Stalin refused to sign the Geneva Convention, and Russian troops were particularly feared for their savagery.

During the occupation, Eisenhower and Truman deliberately engineered a famine in the Allied sectors (US, British and French) of Germany. The massive carpet bombing had totally destroyed the food infrastructure and millions of German civilians starved as they tried to survive on boiled grass and roots. Truman outlawed private food relief to Germany until the Pope, former president Herbert Hoover and numerous high profile senators and journalists objected to the Truman’s policy of deliberately starving the German civilian population. In all, far more Germans died in the first two years of peace than had died in six years of war.

The Allies also carried out a particularly brutal regime of “de-Nazification” in which German adults (including prominent anti-Nazis) were arbitrarily arrested and tortured until they confessed to being members of the Nazi Party.

The treatment of German civilians would improve in 1947, as the Cold War gained momentum and Truman recognized Germany’s importance as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

Dresden9photo credit: Dresden bombing

Also posted in Veterans Today

14 thoughts on “British and American War Crimes During World War II

  1. Thanks for writing this review. I would like to make a few observations. They are highly personal and I can’t vouch for what came to me via third persons.

    I experienced the war as a child in Germany. My father was a soldiers from January 1940 to April 1945. I lived in Berlin, but for a year in Silesia because of the air raid. During the battle of Berlin I was back in Berlin with my mother.

    Germans did not treat POW from the SU humanely. My father reported to us that he experienced that POW from the SU were starved. He was very upset about it. Kurt Vonnegut describes. in his book “Slaughterhouse Five, the treatment of Russian prisoners and the relative good live Western Allied POW experienced in the camps. Vonnegut himself was a POW.

    The bombing of civilians started after some RAF planes dropped some left over bombs carelessly on some towns in Germany. This only encouraged the Germans to do likewise and changing the outcome of the “Battle of Britain”.

    Dresden is another matter. Nobody knows how man many people were killed as so many refugees cramped into the city. It is said more people died in Dresden then during the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Heroshima and Nagasaki combined. The Russians asked the English to do the bombing as Dresden was also an important rail junction.

    Bomber Harris was, by any definition, a war criminal (as was Göring) and even Churchill hated him.
    We, in Berlin, got to suffer a lot from the bombing night (RAF) and day (American Air Force). But the population was not angry with the Allies as they knew it was war and Hitler had started it.

    When the Russians came to Berlin we were warned that the fighting soldiers were not the ones to fear, but the ones that come after them. And so it was. Were I lived we had the the 8th Guard Army Headquarters only 150 m from our apartment block. The capitulation of the German forces fighting in Berlin. took place there.

    My father, who was in Italy since August 1943, was taken prisoner by Italian partisans. He was transferred to the Americans shortly after. While he had no complains about the Italians he complaint about the Americans who took them over as they took all personal item of them.

    In the POW camps life was not too bad. Other German POW reported that they were treated well by the Americans and had excellent medical treatment (amputations).

    Not so one of my uncles. He was one of those they put onto open fields, near Cologne, with no cover from the elements. He was released a sick man in August 1945 and died shortly after.

    The Western Allies noticed very quickly that without Germany in full production the cold war could not be won. The new German Army, the Bundeswehr, was established in 1949.The same year as was the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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    • Thanks for relating your personal experience. It definitely helps give a fuller picture of what really happened. I cannot imagine keeping POWs in open air camps where they are exposed to constant rain. Eisenhower should have known better. He obviously knew it violated the Geneva Convention or he wouldn’t have reclassified them as Disarmed Enemy Forces.

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  2. The overwhelming numbers wouldn’t explain his decision to use German POWs as slave labor, despite protests from the Red Cross that this violated the Geneva Convention. Some of the quotes from Eisenhower in the book, regarding his hatred of the German people, are pretty damning.

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  3. WW2, is the outcome of British domination of world markets and control of resources, the treaty from WW1, also added to German hostility as being 2nd class, to the British Elite, the British needed a excuse to enter the war, they calculated the use of America, and Russia, the British made inferior goods to Germany, this contributed to British hostilities, also Britain needed to destroy some excess British population, as they were redundant in working in the factories, the British, being a war lord culture, needed to appease their psyche, of violence, this intervening war would distract the working classes in to staying in to their place.

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  4. thank you so much, dr. bramhall. as you might imagine, it is only through word-of-mouth and intrepid people like yourself that others are finally learning the truth about WWII and what remains to this day the darkest and best-kept secret in world history. gradually, the voiceless victims of the world’s worst war are receiving their long-deserved recognition. thank you! tom

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  5. Pingback: History as Fiction: How the Ruling Elite Rewrites History | The Most Revolutionary Act

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