- Europe on Trial: The Story of Collaboration, Resistance, and Retribution during World War II by István Deák
As the author of this wonderful, short work observes, “there has been no comprehensive scholarly treatment of … four related subjects: collaboration, accommodation, resistance, and retribution” (p. 11). Based on existing literature, Deák fills this gap with a rich and complex analysis of the most controversial and neglected aspects of the war. Unbiased, it destroys various national myths and presents a sad story about political and human weaknesses. If a few details could be debated, overall the work deserves the warmest reception.
The greatest strength of Europe on Trial is its virtuoso elaboration of the striking paradoxes of the behavior of nation-states’ governments and populations. The failure of nation-states threatened by Germany to face and resist the danger, even though together they commanded incomparably greater military and economic resources, reverberates [End Page 157] today: instead, most decided to look for compromises. Neville Chamberlain’s Britain’s shameful concession enabled German expansion in the East. Stalin was prepared to cooperate with Hitler against Poland and the Baltic countries—if in large part to gain time to create a defensive buffer zone (a point omitted in this volume).
Several other countries, for instance the Czech lands or Denmark, accepted German occupation without a single shot. Austria happily welcomed Hitler. The Norwegians, the Dutch, the French, and others mounted shamefully weak resistance, surrendered, and established collaborationist governments widely acknowledged by their people. Others, including Finland, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria sought advantage, including territorial, by allying (or cooperating) with Hitler; as Deak stresses, “Germany’s allies were independent enough to decide how far they would go in cooperating with the Nazis” (p. 86). Bulgaria for example did not contribute troops to Germany’s war in the East (though it did institute antisemitic laws), but others rushed to join in the war without having to be invited; Romania launched her own autonomous Holocaust. Hungary rounded up more than 400,000 Jews and sent them to Germany’s death camps (it is debatable that Regent Miklós Horthy “both persecuted and protected his Jewish subjects,” [p. 9]: he stopped the deportations to protect himself from the possibility of postwar prosecution, as Deák in fact notes on p. 88).
Largely as a consequence of Europe’s own cowardice and calculation, between 1938 and 1941 Hitler came to dominate most of the continent without major efforts or losses. On the eve of the assault on the USSR, the author points out, “Hitler had no enemies but only allies and friendly neutrals on the European continent” (p. 64). Germany became much stronger by gaining sway over most of Europe’s raw materials and industrial capacity. Even neutrals such as Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Portugal, and Spain were ready to safeguard their peace and profits by supplying the German war machine. Tens of thousands of Scandinavian, French, Bosnian, Dutch, Flemish, Walloon, and other volunteers joined the Nazi Waffen-SS. The same happened after the invasion of the Soviet Union, where many “awaited the Germans as saviors and liberators [and] collaboration bore an ethnic character: Ukrainian, Belarusian, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian … ethnic units also joined the Waffen-SS” (p. 70). As the author concludes, “We may wonder whether Spain, Denmark, Vichy France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech protectorate, or even Switzerland and Sweden were not more useful to the German war effort than … official allies” (p. 83).
The people of Nazi-dominated Europe accommodated themselves to the new situation with striking ease. Vichy France became an obedient ally; the occupied British Channel Islands “readily … consented … to the conversion of Alderney Island into a lethal concentration camp for Russian and Jewish slave laborers” (p. 59). In some cases accommodation helped the population to suffer less and survive. Speaking of three prime ministers of Greece, the author notes that some people saw [End Page 158] quisling politicians as “tragic heroes” while others saw...