Love in war. Isn’t it quite a subject of fictional romantic Hollywood bonanza? But if studied closely, one could really understand the vulnerability of these affairs. It is kind of a forbidden love where Romeo doesn’t just belong to the rival family, in fact, his and Juliet’s entire country is at war. To put it clearly, these are the stories where Romeo is a Western prisoner of war (POW) and Juliet is a German woman. These little-known accounts are the new subject for Scheck’s new book, ‘Love Between Enemies: Western Prisoners of War and German Women in World War II’.
But is love really restrained between men and women? Well, it’s an emotion that flies freely irrespective of gender and relations. In this article let’s explore how Raffael Scheck’s personal experience shaped the foundation of his book.
Raffael Scheck’s grandfather August Wache was a guard on a state farm near Berlin. His duty was to overlook the 15-soviet prisoners of war working on the farm. Wache secretly gave them food for nourishment and medicine when ill. Not just Wache many soldiers like him felt a human connection with POWs and felt that they were somehow responsible for their well-being. While a large section of the soldiers did commit atrocities on the POWs, perhaps due to the fear of national punishment, many of them did sympathize with their situation. And this isn’t just a case of World War 2, in fact, almost every war has stories resonating with humanity like never before, especially between those forbidden.
And these forbidden love affairs build the foundation of Scheck’s new book.
The idea struck when he was researching Black French soldiers serving during World War 2. He knew that many historians have not investigated the perspective of war through women’s and POWs’ points of view, he decided to give it a go. He started researching cases, trials, letters including love letters, interrogation reports, punishment, and the legal climate of the time. It was here that he found out about the relationships between German women and POWs.
Though, there is no doubt that by the end of the fall of Berlin, many German women were subjected to horrified raped by Russian and Soviet soldiers. But that part of the history supposedly comes under wartime crime. However, in the part of history where German women and POWs consensually enter into a relationship, that is completely forbidden, things are changed for the better and the worst. One question is how did free German women encounter prisoners in the first place?
Unlike officers and educated prisoners, many POWS mostly common soldiers, were not kept behind the bara, they could move slightly freely. According to the Geneva Convention signed by the Democratic German government in 1929, ratified by the Nazi regime in 1934, and applied only to Western POWs, they were ordered to work alongside civilians in local farms and factories. Though this freedom doesn’t truly mean freedom as they were still prisoners, many of them had a chance to form human connections and set conversations.
Because of the ongoing war, all the men were sent to the frontline, and women and POWs became the critical workforce for the country. These POWs and German women spent long hours a day together, they eventually start forming relationships with one another.
These relationships were not stemmed out of lust or sexual desires, instead, most of them flourished because they gave the lonely women emotional relief and relaxed prisoners from longing for human connectivity. These affairs filled the void of the war and maybe later became sexual.
However, under the Nazi regime, these relationships were not tolerant and demanded heavy punishment. Though in the starting it was the women who bore heavy repercussions and the men were subjected to three years in a military prison. Later, the punishment was reversed because war disrupted the society, women were taken out of the workforce, and left-behind parents and children without caregivers. The children born out of these relationships were never recognized or accepted by society and their mothers faced heavy discrimination as a lifelong punishment.
Approximately 1.55 million French POWs came to Germany following the defeat of the western powers in May and June 1940. Close to one million of them were still in Germany in 1945. Drawing on an unparalleled range of sources from all sides, Raffael Scheck has written the definitive account of the narratives of ‘everyday’ women and men in wartime.