Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What it was like to be a German, 1939-1945

The German War is an astonishing book. Nicholas Stargardt is an Oxford don, so this is a scholarly work (and priced accordingly), yet it accomplishes a seemingly impossible feat: it lays out German crimes at home and abroad, while showing the criminals not only as human beings, but as men and women who in many cases deserve our sympathy. These are "Hitler's willing executioners," in the memorable words of Daniel Goldhagen, the citizens and soldiers who did much of the dirty work of the Third Reich. "A deep shame is growing," one landser wrote to his wife while guarding Russian prisoners in conditions that would kill them. (Maria would learn the details from his diary, brought home to her by one of the comrades after he himself was killed in December 1941.) Based largely on such diaries and letters, along with newspaper accounts and the reports of the security police, all beautifully woven into the story of the disaster as it unfolded from 1939 to 1945.

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