The Bitter Taste of Victory: In the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel - review by Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead

‘Save Europe Now’

The Bitter Taste of Victory: In the Ruins of the Reich


Bloomsbury 443pp £25 order from our bookshop

In September 1943 Churchill informed the House of Commons that he believed that the Germans combined ‘in the most deadly manner’ the attributes of warrior and slave. If a ‘more frightful’ conflict was to be avoided in the future, they needed to be turned into a different kind of people altogether – peaceable, decent and civilised. In 1945, the liberating armies entering Berlin were joined by various writers, editors, artists and filmmakers, there to spread their civilising message and, eventually, to revive the former film industry, publishing houses and concert halls.

These cultural ambassadors, each bringing their own assumptions and backgrounds with them to conquered Germany, were, as Lara Feigel shows in The Bitter Taste of Victory, an account of the four years between the defeat of the Nazis and the division of the country in 1949, a very mixed bunch. Some, such as Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and Lee Miller, came primarily to observe and report. James Stern arrived on a mission to interview survivors about the bombing. Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson brought a troupe of Old Vic actors. Marlene Dietrich, watched over by two bodyguards, entertained the US soldiers. Some had never been to Germany before, others were German exiles returning for the first

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