[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
Peter Fritzsche’s book An Iron Wind-Europe Under Hitler is “new history” of the best sort. Instead of being a war book about battles and campaigns it tries to capture the experience of World War II of the people of Europe. How did the average civilian who the fighting swirled past and who lived under German occupation experience the war? That is the question this book tries to answer and does a good job of doing so.
First, the numbers. There are 314 pages of text in the book broken down into a preface, introduction, and 9 topical chapters with extensive notes and an index. One thing that is missing is a bibliography and/or a selected sources section. This section is missing because the book draws extensively from archival and period sources that are simply not easily accessible to the average reader in the Anglophone world.
There have been volumes written about the battles and campaigns of World War II and even the experience of the average soldier in the combatant militaries. What is often ignored except in the specialist literature is what life was like in occupied Europe. When histories touch on the subject at all it is usually some brief excursion from the main theme that boils down to the Nazis were horrible and man. It was good when they were defeated. Real life was not that simple however.
The populations of occupied Europe still had to live and still had to go about their daily life, even under German occupation. How they did that and how they dealt with the impositions of foreign conquest differed based on where that person lived. Nazi occupation policy ran the gamut from simple cooption of existing structures as in France and much of western Europe to replacement of local governance entirely with an occupation authority as in Poland and much of eastern Europe.
It stands to reason that for all its harshness in the West, German occupation in eastern Europe was of a different order entirely. While westerners had to deal with restrictions on movement, free speech, food and gas rationing, and saw their Jewish neighbors deported never to be seen or heard from again the east experienced an occupation the like of which had not been seen in Europe since the days of the Romans and that was likely much worse. Eastern Europe saw wholesale slaughter and its people treated like animals and playthings by the German occupiers.
How people coped and even survived is a story that has not really been told in any great detail outside of scholarly journals and academically inclined books and this book is an excellent introduction for the non-historian to a heretofore largely ignored subject.
An Iron Wind is excellently written and a good addition to the library of any student of World War II. An outstanding work that I highly recommend.