A superb addition to the social history of Nazi Germany.
British historian Moorhouse (Killing Hitler: The Plots, The Assassins, and the Dictator Who Cheated Death, 2006, etc.) begins with a vivid description of Berlin in April 1939, as the city celebrated Hitler’s 50th birthday, a massive, elaborately choreographed festivity featuring a five-hour military parade during which Hitler mostly remained standing. The author then jumps ahead to Germany’s invasion of Poland, an announcement greeted with no enthusiasm whatsoever from Berliners who remembered the terrible privations of 1914–’18. Using interviews, letters, journals, memoirs and archives, the author provides an absorbing account of daily life, as Berliners were less concerned about the Reich’s glories than the fate of their men at the front and preoccupied by shortages of fuel, food and clothes. Bombing raids began in 1940, producing little damage but serious morale problems as working Berliners complained bitterly of sleepless nights in bomb shelters. They paid little attention to nearly 500,000 foreign laborers who worked under conditions varying from tolerable to those of concentration-camp inmates (who also worked in the city). A few showed concern for the Jews, but readers will squirm as Moorhouse recounts how they were harassed, starved, robbed, ejected from their apartments and finally marched off to be killed. Other disturbing chapters recount the story of Berlin’s anti-Nazi opposition (generally disastrous), the trials of Jews who tried to escape deportation by going underground (some succeeded) and the increasing deterioration of city life after 1943 as bombing intensified.
An august contribution to the city-during-a-war genre, worthy to sit alongside such classics as Margaret Leech’s Reveille in Washington (1941) and Ernest Furgurson’s Ashes of Glory (1996).