[This article was published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 95-110.]


Revisiting the “Good War’s” Aftermath: Emerging Truth in an Ocean of Myth / Dwight D. Murphey / Wichita State University, retired
After the Reich: The Brutal History
of the Allied Occupation

/ Giles MacDonogh / Basic Books, 2007

Part III

            If MacDonogh wrote all that we have reported (and more) from his book, how can it be said that in important ways he continued the cover-up of such horrors, a cover-up that since 1945 has consigned them to a memory hole?  This brings us to the book’s deficiencies, which are of such a nature as to give readers a lessened realization of the extent of the atrocities and of who was responsible for them.

            Most egregious is MacDonogh’s treatment of the work of Canadian historian James Bacque, author of Other Losses and Crimes and Mercies.  When he refers to the first of these books, he says that Bacque “claimed the French and Americans had killed a million POWs,” a claim that “was called a work of ‘monstrous speculation’ and was dismissed by an American historian as an ‘absurd thesis.’”  According to MacDonogh, “it has since been proved that Bacque misinterpreted the words ‘other losses’ on Allied charts to mean ‘deaths’….”  Accordingly, he speaks of “Bacque’s red herring.”  So greatly does he dismiss Bacque that in a section on “Further Reading” at the end of the book, MacDonogh apparently forgets about Bacque entirely, saying that “on the treatment of POWs there is nothing in English, and the leading American expert—Arthur L. Smith—publishes in German.”

            I thought it fair to ask Bacque what his response is to MacDonogh’s dismissal.  Bacque replied that “the word speculation describes my critics well, because it is they who have not been in all the relevant archives and who have not interviewed the thousands of survivors who have written to newspapers, TV journalists and other authors about their near-death experiences in the camps of the Americans, French and Russians.”

Far from admitting that he had misinterpreted the category of “Other Losses,” Bacque says that “the meaning of the term… was explained to me by Colonel Philip S. Lauben, United States Army, who was in charge of movements of prisoners for SHAEF in 1945.  I have the interview on tape and Lauben’s signature on a letter confirming this.  Lauben has never denied what he told me.”

Lauben later told the BBC that he was “mistaken,” but the likelihood of a mistake is slight since he was a responsible officer on the ground and saw both the camps and the reports.

            The difference between MacDonogh’s and Bacque’s treatment of the subject of German prisoners of war in American hands is apparent when we compare the attention each gives to the cutting off of food.  MacDonogh reports in one sentence that “any attempt to feed the prisoners by the German civilian population was punishable by death.”  This is astounding in itself and certainly deserves explication.  Bacque tells us considerably more: “General Eisenhower sent out an ‘urgent courier’ throughout the huge area that he commanded, making it a crime punishable by death for German civilians to feed prisoners.  It was even a death-penalty crime to gather food together in one place to take it to prisoners.”  He says “the order was sent in German to the provincial governments, ordering them to distribute it immediately to local governments.  Copies of the orders were discovered recently in several villages near the Rhine….”  On pages 42-3 of Crimes and Mercies, Bacque publishes a German and an English copy of a letter dated May 9, 1945, by which district officials were notified of the prohibition.

            Bacque provides evidence such as that of Professor Martin Brech of Mahopac, NY,  who was a guard at the U.S. camp at Aldernach in Germany.  Brech said that “he fed some loaves of bread through the wire, and was told by his superior officer, ‘Don’t feed them.  It is our policy that these men not be fed.’”  “Later, at night, Brech sneaked some more food into the camp, and the officer told him, ‘If you do that again, you’ll be shot.’”

            Thus, we find in Bacque a much sharper description and attribution of responsibility than we do in MacDonogh.  In light of the immense detail given in MacDonogh’s book, this would be forgivable were it not for his attempt to blot out the work of a major scholar who has studied the subject exhaustively.

            A similar cutting-short diminishes a reader’s comprehension of other important subjects, which MacDonogh touches on so briefly that the reader is hardly able to form a full mental picture.  For example, MacDonogh tells how in the execution of Joachim von Ribbentrop at Nuremberg “the hangman botched the execution and the rope throttled the former foreign minister for twenty minutes before he expired.”  In his book Nuremberg: The Last Battle, historian David Irving tells considerably more, including the fact that the gallows had been designed in a way that allowed the trapdoor to swing back and smash “every bone” in the faces of Keitel, Jodl and Frick.  He says that Goering’s body (after Goering had committed suicide by taking poison) “was dragged into the execution chamber… [where] the army doctors [made] frantic attempts to revive him so that he could be hanged.”

            There are a number of places at which MacDonogh half-tells about something important, only to leave it incomplete.  We’ve already noted his mention of “30,000-40,000 prisoners sitting in the courtyard [at the Pioneers’ Barracks in Worms]… With no protection against the rain they froze.”  We are left to guess the consequences of their freezing.  At another place, he reports that “the Americans maintained camps for up to 1.5 million… Nazis or members of the SS.”  That is his only mention of those camps, which one might suppose were even more punitive than the others.  Was MacDonogh too overloaded with other detail to pursue such matters further?  Did he deliberately refrain from exploring certain things?  Or was the failure due a scatter-gun recital of fragmentary details?        

            A reader will need to assess the degree to which After the Reich is a work of scholarship as distinguished from a narrative for popular reading.  MacDonogh includes many pages of endnotes, citing a large number of sources.  Very occasionally, he speaks critically of a given source.  But for the most part he accepts whatever a given source has to tell.  The book would profit greatly from a bibliographical essay in which he would evaluate the principal sources, sharing with the reader a careful analysis of the evidentiary basis for his narrative. 

An example of where a critical evaluation is essential comes with his reference, say, to Ilse Koch’s “lampshades and trophies made from human skin and organs,” which MacDonogh says the psychologist Saul Padover claims to have been shown.  We need to know what MacDonogh would conclude if MacDonogh were to consider the counter-evidence that calls the lampshade collection a “legend.”  

The same holds true for MacDonogh’s many citations to Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews.  There is a vast scholarly literature questioning every aspect of the Holocaust.  One would never know that that literature exists from reading MacDonogh, who either doesn’t know of it or finds it prudent, as so many do, not to mention it.

            Notwithstanding the book’s limitations, After the Reich accomplishes much when it provides another link in the chain of disclosures that, over time, are providing conscientious readers with a more complete understanding of modern history.

            The fact that, at the time of the events and for so many decades thereafter, enormities of the greatest importance have been scrubbed clean by propaganda suggests implications far beyond the events themselves.  The British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli observed that “all great events have been distorted, most of the important causes concealed,” and went on to say that “If the history of England is ever written by one who has the knowledge and the courage, the world would be astonished.”[15]  The implications suggest profound questions, which we would be remiss not to mention: 

            How is it that a certain version of reality can, on so many subjects, hold almost total sway, while the voices of millions and of a good many serious scholars are marginalized into nothingness?  (Fortunately, so far as Bacque’s work is concerned, it is available in twelve languages in 13 countries, even though it has long been unavailable in the United States.)

            Do we really know the truth about much of anything?  Or are countless subjects veiled in a miasma of omission and distortion?

            Where are our academic historians?  Most historians like to give us pleasing myths, which is something expected of them and for which they are rewarded with medals, prizes and high sales.

            How pervasive is a cravenness that will put almost anything ahead of a search for truth?  Does mankind care very deeply about truth?

            To what extent is a society or an age “democratic” if its citizens’ minds are filled with phantoms, so that most of the judgments they make are either vacuous or manipulated? 

            And to what extent is it “democratic” if those citizens don’t even have a vital say in decisions of the gravest importance?  It is significant that Keeling says that “the people of no nation in modern history, including ourselves, have ever enjoyed an important voice in the making of the great decisions either of going to war or of framing the peace arrangements.”[16]
                                                                                                          Dwight D. Murphey
[1]  Adenauer is quoted in James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950  (Boston: Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, 1997), p. 119.  Readers may wish also to consult Theodore Schieder, ed., The Expulsion of the German Population from the Territories East of the Oder-Neisse-Line (Bonn: Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, 1958).  Alfred-Maurice de Zayas is the author of three additional books on this subject: The German Expellees: Victims in War and Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986); A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-50 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994); and Nemesis at Potsdam: The Expulsion of the Germans from the East (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

[3]   See two books by Victor Gollancz on the treatment of refugees: Our Threatened Values and In Darkest Germany.

[4]   Capehart is quoted in Ralph Franklin Keeling, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War Against The German People (Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review edition, 1992), p. 64.  The book was first published in 1947 by the Institute of American Economics in Chicago.

[5]  Bacque, Crimes and Mercies, p. 91.

[6]  Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 64. 

[7]  Zayas, de, The German Expellees, p. 97.

[8]  Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 64. 

[9]  Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, pp. 62, 63.

[10] Bacque, “A Truth So Terrible,” Abuse Your Illusions; article sent to me by author.

[11] “Britain Ran Torture Camp After WWII: report http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsite.

[12]  Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. VI.

[13]  Nikolai Tolstoy, The Secret Betrayal (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977), pp. 371, 24, 315, 40, 183, 242, 343.  Readers will do well to read, as well, Julius Epstein, Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present (Old Greenwich, CN: 1973) and Nicholas Bethell, The Last Secret: Forcible Repatriation to Russia 1944-7 (London, 1974).

[14]  See the discussion of the Katyn Forest killings in Bacque, Crimes and Mercies, pp. 74-5, 135.

[15] Disraeli is quoted in Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 135.

[16]  Keeling, Gruesome Harvest, p. 134.