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This chapter examines the role of the army in the evacuation of East Prussia’s civilian population. It discusses the effects of combatants’ proximity to their own civilians, showing that the failure to evacuate civilians from areas of operations was a deliberate choice made between the Party and the Wehrmacht. During the first months of East Prussia’s defence, the impetus behind ‘evacuation’ was not the safeguarding of the province’s population but the removal of property. As with earlier on the Eastern Front, orders were issued to ensure that military and civilian materiel was broken down, evacuated, paralysed, or destroyed, a policy whose effects would be felt well into the post-war years. Once the Soviet offensives commenced in January 1945, military concerns immediately gained the upper hand and concern for civilians was no longer a priority. Trains and ships were prioritised for ammunition and the wounded, while roads were cleared of refugees to allow the army unrestricted movement. By mid-March, any evacuation was halted and 100,000 civilians found themselves in Königsberg as the final Soviet storming commenced. These high numbers did not encourage the fortress command to surrender prematurely, ensuring that the civilian death toll reached the tens of thousands.
This chapter brings the different groups of actors together in the environment in which they would experience the final months of the war: Festung Königsberg. Establishing the role cities played during wartime, it reconstructs how the fortress strategy came into being. It then explores how the new balance of power in fortresses manifested itself and how the fortress strategy was perceived by those ordered to defend them. During the Soviet 1944 summer offensive, Operation Bagration, the strategy proved to be a failure, yet the High Command persisted with it as the Wehrmacht was forced back onto German soil. After analysing why the strategy was retained on home soil, this chapter examines the working relationship between the military and the Party in these fortresses. The origins and nature of this relationship had significant consequences for the everyday rule of the besieged fortress. Both Party and Army demanded final authority in Königsberg, but it was ultimately claimed by the latter. Factors such as personal standing, reputation, and commitment among the different groups all shaped local dynamics at the fortress command and shaped the organisation of the city’s defence and evacuation.
This chapter establishes the core principles of this study and defines its key terms. It problematises and deconstructs the relationship between the German ‘people’s community’, the Volksgemeinschaft, and the concept and practice of Total War in East Prussia. By establishing the mentality of the native population towards the war, this chapter assigns agency to those who would eventually become the main victims of late-war intra-ethnic violence. Subsequently, the chapter addresses the impact of the Party and the Wehrmacht on the behaviour of civilians, using as case-studies the construction of the Ostwall and the establishment of the Volkssturm in the second half of 1944. Finally, it examines how East Prussians viewed their roles within the late-war community of Germany and how they established the potential to break with the ‘traditional’ values of the National Socialist state.
War and conflict often force men and women to take decisions they had never considered during peacetime. In his 1845 novel Twenty Years After – a sequel to The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas describes a scene in which one of the book’s main antagonists, a man known as Mordaunt, reports to Sir Oliver Cromwell after a battle with the guard regiment of King Charles I, which resulted in the King’s capture:
This chapter retraces the mindset with which troops arrived in East Prussia by examining the behavioural patterns they carried over from the Eastern Front. Most of these men had previously fought in the Soviet Union, and the actions of the troops who fell back into German territory reveals that their frame of reference had been barbarised by their years of war on the Eastern Front. The wider implications of this calloused outlook for what constituted normality – the ‘lowered resting heart-rate of the Wehrmacht soldier’ – were evident during the defence of East Prussia. With the war’s call for the annihilation of ‘sub-humans’, the majority of orders on the Eastern Front encompassed civilians, and it was thus the soldiers’ perception of civilians that had undergone the greatest perversion. This altered attitude towards civilians ensured that the Wehrmacht was increasingly prepared to include German civilians in the defence of their home soil. For the majority of troops East Prussia was the last in a series of defensive battles and the retreat onto German soil did not necessarily signify a change in day-to-day behaviour. As a result, soldiers had little motive, and even less opportunity, to alter their frame of reference.
The year 1945 will ultimately be considered as one of the most violent in German history. For the East Prussian capital of Königsberg it was its final year, since on 4 July 1946 the city was rechristened Kaliningrad after the recently deceased Soviet President Mikhail Kalinin, who, as the political scientist Richard Krickus somewhat sarcastically noted, ‘never visited the place’.1 Königsberg was in a death struggle for its status as a German city, a battle it would ultimately lose. Four years later, all German citizens had been expelled and in the years that followed the new Russian authorities sought to erase all signs of what they considered to be ‘Prussian militarism’, culminating in the destruction of the ruins of the Königsberger Schloss in 1968.2 During the siege, few people envisioned themselves as part of a German future for Königsberg. This study highlights that the concerns of the principal actors did not centre on their role in the Third Reich; rather, it reveals how strongly people clung to their immediate local environment and how this impacted behavioural patterns.
This chapter assesses the emergent mindset and the city’s insular nature by providing an analysis of the propaganda created in Königsberg during its siege. As the idea of Volksgemeinschaft steadily lost its appeal, propagandists struggled to convey their message to the fortress’s population. By drawing attention to the efforts of local propagandists, this chapter examines the impact of the Wehrmacht ‘on the ground’, and discusses the need to forge a Kampfgemeinschaft, based on Königsberg’s ‘battle’ rather than on Germany’s ‘struggle’. Rather than encouraging the population to leave the city, the fortress command instead propagated a false sense of safety. An assessment of the themes portrayed in local media reveals how, in a fractured Germany, local authorities presented their message and how they sought to link it to the larger regional picture of events. A martial narrative came to dominate Königsberg’s propaganda while the unfolding events were consistently explained by drawing parallels to the city’s Prussian past, offering an alternative to the National Socialist rhetoric. The population’s reluctance to leave the city until the very end is a sombre testament to the propagandists’ success in downplaying the dangers to which all were exposed.
This chapter will further explore the consequences of the German troops’ contact with their compatriots. The failure to evacuate the local population from East Prussia meant that they found themselves in Königsberg, an area of operations under martial law where a military mindset prevailed. Soldiers perceived their environment completely differently than civilians and yet the set of military laws to which these men had long adhered became the standard of reference for what passed as ‘normality’. In this major shift in what was considered normal, almost from the very commencement of the siege of Königsberg civilians were ordered to contribute to its defence, thus having to ‘earn’ the right to be protected. In line with military custom, failure to comply was considered desertion and was punishable by death, even though commanders were fully aware that civilians could not accustom themselves to military standards overnight. Since these coercive measures ensured a compliant population, Party functionaries expressed the desire to implement similar legislation on a national level, which took place throughout February and March 1945. This led to a diverse set of perpetrators, which in turn resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of victims among the general population.