Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century by Konrad H Jarausch - review by Neil Gregor

Neil Gregor

Their Struggle

Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century


Princeton University Press 446pp £27.95 order from our bookshop

Few of the ordinary citizens of Europe born in the 1920s lived their lives entirely untouched by the tumultuous events of the mid-century period. Depression, extremism, violence, war, regime change and renewal provided the chaotic backdrop against which people sought to build and sustain homes, careers, families and futures. Depending on where, when and to whom they were born, they experienced these events in radically different ways, but ordinary people could hardly fail to register that they lived through apparently extraordinary times.

Did anyone struggle more to make sense of their lives than Germans born after the First World War? Profoundly affected by events the origins of which lay before the onset of their own political maturity, the ‘Weimar cohort’ at the centre of this book could justifiably feel that the Nazi dictatorship and Second World War had simply ‘happened to them’. For good reason, they believed that their lives had been determined by forces over which they had no control. But while members of this generation were young enough not to be culpable for the events of 1933, they were old enough to become complicit in their consequences. The stories they told later in life about the events through which they had lived are the focus of this fascinating study by the distinguished German-American historian Konrad Jarausch.

Penned as a companion volume to Jarausch’s magisterial recent history of 20th-century Europe, the book examines a wide variety of autobiographical accounts produced by Germans born in the 1920s, asking both how the events of the 20th century impacted upon those lives and how, conversely, the authors made

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