The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard - review by Alan Allport

Alan Allport

The Homecoming

The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War

By

Jonathan Cape 42pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

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 were non-citizens; there were nearly eight million of them from at least twenty countries, either prisoners of war conscripted for corvée labour or else Hilfswillige, ‘volunteers’ imported, with varying degrees of coercion, to work for the Reich. Most of the Hiwis were Poles and Russians, often female, often very young: the typical worker was said to be an eighteen-year-old schoolgirl from Kiev. Half a million concentration camp inmates, Jewish and non-Jewish, were churning out Messerschmitts and machine guns in the Reich’s armament factories and toiling on the Pharaonic construction projects of Armaments Minister Albert Speer. Germany was the hub of a vast and polyglot slave empire.

The Allies inherited this dazed and half-starved sea of humanity when they entered Germany in the spring of 1945. What to do with the ‘Displaced Persons’ or ‘DPs’ of Europe was to occupy the minds of statesmen and relief workers for the next several years. Ben Shephard, the

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter