[Review] The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945, Citizens and Soldiers by Nicholas Stargardt

Publisher and Publication Date: Basic Books. 2015.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. War literature. World War II.
Pages: 704.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library copy.
Audience: World War II history readers, especially those with an interest in civilians.
Rating: Excellent.

8 black and white maps.

52 black and white illustrations.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Author page at Goodreads for Nicholas Stargardt.

I recommend a previous book Nicholas Stargardt has written and I’ve read: Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis.

Summary:

In brief, The German War is a “social history” of the German people, both soldiers and civilians, during World War II.

The German War is a study of German men and women, boys and girls, who lived during pre-World War II, World War II, and post-World War II. It is a thorough exploration showing various points of views of the Nazis, Hitler, the war, and Allies.

Stargardt researched and worked on this book for over 20 years. He was privileged to read private archives and personal letters.

One of the questions he had upon starting this work is when did the German people know about “the murder of the Jews?” The answer is both shocking and disturbing.

Another question is how did they become swept up in believing Hitler was a savior of sorts?

My Thoughts:

It has been a few years ago that I was looking for books to read from the civilian perspective during World War II. I have read a lengthy list of Holocaust and World War II books, but few have been written with a focus on civilians.

I’m reminded of a personal story of my own. In 1999 and 2001, I traveled with family to several European countries. We traveled to several cities in Germany. During the trip, we ate dinner with a family my brother-in-law knew when he was stationed in Germany in the early 1960s. The family owned a pub. They treated him like a son. He has continued to keep in touch with the children (who are all in their senior years). The mother of the family had a tattoo of numbers on her arm. My brother-in-law never asked her about those numbers nor her personal story. Before our dinner together, my brother-in-law asked me and my parents (my dad a World War II veteran), not to bring up the war. And we did not. It was a great meal and visit, despite me not remembering much high school German, my brother-in-law speaks fluent German, and no one else in our party spoke the other’s language. He was the interpreter. Of course, I had many questions I wanted to ask.

It appears the don’t ask questions and the not talking about the war is widespread in that generation and the next. This is one of many things I learned in reading The German War.

The most shocking and disturbing concern is people do not learn from history. The same type of thought patterns and behavior continues on and on. I am referring to control of what is released in the media. I am not referring to one particular group, but this is widespread, and is also displayed on social media. People share what they want the public to know about them. They do not share everything. These things are often released at opportune times to make them look a certain way. Transparency is rare.
Before any of you get your panties in a ruffle, I am not referring necessarily to a political group, but religious, businesses, and individual peoples. I’m reminded of the Hollywood of the early days when press releases about actors were released strategically.

Another interesting thing I learned is the German people have been divided over who were the real victims during the war.

Other reasons why I believe The German War is excellent (I want to clarify, these are not positive as in feel good points, but bring an education for readers).

  1. A broad look at groups of people: Jews, Ethnic Germans, German soldiers, Jehovah Witnesses, Homosexuals, disabled people, children, Polish people, mixed marriages of race, Catholics, and Soviets.
  2. The disturbing, senseless, and barbaric methods of murder of the disabled adults and children.
  3. Large groups of Polish (both Jews and non-Jews) murdered by the Germans that were without “restrictions.”
  4. Food rationing among other factors faced by German civilians.
  5. Women who remained at home while their husbands or boyfriends were fighting.
  6. Rumors of poison gas that would be used by the Allies.
  7. Even in the 1920s, children were taught in German schools that, “France is a hereditary enemy and Hitler is their hero.”
  8. Catholic priests who spoke out against the Nazis.
  9. People’s trust is shown in their government, medical doctors, and those in authority.
  10. A list of countries and the total number of Jews murdered.
  11. Various forms of execution.
  12. Allied bombings of Germany.
  13. Civilian’s experiences during the raids.
  14. Post war Germany. The hunger and lack of food.
  15. Allied soldiers who asked the German people about the war and the limited to no response.

After I read the last page, and I closed the book, I continued to sit in my reading chair pondering what I’d read. I’ve used the word disturbing in this post several times, but it is the best word to describe. Other words are traumatic, visceral, shocking, and memorable.

My God, what humanity does to another.

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