Berlin at War: Life on the Home Front

History BerlinEminent historian Roger Moorhouse made a welcome return to the History Group and the attendance of 50 demonstrated the interest created by his 2014 talk on “the Berlin Wall”. Drawing this time on material contained in his highly praised book “Berlin at War”, he discussed three aspects of life on the Berlin home front – rationing, evacuation and bombing.

The Nazis made very conscious efforts to keep the population’s support. The rationing that was introduced shortly before the outbreak of war was initially quite generous and provided an acceptable balanced diet. However, artificial goods such as ersatzkaffee – a coffee made from acorn and barley seeds – were used and there was a flourishing black market. Berliners would make (illegal) trips in to the countryside to obtain fresh produce. Corruption was also widespread. Life inevitably got harder and rationing became more stringent as the war progressed and measures to maintain a food supply included the slaughter of animals from Berlin Zoo.

Between 1940 and 1945, about 2.8 million German children were sent from German cities to KLV (Kinderlandverschickung) camps – “relocation of children to the countryside”. Each camp was run by a Nazi approved teacher but was controlled by a Hitler Youth squad leader. The camps replaced big city grammar schools, most of which were closed due to the bombing, and a harsh regime and indoctrination were the norm. Evacuation to these camps was voluntary, although reluctant parents were strongly encouraged to send their children away to the camps.

The bombing of Berlin, which was three times the tonnage that fell on London and killed many thousands of people, did not, Roger argued, have the hoped for demoralising effect on the city’s occupants. Bomber Harris stated that the bombing of Berlin ” will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft. It will cost Germany the war.” but, as with London during the Blitz, it did in fact serve to strengthen the Berliners’ resolve.

The Nazi regime was acutely aware of the political necessity of protecting the Reich capital against air raids. Even before the war, work had begun on an extensive system of public shelters. By 1941 five huge public shelters gave shelter to 65,000 people. The shelters included three Flak towers, which had enormously tough platforms for both searchlights and anti-aircraft guns and they successfully withstood the allied bombing. Other shelters were built under government buildings and many U-Bahn stations were converted. Berliners were taken unawares by the bombing. When the war began, Goering had assured them it could not happen. He boasted that no enemy planes could ever break through the outer and inner rings of the capital’s anti-aircraft defence.

After the war the amount of rubble from the bombing was so vast it was heaped up during the following twenty years as the city was cleared and rebuilt, to make the 8 hills now surrounding Berlin.
The general consensus after the meeting was “can we have Roger back?”…so he has been booked to return again next November for a talk “Under Hitler’s Nose..Jews in Wartime Berlin” .