Living in Germany after World War II was a grim reality for citizens coming to terms with both conflict and atrocity. Almost everyone had to cope with loss, as an estimated 8.8 million German civilians and 5.5 million German military members lost their lives due to WWII.
Those who survived often grappled with lifelong mental and physical health issues, while communities struggled to rebuild homes and restore order. Resources were scarce, communication with the outside world was non-existent, and roads remained quiet as families lived amid the destruction.
German citizens emerged in 1945 with a unique shame that would remain in their culture for decades. The damage of WWII continues to carry effects, from veterans' psychological damage to unexploded ordnance still found across former battlefields. These stories, from those who experienced a post-war Germany, paint the picture of a grieving culture fighting to rebuild the communities they helped eradicate.
Entire Communities Suffered From PTSD
From Redditor /u/OneRedBeard:
After [WWII], the country suffered from collective PTSD... We were a broken, defeated, extinguished people in 1945. 60 million human beings suffering from PTSD. And knowing that not only did you lose... but also that you were on the wrong side. On the wrong side of morality, of humanity, of history.
We were the bad guys. There was no pride. Just the knowledge that we were at rock bottom, and rightfully so.
Many German Veterans Never Recovered From The Physical And Mental Torment
From Redditor /u/sw66sw:
Both my grandfathers were [involved], of course. One was younger and got drafted in '40. For his troubles, he came home with an alcohol problem and tuberculosis he caught in a POW camp. I never met him. He had three children with the wife he beat during one of his "episodes" and [passed] shortly after the youngest was born, leaving a young widow with three small children and three elderly relatives, with no money, to fend for herself.
The other one served from the first day to the last, poor sod, and then was a POW for two years (luckily with the Americans). He had shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life, caught malaria in the Russian swamps or maybe in Africa with Rommel, that plagued him until he was an old man and had to have half his stomach removed because he had so many stomach ulcers. Lost a toe in the snow in Norway.
There Was The Omnipresent Fear That It Could Happen Again
From Redditor /u/sw66sw:
[My grandfather] told me his... stories - first the funny ones and then, the older I got, they got more and more terrible. "Don't forget," he'd say, "but don't tell anyone about this." He was so ashamed. And so angry, still, 40, 50 years later.
"They took my best years, those f*cking Nazis."... we must look out for them; it can happen again," "Beware," "Pay attention to politics! Speak up," "we couldn't stop them ... maybe you can, next time."
I had it hammered into my brain, over and over and over.
Virtually Every German Citizen Was Affected By The Conflict
From Redditor /u/Aetrion:
When I was growing up in Germany in the '80s and '90s, you could ask any old person about [WWII] and they would tell you about the horrors they had seen, the friends they lost, the neighbors who disappeared...
My grandma used to tell us about how her mother would scoop up phosphorous bombs with a snow shovel and throw them in a garbage can full of water. One time she recounted a story of a girl having her throat torn out by attack dogs in front of her. She said some friends died because they played with unexploded scatter bombs that looked like pens and still yelled at us when we were kids and picked up anything in the streets because you'd never know if it was dangerous.