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Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945 Paperback – 3 Sep 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571227732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571227730
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 524,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A powerful and important new work of history.... A thorough, passionate corrective to any simple telling of the terrible last year of this war." -- Financial Times

"An eloquent presentation of what are too often called war's `collateral effects.' Chaos, destruction and suffering are not collateral. They are fundamental."
-- History Book Club

"Remarkable . . . Underlines that the liberation of Europe was both a major military triumph and a human tragedy of epic proportions." -- Irish Times

"The first book I have read that explicitly addresses the plight of civilians during the `crusade for Europe.' ... This tale vividly demonstrates that there was no cause for triumphalism in the condition of Europe following the defeat of Hitler." -- Max Hastings, Sunday Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Remarkable . . . Underlines that the liberation of Europe was both a major military triumph and a human tragedy of epic proportions." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
William Hitchcock's study of the liberation of Europe in the Second World War is actually four interrelated books in one. The first book looks at the experience of civilians in northwestern Europe amidst the fighting during the final months of the war. Theirs is a story of painful, often overlooked hardship, as they were subjected to bombs and shells that did not discriminate between them and the German occupiers. For many Belgians, the Battle of the Bulge meant living through the thick of the fighting, while the Dutch, though spared much direct combat, suffered starvation from the disruption of food supplies.

The second book shifts to an examination of the fighting in the east. Here Hitchcock provides a broader account, one that begins with the German invasion in 1941. This allows him to recount the atrocities committed by Nazi forces, something that allows him to put the conduct of Soviet troops into context. Civilians are much less central to Hitchcock's analysis here, as he also discusses postwar planning for Germany's fate. It is only when Germany itself becomes the battleground that the civilians reemerge as the central focus of the narrative, where again they are presented as victims of the savagery of war.

The final two sections concentrate on the development and administration of relief efforts for those who survived the fighting. The third book addresses the problem posed by 'displaced persons', the millions of refugees created by the war. Here he examines the efforts not just of the Allied forces but of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), a newly-formed agency that sought to improve on the private relief efforts that characterized the last war.
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Format: Hardcover
William Hitchcock's book covers a wide spectrum of the experiences of those who found themselves involved in the 'Liberation' of Europe.
'Liberation', and what it actually meant is viewed through the eyes of the liberators, and the liberated; the fighting soldiers, and the civilians who found themselves in the path of the armies. And, all too often liberation came at a price that was almost too hard to bear.

Hitchcock is not afraid to tell uncomfortable truths about the methods used to secure the advance, and the often concurrently terrible toll of 'allied' civilian lives this caused, an example being, from massed allied air raids over contested territory.

And all along, the Germans resisted stubbornly and at times brutally; never more so than in early 1945 when they systematically allowed the people of northern Holland to starve, rather than allow an allied advance to the German border; which would have ensured that food relief could be brought in to aid the starving Dutch.

He shows how, as a result of burgeoning Cold War politics, the Germans; initially given pariah status; swiftly became viewed, particularly through American eyes as a bulwark against communism, and therefore a natural ally, deserving assistance equal to, and often greater than that given to their victims.

In the final section of the book Hitchcock deals with perhaps the most thorny and contentious issues of the Liberation; the 'displaced persons' and especially, the Jewish survivors of Hitler's Final Solution'.
At this point; having maintained an admirably even handed stance throughout the book, it finally deserts him.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The classic historical narrative of liberation in Europe at the end of World War II is one of celebration, thanksgiving, gratitude, relief. One thinks of images of joyful civilians throwing flowers at Allied jeeps, at soldiers being kissed by grateful young women, of celebrating crowds lining the streets in Paris and other cities. This narrative isn't inaccurate - far from it, all of these things did take place - but it isn't the entire story, and the focus on the more uplifting aspects of liberation has served to mask the true picture underneath, which was often one of death and despair, loss, hunger, even starvation.

As many French civilians died in the 1944 invasion of France as did soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. Many thousands of Dutch civilians died of starvation even after their country had been liberated from the Nazi occupation. The invading armies, most notably the Soviet Red Army, unleashed more horrors on the populations of the countries they passed through - looting, theft, rape, assault, murder. For some countries liberation did not spell freedom at all - simply exchanging one occupation under the Nazis for another under the Soviet Union. And for the Jews of Europe many were still held in camps years after liberation, often in the very same concentration camps they had been imprisoned in under the Nazis.

Hitchcock treats all of these issues with care and a real impartial eye. He readily acknowledges the immense humanitarian efforts made by the Allied countries in the wake of liberation, but also recognises where these efforts fell short and where the governments and occupying armies simply failed to comprehend what many of these suffering people had experienced, particularly the Jews and other displaced people who had no homes to return to.
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