- Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany
In her meticulously researched monograph Jews, Germans, and Allies, Atina Grossmann tells the story of the title groups' "close encounters" with each other in occupied Germany during the years immediately following the Second World War. [End Page 516] She focuses on occupied Berlin and on the large Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Bavaria, in the heart of the American zone, paying close attention to the tense interactions between the Soviets and the Americans. She explores the ways in which the various actors here contested definitions of German identity, nation, and citizenship, as well as how they assessed notions of guilt, victimization, retribution, and survival. Her goal is to weave together the histories of these groups using a broad range of sources: historical analysis, personal narratives, oral histories, written reports, published and unpublished letters, memoirs and diaries, press accounts, novels, and films.
The book is organized into six chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on defeated Germany and the Germans' experience and perceptions of their country's "victimization." Chapter 2 looks at the experience of sexual violence as well as fraternization between German women and the victors. Chapter 3, focusing on Berlin, explores intra-Jewish debates about identity, revenge, reconciliation, and whether Jews should remain in Germany. The chapter also examines Jews' confrontations with Germans who perceive themselves as being victimized. Chapter 4 looks at DP communities and camps in the American Zone, particularly in Bavaria. Grossmann describes the relief organizations', the American Military Government's, and the Zionist movement's perceptions of the Jewish DPs and shows how they influenced the survivors' new collective identity. In Chapter 5, Grossmann returns to analyzing gender, sexuality, and reproduction by focusing on the entangled histories of Germans and Jews in light of the Jewish DP "baby boom." In Chapter 6, Grossmann moves beyond the official endpoint of occupation and DP period in 1948–49 to the establishment of the state of Israel and the two postwar German states.
By the end of April 1945, the Soviet army had begun to take charge of Berlin, and on May 8, Germany capitulated. The city's first postwar Jewish religious service took place on May 12. The Soviets rapidly restored basic services, and, seemingly overnight, many of Berlin's cultural institutions came back to life. In Chapter 1, Grossmann describes an attempt to resurrect Weimar culture—an attempt that showcased Jewish journalists, actors, and theater directors. Cultural officers of the four occupying armies, many of whom were themselves of German Jewish origin, encouraged this effort. At the same time, Berlin was the picture of misery, a city where defeated Germans and their victims—Jews, former forced laborers, and other displaced persons—competed for food and other basic necessities. The notion of German "victimization" was highly contested, and all four occupying powers in Berlin (and throughout the former Reich) tried to balance punishment and denazification against the need to govern and reconstruct the country.
In her chapter on "gendered defeat," Grossmann demonstrates that sexual violence was an integral part of the bitter final battle for Berlin. The rape of German women was widespread in the spring of 1945—part of the general crisis in the days of Berlin's fall. Grossmann writes that "a conservative estimate might be about [End Page 517] 110,000 women raped, many of them more than once, of whom up to 10,000 died in the aftermath; others suggest that perhaps one out of every three of about 1.5 million women in Berlin fell victim to Soviet rapes" (p. 49). German communists and the Soviet military authorities denied, minimized, and shifted responsibility, trivializing rape as an inevitable part of the brutality of warfare, and as comparable to Allied violations. Despite the authorities' efforts at containment, rapes provoked anti-Soviet sentiment and figured prominently as public relations and political control problems. The flip side of rape was sexual fraternization. The bans imposed by the Americans and the British proved unenforceable, which led to difficulties in the enactment of denazification...