- After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation
In After the Reich, Giles MacDonogh intends to "reframe" the history of World War II and its aftermath. Drawing on what he calls "records of brutality" that he believes other historians have either overlooked or simply ignored, MacDonogh writes that his book gives a "shocking account" of the sufferings of tens of millions of Germans and Austrians who barely survived a massive and brutal occupation. In the title MacDonogh promises readers a "brutal history." He keeps that promise in more ways than one.
MacDonogh divides his book into four parts, Chaos, Allied Zones, Crime and Punishment, and the Road to Freedom. They are further subdivided into twenty chapters; each dealing with a separate topic, ranging from the fall of Vienna, to life in the different zones, to war crimes trials, the black market, and finally, the Berlin Airlift and the beginnings of economic recovery. In general, historical events provide the backdrop for personal remembrances intermingled with autobiographical anecdotes and period vignettes written by German literary luminaries such Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll. The book's organization is loose, at times even disjointed, and the author's prose sometimes descends into jargon. German expressions, which he uses liberally throughout, also fall victim to his propensity for linguistic carelessness. While most mistakes are minor and merely annoying, some misspellings convey a [End Page 284] meaning entirely different than intended. The most egregious example is his omission of the diacritical mark which changes Ernst von Salomon's book title Die Geächteten (The Outlaws) to Die Geachteten (The Respected) (p. 320).
Personal remembrances and memoirs of members of the Prussian and Austrian nobility and intellectual elites, most published decades after the end of Allied military government, provide the basis for MacDonogh's book. For historical context, he relies on a small selection - relative to the size and scope of his study - of well known works that include Edward N. Peterson's American Occupation of Germany (1977), Norman M. Naimark's The Russians in Germany (1995), and Alfred Ableitinger's collection of essays on Österreich unter alliierter Besatzung 1945-1955 (1998). He eschews archival research altogether.
To prove just how brutal the Allied occupation was, the author draws heavily on the experiences of a group of about a dozen individuals to represent the travails of the masses. Their stories run like a red line through the chapters. His main protagonists are German and Austrian aristocrats. In all cases, MacDonogh accepts their remembrances uncritically and quotes from them extensively, although most of the actions were not first person experiences of the memoirists, but recounted to them by others.
While largely relying on diaries and memoirs of the privileged classes for primary sources is at the very least a questionable approach, it is the soundest part of MacDonogh's efforts. Never losing sight of his goal to expose the brutality of the Allied occupation, he tars all four Allies' acts and policies equally and with the same brush. In his eagerness he depicts the deprivations caused by non-fraternization and denazification practices in the Western zones as the moral equivalents to the rape, torture, and beatings occurring in the Soviet zone. In the end, the author willingly sacrifices sound scholarship and historical accuracy to his desire to shock his audience.
The author succeeds at writing a "brutal history" but, in doing so, failed to contribute to the growing field of occupation history. After the Reich does not warrant a recommendation.