A deeply compelling study of the peace enforced on Germany by the Allied victors at the close of World War II.
British historian Taylor (The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961–1989, 2007, etc.) builds on the important work of Perry Biddiscombe and others in fashioning a more complete story of the messy “enforced transformation” of Germany after the demise of the Third Reich. Gen. Eisenhower had declared in 1945 that Americans came “not as liberators but as conquerors,” emphasizing the shared German guilt, yet in a 1995 poll more than half the German population still held to the notion that VE-Day was “a day of liberation.” Taylor carefully weighs the evidence on both sides, Allied and German, for a portrait of a terrible time and utterly traumatized populations: the Russians making their way into the eastern provinces of Germany in early 1945, speeding toward Berlin, “living witnesses of the fact that at least 25 million of their compatriots…had died in battle, or by massacre, and often by deliberate starvation” at the instigation of the Nazis, and in no mood for the niceties of prisoner treatment; and the despairing German civilians deserted and duped by Hitler, left to endure the onslaught of Russian revenge in the form of pillaging, mass rape, torture and murder. The Nazi propaganda machine had preyed on German anger at the bombings of German cities and the fear of Allied retaliation. Still, many Germans fled westward to be able to seek refuge in American and British hands, as news of Russian brutality spread. Those who survived the ravages of Stunde Null, “zero hour,” feared that Germany would simply cease to exist. While the Allied occupation and restructuring weren’t perfect, Germany in short order became an economic powerhouse, putting off a moral examination of their wartime conduct for a 20-year “sleep cure.”
Hard-hitting yet evenhanded, Taylor’s work holds tremendous relevance for our time.