Sunday, March 3, 2013

History repeats itself

...well, sort of.

I just started reading a book called "War Brides" by Helen Bryan, an American ex-pat who lives in England. The story, which is a work of fiction, is centered around a group of five women in World War II who form an unlikely friendship. They reunite fifty years later on the anniversary of V-Day to settle a score and "avenge one of their own". I'm not very far into it at this point, but so far I'm enjoying it. Bryan paints rich scenery in this story; so far, she's taken us to the quaint, quiet village of Crowmarsh Priors and a Mardis Gras celebration in New Orleans. The imagery is vivid, and if it continues throughout the story, I'm sure this will be a book I'll love.

I'm fascinated by World War II (well, 20th century history, in general, but mid-century holds an especial point of interest for me.) A little over a month ago, I finished an incredibly fascinating book: "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer. It's a very long read--it tops out at almost 1300 pages--but so very, very worth it. Shirer was an American correspondent in Germany as Hitler rose to power, and he documents the Third Reich with a mix of first-hand accounts from not only the diaries of prominent Nazi officials made available following the Nuremburg trials, but also his own first-hand accounts, as well. He was also granted access to captured Nazi documents to help shed even more light on the one of the darkest times in history. What was interesting to me was that Shirer wrote this book in the late 1950s, when these events were still very fresh in the minds of everyone who lived through this part of history. At any rate, I learned far, far more about the Nazi regime from this book than I ever did in history class. I kept wanting to yell at England and France for having so many opportunities to stop Hitler, and yet failed to really act until after millions of people had died. (Seriously, they had SO. MANY. OPPORTUNITIES. It seemed the only one who predicted the coming horrors was Winston Churchill, but he was still "a voice in the wilderness", as Shirer calls him, as the Nazis rose to prominence.) I'd always wondered just how Hitler was able to gain all his power, and this book spells it out pretty plainly: he was very, very good at telling people what they wanted to hear, and ruthless in dealing with his opponents. What's intriguing is that this was the first time in history that a major political takeover was done not by violence, but in a completely legal way (well, almost; more on that in a second) and within the country's political system itself, not to mention in a rather short timeframe. I say it was almost legal in that Hitler was a native of Austria, and he was only able to get himself on the ballot in the first place because the interior minister of Brunswick appointed him as an administrator to that state's delegation at the Reichstadt in Berlin in 1932, which granted Hitler citizenship in Brunswick and therefore Germany. The politics, the battles, the horrific conditions people faced during this time...all the details from Shirer's exhaustive research paint a very vivid picture of this time in history. While this book is long and chock-full of facts, it doesn't read like a stuffy textbook at all; Shirer wrote this book in more of a novel-like format, so it's pretty easy to read. I will say that Shirer tends to repeat himself when describing Nazi officials--yes, Hermann Goering was a large man, we get it--and he has been criticized for his interpretation of Nazism (namely, that it reflected the character of Germany since the days of Martin Luther, not as a form of totalitarianism that was found amongst other European nations in the 1930s). However, if you want to learn about the Third Reich from people who were there--and very much a part of it--you really can't go wrong here. You can find it on Amazon here:

It will be interesting to see how my views of "War Brides" are informed by what I read in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". I suppose I'll need to do a follow-up blog post when I finish it, won't I?

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad your interested in it. While I've read this book, though it was in German, I didn't care much for it. Historical texts don't really interest me. However I do like your views on it. :) Good job.