- Historic Sites
Looking For The Good Germans
The victors divided the Germans into three groups: black (Nazi), white (innocent), and gray—that vast, vast area in between
June/july 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 4
Our occupation of Germany was certainly the first broad experience for Americans as conquerors of a foreign power. At the end of World War I, a token force of U.S. troops had occupied the Rhine city of Koblenz, but since that war had stopped short of the German borders, few doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force even set foot inside the country. And in spite of all the wartime cries about German atrocities and the threats to “hang the Kaiser” and punish the Huns, there were no serious efforts at holding any kind of trials.
Now, in dealing with the remains of Hitler’s empire, our attitudes were sharpened by the discovery of gas chambers and piles of corpses as Allied troops took the concentration camps.
But, in fact, the blueprint for Information Control was drawn long before V-E Day. It was the product of a team of political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists under the command of Colonel William Paley, who had taken leave from his radio empire of Columbia Broadcasting System to go to war with the Psychological Warfare Division, the predecessor of Information Control.
Our mission—to “re-educate the Germans and save the peace”—was described by our top military command as “of the highest priority” and “second to none.” We were given authority to travel anywhere to carry out our orders, were permitted to meet with any and all Germans at a time when fraternization was forbidden to the rest of the Army, and were empowered to requisition any property, including printing presses, radio stations, and theaters, necessary “to carry out the mission.”
The manual assembled by the Paley team for the indoctrination and guidance of Information Control officers, of whom I was one, proved remarkably realistic for our dealings with the German applicants, serving as a combination book of etiquette and Geiger counter for detecting Nazism.
For instance, we were instructed to speak only German during interrogations and to resist all attempts to draw us into English. This was for two reasons: to demonstrate our know-how on the job and to keep a cool, censorious distance from the applicant until he was proven to be anti-Nazi.
Before each interrogation, the applicant was required to fill out a formidable Fragebogen , or questionnaire, of 131 piercing questions about his politics, education, employment, affiliations, and general social outlook.
The manual also told us to look for giveaways such as dueling scars on the face, betokening membership in the university student “corporations,” centers of political reaction from the mid-ninteenth century; filling out the application in gothic script, commanded by Hitler as a badge of true Germanism, as against roman script; the use of Nazi-favored expressions such as Gefolgschaft (”crew” or “staff”) and Begegnungsgefecht , the characteristic supposedly reserved for Germans of fighting spirit and initiative.
It was an almost unvarying rule that the less subservient the applicant was, the less likely he was to have been tainted with Nazism.
Another symptom was the sycophantic custom of knocking not only on the outside of the office door when seeking entrance but, once in, of knocking again on the inside, which was always followed by excessive bowing from the waist, making the applicant look like a wind-up toy.
It was an almost unvarying rule that the less polite, less subservient, and more badly dressed the applicant was, the less likely he was to have a Nazi taint.
In search, like Diogenes with his lamp, of honest men, during my twelve months with Information Control I traveled twenty-five thousand miles around Bavaria by jeep and a commandeered Mercedes and interrogated twenty-five hundred Germans. In that period I lost one pound of weight for each hundred Germans and each thousand miles, shrinking from 175 pounds to 150. Partly this was because of the grueling travel over washboard back roads, bombed-out highways, and manure-heap barnyards following even the faintest clue to the whereabouts of reputedly anti-Nazi editors and publishers. And partly it was because of the wearing intensity of feeling in my outfit that if only we succeeded in finding the right people, we would “save the peace.”
There were a couple hundred of us in the Bavarian division—officers, enlisted men, civilian specialists, and German employees—and by the end of the first year a considerable amount of work had been accomplished. The press section established amid the ruins twenty-one newspapers with a total circulation of 2,000,000 to serve a population of some 10,000,000 Bavarians and refugees from other areas of Germany.
The book section launched a program equivalent in output to a major U.S. publishing house. The theater section opened as many legitimate theaters as in the largest American chain. As many movie houses were licensed as there were in Manhattan, and more musicians were cleared to perform than were under contract to Columbia Artists and the Metropolitan Opera.