Tom Hull on "The Good War" by Studs Terkel

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Perspective D: Reflections

Arno Mayer, born in Luxemburg, came to US in 1940, future historian, worked in Army intelligence (pp. 465-467):

At Post Office Box 1142, I became the morale officer for German generals who had been captured and flown to Washington. They were from the regular Wehrmacht and from the Waffen SS. They all had one thing in common: they had fought on the eastern front. I was to get as much information as I could with regard to only one thing: the battle order of the Red Army. About Germany, not one blessed thing. Even at that time, a few months after D-Day, the thoughts of the American government were already on the next phase of the confrontation.

I was not to do any interrogation. I was to keep these fellows happy, to put them in a good mood so they would readily talk about stuff. With liquor, with newspapers. One day I was misguided enough to bring them The Nation and a copy of PM. I thought it was perfectly legitimate fare in a free country. When my officers found out that I was handing them literature of that nature, I was told in no uncertain terms that I could give them Life magazine and the New York Times, and Reader's Digest, but for God's sake, not any of that other stuff. [ . . . ]

I also became the morale officer for Wernher von Braun and three other big scientists that were brought here. Of course, by then we were in a dead-heat competition with the Soviets for the personnel that had worked at Peenemünde, the installation where the German rockets were developed. The Soviets, of course, got their own Germans. Everybody had his own Germans, getting ready for the next big bang.

This is followed by a story about Mayer taking the Germans shopping for presents to sent back home (pp. 467-468):

I had the fiendish thought that it would be nice to take them to a Jewish department store. So I took them to Landsberg Brothers. We started on the main floor and bought the usual stuff: cocoa, sugar, coffee, all the stuff that was in very short supply in Germany. Where next? "We'd like to send our families some underwear." They wanted panties for their wives. I was all of nineteen years old and had never gone to buy panties. We went to the lingerie department. Imagine these four odd characters, with long leather coats and green Tyrolese hats, at the panties counter. Accompanied by ein kleine Judenbube [the Germans' nickname for Mayer].

The saleswoman said, "What size?" Almost by reflex, out came their slide rules. Centimeters into inches. She came back and held up a panty made of nylon. My four charges, as if it had been orchestrated, threw up their hands: "Aber nein, Unterhosen aus Wolle und mit langen Beinen." Woollies with long legs, 'cause it's going to be very cold. We didn't get out panties. What next? They would like to get some brassieres. The lady was rather puzzled with the four odd men moving up to her. Again, the slide rules came out. At that moment the military police came and took the five of us to jail. The powers that be finally cleared us and we got back to Post Office Box 1142. All of this was in service to the nation.

The Germans considered me a pretty stupid fellow, which I was supposed to be. I remember their trying to convince me that the only reason they mucked around with these rockets is that they wanted to improve the airmail service between Berlin and London. They wanted to get it down to eight minutes. (Laughs.) At that moment, I cracked up, which I wasn't supposed to do.

They tried to give the impression that they never really approved of the Nazi regime. They worked exclusively as scientists in the interest of advancing the cause of science and research. And one fine day we'd get to the moon. They pleaded complete political ignorance. They knew very well when they scrambled away from Peenemünde they'd be a hell of a lot better off being captured by the Western armies than they would be by the Red Army.

Hans Massaquoi, currently an editor of Ebony magazine in Chicago, but born 1926 and raised in Hamburg, his mother German, his father Liberian; his is as interesting as any story in the book, especially as he tries to fit in with the Nazis and gets rejected (pp. 498-499):

In that same year, '36, Max Schmeling went to the United States to do battle with Joe Louis. I was rooting for Schmeling. In '38, when Louis beat him, I was crushed. That's how much I identified with the Germans. It was not a matter of Hans Massaquoi, black. I was a Hamburger and Schmeling was my man.

It's clear to me that had the Nazi leadership known of my existence, I would have ended in a gas oven or at Auschwitz. What saved me was there was no black population in Germany. There was no apparatus set up to catch blacks. The apparatus that was set up to apprehend Jews entailed questionnaires that were mailed to all German households. The question was: Jewish or non-Jewish? I could always, without perjuring myself, write: non-Jewish.

My mother was now reduced to day work. She was so popular in the hospital where she had worked that doctors were kind enough to employ her as a cleaning lady. That's what she had to do in order to survive.

My scholastic records entitled me to go to the Gynmansium, the secondary school. A sympathetic teacher called me aside and said, "You have to be a member of the Hitler Youth movement to qualify. You're not accepted as a Hitler youth. So . . . I'm sorry." [ . . . ]

Many of the German youth that followed the call to arms weren't moved by any political considerations to kill Jews or Poles or Russians. It's the old quest for adventure. Hitler made it very attractive. He put the fancy uniforms on his troops. Had I not been constantly rejected, there's no telling how enthusiastic a volunteer I might have been.

Eventually this rejection becomes an identity for Massaquoi, as he moves into an anti-Nazi "swing boy" counterculture (pp. 499-500):

Their affinity was for English and American records. Jazz especially. If they caught you playing these records, they'd confiscate them or take you to jail and keep you overnight. They'd give you a lecture or a beating. I became part of that group. We were just seventeen, eighteen, We'd meet at certain nightclubs. You could look at us and know we were anti-Nazi.

The Nazis hated our guts. Any chance they had, they would kick us in the pants or make life miserable for us. There was nothing ideological about us. We were nonpolitical, just anti-Nazi regimentation. It was a total turnoff. We didn't want to be bothered by this nonsense.

Massaquoi moved for a while to the Harz Mountains, near Peenemünde, where the V-1 and V-2 rockets were made. He later returned to Hamburg. When the British occupied Hamburg, his black skin turned into an advantage, as nobody expected there were any black Germans. One more comment (pp. 503-504):

My biggest disappointment, for those who've really suffered under the Nazis, is the benign treatment of those Nazis by the Allies. We had assumed a housecleaning would follow the occupation. That the British and Americans would come in -- as the Russians did -- and, first of all, round up the Nazi suspects. And make sure that those who had been in power would not get back in power. Quite to the contrary, within a very short time we saw these same people who terrorized the neighborhoods in charge again. The wardens, the block leaders, all these Gruppenführer, all the ex-functionaries, were back in the saddle. A lot of my friends were so disillusioned they left Germany. One particularly brutal Nazi I worked for at a rubber plant. This went on everywhere.

Another phenomenon occurred: the disappearance of Nazis. You saw pictures of thousands of them screaming and hollering "Heil Hitler." If you asked anyone, were you ever a Nazi? Oh no, not me. Just about all these former functionaries appeared in their old positions.

I think Americans were the worst in this respect. They fraternized so readily. The American brass that came over, in an ostensible effort to have things run smoothly, immediately became pals with these old Nazis.

I think it filtered down from Washington. We'd rather deal with the Nazis and have them on our side. Let's not be too serious about this de-nazification. Go through the motions, but don't step on too many toes. We ultimately will need them.

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