VE Day: Address to the German People

VE Day: Address to the German People

The war in Europe is over, but while the Allies are victorious, the evil that the Nazis represented remains to be eradicated.


The war in Europe is over, but while the Allies are victorious, the evil that the Nazis represented remains to be eradicated.

This is an actual message to the German people, broadcast to them in the hour of Nazism’s catastrophic defeat. It was prepared by Germany’s most distinguished scholar in exile and transmitted by the Office of War Information.

Santa Monica, Cal., May 6

Some have survived, the pitiable remnants of the multitudes of innocent men, women, and children who were sent to German concentration camps. Most of them suffered a horrible death, many at the last moment before the arrival of salvation, their emaciated corpses and charred bones were found along with the ingenious contrivances which served for their extermination. It is a solace to know that these few have been wrested from the power of their tormentors and returned to the laws of humanity. For the German, however, quite different emotions are mingled with this feeling of relief.

The thick-walled torture chamber that Hitlerism had made of Germany is broken open, and our disgrace is bared to the eyes of the world. Foreign commissions who have been shown these incredible scenes report home that the horrors they have seen exceed anything that men could imagine. It is our disgrace, German readers and listeners, for every German—everyone who speaks German, writes German, has lived as a German—is affected by this shameful exposure. It is not a small clique of criminals who are involved; hundreds of thousands of a so-called German Elite—men, youths, and brutish women—committed these misdeeds in morbid lust under the influence of the insane doctrines of National Socialism. Call it the dark potentialities of human nature in general that are revealed here, but remember that it was Germans, hundreds of thousands of them, who revealed those potentialities. The world shudders at the sight of Germany. Even the German who escaped in ample time from the realm of National Socialist leadership, who did not like to live in the vicinity of these abodes of abomination, did not like to go about his business in ostensible virtue and pretend to know nothing while the wind carried the stench of charred human flesh to his nostrils—even this German is ashamed in the depths of his soul for the things that were possible in the land of his fathers and his masters.

It comes as a shock to such a German that in the twelve years of the Hitler regime one think only, Nazi rule, could induce such human depravity in a people certainly not by nature devoid of justice and morality. One of the last commentators on the Goebbels radio, a man named Fritsche, shouted into the microphone that nothing could alter the fact that National Socialism was “the only appropriate form of government for the German people” and that Germany was made for this regime. This he dared to say to people who, full of dire foreboding, had lived for more than a decade under National Socialism and who now, amid the ruins of their country, confronted a catastrophe the like of which neither their own nor any other history has ever witnessed. The “only appropriate form of government” for the German people led them in just a few years into not only the most terrible but also the most disgraceful defeat; so that Germany stands today as the abomination of mankind and the epitome of evil. Justice and truth strangled, falsehood reigning supreme, liberty trampled, character and decency crushed, people drilled from childhood in the blasphemous delusion of racial superiority, in the primacy and right of violence, educated for nothing but covetousness, rape, and looting—that was National Socialism, That is supposed to be “German,” the “only form of government appropriate to the German nature.” My readers and listeners in Germany, you were unable to rid yourselves of this rule by your own strength. The liberators had to come from abroad. They have occupied your broken country and will have to govern it for years. At least do not regard them as your enemies, as Bishop Galen incites you to do. Do not, like this ill-advised cleric, regard yourselves primarily as Germans, but as men and women returned to humanity, as Germans who after twelve years of Hitler want to be human beings again.

Power is lost, but power is not everything. It is not even the main thing. And German greatness was never a matter of power. It was once German and may be German again to win respect and admiration by the human contribution, by the power of the sovereign spirit.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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