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 "The Third Reich at War Part III of a Trilogy, " Red Orchestra"- -Master Works

Book Review

"Nobody wanted to touch the wounds," was the way Rabbi Solomon Aidelson put it. He was speaking of reactions to what had yet to be called the Holocaust during the early post World War II period when he came to this country as a young survivor. The subject opened up slowly. It would not be until several decades after the murder of Europe's Jews and other heinous Nazi crimes had passed before such events became widely discussed and depicted in the media, books and films, part of school curricula, indeed academic courses and programs of study. In this new century, the extent of attention paid to the Holocaust, from so many different perspectives, in so many disciplines and genres, might lead one to think the subject has become exhausted. But of course, there is always more to be said.
Two new books enrich the ongoing conversation. The Third Reich at War by Cambridge University professor Richard J. Evans (Penguin, $40) is the third volume in a series preceded by The Coming of the Third Reich (2003)) and The Third Reich in Power (2005). With this work, Evans completes what he terms "broad, general, large-scale histories of Nazi Germany . . .  written for a general audience." The Holocaust, of necessity, the rising tide of anti Semitism that preceded it, the ruthless, well-oiled machinery that enabled it, plays a major role in all three books, especially this final volume which documents the actual events of the war in Europe on the battlefields and home front, in the occupation zones and extermination camps. But their span embraces the entirety of Hitler's Germany including its historical and philosophical contexts, its political, economic, and military dimensions.
One of the things that makes these volumes so well-suited to the general audience the author aims to reach is their reliance on first-hand testimony. In his enhancement of narrative with the specifics of human experience, Evans is part of a welcoming trend among historians who resist the methodologies of the social sciences in favor of personal accounts. While each of these works is the product of prodigious, scholarly research and analysis, they are all compelling, significant and memorable reads.
Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler  by Anne Nelson (Random House $27) is a very different take on the subject. It is but one small story, that of a group of individuals fighting Fascism in the heart of war-time Berlin who give weight to the claim that yes, there were "good Germans," men and women courageous and humane enough to defy Nazism. Ordinary and at the same time extraordinary people, they were loyal citizens by day -- some working deep within the Nazi bowels, confidants of well-placed officials. But by night, they were brave resisters, pasting anti-Nazi stickers on walls, stuffing anti-Nazi flyers in mailboxes, managing an underground railroad that moved escapees through safe houses to Switzerland. Some were caught, tortured, executed. The Gestapo had identified the group as part of a Soviet conspiracy, a fiction the East German government made political hay of after the war. How all this occurred and how the legacy of the Red Orchestra was ultimately made plain emerge in this dramatic and moving book that is a triumphant vindication of the potential of the human spirit.
Anne Nelson is an author and photographer who also teaches at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia. She relies in large measure on the voices of those who lived it to tell this tale. Chief among them is a  seemingly ordinary German woman, educated in the United States at the University of Wisconsin, who together with a group of friends defies the unspeakable horrors of an unspeakable regime. Filled with heartbreak and drama, Red Orchestra is a worthy addition to literature of the Second World War bringing to light a little known yet important and inspirational chapter in the overall account.

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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