The proper object for study must be the German people.
How could it be that one of the most educated societies in Europe, the nation of Thomas Mann, inheritors of centuries of high culture and scientific achievement, fell prey to the designs of such gangsters as Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, and remained so even when it became plain that the outcome must be an epic catastrophe? Nicholas Stargardt, an Oxford professor of modern history, draws on diaries, letters, and contemporary documents to paint a huge social canvas of Germans at war, soldiers and civilians, men and women of all ages.
There are many unexpected vignettes, such as that concerning Kurt Gerstein, a disinfection expert and SS officer, who visited the Belzec and Treblinka extermination facilities in August Gerstein found himself sharing a compartment on the night train back to Berlin with a Swedish diplomat, and risked telling this man what he had seen.
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Many Germans explained their own wartime suffering, especially in air raids on German cities, by using a rhetoric of retaliation. Stargardt puts the July bombing of Hamburg at the center of his account. By fall , however, most Germans remained committed to the war, especially the war against the Soviet Union.
The German War: A Nation under Arms, 1939-1945; Citizens and Soldiers
While Stargardt is hardly the first historian to link German claims of wartime suffering to German practices of genocidal violence, The German War effectively draws out the story lines that Germans used over the course of the war to knit together the diverse geography and chronology of their experiences. After nearly a year-and-a-half of war, only people had been killed p.
Stargardt provides these figures, but he also gives us voices that, haltingly at times, translated those experiences from the front to families at home and back again. Perhaps even more importantly, this cast list pushes back against any easy notion of who, in fact, comprised the Germans whose war he investigates.
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It includes familiar and unfamiliar names, men and women, soldiers and civilians, Jewish and non-Jewish characters, their identifying traits summed up in a few sentences and inviting further exploration of their wartime dramas set to begin a few pages later. In a fascinating detail, Stargardt notes that wartime calendars recorded September 3, when France and Britain had declared war on Germany, as the day on which the war began.
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As much as German war stories may also have retrospectively tried to frame the war as something that happened to them, Stargardt underscores how all-inclusive their wartime stories proved.