To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949

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9780141980430: To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949
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Acknowledgements

A book like this depends more than most on the suggestions and encouragement of others – sometimes without them being aware of how they were helping. In a variety of ways I am grateful to: Joe Bergin, Richard Bessel, John Breuilly, Franz Brüggemeier, Chris Clark, Paul Corner, David Dilks, Christopher Duggan, Richard Evans, Detleff Felken, Jürgen Förster, Norbert Frei, Elke Fröhlich, Mary Fulbrook, Dick Geary, Robert Gerwarth, Christian Göschel, Mike Hannah, Joe Harrison, Julia Hoffmann, Dov Kulka, Eberhard Jäckel, Margit Ketterle, Peter Liddle, Klaus A. Maier, Michael Mann, Andy Marrison, members of the Cambridge Modern History Seminar, Hans Mommsen, Bob Moore, Irene Nielsen, Frank O’Gorman, Peter Pulzer, Aron Rodrigue, Mary Vincent, George Wedell, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Frieder Weitbrecht, Charlotte Woodford, Hans Woller, Jonathan Wright and Benjamin Ziemann.

I am indebted to Gerhard Hirschfeld for sending me the outstanding and authoritative encyclopaedia of the First world War which he co-edited (and which has subsequently appeared in a splendid English edition). Bernt Hagtvet was more than kind in supplying me with two extremely useful and informative volumes which I had not come across and deserve to be better known: the collection of essays edited by Dirk Berg-Schlosser and Jeremy Mitchell on the crises of democracy in inter-war Europe, and that by Stein Ugelvik Larsen on the transition from fascism to democracy after 1945. I’m also grateful to Norman Davies, who pointed me towards a number of first-hand accounts of events in Poland, including the fascinating memoirs of a village mayor, Jan S?oma, and to Andreas Kossert for further references to Polish sources.

I owe special gratitude to a number of people for their critical commentaries on the text. Beverley Eaton erased many typographical errors. Traude Spät made some excellent suggestions (and she and Ulrich provided their usual generous hospitality on my stays in Munich). At an expert level I owe warm thanks for their valuable points of constructive criticism to David Cannadine (general editor of the Penguin History of Europe series), Laurence Rees and Nicholas Stargardt. And when the drafts were complete, Richard Mason proved a splendidly meticulous copy-editor.

As on earlier occasions it was a pleasure to work with the excellent team at Penguin. Simon Winder was as always an exemplary editor. He and Maria Bedford were also a great help in researching and helping to select the pictures, while Richard Duguid oversaw the production with his customary efficiency. My thanks, too, to Auriol Griffith-Jones for her skilful compilation of the index. I am grateful as ever to Andrew Wylie, a literary agent sans pareil, and at the Wylie Agency in London to James Pullen and Sarah Chalfant for unfailing help and advice.

Betty, David and Stephen have been throughout an unending source of support and encouragement. Betty raised a number of pertinent queries about points of detail in the text, while discussions of the drafts with David in the Royal Oak in Didsbury were highly enjoyable as well as constructive. Finally, our five grandchildren, Sophie, Joe, Ella, Olivia and Henry, have never ceased to provide wonderful and happy distraction from the dismal tale I have had to tell here. Let us hope that they and others of their generation enjoy a future Europe that can exist without the divisions, rancour and hatreds that have darkened its past.

Ian Kershaw,

Manchester, May 2015

Preface

This is the first of two volumes on the history of Europe from 1914 to our own times. It is by some distance the hardest book I have undertaken. Each book I have written has in some sense been an attempt to gain a better understanding on my part of a problem in the past. In this case, the recent past contains a multiplicity of extremely complex problems. But whatever the difficulties, the temptation to try to understand better the forces that have in the recent past shaped the world of today was irresistible.

There is, of course, no single way to approach a history of the twentieth century in Europe. Some excellent histories with varying interpretations and structures – among them, each with a different slant on the century, the works of Eric Hobsbawm, Mark Mazower, Richard Vinen, Harold James and Bernard Wasserstein – already exist. This volume and the one to follow it necessarily represent a personalized approach to such a momentous century. And like every attempt to cover a vast panorama over a lengthy time span, it has to rely heavily upon the pioneering research of others.

I am more than conscious of the fact that for practically every sentence I wrote a plethora of specialist works, often of great quality, was available. Only for a few aspects, mainly relating to Germany between 1918 and 1945, can I claim to have carried out primary research. Elsewhere, I have had to depend upon the excellent work of other scholars in many different fields. Even with greater linguistic competence than I possess this would have been inevitable. No single scholar could possibly carry out archival work throughout Europe, and, since invariably experts on particular countries and on specific historical themes have already done such work, the attempt would be pointless anyway. Such an overview as I am presenting has, therefore, to rest on the countless achievements of others.

The format of the Penguin History of Europe series precludes references to the many indispensable works of historical scholarship – monographs, editions of contemporary documentation, statistical analyses, and specialized studies of individual countries – on which I have relied. The bibliography reflects some of my more important debts to other scholars. I hope they will forgive the inability to refer to their works in footnotes, and will accept my deep appreciation of their great endeavours. Any originality rests, therefore, solely on structure and interpretation – how the history is written and the underlying nature of the argument.

The introduction, ‘Europe’s Era of Self-Destruction’, lays out the framework of interpretation of this volume as well as indicating the approach to the second volume (yet to be written). As regards the structure, I have organized the chapters that follow chronologically with thematic sub-divisions. This reflects my concern to pay particular attention to precisely how the drama unfolded, and to the specific shaping of events by concentrating on fairly short periods while necessarily dealing separately within those periods with the differing formative forces. So there are no chapters devoted expressly to the economy, society, culture, ideology or politics, though these find their place, if not necessarily with equal weight, within individual chapters.

The first half of the twentieth century, the subject of this volume, was dominated by war. This raises its own problems. How is it possible to deal with the vast and momentous topics of the First and Second World Wars within such a wide-ranging volume as this? Whole libraries of works exist on both conflicts. But readers may justifiably be expected not simply to be referred to other works (though naturally these can be followed up on every theme of the volume). So I thought it worthwhile to begin the chapters relating directly to the two world wars with extremely concise surveys of the developments on the fronts. However tersely described – largely for orientation, and to highlight in the briefest terms the scale of the calamities that determined the immensity of their consequences – it is obvious that these events were crucial. In other instances, too, I pondered whether to take for granted that all readers would be well acquainted with, for example, the background to the rise of fascism in Italy or to the course of the Spanish Civil War, before deciding that, again, brief surveys might prove useful.

Throughout, I have been anxious to blend in personal experiences of contemporaries to give an indication of what it was like to live through this era, so near in time yet so different in nature to present- day Europe. Of course, I recognize that personal experience is just that. It cannot be taken as statistically representative. But it can often be seen as indicative – reflective of wider attitudes and mentalities. In any case, the inclusion of personal experiences provides vivid snapshots and gives a flavour, detached from abstractions and impersonal analysis, of how people reacted to the mighty forces that were buffeting their lives.

A history of Europe cannot, of course, be a sum of national histories. What is at stake are the driving forces that shaped the continent as a whole in all or at least most of its constituent parts. A general synthesis has naturally to offer a bird’s-eye rather than a worm’s-eye view. It has to generalize, not concentrate on peculiarities, though unique developments only in fact become visible through a wide lens. I have tried not to ignore any areas of Europe, and often to emphasize the specially tragic history of the eastern half of the continent. But inevitably, some countries played a greater (or more baleful) role than others and correspondingly warrant more attention. Europe in this volume and the next is taken to include Russia (then the Soviet Union); it would be unthinkable to leave out such a crucial player in European history, even if extensive parts of the Russian, then Soviet, Empire lay geographically outside Europe. Similarly, Turkey is included where it was significantly involved in European affairs, though this sharply diminished after 1923 once the Ottoman Empire had broken up and the Turkish nation state had been established.

This volume begins with a brief overview of Europe on the eve of the First World War. Chapters then follow on the war itself, its immediate aftermath, the short-lived recovery in the mid-1920s, the searing impact of the Great Depression, the looming threat of another world war, the unleashing of a further great conflagration within a generation, and the devastating collapse of civilization that this Second World War produced. At this point I interrupt the chronological structure with a thematic chapter (Chapter 9), which explores a number of long-term thematic developments that cross the short-term chronological boundaries of earlier chapters – demographic and socio-economic change, the position of the Christian Churches, the stance of intellectuals and the growth of popular entertainment. A concluding chapter returns to a chronological framework.

I had thought of ending this first volume in 1945, when the actual fighting in the Second World War stopped. But, though formal hostilities in Europe ceased in May of that year (continuing until August against Japan), the fateful course of the years 1945–9 was so plainly determined by the war itself, and reactions to it, that I thought it justifiable to look beyond the moment when peace officially returned to the continent. The contours of a new, post-war Europe were scarcely visible in 1945; they only gradually came clearly into view. It seemed to me, therefore, appropriate to add a final chapter dealing with the immediate aftermath of the war, which not only saw a period of continuing violence but also indelibly shaped the divided Europe that had emerged by 1949. So the first volume ends not in 1945, but in 1949.

One of the most beloved clichés of football commentators, when the half-time interval has brought a remarkable change of fortunes, is: ‘It’s a game of two halves.’ It is very tempting to think of Europe’s twentieth century as a century of two halves, perhaps with ‘extra time’ added on after 1990. This volume deals only with the first half of an extraordinary and dramatic century. This was the era in which Europe carried out two world wars, threatened the very foundations of civilization, and seemed hell-bent on self-destruction.

Ian Kershaw, Manchester, November 2014

Introduction: Europe’s Era of Self-Destruction

The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.

Winston Churchill (1901)

Europe’s twentieth century was a century of war. Two world wars followed by over forty years of ‘cold war’ – itself the direct product of the Second World War – defined the age. It was an extraordinarily dramatic, tragic and endlessly fascinating period, its history one of huge upheaval and astounding transformation. During the twentieth century, Europe went to hell and back. The continent, which for nearly one hundred years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 had prided itself on being the apogee of civilization, fell between 1914 and 1945 into the pit of barbarism. But a calamitous self-destructive era was followed by previously unimaginable stability and prosperity – though at the heavy price of unbridgeable political division. Thereafter, a reunified Europe, facing huge internal pressures from intensified globalization and serious external challenges, experienced increasing inbuilt tensions even before the financial crash of 2008 plunged the continent into a new, still unresolved, crisis.

A second volume will explore the era after 1950. This first volume, however, looks at Europe’s near self-destruction in the first half of the century, during the era of the two world wars. It explores how the dangerous forces emanating from the First World War culminated in scarcely imaginable depths of inhumanity and destruction during the Second. This catastrophe, together with the unprecedented levels of genocide from which the conflict cannot be separated, makes the Second World War the epicentre and determining episode of Europe’s troubled history in the twentieth century.

The chapters that follow explore the reasons for this immeasurable catastrophe. They locate these in four interlocking major elements of comprehensive crisis, unique to these decades: (1) an explosion of ethnic-racist nationalism; (2) bitter and irreconcilable demands for territorial revisionism; (3) acute class conflict – now given concrete focus through the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia; and (4) a protracted crisis of capitalism (which many observers thought was terminal). Bolshevism’s triumph was a vital new component after 1917. So was the almost constant state of crisis of capitalism, alleviated for only a brief few years in the mid-1920s. The other elements had been present before 1914, though in far less acute form. None had been a primary cause of the First World War. But the new virulence of each was a crucial outcome of that war. Their lethal interaction now spawned an era of extraordinary violence, leading to a Second World War far more destructive even than the First. Worst affected from the interlinkage of the four elements were central, eastern and south-eastern Europe – for the most part the poorest regions of the continent. Western Europe fared better (though Spain was an important exception).

The disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires at the end of the First World War, and the immense violent upheav...

Revue de presse :

"Chilling... To Hell and Back should be required reading in every chancellery, every editorial cockpit and every place where peevish Euroskeptics do their thinking…. Kershaw documents each and every ‘ism’ of his analysis with extraordinary detail and passionate humanism." The New York Times Book Review

"Remarkable and eminently readable.... Kershaw’s book will deliver a jolt to American readers."— Boston Globe

“Mr. Kershaw has written a fair-minded, deeply researched and highly readable book that will serve as the first point of departure for anyone wishing to understand Europe’s most terrible decades.”— The Wall Street Journal

"Magisterial."— The Economist

“Well suited to casual readers and professional historians alike, this enlightening consideration of the World Wars and the interwar years is a worthwhile purchase. It will delight fans of Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914.”— Library Journal

“Kershaw’s strength is political and economic history... and he uncovers a number of largely forgotten events.... [A] well-organized history.”— Publishers Weekly

“Kershaw manages to cover a vast canvas of events with judicious skill and immense learning, never getting bogged down in detail or devoting excessive space to his special area of German expertise. We move at a fair clip, and always feel that we are in the hands of a master historian with a firm grasp of his mountainous material.”— The Spectator (UK)

“Even those who know this history well will find much to shock them in these pages. They will find much to enlighten them too, for it is not just a catalogue of horrors, but also a rigorous analysis of causes.”— The Times (UK)

"Other historians' books on the same period may be flashier or more provocative. But to read Kershaw on Europe's bloody century is to be driven through a ravaged landscape in the sleek, smooth comfort of a Rolls-Royce, guided by a historian who probably knows the territory better than anybody else on the planet.”— The Sunday Times (UK)

“[Kershaw's] thoughtful and comprehensive history is likely to become a classic."— The Observer (UK)

"[A] political, economic and military history of the entire continent of Europe.... There are no easy explanations for the disasters that overwhelmed individuals who were caught... in the living hells fuelled by militarism, ethnic-racist politics, class conflict and economic crises. Kershaw leads his readers through this complex history in a clear and compelling manner.”— Prospect (UK)

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Description du livre Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2016. Paperback. État : New. 198 x 129 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Superb .likely to become a classic Observer In the summer of 1914 most of Europe plunged into a war so catastrophic that it unhinged the continent s politics and beliefs in a way that took generations to recover from. The disaster terrified its survivors, shocked that a civilization that had blandly assumed itself to be a model for the rest of the world had collapsed into a chaotic savagery beyond any comparison. In 1939 Europeans would initiate a second conflict that managed to be even worse - a war in which the killing of civilians was central and which culminated in the Holocaust. To Hell and Back tells this story with humanity, flair and originality. Kershaw gives a compelling narrative of events, but he also wrestles with the most difficult issues that the events raise - with what it meant for the Europeans who initiated and lived through such fearful times - and what this means for us. N° de réf. du libraire APG9780141980430

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Description du livre Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2016. Paperback. État : New. 198 x 129 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Superb .likely to become a classic Observer In the summer of 1914 most of Europe plunged into a war so catastrophic that it unhinged the continent s politics and beliefs in a way that took generations to recover from. The disaster terrified its survivors, shocked that a civilization that had blandly assumed itself to be a model for the rest of the world had collapsed into a chaotic savagery beyond any comparison. In 1939 Europeans would initiate a second conflict that managed to be even worse - a war in which the killing of civilians was central and which culminated in the Holocaust. To Hell and Back tells this story with humanity, flair and originality. Kershaw gives a compelling narrative of events, but he also wrestles with the most difficult issues that the events raise - with what it meant for the Europeans who initiated and lived through such fearful times - and what this means for us. N° de réf. du libraire APG9780141980430

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