Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greater Berlin 1933 to 1945

Capital of Adolf Hitler’s “Third Reich.” Hitler planned to rebuild Berlin as a vulgar imperial capital to govern and intimidate the huge empire he intended to carve out of Europe and western Russia. The totally rebuilt city was to be called “Germania.” It was designed by his personal architect, Albert Speer. Hitler tinkered with scale model plans for Germania to his final days, even as he led Berliners into moral and physical devastation. Berlin was occupied by four Allied armies from 1945. West Berlin was later formed from the British, French, and American occupation zones, while the old Soviet zone became East Berlin, capital of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The Western Allied military presence was more voluntary than an occupation from 1949 to 1994. The Soviet occupation was rougher. The first rudimentary structures of the Berlin Wall were erected on August 13, 1961. Its cynical builders called it the “anti-fascist defense barrier.” The Berlin Wall remained in place until November 9, 1989, when it was torn down and the city reunited. Allied occupation forces officially departed Berlin on September 8, 1994.
For the city of Greater Berlin, the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung (synchronization) resulted in the loss of its municipal self-administration and the placement into power of a Prussian State commissioner under the direct control of the Prussian minister of the interior, Hermann Goering, who purged the city administration of civil servants with democratic party affiliations or those of Jewish descent. Berlin’s schools were affected by this measure. Starting in 1937, principal matters of urban planning and representative architecture in the capital of the Third Reich were placed under the responsibility of Adolf Hitler’s personal confidant, the architect Albert Speer. At the same time, the successive waves of political repression and ostracism against minorities hit segments of all the classes of the Berlin population: Among the first to be interned in the makeshift concentration camp set up in 1933 in nearby Oranienburg were activists of both working-class parties, liberal politicians, publicists, and Christian priests of both confessions. Anti-Semitic purges also hit large parts of Berlin’s universities, the liberal and artistic professions, and the upper class, triggering off a brain drain to Great Britain and the United States from which the capital’s intellectual and cultural life never fully recovered. State terror was moderated for a short period around the Olympic Games of 1936 to provide an opportunity to present Berlin as a modern and highly civilized metropolis to the international public, while the celebration of the (alleged) seven-hundred-year anniversary of Berlin in the following year was extensively used to display the reconcilability between Nazi ideology and Berlin’s sense of local pride.

Also in Berlin, the so-called Kristallnacht of 9–10 November 1938 marked a first climax of public anti-Semitic terror supported by state authorities. During the years of World War II, the Reich capital acquired an eminent and to some extent ambivalent role in the history of the Holocaust. On the one hand, it was the site of the large administrative staffs designing and organizing the registration, expulsion, exploitation, deportation, and murder of the Jewry in Germany as well as in occupied Europe. Of the 161,000 Jews living in Berlin in 1933, only 1,000 to 2,000 still lived in Berlin at the end of the war. The great majority emigrated, while 56,000 were killed by the Nazi terror, often following long years of increasing discrimination and eventual denunciation by their fellow citizens. On the other hand, no other urban agglomeration in Germany provided comparable possibilities to escape and thereby resist the Gestapo thanks to the anonymity that is typical in large cities. Berlin offered myriad opportunities for going underground, hiding with the help of informal networks, and adopting false identities. Thus, although the last two years of the war were marked by the intensified terror of Berlin Nazi ‘‘Gauleiter’’ Goebbels’s ‘‘total war’’ mobilization, by increasing the chaos and the disintegration of the city’s vital functions due to bombing raids, mass evacuation, and, in the last weeks of the war, massive westward flight from the approaching Red Army, it was also a site of survival for thousands of individuals persecuted by the Nazi terror machinery.

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