It was heart-breaking, but it seemed true, when a German officer, at whose side I was strolling down Unter den Linden in the first spring of the war told me: “Look around you, Herr Smith. Nowhere a sign of war. Not the slightest difference from two years ago. Is that not the best argument for our strength? We shall never be beaten.” (The first spring of the war would be the spring of 1940.)
German officer to CBS Radio News Correspondent Howard K. Smith as quoted on page 38 of Mr. Smith’s book: Last Train From Berlin: An Eye-Witness Account of Germany at War.
This turned out not to be the case as we all know.
As Smith continued to report from Berlin, he noticed the city gradually becoming dingy and dirty. Once famous for being spotlessly clean, the city became progressively filthier as the war went on since more and more municipal workers were drafted into the forces. This became even more apparent in the last months of 1941. The Germans had attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941 and in the first months of that campaign sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties. So most draft exemptions were revoked and the last street cleaners and sweepers went off to the Army. (Nazi Party officials kept their draft deferments which were never revoked during the war.)
Writes Smith in his book on page 106:
But even appearances are beginning to go now. Berlin is really beginning to look the part of a city-at-war. I should like to stroll down the Unter den Linden and beyond with my officer friend now. That, however, is impossible because a Bolshevik (that is a Soviet soldier) shot both his legs off east of Kiev. If they hadn’t cut off Bus line number one, due to the petrol shortage, we could ride down, or we could take a taxi, if we could find one. It would be mean, but I would like to point out how buildings are getting grey and dirty, and how paint is peeling…
The Nazis took Germany back to the filth and barbarism of medieval times. According to Howard K. Smith, when the Nazis closed the American Express office in Berlin, which at that time functioned primarily as a travel agency, the German employees put the following poster in the window before they locked up and the agency took their leave: a photo of a castle with the slogan “Visit Medieval Germany.”
[Images courtesy of Skyscraper City.]