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Reviewed by:
  • Jews, Germans, and Allies
  • Hal Elliott Wert
Jews, Germans, and Allies. By Atina Grossmann. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-691-08971-3. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 393. $35.00.

Spring 1945, that famous Berliner Luft could be found in traces here and there, but the Red City, Christopher Isherwoods's Berlin, was dead, divided, occupied, and buried in rubble. During the day, swarms of Trummerfrau moved over the debris like ants, carrying it away in buckets and baskets to make a devil's mound (Teufelsberg) near Hitler's Olympic Stadium. Amidst the bombed out [End Page 319] buildings a thriving black market sold food and other scarce items in exchange for family heirlooms—cigarettes were the only hard currency, sex a common medium of exchange. At night swarms of drunken Red Army soldiers went house to house, block by block, carrying vodka and musical instruments, while seeking out women and girls to rape. Berliner women driven from hiding attempted any number of ways to protect themselves. But all knew their stratagems had failed and what would happen, often repeatedly, when the tottering Ivan extended his hand and uttered "Frau Komm."

Concentration camp survivors and assorted refugees in surprising numbers made their way to Berlin. In the American zone, camps filled up with human refuse, people so demoralized and in such deplorable physical and psychological condition that they seemed like animals or an alien species not belonging to this world. The DPs (Displaced Persons) were unheimlich—"frightening and inexplicable." Many suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a malady not yet identified. Some were sullen and withdrawn one moment and demanding, aggressive, and violent the next. They were preoccupied with food, refused to bathe, or were sexually permissive, and some defecated in the halls and smeared excrement on the walls, broke furniture, and lived in thoroughly trashed rooms. Baffled aid workers puzzled at how to help their charges and many were repulsed by this obscene bizarre behavior.

Large numbers of Germans posited that they had been cruelly duped by Hitler, mercilessly bombed by the Allies, slaughtered in vicious combat, and looted and raped by their conquerors. Now occupied, Germans in their collective misery were surely victims. The Allies were naturally empathetic to the Jews given the horrors of the final solution and uncertain as to the treatment of their recent enemies. Germans wanted to forget their crimes and wanted Jews to forget as well. The refugee weekly Aufbau (Reconstruction) metaphorically captured the situation by retelling the old story of "the man who slaps another in the face, and then generously remarks, for the sake of peace, let's consider the matter settled." The Jews, Aufbau continued, "are now given the right to live peacefully as if nothing had happened."

Jews, to the contrary, demanded that Germans accept collective guilt and collective responsibility for their massive crimes, but no matter how justified Jews were in their expectation it did not happen. The human capacity to see others as responsible for their suffering, to scapegoat, is bottomless and the human capacity to deny personal responsibility is limitless. These two factors rendered the Jews' hope of Germans taking "collective responsibility" for their horrific crimes slim to none.

Grossmann contends that the huge number of Allied men's love affairs with the captivating and accessible "fraulein" hopelessly compromised any effort to punish the Germans. Lefty Frizzell, in his 1950s hit country recording, "Fraulein," [End Page 320] a G.I. lament, captured that allure: "I loved her and left her, but I can't forget her as she was my pretty fraulein." While the ubiquitous fraulein may have been a factor in the changing attitude between the Germans and their Allied conquerors, surely the deteriorating relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the burgeoning Cold War, was of greater import.

Special treatment given Jews and the Jewish DPs' often inexplicable behavior gave rise to a revived anti-Semitism. But, the surviving Jews and their German neighbors were not two groups that existed in isolation from one another. Correcting the historical record, Grossmann demonstrates that need resulted in interaction, even interdependency, and that much of the...


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pp. 319-321
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Archived 2010
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