Cover image for An iron wind : Europe under Hitler / Peter Fritzsche.
An iron wind : Europe under Hitler / Peter Fritzsche.
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2016]
Physical Description:
xviii, 356 pages ; 24 cm
Talk in Wartime -- Hitler Means War! -- A New Authoritarian Age? -- Living with the Germans -- Journey to Russia -- The Fate of the Jews -- The Life and Death of God -- The Destruction of Humanity -- Broken Words.
"Unlike World War I, when the horrors of battle were largely confined to the front, World War II reached into the lives of ordinary people in an unprecedented way. Entire countries were occupied, millions were mobilized for the war effort, and in the end, the vast majority of the war's dead were non-combatant men, women, and children. Inhabitants of German-occupied Europe--the war's deadliest killing ground--experienced forced labor, deportation, mass executions, and genocide. As direct targets of and witnesses to violence, rather than far-off bystanders, civilians were forced to face the war head on. Drawing on a wealth of diaries, letters, fiction, and other first-person accounts, award-winning historian Peter Fritzsche redefines our understanding of the civilian experience of war across the vast territory occupied and threatened by Nazi Germany. Amid accumulating horrors, ordinary people across Europe grappled with questions of faith and meaning, often reaching troubling conclusions. World War II exceeded the human capacity for understanding, and those men and women who lived through it suspected that language could not adequately register the horrors they saw and experienced. But it nevertheless prompted an outpouring of writing, as people labored to comprehend and piece thoughts into philosophy. Their broken words are all we have to reconstruct how contemporaries saw the war around them, how they failed to see its terrible violence in full, and how they attempted to translate the destruction into narratives. Carefully reading these testimonies as no historian has done before, Fritzsche's groundbreaking work sheds new light on the most violent conflict in human history, when war made words inadequate, and the inadequacy of words heightened the devastation of war"-- Provided by publisher.


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World War II reached into the homes and lives of ordinary people in an unprecedented way. Civilian men, women, and children made up the vast majority of those killed by the war, and the conflict displaced millions more. On Europe's home fronts, the war brought the German blitzkrieg, followed by long occupations and the racial genocide of the Holocaust.

In An Iron Wind , historian Peter Fritzsche draws on diaries, letters, and other first-person accounts to show how civilians in occupied Europe struggled to understand this terrifying chaos. As the Third Reich targeted Europe's Jews for deportation and death, confusion and mistrust reigned. What were Hitler's aims? Did Germany's rapid early victories mark the start of an enduring new era? Was collaboration or resistance the wisest response to occupation? How far should solidarity and empathy extend? And where was God? People tried desperately to make sense of the horrors around them, but the stories they told themselves often justified a selfish indifference to their neighbors' fates.

Piecing together the broken words of World War II's witnesses and victims, Fritzsche offers a haunting picture of the most violent conflict in modern history.

Author Notes

Peter Fritzsche is the W. D. & Sarah E. Trowbridge Professor of History at the University of Illinois. The author of nine books, including the award-winning Life and Death in the Third Reich , he lives in Urbana, Illinois.

Reviews 2

New York Review of Books Review

"WAR and peace," Tolstoy's great novel of Napoleon's campaign in Russia, haunts this book. Peter Fritzsche, a professor of history at the University of Illinois and the author of nine books including "Life and Death in the Third Reich," wants to rethink war and peace; he wants us to see how even apparently peaceful moments during World War II were inflected by war raging elsewhere. "An Iron Wind: Europe Under Hitler" is a work of deep reflection by an experienced historian rather than an attempt to capture the history of World War II from any particular angle. Still, his announced theme - the moral challenges of the war for civilians in Europe - gives way at the beginning to set pieces on other subjects: the ones, the reader suspects, that Fritzsche finds most interesting. It is a pleasure to follow along. The book begins before the war, with the Munich crisis of September 1938, when Britain, France and Italy agreed to grant Czechoslovak territory to Germany - rather than fight, or encourage the Czechoslovaks to fight. What Fritzsche adds to the familiar history of appeasement is a series of rich illustrations of the European fear of modern war. For people in London and elsewhere, Fritzsche says, the imagining of a deadly air war from the sky overwhelmed the political details of the actual accommodation reached with Hitler. To prove this point he follows two exceptional Americans, Charles and Anna Lindbergh, as they made their way across Europe. He suggests that the Lindberghs' loss of their child in the infamous 1932 kidnapping and murder informed their concerns about a future war. This terror, Fritzsche contends, stood behind Charles Lindbergh's overestimation of the German bomber fleet and his conclusion that courting war with Germany made no sense. If one starts, as Fritzsche does, in the private sphere, with the losses and gains of everyday life, the war, or even the prospect of war, can seem at once more alien and more familiar: alien, because personal concerns had little to do with the grand themes of ideology; familiar because preoccupations with such matters as family are common to everyone. Fritzsche knows that the greatest cataclysms of World War II took place in the East, but he begins on the comfortable ground of what Americans said to one another and to the British. He then edges forward into the war itself, to famous English individuals like Virginia Woolf, to French writers and diarists like Colette, and finally to Germans and to German Jews. In all of these cases Fritzsche patiently analyzes long conversations among civilians who had time to talk: the British on the home front, the French during the "phony war" of 1939-40 and then under occupation. Even the Germans spent 10 years under Hitler before the war really hit home, and even German Jews, at least by comparison with other Jews, had a great deal of time to contemplate the Nazis. Victor Klemperer, the outstanding German-Jewish linguist and student of totalitarian language, is inevitably cited in studies that take this approach. In September 1941 Klemperer could write to a friend about whether wearing a yellow star was the "final act" in the sense of the end of a Shakespearean drama; at that same moment 33,771 Jews were shot over a ravine just outside Kiev. Klemperer had been thinking and writing about Hitler for nearly a decade; the Jews of Kiev were murdered a few days after German power arrived. We know that they did talk to one another on the path to death, but this is not the kind of conversation that Fritzsche has in mind. This is a general problem with Fritzsche's approach as applied to the East: Death came quickly, and in stupefying numbers, and to people who did not speak the Western languages in which the history of the war is largely written. No more than one in 20 Jews who died in the Holocaust knew the languages that Fritzsche does; and very few of the millions of victims in the Soviet Union left an intelligible trail. Fritzsche pushes his idea of conversation as far as he can by attending to a group of Swiss Red Cross volunteers who followed the German march to Smolensk. The strange encounter he describes between people who spoke German and the Germans themselves provides extraordinary accounts of Germans' explanations of their atrocities. But to reach these interesting moments, Fritzsche has to send his Western Europeans east; and the perspective in question is always theirs. because fritzsche is interested in how people responded to the fate of their neighbors, his most fascinating conclusions turn out to be broadly European rather than specific to the cases he is considering. He writes of the "Poles" and the "French," but what he finds when he compares these groups and others is that people generally reacted much the same way to their neighbors' disappearance. Everywhere individuals defined their own community as against the people who were being murdered; and everywhere material considerations like the possibility of avoiding hunger or gaining shelter had a similar effect. People incorporated the murder of Jews, for example, to their own problems, regardless of how much they were actually suffering. And particular circumstances didn't seem to make much difference to those caught up in war - for instance, that the Polish intelligentsia were murdered while the French bureaucracy under German occupation ballooned. Fritzsche suggests that the sociology was the same throughout Europe, not only in Warsaw and in Paris but in the transit camps and the ghettos, where Jews who remained could separate themselves morally from those who were transported to their deaths. To draw the conclusion that Fritzsche does not quite draw, the regime that has the power to kill, starve and steal also has the power to define the boundaries of a moral community. He returns in the end to Tolstoy and his influential portrait of war. If we look at war from above, from the heights of ideas and strategies, we see intention and meaning. As we move closer to the battlefield, we lose sight of any sense of pattern, and see only the fury and the chaos. Isaiah Berlin, in a famous essay, asked whether Tolstoy was a fox (someone who knew many things) or a hedgehog (someone who knew one important thing). Berlin's answer was that Tolstoy was a fox who thought he was a hedgehog: He wanted to have a general system, but what he demonstrated instead was the teeming and irreducible complexity of war. Fritzsche, who is clearly aware of all of this, is in something like the opposite position. His book is assembled from hundreds of quotations, and takes the form of a series of essays that only with a certain amount of generosity can be read as chapters. He makes no claim to have said anything in general about war and occupation. And yet, in the end, he has. ? timothy snyder is the Housum professor of history at Yale and the author, most recently, of "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning."

Library Journal Review

Historians have long understood that while the Nazis once controlled much of Western Europe, the experience of occupation was not uniform. Fritzsche (history, Univ. of Illinois; Life and Death in the Third Reich) seeks to re-create how ordinary citizens from across the continent tried to work out the parameters between collaboration and accommodation. Some Parisians, for example, attempted to view ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers as distinct from the wider occupation authority. In Warsaw, meanwhile, citizens had to cope with the brutal policies enacted by the Nazis that intended to remake the east into an Aryan racial utopia. Of particular interest is the account of a nurse within a volunteer Swiss medical unit, who treated German casualties during Operation Barbarossa, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Through her account, readers not only see the savagery of racial war but also hear the perpetrator's justifications. VERDICT Fritzsche is adept at utilizing contemporary literature, memoirs, and correspondence to reconstruct the intellectual impact of Nazi occupation. This makes the book, however, more suited to an audience who knows at least the broad details of World War II. Recommended for all libraries.-Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. xi
1 Talk in Wartimep. 1
2 Hitler Means War!p. 23
3 A New Authoritarian Age?p. 61
4 Living with the Germansp. 89
5 Journey to Russiap. 131
6 The Fate of the Jewsp. 159
7 The Life and Death of Godp. 203
8 The Destruction of Humanityp. 237
9 Broken Wordsp. 273
Notesp. 315
Indexp. 349

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