Keith Lowe is the author of two novels and the critically acclaimed history Inferno: The Fiery Devastation of Hamburg, 1943. He is widely recognized as an authority on the Second World War, and has often spoken on TV and radio, both in Britain and the United States. Most recently he was an historical consultant and one of the main speakers in the PBS documentary The Bombing of Germany which was also broadcast in Germany. His books have been translated into several languages, and he has also lectured in Britain, Canada and Germany. He lives in North London with his wife and two kids.
Excerpt from book:
The Legacy of War
I thought you'd be there waiting for me ... What greeted me instead was the lingering stench of ashes and the empty sockets of our ruined home.
Samuel Puterman on his return to Warsaw, 19451;2
We could see the physical destruction but the effect of vast economic disruption and political, social, and psychological destruction ... completely escaped us.
Dean Acheson, US Under-Secretary of State, 1947
In 1943 the travel book publisher Karl Baedeker produced a guide to the Generalgouvernement -- that part of central and southern Poland that remained nominally separate from the Reich. As with all publications in Germany at the time, it was just as concerned with disseminating propaganda as with giving its readers information. The section on Warsaw was a case in point. The book waxed lyrical about the city's German origins, its German character and the way that it had become one of the world's great capitals 'predominantly through the effort of Germans'. It urged tourists to visit the medieval Royal Castle, the fourteenth-century cathedral and the beautiful late-Renaissance Jesuit Church - all the products of German culture and influence. Of special interest was the complex of late baroque palaces around Pilsudski Square - 'the most beautiful square in Warsaw' - now renamed Adolf Hitler Platz. The centrepiece was the 'Saxon' Palace, built of course by a German, and its beautiful Saxon Gardens, which were again designed by German architects. The travel guide conceded that one or two buildings had unfortunately been damaged by the battle for Warsaw in 1939, but since then, it reassured its readers, Warsaw 'is being rebuilt once more under German leadership'.1
No mention was made of the western suburbs of the city, which had been converted into a ghetto for Jews. This was probably just as well because even as the book was being published an uprising broke out here, obliging SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop to set fire to virtually every house in the district.2 Almost four square kilometres of the city were entirely destroyed in this way.
The following year a second uprising broke out throughout the rest of the city. This time it was a more general insurgency inspired by the Polish Home Army. In August 1944, groups of Polish men, women and teenagers began ambushing German soldiers and stealing their weapons and ammunition. For the next two months they barricaded themselves in and around the Old City, and held down more than 17,000 German anti-insurgent troops.3 The uprising only came to an end in October after some of the most brutal fighting of the war. Afterwards, tired of Polish disobedience, and aware that the Russians were about to enter the city anyway, Hitler ordered the city to be completely razed.4
Accordingly, German troops blew up the medieval Royal Castle that had so impressed Baedeker. They undermined the fourteenth-century cathedral and blew that up too. Then they destroyed the Jesuit Church. The Saxon Palace was systematically blow
"A superb and immensely important book."—The Washington Post
“A breathtaking, numbing account of the physical and moral desolation that plagued Europe in the late 1940s. Authoritative but never dry, stripping away soothing myths of national unity and victimhood, this is a painful but necessary historical task superbly done.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Lowe’s work, thoroughly researched and written with scrupulous objectivity, promises to be the year’s best book on European history.”—Financial Times (London)
“Deeply harrowing. Moving, measured, and provocative. A compelling picture of a continent physically and morally brutalized by slaughter.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“A graphic and chilling account of the murderous vengeance, terroristic reprisals, and ferocious ethnic cleansing that gripped Europe following—and often as a direct continuation of—the Second World War. Keith Lowe’s excellent book paints a little-known and frightening picture of a continent in the embrace of lawlessness, chaos, and unconstrained violence.”—Ian Kershaw, author of The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944–1945
“Savage Continent is a powerful and disturbing book, painstakingly researched and written with both authority and an impressive historical sweep.”—James Holland, author of Italy’s Sorrow and The Battle of Britain