Germany 1945 – The Last Months of the War, an exhibit in the Topographie des Terrors Museum in Berlin, shows the grimness of the last months of WWII in the country.
German Ilse Grassmann wore a tense expression on her face while sitting at home with her three children. It was Christmas of 1944 yet the table before them was barren of any Christmas food and gifts. The expression on her face was a sign of things that had happened to her family and more to come — her 18-year-old son was already called up by the Nazis and was currently in Denmark fighting against the Allied forces. What was more, her husband was due to be called up soon.
This scene speaks in general of how Germans felt during the last months of the Second World War. In those times, only a few believed Hitler’s claims that he could still bring the country to Endsieg or to definitive victory. In contrast to that, many feared the consequences the country’s defeat would bring.
The tides have turned. The war which Germany had unleashed throughout the world had come back to consume it.
Ilse Grassmann’s picture is part of the Berlin exhibit Germany 1945 – The Last Months of the War. The said display marks the upcoming 70th anniversary of WWII’s end. The subjects of the said museum exhibit show ordinary people in Nazi Germany, the ones caught between their murderous leaders and the Allied troops — the encroaching foe. The display covers the the time on which the Nazi leaders launched a major offensive campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, that not only caught the Allies by surprise and incurred a bloodbath but also resulted to massive losses in the German’s side. The attack was made just before Christmas of 1944.
According to historian and exhibit curator Claudia Steur, if Germany’s government had been acting responsibly during that time, it would have opted for peace negotiation as they already saw the country was doomed. However, Steur added, Hitler had never given a thought to his own people and felt that if they couldn’t win, then, they were better off dead.
Starting October of 1944, young men until those aging 60 years old were called up to serve in the German army and “fight for the Fatherland”. Later on, the maximum cut-off age was moved to 70 years old. Additionally, women were allowed to carry arms and participate.
Concurrently, any German found listening to radio broadcasts from the enemy’s radio stations were at risk of facing death sentence. It was Nazi Germany’s way of keeping the truth from its people — that they were on the verge of defeat. Of course, the countless German cities in ruins were evidences they couldn’t veil from the people’s eyes.
Instead of promoting Nazism during the last months of the war, Nazi propaganda rolled on a different wheel. It went overdrive to show what the enemy, most especially the Soviets, would do to German citizens they captured. Reports of the Red Army executing mass rapes and other atrocities stoked the fear in the hearts of the German people and caused many to flee westward. Effective means of committing suicide, then, became a common topic in conversations and when the spring of 1945 came along, German authorities distributed thousands of cyanide capsules in Germany’s capital city alone.