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The Spoils of War

Frank Falla was a Guernsey journalist when the German occupation began in 1940. He became involved in the production of an underground newspaper and when he was eventually caught he was sent to a German prison (not – please note – a concentration camp). By the time the Americans liberated him he was little more than a bag of bones and close to death. The Americans put him up in a hotel so that he could recover. There he was served breakfast in bed by a German civilian. He writes:

I think her name was Trudi – and she was to spell trouble for some of the American boys. She was a young, attractive brunette who a week later had a pretty rough handling from some soldiers who found out where her bedroom was. Three of them took turns to sleep the night with her. Some of these boys were completely sex-starved after long training in England and fighting their way through France and Germany, and they took it out on this poor girl, who was a week recovering from the ordeal. Still, c’est la guerre!

And all this in an area that was later handed over to the Soviets.

17 comments to The Spoils of War

  • staghounds

    What’s your point?

    Trudi faced the same decisions crime victims face every day in the town where you are reading this.

    In 1945, rape was a crime in the U. S. Army. It was actively prosecuted during and after the war, and soldiers were imprisoned and executed for it. I’m sure some victims kept quiet, and that some GIs got away with rape.

    C’est realite.

    I wonder what the German and Russian military justice organisations did to deter and punish rape?

  • Like staghounds, I’m wondering what the post’s point is. The statement

    she was to spell trouble for some of the American boys

    only makes sense if punishment was inflicted on them (otherwise it would seem the boys were trouble for Trudi but not the reverse).

    The food situation in Germany in post-war 1945 created situations in which many women offered themselves to soldiers for food (which sometimes interacted with the fact that in 1945 there was a sizable number of sex-starved women in Germany, and a great willingness to ‘appease’ the western allies in preference to the Russians). However the OP description does not indicate this was the case here. Being employed to serve breakfast to a patient at the behest of the US military, Trudi would probably have short commons but access to enough food to survive.

    The somewhat callous attitude expressed in the journalist’s final line is understandable, if hardly admirable, given his own experience and his knowledge that other channel islanders had been enslaved and sent to work in Nazi factories where such experiences and worse could happen.

    I wonder what the German and Russian military justice organisations did to deter and punish rape? (staghounds, February 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm)

    On non-Russian soil (especially in Germany, but it was also seen in Germany’s eastern allies, and in Poland, and in the small area of Yugoslavia that was cleared of Germans by the Soviets), Russian troops (more the second line than the first) killed men for trivia and assaulted women casually, especially when drunk. Very occasionally, the higher-ups decided these antics were getting in the way of discipline and would brutally suppress some out-of-hand riot, after which they reverted to their normal indifference. Stalin personally directed that such things be taken lightly.

    At the very start of WWII, the German army made some attempts to enforce discipline even in Poland, investigating such rape allegations as people dared to make to them (and finding in the course of these investigations that the SS already had a different attitude). The invasion of Russia is often seen as the experience that brutalised them significantly, partly through political encouragement and a sense of superiority in the early invasion, partly through the compulsion of the first winter when turning civilians out into the snow and stealing their furs was how many German soldiers survived. Russian folk-memory from WWI said the German army fought hard but was disciplined towards civilians – they learned differently as the WWII invasion progressed even though Stalin’s prior acts made the standard of comparison very low.

    However, as regards the one crime of rape, Nazi legal hostility to inter-racial sex gave a considerable degree of protection (not, of course, complete and universal protection) to women who were otherwise racially the lowest of the low and treated as such. As a result, both at the front and in the concentration camps, the Germans never came near the routine Russian behaviour as regards that one act, though fully rivalling or exceeding communist brutality in all others. Himmler (by having SS women in command and providing attached brothels with racially-acceptable women) made it a rare crime indeed in otherwise unspeakably brutal concentration camps. At the front in Russia, despite Himmler’s efforts, the Waffen SS acquired a reputation for willingness to assault Slavic women which such few Russians as dared mention it to any Germans contrasted with the better-behaved German army units, though even the Waffen SS appear not to have equalled any typical Russian unit’s behaviour in Germany in that one area.

  • Patrick, your point eludes me. What’s being said that would induce us to read the links?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “What’s being said that would induce us to read the links?”

    I’m guessing the idea is that you’ll read the links to find out what he’s talking about?

    The third link discusses the question of whether the war (and later, the cold war) was an issue of good versus evil. Historians avoid the question – the suspicion being that they’re lefties who quietly take Stalin’s side, and therefore are selective about what truths they choose to tell.

    I’m guessing the point of the quote is that Falla (to the extent that he’s addressing the questions Gaddis asked) isn’t taking sides on the question of Allies vs Nazis, he’s taking sides on good versus evil. Many fail to understand the difference.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I’m guessing the point of the post is simply to express wonder at the gulf between our present day attitudes in a time of peace and plenty, and the attitudes of people newly emerged from the horrors of World War II.

  • Nullius in Verba
    February 8, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    “What’s being said that would induce us to read the links?”

    I’m guessing the idea is that you’ll read the links to find out what he’s talking about?

    I need better bait than that.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I need better bait than that.”

    Then I guess you’re not the intended audience. Chacun à son goût.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Thank you, Natalie. That is indeed my point, and better expressed than I could hope to manage.

    There is no suggestion that the GIs ever faced punishment.

  • bobby b

    Natalie Solent (Essex)
    February 8, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    “I’m guessing the point of the post is simply to express wonder at the gulf between our present day attitudes in a time of peace and plenty, and the attitudes of people newly emerged from the horrors of World War II.”

    But there remain plenty of modern-day societies in which rape is still considered to be a legitimate spoil of war. We’ve discussed several of them here. I’d not wish to be an infidel woman in the Middle East, or in many areas in urban Europe, or a woman associated with the wrong gang in many American cities, or a woman seeking an acting job in Hollywood . . .

    I think people continue to emerge from their own WWII’s all the time. It’s just your own particular culture that’s had some time to cool down.

  • Mr Ed

    I confess that I struggle to see the point of this post, the anecdote from this man is of something that we cannot be sure that he witnessed (or heard), or if he inferred, and the background is hazy. As others have noted, the US Army did have rules of conduct in the field, that discipline may have broken down from time to time would not be surprising, any army is likely to have some criminal elements in it. It also reminds us how far east the US Army got, and how a lot of post-War brutality might have been averted had the Western allies held firm against the Soviets.

    In terms of atrocities, here is a clip that purports to be a young German woman expelled from Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of WW2 apparently found wandering down a road near the Czechoslovak/German border, evidently in a state. Two wrongs do not a right make.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But there remain plenty of modern-day societies in which rape is still considered to be a legitimate spoil of war. We’ve discussed several of them here.”

    Yes, and it makes an interesting contrast, doesn’t it?

    When it’s a group of American GIs, comments rightly point out the limitations of the evidence, the small proportion committing crimes, the American Army’s strict laws against it, and the observation that any community will have ‘criminal elements’ in it. People look for the context.

    A major reason rape happens so often in war is that war exaggerates the “us” versus “them” psychology to an extreme, which dehumises the “enemy”, and turns off a lot of our moral judgements (which don’t apply to the enemy class) and indeed rationality. A crime by any of “them” taints the entire group, and justifies unlimited reprisals. Similar crimes by any of “us” have context. It’s why GIs who had fought their way across Europe could think that a German girl ‘didn’t matter’. But it’s also why the Nazi and Stalinists – raised on a strong diet of “us” versus “them” psychology – would be so much more brutal than Westerners who were not.

    I don’t think it’s entirely the recent heat of war that makes us think like this. The Us-and-Them mentality is wired into every human brain. The major difference is in what groups our culture applies it to. While the culture of war is one example where it’s particularly noticeable and particularly strongly emphasised, we’re not as far away from it today as we like to think we are.

    For another example, consider how people feel about prison rape. How much does our culture care?

  • When it’s a group of American GIs, comments rightly point out the limitations of the evidence (Nullius in Verba, February 9, 2020 at 1:28 pm)

    My comment didn’t. I see no very great reason to question whether something happened that the writer (who appears to have been in a position to observe, being served food by her daily) said the victim “was a week recovering from”. And I noted the phrasing was odd if there were no consequences for the perpetrators – though of course, particularly in an area very briefly occupied by the US army at the very end of WWII, before being handed to the soviets, one can think of several circumstances why there might not have been.

    “C’est la guerre” might specifically mean that the writer felt the soldiers should not have faced consequences, but it might just mean he had personally seen so much worse and knew of so much worse that, though he witnessed Trudi’s week of emotional recovering from the incident and felt pity for the “poor girl”, he didn’t feel that much. This could indeed be the “gulf” between then and now that Natalie and Patrick referred to – whereas if the writer actually did not think US and UK military behaviour should be better and such things punished where feasible then the gulf would be between him and the general behaviour of western troops that contrasted so immensely (and intentionally) with that of Stalin’s soldiers.

    Some years ago, the discovery of a few rail cracks caused all the south-eastern commuting trains to crawl at 20-miles-per-hour for weeks while every rail was checked. One morning I heard two old commuters discussing how in the 1950s, their train had roared past past wrecked carriages from a crash the day before. It was not that 1950s people thought crashes were OK, or negligent maintenance should not be remedied, but, with the war a recent memory, the attitude “these things happen, and you carry on” was much stronger.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “My comment didn’t.”

    I didn’t say yours did. But Mr Ed’s did. “…the anecdote from this man is of something that we cannot be sure that he witnessed (or heard), or if he inferred, and the background is hazy”.

    ““C’est la guerre” might specifically mean that the writer felt the soldiers should not have faced consequences, but it might just mean he had personally seen so much worse and knew of so much worse that, though he witnessed Trudi’s week of emotional recovering from the incident and felt pity for the “poor girl”, he didn’t feel that much.”

    I read it as being meant ironically – someone who was himself a victim of this sort of atrocity passing comment on the way even his own society had come to regard this sort of thing as normal, excusable, understandable, just a part of what happens in a war. It’s a criticism of war in general, that it does this even to good people, rather than as a criticism of anyone, or any side, in particular.

    However, I agree that in isolation the quote is somewhat ambiguous. If others read it differently, that wouldn’t be a surprise.

  • bobby b

    Patrick Crozier
    February 9, 2020 at 7:23 am

    “There is no suggestion that the GIs ever faced punishment.”

    I read the following sentence as indicating that they did face punishment:

    “I think her name was Trudi – and she was to spell trouble for some of the American boys.”

    But, only seeing that one paragraph without context, I’m only guessing.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The writer’s assertion that the GI “were completely sex-starved after long training in England and fighting their way through France and Germany” is rubbish. The troops stationed in England waiting for D-Day got regular leaves, and there were plenty of willing whores. (My father served in the Eighth Air Force. He told how while on leave in London, still blacked out (in 1944), he’d meet a woman with her coat open and a flashlight illuminating her bare breasts, saying “‘Ow’d ya like ta play with these?”)

    That’s if they ever were stationed in Britain. The majority of US troops in Germany in 1945 arrived after D-Day and landed in France. Where they were in action at times, but also had leave sometimes. In any case, I’d very much doubt if he had any particular knowledge of those men’s service records. They might have arrived in March 1945, or been assigned to rear-echelon duties. (I assume that the Americans he met were a combat unit, but quite a lot of men were transferred from the Services of Supply to front line units in winter 1945.)

    Final point: Major Vladimir “Popski” Peniakoff spent some time in Algiers after “Popski’s Private Army” had been several weeks in the desert. He wrote that those like him were barely interested in women, whereas the HQ officers permanently stationed there were constant visitors to the brothels. IOW, a few weeks or even months of forced celibacy will not turn a man into a rapist. One gets used to doing without.

  • Paul Marks

    Each of us faces the choice between good and evil every day of our lives – the struggle between good and evil is conducted within us.

    I know this – for there is much (very much) evil in me.

    When we give in to evil impulses (when we do not make the effort to use our Free Will, our Moral Agency, to resist our evil desires) then we must be PUNISHED.

    As others have pointed out above – the United States Army did not recognise being “sex starved” as as defence.

    The rapists should have been punished to the full extent of military law – which is not soft.

    Of course the men could have taken the punishment into their own hands – by suicide. Had they done so their families could have spared the disgrace of a trial and having a rapist in the family.

    True repentance is not saying a few words – true repentance is seeking punishment, or inflicting it upon one’s self.

  • mickc

    Paul Marks
    I think you are wrong. Repentance is not seeking punishment; it cannot be so, because that requires the punishment to be enacted by an outside agency. Repentance should be an independent decision and action.
    Your second definition seems nearer the true concept; it must surely be the realisation of the evil one has committed and the remorse and guilt one feels for having done so, probably, but not necessarily, followed by some act of atonement. The act of atonement would normally be the commission of a good of some form.
    It seems unlikely the perpetrators in this case repented at the time.

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