The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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LONDON, Sunday—I was driven around Berlin during my stay there, and I think I may say that I am saturated with ruins. The city seems completely destroyed, except in certain outlying sections. I doubt if anyone would recognize the Tiergarten or Unter Den Linden, and the Grunewald has been almost entirely cut down for firewood. About 3,000,000 people still live in Berlin, but civilian Germans have no coal. They have to cut their own wood, which is rationed, and each person has enough coupons for one fire to cook meals and to boil a little water for washing during the day. In addition, one fairly big hall in town is heated so that the people can come there to get warmed up on very cold days.

Again looking at the people as carefully as possible, I found that the children appeared fairly healthy. There is hunger, but no starvation. There are people hauling little carts with wood who probably never hauled carts before in their lives. There are women working in groups to clear away the debris—far more women than men. Only civilians doing essential work can use a car. Automobiles are appearing which were hidden away before, and the little Hitler three-wheel cars with truck bodies are much in evidence. There are many bicycles, but walking is still the main means of getting about. The Germans are being treated justly, but they should learn that they have lost a war—though only rarely do they seem willing as yet to accept the blame.

We stopped in the Russian zone to see the building where Hitler lived and the shelter where he took refuge through the bombings. The great hall through which you walk to his office, and the office in which he worked, are all in varying degrees of destruction. I haven't quite thought of what it all meant to me, but I believe my most vivid impression was one of the utter smallness of a human being who needed so much outward grandeur to build up his sense of importance. The man himself is gone and the pomp and ceremony are no more. For some strange reason, verses from the Bible kept running through my mind. Humility and the strength which the humble man draws from outside himself when he is called upon to do tasks that are apparently beyond his human power—these are the qualities which make great men. That spirit is absent here. This nation has not known that spirit, but it will have to acquire something akin to it before it can face the colossal task of reconstruction.

I visited the "Bunker," an old air raid shelter used as an overnight station for German refugees ousted from other countries and now in search of new homes within their own borders. The room was crowded when I went in—largely women and children, with a few men. Disease has been kept down, although that seems a miracle. What is perhaps most revealing is the statement that the public health doctor of the district murmured in my ear: "The mothers are often indifferent"—that is, they let their children wander, they've lost so many. As we went out two children, a little boy of ten and his younger sister, sat on a bench stolidly waiting for someone to come and get them and give them shelter. Their mother had gone away and left them behind. But they didn't cry as children ordinarily would—they just sat motionless, and your heart went out to these innocent victims of a system which that great room of Hitler's represented.

We stayed with General Clay in Berlin, and Ambassador Murphy came to dinner. Between them I think I learned of a few of the questions that can't be answered yet. You can measure the extent of physical damage done to cities, you can restore water supplies, gas and electricity, and you can rebuild the buildings needed to establish a military government. But how to gauge what has happened to human beings—that is incalculable. How soon will an economy which is being completely changed be reestablished, and what effect will the new situation have on the rest of the world? These are questions that cannot be answered now and may not be answered for a long time to come. The real answer will depend on the wisdom of the leaders of various nations and their ability to make their people understand the world conditions that we face today.

The men and girls in the various services have a feeling of the problem and the misery which exists all around them. At a soldiers club in Berlin, they smiled when I said I wondered how we were going to like eating dark bread at home. The boy next to me at table said: "I'd like to tell them what the people have over here." And, later, another soldier said to me: "I can't think why they had to fight each other. The language is a bar; but while our customs are different, all over we seem to have a lot of things that are just the same." That's really a great discovery—"all over we have a lot of things that are just the same." Those are the things we have to find and build on, and those, I imagine, are the only things that can give us hope.



Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Clay, Lucius D. (Lucius DuBignon), 1897-1978 [ index ]
         General Officer during WWII
         [ LC | VIAF | Wikidata | SNAC ]
  • Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945 [ index ]
         German dictator
         [ LC | ISNI | VIAF | Wikidata | SNAC | FAST ]
  • Murphy, Robert D. (Robert Daniel), 1894- [ index ]
         American diplomat; political advisor to Eisenhower during WWII and in post-war Germany; U.S. Ambassador to Japan and Belgium
         [ LC | VIAF | Wikidata | SNAC ]
  • London (England, United Kingdom) [ index ]
Other Terms and Topics

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 18, 1946

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | LC | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | Wikidata | SNAC ]

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.