The Pittsburgh Press (November 27, 1944)
‘The Twilight of the Gods’ –
Reich civilians drag half alive through days, nights of terror
Bombs raze their homes, but they struggle on, spurred by Himmler’s sadistic cutthroats
By Nat A. Barrows
Stockholm, Sweden –
Inside the besieged and doomed fortress of Germany, some 80 million Herrenvolk brace themselves dismally, but fanatically, for ever greater sacrifices.
Against them, from the west, east and south, presses the mightiest coordinated assault in history. Their Damocles’ sword stirs ominously in the repercussions of “earthquake bombs,” infantry penetrations, home front shortages and increasing Nazi demands for more manpower, more production, more sacrifices.
What is going on there behind the West Wall? What is the picture inside Germany today as the twilight of its approaching sixth war winter foreshadows a new version of “the twilight of the gods”? What are the Germans doing and thinking and experiencing while their day of retribution draws inevitably closer?
Part of the story of life inside Germany can be told from Stockholm – gathered from neutral travelers, deserters, escaped prisoners, Swedish correspondents, and the Nazi press.
First, let us examine German civilians in the west.
Overstrained by excessive factory labors, trench-digging, Volkssturm (People’s Army) drills, and unending dashes to air-raid shelters, civilians immediately behind the West Wall shamble through their rubble like zombies, only half alive. Terror haunts them every minute – terror of bombs, terror of what the Nazis tell them will follow Allied victory, terror of what cruelties Heinrich Himmler’s sadistic cutthroats will inflict for the slightest deviation from Nazi policies.
Goebbels rants: We want revenge
Into their bomb-deafened ears, Propaganda Minister Goebbels’ frenzied propaganda line rants unceasingly:
Never cry for mercy… never bend the proud German neck under the foot of the Mongol or Jew… We want revenge, revenge… We have but one will: To use the cruelest means ever invented by German brains.
They have been mesmerized by their leaders into amazing feats of endurance and their outlook remains utterly fanatical.
But the strain is terrific. One informant now in Sweden reports a growing undercurrent among civilians in the Ruhr, Saar and Wurm districts for relief from their nightmares. Their heads swirl and their backs ache and they drag themselves wearily from one regimented task to another. But any mass desires for capitulation perish quickly before Gestapo and SS firing squads.
They are caught in the trap they long ago permitted the Nazis to build around them and so they carry on now, ready to fight to the death, ready for any sacrifice.
Health problems grow worse daily. Sewage backs up; unboiled water has become deadlier than bomb blasts; defective gas mains cause explosions in streets and homes.
The Nazis do not release any trustworthy figures on the number of casualties after bombing raids. Some idea, however, can be obtained by frequent notices in the papers that local crematories cannot receive any more bodies for so many days, in some cases as long as a week.
Transportation in target cities approaches chaos. After a heavy raid, only the main streets are cleared. Rescue squads have specific instructions not to bother with wrecked buildings until approachable cellars have been searched.
One notice reads:
It is too dangerous to crawl amid debris and it takes too much time. Besides, people in such wreckage probably are dead, anyway.
The housing shortage is nearly as serious as the problem of bringing in food for target cities. Special food trains are “everywhere” after air raids, each capable of supplying 8,000 meals daily in three shifts, but the shelter problem grows more acute with each new ton of Allied bombs.
Hospital trains rumble day and night
In Duisburg, for instance, the authorities will permit repairs only to the kitchen and one room due to the shortage of labor and materials. Civilians of all cities must share their homes with shelterless persons – the minimum of two to each room. Two children under 14 count as one person.
The Nazis admit:
Hospital trains rumble day and night from bombed areas, every kind of store and shop is being closed if it is anyway possible. Textile trains bring in clothes for victims but the need for clothing is desperate.
Provincial newspapers bear out travelers’ reports of the utmost confusion near shelters and bunkers during air raids. It has reached the stage where arrests are being made for “unnecessary complaints” about inadequate shelter space. Dozens of small-town papers this week carry warnings that civilians must accept the fact that not everybody is able to find safety inside shelters and, therefore, must conduct themselves properly at entrances.
Factory workers must return to their jobs immediately the all-clear sounds, “regardless of whether their own homes have been hit.” The frequency of alarms is helping the Allies greatly in reducing manufacturing output.
Now that our armies drive against the Rhine, the Germans have less prewarning of air raids than ever before. The new Nazi warning system – the Akute Luftgefahr – sounds more frequently than any other. The Akute Luftgefahr alarm means that all work must halt immediately and workers take shelter.
The earlier alert – the Vollalarm – gives some 10- or 12-minutes’ warning but workers cannot leave their benches until the Akute Luftgefahr sounds.
“The new arrangement was made because we cannot possibly stand up under constant alarm,” says the Nazi explanation. It adds significantly: “But in the front cities, the raids come too quickly for us.”
Some cities no longer have electricity for their air alert system and are now forced to resort to buglers deployed on rooftops, sounding three blasts when they actually see incoming bombers.
By then, it is usually too late to attain outside shelters.
Hour by hour, the echoes of the Luftwaffe bomber planes over Rotterdam, Warsaw, Stalingrad, London, return to the Fatherland in thundering retribution.