The Soviet Occupation of Germany
Hunger, Mass Violence and the Struggle for Peace, 1945-1947
Cambridge University Press 2013
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network July 2, 2014 Marshall Poe
For over three years, from June 1941 to late 1944, the German Army and related Nazi forces (the SS, occupation troops, administrative organizations) conducted a Vernichtungskrieg–a war of annihilation–against the Soviet Union on Soviet soil. The Germans killed millions upon millions of Red Army soldiers, Communist Party officials, and ordinary Soviet citizens. As the Germans were pushed back by the Soviets, they conducted a ruthless scorched-earth policy. Stalin’s propaganda organs made much of German atrocities and encouraged Soviet soldiers to punish Germans wherever they found them.
It’s little wonder, then, that Soviet troops sought a kind of wild, indiscriminate revenge against the Germans as they crossed into German territory. They murdered, raped, and pillaged on an incredible scale. But, as Filip Slaveski shows in his remarkable new book The Soviet Occupation of Germany: Hunger, Mass Violence and the Struggle for Peace, 1945-1947 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), the Soviet authorities did not turn a blind-eye to this sort of retribution. Though they wanted to demilitarize Germany and to strip it of industry, they did not plan or condone mass violence against Germans. Moscow quickly replaced the Red Army as an occupying force with SVAG, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany. It’s task was to end the wild violence and govern (indeed, protect) the German population.
Slaveski demonstrates that SVAG’s task was very difficult or, perhaps, impossible. It neither had the political support from the top (Stalin pitted it against the army) nor the resources to both police the million plus vengeful Soviet troops in occupied Germany nor manage the impoverished German population. Ultimately, the violence only ended when most of the Soviet troops left.