War of the Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin

Laurence Rees, Author, Ian Kershaw, Foreword by New Press $27.95 (255p) ISBN 978-1-56584-599-2
The Russo-German War of 1941-1945 was a one-of-a-kind death struggle between two ruthless dictatorships, as well as an ideological conflict that gave neither combatant any room for compromise, argues documentarian Rees. The text and often powerful illustrations (some in color) of this large-format book are drawn from the BBC's Timewatch series, which Rees edits. Drawing on recent scholarship and the newly opened Soviet archives, it amply demonstrates that the war's mutual barbarity remains fearsome--and the matter-of-factness with which former combatants on both sides discuss appalling acts is truly shocking, even after 50 years of horrors. On the German side, account after eyewitness account describe not only casual brutality, deliberate starving of prisoners, mass executions and the rest of an increasingly familiar list of horrors on the part of the Wehrmacht, but regular and large-scale rape--something previously well camouflaged by defenders of the ""clean shield"" myth of the German army. From the Russian perspective, the work emphasizes Stalin's war against his own people, with Russian guerrillas being deployed against secessionists and other ""undesirables,"" often torturing and killing them. Rees juxtaposes the German extermination of Russian Jews with Stalin's deportation of ethnic groups like the Kalmyks, whose loyalty he suspected, to brutal labor camps where they starved--a plan forged by Soviet secret police chief Lavrenti Beria. Straightforward and nuanced in its telling--a rare combination--this account, with a foreword by Hitler historian Ian Kershaw, adds necessary dimension to Holocaust-era atrocities. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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