Choosing between Bad and Worse in Nazi-Occupied Western Europe
Oxford University Press, New York, 2018, 400 pages
Book Review published on: January 26, 2018
Philip Morgan, a senior fellow at the University of Hull and a widely published author, has delivered another outstanding book with Hitler’s Collaborators: Choosing between Bad and Worse in Nazi-Occupied Western Europe. Morgan examines the collaboration of businessmen and local officials with the Germans that took place during World War II in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Hitler’s Collaborators challenges the myth of a resisting nation that was common to all occupied areas following the end of the war. It was a necessary myth that provided a way for people in the immediate postwar period to cope with the multifaceted national humiliation of military defeat, occupation, and liberation by Allied forces.
Morgan differentiates collaboration with collaborationism. Collaborationists were those people who chose to cooperate fully with Nazi occupiers out of ideological affinity with Nazism. Collaboration consisted of the great majority of people who were neither active members of the resistance nor collaborationists. Morgan’s research indicates collaboration was necessary and that those who collaborated were both victims and supporters of the Nazi European New Order. Morgan reminds us that delineation between resister and collaboration is neither clean nor easy. He recounts the Dutch minister of transport’s speech made in September 1945 extolling the 1944 railway’s workers strike against German occupation. This was a significant and effective act of resistance while reminding us that railway employees had transported young Dutch men to forced labor in Germany and had transferred Dutch and foreign Jews to transit camps for further deportation to concentration camps in Eastern Europe.
Morgan also describes the symbiotic relationship between the Nazi occupiers and those living in occupied Western Europe. It served the interest of both to ensure a return of stability in occupied areas. The economies in Western Europe never fully recovered from the depression in the 1920s and 1930s; businesses were quick to sign agreements with German agencies in order to get their businesses moving again. Local officials were equal in their desire to collaborate with the Germans. They viewed this collaboration as a means for returning stability back to local communities in hope of eliminating any need of repressive occupation measures by the occupying German military and security forces.
Morgan illustrates the roles of France’s Pierre Laval and Belgium’s Henri de Man, who saw their opportunity for influence and power in bargaining with Germany. Laval was openly sympathetic with fascism; he was convinced that Germany would be victorious and felt France should emulate Germany. Laval was key in dismantling France’s Third Republic and establishing its Vichy government. As president of Belgium’s Labour Party, Man created a manifesto attributing the military victory of the German army to its superior sense of national and social unity, and its respect for authority. Man goes on to argue that Belgium should abandon parliamentary democracy in favor of a Nazi-lite version of corporatist-socialism.
Those living in occupied areas witnessed Germany’s ascendancy in the 1930s, and many looked forward to the promise of a Nazi European New Order. Germany’s quick and complete military victories convinced the vanquished that Germany was the way of the future. No one living in 1940 Nazi-occupied Europe would have foreseen that Germany would be defeated five years later.
The strength of Hitler’s Collaborators is Morgan’s ability to capture the complexity of the collaboration that took place in occupied Western Europe during World War II. It serves in dispelling the myth of a resisting nation and reminds us of the tough choices faced by those in occupied areas. Morgan’s Hitler’s Collaborators is a great choice for anyone interested in history. It is highly recommended addition to the literature of modern European history.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas