Looking For The Good Germans

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I was one of these moralists in khaki. A newspaperman and radio writer in civil life, only a few days after the German surrender in May, 1945,1 took my place behind a battered pine desk in a bomb-cracked building in Munich that originally had served as an old-folks home and later as headquarters for the German army service of supply.

An hour earlier, having driven in from Paris over a poppy-carpeted landscape, I had been confronted with a perfect, up-to-date expression of the ancient German conflict of “two souls in one breast.” Across the façade of the Rathaus, or city hall, somebody had chalked, “Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen—I am ashamed to be a German!” Directly below, another hand had scrawled, “Beethoven, Schiller, Goethe—I am proud to be a German!”

In the city of putsch and pact, where in 1923 Hitler launched an abortive uprising and in 1938 ensnared Neville Chamberlain, German work crews were still digging up corpses from ruins estimated to cover 60 per cent of the town. But on Renatastrasse, at my second-story window, still hung with ragged chintz from the old-folks era, I looked out on eye level at pretty girls in Bavarian dirndls standing on ladders to pick the surviving blossoms from half-charred trees to make linden tea.

Below, at a narrow side door, a sign explained that here was the headquarters of 6870 DISCC, a unit of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces. Translated, this was District Information Services Control Command, a part of the Information Control Division (ICD), which later became an arm of American Military Government.

My unit, in which I was assigned to the press section, covered Bavaria. A similar outfit operated out of Frankfurt, to the west.

Our mission, as the military called any operation from taking Iwo Jima to obtaining a new batch of paper clips, was to suspend immediately every activity in public communications—press, book, and magazine publishing, radio, theater, opera, and even the circus—and root out all practitioners tainted with Nazism. Next we would search out, investigate, and license provably anti-Nazi Germans to build up a whole new democratic establishment of communications over which there would be no need to exercise censorship.

At the start it was a matter of conducting merciless interrogations and investigations of all who came to apply for licenses—editors, publishers, actors, musicians—and making determinations of how they had behaved under Hitler. (To permit a soprano who had been a particular favorite of Hitler’s to give a lieder recital would be taken by the Germans, in our estimation, as signifying we were not at all serious in our condemnation of Nazism.)

The procession of Germans who came before us were, by our rough-and-ready rule of thumb, soon classified as falling into one of three categories: black, white, or gray.

Black denoted applicants with an out-and-out Nazi background and on whom little time need be wasted except for a few calculated insults to themselves and their fallen F’fchrer. White denoted “good Germans,” those who had never given in to Nazism during the Hitler era.

Gray was the tragic group, consisting of good Germans who had gone bad under pressure; people of decent antiNazi convictions who, because of the necessities of making a living, pursuing a career, or even staying out of the Gestapo dungeons, had finally caved in to one degree or another. They had written pro-Nazi articles they didn’t believe and had joined organizations such as the Nazi auto club, contributed to Nazi charity funds, or even, a last resort, joined the Nazi party.

 

Interrogating the grays was always the most painful—for the interrogator as well as for the applicant. To the grays we represented the conscience they had betrayed. And the consequences of these interrogations could be painfully dramatic. One applicant, after being faced with the record of his concessions to Nazism, killed himself.

In my case, an applicant whom I had accused of fighting Hitler “with your fist in your pocket” turned on me and shot a barbed question that stings to this day: “How do you think you would have behaved under Hitler?”

On the average I conducted ten interrogations a day. Often I felt so emotionally exhausted that I would have to knock off by 4:00 P.M. and hoist three or four stiff drinks to relax. Always there was the odd sensation of sitting on a stage as a character in a play under the spotlight of history.

Our basic aim was to limit operations in all media for the first years to proven anti-Nazis and thus give them a solid head start against the day when the Germans would resume self-government and open the field to all comers.