Germany’s Zero Hour

The 8th of May always brings back memories of 1945, because for me the end of the war in Europe really was a zero hour.

When the first Soviet soldiers came up our little street in the Western suburbs of Berlin, we knew that the great slaughter was coming to an end. My father who had been in the resistance would come back from Brandenburg prison. I no longer needed to hide as I had done after my release from a Gestapo camp at the beginning of February. Somehow a new life would begin.

First, however, was the chaos. The Nazis were gone, and the occupation powers had not yet set up any kind of administration. We all went looting the local shops; I still have the slim volumes of romantic poetry which my 16-year-old self took from a bookshop. The occupation troops went on a rampage. Food was hard to find. My father was taken from prison and transported straight to central Berlin, where he was told to set up the office for Berlin’s energy supply, a task that had to be done literally from nothing. There was no power, no transport, no organised life of any kind for a period.

Was it defeat or liberation? For Germans this question was not easily answered, though clearly our family was liberated in every sense. The question then was this: liberated for what? Where do we go from here?