A breathtaking, numbing account of the physical and moral desolation that plagued Europe in the late 1940s.
Drawing on recently opened Eastern European archives, Lowe (Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg 1943, 2007, etc.) presents a searing and comprehensive view of postwar Europe that calls into question the very nature of World War II. Europe in this era is often seen through a rosy mythology of liberated nations cheerfully coming together to begin the task of reconstruction. In fact, the story of this period "is firstly a story of the descent into anarchy." Across this devastated, lawless continent, millions of displaced persons trudged on foot in search of vanished homes or safety, some voluntarily, some driven at bayonet point as part of the massive ethnic cleansing that engulfed Eastern Europe; all were generally unwelcome on arrival. Everyone was “hungry, bereaved and bitter about the years of suffering they had been made to endure—before they could be motivated to start rebuilding they needed time to vent their anger, to reflect and to mourn." Vent they did. Hostilities ended with the defeat of Germany, but violence continued unabated as partisans and communities punished collaborators, terrorized and expelled ethnic minorities, and pursued with brutal enthusiasm the class wars and civil wars that had long bubbled just beneath the surface. Viewed in this light, the familiar Allies-Axis war appears as a simplistic cover for the far more complicated and vicious local conflicts beneath. Lowe writes with measured objectivity, honoring the victims of atrocity and understanding the causes of, but refusing to excuse, the violence directed by freed victims against their former oppressors.
Authoritative but never dry, stripping away soothing myths of national unity and victimhood, this is a painful but necessary historical task superbly done.