Friday, July 6, 2018
WAR OF THE CENTURY When Hitler Fought Stalin by Laurence Rees
A powerful collection of firsthand narratives that provides human points of access to WWII’s horrific eastern front.Rees (The Nazis: A Warning from History, not reviewed) is the anchor and senior producer of BBC Television’s historyprograms. Here, he again demonstrates his ability to link the broad and impersonal sweep of history with poignant human experiences. Beginning with Hitler’s deliberate betrayal of Stalin and the euphoria of early German successes accompanying it, Rees marches through the history of the eastern war. The text lingers over the pathos of the treatment of civilians by both dictatorships, paints a bloody picture of the barbarous battle around Stalingrad, and concludes with the iron-willed ascension of the Soviets over Eastern Europe in the wake of Hitler’s collapse. Taking advantage of new access to the ex-Soviet veterans and survivors of the war’s violence, Rees breaks new ground by documenting the stories of 56 eyewitnesses from both the German and Soviet sides of the conflict. From the cold-blooded rationalization inherent in the personal testimonies of both German SS troops and members of the equally feared Soviet SMERSH to the heartbreaking accounts of enforced starvation and systematic genocide in the fields of Russia and the notorious German camps, Rees lends human faces and voices to an era of modern history
not easily understood. The accumulated power of the individual tales transforms what would otherwise be an elementary and general history into an important historical text deserving of wide readership.
The compelling blend of sound military and social history with personal stories of the war’s combatants and victims creates a unique and dramatic document about totalitarianism and its devastating effects in the 20th century. (b&w photos throughout, 19 pp. color photos, 4 maps) (Supplement to BBC2's television series "War of the Century")