A Defeated Nation

Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies including the Soviets on 8/9 May 1945. However, Berlin itself was surrendered on 2 May 1945 by the garrison commander, Herr Generalleutnant Weidling. Hitler had committed suicide on 30 April 1945 and Goebbels the next day.

After Goebbels killed himself, no ranking Government officials remained in Berlin so Weidling, whose men were at the limit of human endurance, low on food, almost out of ammunition, and drinking water out of canals, saw no reason to continue the struggle. He surrendered on the early morning of 2 May and within hours Soviet loud speaker trucks moved slowly through the ruined city playing a recording of Weidling’s written order to surrender which ended with the sentence: “…I order the immediate cessation of resistance. WEIDLING, General of Artillery, Commandant of the Berlin Defense Zone.” Weidling himself was immediately taken by the Soviets to Moscow. He died in the Soviet Union in 1955 under unknown circumstances.

These photographs were taken by a Soviet war photographer and are said by the German news weekly Der Spiegel to have just been discovered in Berlin in the archives of the publishing house, Berliner Verlag. Not one person had ever suspected they were in that warehouse and no one had ever looked at them. Never. Ever.

I find this very curious because the first photo, of the wounded German soldiers on the Unter den Linden, appears in Eisenhower at War 1943-1945 by David Eisenhower, published in 1986 by Random House. Photo credit in the Eisenhower book goes to the Soviet Press Agency, Novosti. Berliner Verlag has their headquarters on the Alexander Platz and the Alexander Platz was in East Berlin. I guess they rounded up all the Soviet photos they could find and stamped their name on them. Nice try but no cigar as far as I am concerned.

Wounded German soldiers line Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main boulevard, as nurses struggle to help them.
Archivists found hundreds of pictures of proud Red Army soldiers hoisting flags over the Quadriga statue on the Brandenburg Gate.
Berlin was a battlefield, still strewn with remnants of the struggle for possession of the city in the spring of 1945.
A couple walks down Dircksenstr., in the center of Berlin. The burning building behind them was nothing special in the chaotic days at the end of the war.
The streets of Berlin were choked with rubble — and Red Army soldiers — after the city’s capture. The war killed 60 million people before it ended on May 8, 1945.
Berlin children used the shell of this food drop “bomb” to make an improvised kayak. In spite of terrible conditions, the photographs are ample evidence that life in Berlin went on.
Desperate Berliners cut meat from a dead horse in the days after the war’s end.
Berlin after the war could be a surreal place. Here, Red Army soldiers gather under shadows of tank barrels and the bombed-out Brandenburg Gate for a poetry reading.
Even in the ruined city, there were signs of life. Here, a woman waters her balcony garden, a matter of survival in the starving city.
Noted Red Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei captured this photo of a typical Berlin intersection in May 1945. A female Soviet soldier is controlling traffic as a German mother crosses the street.
After the city’s surrender, Allied forces quickly took control. Here, a Soviet fighter plane soars over the Spree river.
Photographer Otto Donath is one of the few photographers whose name was attached to archival shots. He focused on everyday scenes, like these children playing in a bombed-out church.
Rooms with a view: A bomb-damaged Berlin building.
On returning home, a refugee finds the graves of her family. The name of the woman was not recorded.
A Soviet soldier uses a German officer’s dagger to cut bread given to German women in post-war Berlin.
A fallen soldier on the streets of Berlin. Pinned to his uniform is the Iron Cross.
In the days after the city was captured, suicide rates skyrocketed. Many of the people who killed themselves were women, afraid of Soviet soldiers or homelessness for the first time.

[Photos courtesy of Der Speigel.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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