Nicholas Best wrote Seven Days of Infamy, that I featured last week. He also wrote Five Days That Shocked the World. He’s a great storyteller, and this book is filled with accounts from the end of the war in Europe. For instance…
The British picketed a London cinema that showed the first film of the concentration camps. During World War I, British propagandists had spread the report that Germans were melting down corpses for fat. Now with rumors of shrunken heads and lampshades made from human skin, they were outraged that their own government was lying to them again.
When Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were captured by partisans, one of the guards spied on Clara as she washed up that night. He reported to his fellow guard that she had a magnificent physique; no wonder Il Duce kept her as his mistress.
Clara wouldn’t have been killed with Mussolini. She was told to get away from him when he was stood against a wall. Instead, she clung to him, and died.
At the end, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop discovered he had no friends, pompous and insufferably overbearing as he was. No important party members wanted anything to do with him. He’d heard the British spoke of hanging Nazi leaders, but Ribbentrop couldn’t believe they were serious. Hanging was for criminals and murderers, not for people like him, not the leaders of a nation.
Like Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler had failed to make plans for himself. Rather than fleeing, he was paralyzed with grief, begging an astrologer to tell him what to do. He thought of going to Czechoslovakia where the army was still in control. The astrologer, who had been imprisoned and persecuted by the Nazis, told him the stars didn’t look good for Czechoslovakia. Himmler still wanted to become the new leader of Germany, the man the Allies would have to deal with if they wanted peace. Both he and Ribbentrop believed they would be treated with respect and consideration by the western allies. Many Nazis were convinced the allies would appreciated their services in the continuing struggle with the Russians.
A large consignment of lipstick arrived at Belsen concentration camp. It went far is raising the morale among the women prisoners. They remembered they’d once been feminine and might be so again someday.
The Belsen commandant dumbfounded British officers. He was totally blind to the realities of what happened in the camp. It never occurred to him that the Allies would not like what they found there. He’d just done what he’d been told to do. Many sadistic guards found talk of the death penalty for them hard to believe. They’d broken no German laws, and the Allies were civilized people.
Among those working at Belsen were Georg Will, who managed the camp cinema, and his wife Liesel, who ran the canteen, supplying comforts to the SS and keeping them entertained. They lived well amongst the dying. Now they wondered if they would have a price to pay, even though they’d committed no atrocities. They relied on a trump card. Liesel’s younger sister had renounced her German citizenship and become an American and sang for the troops. Surely Captain Marlene Dietrich wouldn’t let her kin suffer.
Nazi wives were often fatter than other German women, because they’d eaten better during the war. This was a disadvantage when Berlin fell. The Russians preferred women with flesh on them, and raped them first.
The Russians and the Americans thought the Germany countryside they traveled through was some of the prettiest they’d ever seen. They found it hard to understand why the Germans wanted to invade so many other countries when their own was so rich and beautiful.
I’m reminded of a line from Hogan’s Heroes spoken by Corporal Louis LeBeau, played by Robert Clary, who spent time in a real concentration camp because he’s Jewish. “It’s a crazy war.”