Lessons learned from History during Wartime

It’s very likely that there will be social unrest at some point, and eventually regional wars, or who knows, China’s growing Navy might pay a call on the West Coast at some point, they certainly have the long view of history.

Lessons learned from History in:

  1. Peter Englund’s “The Beauty and the Sorrow” (2011).
  2. Brian Hall. 1988. Stealing from a Deep Place. Travels in Southeastern Europe.
  3. Giles MacDonogh. 2007. After the Reich. The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation.


By 1945 over 1,800,000 German civilians died and 3,600,000 homes had been destroyed (20% of total), leaving 7.5 million homeless. After the war, another 16.5 million Germans were driven from their homes. Of these, about 2,250,000 died. Germany was so destroyed by bombs that towns often had few homes remaining. Occupying forces took the best homes over. Many Germans lived in ruins or holes in the ground, especially orphaned children.

WWI: armies take over homes of the wealthy. The Germans had to retreat from this Polish home, which the returning owner described as: everything was torn, smashed, ripped out, spilled, hurled around, knocked over and fouled. Every drawer pulled out, every wardrobe emptied.  The smell was indescribably awful. The library had been completely vandalized. The contents of all the shelves were emptied, the floor invisible beneath a layer of torn books and papers, all of it trampled by rough boots.”  Every dish and plate was hurled on the floor after they were used.  Jars that used to have jam, honey, and vegetables had been eaten and replaced with human excrement. They hadn’t found the food hidden in the sofa. Food could not be bought with money, potatoes and eggs were the most expensive.

Budapest, Hungary WWII: One woman had a large, opulent home that was one of the few still intact. It was taken over by 3 armies during the war: Hungarian, German, and Russian. All of the armies let the family live in the basement.

Isolated farm houses are vulnerable

German farms after WWII were robbed by Polish and Russian gangs

Roads are choked with fleeing Refugees

Most people don’t flee until it’s too late, they wait for the sounds of battle, because they don’t believe all the rumors flying about.

WWI Poland:   “the population was pouring out of the city in long files, men, women, children, dogs, cows, pigs, horses, and carts all mixed up in one grand mélange. On carts, on foot, on horseback. Everyone making shift to save himself. All of them carrying away what they could. Exhaustion, dust, sweat, panic was on every face, terrible dejection, pain, and suffering. Their eyes were frightened, their movements fearful: ghastly terror oppresses them. I lie sleepless at the side of the road and watch this infernal kaleidoscope. There are even retreating military wagons, routed infantry, lost cavalry


From tribal societies to the modern soldiers of today, rape and pillaging have always been a motivation. Women try to prevent this by looking unattractive – nuns used to cut off their noses in hopes invading Vikings wouldn’t rape them, committed suicide, or slept with high-level officers for protection and/or food.


WWII Germany: Russians took booty of all kinds back to Russia as “repayment” — millions of tons of industrial machinery, sewing machines, art work, etc.

Black Markets

Germany after WWII: In urban areas, the black market thrived near rail road stations, as did prostitution and the homeless. Cigarettes were the main currency. Other popular items were soap, gum, butter, flour, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, wood, and oranges. Buyer beware: some tins had nothing but filth, goods might be rotten.

City dwellers go out to the country seeking food

WWII Germany: Special trains took town and city folk to country areas to trade with farmers, who preferred that over taking the risk of going to the city and having all of their produce stolen. If no farmers were around, city folk harvested the farmer’s crops and paid nothing for them. The Farmers didn’t trust money – you had to exchange useful goods. Farmers also converted their crops to alcohol.

WWI: Farmers told food at very high prices on the black Market. Townspeople were very much harmed by this since they had nowhere to grow their own food, so some of them broke into shops to get food.

Getting water during war outside the home

WWII Budapest: “People helped each other, shared their food, protected each other. Like going down for the water. Down in the streets, with the water bottles on our heads, we couldn’t tell where shots were coming from. Peole in the houses all down the hill would stick their heads out of windows and tell us which way to go or they’d tell us to wait, if the shooting was too bad for the moment”.

Coping with the Cold

Romania (1980s): Everything is rationed: the gas, electricity, oil. There is hardly any wood to burn. No one has fuel for their cars, so the roads are empty. My grandmother has no heat in her house some days, and on the coldest days she has to go to another house. She spends the winter with rags tied around her feet, her neck, her hands—and some days she just sits, all day, under a cover. She doesn’t leave it because she will lose her heat”.



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