The Wolf Ticket opens on 1 April 1945, Easter Sunday, somewhere in northern Germany, in the area held by the U.S. Ninth Army. Fighting is still fierce to the east, but the area north of Dusseldorf is in Allied control. An unnamed U.S. army general, having overseen the clean-up of the area (arresting and interrogating Nazi officers, closing concentration camps, collecting information about Nazi war crimes), is now returning to his headquarters in the town of Fontaine, just across the border into France. His train has been waiting at Gultenheim while he has been visiting the commandant of the local U.S. army's displaced persons camp.
Among his staff, waiting for him on the train, are several U.S. Women's Army Corps units of secretaries and translators. Pascale Tailland is in one of these, and when the novel opens she is waiting for the other Wacs of her platoon to return to their compartment from Easter services held aboard the train.
Pascale sees a lone refugee on the platform of the station and, impelled by a sudden realisation, rescues 'him' from the certainty of being captured and put in Gultenheim's displaced persons camp, there to await repatriation to Poland.
The novel opens in the last full month of World War II. That war had begun six years earlier when, on 1 September, 1939, Germany had invaded Poland. This was their first of their victories; country after country was conquered by the Nazis' tactic of Blitzkrieg: rapid advance with tanks and infantry, supported by air cover, until the Nazis held most of Europe. A secret deal with Soviet Russia had led to the partition of Poland. When Hitler decided he was strong enough to attack Russia, in 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet-held half of Poland on their way to Moscow and to the oilfields and grain-fields of the Ukraine and southern USSR.
Britain declared war on Germany, and by default were eventually at war with Germany's allies Italy and Japan (Germany, Italy and Japan collectively being the Axis), but they could do little to stop the Axis save on the periphery, such as in North Africa and the Far East. The Germans continued to swallow most of eastern Europe while the world helplessly watched. The Nazis, unconquerable and all-conquering, now could do as they pleased with impunity, and began the large-scale, systematic destruction of the Jews and other minorities they despised.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December, 1941, the United States entered the war. Their enemies were the Japanese and therefore its other two Axis partners, their allies were Britain, the Commonwealth, and the undefeated exiled forces of France, Poland and other invaded countries. The U.S. High Command realised theirs would be a war of two fronts, the Pacific and Europe, and so troops were sent to North Africa to aid the British at the same time that the slow reclamation of the Pacific was begun. Defeating the Germans in North Africa, the Allies then invaded Sicily and Italy, driving the Germans slowly north in costly, long-drawn out battles such as Monte Cassino, January to May, 1944 (the final assault's success, on 18 May, being largely the work of the 2nd Polish Corps).
Hitler's armies had been stalled in their grand invasion of the USSR by the Soviets' time-honoured use of a scorched-earth policy, the ferocity of the Russian winter, and the dogged Red Army defence. The tide finally turned against the Germans after the four-month battle for Stalingrad was won by the Soviets in January 1943. The long withdrawal of the Germans from the east took two years of appalling fighting to accomplish, the Red Army becoming a juggernaut of efficient terrorism in the process.
Meanwhile, the Allies were using Britain as a collection base for the troops and supplies needed for an invasion of northern Europe. The Allied armies finally invaded on 6 June, 1944: D-Day. They reached and liberated Paris in August, 1944, but their onrush against the retreating Germans ended on the western edge of France, where natural barriers such as the Hurtgen Forest, their own lack of supplies, and the ferocious determination of the Germans to defend the Fatherland, delayed final victory.
The Nazis wanted to break the western Allied advance before the Soviet invasion from the east reached the border of Germany. The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last attempt to defeat the western Allies, and his armies used up their reserves of manpower and supplies for this campaign. However, though the Allies finally punched their way across the Rhine, in early March, 1945, the Germans were still able to slow them down by desperate fighting.
By 1 April 1945, the Allies had devastated the industrial heart of Germany, the Ruhr valley, and were closing the gap between themselves and the Red Army. The small defeated countries of Europe: the Netherlands, Denmark and the others, were liberated by the Allies, and the countries of the east, Poland, Latvia, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the rest, were seized by the Soviets and held until, after the war, they were turned into puppet states.
The Red Army reached Berlin in late April and, after hand-to-hand fighting, finally defeated the Nazis, who surrendered to the Allies on 7 May, 1945. Fighting continued in the Pacific, Japan surrendering the day after the second atomic bomb was dropped, 10 August, 1945.
Following victory in Europe, the Allies faced each other with growing hostility across what would later be called the Iron Curtain, and the countries of Eastern Europe began their four decades in the hard grip of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, in Europe, life for the people whose lives had been devastated by the war continued to be constricted by shortages, rationing, and regulations. Every country that had suffered from the war continued to be affected. Hardship and want continued in France and Italy, and true desperation ruled throughout vanquished Germany, "liberated" Poland, and Soviet states who returned from Nazi oppression back to Communist oppression.
World War II was the first war in which women were involved in large numbers as active participants on the combat zone and on the homefront.
Women had first been officially organised as part of a war effort a generation earlier, in WW I. By the beginning of WW II, Britain, Canada and other allied countries had women's auxiliaries attached to their armed forces. When the United States was brought into the War after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was recognised that a war on two fronts would put pressure on available manpower. Women were thus encouraged, and later required, to go to work to fill the gaps left by men who had gone to war.
Each branch of the U.S. armed forces soon created its own women's auxiliary or women's service (e.g. the WAC, the WAVES, WASPS, and so on). Munitions factories and other industries were staffed by women, and women replaced men in ordinary jobs (as civil servants, telephonists, bus drivers, to name a few) as the need grew. This was often women's first taste of waged work and of being valued in the marketplace. It would take all the resources of the country in the post-war period to convince (or rather, browbeat) women to relinquish their newly found independence.
Women were present in the war zones both as part of the armed forces, as staff with the Red Cross and other organisations, and as reporters and photographers. Women already famous as reporters, such as Janet Flanner, Dorothy Thompson, Martha Gellhorn, Helen Kirkpatrick, and as photographers, such as Margaret Bourke White, Toni Frissell, and Lee Miller, fought for and gained the right to observe the war for various newspapers and radio networks back in the USA.
In Europe, women had no choice but to be involved in the war. Most women endured the war as women have always endured war: as victims, but some joined the resistance movements, some were active in hiding Jewish and other refugees and smuggling them to safety, and some served as spies. Their heroism was recognised after the war, when women such as Josephine Baker (an African American living in Paris who worked for the French Resistance) were honoured by their countries.
World War II saw women involved in all spheres of public life. Despite largely successful efforts to put them in their place after the war, women never fully returned to their previous status, and the memory of their war experiences, be it as "Rosie the Riveter," as Wacs or army nurses, or as substitutes doing the work of men, helped lead to their discontent in the late 1950s and the explosion of feminism in the 1960s.
Half a million women served in the Women's Army Corps [WAC] from 1941, when it was founded as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, to the end of the war in 1945.
The U.S. Army Chief of Staff had realised that, if war came, most of America's manpower would be needed as combat troops, and women would have to serve in the army in non-combatant roles. The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 hastened the first slow steps being taken to recruit and train this auxiliary force.
There was considerable resistance to the founding of a women's corps, many men worrying about who would do the 'women's work,' as well as fearing that women would be put at risk or become masculinised. However, the need to have huge numbers of non-combatant staff overrode these fears, and the first women's units were trained during the spring of 1942.
The WAAC at first enjoyed positive publicity, but this gradually turned sour, partly because, in its eagerness to recruit large numbers, it was taking all sorts of unsuitable women, partly because men did not want their wives, mothers or girl-friends to serve, and partly because other women did not actually want their husbands or sons or brothers 'freed' by a woman to become combat soldiers.
A deliberate smear campaign was carried out through 1943. In particular, it accused the WAAC of harbouring or encouraging prostitution and lesbianism. (In fact, the WAAC did have a disproportionately high number of lesbians; see Gays and Lesbians in WW II below.)
The Army, too, despite its urgent need of staff, was slow to accept the WAAC, or WAC, as it became on 1 July, 1943. Only the deep commitment of the Wacs, their superior work, and their grace under pressure, finally won the grudging admiration of the army and, at long last, most of the public.
Wacs served both on the home front in the USA, and in combat theatres first in Europe, and later in the Pacific. They served as typists and administrative staff, telephonists, army postal workers, drivers, technicians, translators, mechanics, radio operators, aerial photograph analysts, and pilots. No WAC served in the front line as a combat soldier.
The WAC recruited African American women, but kept them in their own units. This was criticised by African American groups at the time. The African American Wacs themselves got on with the job in spite of segregation, carrying out the same duties as their white sisters-in-arms.
About a month after D-Day, Wacs were in Europe, closely following the combat troops as the Allies liberated Europe and took on the administration of the freed areas. The vast responsibilities of the army after the end of the war in Europe mean that the WAC remained in service until the end of 1946.
Lesbians and gay men were active participants in military service and other war efforts. The Women's Army Corps and other women's military auxiliaries attracted a large number of lesbians. Although there are no firm statistics, it has been estimated that some units were well over 50% lesbian.
An early smear campaign against the WAC accusing it of "sapphic perversion" was not wrong, although no official history has admitted it. Indeed, save for the stories of the Wacs themselves, no one would guess that a lesbian had ever been admitted to the ranks. Long after the fact, various lesbians who had served claimed to have outed themselves and served openly as lesbians, but there is now overwhelming proof that these are fabrications (see this article about the most famous claimant).
Gay men, too, served in all branches of the armed forces and were even able, in rare instances, to be out in limited ways, as every man willing to serve was needed. Being a homosexual was not, by itself, grounds for military discharge during the war (this was introduced in the U.S. military in 1953). Some gay men have said that their most carefree, enjoyable days were during their military service. Others, however, were investigated, arrested, and given Undesirable Discharges.
Lesbians worked for the war effort in different ways. Janet Flanner, who had written columns for the New Yorker from Paris through the 1930s, and who had been part of the Natalie Barney coterie, became a war correspondent. Others worked as photographers, reporters, as nurses and fundraisers. Lesbian and bisexual Hollywood actresses entertained the troops. If a lesbian's sexual preference became known, she was often tolerated, because her work was necessary.
The post-war backlash against lesbians and gay men, as seen in the late 1940s and early 1950s anti-homosexual crusades (which equated homosexuality with Communism as a danger to the United States) was a parallel to the anti-woman campaign that drove women out of the workforce and back into the home. Their usefulness over, lesbians and gay men were driven into the closet for two decades.
This website cannot adequately speak of the horrors of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis systematically murdered over six million Jews and five million people from other groups.
The persecution of the Jews began after the Nazi party gained power in 1933. Jews were forced out of public life (universities, civil service, etc.), and from the late 1930s were increasingly segregated: forbidden to attend state schools, cinemas, and other areas where they might mingle with "Aryan" Germans. In November 1938 Jewish synagogues and businesses were attacked and Jews were beaten or killed. This "riot" (actually an orchestrated programme of anti-Jewish violence) is known as Kristallnacht.
During this same period, the Germans also legislated against other groups, such as the Rom (the Gypsies), those who were considered mentally defective or genetically impure, political subversives (socialist, liberals, Communists), and homosexual men. Lesbians were also persecuted, but were included within 'anti-social' or 'mentally disturbed' classifications to hide the fact that they even existed.
However, the persecution of the Jews was more than a contempt for a people considered less than genetically "pure." The German attitude was that Jews were a malignant growth that ought to be expunged wherever it was found. The Nazi persecutions of the other groups can be seen as forms of ethnic cleansing, but it is right to distinguish the anti-Semitic persecution as a specific, despicable, evil.
Many Jews fled Nazi Germany and Austria through the 1930s (by 1939, about half the German Jewish population). When the war began they were no longer able to leave, save by secret and dangerous means. Their possessions and money were wrested from them and used by the Nazis to fund the war, via the banks of Switzerland.
After the beginning of the war in 1939, the German State began its programme of resettling Germans on conquered land, removing the native populations (Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and so on) to concentration camps and slave labour camps. Jews, where they were not transported to camps, were confined to ghettos in the larger cities of the occupied countries, where they lived a precarious and doomed existence. The German State also began the systematic slaughter of 'defectives' at home.
Mass killings of Jews and Roma in the concentration camps began in 1941, but became widespread and systematic after January 1942, when the Nazis embarked upon the Final Solution. These mass murders were carried out in specially constructed camps such as Belsen, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ashes from the furnaces that destroyed the millions of bodies of German victims are still present in the soil.
The people of the Allied nations knew of the Holocaust, although most did not realise its extent. As the invading Allied armies advanced and Hitler realised that defeat was certain, he ordered the evacuation of the death camps. Not soon enough; the films and photographs taken of the camps by army camera crews and by war correspondents were shown around the world.
The words "never again" were solemnly sworn by the western powers after the war, yet hundreds of political exterminations and 'ethnic cleansings' have happened since, in Cambodia, in China, during various wars in Africa, in the Balkans in the 1990s, where Milosevic used mediaeval history as his justification to wipe out the Kosovan Albanians, in the Sudan, in Chechnya, and now the Uighur peoples in western China, the most recent in Han suppressions and exterminations of "lesser" non-Han people, among so many others. The evil of ethnic cleansing, based on lies of innate superiority, the greed for power, the hatred of the Other, and on self-serving historical myths that support a sense of deservedness, combine as easily today as they did for the Nazis, and are as easily accepted as the regrettable right of nations to do as they will within their own borders by other countries now as Germany's "solution" to her "inferior" and "alien" peoples was accepted in the 1930s.
I urge everyone to find out about the Holocaust, so that you will want to raise your voices against atrocities happening right now, even though it would be easier not to care about those people, dying even as you read these words, whom you never would have known and, now, never will know.
All wars uproot populations and displace those whose homes have become battlefields. World War II in Europe saw the deliberate deportation of native populations from their homes, as the Nazis made room for Germans to settle the good lands occupied, until that point, by the "inferior" races of Poles, Slavs, Balts, Russians, and so on. Most of these evacuated peoples were put into camps or used as slave labour, but many, escaping the clutches of the Germans, lived desperately as outlaws or resistance fighters in the forests and marshes.
As the Germans began to be thrust back to their original borders, the liberated peoples found themselves in no better a situation, for the liberating Red Army was as brutal as the Nazis had been, raping, looting and burning their way towards Berlin. Those who could flee from the path of the Soviet advance did so, mingling in vast armies that sought safety, shelter, food and protection, and sometimes taking these by force from less mobile victims of war.
The people from the eastern European countries who had been removed from their homes found, as the war drew to its close, that they had no homes to return to, either because these had been destroyed, or because they were in the hands of the Soviets. These displaced peoples usually tried to head west, where the Allies were advancing, in hopes of being fed and sheltered. Too often they were seized by the Red Army, but those who did escape to Allied-held Europe found themselves put in displaced persons camps.
At first these camps were refuges, but as the war was ending the Allies, including Russia, began to consider how to deal with the millions of homeless people on their hands. At various political conferences, such as Yalta, where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met to jockey for post-war advantage, these displaced populations were used as bargaining chips. The western governments were not eager to assume responsibility, and it seemed useful and fair to agree to Stalin's demand that native populations be returned to their countries. After the war ended these people were, by and large, returned, and for those from countries now held by the Russians, return could mean death.
The Germans who had taken over captured land in the invaded countries fled from the advancing Russian army, along with those, originally from Germany, who had emigrated decades earlier to these countries. However, there was no place in Germany for them to return, and the dangers of the war zone prevented many of them from reaching their erstwhile native soil. As the western Allies drew ever nearer to the Red Army, these displaced Germans fled west away from the Russians, who usually slaughtered or enslaved them, towards the American, British and other Allied forces. By the end of the war the Allies had to deal with a huge German population that was both the enemy and totally dependent. Many organisations assisted in the repatriation of the Germans. Those returned to the Soviet-held part of Germany were placed precisely the position from which they had feared.
The liberation by the Allies of prisoner of war camps on German soil meant the return home of thousands of American, British and other POWs, but it also meant the release of hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers. Many of these Russian POWs had been forced to serve as slave labour or even as soldiers for the Germans, and they were not eager to be repatriated to Russia, for they knew what lay in store for them.
Stalin considered any Russian who had been captured, let alone any who had worked for the German army, to be traitors. Almost all of the Russian soldiers repatriated by the western Allies were sent to gulags in Siberia or shot. Even when the Allies (particularly the British) knew that repatriation meant death, they continued to return Russian POWs to Soviet hands, because it was more important to appease Stalin than to avoid atrocities.
The fate of the Cossacks, in particular, is a special shame on the Allied honour. The Cossacks were longstanding enemies of the Soviets. When war came, they fought with the Nazis against the Red Army, on the grounds that one's enemy's enemy is one's friend. At the end of the war the Russians demanded that all Cossack prisoners of war be turned over to them. Despite the fact that the British (who were in control of most of the Cossack POW camps) knew this would mean the slaughter of the Cossacks, they did hand them over, and the Cossacks were massacred.
The general problem of displaced persons lasted until the early 1950s. The western Allies organised many relief efforts, such as those by the Red Cross and the Society of Friends (Quakers). One of the first acts of the young United Nations was to set up UNRRA: United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency.
This was largely funded by the United States, and provided food, medical attention, shelter, psychological support, and the resettling of many hundreds of thousands of refugees, including finding new homes for the thousands of orphans in their care.
Countries which had, before the war, restricted their immigration (for instance, Canada took in a scant 5000 of the Jews who escaped Germany in the 1930s) now opened their hearts a little wider. Argentina took a disproportionate number, to its credit. The flood of displaced persons, after the passing of the Displaced Persons Act in 1948, was the last European influx the United States was to experience. The next time it received desperate thousands, it was as a result of troubles (Cuba, Viet Nam) of its own making.
France entered the war glumly. It had lost a huge number of men only one generation earlier, in World War I, and the Depression, leading to generally defeatist and right-wing views in government as a result, led to a fatalistic acceptance of the German occupation after the Blitzbrieg demoralised large parts of the armed forces or, in the case of those units who fought gallantly, firmly defeated them.
Some fighting men escaped to form the Free France army, which fought with distinction in other theatres of war before D-Day. Those fighting men who remained in France were gathered up in their thousands to work as forced labour, indeed slave labour, on German farms and in German factories.
The loss of hundreds of thousands of adult men, along with the loss of goods, crops, farm animals, raw materials and maufactured goods and anything else the Germans helped themselves to, meant that French people suffered years of semi-starvation, restrictions, oppression, and summary execution. While conditions were not as bad as they were in, for instance, German-occupied Poland, they were brutal enough.
Those in France who welcomed the Nazi occupation, because they were fascists or deeply right-wing, or who thought the cultured Germans were better than the Soviet Communists (the constant bogeyman through the 1920s ad 1930s, and not unjustly feared), often lived a very comfortable life under Occupation. Freinds of Nazi officers did not suffer the same privations. Poorer people, for instance, women and some gay men, realised that life would be eased for them if they found German lovers, and prostitutes needed customers who could pay, and the German occupation forces were happy to do so.
There was a brave and stubborn resistance in France, and their deeds shine glory forever upon their country. The Resistance was not as simple, wide-spread, or as successful ans post-War claims insisted. Communist leaders of resistance units saw the Resistance as a way to further Moscow's goals, not national goals. Other groups was "true France" as one without Jews, and had to problem assisting in their removal. And other resistance actions were quixotically brave and pointless. That is not to deny in any way that Resistance fighters contributed to the war effort. Many refugees, especially Jews, alived because of them, and many air crew of Allied planes got back to Britain through the courage of the Resistance.
No discussion, however short, of the Occupation of France can be complete without addressing the shameful and enduring stain of Vichy France, that is, the offical "French State" permitted to be set up by the Nazis, and why not, as its autocratic, antisemitic, fascistic regime was no threat. Vichy was a zone or area the Nazi occupiers allowed to be held by a right-wing government under Marshal Pétain, the aged hero of WWI. Its repellent eagerness to help name, oppress, and finally ship Jews into Nazi hands was only the most despicable aspect of its existence. After the war, Pétain and a few others were tried, but this "episode" of French history was argued away, ignored, or buried by the French and historians until reckonings were had, starting a couple of decades later.
France has a mixed reputation concerning both their own Jewish population as well as the Jews who had fled Germany and the occupied territories to the supposed safety of France. Many, many French people risked or sacrified their lives protecting Jewish people, but many, many more were totally comfortable with rounding up and delivering Jews into Nazi hands, and many were over-eager collaborators, jumping in to help even before the Nazis had asked. But, as with Poland, the French, being victims themselves, excused, or ignored these crimes, their own sufferings taking centre stage. This is not unique to the French; history sees this time and time again. I need only point to the countries of the former Yugoslavia (each the true victim, each a perpetrator of crimes) and various African countries today (the Sudans, etc.). The study of history is the study of hypocrisy and cruelty as well as of fortitude and valour.