The Medea of the Reich With the Ice-Cold Eyes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Nazi movement was quintessentially male. It was founded on the backs of disaffected servicemen in the years after the First World War. It was consolidated in the carefully choreographed parades led with flags drenched in the blood of fallen heroes. Women were supposed to confine themselves to the three Ks: Kirche, Küche, Kinder, a […]

The Cold Cruelty of the German Army

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Often books about the Third Reich have a last chapter called ‘Götterdämmerung’ or ‘Twilight of the Gods’. The Wagnerian link seems apt; wasn’t the anti-Semitic German nationalist Hitler’s favourite composer? Yet although there are parallels with Richard Wagner (like self-pity and no sense of the ridiculous), Wagner turned men into god and moral heroes, whereas […]

Naming the Guilty Men

Posted on by David Gelber

In an interview a few years ago I asked René Huyghe, Chief Curator of the Louvre in the Vichy years, exactly how he would define those in the French art world who had collaborated. Without hesitation he said that the collaborators had been the ones who had knowingly used the wartime situation to advance their […]

How One Man Escaped the Embrace of the Nazis

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

At one point in Defining Hitler its author asks the reader the rhetorical question: why bother to read this book? For many writers this would be a merited act of authorial self-destruction. In Haffner’s case the answer is mercifully kind: his book simply cannot be put aside. As a memoir of life in Germany during […]

Five Fateful Months

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the summer of 1940, Britain was staring down the barrel of a gun. Defeated by the Germany Army on land and besieged by U-boats at sea, the nation was forced to rely on its last defence against invasion – the Royal Air Force. But the RAF had fewer pilots, inferior planes and less experience […]

We Shall Fight On The Tennis Courts

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Battle of Kohima was fought as part of the Japanese attempt to cut off the British base at Imphal and drive the British out of Assam. To this day historians disagree over whether or not the Japanese would have invaded India had they been victorious. But it is clear that a British defeat at […]

Force For The Good

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As one of the first American journalists to arrive in Berlin after the end of the Second World War, John Dos Passos was embarrassed by the devastation the American B29s had inflicted. At Stettiner Station he saw large crowds of bewildered people, their skin hanging on their bones ‘like candle drippings’. Berlin, he recalled, was […]

The Homecoming

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of the great ironies of Hitler’s catastrophic twelve-year rule from 1933 to 1945 – an irony no doubt lost on the Führer himself – was that a regime so fixated with racial purity ended up making Germany the ethnic dumping ground of Europe. By the summer of 1944, a quarter of the German workforce […]

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Dear Diary…

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Mass-Observation project set up in 1937 before the coming of war two years later left behind a treasure trove of archive material of different kinds, all solicited from the hundreds of volunteers who accepted the invitation to send in reports and diaries about their own lives and the world they observed all around them. […]

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History’s Crooked Lives

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

During the Nuremberg Trials, Hermann Goering spent much of his time in the dock reading a work of philosophy, a contemporary bestseller, by a Chinese-American philosopher, Lin Yutang. The book, The Importance of Living, had been through several editions in the 1930s. One of its principal contentions was that nations, like individuals, have their own […]

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Flight From Fontanellato

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Richard Carver was captured only three nights after the battle of El Alamein, and he was fearful that the Germans would discover that he was Monty’s stepson. He was transferred to the Italians and sent to a prison camp near Parma, from which he escaped nearly a year later. After months on the run, and […]

Japanese Nightmares

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Alistair Urquhart was nineteen in 1939, living with his ‘parents, auntie, sister and two brothers in a newly built granite bungalow on the western fringes of Aberdeen’, and working as an apprentice in a firm of plumbers, merchants and electrical wholesalers. Within weeks of the outbreak of war he was called up, and joined his […]

The Man Who Never Was

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Spying and deception were two aspects of the Second World War in which the British consistently outwitted the opposition. The breaking of the Enigma code enabled the boffins of Bletchley Park to read German encrypted messages, as a result of which Churchill and his commanders could anticipate the enemy’s military manoeuvres; MI5’s XX or Double […]

‘Berlin In Arabic’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Hitler sent Rommel to north Africa in January 1941, Nazi interest in the Arab world burgeoned. From then until the end of the war the Third Reich invested heavily in trying to win over Muslim opinion. Jeffrey Herf believes that this propaganda offensive touched key sectors of Arab society, with profound consequences. It would […]


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In September 1946 workers directed by the Jewish Historical Commission in Poland recovered ten metal boxes buried in the basement of what had been a Jewish school in the Warsaw Ghetto, but which was then a precarious heap of rubble. The boxes contained the first collection of documents and records assembled by the Oyneg Shabes […]

Zero Hour

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

With Eisenhower’s armies closing in on Hitler’s Reich in the spring of 1945, Allied intelligence experts warned of a last-ditch stand by the Nazis in an Alpine redoubt and of a nationwide ‘Werewolf’ resistance movement that would cause mayhem after Germany’s surrender. It seemed highly plausible, but was simply wrong. The redoubt proved a mirage, […]

Oncle Sam

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When the Germans broke through the Maginot Line, in June 1940, and poured down through northern France, sending some 14 million terrified Dutch, Belgians and French onto the roads going south, many of pre-war Paris’s American residents were still living in the city. Some joined the exodus south and never went back. A few were […]


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Far too many historians continue to view the global conflicts of the twentieth century – and especially the Second World War – through the narrow prism chosen by previous generations of writers. In the case of North Africa, for example, there are reams of books, told from an Allied perspective, that begin with General O’Connor’s […]

His Glory Remains

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Winston S Churchill has been the subject of many biographies, notably the multi-volume work by Sir Martin Gilbert that Gordon Brown gave to President Obama. His leadership in the Second World War has been chronicled by many, most persuasively by Andrew Roberts in his outstanding Masters and Commanders. 

Grim Gallantry

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The role of the RAF aircrew, who manned the Bomber Command aircraft that inflicted indescribable destruction on the cities of Hitler’s Germany, has been highlighted by a wave of new books on the Second World War in the air, many published to mark the sixtieth anniversary of that conflict’s end. Most have been written in […]

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