White visits some of Hitler's massive bunkers, the Buchenwald concentration camp, and mines packed with gold and art works; he witnesses the Rheims surrender. He also writes about the behaviour of the Russians in Berlin, relations between the SS and the Wehrmacht in POW camps, efforts to bring home to the Germans the magnitude of Nazi horrors, the different kinds of "displaced persons", and the attitude of Allied troops to the Germans. And he tries to understand the origins and possible persistence of Nazism, through interviews with ordinary Germans.
"Down the hill. Just twenty paces down the hill. I cannot tell of that, only say that the dead still walked to stand in the sun, stark naked, shivering in uncontrollable rigours; that they lay in the filth of their diseases in the tiered bunks. I can only say that their voices were like the sound of wind in a dark, deep place; that the image of their eyes and their teeth as they smiled will, until the day I die, remain life's most terrible recollection."
"I visited the Zeiss optical laboratories and factories in Jena before the town was officially occupied. Senior members of the research staff calmly, smugly, informed me that they had already been promised well-paid jobs in the United States and were awaiting evacuation. Their only anxiety was that the Russian tanks would get to town first and they would be forced to accept less well-paid employment behind the Urals."
White's own attitudes and expectations are revealing, with the questions he chooses to ask often as interesting as the answers he finds or offers. He is puzzled, for example, by German docility and the failure of any kind of guerrilla war or partisan activity to eventuate, and wonders what would have happened if Hitler had retreated to his Berchtesgaden mountain redoubt.
"Sooner or later, I thought, the German civilians would snap out of their stunned docility and start a guerrilla war. One of these fine spring mornings I was going to run into a burst of machine-gun fire or a grenade pitched out of top-storey window... even a wire stretched from tree to tree around a sharp bend, or a nest of mines planted overnight at a crossroads. But nothing happened."His more philosophical musings are similarly revealing.
A version of Conquerors' Road was written in 1945, but after initial enthusiasm the publishers abandoned it, perhaps because of White's open criticism of aspects of the occupation.
"Of all occupying Powers, the Americans showed themselves the most inept at the business of governing a conquered country. They maintained little or no continuity of policy. They never succeeded in making up their minds whether they wanted to administer stern justice or indulge Christ-like charity. They did not, indeed, make up their minds about anything except the 'superiority' of their own intentions."White reworked Conquerors' Road for publication in 1983, but without any attempt to make it a history rather than an eyewitness account, to use the benefit of hindsight or the huge number of other books on the subject. The appendices include some unedited portions of the 1945 manuscript, as well as pieces published separately in newspapers at the time, on Buchenwald and the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.
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