TV Review: The Dark Side of Victory
In “1945: The Savage Peace”, documentary maker Peter Molloy’s narrative focused on how Germans were treated in Berlin by the Russians, and in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia. People spoke of how they were raped, or saw others raped and beaten to death, and how even the native German population of Czechoslovakia, some of whom had actually opposed the Nazis, were all treated brutally, savagely.
The Russian army in Berlin was out of control, and in formerly occupied countries such as Poland or Czechoslovakia, what prevailed was essentially mob rule. For some reason, in Czechoslovakia, those leading this campaign of lynch-mob revenge wanted it recorded, and there were some horrific scenes of people lined up and being shot against an earth bank, and then a lorry crushing the legs of the corpses afterwards.
There was appalling violence to those ethnic Germans who had lived peacefully for centuries in neighbouring countries, and much of it was filmed; this rare archive film had not been seen before, and coupled with the unique testimony of eyewitnesses and victims, told a terrible tale.
As Gerard O’Donovan wrote in the Daily Telegraph
“Molloy’s film was most effective in highlighting the scale and savagery of the reprisals – shootings, forced death marches, the rape of two million German women and children, the public humiliation, torture and execution of countless ethnic Germans, particularly in Czechoslovakia and Poland.”
A former Jewish prisoner from a former German concentration camp in Poland became a Camp Commandant for the Germans interred there, and delighted in thinking of brutal ways to humiliate the men and women imprisoned. Here was someone brutalised as a prisoner who had in turn become a vicious sadist.
It was harrowing to watch, and shows how badly people can behave, giving into the worst instincts for retribution, and not following proper judicial process. “Anarchic, vengeful and bloody” is how one reviewer commented.
While it was true that the German army had themselves committed acts of atrocity, the absence of rule of law just meant anyone could be accused, taken, killed, regardless of the culpability.
In 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer made it very clear why the rule of law should prevail, and not that of the lynch mob, however understandable the desire for swift summary retribution should be:
“If we forsake the fairness of the trial process, simply on the premise that ‘a crime was committed, so someone must be held responsible’, we lose all notion of justice and surrender to the sometimes understandable but always inappropriate yearning solely for retribution.”
“I understand immediately the views of others who might say that ‘the ends justify the means’, but down that path for a civilised society operating under the rule of law lies the abandonment of the very rule itself, and the tacit acceptance of the lynch mob. If we cannot operate our system of criminal justice, other than by using the means that we deprecate in others, we have failed in our basic duty to respect that rule of law.”