An Iron Wind
Europe Under Hitler
Basic Books, New York, 2016, 376 pages
Book Review published on: June 16, 2017
Peter Fritzsche, a widely published professor of history at the University of Illinois, has delivered another outstanding book with An Iron Wind: Europe under Hitler. Fritzche examines personal diaries, letters, and memoirs to examine everyday lives and the perceptions of those living in Nazi occupied Europe. He refers to the inscription on Stalingrad’s World War II memorial, “An iron wind beat in their faces,” in describing the sentiment of everyday Europeans in Nazi occupied Europe pulling together against formidable odds, against the threat of man’s extinction to survive.
An Iron Wind begins before the war, with the 1938 Munich crisis, when Britain, France, and Italy permitted Germany to annex portions of Czechoslovakia, along the country’s borders, mainly inhabited by German speakers. Fritzsche’s research indicates Europeans deeply feared the prospect of another war. This fear, deeply rooted in the devastation experienced during World War I, is amplified in contemporary dire predictions of modern warfare in which cities and populations are destroyed. Many were willing to accommodate the Third Reich in embracing a new authoritarian age for Europe. Fritzsche reminds that England’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, returned home to a hero’s welcome and being celebrated throughout Europe for preventing war before being vilified in appeasing Adolph Hitler.
An Iron Wind reminds us that humanity is only a thin veneer that covers inhumanity. Its pages are full of collaborators and opportunists, full of traitors surprised by their own lack of conscience, and full of moral compromises reflecting man’s darker nature. Inward glimpses of diaries and letters record French, Poles, and even Jews, assisting the Nazis in the deportation and systematic murder of Jews in occupied Europe. Fritzsche suggests strong commitment to self-preservation enabled individuals to swiftly abandon their morality in ignoring, justifying, and in many cases, endorsing the persecutions and violence of others in the community.
Fritzsche concludes in exploring efforts by Jews and non-Jews to make sense of Jewish persecution and the consequences for those who were victims of it. Readers are challenged to consider questions of religion, morality, and society’s capacity for inhumanity. An Iron Wind provides a very interesting look at World War II through the view of every day Europeans and has a great academic value and merit. Fritsche’s work may be the most definitive study of World War II from the civilian perspective. It is an excellent addition for any sociology collection.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas