The Eastern Front: A History of the First World War by Nick Lloyd - review by Jonathan Boff

Jonathan Boff

Graveyard of Empires

The Eastern Front: A History of the First World War


Viking 672pp £30

By 1914, the city of Lemberg had been a centre of learning and the arts for centuries. Here, in the capital of Austrian Galicia, Poles, Ruthenians, Germans and Jews talked, studied, worked and worshipped side by side. Hundreds of similar cities and towns dotted the borderlands of eastern Europe, the crumple zone where three empires met and identities were as fluid as frontiers. Readers can see a little of this world in The Radetzky March, the masterpiece of Joseph Roth, born not far from Lemberg, and in the remarkable East West Street by Philippe Sands.

And then war came. Lemberg changed hands eight times in the thirty years between 1914 and 1944. As the city’s overlords changed, so too did the city’s name, from Lemberg, to Lvov, back to Lemberg, to Lwów (when it became part of Poland), to Lemberg once more under the Nazis, and then to Lvov again when it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. By a series of miracles, the city’s buildings survived these wars more or less intact, but decades of genocide and ethnic cleansing swept away much of the cosmopolitan population, along with its babel of languages and faiths. Of a Jewish community nearly 200,000 strong, only a few hundred survived, among them the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. We now know Lemberg as the Ukrainian city of Lviv, and it is at war again today.

There are parallels between the current war in Ukraine and the fighting on the Eastern Front described by Nick Lloyd in this, the second volume of a projected three-part history of the First World War. Paranoia and an obsession with prestige, blended with naked imperialist expansion, lay at the roots

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