Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Soviet Occupation of Germany: Hunger, Mass Violence and the Struggle for Peace, 1945-1947 by Filip Slaveski

In many ways "The Soviet Occupation of Germany" is a very interesting study into the Red Army's advance into Nazi Germany in 1945 and the ensuing occupation through 1947.  The first section of the book tackles the occupation in terms of crimes while the second focuses on food rationing, politics, and the beginnings of the Cold War tension that regularly utilized Germany and Berlin as a battleground.

This is a slim monograph, numbering some 150 pages of text, and that in and of itself should say something.  This is a good introduction which offers a lot of interesting analysis but it is far from a definitive study.  What Filip Slaveski does well is showcase the multifaceted nature of the Soviet occupation of Germany.  When looking at the Red Army, he discusses the numerous confrontations between occupation troops and SVAG (the organization put in charge of keeping order) that occurred, which at times spilled into the streets with brawls, street fights, and gunfire. Considering that often times army command and SVAG command overlapped (as Zhukov held positions in both organizations, as did Katukov), the limits that each organization had to work with become apparent.  Officers usually wanted to protect their men from trouble.  When some Red Army were caught, be it in the act of rape, robbery, or murder, officers had to consider how far they could go in terms of punishment.  Some continued to protect their men as they feared repercussions from the rest of their troops; not looking after one's men when there's no war could lead to a quick end of your duties and life.  The limited amount of men initially assigned to SVAG also meant that most mundane instances of crime were not investigated.  And, unfortunately, in some instances SVAG men themselves abused Red Army men and the locals under their jurisdiction.

Although crimes continued to occur in occupied East Germany their number was slowly reduced as waves of demobilized Red Army men left for the Soviet Union and SVAG commanders were able to implement sterner measures to keep remaining troops in barracks and under control while out in the countryside or in cities.  Additionally, due to the nature of the war itself, many of the crimes being committed could not be assigned to any one party.  Slave laborers from the east, concentration camp victims, deserters, and Polish soldiers (among a slew of others) were also concentrated or stayed within the borders of East Germany (under Soviet occupation) and at times terrorized the locals, seeking revenge on a populace they undoubtedly held guilty for their suffering during the war.  There were also reports of Germans dressing up in Red Army uniforms and committing crimes (to what extent this is true or a way for Soviet officials to hide their soldiers' guilt is up for debate).

The above discussions, forming parts of the first half of this book, were really the most enlightening for me.  In regards to the second half, I was most interested in reading about the interaction(s) between the British and Americans and the Soviets.  Slaveski discusses how quickly the Soviets tried to take apart German industry and ship it to the west and details that this was a result of the initial discussions at the Yalta conference that dictated such actions were part of reparations to the Soviet Union and could be done before Germany was once more reunited, at least economically, and machinery/factories were once more needed for production within Germany.  Thus the Soviets believed they had until the meeting at Potsdam to secure as much as they could in terms of German industry to ship to the east.  The same applied to German forced labor, which American officials believed could be diverted to the east as the dismantling of industry by the Soviets would leave hundreds of thousands without adequate job prospects.  Unfortunately, these initial ideas proved hard to sustain as FDR's death led to the Truman administration, which regularly sided with the British against the Soviets and attempted to make previous agreements void by finding or creating loopholes (i.e.when the Soviets asked for already agreed upon military machinery/factories to be shipped from West Germany to the them, the Americans and British would claim they were not solely military and could be used in a peacetime economy, something that was never truly clarified when the agreement(s) were first created about what could/would be shipped to the Soviets as a part of reparations).  Thus, as flexible as the Soviet administration could be or tried to be, they were nonetheless a single actor in a play that featured numerous actors with their own interests and ideals.  I would say this is an excellent look at the initial Soviet occupation of German and I hope that future historians will continue to explore this topic in more depth and detail.

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