The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by: William L. Shirer
This is unquestionably the end all non-fiction resource on the history of Nazi Germany. I already wrote a review on it here. But let me tout it’s importance again. It clocks in at nearly 1,300 pages. The breadth and depth that The Rise and Fall covers cannot be overstated. It hits on everything that went on culturally in Germany that allowed for Hitler’s rise to power. There is discussion on what quirks of personal fate in his own life made Hitler’s rise possible. There are discussions of what went on inside of the bunker before his death, the relationships that Hitler had with his top lieutenants and the relationship that he had with the German people. The structure and actions that happened inside the concentration camps are also covered, along with the Allied liberation of the camps.
Book burnings, propaganda, compulsory membership in the Nazi party, it’s all in there.
Naturally there is a discussion on the international politics of WWII, the alliances that were struck and broken between Germany and Russia, how completely inept Neville Chamberlain was. Then there are lots of pages dedicated to the actual war part of WWII, maneuvers, the invasion of Poland, Rommell’s debacle in North Africa.
A full bodied book with a dark ruby red color, the nose of The Rise and Fall is a redolent profusion of death and decay but careful readers will also notice notes of public apathy and mass propaganda used to control the masses. It may overwhelm the palate with intense feelings that only history told without a lens is capable of.
Now, my pretties, for the pairing. I’m going to recommend that you pick up the fiction part of the pairing first, one or both, they are both substantially shorter and easier to read than The Rise and Fall. After you finish The Rise and Fall, dare I say, you’re going to need a break.
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by: Tadeusz Borowski
I’ve also already covered this in the blog: here. But again, allow me to sing some praises.
This is a totally different holocaust story than what I’m generally used to. It is based on the author’s own experiences at Auschwitz and Dachau but it is fictional. The author is not a Jew, instead he is a Polish prisoner of war. This makes for a completely different perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, this book is not sunshine and lollipops. But instead of the physical pain and suffering that is often spoken about in Jewish accounts of holocaust literature, what is accounted here is a psychic bankruptcy — necessary for survival, but horrible in the telling. What’s so terribly dreadful about this account is the ordinariness that day to day life inside of the concentration camp may have been like for the ‘Aryans’ imprisoned there.
They are granted more ‘rights’ than the Jewish prisoners, but there is still nothing they can do to help their fellow inmates. So, in the tradition of other accounts of survival in concentration camps it is about just that. Survival.
A medium-bodied book with a medium color. The book takes it’s color from blood but is mellowed by occasional compassion and heart. A smoky and peppery bouquet, there are also notes of despair, helplessness, and terror. Goes well with onions.
Finally, I bring you:
The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak
The reason I included This Way for the Gas is because The Book Thief is being widely read right now. So I wanted to have something for those that had already enjoyed The Book Thief.
The Book Thief is a great match for The Rise and Fall because it tells the story of living in Nazi Germany from the perspective of an ordinary German. An ordinary German girl. She is not complicit in the crimes the Nazi’s are perpetrating, in fact there is a Jewish man hidden in her basement.
The Rise and Fall tells this story as well. As I said before, it talks of all the cultural things that happened that allowed Hitler to rise to power, not all Germans were Nazis (as we all know). The Book Thief takes things from The Rise and Fall and gives the facts a narrative voice. There is sympathy and a caring that is elicited for Liesel by Zusak.
I found The Book Thief to be a truly beautiful novel and I didn’t realize it was a YA title until after I read it. The use of colors and the device of using Death as a narrator pulls you in at the beginning, but ultimately it is Liesel’s story that keeps you engaged.
A smooth and round book that is velvety with subtle notes of compassion. Generous and crisp it can be enjoyed by the aged or the young. The finish is bitter and hints of horror are present.
What are your favorite/must read WWII non-fiction or fictional accounts?