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Hidden history packs a powerful punch


Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Getty Images

Winston Churchill

1945: The Savage Peace (BBC2) took its title from a dark joke that circulated among German soldiers during the closing months of combat: "Enjoy the war because the peace will be savage".

And so it turned out, both for the soldiers and for millions of German or German-speaking civilians who found themselves the victims of barbarous reprisals in eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Indeed, before the Potsdam treaty led to the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries, terrible reprisals were carried out on them - including the rape of an estimated two million women and children and the murders of at least a quarter of a million German-speaking people.

Such was the horrifying and largely unknown story told in this remarkable and truly grim documentary, which contained hard-to-watch footage of beatings and summary executions that "many saw but in which few were interested".

No one was ever indicted for these crimes in what the film deemed "the largest known ethnic cleansing in history", but the film had terrifying recollections from now elderly Germans who had either witnessed or suffered these atrocities.

Fourteen-year-old Dorota was incarcerated in a Polish camp that had hitherto been run by the Nazis and in which dreadful deeds were then re-enacted by the newly liberated Poles. And at 84 she had no feelings of forgiveness for what she had endured and seen: "When I look at these criminals, I feel like chopping them to pieces and feeding them to ravenous dogs, I hate them so much."

Meanwhile, Winston Churchill (right), who was one of the signatories to the Potsdam agreement concerning "orderly and humane population transfers", was being spurned by his own people.

Churchill: When Britain Said No (BBC2) was an engrossing account of how voters in 1945 turned against a man who, in his wife's words, "knows nothing about the lives of ordinary people". And thus began the welfare state.

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