The second major plot line in "Cold Peace" is the "Worm's View." The point of this plotline is to take the reader out of the clouds where history is spread out for inspection and decisions are being made and try to show what it was like living through the events described.
Most of us go through our lives as the objects of destiny. We are impacted by historical events without having any opportunity to alter them. We might have voted for the politicians that make war or peace -- but it is just as likely that we did not. We certainly have no influence on the actions of foreign powers, yet they have the power to transform our lives.
The strands of this plot line are the stories of ordinary people struggling to survive in post-war Europe. They provide insight into what things looked like "on the ground" with the benefit of insight into the corridors of power. Their concerns are, for the most part, our concerns: finding a job, keeping food on the table, protecting and raising our children, finding love and a partner for life.
In the aftermath of WWII, most of these simple things were challenging in Europe. The U.S. Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, summarized the situation as follows: “Life in Europe as an organised industrial community had come well-nigh to a standstill and, with it, so had production and distribution of goods of every sort.” Furthermore, agricultural production was “lower than at any time since the turn of the century.”
On top of this, the winter of ’46-’47 proved to be the most severe winter in a century. Temperatures dropped far below freezing and stayed there for weeks on end. In Berlin the water supply froze and that meant the sewage system collapsed. So did the railway, preventing the importation of coal. Unable to provide coal for private consumption, public places from pubs and cinemas to air raid shelters were turned into public warming halls. Schools were put on short-weeks and factories were closed. Over 1,000 Berliners literally froze to death, 60 on one night alone. One Berliner who lived through the winter measured the temperature in her kitchen at -6 degrees centigrade and described how her bread was frozen solid. She went on to say:
Most of the families which sold their porcelain,
carpets, and furniture to get money to buy fat and meat on the black
market…have nothing more to sell and are no longer able to buy black market
food. People have no coal to heat rooms…Old people are dying like flies…There
is no water in the houses because all is frozen.[i]
In Britain the situation was only marginally better. The frigid winter, even more unusual in the UK than in Berlin, exhausted coal reserves, leading to power shortages. In December, England’s largest auto plant was forced to shut down. Then the Thames froze all the way from Windsor to the sea, closing London to coal barges and preventing the supply of coal to power stations. Electricity to households was reduced to six hours per day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. By February, the crisis was so acute and widespread that the Government ordered all non-essential factories to close for three solid weeks. Unemployment shot up to 2.3 million. Welfare payments for these unemployed drained the already depleted treasury. Meanwhile the Government had also been forced to cut food rations to below wartime levels.
The cold receded, but the mood of despondency remained -- in both Britain and Berlin. In Germany, however, doctors also reported an increase in TB, pneumonia and other illnesses. By now most urban dwellers in Germany (and that was the majority) had not seen milk, sugar, fat or vegetables since the end of the war. Chronic under-nourishment had become a problem, causing a drop in industrial production per worker by 20%. People, particularly the elderly, were dying of hunger still. A social worker summed up the situation by saying: “The energies of the people are spent in pursuit of a loaf of bread and a pair of shoes. Hope is alien.”[ii] Rations were now set at 1,275 calories per day in the U.S. zone (still less than half what Americans then considered normal) and at 1,040 calories in the British zone, which was more industrial and had less agriculture than the U.S. zone. In the French Zone the rations were set at just 925 calories – causing the Germans to refer to it as the “FZ” in a play on the German term for Concentration Camps, “KZ.” It was now “a vicious circle in which the Germans starved because they could not produce enough, and could not produce enough because they were starving.”[iii]
The economics wasn't the only shadow darkening the horizon of Europeans at the start of 1948. Another kind of threat was also growing. It was the threat of Soviet tanks. The Soviet Union had already expanded into the Baltic States, parts of Finland, it had swallowed large parts of Poland and taken control of the remainder as well. It has staged Communist "coups" that gave the Soviet Union effective control of Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union clearly had its eye on Germany -- starting with Berlin. Their tactics were various forms of intimidation to make the population docile and ready to accept Soviet rule.
For example, as far back as early 1946 there had been isolated incidents of Soviet police abducting persons from the Western Sectors; three municipal judges who had refused to render judgements desired by the Soviets had “disappeared” from their homes, never to be seen again. However, by early 1948, various observers reported seeing an increased use of abduction. An American intelligence officer based in Berlin reported that Russians, disguised as German police, were arresting German officials living in the U.S. and British sectors of Berlin. Police officers who were not sufficiently loyal to the SED and Soviet Union were also targeted for such actions and disappeared.
But it was not only city officials who feared abduction, German scientists were likewise kidnapped from their homes and sent to work in the Soviet Union, particularly on the atomic bomb project, simply because they had skills the Soviet Union needed. Indeed, even ordinary German workmen and skilled female labourers could find themselves deported on two hours notice. Although different in character, the Soviets did not shy away from temporarily kidnapping members of the Western Allied occupation forces. General Clay reported that 93 American servicemen were detained in the first half of 1948 and claimed few of the arrests had any justification. Nevertheless, in many instances “the Americans were held for hours under humiliating conditions….”[i]
In order to facilitate a take over, the Soviets needed the Western Allies out of their way and that meant convincing them that remaining in Berlin was too burdensome. The Soviet's chosen tactic to achieve this objective was the harassment of inter-zonal traffic. This took many forms. One simple tactic of the Soviets was to send Russian soldiers dressed in civilian clothes to systematically rob passengers arriving at the train stations. On other occasions, Soviet soldiers openly held up busses of the public transport network at gunpoint and took what they liked without bothering about disguising themselves.
More subtle but equally effective was the Soviet tactic of changing without notice the bureaucratic requirements for possession of a license to operate a lorry. Everyone was required to possess a license from the SMAD, but the form, shape or colour of this license could change without warning from one day to the next. When this happened, all lorry traffic came to a virtual halt while drivers and firms scrambled to get the new documents. After paying the fees and standing in lines and collecting the signatures and stamps for the new document, the owners of such documents had no certainly that the rules would not change again the next day – and naturally such documents were completely unobtainable if one had incurred the displeasure of the SMAD in one way or another.
The Soviets also introduced new licenses for moving from the Western Sector to the Western Zone, and the costs and difficulties of obtaining the licenses brought such movements to a virtual standstill. The harassment of German passengers traveling between Berlin and the Western Zones also escalated, so that Germans had to dread not only intrusive searches (which often ended in official and unofficial confiscations) but also feared arrest for alleged infractions of rules they had never heard of.
The "Worm's Eye" Plotline attempts to capture for the reader the feelings of people -- like you and me -- facing this catastrophic economic situation and the growing manifestations of Soviet determination to make Berlin part of Stalin's empire.
[i] Richard Cutler, Counter Spy, p. 142
[ii] Collier, Bridge Across the Sky, p.10.
[iii] Robert Jackson, The Berlin Airlift, P. 24.
Cold Peace is Book I of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series.
Three years after WWII, Europe struggles with rationing, widespread unemployment and a growing Soviet threat. Hitler's former capital lies ruined under the joint control of wartime allies bitterly at odds. With the currency worthless, the population lives on hand-outs or turns to crime and prostitution. Deep inside the Soviet Zone of occupation, Berlin appears to be an ideal target for a communist take-over, putting the defenders of democracy on a collision course with Stalin's merciless aggression.
A Battle of Britain ace, a female air traffic controller, a concentration camp survivor and an ex-ATA woman pilot are just some of those trying to find their place in the post-war world. An air ambulance service offers a shimmer of hope, but when a Soviet fighter brings down a British passenger liner, Berlin becomes a flashpoint. The world stands poised on the brink of World War Three.
Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/bridge-to-tomorrow.html
View a video teaser at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTuE7m5InZM&t=5s
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"MORAL FIBRE," which WON THE HEMINGWAY AWARD 2022 FOR 20TH CENTURY WARTIME FICTION and a MAINCREST MEDIA AWARD FOR MILITARY FICTION as well as being A FINALIST FOR THE BOOK EXCELLENCE AWARD 2023 IN THE CATEGORY HISTORICAL FICTION.Riding the icy, moonlit sky,
they took the war to Hitler.
Their chances of survival were less than fifty percent.
Their average age was 21.
This is the story of just one bomber pilot, his crew and the woman he loved.
It is intended as a tribute to them all.
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Fiction, a Maincrest Media Award for Military Fiction and Silver in the Global Book Awards.
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Disfiguring injuries, class prejudice and PTSD are the focus of three tales set in WWII by award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader. Find out more at: https://crossseaspress.com/grounded-eagles