“Memorandum from Germany,” by Johannes Schattenmann
June 23, 1947

The people of Munich were informed by proclamation of the city administration that the requisition of private homes for army housing was to be carried through, and to a greater extent than had been hitherto feared. How grave the danger was considered is indicated by the fact that the population was expressly warned against any outburst of indignation, since such an outburst would only draw swift counter-measures from the occupation authorities. All requests and remonstrances on the part of churches and government organizations have remained so far without result.

We turn in our need, therefore, to the Christians in America, with the urgent request that they may help us by using their influence with responsible people in the United States, to the end that this mass requisition of houses may be stopped and a wider, probably still avoidable misery and despair prevented. We firmly believe that if Americans were aware of our real situation they would help us, not only for reasons of humanity but also for the great aims of United States politics.

As a result of the destruction in our town the population is crowded together in the remaining space in a manner unworthy of human beings. In Munich alone 45% of existing housing was destroyed by air attacks—housing which had provided living space for 400,000 people. According to newspaper reports there have been 10 or 12 million Germans pressed into the already overcrowded remaining parts of Germany; these people are destitute exiles from their century old family estates in east Germany, Sudeten Germany, and other sections. Two, four, or still more families must now occupy a space where formerly one family lived. Every remaining space must be utilized, even tumble-down barracks and cavernous cellars. What this situation means in terms of the health of undernourished people in winter, morality, education of children, courage to live, and will for reconstruction need not be amplified. It is a war of nerves of the most tormenting and degrading kind. The limit—not of suffering, for that has been exceeded for a long time—but of the technical possibilities of overcrowding, has been reached. Further requisitions of dwelling space present us with an insoluble problem—like pouring water into an already brimful pail without letting it overflow. Do you realize what it means for the perplexed Germans when one house is forcefully emptied for one American family? An average of 10, sometimes 15 or 20 people have to move, among them anti-Nazis, bombed-out souls, refugees, resettled persons, wives and children of prisoners; most of whom have already gone through tremendous hardship; many of whom have already been driven out of their homes several times; all of whom are being arbitrarily treated according to a general law.

The housing administration is at a loss how to lodge these human beings. Usually a large portion of their household goods must be left behind, often even their beds, with no hope of securing compensation (in all civilized countries these are left to the legal debtor). Firewood, collected with the greatest difficulty in nearby woods to protect stored potatoes and vegetables from the severe winter cold until the new harvest, must be left behind, since there is no possibility of moving it elsewhere. Vegetable gardens, planted to nourish the family, are lost, and with them the last particle of joy in living. Before these people stands the certainty of more hunger, more shivering—a heated room is nowhere to be found. All home life, all family life, all personal, spiritual and moral life is hopelessly destroyed for an indefinite time.

Material misery is the consequence of such a procedure. Consumer purchasing power is reduced through lack of working and office space, while the number of those on relief is increased. Instead of curing the roots of distress new sources are opened daily. Charity organizations have reached the limits of their capacity to help. Foreign countries remain the only hope. It would not be surprising, however, if some day the rest of the world had to declare itself powerless in the face of such mass need. Especially sad is the effect of such overcrowding on health and morality. Men and women long undernourished lack the power of resistance. When one child in an overcrowded space becomes ill, soon all other children in that house have the same illness. Rickets, tuberculosis, and—most disastrous of all— syphilis are spreading unchecked. Already 14% of all venereal diseases are diagnosed in children and youth before the age of puberty. So far we have been spared plagues such as spotted typhus. Were they to gain entrance into Germany—and the danger is very great due to the lack of sewerage in Munich and her suburbs—it is to be feared they would quickly spread, not stopping even for the occupation troops and their families.

A halfway normal education, and religious instruc­tion for children is more and more an impossibility. What child can work or behave adequately in an overcrowded, unheated classroom, especially when in countless cases the father has been killed and the overworked mother is on the verge of a breakdown? Delinquency statistics show a frightful increase.

In Munich about 3,000 dwellings, containing 13 to 14 thousand rooms, have been requisitioned for the occupation army and UNRRA; 30,000 people have thereby been driven from their homes. Still more hundreds of houses are to be requisitioned in the near future, although many of those requisitioned in recent months stand unnecessarily vacant, plundered in the meanwhile because of the lack of necessary control. Entire districts (e.g., Solln-Ludwigshoehe with about 1,000 one-family houses and about 10,000 inhabitants) are suddenly shut off, and every inhabitant trembles when the doorbell rings for fear the dreaded order to evacuate has come. The doorbell has become a greater cause for anxiety than the horrible air raids several years ago.

I hesitate to point to the political consequences of these mass requisitions. Yet sincerity demands that the truth be told. Our people fully understand that the occupation forces need living space. They do not understand why, a year and a half after the end of the war, they need space to such an extent. They had been promised that part of the army would be withdrawn in the near future. For the most part they had greeted the entry of the American troops with confidence, even with sympathy. This feeling will vanish if the people must patiently bear the added misery of further immediate requisitions by the occupation army. They believe that with good will it is still possible to bring about the necessary housing of American personnel along with a little more appreciation of the desperate situation in Germany. Thus far it has been mostly private houses and their gardens—of priceless value for feeding families—which have been requisitioned. Requisition of apartment houses, plus a better use of all available space, would considerably ease the situation.

In the district of Laim, on a large block where formerly 900 to a 1,000 people were housed, there are now only 80 UNRRA employees living. In other zones the occupation army left a limited space for present inhabitants. After the first world war, when the housing situation could not be compared with today’s misery, the occupation army built new houses, thus creating additional living space. This should be done now. Damaged houses—there are 26,300 in Munich—should be repaired and reconstructed. Building material is available, and should be released along with coal and transportation facilities, before these houses fall into ruin. Living space for at least 100,000 could be created; this would of course also relieve the occupation army. There might even be found a way to decrease immigration of families from all parts of Germany.

One may, of course, explain these severe measures as punishment for the already ill-fated German people. But it is not thus that a new world can be built—a world of peace, reconciliation, democracy and practical Christianity. It is our greatest desire to create a wholesome relationship with America; nothing would more truly further this end than a solution of the housing problem. This is at present a cardinal question to the German people.

Johannes Schattenmann was a German theologian who wrote “The Little Apocalypse of the Synoptics and the First Epistle of Peter” in 1954.