What do Americans think of France?

Ruined lives of occupiers and vanquished

In the spring of 1945, French and American occupation soldiers encounter the German civilian population in the southwest. The atmosphere is characterized by fear, distrust, but also expectations.

When French and American occupation soldiers and the German civilian population met in the spring of 1945, these were people who knew little about each other. Like many of his allied comrades, the Frenchman Aimé Petit marched into Germany with feelings of revenge, but quickly realized "that the Germans suffered as much as we did in France". The American Gerald Schwartz is shocked to note the destruction the Allied bombing has left in German cities.

Nevertheless, the first weeks of the occupation are often determined by arbitrary and violent actions. French soldiers, mostly from Morocco, rape, pillage and use the property of the defeated. Civilians who lynched American bomber pilots who had crashed are being executed in Bruchsal. When a mass grave with murdered French resistance fighters is found in Pforzheim, residents of the city have to dig up the bodies, wash them, re-clothe them and bury them in a dignified manner under the supervision of the occupation soldier. Again and again young men are picked up on the street and deported to work in France. For weeks the relatives have no news of the fate of their sons, brothers or grandchildren.

Even when the situation calmed down a bit and the Allies set about building a new administration in their zones of occupation, the relationship between the occupiers and the vanquished initially remained tense. Points of contention are the difficult supply situation, the lack of living space, raids by the Allies on the black market and hamster trips. What the Allies understand as necessary measures for compulsory cultivation is in the eyes of many Germans pure harassment.

Klaus Maischhofer from Pforzheim and Gisela Linger from Weingarten tell how they managed to "improve" the menu again and again with great ingenuity. Many allies do not yet trust the Germans. In parts of the American zone, mood reports are regularly collected, which are intended to provide information on the attitude of the population towards the occupiers. With films, courses, events and the establishment of a self-managed student residence in Heidelberg, in which the formation of a new "democratic elite" is to be promoted, the Americans in particular are trying to "re-educate" the Germans.

The relationship between the occupiers and the vanquished becomes noticeably better as the supply situation improves and the Germans and Allies regard each other more as comrades-in-arms than as opponents in the approaching Cold War. The Heidelberg actress and singer Helga Schmidle, who began her career in American clubs in the post-war period, reports how the occupiers and the vanquished then came closer together and how the culture of the occupiers eventually became the culture of many Germans. And Elfriede Peter from Tübingen talks about the strongest argument for the rapprochement between the occupiers and the vanquished - love. She married the French soldier André Peter and followed him to France.

As of February 5, 2015, 5:09 p.m.