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#16: The End of Europe?.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Doris Bergen

THE END OF EUROPE? VIOLENCE, CHAOS, RUBBLE, AND THE EMERGENCE OF NEW CENTERS OF POWER, 1945-1947 INTRODUCTION The emergence of new centers of power — the United States and the Soviet Union • •The quest to understand the destruction of the war, its origins, its significance and to try to find some foundation on which to rebuild Europe •The nature of the war also shaped the problems of the possibilities of making peace in post-war Europe •The destruction gave an intense urgency to the return to normalcy •Chaos — final period of the war was unbelievably chaotic •People in all different kinds of situations faced the challenge of making decisions without having a clue what would happen next •Rubble — cities and human relationships were destroyed •The emergence of new centers of power — old Europe was powerless, to be replaced by the US and USSR JUDGEMENT AT N UREMBERG L AST PHASE OF THE W AR VIOLENCE •One particular form of destruction that characterized the last phase of the war: the Death Marches •Beginning in 1944 — as the Germans lost control of territories to the east and west, they also lost control of the sites of labor camps, concentration camps, and killing centers Sometimes guards at these camps dealt with the issue by killing the remaining • prisoners •In many other cases, rather than killing the remaining prisoners, they were put into long columns and forced them to March back toward the territories still under German control •The areas under German control continued to shrink — hence the death marches would continue from place to place •In these columns of the dead, different kinds of prisoners were mingled together — all jumbled together in columns of starving, brutalized human beings •Sometimes the guards would abandon their marches and might fend for themselves — leaving the prisoners uncertain of what to do next •Sometimes enormous local panic would ensue at the sight of the death marches which gave way to massacres — village inhabitants feared that they were coming to take revenge •The columns themselves brought a massive dislocation as people found themselves in unexpected places •100,000s of people died THE END OF EUROPE? VIOLENCE, CHAOS, RUBBLE, AND THE EMERGENCE OF NEW CENTERS OF POWER, 1945-1947 C HAOS The final period of the war was very chaotic • • As the Germans retreated from every direction — there was a confusion concerning who was in-charge • Miscalculations could make the difference between life or death • Sometimes German tows would put up white flags to signify their surrender to the Allies, but most of the time either a Wehrmacht or SS unit approached — killed the townspeople • American soldiers liberated Dachau in April 1945 • Dachau had many sub-camps • The Americans who arrived at those camps were completely unprepared — their superiors had not told them anything of such places • Because they didn’t what the camps were, the Americans might not pay them any attention • The guards at the camp would take advantage and kill the remaining people • In other cases, soldiers arrived so shocked at what they saw that they armed the liberated prisoners allowing them to kill their guards • Sometimes they were so moved by the conditions of the prisoners that they gave them their rations • Liberation was very chaotic — the extreme brutality meant that no easy resolution was possible • 20,000 Germans soldiers were executed by military justice — german soldiers killed fellow German soldiers if they dissented • The guards responsible for their March remained responsible with their charges even long after their own superiors abandoned them — because the safest place to be was towards home with an important job as opposed to fighting the enemy People had so little control — they didn’t know was going to happen next • • Did the best they could to protect themselves and their families • The end of hostilities didn’t remove the factors for chaos — it added more confusion • WW2 unleashed an enormous movement of refugees — 50 million people moving either way in Europe • Forced laborers (at least 10 million) found themselves inside Germany at the end of the war — many wanted to leave for their homes • Death marches — people tried to flee from the Red
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