The Man Who Saved Europe How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis
Part 9: Churchill's Role in the Explusion of Germans from Easter Europe
Churchill did, however, contribute to the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe, as historian Detlef Brandes has shown. He did so by supporting (and thus legitimizing) the demands of the Polish and Czechoslovak exile governments in London. According to the Churchill, the Germans were to "be given a brief amount of time to gather the bare necessities and leave."
At first, he was referring to East Prussia and the Sudetenland, but he eventually included Pomerania and parts of Silesia in his plans.
It was one of Churchill's darkest hours when, at the Summit of the Big Three in Tehran in 1943, he picked up three matchsticks, which were meant to represent Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. He had already agreed to Stalin's demand that part of Poland was to go to the Soviet Union. Now he placed the matches together to illustrate the consequences: By pushing the Soviet match toward the West, he was also shifting the positions of the other two matches. Stalin found this depiction of Poland's westward shift amusing.
Of course, the Germans would have to vacate the territory that fell to Poland. As a result, several million people were ultimately rounded up, robbed and expelled, and tens of thousands died during the forced marches.
'A Tragedy on a Prodigious Scale'
Churchill later criticized the brutal behavior of the Poles and Soviets, calling it "a tragedy on a prodigious scale" -- as if ethnic cleansings had ever been anything but tragic.
And what was to happen to Hitler, who was ultimately responsible for the entire calamity by starting the war in the first place?
Before the Holocaust, Churchill toyed with the idea of banishing Hitler and other top Nazis to an isolated island, just as Napoleon had once been banished to Elba. Or perhaps he was simply tipsy when he voiced this idea.
But when the Holocaust began, such bizarre ideas were quickly taken off the table. Churchill learned of the Nazis' crimes after the British cracked the code the Germans had used to encrypt SS and police reports on the massacres of Jews in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.
In 1942, the prime minister told the cabinet that he would have Hitler put to death if he were captured -- without a trial and in the electric chair, like a "gangster."
For Churchill, Hitler was the "mainspring of evil."
As we know, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker a few days before Germany capitulated in 1945. As Churchill writes in his memoirs, it was a more preferable end for the Nazi dictator, after all.
He had finally prevailed, and the duel had ended.
In July 1945, when the victorious Churchill toured the ruins of Berlin, he asked to be taken to the bunker where Hitler ended his life. He was also shown the spot in the courtyard of the Reich Chancellery where the dictator's body was incinerated.
Of course, Churchill's visit was not announced ahead of time. Nevertheless, a large number of people gathered in front of the Chancellery, and when Churchill walked through the crowd, he was astonished to hear the Germans celebrate him as a hero. Only one old man shook his head disapprovingly.
And that was how it was with Churchill.
There are those who dislike him because he was an imperialist, because a single human life meant little to him, and because he lost his sense of perspective during the bombing war and endorsed ethnic cleansing.
In the end, however, we can only be pleased that he won the duel.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis
- Part 2: Britain Defies the Dictator
- Part 3: Trench Warfare Cooled Churchill's Romance for War
- Part 4: Churchill Advocates a Massive Military Buildup
- Part 5: 'Utter Dejection Was Written on Every Face'
- Part 6: Churchill's Strongest Weapon Was the Word
- Part 7: 'When Will that Creature Churchill Finally Capitulate?'
- Part 8: 'I Shall Drag the United States In'
- Part 9: Churchill's Role in the Explusion of Germans from Easter Europe