The Bitter Road to Freedom A New History of the Liberation


The Bitter Road to Freedom A New History of the Liberation of Europe Americans are justly proud of the role their country played in liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny For many years we have celebrated the courage of Allied soldiers sailors and aircrews who defeated Hitler's regime and restored freedom to the continent But in recounting the heroism of the greatest generation Americans often overlook the wartime experiences of European people themselves the very people for whom the war was fought In this brilliant new book historian William I Hitchcock surveys the European continent from D Day to the final battles of the war and the first few months of the peace Based on exhaustive research in five nations and dozens of archives Hitchcock's groundbreaking account shows that the liberation of Europe was both a military triumph and a human tragedy of epic proportionsHitchcock gives voice to those who were on the receiving end of liberation moving them from the edge of the story to the center From France to Poland to Germany from concentration camp internees to refugees farmers to shopkeepers husbands and wives to children the experience of liberation was often difficult and dangerous Their gratitude was mixed with guilt or resentment Their lives were difficult to reassembleThis strikingly original multinational history of liberation brings to light the interactions of soldiers and civilians the experiences of noncombatants and the trauma of displacement and loss amid unprecedented destruction This book recounts a surprising story often jarring and uncomfortable and one that has never been told with such richness and depthRanging from the ferocious battle for Normandy where as many French civilians died on D Day as US servicemen to the plains of Poland from the icy ravines of the Ardennes to the shattered cities and refugee camps of occupied Germany The Bitter Road to Freedom depicts in searing detail the shocking price that Europeans paid for their freedomToday with American soldiers once again waging wars of liberation in faraway lands this book serves as a timely and sharp reminder of the terrible human toll exacted by even the most righteous of wars

  • Hardcover
  • 446 pages
  • The Bitter Road to Freedom A New History of the Liberation of Europe
  • William I. Hitchcock
  • English
  • 09 February 2016
  • 9780743273817

10 thoughts on “The Bitter Road to Freedom A New History of the Liberation of Europe

  1. WarpDrive WarpDrive says:

    A very interesting balanced and at times confronting book that successfully tries to tackle the complex history of the liberation of Europe by the Allied powers I found the nuanced multi faceted well researched methodologically accurate and substantially propaganda free approach by the author something really refreshing and also something uite uncommonly found in books about this potentially touchy and an highly sensitive subject even now 70 years after the end of WWIIWhat hit me as one of the most important messages of this book is that the devastation of Europe was not just physical but also and most importantly cultural ideological and psychological There is nothing romantic nor heroic in modern warfare it is a dirty inhuman business whose long lasting effects are many and profound Whole cultures whole human and physical landscapes had been irreversibly destroyed The historical contribution and participation of the Jewish community in the development of European civilization had been obliterated and the darkest episode in European history had been writtenSome analysts argue with some merit that the real long term conseuences of WWII only really ended in Europe after the fall of the Berlin's wall and they still persist in the Middle East up to the current day The heavy toll that liberation and its aftermath took upon the liberated peoples themselves is something that is all too often disregarded and this book commendably fills this all too freuent gap in the standard narratives of WWII There are several interesting aspects that are treated by the author who courageously does not refrain from highlighting the episodes of abuse theft murder and rapes conducted by the Allies not just against the German population but for example against the French civilian population as well The shameful episode of the bombing of Dresden is also not glossed over However the author does not fall into the trap of a simplistic relativism and the overwhelming responsibility of the Nazi regime is clearly highlighted for example the description of the conditions of the extermination camps as found by the liberating Allied armies is uite disturbing even to readers well versed in the history of WWII and the Holocaust WWII was probably one of the last examples in modern history where it is still uite unambiguously clear where the right side was I also found remarkable and commendable how the author did not try to hide or minimize the fact that the biggest contribution to the victory of the Allied forces was the Red Army Stalingrad was what broke the German army's back and without discounting the great sacrifices and the valiant efforts conducted by the Western allies by the time the Allied landed in Normandy the ultimate outcome of the war was already uite clear regardless of what some Western propaganda had ceaselessly tried to push as dictated by the ideological demands of the so called Cold War On the less positive side I must also say that the book is not completely free of issues the process of the liberation of Italy is only very succinctly described and the close cooperation between the Mafia bosses such as Luciano and Vito Genovese on one hand and the US authorities on the other hand and the conseuent heavy responsibility of the US military authorities in allowing for a re consolidation of the Mafia structures and power in post war Italy are glossed over the ambiguous relationship between the civilian populations and governments of many European countries and the Nazi regime are not explored in much detail with possibly the exclusion of well known collaborationist Vichy's France Antisemitism and some sympathy with the Nazi regime were present in many European countries even in Britain and this is not explored in sufficient depth by the author in the preface the author suggests that the reason European nations chose not to participate with the US in the “coalition of the willing” in Ira was that they had experienced WWII on their own soil and had a better understanding of the conseuences of an invasion and of the enormous impact and complexity of a change of regime I personally find it a biased and weak theory I think that in reality the European nations together with the large majority of other nations on Earth did see this invasion for what it really was an illegal act of international aggression based purely on considerations of pure power an aggression that in an ideal world not governed by the vae victis logic should have been investigated by an international criminal tribunal Overall a remarkable book written with honesty balance and accuracy 4 stars

  2. fourtriplezed fourtriplezed says:

    The thing about rating a book under such a limited system such as a star rating is that on a personal level one can rate a classic as much as an obscure history tome This is because in the end it is what one gets out of the book be it entertainment for the sheer enjoyment of a ripping yarn or for the information that is learnt There have been plenty of fine books that I have learnt a lot from that I have rated highly but others have not Fine That is life But it has been an interesting read so far on goodreads as to how this book has been viewed For what it is worth I do not particularly agree with any of the criticism For a start I read that it was critical of the allies who were in fact the good guys Well yes and in my opinion not once did the author uestion the integrity of The Allies Several times he mentioned the good intentions of the allies be that the way they fought the Nazi's or how they liberated the camps such as Belsen In fact on page 423 of my copy William I Hitchcock writes with profound wisdom and sadness about the inability of the Allies to understand Jewish thinking as to their liberation and how it affected the future to this day with the issues that are the middle east As he wrote There is to be no new life but a conscious carrying of the recent past into the future The victims had had enough and with that were not going to be what the Allies wanted them be be it nice and friendly and clean and thankful for the US nor was it going to accept the British trials at Belsen as justice being seen to be done in a civilised manner Who needed civilised after what they had been through? I for one do not understand that but then I have not had to live in my own excrement for months on end while being tormented by a most vicious regime Parts of the first hand accounts in this book bought me close to tears In some cases just for the naivety of the survivors The French Jewess returns to Paris to be met by her brother who asks where her luggage was Examples like this appear periodically and have made me realise that I too was as naive to the trials and tribulations of the displaced and I consider my self fairly well read on wartime history As to the civilians caught up in the cross fire could I have understood what it was like to see my neighbours dead? Understood even being wounded in crossfire? Understood undernourishment to the point of malnutrition? Understood any part of these horrors?This book deserves high ratings just because of it's humanitarian attempt to expose the destitution of those that deserved better Yes us allies did our best but be that as it may to be annoyed that we had criticism of our best is in my opinion disappointing in the least The author of this book is to be congratulated at his attempt to make a wider audience think about war as than a goodies and baddies situation This is a reference to a less than mature comment by the then leader of the opposition and now Prime Minister of Australia made in relation to the civil war in Syria

  3. Susan Susan says:

    Although I had a number of gripes about this book I ended up deciding that it was a pretty important book First the gripes1 In the preface he suggests that the reason European nations chose not to participate with the US in the “coalition of the willing” in Ira was that having experienced WWII on their own soil and recognizing the terrible price paid by those liberated as well as the difficulty of the liberators European countries had a realistic and “dark” understanding of the task of regime change; they saw it as bigger and uglier than did the US An intriguing thesis but it was not in fact a thesis and the idea was never developed after its mention in the preface2 This may be inevitable in a book with such a subject but Hitchcock narrates a truly endless tale of cruelty neglect and degradation so much so that readers may be tempted to give it up and go on to something else in the same way they might choose not to watch films with endless violence That would be a mistake because there’s an important message here but I think Hitchcock could have organized wisely and avoided this particular criticismOK That’s out of the way The message of this book—never explicitly stated until the conclusion—is that the “good war” wasn’t really so good and that the winners might have gone overboard not so much in making heroes and villains but in perpetrating the idea that some wars have clear outcomes and clean motives and even clean execution except of course where the bad guys forced them into dirtier practices In the US lately it’s been the “greatest generation” myth—when in fact American troops raped and pillaged and ran roughshod over civilians too Earlier it was the “resistance myth” particularly in France when in fact with the possible exception of Yugoslavia and Greece resistance was materially ineffectiveHitchcock starts in France and focuses on the sufferings of civilians through the Normandy invasions and the push into Germany and then moves on to Belgium and Holland focusing primarily on interactions between the military and the civilian population It is odd that no one has as yet replayed these scenes; they are alarmingly reminiscent of the invasion of Ira Policies at the time forbad journalists from focusing heavily on civilian suffering especially when it might cast doubt on the behavior of Allied troops and the decisions of Allied command Since then writers on the war have been busy building up the story of the “good war” focusing on the military and its exploits not on the civilians whose land they trampledIn the process of rebalancing the view of WWII Hitchcock sort of evens the score with respect to the behavior of British and American troops and those of the USSR The latter are not whitewashed by any means but troops on the Western front don’t sound like superhuman heroes eitherWhen Allied troops move into Germany itself Hitchcock deals with fraternization issues Initially US troops were forbidden to fraternize with German civilians but ironically they liked the German civilians than those in France Belgium and Holland Even ironically but maybe not surprisingly they identified with German civilians than with those degraded humans they released from the concentration campsThe real revelations of the book as far as I was concerned came when Hitchcock dealt with the problems of displaced persons immediately after the war Jews—and others—liberated from the camps as well as civilians fleeing west to escape the Russians plus prisoners of war or those transported to Germany to work were in many cases at loose ends as well There were no plans in place to deal with them the numbers were staggering and the problems almost insurmountable Even defining who was entitled to what was problematic Were Jews fleeing the Russians in the east some bringing possessions and wealth with them as entitled to help as those released from the camps? An early priority was returning people to their homes but some had no homes and others didn’t want to go back to what was now the Russian zone Soviet soldiers were returned to the USSR—where most ended up dead or in the Gulag the result of a probably unwise agreement at Yalta but there were civilians too There was no solution except camps some without any resources available to prisoners than had been the case in the German camps DP camps often built on the grounds of infamous death camps housed “liberated” prisoners in a sort of limbo a year after the end of the warOther issues focused on the rescued Jews many of whom seemed hardly human after surviving the camps most of whom were destitute stateless and often debilitated The liberators basically came from anti Semitic environments and decried concentration camps and extermination but didn’t want Jews living next door Jews wanted to preserve memories of what happened to ensure the holocaust it was not yet a capital letter issue was never repeated; Western administrators wanted them to put the past behind them and move on Large numbers of Jews with no home or families to return to wanted to start again in a Jewish homeland Britain opposed letting Jews into Palestine fearing clashes with Arabs they’d not have the ability to control Other countries—including the US—didn’t want to take in large numbers of stateless destitute often debilitated peopleHitchcock doesn’t work through the problems to the end His narrative the theme of which is what happens to civilians in war stops with the recognition that many of the liberated were still in camps 6 to 12 months after the end of the war His conclusion—that we need to reevaluate our mythology about the “good war” and look at the disastrous effect of WWII on the European population—strikes me as a much needed reevaluation I do remember hearing about DPs and DP camps when I was a kid in the late 40s and 50s but these days there has not been much focus on civilians with the possible exceptions of those affected by the bombing in London which was not nearly as destructive as the wrath unleased on German cities at the end of the war

  4. Sue Sue says:

    It's frankly impossible for anyone to understand and mentally process just how many people were irrevocably affected by the very act of Liberation in 1944 45 Whether it was due to the direct attack via bombings reprisals by retreating Fascist forces revenge taken by advancing Soviet forces or the sheer masses of displaced people POWs conscripted labor and those Jews who'd survived to see the end of the war suddenly freed from camps across central Europe the end result was millions upon millions of people suddenly cast adrift For most they still faced months if not years of daily struggle and death Homes and infrastures were in ruins starvation and disease was rampant and political concerns over East vs West and the uestion of Palestine and what to do with Holocaust survivors cause Allied governments to either view those in uestion as an inconvenience or worse pawns and traitors to be punished And while the Western Allies are due credit for at least anticipating the problem and working out how to humanely deal with the situation they were still shocked unprepared and uickly overwhelmed by what they found as they rolled across formerly German occupied lands As this book demonstrates in painful detail with statistics the boggle the mind the Liberation did not necessarily mean peace or safety or the end of suffering for those liberated Perhaps for those who wonder today why unending gratitude was not forthcoming then or now this book explains it all This excerpt from the Conclusion of the book sums it up perfectlyIt has long been a habit in the United States to narrate the history of the liberation of Europe in a heroic register stressing the selfless sacrifice of ordinary soldiers as well as the talented generalship of American military leadersBy contrast this book has drawn upon the testimony of many ordinary people civilians as well as soldiers to offer an alternative way of looking at the events of 1944 45 These voices have spoken of the indeterminate nature of liberation its paradoxical joys and miseries and the heavy toll that liberation and its aftermath took upon the liberated peoples themselvesThe untold joy of seeing the war come to an end was diluted by the almost unbearable sufferings that so many had endured

  5. Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎ Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎ says:

    Absolutely wonderful book showing the human cost paid by the people of Europe during the Liberation from Nazi Germany occupation and its aftermaths The book is organised in four parts liberation of the west France Belgium and Netherlands advance and victory in Germany inc Russian Army the return home of refugees and the war relief efforts UNRRA and finally the holocaust The author presents the material in a clear and organised manner each parts starts with a summary of the main events and then continues by meticulously detailing first hand evidence including reports correspondence diaries testimonies bringing to life the plight of the soldiers but importantly the one of the local population in occupied territoriesThere are hundreds of books dedicated to WWII what differentiate this one is its aim to present the often ignored view from the civilians’ perspective this uite different from the view from above the “big picture” of history books Highly recommended one of the best books I read so far this yearFav uotes The year 1945 taught Europeans a lesson they have never forgotten that a war of liberation is still a war and no matter how noble the cause mothers and children will die houses of worship will be burned disease will spread refugees will tramp the roads and then after all this horrors are over liberators and liberated alike will still face the hard work of constructing freedom and restoring human dignity by the time America entered the war in December 1941 two and half million Soviet soldiers had already been killed The point here is not to detract in any way from the American sacrifice but to explain why the Soviet soldiers that pushed into Germany in the spring of 1945 acted with such ferocity towards the German people Unlike American British or Canadian soldiers the men and women of the Red Army had tasted German occupation on their own homeland For Soviet citizens the war against Germany was something that could never be for their western comrades in arms as war of survival and in its final months of revengeThe returnees were treated with officiousness or as suspects; they were met with some degrees of scorn as if time in wartime France had been harder that survival in a German camp; their stories were brushed off as incredible exaggerated and in any case inappropriate now that the war was over and the time of restoration had begun

  6. Kim Kim says:

    A look at WWII from a non American point of view Instead of the typical We went over there helped stop the madness and lost so many of our own for a worthy cause this book looks at the choas from the point of view of those noncombatants whose backyard the war was in Perhaps the children of the European nations recieve of this type of history than we do as Americans It was eye opening for me to hear of the trials that still existed even after the Germans were driven back off previously conuered territories It truely was a long and bitter road to regain even a semblance of the lives these people had previous to the war I was especially surprised by the first chapters that dealt with the coastline territories that we first landed on I had not considered before how these peoples though occupied by the Nazis had been continuing to work farm and live throughout this period until we bombed them prior to the Allied landings and how in just a few short weeks many towns and villages were completely leveled to soften up the landing I can understand from our side why it was done but the devastation that was left was not on an Axis country these peoples were occupied alliesneutralsand then of course we marched on and left them in the rubble to pick up the peices as we pursued the Nazis And the area where the Battle of the Bulge occurred Yikes anyone caught up in that back and forth areaIt's stunning to even consider Peoples' farms homes lifestock just everything run over by both sides going back and forth and bombing and raiding Liberated for a few months or weeks and then back come the Nazis with even reason to wreak havoc This really was an enlightening read for me I would definitely recommend it especially for Americans who have no personal memories of a war occuring right on their doorstep Frightening history but worth remembering

  7. William Webb William Webb says:

    This rating is for the audiobookThe book was balanced and covered a topic of importance to anyone who wants to understand the aftermath of World War Two in Europe At times I found it a bit of a tough slog but that was a function of the material than the author

  8. carl theaker carl theaker says:

    Author Hitchcock is like the coach who being the father of the starathlete on the team berates him continually to curry favor with theparents of the other less talented kids and to show he's really a fairguy The trials and tribulations of the peoples in German occupiedterritories during their liberation are the subject the Armies of theUSA and Britain are the whipping boys for the author'sself consciousness The story is a valid and interesting one it's the tone thatgrates The modern template and expectations for warfare is usedthat of smart bombs through keyholes and no one hurt that isn'ta bad guy that is expected of B 17s doing carpet bombing When the American soldiers take a town it is 'clumsily done' The grasp on military events sometimes seems slim the author tellingus 'the Germans were well prepared for the attack' at ArnhemNot in any book I've ever read about it When the Western Allies pause in making a decision it's 'dithering'which certainly contrasts with the Soviet pause outside of Warsaw whichled to the slaughter of the Polish Resistance is for strategic militaryreasons When B 24 Liberators bomb a Belgian town killing American soldiersas well as civilians Hitchcock calls the Liberator 'ill named'Perhaps he's trying to be witty Of the over 18000 Liberators madeall flown by crews who I'm certain would have rather been doingsomething else I'm sure most earned the title Noting the civilian casualties in the West is grim however when thestory switches to the Eastern front where the Germans and Sovietsare grinding up thousands daily the protests of the Western occupiedterritories seem over stated There are some good stories in the book always something to learnThe jacket blurb says the author graduated from Yale and taught there6 years Mmmm the same Ivy League that graduated all those MBAsthat have the world in financial mess at the moment Maybe theteaching of history in the Northeast isn't fairing much better?

  9. J.M. Hushour J.M. Hushour says:

    A welcome corrective to the stale orgasmic patriotic narrative of World War 2 which sees America's boys white kick the shit outta them fascist dogs Oh wait Soviet casualties were 65 times that of America's? The Soviets basically destroyed the Nazi war machine? Just as many French civilians were killed by Alliedyes you read that right Allied bombing on D Day as US soldiers?If you're like me and are comfortable enough with your fealty to your artificial nation state construct yet find most of the views regarding it perfectly abominable you'll probably love this book This is for the Shaving Ryan's Privates crowd than the well other crowdAs the above slyly hints this book is about precisely those people who were being liberated since well they're supposed to matter too right? The great American patriotic narrative might focus on the troops but what about the people they were supposed to be saving? Well much of Normandy was simply levelled; towns bombed out of existence; women raped; shit looted Same as the Allies progressed northeast in Belgium the Netherlands where the Allies sat on their hands while half the country starved etc The list is long Soldiers' accounts are dug into deeply too as they wonder at the French bitterness at Allied bombardments that basically killed everybody even when there weren't any Nazis around Not to speak of the bombings of German civilian centers themselves When they got around to finding the concentration camps that no one bothered to do anything about soldiers are recoiling in disgust from the victims themselves Not very American I knowAnyway there's a wealth of depressing horrible shit here that I must recommend for those seeking nuanced views of very familiar things

  10. Nancy Nancy says:

    So often what we read when we read anything about the liberation of Europe in World War II is a story of heroics gratitude and relief This book provides a much needed antidote to that myth describing the actual human cost of the liberation It is really good to find out what happened after the history books finish and how the people on the ground experienced the end of the war It puts things in perspective and perhaps emphasises the futility of war in general

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