Europe In the Aftermath of World War II
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It is difficult to convey in meaningful terms the scale of the wreckage caused by the Second World War. Warsaw was just one example of a city destroyed - there were dozens more within Poland alone. In Europe as a whole hundreds of cities had been entirely or partially devastated. Photographs taken after the war can give some idea of the scale of the destruction of individual cities, but when one tries to multiply this devastation across the entire continent it necessarily defies comprehension. In some countries - especially Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia and Ukraine - a millennium of culture and architecture had been crushed in the space of just a few short years. The violence that brought about such total devastation has been likened by more than one historian to Armageddon.
Those people who witnessed the wreckage of Europe's cities struggled to come to terms even with the local devastation they saw, and it is only in their tortured, inadequate descriptions that some of the destruction becomes imaginable. However, before we come to such human reactions to the crushed and shattered scenery, it is necessary to set down some statistics - because statistics matter, regardless of how elusive they can be.
As the only nation to have successfully defied Hitler for the entire duration of the war, Britain had suffered badly. The Luftwaffe had dropped almost 50,000 tons of bombs on Britain during the Blitz, destroying 202,000 houses and damaging 4.5 million more. The pounding received by Britain's major cities is well known, but it is what happened to some of the smaller towns that shows the true extent of the bombing. The ferocity of the attacks on Coventry gave birth to a new German verb, coventriren -- to 'Coventrate', or destroy utterly. Clydebank is a relatively small industrial town on the outskirts of Glasgow: out of 12,000 homes only 8 escaped damage.
Across the English Channel the damage was not quite so universal, but much more concentrated. Caen, for example, was virtually wiped off the map when the Allies landed in Normandy in 1944: 75 per cent of the city was obliterated by Allied bombs. Saint-Lô and Le Havre suffered even worse, with 77 per cent and 82 per cent of the buildings destroyed. When the Allies landed in the south of France more than 14,000 buildings in Marseilles were partly or completely destroyed. According to government records for compensation claims and loans for war losses, 460,000 buildings in France were destroyed in the war, and a further 1.9 million damaged.
The further east one travelled after the war, the worse the devastation became. In Budapest 84 per cent of the buildings were damaged, and 30 per cent of them so badly that they were entirely uninhabitable. About 80 per cent of the city of Minsk in Belarus was destroyed: only 19 of 332 major factories in the city survived, and only then because mines set by the retreating Germans were defused by Red Army sappers just in time. Most of the public buildings in Kiev were mined when the Soviets retreated in 1941 -- the rest were destroyed when they returned in 1944. Kharkov in eastern Ukraine was fought over so many times that eventually there was little left to dispute. In Rostov and Voronezh, according to one British journalist, 'the destruction was very nearly 100 per cent'. And the list goes on.
From SAVAGE CONTINENT by Keith Lowe, copyright © 2012 by the author, and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
Review by Dennis Showalter
Evocatively written and well substantiated, this work invites and stands comparison with Bloodlands. Like that volume, it offers a significant reinterpretation of a significant aspect of the history of twentieth-century Europe. Freelance author Lowe brings a novelist’s insight and a historian’s perspective to this narrative of a consciously neglected subject. The herbivorous, consensus-oriented Europe of the 21st century has every reason to submerge the memories of post-World War II years, which were anything but an era of reconstruction. The Nuremberg Trials, the Marshall Plan, and the other healing exercises came later. Lowe concentrates on the period when such rehabilitation was not even a possibility. Savage Continent tells a story of loss and shock, of searches for vengeance whose internal logic led to hostilities that rapidly escalated beyond easy control. Ethnic cleansing, political violence, civil war—these were the last spasms of a world war whose legacy continues to shape Europe’s politics, culture, and mentalité.
Lowe describes the war’s dominant immediate legacies for Europe as physical destruction, population disruption, and moral breakdown. Infrastructures had been broken by conquest, by resistance, and by liberation. Families and communities had become a series of gaps, through death in war, through overlapping genocides, through the movements of refugees. Famine was a consequence of comprehensive breakdowns in production, distribution, and allocation. Underlying all of these were the everyday consequences: looting and theft, dishonesty and betrayal, violence—with rape a major and overlooked element.
This was a poor foundation for either reconstruction or new beginnings. Hope was fragile, and regularly overshadowed by an atmosphere of vengeance. Initially this centered on the concentration camps whose Jewish survivors and slave laborers requited their suffering in blood when and as they could. German prisoners of war paid as well in personal coin for the crimes of the Third Reich. Where one had stood—or not stood—in wartime resistance movements could be a life and death matter. And in those contexts entire peoples were expelled and relocated. Jews who learned they no longer had homes; Germans seen as too great a risk to be tolerated; Poles and Ukrainians on the wrong sides of newly drawn frontiers—not since the collapse of the Roman Empire had Europe witnessed such a wandering of peoples. Never had such movements been less voluntary.
A climate of destruction and a spirit of vengeance combined to produce civil war. From France and Italy into and across eastern and southern Europe, ethnic, political, and ideological rivals shot it out for postwar mastery. The omnipresence of small arms and ammunition made the conflicts sustainable for months, sometimes for years, as in the Greek civil war and the anti-Soviet, anti-Communist resistance in Ukraine and the Baltic. Hearts and minds were less won than subjugated. That process was in turn subsumed in an emerging Cold War itself in good part the struggle for control of a “savage continent”—whose savagery, events in the past quarter-century suggest, may have been submerged rather than dissipated.
Hardcover Book : 480 pages
Publisher: St. Martins Press, LLC ( July 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-617298
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 x 1.2inches
Product Weight: 25.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
I highly recommend this book, well written and balanced! Filling in some history from a time that is largely ignored by most for one reason or another. Can we all just get along, was the famous question! The answer is usually NO or no-way. This book presents a way were many of us might be able to patch it up and get over the past! Wisdom puts us on guard against Fascist and Communism as it should but other hatreds and particularly ethic hatreds should be buried to rise no more! Stop keeping a record of wrongs, in other words!
Reviewer: Jerry H