VE Day 70: Beaten Germans forced to suffer

The badly damaged German Reichstag at the end of the Second World War

The badly damaged German Reichstag at the end of the Second World War

Commodore Peter Coulson talking to workers at Govan shipyard, where the first sheet of steel was cut for HMS Spey

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In February 1945, Allied leaders attended the Yalta conference in Crimea to discuss the potential terms of Germany’s inevitable surrender.

The group decided that the carving up of German territory was a “requisite for future peace and security”, even though the country was already on its knees.

Civilians jeer a German Army prisoner of war as he is led away by a French Resistance fighter after the liberation of Paris

Civilians jeer a German Army prisoner of war as he is led away by a French Resistance fighter after the liberation of Paris

During the war years, up to 70% of Germany’s housing was estimated to have been destroyed and its industrial output had been slashed to one third of pre-war levels. Millions of its citizens were dead and millions more were scattered – starving and scared – across a Europe that despised them.

Nearly three million Germans are thought to have died after VE Day – either forced out of their homes to starve, brutally raped by Soviet forces or killed in grief­ stricken revenge attacks.

Even those who survived faced a hellish struggle. Over the few years after surrender, around 12 million Germans fled or were expelled from east ­central Europe, forced to trek back to a country that had no way to support them.

For many German soldiers, the pain lasted even longer.

While western Allies released their final prisoners of war in 1948, it’s thought that between 400,000 and one million German prisoners of war were forced into slave labour in copper or coal mines by the Russians for more than a decade.

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