Sunday, October 4, 2009

Liberation: The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944–1945, by William I Hitchcock

“It was rather a shock to find that we were not welcomed ecstatically as ‘Liberators’ by the people,” wrote a British corporal in his wartime diary. “They saw us as bringers of destruction and pain.” Other soldiers also found the French peasants “sullen and silent”, and in this important but provocative book William I Hitchcock has given himself the difficult task of looking at the last year of the war in Europe from the point of view of the civilians whose cities were bombed or loved ones were killed in the name of liberation. Nazi brutality cannot be denied, he says, but the “harvest of innocent life by the liberators” also needs to be addressed, along with “the indeterminate nature of liberation, its paradoxical joys and miseries”. Liberation is a useful antidote to the usual triumphalist narrative of grateful citizens cheering on our boys. Similarly, Hitchcock shows how Allied soldiers were disgusted and repulsed by the “ape-like gibbering skeletons” they liberated from the death camps, and could not relate to them as fellow human beings.

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