After its surrender in May 1945 and the end of World War II, Germany was a country reduced to ruin.
And with few hands for its reconstruction.
Due to the powerful allied bombing, which had started in 1942, cities like Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg or Cologne were mountains of rubble.
It is estimated that close to eight million homes had been destroyed by the bombs, and this is not counting the destruction of all the infrastructure, such as bridges, roads, railways, sewers or gas and electricity supplies.
And while there was a widespread effort to rebuild the country, both on the eastern and western sides, there was not much manpower available: 15 million men had been killed in the conflict or captured by enemy troops.
“There was rubble everywhere, and weapons and ammunition that the soldiers had left behind,” Helga Cent-Velden tells the BBC.
Cent-Velden was one of thousands of women who took it upon themselves to clean up, pick up the rubble and help rebuild a destroyed – and at the time, divided – Germany.
His work consisted of helping to remove, according to estimates made at the time, 500 million cubic meters of rubble -which would be used to build, for example, 150 pyramids of Giza- from the main cities of the country.
These women, known as “Trümmerfrau” (the rubble women), became one of the symbols of German reconstruction after the ravages of war.
In many German cities there are monuments dedicated to them as thanks for their work.
“These women are the symbol of rebirth. They took to the streets of Germany so that their country could live again. That makes them a kind of myth,” historian Jane Freeland, from Queen’s University, told BBC Mundo. Mary of London.
“Especially because the debris they were picking up was caused by bombs that had destroyed the spaces where they lived. They were cleaning up the wreckage of a war they had lost.”
Like the fenix bird
During the war, Nazi Germany had been constantly bombed by Allied squadrons.
While the fighting lasted, most of the rubble was picked up by those who were locked up in the concentration camps.
However, once the war was over and with the control of German territory by the allied powers, the debris removal process became the task of those who had remained in the country.
One of them was Cent-Velden, a resident of Dresden -in northeastern Germany and one of the cities hardest hit by Allied bombing-, who was summoned by the Allied Control Council for the cleansing process.
“They divided us into two groups. All we saw was destruction and ruins. Our job was to pick up the rubble and, if there was nothing dangerous in it, throw it into the craters left by the bombs,” Cent-Velden says.
“And if we found something dangerous like a grenade, then they asked us to put them in a nearby lake. And we did that for several days,” he recalls.
The woman also points out that, as the days passed, she realized that the process was going to be much longer than just clearing debris: she had to rebuild from scratch.
“One day they took me to a building located on Potsdamer Street. It was a building that had collapsed, but part of it was still standing. The woman who was with me told me that we had to clean it up so they could remodel it,” says Cent-Velden. .
“But there was nothing there to remodel: there was no roof, there were no windows. It took us nine months to remove the rubble from just that place,” he says.
The columns (Kolonnen, in German) of the Trümmerfrau spread through areas controlled by both the Soviet Union and those under American, British and French rule.
Cent-Velden tells that the work was done, especially at the beginning, without the help of heavy machinery. “I was grateful for the day they gave me gloves,” he says.
Several historians point out that the payment for moving heavy rubble almost without machinery was not up to expectations.
“It was mainly us women who shoveled our way through the rubble of the center of Aachen which was totally destroyed, just because of a bowl of soup from the Americans,” Elisabeth Stock, one of the “Trümmerfrau” told a local newspaper. .
But his work was reflected in different ways.
“That rubble was used later not only to cover the craters left by the bombs but also to build railways and buildings,” says Freeland.
Before long, the Allied Control Council contracted professional debris removal services, which continued to take into account the women who had been in the first stage.
“It was an impressive process. Already in the 1950s and 1960s, while in London or other European cities you could still see the remains of the bombs, and even television series were made in the 60s about those places, in West Germany the reconstruction was almost complete,” says Freeland.
For the historian, the work that these women did was the pillar that allowed the reconstruction of a country that is now the main economic power in Europe.
“They symbolize that idea of the ‘phoenix bird’ that made it possible for Germany to recover, be reborn and become again a country like they wanted, in which they could live,” added the academic.
demystifying the myth
The legend of the “Trümmerfrau” permeated German society. Monuments were erected to her, decorations were given, and books were written for years about how women, in the absence of men, had cleaned up and started on the path of rebuilding Germany.
However, in recent years some scholars have pointed out that while his work was valuable, it did not have the dimension that many historical texts suggest.
“In Berlin some 60,000 women participated in the collection of the rubble, which is only a part of the total number of women living in Berlin at that time,” says historian Leonie Treber, in her book “The Myth of the Trümmerfrau”.
According to Treber, it is not a question of blurring his “heroic character”, but of being faithful to what happened in those years.
“Although it is true that many men had died and others were imprisoned, the truth is that in Germany many men were also part of that reconstruction. The Allied Council hired companies run by men to do that job,” he said.
Another point that the author clarifies in her book is that, unlike what academics and politicians who have paid tribute to the Trümmerfrau have pointed out, stating that “they did it voluntarily”, there was a mandate that required them to show up to carry out these tasks in the main cities of the country.
“The role of women in rebuilding Germany after the war was heroic, and there were many examples of strong, hard-working, empowered women, but the truth is that they were in the minority,” says Treber.
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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-64406347, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-03-11 09:10:06
Alejandro Millan Valencia
BBC News World
#Trümmerfrau #fundamental #Germany
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