European Front


WHILE Allied guns pound at the borders of the Third Reich, the revolutionary implications of the war are becoming more sharply defined all over Europe. Prime Minister Churchill’s dictum that this struggle is becoming “less and less ideological” is getting some hard contradiction. Strikes, riots, mass demonstrations, and cabinet crises involve more than the discontent normal to conditions of economic breakdown.

Nor are these troubles explained by emphasizing the “perils of communism,” though communist factions contribute to the growing din. In Belgium, in France, in Greece, in Italy, and in Poland, communists represent a minority in the resistance groups and enlist support for policies they advocate only where these policies appeal to moderate and liberal elements.

In nation after nation a bitter struggle is developing between the representatives of the system which produced this war, and the multitudes, backed by patriot groups, who insist that this struggle must transcend mere military victory and achieve deep, democratic revision of governmental systems. The alternative is to impose order by force.

This issue is causing the tussle between the Belgian resistance forces and the regime instituted by returned exiles from London, following Belgium’s liberation. The same is true of the crisis in Greece and of the turmoil in Italy. Even in the confused wrangling of the disintegrating Polish government in exile the issue is drastic reform and democratization of the Polish government.

Insistence by the Allied High Command that there must be no flare-up of civil strife in Belgium along supply lines vital to military operations is certainly justified. Regardless of domestic quarrels, the paramount question for the Allies is military defeat of the Germans. All other issues must be subordinated to that end.

If the policy ended there, it would merit no concern. Strong suspicion of quite other aims is rife, however, among the Belgians. In Belgium, as in Italy and in Greece, the forces of reaction emerge more and more confidently into the open. Pre-war appeasers, fascist collaborators, and not a few notorious traitors enjoy strange immunity from prosecution and are even having their authority restored.

The war and the purge

In the liberated countries almost without exception the purge is lagging. In Belgium only a handful of the 60,000 accused have been brought to trial by a government which insists upon disarming and disbanding the patriotic groups who fought the Germans during occupation.

In Italy, intervention by the British against efforts to press the cleanup of prominent fascists and collaborators helped tumble the Bonomi cabinet, keeps that wretched nation in a state of explosive confusion, and sharpens the cleavage between champions of democracy and the forces of reaction. Liberals and moderates are being driven to the left.

In Greece, the resistance forces — especially the EAM — coöperated loyally with the Papandreou regime until, under British pressure, it sought to disarm and disband the patriots, while allowing factions identified with monarchy to retain arms. The result was civil war. Almost every notable traitor or collaborator arrested by the EAM, and turned over to the government for trial, walks the streets of Athens a free man, apparently immune from the visitations of justice.

In Greece, as in Italy, the domestic groups favorable to the idea of restoring obsolescent dynasties to full power are precisely those reactionaries of the Army, the Navy, industry, and the aristocracy who were fascism’s most enthusiastic supporters before and during German occupation.

Allied influence in Europe, when employed to thwart the meting out of justice to traitors and supporters of fascism, cannot fail to generate forces which bode ill for the future peace of the continent. This political truism underlies the sharp divergence of British and American policies quite as much as does American insistence on the democratic principle.

When thieves fall out

No partnership in crime and tyranny during the life span of Nazi Germany is stranger than the interests that now unite Goebbels and Himmler. The fact that Germany is lurching toward defeat increases the significance of this weird combination of psychology and sadism.

Goebbels’s hatred of Göring is one of the epics of Party friction in the Reich. With Goebbels’s aid, Himmler elbowed Göring out of his place as secondin-command when Hitler faded from the public scene. Now Göring is almost as much a figure of mystery as Hitler himself. Under constant surveillance by Himmler’s agents, the deposed heir-apparent of the Führer still symbolizes to the distrustful Himmler the link between the old Party hierarchy and the older section of the Army command.

Göring’s role as go-between with the industrialists is the present cause of Himmler’s watchfulness. The “chimney Junkers,” as their history attests, are far more dangerous, secretive, and abrupt as opponents than any to be found in the Army. The builders of Hitler’s regime, they display increasing restlessness with his successor, the iron-fisted Chief Terrorist.

Germany’s progress into disaster since the great Allied offensive struck the Saar and the Rhineland stimulates anxiety among the rulers of German heavy industry. Since midsummer they have lost control of nearly 22 million tons of steel a year because of the advances of the victorious Allies. The Saar and the Ruhr represent about half of what is left them. So once more their agents are busy with peace feelers — a move which Himmler can interpret only as a threat to his life.

This feud lately came into the open with the refusal of two of the largest banks in Germany to honor the government’s short-term notes — a stand which reveals to the glum Herrenvolk that their country is bankrupt and that the value of savings is a fiction maintained by police pistols. Himmler’s dilemma is that the Party needs industrialist support for its post-war plans.

The gravediggers army

Goebbels is now exploiting the Party’s final bid to postpone defeat — the People’s Army or Volkssturm. The Volkssturm reveals the desperation of Nazi officialdom, from Wilhelmstrasse to the lowest block leader in the provinces. Ill trained, physically unfit, badly equipped, dourly unwilling, most of the conscripts in combat areas on the western front show that while they are fair troops when manning pillboxes or machine-gun nests, they are easy prey to panic and surrender hastily. In mobile warfare in Hungary they have proved useless.

Himmler and Goebbels, aided by the Party bosses in every district throughout Germany, have combed about two million men from the Volkssturm muster rolls for active duty as Volksgrenadiere with the Wehrmacht. The bulk of these are boys in their middle teens and men past fifty-five.

Nothing since the war began has hit the structure of life in the Third Reich so disabling a blow as this mobilization of the Volkssturm. The economic organization of the country has been turned upside down. Retail and wholesale trades, stores, food shops, hotels, restaurants, bathing resorts, hospitals, public and parochial schools, the ministry, flower shops, drugstores, art shops, all the public services and the professions, have been stripped. Even the inmates of institutions for defectives have not been spared. General de Tassigny’s French forces lately captured a whole company of deaf mutes near Strasbourg!

The main body of the amazing People’s Army consists of an enormous mass of unskilled laborers of both sexes and all ages. The age limit runs as high as seventy-five years for women in Vienna. By thousands they wield picks and shovels, throwing up breastworks, excavating tank ditches by the mile, digging gun emplacements, building obstacles along strategic roads.

Overseers for this army are Party officers, backed by representatives of the Gestapo. Himmler warns all subordinate Party officials again and again that they are working to save their lives as well as Germany, because defeat will mean their execution by the Allies. A fantastic barrage of Nazi propaganda, including grisly tales of the alleged torture which awaits all Germans at Allied hands, is poured over the hosts of the Volkssturm daily to stimulate fanaticism.

Fear rules the Reich

Only the contingents destined for the Volksgrenadiere are allowed to retain any weapons. No firearms are permitted the rest of the People’s Army except at drills, after which a careful check is made and the weapons are lodged in the keeping of the local Party bosses. Nevertheless, thefts of arms from these depots are on the increase.

According to hints given by Goebbels, the Nazi chieftains hope that, once the new terror indoctrination is completed, it will be possible to form units from the great mass of the Volkssturm as guerrilla fighters. These, commanded by special guerrilla officers, will carry out Himmler’s pledge to fight to the last gooseberry bush in the Reich.

Apathetic and gloomy before the Volkssturm muster began, the Germans now show signs of bitter hatred and rebellion against the Party men. Mass strikes are answered by machine guns. Desertions from the People’s Army have attained enormous proportions. An estimated 150,000 have taken refuge in the Bavarian Alps. The women are proving especially difficult to handle.

Highly significant are the warnings issued to members of the Volkssturm who have not yet left their home districts, to beware of listening to stories told by returned “diggers,” fugitive Army personnel, and refugees from front areas. Parents are cautioned not to heed “lying complaints” written home from work areas by their commandeered children. People’s Courts supplement these strictures with harsh rigor.

The indivisibility of peace

During the feverish days when appeasement ruled the roost at London and Paris, a noted Russian diplomat delivered himself of an aphorism. “Peace,” he announced, “is indivisible.” Stalin, speaking on the Dumbarton Oaks program, reaffirms the same thesis: “Can we expect the activities of this world organization to be sufficiently effective? They will be effective only if the great powers which have borne the brunt of the war continue to act in a spirit of unanimity and accord. They will not be effective if this essential condition is violated.”

Stalin’s comment is important. It provides a key with which the enigmas of Russia’s present policy may be unlocked. Also it explains the diplomatic high jinks attending Britain’s efforts to build a bloc of four empires, with herself as the senior partner.

The British idea is to weld the British, French, Belgians, and Dutch in close collaboration for the postwar period. This would provide greater security for Western Europe. In addition it would balance the gigantic power of Russia in the East and the obvious strength of the United States in the West.

This plan is having hard sledding — to the evident annoyance of Downing Street. Belgium is not at all certain that a “Western bloc” alone is enough for her, and General de Gaulle has broken all records for diplomatic speed in arranging France’s treaty of alliance and mutual assistance with Russia. This pact sets up joint plans for post-war collaboration and inaugurates an inclusive new relationship between the two countries.

Not that Belgium and France will refuse to join the association the British propose. There are obvious benefits for them in such a tie-up. But Great Britain’s plans, sketched along the old familiar lines of a separate power bloc which would tend to set itself off against Russia in Western Europe and the Mediterranean, have run into collision with Russia’s dictum that “peace is indivisible.” Differences between London and Moscow are “differences at almost every point.” The results of present maneuvers promise to make diplomatic history.

Russia looks to her fences

In Norway, where the armies of Marshal Kirill Meretskov speed liberation, a policy of cooperation is being developed which promises to tie the Norwegians closely to the Russians. The visit to Moscow of the Norse Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie, and his cabinet colleague, the Norse Minister of Justice, emphasizes what is going on.

French and Belgian leanings toward a Russian alliance undermine the exclusiveness of Britain’s prospective power bloc at its center — in Western Europe. The Moscow agreement between Churchill and Stalin to share in “joint” exercise of influence in Yugoslavia means that Russia will be safe in that quarter. For good measure, she is taking care that Marshal Tito’s plans for reorganizing the Yugoslav nation meet with her approval. He himself will be Premier. Dr. Subasic, who represents that function in the Yugoslav cabinet in exile, and who symbolizes British influence, is relegated to the role of Foreign Minister.

All that is needed to round out Russia’s policy is restoration of the Soviet’s ties with Turkey. Then the Russian doctrine that “peace is indivisible” will be implemented from the North Cape to the Eastern Mediterranean.

It now becomes clear why Russia insisted at Dumbarton Oaks that every great power shall sit in on any case brought before the proposed World Council, even though that power is itself involved, and may exercise a veto on action. The future peace organism, as Moscow sees it, should be so thoroughly welded that it cannot be split. Regional groupings are to be interlaced so completely by a crisscross of alliances that it will be almost a diplomatic impossibility to shake any bloc loose against Russia — or anybody else.