The Summer of Liberation Germans Reflect on the Allies’ Arrival in Europe in 1945

After the Allies defeated Germany and ended World War II in Europe in summer 1945, peace finally prevailed on the Continent. The Germans were beaten, desperate and ashamed, but also ready to get back to normal life following the trauma. By DER SPIEGEL Staff
Pedestrians on Berlin's Potsdamer Straße in July 1945 (with a destroyed department store in the background)

Pedestrians on Berlin's Potsdamer Straße in July 1945 (with a destroyed department store in the background)

Foto:

BETTMANN / GETTY IMAGES

Georg Stefan Troller sits in his apartment overlooking the rooftops of Paris, with a piece of cake in front of him. He has agreed to take a trip down memory lane. Outside his window is the city's 7th arrondissement. Hail pelts the glass as Troller talks about the war. He tells how he, a Jew from Vienna, enlisted in the United States Army and returned to a decimated Europe. How he marched into Munich, the "capital of the Movement." How he stood in Hitler's apartment in the city one day and walked through the recently liberated Dachau concentration camp shortly thereafter. Even 75 years later, he hasn’t forgotten the shock he felt that day.

Troller was born in 1921. He'll turn 99 this December. DER SPIEGEL visited him and other witnesses of that dark period in Europe's past -- in Paris, Hamburg, Moscow, Bonn and Berlin. When visits were impossible due to the pandemic, interviews were conducted over the phone. Witnesses' memories were supplemented by diary entries that have been either published (like those of the German author Thomas Mann) or preserved at the German Diary Archive in Emmendingen (as was the case with Annemarie and Johann von Duhn, Hans Diester, Insa Radomski and 7-year-old Theodor Gruschka). The questions were always the same: How did Germans spend the summer of 1945? What influenced their day-to-day lives? Were they depressed? Exhausted? Ashamed?

Not every memory can be traced back to a specific date. To a degree, reporting from the postwar period has overwritten survivors' personal recollections. But one thing is certain: In the collective memory, the summer of 1945 began on May 8, right after Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender. It marked both a new beginning and a transition. Indeed, 1945 was an epochal year. There were more than 6 million dead in Germany alone, and more than 60 million dead worldwide. In Europe, 6 million Jews had been murdered. German cities lay under a billion tons of rubble. That was the present. The future lay in the division of Europe, in the disintegration of the world into blocks and in the dawning of the nuclear age.

It became clear that the end of the war would not instantly mean an end to people's suffering. The violence spilled over into the summer, into the years of reconstruction, into generations to come. It was striking how significant people's longing was for a life of privacy after years of mass mobilization and appeals for national unity.

And everyone learned in a very short time just what freedom meant. Hans-Jochen Vogel, who later became the head of the Social Democratic Party, tried chewing gum for the first time in his life. The journalist Wolf Schneider developed a fear of bridges. Friedrich Nowottny, who went on to head the German public broadcaster WDR, traded SS skull rings for cigarettes from American soldiers who collected them as Nazi souvenirs. The married couple Annemarie and Johann von Duhn sewed flags of the four victorious powers from rags and an old swastika banner. Future German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt experimented with a coffee substitute. A restaurant owner from Hamburg realized that "Hitler" was an unfortunate last name to have. Hans Modrow, who years later became the last prime minister of communist East Germany, met a Red Army soldier who could quote the German novelist Heinrich Heine. Marianne von Kretschmann, later Marianne von Weizsäcker, longed for school to begin. Klaus von Dohnanyi rode through Germany on a ladies' bicycle and enjoyed the most unforgettable breakfast of his life. A young Theodor Gruschka observed that during a raid, sometimes "nude females" would appear. Fighting was still going on in the Pacific. And Martin Walser met the woman of his dreams that summer.

May 9

The day after its capitulation, the Third Reich made its last public announcement. Radio host Klaus Kahlenberg read aloud a message at 8:03 p.m. on the state-owned radio station in Flensburg. It began: "The Wehrmacht High Command announces."

Neither the High Command nor the Wehrmacht existed anymore. Both had unconditionally surrendered the day before. "The German Wehrmacht has been honorably defeated at the hands of massively superior forces. We are broadcasting the text of the final Wehrmacht report of the war. Radio silence will be maintained for three minutes."

Germany’s "zero hour” lasted three minutes.

Nikolai Pudow, born in 1921: As a captain in the Red Army, he was one of the occupiers. There's one German word he hasn't forgotten: "Untermensch".

Nikolai Pudow, born in 1921: As a captain in the Red Army, he was one of the occupiers. There's one German word he hasn't forgotten: "Untermensch".

Foto:

Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

Hans-Jochen Vogel pinned his German translation of an article in the U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes to a bulletin board. That was his job in the Coltano prison camp near Pisa, Italy. "To translate things I considered important into German and post them on a bulletin board."

The Russian Nikolai Pudow, a captain of the Red Army and an occupying soldier, experienced the first day of peace in a village on the Elbe River near the city of Wittenberg. The restaurants, he said, were teeming with military men in civilian clothing. Their posture exposed them as officers. "The Germans were very intimidated,” he recalls. "There were posters all over the villages: a giant ear, the enemy is listening, Red Army soldiers with bloody claws for hands. Most of the German words I used to know I've since forgotten. Except for 'Untermensch (subhuman).'"

Near Greifswald, a young man with the Volkssturm, the Nazis' last-ditch defensive army, found himself in Russian captivity: Hans Modrow, 17 years old at the time, wanted to walk home along the railway tracks, to Jasenitz. What he hadn't considered was that the Red Army was keeping a close eye on the tracks, for fear of acts of sabotage by the Werewolves, a group of Nazi guerrilla fighters who tried to slow the Allied occupation.

Far away in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Interim Committee on Atomic Energy met for the first time that day. Among those who attended the meeting were the physicists Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, U.S. Army General George Marshall and James F. Byrnes, who would go on to become a U.S. secretary of state. Physicists had been developing an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert since 1942. The Target Committee had convened a few days earlier. They were there to discuss the weather -- in Japan.

The television journalist-to-be Georg Stefan Troller stood in Hitler's former apartment on Munich's Prinzregentenplatz square. "It was full of American soldiers. People in Munich also knew that it was Hitler's apartment, but that no longer meant anything to them. People were starving. They were like zombies. But we soldiers were naturally looking for souvenirs." In the Führer's personal library, there were only books by Karl May, a German author who wrote about the American Wild West.

In Potsdam, Annemarie and Johann von Duhn sat on their terrace. He was a physicist. She was a musician. Until better times were upon them, she would continue keeping a diary. "Good weather is settling in, warm summer weather, which is lifting our spirits noticeably. Over at the Sachsenberg's house, 20 Russians looted and demolished everything. For three days, the Russians celebrated their victory with lots of shooting and drinking. They're constantly firing flak, the sky is full of exploding grenades."

Wolf Schneider, a future journalist, was also celebrating: He had turned 20 two days prior. His only gift was something he gave himself: "Survived the World War -- a future is possible." He had volunteered for the German air force and spent the war as a radio operator behind the front lines. By the war's end, he sat in a Canadian prisoner of war camp in Holland and feared one thing most of all: "Will we have to stay in Holland as forced laborers -- to drain the huge areas that German soldiers had flooded?"

May 10

In Mürwik, Hitler's successor Karl Dönitz awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves to Alfred Jodl, the head of the Wehrmacht's High Command. The 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles) near Flensburg, on the fjord's eastern shore, were the last remnants of the German Reich. It was not fenced in or demarcated. It was a phantom state, populated by SS leader Heinrich Himmler, Wehrmacht Generals Jodl and Wilhelm Keitel and the Nazis' chief ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, who sat and drank in the officers' mess. The navy carried out three more executions for "serious desertion."

Esther Bejarano, who until several days earlier had been imprisoned at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, changed her clothes. She got rid of her prison uniform. "Prisoners got ahold of a radio in the camp. They could hear where the Red Army was. On the radio, we heard that we should put on civilian clothes underneath our prison uniforms. We were going to be evacuated in a few hours. In Auschwitz, I had bought a sweater for a loaf of bread. I went hungry for a week to get that sweater because I was so terribly cold."

Hans-Jochen Vogel was introduced to life under occupation: "The Americans were nice to us from the very beginning. Some of them were black. Nazi propaganda had taught us that these people were beasts. But they were really friendly. They gave me my first piece of gum."

By 11 p.m., the children were asleep and 31-year-old Insa Radomski from the town of Fischbach on Lake Constance finally found time to write her missing husband. He was an engineer with aircraft manufacturer Dornier in Friedrichshafen. She wouldn't send the letters as there was no address. But sometimes it can be helpful to simply write down the things that are on one's mind. "I was just listening to the Allied and French stations and I got really discouraged. What are they going to do with us? Dear Peter, I still can't believe that it was all lies and deceit. But the behavior of our Führer confirms it again and again. If only you were here with me!"

May 12

The physicist Johann von Duhn visited a friend. "When you do this, you dress as inconspicuously and working class as possible and naturally you don't wear a watch or a ring, since those are what the Russians want the most."

May 13

Georg Stefan Troller strolled through Munich. A few days earlier, he had been in the newly liberated Dachau concentration camp. He was supposed to take pictures for Stars and Stripes. His first photo came out blurry because his hand was shaking so bad. His were the first images of mountains of corpses, emaciated carcasses with eyes wide open, piled on top of each other like logs. "At that moment, I knew why I was fighting in this war," he says. He then observed: "The Germans stood around the advertising columns where the first orders of the military government were displayed. They didn't know up from down. That moment when you wake up from a dream and are not quite all there yet. They didn't really get it. Twelve years of Nazism had turned the population upside down. They were no longer capable of rational self-reflection."

May 14

Annemarie von Duhn noted that there was electricity in Potsdam again. "The streets are full of makeshift convoys. Everyone has been instructed to return to their homes, foreigners and German refugees. Most of them have made wildly romantic carts out of old bicycle parts, wagon wheels and the like, which they have loaded with all kinds of stuff and are pushing down the country roads. It's rare to see a vehicle with four wheels that are all the same."

Hans Modrow, born in 1928: As a enlistee with the Volksturn, as the Nazi army was called in the final days of the war, he wound up in Soviet captivity at the age of 17. He would later become a communist in Moscow.

Hans Modrow, born in 1928: As a enlistee with the Volksturn, as the Nazi army was called in the final days of the war, he wound up in Soviet captivity at the age of 17. He would later become a communist in Moscow.

Foto: Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

The German mountain infantryman Martin Walser, who would later become a famous novelist, changed his clothes, exchanging his uniform jacket for an alpine farmer's coat. He hid in the mountains of Bavaria with three comrades. "Sometimes we climbed down to a lower altitude and huddled at the edge of the forest and saw that German soldiers were gathering in the villages. From this, we concluded that the war was over in the valley and that the German soldiers had surrendered and were now the Americans' prisoners. In the valleys, American soldiers sat on terraces smoking and listening to great American music. We were amazed, but we were also glad we weren't down there since we would have immediately been thrown into the prison camp.”

In Mürwik, where Admiral Dönitz resided with his shadow government, the portraits of Hitler that once hung in administrative offices were taken down. Public singing of Nazi songs was prohibited. Whistling, on the other hand, was still tolerated.

Wolf Schneider was released from the camp. His 21st year began as the previous one had ended: with marching. "We had laid down our weapons. The victors escorted us peacefully and politely to a field of ruins on the edge of the city. They fed us surprisingly well -- and prepared us for the great trek north. We were forced to march as many as 40 kilometers a day, a column of 10,000 men -- struggling to sleep at night in swampy meadows. And as we passed under all the bridges that crossed the road, a sense of panic: Cheering Dutchmen emptied their chamber pots over our heads."

May 15

The journalist Ruth Andreas-Friedrich visited an acquaintance. They sat close together on the couch. "We should have killed ourselves. No one should have to live like that." -- "Was it really that bad?" I asked. She looked at me with a pained look in her eyes. "Seven," she said, shaking. "Seven in a row. Like animals."

Berlin hospitals alone put the number of raped woman that summer at between 95,000 and 130,000. One of the girls who was assaulted by Russian soldiers when she was only 12, before being tossed out the window "like a sack of cement," was Hannelore Renner, the future wife of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

May 16

The last state funeral of the Third Reich took place at a cemetery in Flensburg, for the sea capitain Wolfgang Lüth. Two days before, shortly after midnight, he had been shot and killed by a guard. He was so drunk that he couldn't remember the codeword that he himself had issued.

In Munich, Georg Stefan Troller noticed how submissive the Germans were to the victorious Allies: "Anyone who knew anything about electricity was a former Nazi. Naturally, we hired them. They didn't mind at all. They were as eager to serve the Americans as they had been to serve Hitler. Germans have always admired the victorious. 'Officer, sir' they called me, though I was only a corporal.

May 17

In Mürwik, the Reich government still convened for daily cabinet meetings. There is no record of any resolutions passed.

Esther Bejarano, an Auschwitz survivor, also continued to fight. "I walked with my friend Mirjam Edel from Bergen-Belsen to Frankfurt because the American Army had an information center there where you could inquire about missing persons. My brother had enlisted in the American military. The Americans gave me his field address. That's how I got back in touch with him."

In the afternoon, while the children were at the public beach, Insa Radomski wrote to her missing husband: Every day on the radio you hear the horror stories from the concentration camps. Peter, I can't believe this! Were the Nazis, and the SS in particular, all monsters? Peter, has the world been turned upside down? I was in the garden again the day before yesterday and last night."

May 19

Everyone was on the move these days, looking for a home, looking for food, for news, relatives. Armin Mueller-Stahl, who would late become a famous actor, missed his father and set off on foot for Prenzlau. "We ate whatever grew along the way. Nettles, for example, which my aunt made into soup. We slept in barns and in ruins among the rubble. Red Army soldiers would come along at night looking for women. My mother was Baltic German and spoke fluent Russian. In the evenings, she would cover her face in soot so that she looked like an old woman. Then she would say to the Russian soldiers: Stalin said that any soldier who raped a German woman would be shot."

May 21

Meanwhile, Martin Walser was on his way to Füssen in Bavaria. "Suddenly, I was standing in front of an American jeep. They grabbed me, put me in the jeep and brought me back to Garmisch at an insane speed. The prison camp there was inside an ice hockey stadium. We camped on the benches. The other prisoners signed up to do hard labor. They were better fed there. I didn't because I saw that the library of the state-owned radio station in Munich had moved in downstairs. I signed up to be a librarian there and lent out books to the comrades who wanted to read. I also always brought books back upstairs with me to my bench."

Insa Radomski wrote to her husband: Yesterday there were prisoners from Dachau at Boppenmaiers. They wanted to eat. The horror stories we're being told over and over can't be true: They didn't look starved or shabby at all."

Georg Stefan Troller, born in 1921: As a Jew, he fled from the Nazis to the United States, where he joined the U.S. Army and returned to Europe as a soldier and at one point stood in Hitler's apartment in Munich.

Georg Stefan Troller, born in 1921: As a Jew, he fled from the Nazis to the United States, where he joined the U.S. Army and returned to Europe as a soldier and at one point stood in Hitler's apartment in Munich.

Foto:

Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

May 22

Senior Lieutenant Helmut Schmidt whittled himself a chess set at Jabbeke, a British prisoner of war camp in West Flanders. He dyed the figures black using coffee substitute.

May 23

By now, the British had now also seized Mürwik. That morning, Dönitz, Jodl and Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, Dönitz's successor as commander of the German navy were summoned to the bar of the former Hapag ship Patria. They were informed that the "acting Reich government" had been officially terminated and of their arrest. The last remaining pocket of centralized German power had thus been extinguished. Dönitz got himself a new uniform for that day and argued with the Allies about how many suitcases he would be allowed to take with him and whether he would be able to wear his medals. Friedeburg bit down on a cyanide capsule the same day.

May 26

Burkhard Hirsch was visiting his parents in the city of Halle. “One day, an officer who had been released from captivity came and brought us a sign of life from our father. He told us about his own experiences in Russia, about the mass shootings of Jews who had been delivered in cattle transports, stacked one on top of the other so that the soldiers only saw feet when they opened the sliding door. The ones at the bottom had suffocated and the others had been shot. I saw the greats of the ‘Third Reich’ before me, their pompous appearance, their solemn speeches, their appeals to loyalty and honor, and I couldn’t reconcile reality with the real world. I felt despised, ashamed and defiled by the people I was supposed to be serving.” Hirsch would later become the interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Thomas Mann, who spent his exile years in California, was invited around this time to a champagne dinner in Chicago: "The Russians should endear themselves in Berlin, provide food, go out with the girls. They will be the most popular ones," he noted in his diary.

May 28

The physicist Johann von Duhn walked to Berlin on foot. In her diary, his wife noted: “The Physics Department looks bleak. The cellar is flooded with water a meter deep. On the upper floors, everything has been ransacked and looted by the Russians. Whole corridors are full of paper and Russian shit."

Misfortune and fortune had converged that summer. In Mecklenburg, Klaus von Dohnanyi traded a horse for a ladies’ bicycle and was taken across the Elbe River by a fisherman. “I had no more contact with my family, but I was hoping to meet someone with news from Berlin, perhaps in Friedrichsbrunn, where my grandparents had a holiday home. With a road map of Germany in my pocket, I cycled the autobahns, country roads and forest roads in the Harz Mountains. Wherever possible, I clung to trucks powered by boiler-like wood carburetors on the back – they were smelly, smoky and slow, but they drove."

Dohnanyi hoped to find his father, who had been actively involved in the resistance against Hitler. He would later learn that the Nazis hanged Hans von Dohnanyi before the end of the war.

June 5

The governments of the four victorious powers – the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France – assumed “supreme authority for Germany.” They divided the country into four occupation zones. Berlin was likewise divided into four sectors and placed under military command.

Burkhard Hirsch experienced the invasion of Halle firsthand. “Later, the Russians did indeed come, with ancient trucks and horse-pulled carts,” he recalled. “ They looted the shops and stole bicycles and watches. You saw soldiers with five or six watches on their arms. You heard about murders and rapes. For no reason at all, one of the soldiers punched me in the face on the street so hard that I fell over.”

June 11

At some point during these days, Klaus von Dohnanyi reached Wiesbaden, still searching for his family and for news about his father. “I continued on my journey with my bicycle. I made a stop in Frankfurt, slept in a dirty little cubby hole in the train station. In the morning, I went to Wiesbaden, found the Americans’ villa, where I showed them my ID and was quickly asked to enter. The people at the top obviously knew who my family were. They first sent me to the canteen for breakfast. What a luxury. White bread, peanut butter and orange marmalade. It was the most unforgettable breakfast of my life."

In Potsdam, preparations were being made for the conference of the “Big Three.” The Duhns were still outraged by the impositions that had been placed on them. Berlin residents had been ordered to quickly sew a Russian, American, British and French flag for every house. “… we, too, must sew four flags. In fact, in order to spare ourselves any trouble with the Russian commander, we have no choice but to kiss the enemies’ ass in this way. Where is the democratic freedom? But word probably hasn’t gotten around yet among the Russians about democratic principles. So we sat down and set about making four flags from old rags and the still-existing swastika flag in a few hours, which we then hung out the ground-floor window."

June 14

In the city of Rybnik in Upper Silesia, Friedrich Nowottny, who would later become the director of the major German public broadcaster WDR, had been drafted to the Volkssturm, the national militia established by the Nazis in the final months of the war, together with his father. His father died and Nowottny moved to Braunau am Inn, Hitler's birthplace. He met a jeweler, an Austrian. “He told me: I have a box of skull rings here. If the Americans find these on me, they’ll kill me – they’re SS rings. I asked him to give me some. And that’s when I started a brisk trade in purported SS rings. The cobbler next door had polishing wheels. I put the rings on them and they were polished to high gloss. They looked great. Americans were crazy about Nazi souvenirs. The price for a ring was a carton of cigarettes."

Friedrich Nowottny, Born in 1929: As a 16-year-old, he found his way to Braunau am Inn.

Friedrich Nowottny, Born in 1929: As a 16-year-old, he found his way to Braunau am Inn.

Foto: Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

In Danzig (today’s Gdansk, Poland), Brigitte Wetzel, the mother of the artist Jonathan Meese, had been living in the basement of a hospital for weeks. “We had no news. We didn’t even know the war was over. At some point, it was shared with us as a rumor, but it didn’t make any difference to us, because we couldn’t get out of the city. My mother was in a desperate state and she died a short time later. Someone sewed her body into a sack and my aunt borrowed a wheelbarrow and a shovel. We drove to our family grave, dug a pit, put my mother in it and then shoveled the earth back over it."

June 18

Cologne was pretty much an empty city. Only a little over 175,000 people were still living there, down from three-quarters of a million. But it would be long before 49-year-old Hans Diester would see the city of his birth again. He had been placed in the Moosburg camp for prisoners of war. As a temporary assistant judge at the Nazi People’s Court and a member of the party, he feared the worst. "It was a sad sight, these endless rows of German soldiers to be dismissed, most of them, fortunately, trying hard to outwardly show good deportment on this last unworthy and difficult development."

Georg Stefan Troller, who emigrated to America from Vienna as a Jew and returned to Germany as a U.S. soldier, noticed a sentence that would become typical for this time: That all the “talk about the Nazi era needed to end” now. “That sentence was there immediately, as was the attitude that people had already paid the price for things like Auschwitz through the air raids and the lack of food. We suffered under the nights of bombing and the expellees under Ivan (the Soviets). We have already paid for everything. What more can you possibly want from us?"

June 19

The situation wasn’t getting any better at the Moosburg prisoner of war camp. The lawyer Hans Diester was truly outraged: “What was it that broke these men on that sad and wretched train to the Moosburg camp? They weren’t just robbed of their freedom. Like our whole nation, they too were crushed from proud heights into nothingness, like no other nation in history."

As Klaus von Dohnanyi cycled through a liberated Germany, the Russians arrived at his family’s home. "My sisters hid in the top shelves of the closets, my brother was forced at gunpoint to try to repair a disused car, but there were also Russian officers who, with respect for my father's resistance, ordered that our home be protected."

Dohnanyi would later say: "For me, 1945 was probably the most important year of my long life. I had seen death, I learned to take responsibility, and I gained my self-confidence without losing my faith in God. In short, I had grown up over the course of a few months."

Marianne von Weizsäcker, Born in 1932: Because there was a shortage of paper, she did her school work in the margins of the newspaper.

Marianne von Weizsäcker, Born in 1932: Because there was a shortage of paper, she did her school work in the margins of the newspaper.

Foto: Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

June 21

Marianne von Kretschmann, would will later marry future German President Richard von Weizsäcker, was a 13-year-old girl in the summer of 1945: “After the end of the war, we returned to (the city of) Essen – not to the house where we belonged, which had been occupied, like most of the other homes. Instead, we lived in another apartment. The schools finally opened again. By that point, blank paper had become hard to come by. We wrote mostly in the margins of the newspaper."

In Braunau am Inn, the Americans wanted the people to attend a film at the local theater. Friedrich Nowottny was also there. "It was the first film about the concentration camps. When I then told my mother and my sister about it, it triggered disbelief and deep sadness. But people were willing to reflect: Does this concern you at all? A certain amount of time passed before people came to understand that it concerned each and every one of us."

June 24

At Wildenstein Castle, on the edge of the Swabian Jura mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, theater and dance were performed in the castle courtyard. The Philosophical Seminar had helped with the hay harvest and studied Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” during the breaks. The philosopher Martin Heidegger, a member of the Nazi party until the end of the war, interpreted the poet and philosopher Friedrich Hölderlin. "Everything is fate," he said.

Meanwhile, Hans Diester’s suffering continued at the Moosburg camp. U.S. counterintelligence officers had come to ask questions. "An extraordinary power had been placed here in the hands of individual men, most of whom were not only extraordinarily young, but, for the most part, of Jewish descent, not infrequently even Germans who had emigrated, who now, often drunk on their power, gave free rein to their feelings of hatred and revenge – not only against National Socialism, but against everything German, especially against the German Wehrmacht."

The fact that many Germans felt no guilt was something that Georg Stefan Troller also noticed during his journeys through Bavaria. “There were white flags everywhere. The people had surrendered and thus declared their innocence. They had white-washed themselves."

June 27

Esther Bejarano walked from Frankfurt to Fulda (a nearly 100 kilometer journey) with a friend she had met at Auschwitz. “We went because we had been told in Bergen-Belsen that a camp had been set up to prepare people to emigrate to Palestine. We wanted to go there. We didn’t want to stay in Germany any longer. We received information that a ship would be sailing from France. The ship was christened the Mataroa. Once we arrived in Palestine, we were sent to a camp again. That was a huge disappointment for us."

That summer, the Germans were adding a lot of new slang words to their vocabularies. "Womiko" (a living room loo with a kitchenette), "Kochhexe" (a tin can with a small grate in which a fire could be made with wood shavings), "Kartoffelstoppeln" (grazing the potato fields after the harvest), and "Hamsterfahrt,” (trips to the countryside to find food). They would collect beechnuts and press them to get a little bit of oil.

Seven-year old Theodor Gruschka, a schoolchild in the town of Amberg, wrote about some of his experiences in a school notebook. “Earlier, everyone shouted ‘Heil Hitler!’ and did the hand salute, but now you can’t even say Hitler out loud.” “We were very sad when the German soldiers were gone because they were better than the enemy. Many people are saying that Hitler might not even be dead. For God’s sake, my mother said. I saw him once in Berlin. I liked that. But anyone who says the word Hitler now whispers it." 

July 4

The physicist Johann von Duhn was busy organizing his lab notes in Potsdam. His wife wrote: "He is also designing and computing new neutron measuring devices for the approaching peacetime. Hopefully it will come soon. He has visited Professor Volmer from the T.H. (Technical University), who can no longer work following the destruction and clearing out of his institute and is considering accepting an 'invitation' from the Russians to go to Moscow. Some Berlin scientists like (Gustav) Hertz, (Peter Adolf) Thiessen and (Manfred von) Ardenne are apparently already there."

In Sukhumi, on the Black Sea, they would play a role in the development of the Soviet atomic bomb.

July 12

The former mountain infantryman Martin Walser returned to his hometown of Wasserburg on the shores of Lake Constance. "A beautiful summer began. The French were an occupational power that one could get along with. They issued an order that all male residents of Wasserburg were to paint all the fences in the French colors of blue-white-red, because on July 14, the French national day, General de Lattre de Tassigny would be landing in Wasserburg. We were, of course, happy to do so and Lattre arrived like a prince. I was happy that we didn't have to do anything other than painting the fences. I was saved and it was a summer like I haven't experienced since then."

July 14

In the Lower Silesian town of Bad Salzbrunn, posters appeared in German reading: "Special Order: The German population will be resettled in the region west of the Neisse River. Every German may bring a maximum of 20 kilograms in luggage. All apartments must be left open with the key in the outside lock."

Even as the new era was a tragedy for many adults, it was full of adventures for children. DER SPIEGEL reader Peter Wägner: "We would carefully open up rifle shells with a rock until the projectile fell out and we had the powder. Even more valuable were tracer bullets, with the colored shells. What did we do with them? Small fireworks. We would lay lines of black powder and place the tracer shells between them and then light everything. It was lots of fun - until a U.S. army officer caught us one day and read us the riot act. After all, the werewolf myth (of widespread guerilla resistance fighters) was still prominent at the time and every bang caused a stir."

July 16

The longer Georg Stefan Troller was in Germany, the less he understood the Germans. "We expected them to kneel on the church steps and beg for forgiveness. But no, not in the least. Their attitude was that they had already done their penance."

Meanwhile, in Alamogordo in the desert of New Mexico, an atomic bomb was detonated for the very first time on this day. Its explosive force was the equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT.

July 17

In the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, the conference opened at which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman would agree on the partitioning of Europe. Berlin had initially been chosen to host the conference, but the destruction in the city was too great. "All roads are blocked, and all the traffic is rumbling past our house," wrote Annemarie von Duhn. The next day, Truman responded as follows to Churchill's question as to what "Germany" still means: "She lost everything in 1945. Actually, Germany no longer exists."

Esther Bejarano, born in1924: She survived Auschwitz as a young women because she played the accordion. She later emigrated to Palestine.

Esther Bejarano, born in1924: She survived Auschwitz as a young women because she played the accordion. She later emigrated to Palestine.

Foto: Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

July 21

The "Big Three" continued to meet in Potsdam, which became something of a problem for the Duhns. "On July 21 in Wannsee: two complete traffic blockages as Churchill drove through. Annemarie is feeling tired and weak. We haven't had any meat for three months and, aside from the 250 grams of butter, no fat."

Five days after the successful test in Alamogordo, U.S. President Truman ordered the used of atomic weapons in the war against Japan.

Hans Modrow, who the Soviets had held as a prisoner of war since May, was ordered to help with the harvest in Farther Pomerania in order to feed the Soviet troops. Because he was good with horses, he worked for a time as the driver for a Soviet officer. He had learned in the Hitler Youth that Russians weren't just adversaries but miscreants. But the Russian that he drove around in the horse cart was able to quote Heine. "It was the first time that I understood that Russians weren't sub-humans," Modrow says.

July 22

Insa Radomski was only able to find a bit of time to herself after the children had gone to bed, and she sat down to write a letter to her husband, from whom she had last received a sign of life on Dec. 30. "For as long as I have hope that you will one day return, I will not lose my courage. What should those women say whose husbands have fallen? God does not give us a heavier burden than we can bear. Should we not then bear it willingly? Slowly, as calm has returned, I am beginning to have a different view of the things brought about by the collapse. I can't believe in a crime. Certainly, many mistakes were made, combined with immense bad luck. But I continue to believe that National Socialism was good at its core and that the Führer wanted the best. Perhaps, at a later time, the Führer will be honored as an early fighter against the Bolsheviks. Hopefully the Western powers will defeat them!"

July 23

In Hamburg, the restaurateur Alois H. was considering having his name changed. Not long later, he would turn to the police: "With this letter, I kindly request the colonel and commander of the Hamburg police to agree to change my family name from Hitler to Hiller." The police agreed to the request, for a fee of 50 reichsmarks.

This was also the summer that Martin Walser met Käthe, the woman who would become his wife. "We were happy that we had enough to eat and drink, and I was happy about Käthe and she was happy about me. My future father-in-law would ride his bicycle into the countryside at the time to get food for himself and the family, and my mother and I always got a bit as well. We also had enough clothes to wear. Even if it was sad, I still had the clothes from my fallen brother. I was in love with Käthe, everything else was secondary."

August 2

In Potsdam, Annemarie von Duhn wrote: "On August 2, the tripartite conference came to an end. The enemies reach their agreement over our heads. It's better not to think that we were once citizens of a free country."

Among its provisions, the Potsdam Agreement provided for the "orderly and humane" relocation of Germans out of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Soon, more than 10 million refugees would be living in the four occupation zones. It was, to that point, an unprecedented population transfer.

Friedrich Nowottny had managed to find a job as a translator for the city commander of Braunau. According to his recollection: "I got a copy of Stars and Stripes and read about the results from Potsdam. There was a drawing of where the zones were. And my homeland – the eastern Prussian province of Pomerania – was no longer on the map. It was the decision to partition the German Reich. That's when it became clear that I would never again see my home."

The German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, born in 1930: On the way to Prenzlau he ate nettle soup. He watched each evening as his mother would apply soot to her face to make herself look older.

The German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, born in 1930: On the way to Prenzlau he ate nettle soup. He watched each evening as his mother would apply soot to her face to make herself look older.

Foto: Jakob Schnetz und Janek Stroisch / DER SPIEGEL

Meanwhile, Hans-Jochen Vogel in Giessen had found his parents. The last time he had seen them was during a leave from the frontlines at Christmas 1944. "Back then, my mother had shiny black hair. But now, her hair was white."

And little Theodor Gruschka wrote: "Frau Lieret is angry that we destroyed all of the gold and silver paper swastikas before the Americans came because you could now make some money with them because the Americans want such things as souvenirs. But I've heard they shoot you if they find something like that because it means you're a Nazi. But I've secretly taken a few of them and hidden them away."

That summer in Germany, there were surprisingly few Nazi party members and astonishingly little resistance. Suddenly, everybody had a cousin or an uncle in America and a Jewish grandmother. Georg Stefan Troller wrote: "Not even we had that many Jewish grandmothers. To my surprise, even Helmut Schmidt had a Jewish grandfather. I didn't know that, and neither did anyone else."

Theodor Gruschka wrote in his diary: "The Americans keep holding raids. I always run over to watch because it's exciting. Sometimes they come out with naked women wrapped in a blanket. Or men with stolen cigarettes. Sometimes, the Americans steal something as well. My mother says they are allowed to because they are the winners. When I get too close to the raids, one of them will yell at me: 'Get out of here you fucking boy.' My mother says that's not nice."

August 5

On that Sunday, the physicist Johann von Duhn headed over to the Berlin neighborhood of Zehlendorf to visit a colleague. He was offered the opportunity to take over the development of electron tubes. It wasn't his area of specialty, but he decided to accept. "At least I'll be productive as I wait. And there isn't much to be done in nuclear physics at the moment anyway."

Shortly before midnight European time, the Japanese radar picked up a signal from the American bomber Enola Gay. The plane was carrying the atomic bomb Little Boy. And it continued on its course. Toward Hiroshima.

By Susanne Beyer, Martin Doerry, Hauke Goos, Ulrike Knöfel, Timofey Neshitov and Alexander Smoltczyk

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