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Book Review: Savage Continent

Discussion in 'ETO, MTO and the Eastern Front' started by schwarzfeder, Dec 5, 2012.

  1. schwarzfeder

    schwarzfeder Member

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    Title: Savage Continent--Europe in the Aftermath of WWII
    Author: Keith Lowe
    Pub: St. Martin's Press

    Reviewer: schwarzfeder


    For so many World War II enthusiasts, it is easy to develop a segmented view. We see WWII like a highly romanticized movie; the
    victorious Allies over the godless Germans, peace breaks out, everybody lives happily ever after, etc., etc..

    Well, it wasn't that way at all in reality.

    For those who want to know the full story, you might well ask, just what happened after the war "ended"?

    This is where "Savage Continent' comes in.

    One of several highly informative books now out on the aftermath of the war, "Savage Continent" author Keith Lowe segments his study into
    parts: The Legacy of War, Vengeance, Ethnic Cleansing, and Civil War. It is both easy and opportune to jump into any of the sections. Whether you choose to read from beginning to end or are a jumper--like I can be--"Savage Continent" will inform you.

    It has been said more Germans died after the end of world War II than during it; the same might go for other sections of the population
    throughout Europe, especially those in the death camps and in Russia/Eastern Europe. The end of the war did not end the suffering!
    Starvation, disease, victimization, displacement were rampant across the continent. And, it went on for years!

    The section on ethnic cleansing might surprise the average WWII buff. Pay particular attention to the information on the horrific events in the Balkans. Lowe does acknowledge the forced repatriation by the British of Cossacks, Croats and ethnic Germans back to the hands of the Yugoslav partisans, but it's not like he highlights it. Rather, what he brings out that is so sobering are the varied methods and instances of the genocide and mass death/murder that took place at the hands of the partisans. The deportations and murder that took place across Poland, Prussia, the Ukraine are also spoken of in this book. For many, the end of the war only made things worse.


    Pay attention to the Civil War section. I learned a lot about the utterly savage and intercinine civil war in Greece. The unrest in France
    is also detailed, and it is interesting, useful information. The reader learns what a huge and impressionistic Communist victory in WWII was,
    how it inspired revolution worldwide.

    In the Vengeance section, I was surprised to learn how hard-core the Norwegians were against the children born of German soldiers during the occupation. As students of WWII, we have caught glimpses in other books/accounts, of the reprisals of post-war; the head shavings, the rapes, the beatings, the murders, etc. Lowe's book focuses on these unpleasantries because it is his job as a responsible author. One would learn despite this book that the "victorious Allies" were not always the most humanitarian by any means.

    When Eisenhower said of the post-war Germans, "treat them rough", he wasn't messing around. "Savage Continent" will inform you of the
    infamous Rhein Wiesenlager, the Rhine valley mass internment camps of former German POWs. Re-codified from POW to "Disarmed Enemy Forces", they didn't have to be treated in accordance with Geneva Convention rules. As a result, millions died. The new weapon of mass destruction? Hunger.

    As the Cold War got underway, the specter of hunger became an even bigger weapon than a "nuclear deterrent". The author's section
    titled The Legacy of War details the hunger, displacement, chaos, and degeneration of morals. It was a nasty mix.

    I would recommend Keith Lowe's "Savage Continent" as required reading not only for all interested in WWII, but especially those who have a downright sanitized and Hollywoodized view of WWII. While people are going to be delusional--about eveerything--no matter what, at least the book "Savage Continent" offers useful information. We need to know these things, whether we want to or not.
     
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  2. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Thank you for your review. You are correct that this subject is no where as nearly well understood as other better known aspects of the war.

    The comment that Eisenhower's stance caused 'million's' of people to starve is one of serious contention. I agree that offcial statistics are questionable, as they (the Allies) admit they are not completely sure how many PoW's they took after the capitulation, but modern revisionist estimates of 25 to 30 percent mortality rates are equally (if not more so) suspect.


    Post moved by moderator to proper sub-forum.
     
  3. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Missed this the first time through.
    If that's what it says it brings the whole book to question. For one thing a fairly limited number of POW's were "re-codified" as "Disarmed Enemy Forces". That label for the most part went to those taken into cutudy after the war was over. They were indeed labled as such so that they didn't have to be fed at the same level as US soldiers. However this was done so that the available food could be used by civilians in the areas under control as well. Indeed the regulation that was enforced was that the rations of FECs were not to be greater than those given to local civilians. Nor were the death rates anywhere near 30% but closer to 3% for US prisoners. See: Stephen Ambrose: A Review of 'Other Losses'
    They were even lower for those held by the British but higher for those held by the French.

    Here's a thread that goes into it in some detail:
    Axis History Forum • View topic - Disarmed Enemy Forces

    Just in case it isn't clear (and it may not be) I was in no way trying to critise the review and indeed wish to thank schwarzfeder for his review. He brought the book to our attention and identified some critical parts of it.
     
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  4. schwarzfeder

    schwarzfeder Member

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    Thanks everybody for your input. If an overstatement was made, it was mine. We know the actual number of deaths in the Rheinwiesenlager is still somewhat
    hotly contested. I believe it was James Bacque's book "Other Losses" that used the statement/figure that of 4.75 million former German POWs in Allied camps, over a million died. This figure too will need back-checking on my part. I believe it has been debated as well. The specter of "millions" does not take in to account the deaths in Russian camps, nor the deaths of Germans and ethnic Germans in Yugoslava; if it did, the figure of deaths would only be higher. The allusion to Eisenhower's quote was mine alone. If millions did die, it would seem logical to spread the mortality locations out. My bad for not doing so. And thank you for the additional threads. By all means read Savage Continent.
     
  5. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Did people die, Im sure they did. Germany was in shambles and the US had not yet started up its Marshall program. I would love to know how the author got his stats. Also one thing to take in account is the poor shape that many of the soldiers were in when captured, between wounded and malnourished, many would not make it.
     
  6. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Bacque's numbers have been very thoroughly refuted.
     
  7. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The numbers in the Bacque book have been widely discredited. There were too many deaths, but my impression is that it was mainly due to being unprepared for the number of prisoners who turned up. For example; nobody anticipated how many German soldiers would flee the eastern zone to surrender to the western allies, so they ended up with twice the number of prisoners they were prepared for. The camps were chaotic and unsanitary, with food distribution so poorly organized that the weakest prisoners often went hungry, being unable to get to the point where it was being doled out.
     
  8. schwarzfeder

    schwarzfeder Member

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    In the "Vengeance" section of "Savage Continent", Author Keith Lowe addresses Bacque's "Other Losses" in the German Prisoners of War chapter, beginning on pg. 111. Quoting from page 121: "Bacque's claims not only called into question the strongly held American belief that they had fought a moral war, but effectively accused American leaders of crimes against humanity.PP-This was a classic conspiracy theory, and would not be worth mentioning were it not for the controversy the book caused when it was published (1989). Academics from around the world queued up to rubbish Bacque's historical methods, his misrepresentation of documents, his dismissal of a vast body of methodological research, and above all his complete misunderstanding of statistics. On the other hand some American veterans who had worked as prison guards after the war came to Bacque's defence. Conditions in their camps were abysmal, they pointed out, and a culture of neglect, even of passive revenge, didf exist at many of them. Even Bacque's detractors were obliged to admit that such points were valid.PP-If an air of controversy still lingers around this subject, decades after it should have become one of history's footnotes, it is because there always has been a small seed of truth in Bacque's claims. Perhaps what Bacque should be most criticized for is not his misreading of the facts, but that he distracted attention away from the real story."On page 122 Lowe quotes the West German Maschke Commission study (1963) that attempted to tally POW/DEF deaths. Says Lowe "We must remember that these are conservative figures: even the official historians concede that thousands of deaths probably went unrecorded." The figures shown on the tally list are for prisoners held by Britain, USA, France, USSR,Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium-Holland-Lux, listing a total of 11,094,000, and the number of deaths from that total at 1,211,544 (10.9%)Again, if any faux pas was committed, it was by this reviewer, not Mr. Lowe and his great book. I should also point out that there remain hundreds of thousands still listed as missing during and after WWII by all participating countries. Certainly, hunger played a part in this. In an upcoming review of another book in this genre, I will address this and related topics.Thanks to all for your interest in this book/review.
     
  9. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Oops, she did it again!

    For the victorious allies to incarcerate 121 Million People every man, woman and child of Germany, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Finland and the Baltic States would have to go behing Prison wire.
     
  10. schwarzfeder

    schwarzfeder Member

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    Woops indeed.Total incarcerated 11,094,000----total deaths 1,211,544. That would indeed leave a few left over.
     
  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    No problem we have all made typo's before.

    (except mods of course, we're perfekt!) :)
     

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