Experience

A Rescue Programme for Jewish Children

The Kindertransporte was one of the largest organized rescue efforts for the victims of Nazi persecution. Thousands of children fled to safety in Great Britain between 1938 and 1939 under this programme. At the urging of the Quakers and a number of influential British Jews, the British Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare, had agreed on 21 November 1938 to issue permits allowing the entry of “an entire generation”. In return, the British Jewish community was required to post a £50 bond per child, which was to be used to cover resettlement costs; the community was also required to arrange for the children to be settled across the country and to provide them with an education. On 28 November 1938, the then British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, was informed of the rescue plan.

The first Kindertransport train departed Berlin’s Schlesischen Bahnhof (now Ostbahnhof railway station) late in the evening of 30 November and passed through Friedrichstraße railway station. The train crossed the border to the Netherlands some 16 hours later at Venlo. The children arrived on British soil, together with a second group from Hamburg, on 2 December 1938.

Hundreds more transports to Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Switzerland followed this initial evacuation. Many of the children who fled to Great Britain later joined the British Army and contributed to the defeat of the Nazi regime and the defence of democracy in Europe. Today, a monument at Friedrichstraße railway station commemorates the Kindertransporte.

Nearby, and within a stone’s throw of the Brandenburg Gate, the new British Embassy at Wilhelmstraße 70 is located on the site occupied by its predecessor before the Second World War. The British Passport Control Office, where many Jews applied for visas to leave the German Reich, was located at Tiergartenstraße 17. In the 1930s, this office was headed by Frank Foley, a British intelligence agent who used this official function as cover for his activities. He and other officials stationed in Berlin – including George Ogilvie-Forbes, Cecil Insall and Margaret Reid – helped thousands of people to flee. Foley’s interpretation of the British guidelines for the issuing of visas was generous, to say the least, and he also helped applicants to obtain forged papers and even hid Jews in his apartment. He was supported by a circle of trustworthy friends that included the Jewish businessman and MI6 agent Hubert Pollack, who had sources within the Gestapo, and Wilfrid Israel, the chairperson of the Relief Society of German Jews (Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden).

Today, a plaque in the courtyard of the British Embassy commemorates the efforts of Frank Foley. Inaugurated in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II, the new embassy complex is located at the historic site at Wilhelmstraße 70. Another plaque, erected on the outer façade of the British Embassy by the Association of Jewish Refugees in May 2020, recognizes the contributions of consular officials such as Frank Foley and Margaret Reid, whose efforts saved thousands of lives.

Lisa Sophie Bechner, M.A. student at Touro College Berlin, and Evelin Meier, British Embassy Berlin

The Allied Museum

Since 1994, the Allied Museum has been examining world history as seen from the perspective of Berlin. The exhibition explains the role of the Western Allies Great Britain, France and the USA in the history of democracy in Germany. It covers the horrors of National Socialism, the course of the Cold War and ends with German unification in 1990.

Seit 1994 für den Besuch geöffnet: Das historische Outpost Theater am Grunewald. © AlliiertenMuseum/Chodan
Das Programm des AlliiertenMuseum spricht alle Generationen an. © AlliiertenMuseum

Visitors can experience unique and original objects at the historic Outpost Theater of the US Army in Berlin-Zehlendorf: A British raisin bomber and Checkpoint Charlie’s guardhouse vividly showcase developments that had global implications. Every year, over 70,000 visitors immerse themselves in the history of the Berlin Airlift and the division of Germany. The Allied Museum also has an extensive event schedule and educational programme. These convey their subjects in a variety of forms to individual visitors, families, groups, and school classes.

In the decade ahead, the museum plans to move to the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport. The New Allied Museum (NAM) will be located in Hangar 7 at the southern end of the complex. The museum’s treasures and the latest media technology will offer a unique visitor experience. Using multiple perspectives, physical and social accessibility and inclusion, the NAM appeals to a broad international audience and also to younger generations. By examining the history of German post-war democracy during the Cold War, the NAM draws attention to a shared history that connects Germany with the world.

Im Hangar 7 des ehemaligen Flughafens Tempelhof entsteht mit dem Neuen AlliiertenMuseum ein einzigartiger Lern- und Erlebnisort für Demokratiegeschichte. © AlliiertenMuseum

www.alliiertenmuseum.de
Clayallee 135
14195 Berlin-Zehlendorf
U3 Oskar-Helene-Heim
115 Alliiertenmuseum

Free entry

 

Death marches and the liberation of the camps

In July 1944, the Red Army reached Lublin-Majdanek, the first Nazi camp on Polish soil. Piles of corpses and gas chambers were clear testimonies to the mass murder reported by the international press. The number of people who perished or were killed in Majdanek totalled around 78,000. They included 58,000 to 60,000 Jews as well as non-Jewish, Polish civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, detainees of various nationalities, and Sinti and Roma.

In summer 1944, the SS started vacating camps near the front all over the East and transferring tens of thousands of prisoners to other camps. They travelled in crammed cattle-trucks and open goods-carriages or on foot. Sometimes the journey took several weeks. At least 140,000 people died of cold, starvation or exhaustion during these marches before the war ended. The SS shot any prisoners who could no longer walk or who tried to escape. A few death marches ended in massacres, including one in Palmnicken in East Prussia and one in Jamlitz in Brandenburg. In other camps, such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Sonnenburg, members of the SS shot thousands of prisoners before retreating.

On 27 January 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz. The Allies then reached ever more vacated camps. Everywhere – in Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück and Buchenwald – they found shocking scenes and groups of ‘living dead’. Epidemics spread. Many prisoners died during the first days and week after liberation of disease and malnutrition or because their bodies could not process the sudden intake of food after years of hunger. The unconditional surrender of the German Army on 8/9 May 1945 in Karlshorst, Berlin, ended the war. But liberation did not end the camp survivors’ suffering – the trauma of years of living in fear and imprisonment, forced labour and the loss of loved ones stayed with them.

Text: Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

 

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen concentration camp was built in August 1936. The system was based on a “perfect design”: Its triangular layout, symmetrical structure, barracks grouped around the muster area and various special areas were a direct expression of absolute control. Sachsenhausen held a special position due to its proximity to Berlin and its function as a model and training camp for the SS. In April 1938, the “The Concentration Camps Inspectorate” administrative centre for all concentration camps, was even moved to Oranienburg.

Gefangene des KZ Sachsenhausen treten zum Appell an. Die Täter halten die Szene fotografisch fest, um 1942. © ullstein bild - adoc-photos
Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in einem nur für sie bestimmten Sonderlager des KZ Sachsenhausen, um 1943. © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

The first detainees were political opponents of the Nazi regime. These were followed by homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and criminals. As part of the “Arbeitsscheu Reich” (work-shy Reich) campaign by the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (Reich Police Department) in March and June 1938, the SS sent around 6,000 people classified as “anti-social” to the camp. After the November pogroms in 1938, around 6,000 Jews were deported to Sachsenhausen. From the spring of 1939 and at the beginning of the Second World War, the camp was increasingly filled with prisoners from the occupied countries of Europe.

Living conditions deteriorated rapidly over this period. Thousands died of malnutrition, sickness, exhaustion and abuse, or were murdered by the SS. From October 1941, mass shootings of over 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war began using a specially designed “neck shot” system.

Countless prisoners fell victim to a policy of “extermination through work”. Tens of thousands were used for forced labour in SS-run factories and in more than 100 satellite camps. With greater involvement in war production from 1942 onwards, large armaments factories benefited from this forced labour.

With the Red Army advancing on the camp, on 20 April 1945, over 33,000 prisoners were forced on a “death march” towards the Baltic Sea that claimed around 6,000 lives. The survivors met American and Soviet troops near Schwerin in early May. About 3,000 sick prisoners left behind in the camp were liberated by Polish and Soviet units on 22 April 1945. Between 1936 and 1945, more than 200,000 people from over 40 nations were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Several tens of thousands did not survive their time at the camp.

Häftlinge des KZ Sachsenhausen bei der Zwangsarbeit im Klinkerwerk, 1939. © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

Author: Jenny Oertle

© The German Historical Museum, Berlin

Text: CC BY NC SA 4.0

Soviet Victims of the War

It is said that every family in the Soviet Union was touched by suffering and loss in the “Great Patriotic War”, as the Second World War is still known in the post-Soviet countries. Fighting between the Red Army and Germany’s armed forces raged from 1941 to 1945 throughout Central and Eastern Europe – from the Caucasus to Berlin.

The number of Soviet casualties during that period amounts to a staggering 27 million people. The majority of these victims, around 15 million, were civilians rather than soldiers. Nazi Germany waged a brutal war of annihilation in the Soviet Union, with the aim of “exterminating the Slavic population”.

Sowjetisches Kriegsgrab, Nordwestfront, 1942. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russisches Musem Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik
Brennende Holzhäuser in einem Dorf, Weißrussland, 1944. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russisches Musem Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

In Belarus, around 600 villages and their inhabitants were destroyed as part of the Nazi “scorched earth” policy. The city of Leningrad was besieged by German forces for almost two and a half years and bombarded with heavy artillery. It was largely cut off and could only be supplied via the frozen Lake Ladoga. Around one million people starved to death. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the Jewish population, also began under the cover of the German war of annihilation in the East – including mass shootings in Ukraine.

Der Vernichtungskrieg im Osten

In total, around 2.4 million Jews were murdered by the German Army, SA and SS on the territory of the Soviet Union. Around 11.5 million Red Army soldiers were killed in the fighting between 1941 and 1945 as the Soviet Union struggled to crush the Nazi regime. This includes around three million Soviet prisoners of war, who were either shot immediately upon capture or died in inhumane conditions in German prisoner-of-war camps. The war against the Soviet Union was not an ordinary war. It was characterized by war crimes and mass murder. Planned as a war of annihilation, it primarily targeted the civilian population, including many women and children.

Transport eines Toten über den Prospekt, Leningrad, 1941/43. Foto: Nikolaj Chandogin © Deutsch-Russisches Musem Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Nikolaj Chandogin

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

The Nazi Rise to Power – The End of Democracy

Reich President Hindenburg hesitated for a long time before he appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor on 30 January 1933. He wanted to avoid the appearance of a “seizure of power” as it was being celebrated in National Socialist propaganda. If Germany had been a functioning democracy in which the strongest party was tasked with forming the government and needed a parliamentary majority, Hitler might have been Chancellor in the summer of 1932 – or he might never have managed it as long as no other party was prepared to join the Nazis in coalition.

Hitler needed the Conservatives and they needed Hitler. The Conservatives had formed the past two governments and failed miserably. Meanwhile, Hitler had mobilized a mass movement, but without the Conservatives, he was unable to translate his electoral success into power: Hindenburg would never have made him Chancellor. Hitler was compelled to accept a Conservative majority in his cabinet. The Nazi party had a single cabinet position with control over a single ministry, as well as another minister without portfolio. With catastrophic over-confidence, the Conservatives believed that they could control Hitler. As Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen put it “…in two months, we’ll have pushed Hitler so far into the corner that he’ll squeak”. In reality, it took Hitler less than three months to turn his coalition partners into impotent puppets.

This alone might not have been the end of democracy. But the lethargy of the established political actors, the incredible brutality of the new regime against everything and everyone that could not or would not take its side, the flood of opportunists joining with the Nazi party, the pent-up violence of the SA, the creation of the first concentration camps – all these factors made concerted action against the Nazi regime extremely difficult. It is impossible to say what might have become of Germany’s first democracy if Hitler had not been named Chancellor. It always had a chance to succeed, however, and only parliamentary democracy – as flimsy as it had become – might have prevented the Enabling Act, which established the actual dictatorship on 24 March 1933.

Author: Bjoern Weigel

Commemorating the “Great Patriotic War”

Military parades on Red Square in Moscow, public commemorations at the tomb of the unknown soldier and silent, personal commemoration at the graves of the victims of war. The “Great Patriotic War”, as the Second World War was known in the Soviet Union from 1941–1945, is of great political significance in the post-Soviet states and in people’s private memories.

Moskauer Bürger*innen legen am Grabmal des unbekannten Soldaten in Moskau Blumen nieder, 9. Mai 2014.  © Christoph Meißner
Der Gedenkkomplex  der Mutter Heimat in Wolgograd erinnert an die gefallenen Rotarmist*innen in der Schlacht um Stalingrad. Die Anlage wurde am 15. Oktober 1967 eröffnet. Sie bildet zusammen mit den Memorialen in Magnitogorsk und im Treptower Park in Berlin ein Triptychon. In Magnitogorsk wurde das Schwert geschmiedet, in Wolgograd erhob es sich und in Berlin wurde es wieder gesenkt, Wolgograd 30. August 2015.  © Christoph Meißner

On 8 May 1945, Stalin declared 9 May “Victory Day” a national holiday. In the immediate post-war period, victory was primarily attributed to the leader of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, for taking the decisions that made victory possible. The cult of personality around Stalin officially ended after 1956, three years after Stalin’s death. This was part of a wider attempt to reappraise Stalin’s reign of terror over Soviet society. Nevertheless, he is still celebrated as a war hero in some segments of society. In the Soviet Union, it was primarily in cemeteries that personal acts of remembrance took place. From the mid-1960s onwards, however, there was an increase in the construction of gigantic memorial complexes, such as The Motherland Calls in 1967 in Volgograd (renamed from Stalingrad in 1961).

Victory Day was increasingly used in the Soviet Union to celebrate the heroes of the war. Little room was left for civilian victims of the war and ordinary Red Army soldiers. These tended to be commemorated in private. With perestroika under Michael Gorbachev from mid-1985 onwards, commemoration of the heroes broadened to include all victims of the war. In 1996, another day of remembrance and mourning was introduced on 22 June. This was an attempt to distinguish remembrance of the victims from celebration of victory and war. With the death of the last members of the generation that experienced the war, however, this distinction has become increasingly blurred. In Russia, in particular, remembrance of the suffering and victims of the war has been increasingly replaced by a commemoration of heroic victory. That victory is attributed mainly to the Soviet Union while the other three allies of the anti-Hitler coalition, the USA, United Kingdom and France, are mostly forgotten. Parades and the laying of wreaths remain a part of the annual remembrance ceremonies.

Kranzniederlegung am sowjetischen Ehrenmal im Berliner Tiergarten auf Einladung der russischen Botschaft am 9. Mai 2019.  © Margot Blank / Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst‘

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

The German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst Through the Years

The building of the present-day German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst has witness various uses during very different eras of German history. Under the Nazi regime, the building hosted an entertainment programme as part of the neighbouring training centre for army pioneers. However, its historical importance dates to 8 May 1945, for it was here that the unconditional capitulation of the Wehrmacht was signed.

Das Gebäude des heutigen Deutsch-Russisches Museums Berlin-Karlshorst am Tag der Unterzeichnung der bedingungslosen Kapitulation am 8. Mai 1945. Später wurde hier bis 1949 der Dienstsitz des Chefs der sowjetischen Militäradministration in Deutschland (SMAD) eingerichtet und anschließend bis 1955 residierte die Sowjetische Kontrollkommission. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst
Eine Führung für sowjetische Offiziere in den Räumen des 1967 eröffneten Museums „historische Gedenkstätte – Das Museum der sowjetischen Streitkräfte in Deutschland“. Dieses Museum bestand bis zum Abzug der sowjetischen Streitkräfte 1990. Foto: Ljudmila Petruchina © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

During the Soviet occupation, the building served as a residence for various soviet institutions until 1962. A museum was established for the first time in 1967 – the “Historical Memorial Site – The Museum of the Soviet Armed Forces in Germany”. It was a purely Soviet institution, in which the exhibition texts were initially presented in Russian only. The museum displayed the glorious fight of the Red Army through to the suppression of National Socialism. No mention was made of the Western Allied powers. As well as the Soviet soldiers who were based in the GDR, organized visitor groups also came from the GDR.

In 1990, in a gesture of reconciliation between the Soviet Union and reunited Germany, it was decided to develop a joint museum. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, the German-Russian Museum was opened on 10 May 1995. At the centre of the exhibition was the German war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, with some elements of the old exhibition remaining. In 1997, two large museums dedicated to the history of the Great Patriotic War, in Kiev and Minsk, joined the German-Russian association. Today, four nations commemorate the crimes of the National Socialist war of annihilation. It is the only museum in Germany in which former military opponents commemorate the war against the Soviet Union with a permanent exhibition.

Das Deutsch-Russische Museum Berlin-Karlshorst heute. Foto: Thomas Bruns © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Capitulation, Occupation, and The Cold War

The end of the war in Europe in May 1945 marked the beginning of Germany’s occupation by the four victorious Allied powers: the Soviet Union, the USA, France and the United Kingdom. With the Berlin Declaration of 5 June 1945, the four powers jointly assumed supreme civil and military authority over Germany. After the Red Army had conquered Berlin in spring 1945 and governed the city for roughly two months, the three Western powers took control of their respective sectors on 4 July. Berlin was divided geographically and politically among the four victorious Allies, who would shape the city’s future in the months ahead, both in their respective sectors and jointly through the Allied Kommandatura and the four military commandants. The Kommandatura was subordinate to the Allied Control Council, which ruled on matters relevant to Germany as a whole.

Karte der alliierten Besatzungszonen in Deutschland. Quelle: Earl F. Ziemke, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany, 1975. Library of Congress, Catalog Card Number 75-619027, public domain

In both bodies, the very differing views held by the four Allied powers on the future of Germany soon became clear. Differences arose between the three Western powers and the Soviet Union on the issues of the “democratization” of Germany. The currency reform of 1948 and the resulting blockade of West Berlin by the Soviet Union brought these tensions to breaking point. The blockade of the city and the subsequent Berlin Airlift was the first confrontation between the two newly formed power blocs in the Cold War.

In May 1949 the blockade of Berlin was lifted; following this, separate states were established in the Western and Soviet occupied zones. The Federal Republic of Germany was founded in May 1949 and was thereafter strongly integrated into Western European and transatlantic institutions, in particular with regard to foreign affairs, security and economic policy. Founded in October 1949, the German Democratic Republic was an important component of Soviet economic and security policy. Several years later the two German states joined different and opposing military alliances, with the Federal Republic joining NATO in 1955 and the GDR joining the Warsaw Pact in the same year.

Author: Bernd von Kostka / The Allied Museum

The Red Army as a Multinational Army

Just one day after German armed forces attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the conflict immediately became known in that country as the “Great Patriotic War”. The soldiers of the Red Army were joined by many volunteers and reservists. According to the sources, a total of 34.5 million people from 171 ethnic communities of the Soviet Union fought to defend their homeland and liberate Europe from the regime of National Socialist Germany. Around 60 percent of them were soldiers from the Russian Soviet Republic. When it was founded in 1922, the Soviet Union consisted of six union republics. As a result of territorial expansion as well as political and economic restructuring it comprised 16 Soviet republics at the beginning of the war in 1941. These were home to several hundred different peoples and ethnic groups.

Many volunteers came forward, especially in the first months of the war. The records show that over 2.5 million people in Ukraine registered to defend the Soviet Union. In many Soviet republics, such as Belarus, the population also went over to partisan combat during the war: paramilitary units hid in the woods and fought as militias against the German soldiers.
But there was also collaboration with the Germans: In the Baltic region and in Ukraine, local forces collaborated with the German army in an attempt to use the war against the Soviet Union to form independent states.

The composition of the Red Army also reflected the Soviet Union’s multi-ethnic character. Units of volunteers were put together in a way that ensured that soldiers of the same ethnicity often fought together. For example, a unit from Astrakhan in southern Russia travelled to Berlin on camels because the use of horses was less common in their culture.
The soldiers of the many different peoples of the Soviet Union fought and died together on the battlefield. When you look at the countless graves of Soviet soldiers today, they reflect the diversity of the ethnic and geographical composition of the Red Army, which took the Soviet Union to victory in the “Great Patriotic War”.

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

The Soviet Union in the “Great Patriotic War”

“Moscow calling!” – these were the first words of the daily radio reports from the front line in the Soviet Union – including on 22 June 1941. Early that morning, Germany’s armed forces had attacked the Soviet Union as part of “Operation Barbarossa”.

Zerstörungen und Straßenkämpfe in Stalingrad, Herbst 1942 Timofej Melnik / Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

It was a huge shock for the nation and its leader Stalin, who had ignored any evidence of an impending attack. German forces overran the insufficiently prepared Red Army and were only brought to a standstill a few miles outside Moscow in the winter of 1941. The Red Army paid for this first success with massive casualties. Nevertheless, in the South, the Germans still managed to push forward as far as the Caucasus.

In the first two years of the war, vital Soviet industries were evacuated to the hinterland. This ensured that production critical to the war effort could continue. In addition to workers, prisoners from the Soviet gulag prison camp system were also involved in the war effort. Another important contribution was made by supplies of military equipment and food from the United States under the Lend-Lease agreement.

Leningrader versorgen sich mit Wasser aus der zugefrorenen Newa, Leningrad, 1942. Foto: Nikolaj Chandogin/© Museum Berlin-Karlshorst
Kiews Hauptboulevard Kreschtschatik nach der Befreiung, vermutlich 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik. © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

The Battle of Stalingrad brought about a decisive reversal, not least in its impact on morale. In February 1943, the Red Army relieved the besieged city and launched a counter-attack. The tank battle at Kursk followed in July 1943. Contrary to Soviet propaganda, it was not a devastating defeat for the Germans, but the front shifted westwards ever faster from the summer of 1943. With the liberation of Kiev and Minsk by the summer of 1944, the Soviet Union was liberated from German occupation. The Red Army continued to advance towards the German Reich, liberating Warsaw in January 1945. The subsequent advance westwards proceeded at pace and the Red Army was able to start the Battle for Berlin in April. This attack was also announced by well-known Soviet radio reporter Yuri Leviathan starting with the words “Moscow calling!”

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

The War in the Pacific

The Empire of Japan viewed the war in Europe as an opportunity to further its own pursuit of power. Efforts to expand Japanese hegemony in the early 1930s had stagnated following the occupation of large parts of China.

In the wake of the German occupation of the Netherlands and France in 1940, Japan conquered their respective colonies in South East Asia. The occupation of what are today Indonesia and Vietnam granted the Japanese access to much-needed raw materials. Japan hoped to protect these gains by swiftly defeating the United States and United Kingdom. On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked an American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Bereits vor Europa machte der Krieg China zum Schlachtfeld, wie hier eine chinesische Flugabwehrstellung, 1942-43, OWI,
II.	US-Marines hissen das Sternbanner während der blutigen Schlacht um Iwo Jima, Public

The Japanese soon occupied Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, but the Allies’ material superiority enabled them to halt the Japanese advance in June 1942. Carrier-capable aircraft were able to operate over long ranges and wielded considerable firepower. The United States made the construction of new aircraft carriers a top priority. In the summer of 1944, aircraft operating from US carriers defeated the Japanese fleet and captured the Mariana Islands. This victory put the Japanese homeland within range of US air power. B-29 long-range bombers were used to target Japanese industry and devastated major cities. The United States incurred heavy losses in the bloody battles for the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. US military planners projected that an invasion of Japan would result in an enormous casualty toll and desperately sought alternatives.

At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the USA established the parameters of the post-war order in Europe and called on Japan to surrender. Determined to win the war as quickly as possible and to minimize the extent of Soviet influence in the post-war Pacific Region, US-President Harry S. Truman ordered the use of a new weapon: on 6 August 1945 an atomic bomb devastated the city of Hiroshima; three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On the same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and drove Japanese forces from northern China and Korea. Japan capitulated within a month, bringing the Second World War to an end.

Atompilz über Nagasaki, 9. August 1945. Foto: Charles Levy, National Archives, National Archives Identifier:  535795

Author: Scott H. Krause / The Allied Museum

Hitler-Stalin-Pact

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the name of the non-aggression pact signed between the German Reich and the Soviet Union on 23 August 1939. One week later, Germany invaded Poland secure in the knowledge that the Red Army would not try to prevent it. Britain and France were treaty-bound to come to Poland’s aid but failed to actively intervene. They did, however, declare war on Germany. It was the beginning of the Second World War.

The non-aggression pact was one of a long series of treaties between various European nations, in which each sought to secure an advantage. The background to this situation was the Versailles Peace Treaty and the Polish-Russian Treaty of Riga, neither of which were able to guarantee secure borders in Europe. The pact took on lasting political significance due to a secret additional protocol. In this, the Soviet Union and the German Reich agreed on their respective spheres of interest.

Based on this agreement, the Red Army occupied Eastern Poland on 17 September. The new German-Soviet border was agreed on before the Polish campaign had concluded. The Soviet Union subsequently annexed the western parts of Belarus and the Ukraine. The present-day Republic of Moldavia was ceded by Romania. The previously sovereign Baltic states became Soviet republics. Finland fought back in the Winter War of 1939/40 and was able to avoid Soviet conquest.

In the spring of 1940, the Soviet NKVD – the secret police of the Interior Ministry of the Soviet Union – shot around 14,000 Polish officers in an attempt to eliminate the elite of the former Polish state. Close economic ties with the German Reich helped Stalin forget that Hitler was still planning a war of ideology against the Soviet Union. The German assault on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 found the country unprepared.

After the war, the Soviet leadership denied the agreements made with Nazi Germany until 1989. The publication of the secret additional protocol energized independence movements in the Baltic States during the Perestroika period. Since the accession of Poland and the Baltic States to the European Union, these countries have been strongly committed to commemorating the repercussions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Since 2009, 23 August has been a European day of remembrance.

 

Author: Jörg Morré / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Picture 1
Sachsenhausen concentration camp: Inmates pass through the camp’s gate as guards look on, 1936/1944.
© ullstein Picture – dpa

Picture 2
The Olympic Games in Berlin. 1936.
© ullstein Picture – adoc-photos

Picture 3
Prisoners lined up for roll call in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, 1942.
© ullstein Picture – adoc-photos

Picture 4
An aerial view of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, taken by the Royal Air Force, 20 May 1943.
Source: National Collection of Aerial Photography, public domain.

Picture 5
Prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp line up for roll call 19 December 1938.
© ullstein Picture – Gerstenberg Archive

Picture 6
Jewish children who survived Auschwitz stand together with a nurse behind a barbed wire fence, February 1945.
© picture alliance / Mary Evans Picture Library

Picture 7
A room at the state hospital and nursing home in Hadamar, Hesse. Inhumane medical experiments were conducted here as part of the Nazi regime’s murderous ‘euthanasia’ programme, and countless people killed in gas chambers.
Image: dpa © dpa – Bildarchiv

Picture 8
Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS (right) during a visit to the Buna works in Auschwitz III Monowitz, 17 July 1942.
© picture alliance / Mary Evans Picture Library

Picture 9
Hitler is greeted by cheering crowds on Hedemannstrasse on his way to the Reich Chancellery, Berlin 1938.
Image: Gisbert Paech © picture alliance/ullstein bild

Supply, Infrastructure, Reconstruction

The only things still operating at the end of Nazi rule were the mobile courts martial and their executioners, who roamed the city murdering “traitors” of all kinds, leaving their bodies on show to intimidate the rest of the population. Ordinary people were left to improvise and organise all aspects their everyday lives for themselves. Chalk marks on buildings served as telephone and news services. Soldiers’ helmets became cooking pots, and lawns became vegetable gardens.

Food was scarce in 1945. Its distribution was organized using rationing cards, with those undertaking heavy labour receiving the most generous allowance: 2,600 calories, including 600 grams of bread and 100 grams of meat per day. Children and elderly persons received half of this amount. Engineers, scientists, artists and high-ranking officials who had proved their “worth” were also the recipients of special rationing privileges. But privileged or not: the rations were never sufficient. Especially not for the refugees: they were not allowed to stay in Berlin for longer than 24 hours and were given just a bowl of soup and 100 grams of bread.

Hungrige Berliner zerlegen einen Pferdekadaver auf offener Straße, während im Hintergrund sowjetische Soldaten vorbeifahren, Mai 1945. Foto: Iwan Schagin © Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Iwan Schagin

Berlin by foot and without power

In the spring of 1945, an ordinary journey from A to B meant traversing a devastated landscape with mountains of rubble, collapsed buildings and craters everywhere. Most bridges had been blown up or were impassable. If you were lucky, an old barge would be offering a ferry service. The tram, once Berlin’s most important mode of transport, was out of action because the overhead wires had long been requisitioned as raw materials for a senseless war. Finding and getting on a bus was like winning the lottery, since only eighteen vehicles had survived the war. The metro system was crippled by bombed tracks and collapsed tunnels. On the final day of the war, the SS had blown up the North-South rail tunnel directly under Landwehr Canal. Getting from A to B usually meant walking, no matter how far, no matter the weather.

The Persecution, Expulsion and Extermination of the German Jews

When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, they introduced the state persecution of Jews in Germany. For the first time, anti-Semitism became a part of government policy in a modern state. Jews were excluded from society and their persecution gradually intensified. State regulations, acts of violence by supporters of the regime and incitement by the National Socialist press combined to promote this persecution.

Murders with poison gas

On 15 October 1939, the Nazi regime had the first patients murdered by asphyxiation with poison gas in Fort VII in Posen in occupied Poland. From January 1940 to August 1941, doctors killed over 70,000 people in six poison-gas institutions, set up expressly for the purpose on German Reich territory (‘Aktion T4’). One phase of the murder campaign especially targeted Jews. Following public protests, the Nazi regime abandoned its ‘euthanasia’ programme using gas and transferred the ‘specially trained’ staff to occupied Poland.

Mass shootings

The German Army’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 marked the start of World War II. In the very first weeks of the campaign, tens of thousands of hostages, members of the Polish intelligentsia, infirm and disabled people, Jews, and captured soldiers were shot by units of the security police and the SS security service (SD), Wehrmacht, and other forces.

Ruth and Thea Fuss

Cora Berliner

Mendel Max Karp

Leonore Tannenwald

Margot Friedländer

Text: Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

I survived – and now?

When does peacetime begin?

Peace does not begin with the end of war. When the weapons and air raid sirens fell silent in Berlin many people – whether long-time residents, soldiers or those brought here against their will by the Nazi regime – experienced their first “quiet” nights in a long time – though most were still forced to sleep in cellars and bunkers. But for most Berliners the relief they felt at having survived the war was tinged with fear at the thought of how they might treated by the city’s conquerors. Victims of the Nazi regime, including Jews who had survived the war in hiding, feared that they might even yet be tracked down and murdered by fanatics. Nor could the soldiers of the Red Army be certain that they would not fall victim to snipers. For all of them peacetime began with the gradual restoration of public life to something approximating normality. Not least the arrival of the Red Army’s soup kitchens – the only source of food in many parts of Berlin – marked a new way of coexistence.

How to manage day-to-day life?

Living from one day to the next and coming up with extraordinary solutions to everyday problems had long become a routine for many Berliners. What would change with the arrival of the occupying forces? Nobody knew just how they intended to govern the city, its institutions and its population. Who would pay employees’ salaries? Where would they get their bread? Or medical assistance? Life was even more difficult for the thousands of forced labourers brought to Berlin against their will, who were now forced to fend for themselves in a foreign city without the assistance of friends and family – and all too often without any real knowledge of German or Russian. This was new territory for everyone. Even and especially for the soldiers of the occupying forces, who, after risking their lives in house-to-house fighting, were now called upon to rule a city of millions.

Author: Bjoern Weigel/Christian Mentel

Making art among the ruins

“Berlin is back – who would have thought that we could do it?” Brigitte Mira first performed this variation on the hit song “Berlin will always be Berlin!” on 1 June, and her optimism was dearly needed in light of the city’s widespread devastation.

Übergabe der Bezirke Reinickendorf und Wedding aus britischer in französische Verwaltung: Abnahme einer Parade französischer Truppen durch General Jeoffroy de Beauchesne (rechts), den ersten Befehlshaber des Sektors, und Brigadegeneral Spurling (links) am Weddingplatz, 12. August 1945.  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild
Übergabe der Bezirke Reinickendorf und Wedding aus britischer in französische Verwaltung: Abnahme einer Parade französischer Truppen durch General Jeoffroy de Beauchesne (rechts), den ersten Befehlshaber des Sektors, und Brigadegeneral Spurling (links) am Weddingplatz, 12. August 1945.  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

France: the ‘belated’ victorious power

For four years France found itself under German occupation. Those years of collaboration and resistance left in their wake a deeply divided society. Yet at the end of the war, France found itself included among the victorious Allies that occupied Germany.

In June 1940, following six weeks of battle, the German Wehrmacht installed a regime of occupation in Northern France and along the Atlantic coast.

 

Die französische Stadt Caen in der Normandie ist nach ihrer Befreiung am 19. Juli 1944 völlig zerstört. Foto: Captain E.G. Malindine, No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, public domain

Die französische Bevölkerung säumt die Champs Élysées und bejubelt nach der Befreiung von Paris einziehende französische Soldaten, 26. August 1944. Foto: Jack Downey, U.S. Office of War Information, United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs ID fsac.1a55001, public domain

Picture 1
The ruins of the Reichstag after the end of the war, Berlin 1945.
© akg-images

Picture 2
The Reichstag burns: The building was devastated in the arson attack on the night of 27-28 February 1933.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg

Picture 3
The Reichstag on the morning of 28 February 1933. This image is a montage: the flames and clouds of smoke were added to the original image.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 4
The Reichstag Fire trial at the Reichsgericht Leipzig: The judgement was pronounced on 23 December 1933. The main defendent, Marinus van der Lubbe (here with head bowed), was sentenced to death and Ernst Torgler acquitted, Leipzig 1933.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg

Picture 5
Berlin, 27 February 1933: The Reichstag Fire. In this Soviet caricature the convicted arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe is depicted as a Nazi henchman.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg

Picture 6
The Kroll Opera with the Moltke monument in the foreground, Berlin March 1933.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 7
During the parliamentary session held at the Kroll Opera, the Chancellor Adolf Hitler made a speech on the need for the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the State” (Enabling Act), Berlin 23 March 1933.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 8
On 23 March 1933, SPD politician Otto Wels delivered a statement on the behalf of the Social Democratic Party protesting Hitler’s Enabling Act, undated.
Image: dpa © dpa – Bildarchiv

Picture 1
Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag was broadcast outside the Kroll Opera. In the background, the Kroll Opera and the monument to Prussian General Helmut von Moltke are visible, Berlin 21 May 1935.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 2
The publication of the “Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich” in the parliamentary gazette on 24 March 1933, Berlin 1933.
© ullstein Picture – Gerstenberg Archive

Picture 3
Book burning on Opernplatz, Berlin 10 May 1933.
© picture alliance / AP Images

Picture 4
In the days after the so-called “seizure of power”, the SA began to establish “wild” concentration camps in which they imprisoned and sometimes severely tortured political opponents, many of whom were well known to them after long years of political struggle. The entrance to a concentration camp operated by SA-Standarte 208 in Oranienburg, 1933.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 5
SA members outside a Jewish business hold signs that read “Germans, defend yourself against Jewish atrocity propaganda; buy only from Germans!”, Berlin April 1933.
© picture alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

Picture 6
Political opponents of the Nazi regime detained in the basement of an SA meeting place stand at a wall with their hands raised and bound, Berlin 1933.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 7
Crowds on Wilhelmplatz await Adolf Hitler’s return to the Reich Chancellery following his speech to the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera on the occasion of the German invasion of Poland, Berlin September 1939.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 8
Hans and Sophie Scholl, founders and members of the “White Rose” resistance group at Munich University (undated). The siblings were arrested on 18 February 18 1943 after they conducted a leaflet campaign against the Nazi regime. They were sentenced to death by the People’s Court and executed in Munich-Stadelheim on 22 February 1943.
Image: ADN ZentralPicture © dpa – Fotoreport

Picture 9
Millions of copies of this British leaflet reproducing the manifesto of the “White Rose” resistance group were dropped over Germany.
Image: ullstein Picture © picture alliance/ullstein bild

Picture 10
Guarded by German soldiers, these Soviet POWs arriving in the German Reich will be forced to work in the mining and armaments industries, November 1941.
Image: Bildarchiv der Eisenbahnstiftung / RVM © dpa

Picture 11
German soldiers inspect corpses in Warsaw Ghetto.
Image: Glasshouse Images © picture alliance/Glasshouse Images

Picture 1
Soviet soldier Meliton Kantaria hoists the Red Flag on the Reichstag building in Berlin, 2 May 2 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – Voller Ernst / Jewgeni Chaldej

Picture 2
Soviet soldier Meliton Kantaria hoists the Red Flag on the Reichstag building in Berlin, 2 May 2 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – Voller Ernst / Jewgeni Chaldej

Picture 3
Soviet soldier Meliton Kantaria hoists the Red Flag on the Reichstag building in Berlin, 2 May 2 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 4
Russian soldiers Yegorov and Kantaria raise the Soviet flag on the badly damaged Reichstag building, 2 May 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 5
Soviet war photographer Yevgeny Khaldei in front of the Reichstag in Berlin in May 1945. Many of his photos of World War II and the USSR are published in the 2008 collection “The Decisive Moment” (“Der bedeutende Augenblick”).
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei/Agentur Voller Ernst © dpa

Picture 6
The battle for the Reichstag, Berlin April 1945.
© ullstein Picture – SPUTNIK / Shagin

Picture 7
German soldiers captured during the fighting are disarmed and taken prisoner, Berlin 1 May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – SPUTNIK

Picture 1
Two Russian soldiers talking to US soldiers as the first American tanks roll through the streets of Berlin at the end of World War II, July 1945.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 2
Troops of the U.S. Army and the Soviet Army at a ceremony outside the barracks of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler to mark the arrival of the American troops in the city conquered by the Soviets on 2 May 1945. The flags of the USA and the Soviet Union fly above the building, Berlin 4 July 1945.
Image: dpa © picture alliance

Picture 3
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
© picture alliance / Photo12

Picture 4
Allied forces land in Normandy under the command of General Montgomery: US troops disembark from a landing craft; Allied tanks and military vehicles can be seen in the background, 6 June 1944.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 5
Soldiers of the 9th Army enter Mönchengladbach-Rheydt, March 1945.
Image: Gerstenberg Archive © picture alliance/ullstein bild

Picture 6
US soldiers raise the flag of the United States on Mount Suribachi, the highest mountain on the island of Iwo Jima, on 23 February 1945.
Image: Joe Rosenthal © ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 7
Title page: The unconditional surrender of Germany’s armed forces in the headquarters of General Eisenhower in Reims, signed by Jodl, Friedeburg and Oxenius, Reims 7 May 1945.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 8
The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki, 6 and 9 August 1945.
Images: George R. Caron/Charles Ley, United States Department of Energy, public domain

Picture 9
Women clearing rubble on Tauentzienstrasse in Berlin; the ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Church are visible in the background. The signs on the left mark the boundary between the British occupied sector and the US sector.
© picture alliance / AP Images

Picture 1
Narrow-gauge trains were already used to clear rubble during the war. Here, Soviet tanks advance past improvised rails along Ebertstrasse in early May.
Image: Timofej Melnik © German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Timofej Melnik Collection

Picture 2
The German-Soviet trade agreement and non-aggression pact, a secret agreement on the division of Poland. Josef Stalin and Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (left), August 1938.
Image: akg-images © picture-alliance / akg

 

Picture 3
German forces invade the Soviet Union: Panzer grenadiers supported by armoured personnel carriers assault a village, July 1941.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 4
The German campaign in Russia was supported by Hungarian forces: here, Hungarian infantry battle for control of a village in Ukraine, Soviet soldiers surrender, June 1942.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 5
The war of annihilation against the Soviet Union: Tanks from an SS police regiment advance into a town, 21 March 1944.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 6
The Battle of Stalingrad: Captured German soldiers are brought to the hinterland from Stalingrad, January 1943.
Image: ullstein Picture © picture alliance / ullstein bild

Picture 7
The siege of Leningrad is lifted following a major offensive by the Red Army: A woman hugs a soldier of the Red Army, 27 January 1944.
Image: akg-images picture © alliance/akg-images

Picture 8
Survivors leave the Auschwitz camp complex. This image was taken by a Soviet photographer as part of a film about the camp’s liberation, February 1945.
© picture alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

Picture 9
Red Army field artillery on the streets of Berlin; seen here in an outlying suburb, April 1945.
Image: Berliner Verlag / Archiv © dpa

Picture 10
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command, signs the ratified surrender terms for the German army on 8/9 May 1945 in Berlin-Karlshorst.
Image: Lt. Moore (US Army), National Archives, National Archives Identifier: 531290, public domain

Picture 11
The Adlon Hotel in Berlin was destroyed in World War II, 1945.
© dpa Bildarchiv

Picture 1
Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park: “The Liberator” by Jewgeni Wutschetitsch depicts a Red Army soldier bearing a rescued child, with his sword lowered, and a broken swastika.
Image: Jochen Blume © picture alliance/ullstein bild

Picture 2
Members of the Red Army at the inauguration of the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin on 8 May 1949.
Image: zbarchiv © dpa

Picture 3
Soviet occupation forces hold a parade to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Red Army. A wreath-laying ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin-Tiergarten: Soviet soldiers lay a wreath at the memorial on 23 February 1949.
Image: Hilbich © picture-alliance / akg

Picture 4
A collection point for the bodies of fallen Red Army soldiers at Lake Ilmen, Ushin (Soviet Union), February 1943.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 5
A Soviet soldier (from Yakutia) armed with a submachine gun in Berlin towards the end of World War II, May 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – Voller Ernst / Jewgeni Chaldej

Picture 6
An Red Army soldier armed with a submachine gun in front of the ruins of an historic building in Vienna, April 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei/Agentur Voller Ernst © dpa

Picture 7
A Soviet soldier tries to take a bicycle from a young woman, May / June 1945.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 8
Soviet soldiers with camera equipment and a city map have their photograph taken in front of a damaged city sign, Berlin 1945.
Image: Berliner Verlag / Archiv © dpa

Picture 9
The uprising in East Berlin on 17 June 1953: Demonstrators throw stones at Soviet tanks on Potsdamer Platz.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 10
Barbed-wire barriers are erected at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin 14/15 August 1961.
Image: akg-images / Gert Schuetz © picture-alliance / akg

Picture 11
In the early afternoon of 14 August 1961, the authorities in East Berlin sealed off the sector crossing at the Brandenburg Gate: Soldiers armed with carbines stand on the right, water cannons are positioned in the middle and an armoured scout car on the left, Berlin 1961.
Image: Konrad Giehr © picture alliance/dpa

Picture 12
Enthusiastic students bear a huge portrait of Stalin aloft during the World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague, 1947.
Image: Iljic Holoubek © picture alliance/CTK

Picture 1
Children talk to soldiers of the British Army joining the occupation force after the end of the war, July 1945.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 2
Vehicles of the 7th Armoured Division – the first British troops to enter Berlin at the end of World War II – pass their commander General L.O. Lyne, July 1945.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 3
The German invasion of Poland, September 1939.
© picture alliance / Photo12

Picture 4
Devastation in London following a German air raid: The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is visible in the upper part of the photograph, July 1940.
© picture alliance / Photo12

Picture 5
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) makes the victory sign, 1940.
© picture alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

Picture 6
Allied forces attack Berlin from the air: the French Cathedral on Gendarmenmarkt burns, 24 May, 1944.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 7
People dance in the streets of London on VE Day, 8 May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 8
A soldier and a member of the auxiliary services dance on a London street on VE Day, May 8, 1945.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 9
Tauentzienstrasse and the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, 1945.
Image: Fritz Eschen © ullstein Picture – Fritz Eschen

Picture 1
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin after the capitulation, 1945.
© picture alliance / AP Images

Picture 2
Standing in front of a destroyed building at the Brandenburg Gate, Russian poet Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky (centre, on the tank) addresses soldiers of the Red Army on Pariser Platz in Berlin, 2 May 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei / Agentur Voller Ernst © dpa

Picture 3
German air raids devastated the inner city area around St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Little remains of the buildings lining the street leading towards the cathedral. In the background the dome of St. Pauls rises skywards. The cathedral sustained only minimal damage.
© ullstein Picture – Pressefoto Kindermann

Picture 4
The devastated heart of Warsaw, 1945.
© ullstein Picture – dpa

Picture 5
People walk through the devastated streets of Coventry in the aftermath of an air raid in November 1940.
© ullstein Picture – mirrorpix

Picture 6
Burnt-out buildings in the Belarusian city of Minsk, July 1941.
© ullstein Picture – Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl

Picture 7
An electrified barbed wire fence in Auschwitz concentration camp, 22 February 1945.
Image: Vladimir © picture alliance/Vladimir//dpa

Picture 8
A parade of the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps watched by Soviet Lieutenant General Oslikowsky and US military officials from a grandstand on the banks of the Elbe River, 25 April 1945. Forward elements of the 1st US Army and the 5th Soviet Guards Army meet at Torgau on the Elbe in April 1945.
Image: Michail Bernstein © picture-alliance / RIA Nowosti

Picture 9
Conferences in Casablanca: American President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill before the final press conference. Members of the military staff stand in the background, from left: Henry H. Arnold, Ernest J. King, George C. Marshall, Sir Alfred Dudley Pound, Lord Alan Brooke (Viscount Alanbrooke), Sir Charles Portal, January 24, 1943.
Image: Heinrich Hoffmann © picture alliance / ullstein bild

Picture 10
The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin: the Berlin Guards Regiment march through Brandenburg Gate towards Pariser Platz on the opening day, 1 August 1936.
Image: Herbert Hoffmann © picture alliance / ullstein bild

Picture 11
Cheering crowds celebrate on Victory in Europe Day in London, 8 May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – TopFoto

Picture 12
Protesters wave a caricature of Hitler as they celebrate victory in Paris on 8 May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – Roger-Viollet

Picture 13
American writer William R. Wilson and his brother, Corporal Jack Wilson, in Verdun (France) on the day of Germany’s surrender, 8 May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – Granger, NYC

Picture 14
Jubilation: Soviet soldiers celebrate alongside Czech resistance fighters in the streets of Prague following the May Uprising in 1945.
© ullstein Picture – Imagno / Votava

Picture 15
In Paris the newspaper “Libé Soir” reports on the German capitulation on 8 May 1945.
Image: akg-images / Paul Almasy © picture alliance / akg

Picture 16
The Soviet Army celebrates in Berlin with a victory parade on 20 May 1945: Marshal Zhukov (centre), commander of the Soviet occupation forces in Berlin, together with Field Marshal Montgomery (2nd from right), commander of the British armed forces in Germany.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance/akg-images

Picture 1
A handshake symbolizes the promise between two great allies – the United States and Russia. American sergeant Anthony Gioia and a Red Army soldier shake hands, 1944
© ullstein Picture – United Archives / UIG

Picture 2
German infantry pursue Soviet forces through a burning village in Russia, late 1941.
© ullstein Picture – Granger, NYC

Picture 3
The attack on Pearl Harbor: A small boat rescues a sailor from the burning battleship USS West Virginia, Hawaii, 7 December 1941.
© picture alliance / AP Photo

Picture 4
The Yalta Conference: The Allies discuss the division of Germany into occupation zones and possible reparations. In this group picture, from left to right: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Livadia Palace, February 1945.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 5
Tehran Conference: The “Big Three” Allied Powers reached an agreement on the future division of Germany and the revision of Poland’s borders at this meeting. From left to right: Josef Stalin (Soviet Union), Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA) and Winston Churchill (United Kingdom), late 1943.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 6
American and Russian soldiers meet at the Elbe Bridge in Torgau, April 1945.
© picture alliance / Photo12

Picture 7
Forward elements of the 1st US Army and the 5th Soviet Guards Army meet at Torgau on the Elbe. US and Soviet soldiers greet each other, 25 April 1945.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 8
The “Big Three”: Winston Churchill (United Kingdom), Harry S. Truman (USA) and Josef Stalin (Soviet Union) at the Potsdam Conference, 27 July 1945.
© ullstein Picture – SPUTNIK

Picture 9
The closing session of the Potsdam Conference at Cecilienhof Palace near Potsdam, 2 August 1945: Harry S. Truman (USA), Winston Churchill (United Kingdom) and their advisers at the conference table.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 10
A British armoured scout car stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. British troops increased their presence along the border on the West Berlin side after tanks were positioned close to the border in East Berlin, 30 October 1961.
© ullstein Picture – SPUTNIK

Picture 1
Columns of refugees in the summer of 1945 in Berlin.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 2
Refugees from Berlin leaving the city in the direction of Brandenburg carry their belongings in suitcases and strollers over a temporary bridge. Many of the civilians are wearing white armbands, summer 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei / Agentur Voller Ernst © dpa

Picture 3
Refugees drag their only possessions through the streets of Berlin, probably May 1945.
Image: Ivan Shagin © German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Ivan Shagin Collection

Picture 4
Sudeten Germans held on a public square in Prague, including a man whose coat has been painted with a white swastika, await their deportation to Germany, July 20, 1945.
Image: CTK © dpa – Bildarchiv

Picture 5
Three prisoners of war released in Berlin Spandau, Lerschpfad, July 1945.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 6
These so-called Nissen huts (corrugated iron huts with a semicircular roof) on Halenseestrasse in Berlin-Wilmersdorf provide emergency accommodation for homeless families, refugees, and displaced persons, circa 1950.
Image: akg-images / Hans Schaller © picture alliance / akg

Picture 7
Refugees at Lehrter Railway Station, May 1945.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 1
Berliners clear wrecked equipment from Charlottenburger Chaussee (today: Straße des 17. Juni) as Soviet soldiers look on, early May 1945.
Image: Ivan Shagin © German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Ivan Shagin Collection

Picture 2
A Red Army parade to honour the Banner of Victory before it is dispatched to Moscow: Troops on parade with the Banner of Victory at the Brandenburg Gate, 20 May 1945.
Image: Victor Kinelowski /akg-images ©  picture alliance/akg-image

Picture 3
A police officer directs traffic, Berlin June 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei © ullstein Picture – Voller Ernst / Khaldei

Picture 4
Soviet soldiers distribute soup to the starving population, Berlin May 1945.
Image: Berliner Verlag / Archiv © dpa

Picture 5
The cover of a brochure distributed at the “Great Anti-Bolshevik Exhibition” on the occasion of the NSDAP rally, Nuremberg 1937.
© ullstein Picture – adoc-photos

Picture 6
German soldiers on their way to Soviet POW camps following the capitulation, Berlin May 1945.
Image: akg-images © picture alliance / akg-images

Picture 7
Soviet soldiers and Russian prisoners liberated from German concentration camps, May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – Imagno / Votava

Picture 1
A panorama view of Alexanderplatz shortly after the fighting ended in Berlin, early May 1945.
© akg-images / Sputnik

Picture 2
An aerial view of the devastation of Berlin in May 1945.
© ullstein Picture – SPUTNIK

Picture 3
A plaque outside Steglitz Town Hall commemorates a German soldier hanged by the Nazis in the final days of the war, Berlin 1945.
© ullstein Picture – ullstein bild

Picture 4
Four generations: It is not known whether these women and girls are refugees from the former eastern territories of Germany or Berliners returning to the city. They were among millions of people criss-crossing Europe in the spring and summer of 1945.
Image: Abraham Pisarek, Berlin 1945. © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin

Picture 5
Soviet tanks in a Berlin suburb. The slogan on the wall reads “Berlin stays German!”, late April 1945.
© ullstein Picture – AKG

Picture 6
Despite their severely damaged state, these apartments in Berlin were still occupied in August 1945.
© ullstein Picture – Heritage Images / Keystone Archives

Picture 7
Defeated: A seemingly endless train of German POWs marches eastwards out of the city on Frankfurter Allee as civilians look on.
Image: Timofej Melnik, early May 1945. © German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Timofej Melnik Collection

Picture 8
Survivors: German soldiers outside Spandau Town Hall; it is not known whether they are POWs or have been freed from a camp.
Image: Eva Kemlein, Mai 1945 © Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin

Picture 9
The Soviet commandant of the Red Army of the USSR in Berlin, Nikolai E. Berzarin, speaks to women tasked with clearing rubble in Berlin, 1945.
Image: Yevgeny Khaldei / Agentur Voller Ernst © dpa

Forced Labour in Berlin 1938–1945

Forced labourers in Berlin were accommodated at about 3,000 different locations around the city. As well as military-style barracks and camps, these also included former schools, cinemas, theatres, and restaurants. These locations could be found on nearly every corner of the city – making them impossible for the inhabitants of Berlin to overlook.

Even before the start of World War II, the Nazi authorities had started using various Berlin demographics for forced labour: Jews, Sinti, Roma, and those identified as “anti-social”. In these cases, forced labour was a means of persecution and just a prelude to deportation to the concentration and extermination camps.

Liberation of the NS Forced Labour Camp

When the city of Berlin capitulated to the Red Army on 2 May 1945, there were around 370,000 forced labourers in the entire metropolitan region. Thousands used the chaos at the end of the war to escape from the camps or their work detail. But insubordination, escape attempts, and theft were still punished severely until the very end. For fear of resistance or revenge, targeted murders of foreign forced labourers were carried out in Berlin and its environs, even in the last days of the war.

 Eroberung von Berlin durch die Rote Armee: Sowjetischer Panzer in der Berliner Straße, April 1945. Foto: Georgi Petrussow  © akg-images / Sputnik
 Eroberung von Berlin durch die Rote Armee: Sowjetischer Panzer in der Berliner Straße, April 1945. Foto: Georgi Petrussow  © akg-images / Sputnik

The Battle of Berlin

On 16 April 1945, the Red Army began its assault on Berlin. After taking the Seelow Heights on the Oder, it entered what was then the district of Weißensee on 21 April; it reached the city’s “Ring” S-Bahn line which surrounds Berlin’s central districts by 26 April. In the heavy street battles that followed, the soldiers fought their way further into the city centre. In parallel, the Red Army had encircled Berlin completely by 25 April. The war had long been lost for Germany, but the fighting continued on Adolf Hitler’s orders. In Halbe, south of Berlin, thousands of surrounded troops fought to the death up to 28 April. Right up until 29 April, the German Army attempted to break the siege.

Eine sowjetischer Granatwerfer-Bedienung im Gefecht am U-Bahnhof Bülowstraße, Berlin-Schöneberg, Ende April 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

Sowjetische Selbstfahrlafette SU 152 in der Oranienburger Straße, Berlin-Mitte, Ende April/Anfang Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russischen Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

The Race to Berlin

Germany’s armed forces were already on the defensive two years before the end of the war. After the Battle of Stalingrad in early 1943, the Red Army seemed to go from one victory to the next. In July 1944, they liberated the last German foothold in the Soviet Union. Almost simultaneously, on 6 June 1944, the Western Allies successfully landed in northern France, establishing the so-called Second Front in Europe. The landing of American troops on the southern tip of Italy in the summer of 1943 had been another crucial development.

Soldaten an einem Unterstand im Schlamm, Stalingrad 1942/43. © picture alliance/arkivi

Übergabe der Bezirke Reinickendorf und Wedding aus britischer in französische Verwaltung: Abnahme einer Parade französischer Truppen durch General Jeoffroy de Beauchesne (rechts), den ersten Befehlshaber des Sektors, und Brigadegeneral Spurling (links) am Weddingplatz, 12. August 1945.  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild
Übergabe der Bezirke Reinickendorf und Wedding aus britischer in französische Verwaltung: Abnahme einer Parade französischer Truppen durch General Jeoffroy de Beauchesne (rechts), den ersten Befehlshaber des Sektors, und Brigadegeneral Spurling (links) am Weddingplatz, 12. August 1945.  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

France: the ‘belated’ victorious power

For four years France found itself under German occupation. Those years of collaboration and resistance left in their wake a deeply divided society. Yet at the end of the war, France found itself included among the victorious Allies that occupied Germany.

In June 1940, following six weeks of battle, the German Wehrmacht installed a regime of occupation in Northern France and along the Atlantic coast.

 

Die französische Stadt Caen in der Normandie ist nach ihrer Befreiung am 19. Juli 1944 völlig zerstört. Foto: Captain E.G. Malindine, No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, public domain

Die französische Bevölkerung säumt die Champs Élysées und bejubelt nach der Befreiung von Paris einziehende französische Soldaten, 26. August 1944. Foto: Jack Downey, U.S. Office of War Information, United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs ID fsac.1a55001, public domain

Befreiung der NS-Zwangslager

Als am 2. Mai 1945 die Stadt Berlin vor der Roten Armee kapitulierte, befanden sich rund 370.000 Zwangsarbeiter*innen im ganzen Stadtgebiet. Tausende nutzten das Chaos bei Kriegsende zur Flucht aus den Lagern oder vom Arbeitsplatz. Verstöße gegen die Anordnungen der NS-Führung, Fluchtversuche oder Diebstahl wurden jedoch bis zuletzt hart bestraft. Aus Angst vor Widerstand oder Rache kam es noch in den letzten Kriegstagen zu gezielten Mordaktionen an ausländischen Zwangsarbeitskräften in Berlin und im Umland.

From Liberation to Occupation

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies agreed on the total occupation of Germany. Each of the victorious powers – France was added shortly afterwards to Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA – was assigned a zone of occupation. The German capital, Berlin, was to be jointly administered. However, the subsequent division of the city was already presaged by the partition of the country into four zones of occupation and by the different ideologies and ideas of governance among the victorious powers. 

In den frühen Nachmittagsstunden des 14. August 1961 sperren Ostberliner Behörden den Sektorenübergang am Brandenburger Tor: Rechts Volksarmee mit Karabinern, in der Mitte Wasserwerfer und links Panzerspähwagen. Am frühen Sonntagmorgen des 13. August 1961 wurde unter der Aufsicht von bewaffneten Streitkräften der DDR mit der Errichtung von Straßensperren aus Stacheldraht und dem Bau einer Mauer begonnen, um den Ostteil Berlins vom Westteil abzusperren.  Foto: Konrad Giehr © picture alliance/dpa
Sitzung des alliierten Kontrollrats in Berlin in der Potsdamer Straße, 1948. Sowjetische Delegation (v), französische Delegation (l), US-amerikanische Delegation (r), britische Delegation (h).  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

 Following the suicide of Adolf Hitler, Germany was governed by a ‘caretaker government’. It gave the Army High Command the authority to capitulate. Through military victory, the Allies assumed powers of government almost by default. And so, throughout Germany public life was determined by military commanders. An Allied Control Council was instituted to jointly decide on political questions. But this only functioned until March 1948, when the Soviet representative withdrew from the council.

By that time, most of the zones of occupation were gradually taking steps towards the institution of democratic systems. The Soviet zone of occupation was the only one to choose a path into a new dictatorship. Politics were determined by ideological imperatives, freedom of expression was largely curtailed, democratic elections abolished and the Soviet secret police intruded unchecked into whatever sphere of life it considered important. 

The Soviet zone first suffered from the widespread plunder of economic assets, which the Russians stripped and shipped to rebuild their devastated country. Additionally, people were increasingly told what to think and liberties suppressed, up to the point of imprisonment and execution. Soviet military tribunals tried and condemned about 35,000 Germans. Around 150,000 Germans, among them many low-level Nazi party officials, were interned in so-called ‘special camps’ run by the Soviet occupation authorities. Even before the foundation of the GDR many people fled the Soviet zone. On its foundation in 1949, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) continued the same methods of political suppression. This state was only able to stem the mass exodus of its citizens by constructing the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Abtransport von Maschinen und Fabrikeinrichtungen, die von der sowjetischen Besatzungsmacht beschlagnahmt wurden, 1951.  © ullstein bild - ullstein bild

Author: Jörg Morré / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Nikolai Berzarin – Berlin’s First Military Commander

Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin was appointed as the Soviet military commander of Berlin on 24 April 1945, as street battles still raged in the city. Marshal Zhukov, who regarded himself as the conqueror of the Nazi German capital, was making a clear statement in appointing Berzarin to this post. Although it had already been agreed that, from July onwards, the city would be jointly administered by the four victorious powers, for the moment at least it was solely under Soviet control. 

Generaloberst Nikolaj E. Bersarin, der erste Berliner Stadtkommandant, mit den Kriegsberichterstattern Wischnewski und Besymenski vor dem Reichstag, Mai 1945. Foto: Iwan Schagin © Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Iwan Schagin
Essensausgabe an einer sowjetischen Feldküche für die Bevölkerung im Zentrum Berlins. Bersarin ließ damals viele Suppenküchen für die Bevölkerung eröffnen, Anfang Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

Berzarin immediately revived the district administration offices. He was aided in this task by German anti-fascists led by Walter Ulbricht, who arrived from Moscow on 1 May. Under the command of Berzarin, the city very quickly regained a functioning government. The Commander ensured the provision of all essential services, from water and electricity to gas and transport. Soup kitchens run by the Red Army also helped to combat the ubiquitous food shortages. Even cultural life in the city had reawakened by mid-May. Berzarin’s commitment was genuine but was not entirely motivated by altruism. The Soviet army of occupation used the short timeframe before the arrival of the western Allied commanders to present themselves in the best possible light. But there was also a darker side: throughout the city Soviet soldiers looted and raped. The Soviet secret police also arrested numerous Nazi officials and war criminals. This was the Law of the Victor. Thus, the spring of 1945 was not a time free of fear for the people of Berlin. 

Berzarin died on 16 June 1945 in a traffic accident. He was therefore not required to personally oversee the transition to joint administration of the city by the four victorious powers. Thirty years later, East Berlin expressed its gratitude to Berzarin for his commitment to returning life to the city after the war by awarding him posthumous honorary citizenship. Following German reunification, the Berlin Senate rescinded this award in 1992. Following a heated public debate, Nikolai Berzarin was reinstated as an honorary citizen of Berlin in 2003.

Bersarin im Gespräch spricht mit

Author: Dr. Jörg Morré / Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Berlin – The Headquarters of the Nazi Terror Regime

Until shortly before the end of the war, Berlin was the political, military and administrative power centre of the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi elite had various headquarters here, though some also existed outside of the Reich capital. The head offices of the main SS and police institutions were located in Berlin. These included the secret police (Gestapo), the personal staff of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, the Security Service of the SS (SD), and the Criminal Police (Kripo). There were also various branch offices of the Gestapo, Kripo and SD at over thirty locations in Berlin, as well as at additional locations nearby.

End of the War, 1945: The Collapse of the “SS State”

With the fall of the Nazi regime came the collapse of the apparatus of terror consisting of SS and police. The leaders of the SS and Secret State Police (Gestapo), as well as the Criminal Police (Kripo) and Public Order Police (Ordnungspolizei), beat a hasty retreat as Soviet troops closed in on Berlin in late April 1945. Like the staff of the remaining central organs of state and the government ministries, they fled for those parts of the north and south of the country that had not yet been occupied by the Allies.

 

“Topography of Terror” – Destruction, Demolition and Rediscovery

The area of land between Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse (since renamed Niederkirchnerstrasse) and Wilhelmstrasse was where the headquarters of the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the SS, the Security Service (SD) and the Reich Security Head Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA) were located. It was from this point that the Nazi regime planned and organized its most monumental crimes and acts of terror.

The Persecution, Expulsion and Extermination of the German Jews

When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, they introduced the state persecution of Jews in Germany. For the first time, anti-Semitism became a part of government policy in a modern state. Jews were excluded from society and their persecution gradually intensified. State regulations, acts of violence by supporters of the regime and incitement by the National Socialist press combined to promote this persecution. 

Legal protections of Jews as equal citizens were gradually removed. “Kristallnacht” in 1938 marked a turning point: On the night of 9-10 November, throughout the German Reich, synagogues were destroyed, retirement homes, orphanages and hospitals were set on fire, and Jewish businesses were looted. National Socialists and their sympathisers attacked Jewish families, ransacked their apartments, and murdered at least 100 people. There was hardly any resistance or protests. 

Up to 30,000 Jews were held for several weeks at concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen. They were to be forced to emigrate. Tens of thousands of German and Austrian Jews decided to flee. After the conquest of Poland in September 1939 and the campaigns in the North and the West in 1940, the regime intensified its anti-Jewish policies within the German Reich. In 1940 some of the first deportations from Germany took place. Systematic deportations to the East commenced after the emigration ban was announced for German Jews in autumn 1941 – first to ghettos, and then to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other extermination camps starting in spring 1942. Even when the country began to reap what it had sown and German cities were reduced to ruins and ashes, the extermination of the Jews still took precedence. The final transport to the Theresienstadt concentration camp arrived on 15 April 1945. The German armed forces capitulated three weeks later. Of the 500,000 Jewish children, women and men who lived in Germany before 1933, up to 165,000 died in the Holocaust, 55,000 of them from Berlin.

Author: Uwe Neumärker / Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Genocide of the Sinti and Roma

Under the rule of the Nazi regime, hundreds of thousands of people in Germany and other European countries were persecuted as ‘Gypsies’ from 1933 to 1945. The largest of these groups in Europe were the Sinti and Roma. The aim of the Nazi state and its racial ideology was to destroy this minority: Men, women and children were abducted and murdered in their hometowns or in ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination camps.

Fight antiziganism!

Roma peoples have lived in Europe for over a thousand years. Their language, which includes numerous dialects that vary according to region and country of origin, is known as Romani. Those who have lived in the German-speaking countries for over 600 years generally refer to themselves as Sinti, while many in Eastern Europe use the term Roma. Numerous other names are used by this broad ethnic group to describe themselves. These include Manouche, Lalleri, Ashkali, and Lovari. Together they form Europe’s largest ethnic minority.

Reinhold Laubinger

Johann Wilhelm Rukeli Trollmann

Erna Unku Lauenburger

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under National Socialism

The national memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism in Europe commemorates up to half a million people who were killed for being “Gypsies” in the years 1939 to 1945.

Denkmal für die ermordeten Sinti und Romas Europas. © Stiftung Denkmal, Foto: Marko Priske

Chronology at the memorial

During the period of the Third Reich, from 1933 to 1945, hundreds of thousands of people were persecuted as ‘Gypsies’ in Germany and other European countries. Most of them identified as belonging to a particular ethnocultural group, such as Sinti, Roma, Lalleri, Lowara, or Manusch. The largest of these groups were the Sinti and Roma. The aim of the Nazi state and its racist ideology was the total destruction of this ethnic minority. Children, women and men were murdered in their home towns or in ghettos, concentration and extermination camps. Members of the Yenish and other endemic itinerant communities were also persecuted and victimised.

Text: Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

‚Red‘ Berlin? The NSDAP and SA before 1933

In 1933, Berlin was still a ‘young’ city. In 1920, seven towns, 59 country parishes and 27 rural districts were merged with Berlin, almost doubling its population and creating the third most populous city in the world. Greater Berlin was divided into 20 districts with very different political cultures and historical legacies. From a political perspective, Berlin was also extremely diverse and was to remain as such even into the Nazi period. 

Nevertheless, the NSDAP and especially its district administrator for Berlin (Gauleiter) Joseph Goebbels never tired of pushing the myth of ‘red Berlin’: a communist stronghold that the Nazi party and its paramilitary wing, the SA, were called on to conquer. This strategy was aimed at smoothing over the constant tensions between the Party and its armed wing that had brought it to the brink of collapse several times. This struggle against the purported leftist hegemony provided a common cause right up to 1945. 

But how ‘red’ was Berlin really? What would a worker in Wedding have in common with an army officer in Steglitz? What could have connected an actress in Charlottenburg with a tram conductor from Lichtenberg? And what political views would the owner of a Köpenick villa share with a telephone operator in Siemensstadt, Spandau? The idea of ‘red Berlin’ was little more than a myth. In the well-to-do West and South West of the city, the NSDAP and SA could count on a large section of the population for support. They just had to mobilise it. In Steglitz and Zehlendorf, the conservative and anti-democratic German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei – DNVP) had been the clear winner of local elections in 1925 and 1929. In Steglitz, the NSDAP already had over 10 percent of the votes during elections in 1929. Spandau and Neukölln, on the other hand, were Social Democratic strongholds, while the Communists were in the lead in Wedding. From 1921 onwards, the Social Democrats (SPD) had always managed to win the city council elections, although never decisively: the Communists (KPD) and the Nationalists (DNVP) were always close behind. 

Berlin was nowhere near as ‘red’ as Nazi propagandists liked to paint it. It just wasn’t anywhere near as ‘brown’ (the colour symbolising the far right) as they wanted. During the parliamentary elections of 5 March 1933, the NSDAP was also the strongest party in Berlin, but with almost 10 percent less of the vote than the national average. 

 

Author: Bjoern Weigel

Berlin by foot and without power

In the spring of 1945, an ordinary journey from A to B meant traversing a devastated landscape with mountains of rubble, collapsed buildings and craters everywhere. Most bridges had been blown up or were impassable. If you were lucky, an old barge would be offering a ferry service. The tram, once Berlin’s most important mode of transport, was out of action because the overhead wires had long been requisitioned as raw materials for a senseless war. Finding and getting on a bus was like winning the lottery, since only eighteen vehicles had survived the war. The metro system was crippled by bombed tracks and collapsed tunnels. On the final day of the war, the SS had blown up the North-South rail tunnel directly under Landwehr Canal. Getting from A to B usually meant walking, no matter how far, no matter the weather.

From Liberation to the End of the War

World War II ended in Europe on 8 May 1945. In Asia, it went on until 2 September. In the interim, hundreds of thousands more soldiers fell, and civilians were killed, and two atomic bombs were dropped. 

At the peak of their power, Nazi Germany and its European allies had occupied almost all of Europe and much of North Africa. Germany’s ally in Asia was Japan, which had pursued a policy of rigorous expansion since before the Second World War. During the war, many countries of the Far East – especially China and Korea – suffered under Japanese occupation. Like the German-occupied countries in Europe, they were treated with varying degrees of brutality and occupied for different lengths of time. 

Doppelte Bedrohung: Deutschland und Japan greifen nach der Herrschaft, Poster aus dem Jahr 1944. © picture alliance/Photo12

The Capitulations – From Berlin to Berlin

In the early morning of 2 May 1945, after twelve days of intense street fighting, General Helmuth Weidling gave his forces in Berlin the long-overdue order to surrender. Two days earlier, the German Army was still trying to negotiate in the face of total defeat. In the end, they were forced by the overwhelming military superiority of the Red Army to capitulate. This pattern was repeated elsewhere until the final official surrender of all German forces on 8 May in Berlin-Karlshorst brought the war in Europe to an end. 

Major Wilhelm Oxenius, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl und Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (v. l. n. r.) bei der Unterzeichnung der bedingungslosen Kapitulation der Wehrmacht in Reims am 7. Mai 1945. Foto: dpa © dpa - Bildarchiv

Violence before and after the capitulation

The Nazi regime’s propaganda machine successfully portrayed the final months of the war as a battle for all or nothing. “Victory or Bolshevism” was one of the many slogans with which the German people were bombarded. In a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war, old men were conscripted into the Volkssturm militia, young boys from the Hitler Youth into the Werewolf partisan movement, and school children into anti-aircraft units. Anything seemed preferable to surrendering to the Red Army. Those who sought to escape this senseless slaughter were labelled traitors and deserters. Soldiers daring to openly question their orders to fight to the death were charged with defeatism – a crime for which the death penalty was imposed and for which soldiers were executed even in the final days of the war. The regime’s instruments of repression – among them the SS and Gestapo – went about their business as usual.

Persecuted and Forgotten

In 1935, the National Socialist regime decreed the extensive criminalisation of male homosexuality. The existing Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code of 1872 was tightened and expanded. By 1945 there were over 50,000 convictions. Several thousand homosexual persons were sent to concentration camps. They were forced to wear a pink triangle on their clothes for identification. Many of them died of hunger or disease, abuse or deliberate murder. The Nazis utterly destroyed the gay and lesbian world. 

Erwin Keferstein

Elsa Conrad

Elsa Rosenberg was born on 9 May 1887 in Berlin. She completed a commercial apprenticeship and married the waiter Wilhelm Conrad in 1910; they were divorced in 1931. Around 1927, Elsa Conrad and her friend Amalie Rothaug opened the Monbijou des Westens, a fashionable club frequented by intellectuals and artists which was considered the “most interesting association of lesbian women in Berlin” at the end of the 1920s.

The Monbijou was closed at the beginning of March 1933, shortly after the National Socialists seized power, on the basis of a decree targeting gay clubs and meeting places. After being denounced, Elsa Conrad was arrested on 5 October 1935 and sentenced to one year and three months at Berlin’s Barnimstrasse and Kantstrasse women’s prisons for allegedly defaming the party and the state. Ten days after her release, she was taken to Moringen women’s concentration camp near Göttingen on 14 January 1937, in part because she had “lesbian tendencies” and had been in a relationship with a certain Bertha Stenzel for 14 years. In February 1938, Elsa Conrad was discharged sick, on condition that she emigrate in the same year. She travelled to Tanzania by ship and lived in Kenya from 1943 onwards. Seriously ill and destitute, she returned to West Germany in 1961 and died on 19 February 1963 in Hanau.

The memorial

In 1992, the first campaigns for a national memorial to persecuted homosexuals began in connection with the discussion about the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. On 3 May 2001, the “Commemorate the Homosexual Victims of Nazism” initiative and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) launched a joint campaign.

Text: Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

“Aktion T4” and “Euthanasia”

After the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler issued a decree in October ordering the extermination of “life unworthy of life” in the German Reich. It was dated back to the beginning of the war. Against the backdrop of the war abroad, a domestic war was unleashed on the weak and supposed “enemies of the common good”. The murder of tens of thousands of patients in sanatoriums and care facilities, as well as of “racially” and socially undesirable individuals, was the first systematic mass crime of the National Socialist regime. It is considered the prelude to the extermination of European Jews.

Otto Hampel

Alma P.

Remembrance and Commemoration

Only a few of the perpetrators and accomplices of the “euthanasia” murders committed under the Nazi regime were brought to justice. Many of the doctors involved in the crimes continued to work after the end of the Second World War. Both East German and West German authorities refused to recognize the victims. It was not until the 1980s that memorial sites and signs of commemoration were put up at the former extermination centres and other locations.

Open-air exhibition on the Memorial and Information Point for the Victims of National Socialist Euthanasia Killings. Photo: Marko Priske © Memorial Foundation

Text: Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

From Prejudice to Genocide – The Persecution of Jews in Berlin

Anti-Semitism did not originate in 1933. But the Nazis knew how to use widespread anti-Semitic stereotypes for their own purposes. With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, anti-Semitism became state doctrine.

Pictures of the Holocaust from Berlin

Berlin was the Third Reich’s window to the world. It was here that all major international news and photo agencies had their offices. From no other German city – with the possible exception of Nuremberg or Munich – were so many photos taken for international newspapers as in the Capital of the Reich.

The Holocaust Memorial

Since May 2005, the field of stelae that is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe has been a key landmark – along with the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg Gate – in the centre of the German capital. Until 1945, the site, covering some 19,000 m², was part of the Minister Gardens. When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Gardens fell into a stretch of the “death strip”.

Das Stelenfeld des Denkmals für die ermordeten Juden Europas. Foto: Marko Priske © Stiftung Denkmal

Sowjetische Selbstfahrlafette SU 152 in der Oranienburger Straße, Berlin-Mitte, Ende April/Anfang Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russischen Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik
Sowjetische Selbstfahrlafette SU 152 in der Oranienburger Straße, Berlin-Mitte, Ende April/Anfang Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russischen Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

The Battle of Berlin

On 16 April 1945, the Red Army began its assault on Berlin. After taking the Seelow Heights on the Oder, it entered what was then the district of Weißensee on 21 April; it reached the city’s “Ring” S-Bahn line which surrounds Berlin’s central districts by 26 April. In the heavy street battles that followed, the soldiers fought their way further into the city centre. In parallel, the Red Army had encircled Berlin completely by 25 April. The war had long been lost for Germany, but the fighting continued on Adolf Hitler’s orders. In Halbe, south of Berlin, thousands of surrounded troops fought to the death up to 28 April. Right up until 29 April, the German Army attempted to break the siege.

Eine sowjetischer Granatwerfer-Bedienung im Gefecht am U-Bahnhof Bülowstraße, Berlin-Schöneberg, Ende April 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

Kämpfe in der Frankfurter Allee, Berlin-Friedrichshain, 28. April 1945.<br /> Foto: Iwan Schagin<br /> © Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Iwan Schagin” /></div></div></div></div> </lazy-media><div class=

Making art among the ruins

“Berlin is back – who would have thought that we could do it?” Brigitte Mira first performed this variation on the hit song “Berlin will always be Berlin!” on 1 June, and her optimism was dearly needed in light of the city’s widespread devastation.

The Battle of Berlin

On 16 April 1945, the Red Army began its assault on Berlin. After taking the Seelow Heights on the Oder, it entered what was then the district of Weißensee on 21 April; it reached the city’s “Ring” S-Bahn line which surrounds Berlin’s central districts by 26 April. In the heavy street battles that followed, the soldiers fought their way further into the city centre. In parallel, the Red Army had encircled Berlin completely by 25 April. The war had long been lost for Germany, but the fighting continued on Adolf Hitler’s orders. In Halbe, south of Berlin, thousands of surrounded troops fought to the death up to 28 April. Right up until 29 April, the German Army attempted to break the siege.

Sowjetische Selbstfahrlafette SU 152 in der Oranienburger Straße, Berlin-Mitte, Ende April/Anfang Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Deutsch-Russischen Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik
Eine sowjetischer Granatwerfer-Bedienung im Gefecht am U-Bahnhof Bülowstraße, Berlin-Schöneberg, Ende April 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

Only after Hitler’s suicide on April 30 did the German side show any willingness to negotiate. But Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and Chief of Staff of the Army Hans Krebs were also unable to bring themselves to accept the unconditional surrender that the Red Army demanded. Both committed suicide on 1 May. Early in the morning of 2 May, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of German forces in Berlin, arrived at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Tempelhof. In an apartment at Schulenburgring 2, he issued the order to end the fighting.

The Battle of Berlin was part of a major offensive by the Red Army along the entire length of the front ranging from the Baltic Sea and Görlitz. Roughly two million Red Army soldiers faced one million German defenders, of whom one quarter were child-soldier “anti-aircraft auxiliaries”, older men of the conscripted Volkssturm militia, and reservists.

Berlin, which was also the most heavily bombarded German city with around 370 air raids, lay in ruins at the end of the war. 70 percent of the city centre was destroyed.

Kämpfe in der Frankfurter Allee, Berlin-Friedrichshain, 28. April 1945.<br /> Foto: Iwan Schagin<br /> © Deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Iwan Schagin” /></div></div></div></div> </lazy-media><div class=

Author: Jörg Morré / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst

Berlin – The Headquarters of the Nazi Terror Regime

Until shortly before the end of the war, Berlin was the political, military and administrative power centre of the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi elite had various headquarters here, though some also existed outside of the Reich capital. The head offices of the main SS and police institutions were located in Berlin. These included the secret police (Gestapo), the personal staff of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, the Security Service of the SS (SD), and the Criminal Police (Kripo). There were also various branch offices of the Gestapo, Kripo and SD at over thirty locations in Berlin, as well as at additional locations nearby.

The former government district, where many of the headquarters of the ‘SS state’ once stood, is now the site of the Topography of Terror documentation and exhibition centre. Between 1933 and 1945, this was the centre of a complex network of Gestapo, Kripo and SD offices throughout the territory of the Reich and the European regions occupied by the German Army. From here, the SS state organised, together with other institutions, the genocide of Europe’s Jews and of the Sinti and Roma peoples. These offices were also central to controlling and terrorizing political opponents of the Nazi regime, other persecuted groups, and millions of foreign slave labourers.

Right up until the final weeks of the war, this state terror and the looting of victims’ possessions was largely initiated, coordinated and administered from Berlin. Right up until the end of the war, orders to kill various political opponents were issued from Gestapo HQ. The surviving Gestapo offices outside Berlin were even encouraged to continue mercilessly killing prisoners on their own initiative.

Just before the war ended, most of the highest ranking Nazi officials fled the capital. Most of the buildings belonging to the SS and Gestapo were damaged or destroyed in the war.

Author: Andrea Riedle / Topography of Terror

Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

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Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

#06: Tunnel unter der Straße des 17. Juni & Siegessäule: Die Kapitulation

Protagonisten: Dietmar Arnold, Gründer und Vorsitzender des Berliner Unterwelten e.V. und Sascha Keil sowie Dr. Bjoern Weigel

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Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

#05: Alexanderplatz: Antifaschismus damals und heute


Protagonist: Kaspar Nürnberg, Geschäftsführer des Aktiven Museums Faschismus und Widerstand in Berlin

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Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

#04: Zwangslager Marzahn: Diskriminierung damals und heute

Protagonistin: Annegret Ehmann, Historikerin, wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin der Gedenkstätte Zwangslager Berlin-Marzahn e.V.

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Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

#03: Ku’damm & Gedächtniskirche: Mondänes Berlin als Zerr- und Vorbild

Protagonist*innen: Dr. Christoph Kreutzmüller, Historiker und Pädagoge, Gedenk- und Bildungsstätte Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz & Kathrin Oxen, Theologin, Pfarrerin an der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

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Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

#02: Olympiastadion: Sport und Politik, Gewalt und Polizei

Protagonist: Dr. Ralf Schäfer, Historiker mit Schwerpunkt Sport und Antisemitismus

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Podcast Nach Berlin 75 Jahre Kriegsende

Podcast “To Berlin and Beyond”

Take a walk through Berlin: Join experts, reporters, and prominent public figures as they visit locations across Berlin where the final days of the war played out. Each of the seven episodes tackles a different topic – from anti-fascism to moral courage – exploring past events and highlighting their relevance to us today. Learn more about the history behind both familiar and lesser-known sites, including the Reichstag and Alexanderplatz, but also the Olympic Stadium and the memorial at the site of the former concentration camp for Sinti and Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Other locations include a tunnel in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park and the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard.

New episodes will be released daily during the anniversary week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and on this webpage. Hosted by Katja Weber of Radio Eins and Deutschlandfunk reporter Markus Dichmann. This podcast is available in German only.

# 1 – BRANDENBURGER TOR & REICHSTAG

Ende April 1945 rollten die Panzer der Roten Armee von beiden Seiten auf das Brandenburger Tor zu. Am späten Abend des 30. April wehte auf dem zerbombten Reichstag eine Rote Fahne – nur Stunden nach Hitlers Selbstmord im Führerbunker. Bis heute stehen das Brandenburger Tor und der Reichstag symbolisch für die Befreiung Europas vom Nationalsozialismus. Hier startet „Nach Berlin“ – der Podcast. Am Brandenburger Tor trifft Reporter Markus Dichmann den Historiker Bjoern Weigel, der die virtuelle Ausstellung „Nach Berlin“ der Kulturprojekte Berlin betreut. In einem Spaziergang zum Reichstag sprechen sie über die letzten Kriegstage, wie an solchen Orten Geschichte geschrieben und Symbole geschaffen werden, und wie eigentlich das berühmte Foto von den sowjetischen Soldaten entstanden ist, die die Rote Fahne auf dem Reichstag hissten. Außerdem hören wir von Kultursenator Klaus Lederer, was der 8. Mai für ihn bedeutet. 

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Forced Labour in Berlin 1938–1945

Forced labourers in Berlin were accommodated at about 3,000 different locations around the city. As well as military-style barracks and camps, these also included former schools, cinemas, theatres, and restaurants. These locations could be found on nearly every corner of the city – making them impossible for the inhabitants of Berlin to overlook.

Even before the start of World War II, the Nazi authorities had started using various Berlin demographics for forced labour: Jews, Sinti, Roma, and those identified as “anti-social”. In these cases, forced labour was a means of persecution and just a prelude to deportation to the concentration and extermination camps.

Over the course of the war, an increasing number of people from occupied Europe were deported to Berlin as forced labourers. Around 500,000 men, women and children were used as forced labour: in the armaments industry, in small and medium-sized companies, for churches, the municipal and district authorities, and in private households.

Eastern European forced labourers were especially poorly treated, as these people were seen as particularly “inferior” in the racist ideology of National Socialism. They were subject to extremely strict rules; the slightest transgressions by Polish or Soviet forced labourers would be brutally punished by the Gestapo. The children of Eastern European women often died of malnutrition, while pregnant women were forced to have abortions.

Western European forced labourers generally had greater freedom of movement and were subject to less severe conditions. Nevertheless, many of them were sent to Gestapo punishment camps for minor offences or sentenced to death by the Berlin courts.

It was not until 2000 that forced labourers were officially recognized as victims of the Nazi regime, making them entitled – under certain circumstances – to financial reparations.

Many forced labour locations in Berlin are no longer visible. In recent years, however, significant labour camp locations have been uncovered again during construction projects. Since then, there has been an ongoing discussion about how Berlin’s history of Nazi forced labour can be made more visible.

Author: Christine Glauning / The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre

 

Pictures of the Holocaust from Berlin

Berlin was the Third Reich’s window to the world. It was here that all major international news and photo agencies had their offices. From no other German city – with the possible exception of Nuremberg or Munich – were so many photos taken for international newspapers as in the Capital of the Reich.

The Nazis – in particular the Gauleiter of Berlin and newly appointed Minister for Public Information and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels – frequently railed against what they termed the Lügenpresse, or ‘lying press’. At the same time, they tried to manipulate reporters to their own ends, for example by staging the so-called boycott of Jewish stores, medical and legal practices on 1 April 1933 in Berlin for the global public. On Leipziger Strasse and Kurfürstendamm, smiling SA men posted signs written in English as well as German.

When that approach failed to have the desired effect, Goebbels took steps to prevent photographs being taken of anti-Jewish activities, without explicitly forbidding this. Even embassy employees had cameras ripped from their hands as they tried to take pictures of the violence perpetrated against Jewish citizens. The Nazis were afraid that such images would quickly spread around the world through press and photo agencies. Very few images survive of the coordinated assaults on Jewish businesses that took place in Berlin in the summer of 1935. The two dozen or so surviving photos of the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms do not depict any scenes of violence. They show destroyed display windows but hide the accompanying scenes of SA men with iron bars and of Jews beaten and baited, in many cases to death. While there are some photos of the Jewish deportations from several smaller cities, there is not a single comparable image from Berlin; this, despite the fact that over 50,000 people were abducted in 184 separate transportation convoys.

Author: Christoph Kreutzmüller / Memorial and Educational Site House of the Wannsee Conference

From liberation to victory: European memories of the end of the Second World War

The Italian Anniversario della Liberazione on 25 April, the Dutch Bevrijdingsdag on 5 May and the French Fête de la victoire on 8 May are just a few examples of how differently European nations commemorate the end of the Second World War. While the war in Europe as a whole came to an end on 8 May 1945 with the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht, it ended on different days and in different ways in various countries. The liberation from Nazi German occupation also did not signify true freedom for all countries, as many Eastern European nations fell under the sway of the Soviet Union.
When, where and how the end of the war is commemorated depends both on how it was experienced and on differences in social and political developments post-1945.

 

Feierlichkeiten zum 60. Jahrestag des Warschauer Aufstands: Eine Familie am Mahnmal MOKOTOW KAEMPFT (poln.: Mokotow Walczy, Mokotow ist ein Warschauer Stadtteil) im Orlicz-Dreszera-Park, nach einer Gedenkfeier, Warschau 1. August 2004. © ullstein bild - CARO / Andreas Bastian

In Great Britain, VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day) on 8 May commemorates the victory over the German Reich. In France, the Fête de la victoire has been a national holiday since 1981. Other countries prefer to celebrate their own liberation from German occupation rather than the end of the war itself. For example, Italy celebrates the triumphant entry of Italian partisans into Milan on 25 April, marking the country’s liberation from German occupation. In the Netherlands, 5 May has been an official holiday since 1990. Various events and parades take place to commemorate the capitulation of German occupation forces in the Netherlands and the consequent liberation.

Until the end of the Cold War, many Eastern European countries followed the Soviet tradition of celebrating 9 May as Victory Day. In Poland, this date now commemorates the transition from German to Soviet dictatorship. The 1 August 1944 has become a more important date of commemoration in Poland, as it marks the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation.
Whereas in the years following the war, heroic narratives of each country’s role in liberation and victory dominated the ceremonies, today the emphasis is on remembering the victims. This approach might pave the way for a common European culture of remembrance.

Author: Uta Birkemeyer / The Allied Museum

The Potsdam Conference

Two months after the end of hostilities in Europe, the “Big Three” – the leaders of the victorious Anti-Hitler Coalition – came together at a summit meeting. Following previous summits in Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in February 1945, this third summit was to take place in Berlin. In light of the city’s widespread devastation, however, Potsdam was chosen as the venue. The summit was hosted by the Soviet leader Josef Stalin. US President Harry Truman, whose predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had died in April, was a newcomer in this circle, as was Clement Attlee, who replaced Winston Churchill as Britain’s Prime Minister during the course of the conference.

Codenamed “Terminal”, the Potsdam Conference ran from 17 July through to 2 August 1945 and aimed to achieve agreement among the Allies on the outcome of the Second World War and the post-war order. In many parts of the world, the facts on the ground conflicted with previous arrangements agreed by the “Big Three”. The conquest of almost all of Eastern and Central Europe by the Red Army and the ‘Sovietization’ of these regions was among these facts. In the Pacific region, on the other hand, the war still raged. The United States’ final ultimatum to Japan was sent from Potsdam – as was President Truman’s order to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

Discussions at the summit were characterized by mutual distrust. Was Moscow hoping to establish a foothold in Asia by entering the war against Japan on the side of the USA? The agreement that was ultimately concluded at the summit seemed incomplete and left Germany’s future undecided, instead dividing the conquered country into separate zones but treating it as a single economic entity. On the other hand, the agreement acknowledged the Soviet Union’s territorial gains, at the expense of Poland in particular, whose borders were shifted westward to the Oder and Neisse rivers. The indirect consequences of this included the expulsion of millions of Germans and the establishment of an “Iron Curtain” across Europe.
In 1989–90, the Potsdam Conference was on everyone’s lips once again. The end of Germany’s division, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and even the end of the Cold War were all widely viewed as corrections of the shortcomings of the agreement forged at the Potsdam Conference.

Author: Florian Weiß / The Allied Museum

The “Axis Powers” versus the “Anti-Hitler Coalition”

Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime in Italy first established cooperative ties with the signing of the 1936 Rome-Berlin Axis Agreement, which was superseded in 1939 by the more formal Pact of Friendship and Alliance. This so-called “Berlin-Rome Axis” loomed large in the propaganda of both regimes. In September 1940, Nazi Germany concluded the Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan, establishing the “Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis”. Crucially, the three countries acknowledged their respective claims to Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and South East Asia in this agreement. The three Axis Powers were joined in Southeastern Europe by Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and Croatia, and in Northern Europe by Finland. Albania, Thailand and those areas of China occupied and controlled by Japan are also, nominally at least, counted among the Axis powers.

Tokyo, 3 December 1937. © picture-alliance / Imagno
Die Staatschefs von Großbritannien, den USA und der Sowjetunion (v.l.n.r. Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin) auf der Potsdamer Konferenz 1945. © picture alliance/Photo12

Ranged against the Axis powers in the Second World War was the “Anti-Hitler Coalition”, also referred to as the Allies. This coalition was established following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and was strengthened by the United States’ declaration of war in December 1941. However, American support for the United Kingdom preceded this, not least of all because the two countries shared a common vision of the post-war order. With the accession of the Soviet Union, the Anti-Hitler Coalition became an alliance of convenience forged upon the sole common goal of defeating Nazi Germany.

The Allies were supported by a host of other states, 26 in total, which affirmed their support for the Anti-Hitler Coalition in the “Declaration of the United Nations”, signed in January 1942.
In the absence of broader common goals and shared values, mistrust grew among the partners of the Anti-Hitler Coalition and relations were increasingly strained well before the defeat of their common foe, the Nazi regime, in the spring of 1945.

Author: Bernd von Kostka / The Allied Museum

The United Kingdom in the Second World War

Germany broke several of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles following Adolf Hitler’s accession to power in 1933. The response of the other major European powers – France and the United Kingdom – to these violations was shaped to a large degree by the policy of appeasement pursued by the government of the United Kingdom. Seeking to avoid a military confrontation, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in September 1938, under which the region of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia was ceded to Germany.

But Chamberlain’s hope of securing lasting peace in Europe proved to be a fatal delusion and Germany went on to invade Poland in September 1939. This development led France and the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany.
Within a month, the British Commonwealth states of Australia, India, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa also declared war on Germany.

The largest air battle of the Second World War – the Battle of Britain – was fought between July and October 1940 and resulted in the first major defeat of the German Luftwaffe. As well as targeting British infrastructure and military installations, the Luftwaffe also dropped bombs on London. The British Royal Air Force responded by launching an air raid on Berlin. From then on, cities and civilian populations were targeted in numerous air raids. Despite their numerical superiority – both in terms of aircraft and pilots – the German Luftwaffe was unable to gain air superiority over England and the campaign ground to a halt after roughly three months.
In the further course of the war, British troops achieved successes in North Africa under General Montgomery, and also in Sicily and Italy. During the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the United Kingdom played a key role as a bridgehead from which Allied troops reached France and went on to liberate the countries of Western Europe.

Author: Bernd von Kostka / The Allied Museum

Laurel Coleman Steinhice (geb. 1936 in Chattanooga, gest. 2011 in Nashville) über ihr Kinoerlebnis von den Siegesfeiern zum Kriegsende in London. 2:40 Min. © AlliiertenMuseum/Filmhaus Berlin GmbH 2009

France: the ‘belated’ victorious power

For four years France found itself under German occupation. Those years of collaboration and resistance left in their wake a deeply divided society. Yet at the end of the war, France found itself included among the victorious Allies that occupied Germany.
In June 1940, following six weeks of battle, the German Wehrmacht installed a regime of occupation in Northern France and along the Atlantic coast. The south of the country remained unoccupied for the time being. This territory was controlled by the authoritarian regime of Marshal Philippe Petain, based in the town of Vichy. The Vichy regime collaborated with the occupiers and assisted in the deportation of 76,000 Jews. In November 1942, the Wehrmacht also marched into the southern zone of France.
Both within France and among the French in exile, movements of resistance to the occupation were organised. Their attacks on the army of occupation were met with brutal reprisals from the Germans.

Frankreich während der deutschen Besatzung: Wehrmachtsoldaten vor dem Triumphbogen in Paris, Juli/August 1940. © picture alliance/ullstein bild
Die französische Stadt Caen in der Normandie ist nach ihrer Befreiung am 19. Juli 1944 völlig zerstört. Foto: Captain E.G. Malindine, No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, public domain

In June 1944, the liberation of France began with the Allied landings on the Normandy coast. Just a few days earlier, a “Provisional Government of the French Republic” was formed under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. This timing was not coincidental: its aim was to prevent an Allied military government taking power in France. The advance of the Allied forces was supported by French resistance fighters and soldiers. Between 1940 and 1945, approximately 230,000 French soldiers and 350,000 civilians lost their lives, either in combat or in Allied and German bombing raids.

The liberation of Paris in August 1944 was an event of enormous symbolic significance, though the entire territory of France was not cleared of German forces until February 1945. The jubilation at the end of the German occupation soon gave way to the reality of grappling with major political problems. These included economic reconstruction, the political restructuring of the country, and healing the social divisions wrought by the war and occupation. Many French soldiers remained mobilised since France, with British and American support, was one of the four victorious powers occupying Germany.

Die französische Bevölkerung säumt die Champs Élysées und bejubelt nach der Befreiung von Paris einziehende französische Soldaten, 26. August 1944. Foto: Jack Downey, U.S. Office of War Information, United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs ID fsac.1a55001, public domain

Author: Uta Birkemeyer / The Allied Museum

The Role of the USA in the Second World War

The USA remained neutral over the first two years of the war; however, this stance was the subject of intense political debate. With the adoption of the Lend-Lease Act in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to supply armaments and other materials to countries fighting against Nazi Germany. As part of its preparations for war, the United States introduced compulsory military service, initiated a nuclear weapons programme and increased its presence in the Atlantic. These activities were flanked by efforts to promote a new global order for the post-Hitler era, which was subsequently embodied in the vision of the United Nations established in 1945.
On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the USA and “Pearl Harbor” became a national trauma. The United States’ entry into the war transformed the war in Europe into a “world war” that the USA was compelled to fight on two separate fronts and across two oceans.

Determined to emerge victorious, the United States mobilized enormous resources for its war effort, tripling industrial output and enlisting some 16 million citizens in the armed forces. The USA soon became the largest arsenal in the world, a development from which both the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union, profited enormously. It was this military aid, together with the common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, that held the Anti-Hitler Coalition together.
Between 1942 and 1944, American forces landed in North Africa, Italy, and France as part of the Allied campaign in Western Europe and Africa against Nazi Germany. The bombing war against German industrial facilities, infrastructure and the civilian population supported military operations on land and sea.

In the war against Imperial Japan, the USA adopted a strategy of combined naval and air warfare to dislodge the enemy from occupied territories, with US forces suffering more casualties here than in Europe. Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, believed that the need to minimize American casualties justified the use of the atomic bomb. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also served as a warning to the Soviet Union that it would be unwise to contest the United States’ new role as a global “superpower” in the wake of the Second World War.

 

Atompilz über Nagasaki, 9. August 1945. Foto: Charles Levy, National Archives, National Archives Identifier:  535795

Author: Florian Weiß / The Allied Museum

Laurel Coleman Steinhice (geb. 1936 in Chattanooga, gest. 2011 in Nashville) über die Tätigkeit ihrer Mutter in der Kriegsberichterstattung beim „Office of War Information“ in London. 1:29 Min. © AlliiertenMuseum/Filmhaus Berlin GmbH 2009
Svetoslao N. Hlopoff, Sohn russischer Eltern, wurde in Italien geboren und wuchs in Frankreich und den USA auf. Im Dezember 1944 wurde er als junger amerikanischer Soldat nach Nancy (Frankreich) verlegt und einige Wochen später beim Besuch einer Orthodoxen Kirche in Paris von einer US-Einheit rekrutiert, die Personal für Berlin suchte. 3:18 Min. © AlliiertenMuseum/Filmhaus Berlin GmbH 2009
Svetoslao N. Hlopoff, Sohn russischer Eltern, wurde in Italien geboren und wuchs in Frankreich und den USA auf. Hlopoff, der als Dolmetscher für die Amerikaner in der Berliner Kommandantur arbeiten sollte, erzählt von der Fahrt des US-Convoi von Halle nach Berlin Anfang Juli 1945. 4:01 Min. © AlliiertenMuseum/Filmhaus Berlin GmbH 2009
Laurel Coleman Steinhice (geb. 1936 in Chattanooga, gest. 2011 in Nashville) über die Rolle ihrer Mutter bei der Verbreitung von Fotodokumenten über NS-Konzentrationslager. 1:59 Min. © AlliiertenMuseum/Filmhaus Berlin GmbH 2009

Symbols of Victory

Staged at the Reichstag by Soviet war reporter Yevgeny Chaldej on 2 May 1945, the photograph of a soldier perched on the windswept rooftop of the devastated building as he raises the Soviet flag above Berlin is one of the most iconic images of the end of the war and of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Ein sowjetischer Soldat hisst die Rote Fahne auf dem Berliner Reichstagsgebäude, 2. Mai 1945. Foto: Jewgenij Chaldej © ullstein bild - Voller Ernst / Jewgeni Chaldej
Sowjetische Soldaten dokumentieren ihren Sieg an den Wänden des Reichstagsgebäudes, Berlin 2. Mai 1945. Foto: Timofej Melnik © deutsch-Russisches Museum Berlin-Karlshorst / Sammlung Timofej Melnik

The Reichstag was seen as the symbol of the National Socialist regime and every soldier in the Red Army knew that the hoisting of the Red Flag above its ruins would spell victory and the end of the war.  Following this military success, the Reichstag, which had been severely damaged in the battle for Berlin, became a site of pilgrimage for the victorious soldiers of the Red Army. The numerous graffiti in Cyrillic on the restored building’s interior walls testify to this today.

The Soviet flag hoisted on the roof was eventually removed from the building in the course of a small parade on 20 May 1945 and is still exhibited in Moscow as the “Banner of Victory”. But symbols are subject to constant change and in 1949 the Soviet War Memorial in East Berlin’s Treptower Park was inaugurated as a new symbol of victory in Berlin. The complex is typical of many Soviet war memorials.

The complex is typical of many Soviet war memorials. Over 7,000 Red Army soldiers are interred in mass graves at the site, making the war memorial a place of mourning. At the center of the complex is a statue of Soviet soldier bearing a German child in his arms as he smashes the symbol of National Socialism – the swastika – with his sword: an image of the liberation of Germany from National Socialism by the Red Army.

Over the decades, the statue became a popular symbol and is still frequently depicted on stamps, coins and other devotional items marking major anniversaries of the end of the war. The memorial remains the first stop for tourists from the post-Soviet countries who travel to Berlin to commemorate the Soviet victory. A festival featuring a variety of commemorative ceremonies is held at the memorial each year around 9 May.

Feierlichkeiten zum 70. Jahrestages des Kriegsendes im sowjetischen Ehrenmal im Treptower Park am 9. Mai 2015. © Cordula Gdaniec

Author: Christoph Meißner / German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst